Page images

it purposely so framed, it will not be difficult to find out several important final causes. That the power of custom is a happy contrivance for our good, cannot have escaped any one who reflects, that business is our province, and pleasure our relaxation only. Now satiety is necessary to check exquisite pleasure, which otherwise would engross the mind, and unqualify us for business. On the other hand, as business is sometimes painful, and is never pleasant beyond moderation, the habitual increase of moderate pleasure, and the conversion of pain into pleasure, are admirably contrived for disappointing the malice of Fortune, and for reconciling us to whatever course of life may be our lot:

How use doth breed a habit in a man!
This shadowy desert, unfrequented woods,
I better brook than flourishing peopled towns.
Here I can sit alone, unseen of any,

And to the nightingale's complaining notes
Tune my distresses, and record my woes.

Two Gentlemen of Verona, act 5. sc. 4.

As the foregoing distinction between intense and moderate holds in pleasure only, every degree of pain being softened by time, custom is a catholicon for pain and distress of every sort; and of that regulation the final cause requires no illustration.

Another final cause of custom will be highly relished by every person of humanity, and yet has in a great measure been overlooked; which is, that custom hath a greater influence than any other known cause to put the rich and the poor upon a level: weak pleasures, the share of the latter, become fortunately stronger by custom; while voluptuous pleasures, the share of the former, are continually losing ground by satiety. Men of fortune, who possess palaces, sumptuous gardens, rich fields, enjoy them less than passengers do. The goods of fortune are not unequally distributed: the opulent possess what others enjoy.

And, indeed, if it be the effect of habit to produce the pain of want in a high degree, while there is little pleasure in enjoyment, a voluptuous life is of all the least to be envied. Those who are habituated to high feeling, easy vehicles, rich furniture, a crowd of va. lets, much deference and flattery, enjoy but a small share of happiness, while they are exposed to manifold distresses. To such a man, enslaved by ease and luxury, even the petty inconvenience in travelling, of a rough road, bad weather, or homely fare, are serious evils he loses his tone of mind, turns peevish, and would wreak his resentment even upon the common accidents of life. Better far to use the goods of fortune with moderation: a man who by temperance and activity hath acquired a hardy constitution, is, on the one hand, guarded against external accidents; and, on the other, is provided with great variety of enjoyment ever at command.


I shall close this chapter with an article more delicate than abstruse, namely, what authority custom ought to have over our taste in the fine arts. One particular is certain, that we cheerfully abandon to the authority of custom things that nature hath left indifferent. It is custom, not nature, that hath established a difference

between the right hand and the left, so as to make it awkward and disagreeable to use the left where the right is commonly used. The various colours, though they affect us differently, are all of them agreeable in their purity: but custom has regulated that matter in another manner; a black skin upon a human being is to us disagreeable; and a white skin probably no less so to a negro. Thus things, originally indifferent, become agreeable or disagreeable by the force of custom. Nor will this be surprising after the discovery made above, that the original agreeableness or disagreeableness of an object, is by the influence of custom, often converted into the opposite quality.

Proceeding to matters of taste, where there is naturally a preference of one thing before another, it is certain, in the first place, that our faint and more delicate feelings are readily susceptible of a bias from custom; and therefore that it is no proof of a defective taste to find these in some measure influenced by custom : dress and the modes of external behaviour are regulated by custom in every country the deep red or vermilion with which the ladies in France cover their cheeks, appears to them beautiful in spite of nature; and strangers cannot altogether be justified in condemning that practice, considering the lawful authority of custom, or of the fashion, as it is called. It is told of the people who inhabit the skirts of the Alps facing the north, that the swelling they have universally in the neck is to them agreeable. So far has custom power to change the nature of things, and to make an object originally disagreeable take on an opposite appearance.

But, as to every particular that can be denominated proper or improper, right or wrong, custom has little authority, and ought to have none. The principle of duty takes naturally place of every other; and it argues a shameful weakness or degeneracy of mind, to find it in any case so far subdued as to submit to custom.

