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Worcester. You start away,
He said, he would not ransom Mortimer:
Worcester. Hear you, cousin, a word.
And would be glad he met with same mischance),
Worcester. Farewel, my kinsman, I will talk to you
First part, Henry IV. act 1. sc. 4.
Having viewed a train of perceptions as directed by nature, and the variations it is susceptible of from different necessary causes, we proceed to examine how far it is subjected to will; for that this faculty hath some influence is observed above. And first, the rate of succession may be retarded by insisting upon one object, and propelled by dismissing another before its time. But such voluntary mutations, in the natural course of succession, have limits that cannot be extended by the most painful efforts: which will appear from considering, that the mind, circumscribed in its capacity, cannot, at the same instant, admit many perceptions; and when replete, that it hath not place for new perceptions, till others are removed; consequently, that a voluntary change of perceptions cannot be instantaneous, as the time it requires sets bounds to the velocity of succession. On the other hand, the power we have to arrest a flying perception is equally limited: and the reason is, that the longer we detain any perception, the more difficulty we find in the operation; till the difficulty becoming insurmountable, we are forced to quit our hold, and to permit the train to take its usual
The power we have over this train as to uniformity and variety, is in some cases very great, in others very little. A train composed of perceptions of external objects, depends entirely on the place we occupy, and admits not more nor less variety but by change of place. A train composed of ideas of memory, is still less under our power; because we cannot at will call up any idea that is not connected with the train-* But a train of ideas suggested by reading may be varied at will, provided we have books at hand.
The power that nature hath given us over our train of perceptions may be greatly strengthened by proper discipline, and by an early application to business; witness some mathematicians, who go far beyond common nature in slowness and uniformity; and still more persons devoted to religious exercises, who pass whole
* See chap. 1.
days in contemplation, and impose upon themselves long and severe penances. With respect to celerity and variety, it is not easily conceived what length a habit of activity in affairs will carry some men. Let a stranger, or let any person to whom the sight is not familiar, attend the chancellor of Great Britain through the labours but of one day, during a session of parliament; how great will be his astonishment! what multiplicity of law-business, what deep thinking, and what elaborate application to matters of government! The train of perceptions must in that great man be accelerated far beyond the ordinary course of nature; yet no confusion or hurry; but in every article the greatest order and accuracy. Such is the force of habit. How happy is man to have the com. mand of a principle of action that can elevate him so far above the ordinary condition of humanity !*
We are now ripe for considering a train of perceptions, with respect to pleasure and pain: and to that speculation peculiar attention must be given, because it serves to explain the effects that uniformity and variety have upon the mind. A man, when his perceptions flow in their natural course, feels himself free, light, and easy, especially after any forcible acceleration or retardation. On the other hand, the accelerating or retarding the natural course, excites a pain, which, though scarcely felt in small removes, becomes considerable toward the extremes. Aversion to fix on a single object for a long time, or to take in a multiplicity of objects in a short time, is remarkable in children; and equally so in men unaccustomed to business: a man languishes when the succession is very slow; and, if he grow not impatient, is apt to fall asleep; during a rapid succession, he hath a feeling as if his head were turning round; he is fatigued; and his pain resembles that of weariness after bodily labour.
But a moderate course will not satisfy the mind, unless the perceptions be also diversified; number without variety is not suffi cient to constitute an agreeable train. In comparing a few objects, uniformity is pleasant; but the frequent reiteration of uniform objects becomes unpleasant; one tires of a scene that is not diversi. fied; and soon feels a sort of unnatural restraint when confined within a narrow range, whether occasioned by a retarded succession, or by too great uniformity. An excess in variety is, on the other hand, fatiguing; which is felt even in a train of related perceptions; much more of unrelated perceptions, which gain not admittance without effort: the effort, it is true, is scarce perceptible in a single instance; but by frequent reiteration it becomes exceedingly painful. Whatever be the cause, the fact is certain, that a man never finds himself more at ease than when his percep. tions succeed each other with a certain degree, not only of velocity, but also of variety. The pleasure that arises from a train of connected ideas is remarkable in a reverie; especially where the imagination interposeth, and is active in coining new ideas, which is done with wonderful facility; one must be sensible, that the serenity and ease of the mind in that state makes a great part * This chapter was composed in the year 1753.
