Imágenes de página

succeeding age, these writers became cold and insipid; " and the refinements of Statius and Tacitus were suc“cessfully employed to gratify the restless pruriency of “ innovation. In all other ages and countries, where “ letters have been successfully cultivated, the progress " has been nearly the same; and in none more distinctly " than in our own: from Swift and Addison, to John

son, Burke, and Gibbon, is a transition precisely simi“lar to that from Cæsar and Cicero, to Seneca and “ Tacitus. In the imitative arts, from the effects of “ novelty, the progress of corruption has been nearly 66 the same.”

Mr. Knight adds afterwards, — and with perfect justice, — that though the passion for novelty has been the principal means of corrupting taste, it has also been a principal means of polishing and perfecting it.

I have said a great deal upon the subject of novelty, and I do not know how I can better conclude than with the termination of an Essay on the same subject, which Dr. Johnson has pronounced to be one of the best-written pieces in the English language.“ To add no more," says the writer, " is not this fondness for novelty, which “ makes us out of conceit with all we already have, a

convincing proof of a future state ? Either man was “ made in vain, or this is not the only world he was " made for: for there cannot be a greater instance of

vanity than that, to which a man is liable to be " deluded, from the cradle to the grave, with fleeting " shadows of happiness; his pleasures die in the pos“ session, and fresh enjoyments do not rise fast enough " to fill his mind with satisfaction. When I see persons “ sick of themselves any longer than they are called

away by something that is of force enough to chain “ down the present thought; when I see them hurry “ from one place to another, and then back again ; con

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

“ tinually shifting postures, and placing life in all the “ different lights they can think of, — surely, say I “ to myself, life is vain, and the man beyond expres“sion stupid or prejudiced, who, from the vanity of “ life, cannot gather, that he is designed for immor




It appears to be a law of our nature, that our past thoughts and actions should exercise a very material influence upon those which are to come. Whatever ideas and whatever actions have been joined together, have, ever after, a disposition to unite, exactly in proportion to the frequency of their previous union ; till at last, the adhesion becomes so strong, that it frequently overcomes the earliest and the most powerful passions of our nature. This power of habit, extends to the brute creation; and appears to have some effect upon organised matter, as I shall hereafter endeavour to show. Why we should be thus affected by habit, I presume cannot be explained. We might have been so constituted as not to have had the smallest disposition to do again, what we had been constantly doing for ten years before; we might have found it as difficult to pursue a track of thought to which we had been accustomed, as it is to strike into one entirely new: the fact is the reverse,—and that is all we can say; when we get there, we arrive at the end of all human reasoning. Every one must be familiar with the effects of habit. A

the quarter-deck, though intolerably confined, becomes so agreeable by custom, that a sailor, in his walk on shore, very often confines himself within the same bounds. “ I knew a man,” says Lord Kames,

walk upon

“ who had relinquished the sea, for a country life: in " the corner of his garden, he reared an artificial mount, “ with a level summit, resembling most accurately a “ quarter-deck, not only in shape, but in size; and here “ he generally walked. In Minorca, Governor Kane “ made an excellent road, the whole length of the island, " and yet the inhabitants adhered to the old road, though “not only longer, but extremely bad. The merchants " of Bristol have an excellent and commodious Ex

change, but they always meet in the street. There is “hardly any convenience of life, or any notion of utility " or beauty, which may not be entirely changed by “habit; it is needless to multiply the instances.”

When ideas are united together in consequence of their having been previously joined by some accident, we call it association. There are various kinds of associations; and it may, perhaps, render what I am going to say more clear, if I recapitulate a few of the different kinds of association. One idea may be associated to another idea ; the lowing of a cow may, in my mind, be constantly united with the idea of a green field. 2dly. An idea and a feeling, may be constantly associated together. Peter, the Wild Boy, as Lord Monboddo informs us, could never bear the sight of an apothecary; it threw him into the most violent fits of rage: a practitioner had once given him so very nauseous a draught, that he never afterwards forgot it, and could with the utmost difficulty be restrained from flying at any of the faculty that came within his reach.

In the like manner, joy, or any other passion, may suggest ideas. A good father, when he is visiting any beautiful country, or partaking of any amusement, may wish that his wife and his children were there to par. ticipate in his satisfaction. Here the feeling of joy, introduces the idea of his family; and this, in a benevolent mind, may grow into an association.

A state of body may be associated with an idea. A

man who had been very often to the high northern latitudes, might very possibly associate the idea of whales and bears with the feeling of cold; or an East Indian might associate a state of heat with the idea of his white cotton dress, or any of the peculiar habits or objects of his country.

A state of body might be associated with a passion: cold might always produce joy in a Norwegian, if it reminded him of the scenes where he had past a happy infancy; or heat would produce unhappiness in a man who had been confined three or four years in the prisons of Seringapatam, and who had suffered dreadfully in such a situation, from the ardour of the climate. Now, when all these conjunctions of ideas, feelings, and states of body, are confined merely to the intellect, they pass under the name of association: but whenever we begin to act in a customary manner, whenever any outward observable action becomes a member of the series, there, we begin to use the word habit.

If a person, by accident, had lived with a great number of snuff-takers, and had been accustomed to perceive that in any little pause of conversation, they all took out their snuff-boxes, the silence would immediately produce the idea of snuff, — and this we should call association of ideas: but if he were a snuff-taker himself, the silence would probably animate him to a pinch, - and this we should call habit. Whatever passes in the mind, only in consequence of custom or repetition, is association: where there is outward action, it is habit. There is no use whatever in the two names: they are, on the contrary, an evil ; because they multiply names without multiplying ideas; but the reason is, that the effects of habit have long been observed, because every one notices actions. It is not above a century since association has been thought of, or much attended to, because it is very difficult to trace and to describe the operations of the mind.

« AnteriorContinuar »