These few hints may enable us to judge in some measure of foreign manners, whether exhibited by foreign writers or our own. A comparison between the ancients and the moderns was some time ago a favourite subject: those who declared for ancient manners thought it sufficient that these manners were supported by custom : their antagonists, on the other hand, refusing submission to custom as a standard of taste, condemned ancient manners as in several instances irrational. In that controversy, an appeal being made to different principles, without the slightest attempt to establish a common standard, the dispute could have no end. The hints above given tend to establish a standard for judging how far the authority of custom ought to be held lawful; and for the sake of illustration, we shall apply that standard in a few instances.

Human sacrifices, the most dismal effect of blind and grovelling superstition, wore gradually out of use by the prevalence of reason and humanity. In the days of Sophocles and Euripides traces of that practice were still recent; and the Athenians, through the prevalence of custom, could without disgust suffer human sacrifices to be represented in their theatre, of which the Iphigenia of Euripides is a proof. But a human sacrifice being altogether inconsistens

with modern manners, as producing horror instead of pity, cannot with any propriety be introduced upon a modern stage. I must therefore condemn the Iphigenia of Racine, which, instead of the tender and sympathetic passions, substitutes disgust and horror. Another objection occurs against every fable that deviates so remarkably from improved notions and sentiments; which is, that if it should even command our belief by the authority of history, it appears too fictitious and unnatural, to produce a perception of reality:* a human sacrifice is so unnatural, and to us so improbable, that few will be affected with the representation of it more than with a fairy tale. The objection first mentioned strikes also against the Phadra of that author: the queen's passion for her step-son, transgressing the bounds of nature, creates aversion and horror rather than compassion. The author in his preface observes, that the queen's pas sion, however unnatural, was the effect of destiny and the wrath of the gods; and he puts the same excuse in her own mouth. But what is the wrath of a heathen god to us Christians? we acknowledge no destiny in passion; and if love be unnatural, it never can be relished. A supposition like what our author lays hold of, may possibly cover slight improprieties; but it will never engage our sympathy for what appears to us frantic or extravagant.

Neither can I relish the catastrophe of that tragedy. A man of taste may peruse, without disgust, a Grecian performance describing a sea-monster sent by Neptune to destroy Hippolytus: he considers that such a story might agree with the religious creed of Greece, and may be pleased with the story, as what probably had a strong effect upon a Grecian audience. But he cannot have the same indulgence for such a representation upon a modern stage : because no story that carries a violent air of fiction can ever move us in any considerable degree.

In the Coëphores of Eschylus,† Orestes is made to say, that he was commanded by Apollo to avenge his father's murder; and yet if he obeyed, that he was to be delivered to the furies, or be struck with some horrid malady: the tragedy accordingly concludes with a chorus, deploring the fate of Orestes, obliged to take vengeance against a mother, and involved thereby in a crime against his will. It is impossible for any modern to bend his mind to opinions so irrational and absurd, which must disgust him in perusing even a Grecian story. Again, among the Greeks, grossly superstitious, it was a common opinion that the report of a man's death was a presage of his death; and Orestes, in the first act of Electra, spreading a report of his own death, in order to blind his mother and her adulterer, is even in that case affected with the presage. Such imbecility can never find grace with a modern audience; it may indeed produce some compassion for a people afflicted with absurd terrors, similar to what is felt in perusing a description of the Hottentots; but such manners will not interest our affections, nor attach us to the person. ages represented.

*See chap. 2. part 1. sect. 7.

+ Act 2.