of the enjoyment. The case is different where external objects enter into the train; for these, making their appearance without order, and without connexion save that of contiguity, form a train of perceptions that may be extremely uniform or extremely diversified; which, for opposite reasons, are both of them painful.
To alter, by an act of will, that degree of variety which nature requires, is not less painful than to alter that degree of velocity which it requires. Contemplation, when the mind is long attached to one subject, becomes painful by restraining the free range of perception; curiosity, and the prospect of useful discoveries, may fortify one to bear that pain, but it is deeply felt by the bulk of mankind, and produceth in them aversion to all abstract sciences. In any profession or calling, a train of operation that is simple and reiterated without intermission, makes the operator languish and lose vigour; he complains neither of too great labour, nor of too little action; but regrets the want of variety, and the being obliged to do the same thing over and over; where the operation is suffi. ciently varied, the mind retains its vigour, and is pleased with its condition. Actions again create uneasiness when excessive in number or variety, though in every other respect pleasant; thus a throng of business in law, in physic, or in traffic, distresses and distracts the mind, unless where a habit of application is acquired by long and constant exercise; the excessive variety is the distressing circumstance; and the mind suffers grievously by being kept constantly upon the stretch.
With relation to involuntary causes disturbing that degree of variety which nature requires, a slight pain affecting one part of the body without variation, becomes, by its constancy and long duration, almost imsupportable: the patient, sensible that the pain is not increased in degree, complains of its constancy more than of - its severity, of its engrossing his whole thoughts, and admitting no other object. A shifting pain is more tolerable, because change of place contributes to variety and an intermitting pain, suffering other objects to intervene, still more so. Again, any single colour or sound often returning becomes unpleasant; as may be observed in viewing a train of similar apartments in a great house painted with the same colour, and in hearing the prolonged tollings of a bell. Colour and sound varied within certain limits, though without any order, are pleasant; witness the various colours of plants and flowers in a field, and the various notes of birds in a thicket : increase the number of variety, and the feeling becomes unpleasant ; thus, a great variety of colours, crowded upon a small canvass or in quick succession, create an uneasy feeling, which is prevented by putting the colours at a greater distance from each other either of place or of time. A number of voices in a crowded assembly, a number of animals collected in a market, produce an unpleasant feeling; though a few of them together, or all of them in a moderate succession, would be pleasant. And because of the same excess in variety, a number of pains felt in different parts of the body at the same instant, or in a rapid succession, are an exquisite
The pleasure or pain resulting from a train of perceptions in different circumstances, is a beautiful contrivance of nature for valuable purposes. But being sensible, that the mind, inflamed with speculations so highly interesting, is beyond measure disposed to conviction, I shall be watchful to admit no argument, or remark, but what appears solidly founded; and with that caution I proceed to unfold these purposes. It is occasionally observed above, that persons of a phlegmatic temperament, having a sluggish train of perceptions, are indisposed to action; and that activity constantly accompanies a brisk flow of perceptions. To ascertain that fact, a man need not go abroad for experiments: reflecting on things passing in his own mind, he will find that a brisk circulation of thought constantly prompts him to action; and that he is averse to action when his perceptions langush in their course. But as man by nature is formed for action, and must be active in order to be happy, nature hath kindly provided against indolence, by annexing pleasure to a moderate course of perceptions, and by making any remarkable retardation painful. A slow course of perceptions is attended with another bad effect; man, in a few capital cases, is governed by propensity or instinct; but in matters that admit deliberation and choice, reason is assigned him for a guide ; now, as reasoning requires often a great compass of ideas, their succession ought to be so quick as readily to furnish every motive that may be necessary for mature deliberation; in a languid succession, motives will often occur after action is commenced, when it is too late to retreat.
