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which, after a short promise of uncommon exuberance, the sources of nourishment have seemed all at once to dry up, and the plant to wither to its very roots, without the hope or the possibility of a revival? —In instances of this last description, I could almost venture to assert, that if circumstances be accurately examined, it will invariably be found, that a lively imagination is united with a weak judgment; with scanty stores of acquired knowledge, and with little industry to supply the defect. The consequence is, that the materials, which it is the province of Imagination to modify and to combine, are soon exhausted; the internal resources of Reason and Meditation are wanting ; and the Imagination either disappears altogether, or degenerates into childishness and folly. In those poets and other artists, on the contrary, who have retained to the last all the powers of their genius, Imagination will be found to be one only of the many endowments and habits, which constituted their intellectualsuperiority;-anunderstanding enriched every moment by a new accession of information from without, and fed by a perennial spring of new ideas from within;—a systematical pursuit of the same object through the whole of life, profiting, at every step, by the lessons of its own experience, and the recollection of its own errors;–above all, the steady exercise of Reason and good sense in controlling, guiding, and stimulating this important, but subordinate faculty; subjecting it betimes to the wholesome discipline of rules, and, by a constant application of it to its destined purposes, preserving to it entire all the advantages which it received from the hand of Nature.
CONTINUATION OF THE SUBJECT.-REPLY TO AN OBJECTION FOUNDED ON THE SUPPOSED WIGOUR OF IMAGINATION IN THE EARLIER PERIODS OF SO= CIETY,
It now only remains for me, before concluding these
speculations, to obviate an objection against a supposition, involved in many of the preceding reasonings, and more especially in the remarks which have been just stated, on the possibility of prolonging the pleasures of Imagination, after the enthusiasm of youth has subsided. The objection I allude to is founded on a doctrine which has been commonly, or rather universally, taught of late; according to which,
imagination is represented as in its state of highest perfection, in those rude periods of society, when the faculties shoot up wild and free. If imagination require culture for its developement; and if, in the mind of an individual, it may be rendered more vigorous and luxuriant when subjected to the discipline of reason and good sense, what account (it may be asked) shall we give of those figurative strains of oratory which have been quoted from the harangues of American Indians; and of those relics of the poetry of rude nations, which it is the pride of human genius, in its state of greatest refinement, to study and to imitate 2 In order to form correct motions with respect to this question, it is necessary to consider, that when I speak of a cultivated imagination, I mean an imagination which has acquired such a degree of activity as to delight in its own exertions; to delight in conjuring up those ideal combinations which withdraw the mind from the present objects of sense, and transport it into a new world. Now, of this activity and versatility of imagination, I find no traces among rude tribes. Their diction is, indeed, highly metaphorical; but the metaphors they employ are either the unavoidable consequences of an imperfect language, or are inspired by the mechanical impulse of passion. In both instances, imagination operates to a certain degree ; but in neither is imagination the primary cause of the effect; inasmuch as in the one, it is excited by passion, and in the other, called forth by the pressure of necessity. A strong confirmation of this remark may be drawn from the indolence of savages, and their improvidence concerning futurity; a feature in their character, in which all the most authentic pictures of it agree. Dr Robertson himself, notwithstanding the countenance which he has occasionally given to the doctrine which I am now combating, has stated this circumstance so very strongly, that it is surprising he was not led, by his own description, to perceive that his general conclusions, concerning the poetical genius of savages, required some limitation. “The thoughts and atten“tion of a savage are confined within the small circle “ of objects immediately conducive to his preserva“tion and enjoyment. Every thing beyond that “escapes his observation, or is perfectly indifferent “to him. Like a mere animal, what is before his “eyes interests and affects him: what is out of sight, “ or at a distance, makes no impression. When, on “the approach of the evening, a Caribbee feels him. “self disposed to go to rest, no consideration will “tempt him to sell his hammoc. But, in the morn“ing, when he is sallying out to the business or pas“time of the day, he will part with it for the slight“est toy that catches his fancy. At the close of “winter, while the impression of what he has suffer“ed from the rigour of the climate is fresh in the “mind of the North American, he sets himself with “vigour to prepare materials for erecting a comfort“able hut to protect him against the inclemencies “of the succeeding season; but, as soon as the wea“ther becomes mild, he forgets what is past, aban“dons his work, and never thinks of it more, until “the return of cold compels him, when too late, to “resume it.” How is it possible to reconcile these facts with the assertion, that Imagination is most lively and vigorous in the ruder periods of society? The indifference of savages to religious impressions, gives additional evidence to the foregoing conclusion.” “The powers of their uncultivated under“standings are so limited,” says the eloquent and faithful historian just now quoted, “that their ob
“mere objects of sense. The numerous and splen“ did ceremonies of popish worship, as they catch “the eye, please and interest them ; but when their “instructors attempt to explain the articles of faith “with which these external observances are connect“ed, though they listen with patience, they so little “conceive the meaning of what they hear, that their “acquiescence does not merit the name of belief. “Their indifference is still greater than their inca“pacity. Attentive only to the present moment, “and engrossed by the objects before them, the In“dians so seldom reflect on what is past, or take “ thought for what is to come, that neither the pro“mises nor threats of religion make much impres“sion upon them; and while their foresight rarely “extends so far as the next day, it is almost impos“sible to inspire them with solicitude about the con“cerns of a future world.” In critical discussions concerning the poetical relics which have been handed down to us from the earlier periods of society, frequent appeals have been made to the eloquence of savage orators, as a proof of the peculiar relish with which the pleasures of imagination are enjoyed by uncultivated minds. But this inference has been drawn from a very partial view of circumstances. The eloquence of savages (as I already hinted) is the natural offspring of passion impatient to give vent to its feelings, and struggling with the restraints of a scanty vocabulary; and it implies none of those inventive powers which are displayed in the creation of characters, of situations, of events, of ideal scenery –none of the powers, in