Page images

CHAP tinctly heard, if spoken to one end of a bar IV.

of metal or glass, while the other is held beOf Hearing.

tween the teeth of the person addressed; but if the disease extends to the auditory nerves; so as to deprive them of their irritability, nothing can be heard by these or any other means. . The sound, therefore, appears, in this instance, to be conveyed to those nerves, which communicate with the brain, by means of vibra- . tions received by one solid and elastic substance from another; and thus continued through the bar, the teeth, and the jaw bones.

3. Many of these solid bodies, which are so susceptible of the vibrations of sound, such as glass, and different kinds of metal, are impenetrable to air: wherefore I suspect that sound

I is produced by some finer fluid mixed with air; and pervading elastic, as light does transparent bodies. Of this fluid, however, if such there be, we can never obtain any adequate knowledge: for, as it is only perceived, as the vehicle of impressions to one sense, our ideas of it must always remain in nearly the same state as those which a man born blind can form of the light of the sun by feeling its warmth. That hard and solid substances should transmit this light, which is excluded by the most soft and porous, is equally unac, countable, as that they should transmit sound. In both, probably, there is a peculiar distribu,

tion of the component particles, respectively adapted to the admission of a particular fluid, and of that only.

4. But whatever be the nature of the substance, which produces sound, the sensations, caused by its vibrations upon the organs of hearing, will depend upon the same principles, as those produced by other substances on other organs. Certain modes and degrees of irritation will be pleasant, others painful, and others insipid; and these will vary in different individuals according to the different degrees of sensibility in their respective organs. In some sorts of dogs, this sensibility is so exquisite, that the sound of a fife or other very shrill instrument, though perfectly in harmony, gives them very acute pain, when near to their ears; as they testify by loud howlings and complainings. The filing of a saw, or other harsh and discordant sound of that kind, though not loud, will create a very uneasy and even painful sensation in the human organs, which we commonly call setting the teeth on edge; and it seems to be produced by extending the vibrations from the ears to the teeth, instead of from the teeth to the ears: as in the experiment of the metal, or glass bar before cited. Extremely loud and jarring sounds, such as those of kettle-drums or artillery, will extend this vibration through the whole body; as I


Of Hearing.

of Ileaning

very sensibly felt at the performance of some of Handel's choruses in Westminster Abbey: but, as they were in harmony, the sensation was not at all unpleasant. On the contrary, if I could conceive any sensation to be sublime, I should admit this to be so: but the senti. ment of sublimity belongs to the affections of the mind, and not to organic sensation; as I shall fully show in examining that part of my subject.

5. The sensual pleasures of sound, to which I wish at present to confine my inquiries, are in their modes and progress nearly analogous to those of taste. Very young persons almost always prefer the sweet tones of a flute, or the female human voice, unaccompanied and with

, out any technical modulation, to any more complicated harmony: but these simple tones, by being often repeated with little variety, grow vapid and tiresome; while mixtures, when once the relish for thein is acquired, give permanent pleasure by varying it through every possible mode of combination ; and still further varying these modes of combination by all the diversities of modulation--by swells, cadences, &c.; which render music one of the most delightful of gratifications, even when considered merely as a gratification of sense, independent of character and expression ; which belong not to the sensations, which it



causes; but to the mental sympathies and associated ideas, which those sensations excite

Of Hearing. and renew.

6. For there are certain modulations of tone, which instinctively express certain mental sympathies; and, without the intervention of any determinate notions or ideas, convey the sentiments of one mind, and awaken those of another with more unerring precision and emphatical energy, than the artificial medium of articulation can ever attain. Such are the various modulations of tone, by which birds and quadrupeds express their parental and sexual affections; and their sentiments of anger, resentment, or defiance: expressions, whose meaning is always clear and unequivocal; and which are understood as perfectly by those who have existed but a day, as by them, who have lived years; no young animal of any kind

; ever mistaking the murmur of affection for the growl of anger, or the cry of joy for the whine of distress.

7. Similar modulations of tone also serve, as a natural medium of communication of corresponding sentiments, in the human race, before the artificial one of articulation is acquired or understood; very young children always perceiving, by the tone of voice, in which they are spoken to, whether they are applauded or reprimanded, long before they



have learned to affix any determinate ideas to

the particular words uttered. Of Hearing.

8. To this natural and instinctive effect of the different modulations of tone is owing, in a great measure, the effect of what we call ex : pression in music: at least of that which may properly be called sentimental expression; since it excites sentiments merely; whereas another kind of expression excites ideas also : but this depends upon the principle of association, wbich will be considered apart. The primitive music of all nations is, I believe, of this sentimental kind; music, as well as painting and poetry, being in its principle an imitative art *; and, though science may delight in that various and complicated harmony, which displays the skill of the composer, and the dexterity of the performer, without either pleasing the sense, or touching the heart; yet the mass of mankind, I believe, never find any gratification in music, but such as arises either from sweet tones, pleasing combinations, or such modulations, as either through instinctive feeling, or habitual association, awaken pleasing syn.pathies. The first of these is a sensual, and the second a sentimental pleasure; while that, which is peculiarly felt by the learned, may be properly called an intellectual

• Aristot. Poet. f. iii,

« PreviousContinue »