Billeder på siden
[ocr errors]

and contorted features-this sight of blood will be amusing to the child, because novel; or, if not amusing, at least equally indifferent with the sight of any other unknown liquid. With the same pleasure, on account of novelty, or indifference, it will behold the blade of a cutting instrument: no feelings have, as yet, accompanied these ideas; no associations have, as yet, been formed in its mind. But, when the child for the first. time wounds its own finger, and blood appears, the sensation of pain will become connected with the sight of blood and of the blade of steel. If the same accident occurs frequently to the child itself or to others in its presence, after the child has learned to understand the tones and gestures of pain, the idea of blood and the sensation of pain will become associated, and this association, in individuals possessed of great sensibility, may acquire so great a force as to induce fainting from the mere sight. It will not be so with the blade of steel, because the same knife which cuts the finger will also divide an apple or a pye.

A child which never has taken rhubarb will not be otherwise affected by its smell than to find it rather disagreeable. Another, which has been obliged to take it frequently, will feel its stomach heave when within the atmosphere of the drug.

The sight of a boiled leg of mutton, of a peach, of a fine fat oyster will interest the organ of vision alone in those whose palates have never been affected by these things; but will invariably give an appetite, which is a presensation of their taste, to healthy and hungry individuals who have eaten them before.

To pursue this subject longer would be unnecessary. All our appe tites and aversions, predilections and antipathies, the prevailing taste through life, the bent of disposition—are nothing else but the result of certain associations of feelings and ideas arising from frequent or constant coëxistence. Give me minutely the history of the first fifteen years of any man's life, and I know what he most probably will, what he almost inevitably must be, ever after. The power of female charms in some degree date from the mother's bosom. Our morals, and particularly our prejudices, often spring from our nursery. We are whimsical or sensible according as our associations are corresponding with or differing from those which have been admitted as in order by the mass of mankind.

The stronger and steadfer the associations between certain ideas and emotions are in an individual the more he is possessed of what is called character. Uniformity of influence, uniformity of existence are therefore requisite to produce it. A man who was born at one place, educated at another, who frequently changed his company, his place of residence and his pursuits will hardly possess what is called a market character; and a national character cannot, for a long time, be look

[ocr errors]

ed for in the United States, settled by people from various countries, of various persuasions, various habits-where few men are stationary, where the local circumstances are so different in different parts, where every thing is constantly changing and shifting; where a butcher today finds himself a statesman tomorrow, and in a short time after returns to his stall.

Prejudices arise from associations between ideas and feelings formed previously to the acquisition of knowledge, and so firmly established that reason, at a later period, is unable to control them.

Hence strong heads are often extremely weak on certain subjects, and the way to cure prejudices is not to argue with them, but to break, by slow and persevering efforts, the old associations and to replace them with new ones.

Hence men, even the wisest and best, are mechanically operated upon, because it is impossible not to combine thoughts and feelings which we hear constantly linked together in conversation. The safest way, therefore, not to be mislead by those whose intentions we suspect is not to listen to them, and if we can succeed to place a person whom we wish to persuade in a situation in which he is obliged frequently to listen to what we are anxious he should believe the object is half accomplished!

Why does an Indian smile under tortures? why does many a hero in battle tremble at the sight of a snake? whence the thraldom, during the dark ages, of men of genius in the shackles of superstition? whence the force of amulets? whence, in all religions, the miracles of faith? whence a thousand phenomena otherwise inexplicable in the moral world but from the associations of certain emotions with certain ideas, arising from frequent or constant, accidental or artificial coëxistence !

That certain ideas will produce certain feelings and emotions with which they have become associated in consequence of such frequent or constant coëxistence; and that they will produce them the more positively the more this coëxistence has been uniform, is a fact of which, with a little attention to the subject, no one can remain doubtful. It is. a little less obvious, though equally true, that sensations, in their turn, will produce the ideas with which they have become linked and associated by coëxistence, and this so forcibly, if the coëxistence has been constant, that the idea cannot be resisted though we know it to be er


In the natural and constant disposition of the fingers of my hand no small object which touches the outside of my second finger can touch the outside of my first. The sensation of contact with a small body at both the outsides of these two fingers at once is, therefore, from invariable coëxistence, associated with the idea of two objects. Now if I


cross my two fingers and roll between them, when crossed, a little ball of bread, I am astonished to feel two balls, and find that I cannot resist the idea of two though I well know there is but one. The reason is obvious. By the unnatural position of my fingers the one ball I roll is made to touch at once the two outsides of those two fingers, and to produce a sensation which, in the regular position of my fingers, could only be excited by two balls, and with which, therefore, the idea of double, of two, has become so firmly associated that it is reproduced by the sensation against my better knowledge and conviction.