So intimately connected are the soul and body, that every agita tion in the former produceth a visible effect upon the latter. There' is, at the same time, a wonderful uniformity in that operation; each class of emotions and passions being invariably attended with an external appearance peculiar to itself.* These external appear ances or signs may not improperly be considered as a natural language, expressing to all beholders emotions and passions as they arise in the heart. Hope, fear, joy, grief, are displayed externally: the character of a man can be read on his face; and beauty which makes so deep an impression, is known to result not so much from regular features or a fine complexion, as from good-nature, good sense, sprightliness, sweetness, or other mental quality expressed upon the countenance. Though perfect skill in that language be rare, yet what is generally known is sufficient for the ordinary purposes of life. But by what means we come to understand the language is a point of some intricacy: it cannot be by sight merely; for upon the most attentive inspection of the human face, all that can be discerned are figure, colour, and motion, which, singly or combined, never can represent a passion, nor a sentiment: the external sign is indeed visible; but to understand its meaning we must be able to connect it with the passion that causes it, an operation far beyond the reach of eyesight. Where then is the instructor to be found that can unveil this secret connexion? If we apply to experience, it is yielded, that, from long and diligent observation, we may gather, in some measure, in what manner those we are acquainted with express their passions externally: but, with respect to strangers, we are left in the dark; and yet we are not puzzled about the meaning of these external expressions in a stranger, more than in a bosom companion. Further, had we no other means but experience for understanding the external signs of passion, we could not expect any degree of skill in the bulk of individuals: yet matters are so much better ordered, that the external expressions of passions form a language understood by all, by the young as well as the old, by the ignorant as well as the learned: I talk of the plain and legible characters of that language; for undoubtedly we are much indebted to experience in deciphering the dark and more delicate expressions. Where then shall we apply for a solution of this intricate problem, which seems to penetrate deep into human nature? In my mind it will be convenient to suspend the inquiry till we are better acquainted with the nature of external signs, and with their operations. These articles, therefore, shall be premised.

Omnis enim motus animi suum quemdam a natura habet vultum et sonum et gestam. Cicero, l. 3. De Oratore.

The external signs of passion are of two kinds, voluntary and involuntary. The voluntary signs are also of two kinds; some are arbitrary, some natural. Words are obviously voluntary signs; and they are also arbitrary, excepting a few simple sounds expressive of certain internal emotions; which sounds being the same in all languages, must be the work of nature. Thus the unpremeditated tones of admiration are the same in all men, as also of compassion, resentment, and despair. Dramatic writers ought to be well acquainted with this natural language of passion. The chief talent of such a writer is a ready command of the expressions that nature dictates to every person, when any vivid emotion struggles for utterance; and the chief talent of a fine reader is a ready command of tones suited to these expressions.

The other kind of voluntary signs comprehends certain attitudes or gestures that naturally accompany certain emotions with a surprising uniformity. Excessive joy is expressed by leaping, dancing, or some elevation of the body; excessive grief, by sinking or depressing it; and prostration and kneeling have been employed by all nations, and in all ages, to signify profound veneration. Another circumstance, still more than uniformity, demonstrates these gestures to be natural, viz. their remarkable conformity or resemblance to the passions that produce them.* Joy, which is a cheerful elevation of mind, is expressed by an elevation of body. Pride, magnanimity, courage, and the whole tribe of elevating passions, are expressed by external gestures that are the same as to the circumstance of elevation, however distinguishable in other respects; and hence an erect posture is a sign or expression of dignity:

Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall,

Godlike erect, with native honour clad,

In naked majesty, seem'd lords of all.-Paradise Lost, book 4.

Grief, on the other hand, as well as respect, which depress the mind, cannot, for that reason, be expressed more significantly than by a similar depression of the body; and hence to be cast down is a common phrase, signifying to be grieved or dispirited.t

One would not imagine, who has not given peculiar attention, that the body should be susceptible of such variety of attitude and motion, as readily to accompany every different emotion with a corresponding expression. Humility, for example, is expressed naturally by hanging the head; arrogance by its elevation; and languor or despondence by reclining it to one side. The expressions of the hands are manifold. By different attitudes and motions they express desire, hope, fear; they assist us in promising, in inviting, in keeping one at a distance; they are made instruments of threatening, of supplication, of praise, and of horror; they are employed in approving, in refusing, in questioning; in shewing our joy, our

*See chap. 2, part 6.

+ Instead of a complimental speech in addressing a superior, the Chinese deliver the compliment in writing, the smallness of the letters being proportioned to the degree of respect; and the highest compliment is, to make the letters so small as not to be legible. Here is a clear evidence of a mental connexion between respect and littleness; a man humbles himself before his superior, and endeavours to contract himself and his hand-writing within the smallest bounds.

« PreviousContinue »