Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

reality, chiefly, if not entirely, the effect of Habit in familiarizing the mind to artificial combinations of circumstances ; in the same manner in which the general physical laws, which are obvious to the senses of all men, insensibly adapt to themselves the order of their ideas, and render a correspondent set of Habits apparently a Second Nature. Hence it is, that, in viewing a complicated machine, the experienced engineer finds himself at home (if I may use a fa. miliar, but very significant phrase); while, on the same occasion, a person of different pursuits feels as if transported into a new world.

The quickness and variety of intellectual combination, exemplified in every sentence uttered by an extempore speaker, is the result of analogous habits; - And where such a talent includes, not merely a fluency of correct and eloquent expression, but a perfect command of whatever powers he may possess, whether of argument, of persuasion, of fancy, or of wit, it furnishes unquestionably the most splendid of all the proofs that can be produced, of the astonishing capacities of human genius.—But on this topic (which I have often destined for the subject of a separate Essay) I forbear to enlarge at present.

Similar observations to these might be extended to all the various applications of the understanding. Not that I would insinuate, with Helvetius, that, in point of quickness, or of any other mental quality, the whole of our species stand originally on the same level. All that I would be understood to assert amounts to this, that wherever we see the intellec, tual faculties displayed on particular subjects, with

a celerity far surpassing what we are accustomed to remark in ordinary life ; instead of forming any rash inference concerning the inequalities of genius in different individuals, we shall, in general, judge more safely, by considering the fact in question, merely as an illustration of those habits of observation and of study, to which some peculiarity of inclination has predisposed, or some peculiarity of situation has trained the mind. *

To exemplify this conclusion, I can think of no better instance, than that military eye in the survey of a country, which, in some men, appears almost in the form of a Sixth Sense. The French writers al

* A classical author has elegantly conveyed the same maxim, by the order in which he has arranged the qualities enumerated in the following sentence: “ Vincebat omnes curâ, vigilantiâ, pa" tientiâ, calliditate, et celeritate ingeni." The last of the catalogue he plainly considered as only the result of the habits imposed by the former.

Montaigne had probably an idea somewbat similar to this when he remarked (in speaking of the game of chess)-“ La precel“ lence rare et au-dessus du commun messied à un homme “ d'honneur en chose frivole.” A marked and unrivalled pre-eminence in such accomplishments he seems to have considered as, at once, evidence of a more than ordinary degree of industry anıl perseverance, directed to an object of little comparative value, and as symptomatic of an undue desire to display advantages over others, which would cease to attract wonder, if the secret were discovered of the time and labour sacrificed to their acquisition.

The weakness alluded to by Montaigne is, in a more peculiar manner, characteristical of those who have been trained

up,

from childhood, in the habits and prejudices connected with elevated rank,

lude forcibly to the rapidity of its perceptions, by the phrase coup d'ail, which they employ to express it. It is a talent,” says Guibert, in his Essay on Tactics, “ which may be improved, but which is not to “ be acquired by practice. It is an intuitive facul“ty, and the gift of Nature ; a gift which she be“ stows only on a few favourites in the course of an age.

” The same author, however, elsewhere qualifies these very strong assertions, by remarking, that the principal means by which a military man acquires it, is daily practice in his youth ; constantly keeping in view its culture and improvement, not only when actually employed in the field, but while amusing himself with a journey or with a hunting expedition, in times of peace.- In confirmation of this, he refers to the studies and exercises by which Philopæmen (who has been always peculiarly celebrated for this talent) prepared himself for the duties of his profession ; and certainly no example could have been referred to fitter to illustrate the comment, or more directly in opposition to the general maxim. The account given of these studies, by Livy, is so circumstantial and interesting, that I shall make no apology for transcribing it at length ; more especially as it affords a moral lesson, equally applicable to all the various pursuits of mankind.

“ Erat autem Philopoemen præcipuæ in ducendo “ agmine locisque capiendis solertiæ atque usus; nec “ belli tantum temporibus, sed etiam in pace, ad id “ maxime animum exercuerat. Ubi iter quopiam fa“ ceret, et ad difficilem transitu saltum venisset, con“ templatus ab omni parte loci naturam, quum solus

“ erat, secum ipse agitabat animo; quum comites ha“ beret, ab iis quærebat, si hostis eo loco apparuisset, “ quid si a fronte, quid si ab latere hoc aut illo, quid “ si a tergo adoriretur, capiendum consilii foret ? “ Posse instructos recta acie, posse inconditum ag

men, et tantummodo aptum viæ, occurrere. Quem “ locum ipse capturus esset, cogitando aut quærendo, exsequebatur ; aut quot armatis, aut quo ge“ nere armorum usurus : quo impedimenta, quo sar“cinas, quo turbam inermem rejiceret : quanto ea “ aut quali præsidio custodiret ; et utrum pergere

quâ cæpisset ire viâ, an eâ quâ venisset repetere “ melius esset : castris quoque quem locum caperet,

quantum munimento amplecteretur loci, quâ op

portuna aquatio, quâ pabuli lignorumque copia es“ set; quâ postero die castra movendi tutum max“ ime iter, quæ forma agminis foret. His curis “ cogitationibusque,” the historian adds, “ ita ab “ ineunte ætate animum agitaverat, ut nulla ei nova “ in tali re cogitatio esset."

The assertion of Guibert, which led me to introduce the foregoing quotation, may perhaps appear to some too extravagant to merit any notice in the present state of science; but it is not more than a century ago, since the common ideas, even of speculative men, concerning the talent to which it relates, were as vague and erroneous as they are at present, with respect to the general theory of our intellectual habits. Accordingly, we find that Folard, in his essay on the coup d'ail militaire, labours to correct the prejudices of those who considered a military eye as a gift of nature, as strenuously as Mr Burke, Sir

J. Reynolds, Dr Gerard, and Mr Alison, have combated, in our own times, the prevailing doctrines which class Taste among the simple and original faculties which belong to our species.

An accurate examination and analysis of our various acquired powers of judgment and intellectual exertion, as they are exemplified in the different walks of life, would, if I am not mistaken, open some prospects of the Mind, equally new and interesting. At present, however, I propose to confine myself to the power of Taste ; partly on account of its close connection with the train of thinking which I have pursued in the two preceding Essays ; and partly of its extensive influence, in a cultivated society, both on the happiness of individuals, and on the general state of manners. My speculations concerning some other powers of the understanding, which I consider as entirely analogous in their origin, will find a place in the sequel of my work on the Human Mind ; if I should live to execute that part of my plan, which relates to the varieties of genius, and of intellectual character.

It was with a reference to the Power which I am now to examine, and to the doctrine with respect to it, which I wish at present to establish, that I was led, many years ago (in treating of those rapid processes of thought, which it is sometimes of importance to bring to light by patient investigation), to take notice of the peculiar difficulty of arresting and detecting our fleeting ideas, in cases where they

* See Note (O o.)

« AnteriorContinuar »