Nature hath guarded man, her favourite, against a succession too rapid, no less carefully than against one too slow: both are equally painful, though the pain is not the same in both. Many are the good effects of that contrivance. In the first place, as the exertion of bodily faculties is by certain painful sensations confined within proper limits, Nature is equally provident with respect to the nobler faculties of the mind: the pain of an accelerated course of perceptions is Nature's admonition to relax our pace, and to admit a more gentle exertion of thought. Another valuable purpose is discovered upon reflecting in what manner objects are imprinted on the mind: to give the memory firm hold of an external object, time is required, even where attention is the greatest; and a moderate degree of attention, which is the common case, must be continued still longer to produce the same effect: a rapid succession, accordingly, must prevent objects from making an impression so deep as to be of real service in life; and Nature, for the sake of memory, has, by a painful feeling, guarded against a rapid succession. But a still more valuable purpose is answered by the contrivance; as, on the one hand, a sluggish course of perceptions indisposeth to action; so, on the other, a course too rapid impels to rash and precipitant action: prudent conduct is the child of deliberation and clear conception, for which there is no place in a rapid course of thought. Nature, therefore, taking measures for prudent conduct, has guarded us effectually from precipitancy of thought, by making it painful.
Nature not only provides against a succession too slow or too
quick, but makes the middle course extremely pleasant. Nor is that course confined within narrow bounds: every man can naturally, without pain, accelerate or retard in some degree the rate of his perceptions. And he can do it in a still greater degree by the force of habit: a habit of contemplation annihilates the pain of a retarded course of perceptions; and a busy life, after long practice, makes acceleration pleasant.
Concerning the final cause of our taste for variety, it will be considered that human affairs, complex by variety as well as number, require the distributing our attention and activity in measure and proportion. Nature, therefore, to secure a just distribution corre. sponding to the variety of human affairs, has made too great uniformity or too great variety in the course of perceptions, equally unpleasant and indeed, were we addicted to either extreme, our internal constitution would be ill suited to our external circumstances. At the same time, where great uniformity of operation is required, as in several manufactures, or great variety, as in law or physic, Nature, attentive to all our wants, hath also provided for these cases, by implanting in the breast of every person, an efficacious principle that leads to habit: an obstinate perseverance in the same occupation relieves from the pain of excessive uniformity; and the like perseverance, in a quick circulation of different occupations, relieves from the pain of excessive variety. And thus we come to take delight in several occupations, that, by nature, without habit, are not a little disgustful.
A middle rate also in the train of perceptions between uniformity and variety, is no less pleasant than between quickness and slow. ness. The mind of man, so framed, is wonderfully adapted to the course of human affairs, which are continually changing, but not without connexion: it is equally adapted to the acquisition of knowledge, which results chiefly from discovering resemblances among differing objects, and differences among resembling objects; such occupation, even abstracting from the knowledge we acquire, is in itself delightful, by preserving a middle rate between too great uniformity and too great variety.
We are now arrived at the chief purpose of the present chapter; which is to consider uniformity and variety with relation to the fine arts, in order to discover if we can, when it is that the one ought to prevail, and when the other. And the knowledge we have obtained, will even at first view suggest a general observation, That in every work of art it must be agreeable to find that degree of variety which corresponds to the natural course of our perceptions; and that an excess in variety or in uniformity must be disagreeable, by varying that natural course. For that reason, works of art admit more or less variety according to the nature of the subject: in a picture of an interesting event that strongly attaches the spectator to a single object, the mind relisheth not a multiplicity of figures nor of ornaments: a picture representing a gay subject admits great variety of figures and ornaments; because these are agreeable to the mind in a cheerful tone. The same observation is applicable to poetry and to music.
It must at the same time be remarked, that one can bear a greater