In the natural position of my eyes-that is, with their axis of vision directed straight towards the object at which I look-the point A on the retina of my right eye has always been affected by the image of that object at the same time with the point B on the retina of my left eye. From the constancy of this occurrence the simultaneous affection of the points A and B in the two eyes has become so firmly associated with the idea of unity of object that we actually see an object only single though we see it with one eye as well as with the other. And again the simultaneous affection of any other two points of the nervous membrane in the two eyes, except the points A and B, produces the idea of two objects, in consequence of the some constancy of association, because in the regular position of the eyes a single object can only operate at once on the points A and B. The simultaneous affection of any other two points requires, therefore, more than one object. Now if I press my left eyeball out of its natural position while looking at the flame of the candle before me I see two flames. I cannot resist the idea of two, though I am well convinced it is erroneous, because it has become forcibly associated with the impression made at once on two noncorresponding points of the two nervous membranes. The same effect (seeing double) takes place in some fevers when the natural position of the eyes becomes changed in consequence of convulsive motions in the muscles of those organs. If the natural position or form of one eyeball has been permanently changed by an external injury, which yet has not destroyed the power of vision, the person so affected will see double for a length of time; that is, till the old associations become obliterated and new ones formed.

A similar observation may be made by confining our attention to one eye alone. In the natural state of things each object forms only one image on the retina. The idea of unity of object is therefore firmly associated with the sensation of unity of image, and the reverse. In consequence of this it happens that we irresistibly see the same object hundred and thousand fold, if, by looking through a polyhedral glass, we multiply on the retina the number of its images, though we well know the object is single. In the same manner, if, from accident the

cornea becomes polyhedral, persons so affected see for some time every single object manifold; but the correctness of vision, that is, of just conception of the objects whose images are felt on the retina, will be restored gradually with the formation of new associations!

What is language itself but an association between certain sounds, that is, certain sensations in the organ of hearing, and certain ideas, which in themselves have no sort of real connexion, but by constant factitious alliance have become so intimately linked together that it is absolutely impossible for me to have in my mind the idea of a plumbpudding when my ear is assailed by the sound of dagger. And thus it happens that even my thoughts sound to my mental ear, though nothing is more certain than that the deaf-born, who thinks also, cannot think thus.

It would perhaps not be impossible to show the how and why of this intimate association between sensations and corresponding ideas, with which motions become connected in their turn; all arising from constant or frequent coëxcitement, in consequence of which they mutually reproduce each other. But for the present purpose it is sufficient to have established, or rather called into notice, the fact, of which some mechanical accomplishments, as, for instance, the execution of a difficult piece of music, exhibit striking instances.

The seeing of a series of notes, the idea of the harmony to be produced, and a set of corresponding rapid and precise evolutions with my fingers over the keys or cords of the instrument, are together an aggregate unit of effect which takes place instantaneously at the aspect of the paper, without the agency of perceptible deliberation or thought, and which could not be accounted for but from the laws of association.

All the magic of extraordinary dexterity and mechanical skill, from which, perhaps, even some mental operations, as writing poetry, or going through arithmetical calculations, should not be excluded, spring from these laws. In proof of this, the wish to excel often causes us to do ill what in common we perform without a fault, because the interfering thoughts in this case interrupt the habitual and correct play of associations. Hence a primary requisite in order to excel is calmness and confidence in ourselves.

In consequence, therefore, of this association between sensations and ideas either of the two excited will call forth the other, and hence 'I feel sympathy, that is, painful or pleasurable emotions, when the ideas with which those emotions have become associated, are awakened by the aspect of a third person, or the witnessing of an occurrence, or the account of an event, and these emotions will be the stronger the greater the number of ideas, linked with them, which are awakened

at once.

[ocr errors]

I see across the street a man who is assailed by two others with clubs. I hear the report of the blows which reverberate from his skull. I see the blood run over his face; he screams; he staggers-the ideas which are awakened in me by these impressions are associated with emotions of pain, and therefore these emotions must be produced. They are so in fact, and, if no considerations, attended with emotions of a different tendency, check me, I shall run to interfere in order to get rid of this pain, if I may say so, mechanically, as I would jump forward to intercept a precious vase in falling, prompted by the anticipated pain of seeing it break to pieces.

I take a walk on the river side, and another scene occurs. A boat is bringing on shore the passengers of a ship just returned from the East Indies. Doubts had been entertained of her safety. The friends of the passengers and crew are on the wharf, and await with impatience the landing of the boat. At last she reaches the wharf. The passengers jump out; their friends fly to meet them; every eye sparkles; they embrace; they shake hands; all is pleasurable agitation-This sight conveys to my mind a certain train of ideas, and at the same instant a succession of delightful emotions, habitually linked with them, thrills through my nerves. I stop involuntarily. I gaze, and would not on any account have missed this scene. Were it in my power to produce similar scenes frequently I should do it for the gratification of beholding them.

Thus theatrical representations operate on our feelings through the medium of impressions on our organs of sense which convey ideas; and the effect is complete if all the ideas conveyed have a uniform tendency to awaken the same set of emotions. But if the age or personal appearance of the actor does not suit his character; if his attitude, his countenance, his gestures say one thing, while the words he utters impart ideas of a different nature; or if the objects which surround him on the stage are not compatible with his presumed situation, then the illusion is destroyed; that is, we are excited to a variety of heterogeneous emotions which mutually counteract and destroy each other and render us cold or disgusted spectators.

The perfect congruity of all the ideas conveyed is the more essential to produce illusion the less the interest excited by the whole. Therefore the strict observance of the three unities is of greater importance with dramatic authors of moderate talents than with those whose superior genius knows, by predominant ideas, thus to engage and to fascinate the audience as to leave them neither leisure nor capacity to observe minor inconsistencies.

It is owing to the same laws of association that an inferior actor, to whom we are accustomed, will often affect us more than another of

« ForrigeFortsæt »