ePub 版

the left, or to choose between any two directions on which he is called upon to decide, his mind is so far brought into action as the case may expressly require, and no further.

I have here instanced in the case of the peripatetic: but of how many classes and occupations of human life may not the same thing be affirmed ? It happens to the equestrian, as well as to him that walks on foot. It occurs to him who cultivates the fruits of the earth, and to him who is occupied in any of the thousand manufactures which are the result of human ingenuity. It happens to the soldier in his march, and to the mariner on board his vessel. It attends the individuals of the feinale sex through all their diversified modes of industry, the laundress, the housemaid, the sempstress, the netter of purses, the knotter of fringe, and the worker in tambour, tapestry and embroidery. In all, the limbs or the fingers are employed mechanically; the attention of the mind is only required at intervals ; and the thoughts remain for the most part in a state of non-excitation and repose.

It is a curious question, but extremely difficult of solution, what portion of the day of every human creature must necessarily be spent in this sort of intellectual indolence. In the lower classes of society its empire is certainly very great; its influence is extensive over a large portion of the opulent and luxurious ; it is least among those who are intrust

ed in the more serious affairs of mankind, and among the literary and the learned, those who waste their lives, and consume the midnight-oil, in the search after knowledge.

It appeared with sufficient clearness in the immediately preceding Essay, that the intellect cannot be always on the stretch, nor the bow of the inind for ever bent. In the act of composition, unless where the province is of a very inferior kind, it is likely that not more than two or three hours at a time can be advantageously occupied. But in literary labour it will often occur, that, in addition to the hours expressly engaged in composition, much time may be required for the collecting materials, the collating of authorities, and the bringing together a variety of particulars, so as to sift from the mass those circumstances which may best conduce to the purpose of the writer. In all these preliminary and inferior enquiries it is less necessary that the mind should be perpetually awake and on the alert, than in the direct office of composition. The situation is considerably similar of the experimental philosopher, the man who by obstinate and unconquerable application resolves to wrest from nature her secrets, and apply them to the improvement of social life, or to the giving to the human mind a wider range or a more elevated sphere. A great portion of this employment consists more in the motion of the hands and the opportune glance of the eye, than in the labour of the head, and allows to the operator

from time to time an interval of rest from the momentous efforts of invention and discovery, and the careful deduction of consequences in the points to be elucidated.

There is a distinction, sufficiently familiar to all persons who occupy a portion of their time in reading, that is made between books of instruction, and books of amusement. From the student of mathematics or any of the higher departments of science, from the reader of books of investigation and argument, an active attention is demanded. Even in the perusal of the history of kingdoms and nations, or of certain memorable periods of public affairs, we can scarcely proceed with any satisfaction, unless in so far as we collect our thoughts, compare one part of the narrative with another, and hold the mind in a state of activity. We are obliged to reason while we read, and in some degree to construct a discourse of our own, at the same time that we follow the statements of the author before us. Unless we do this, the sense and spirit of what we read will be apt to slip from under our observation, and we shall by and by discover that we are putting together words and sounds only, when we purposed to store our minds with facts and reflections. We apprehended not the sense of the writer even when his pages were under our eye, and of consequence have nothing laid up in the memory after the hour of reading is completed.

In works of amusement it is otherwise, and most

especially in writings of fiction. These are sought after with avidity by the idle, because for the most part they are found to have the virtue of communi. cating impressions to the reader, even while his mind remains in a state of passiveness. He finds himself agreeably affected with fits of mirth or of sorrow, and carries away the facts of the tale, at the same time that he is not called upon for the act of attention. This is therefore one of the modes of luxury especially cultivated in a highly civilized state of society.

The same considerations will also explain to us the principal part of the pleasure that is experienced by mankind in all states of society from public shews and exhibitions. The spectator is not called upon to exert himself; the amusement and pleasure come to him, while he remains voluptuously at his ease; and it is certain that the exertion we make when we are compelled to contribute to,and become in part the cause of our own entertainment, is more than the human mind is willing to sustain, except at seasons in which we are specially on the alert and awake.

This is further one of the causes why men in general feel prompted to seek the society of their fellows. We are in part no doubt called upon in select society to bring our own information along with

us, and a certain vein of wit, humour or narrative, that we may contribute our proportion to the general stock. We read the newspapers, the newest pub

lications, and repair to places of fashionable amusenient and resort; partly that we may at least be upon a par with the majority of the persons we are likely to meet. But many do not thus prepare themselves, nor does perhaps any one upon all occasions.

There is another state of human existence in which we expressly dismiss from our hands the reins of the mind, and suffer our minutes and our hours to glide by us undisciplined and at random. This is, generally speaking, the case in a period of sickness. We have no longer the courage to be on the alert, and to superintend the march of our thoughts. It is the same with us for the most part when at any time we lie awake in our beds. To speak from my own experience, I am in a restless and uneasy state while I am alone in my sittingroom, unless I have some occupation of my own choice, writing or reading, or any of those employments the pursuit of which was chosen at first, and which is more or less under the direction of the will afterwards. But when awake in my bed, either in health or sickness, I am reasonably content to let my thoughts flow on agreeably to those laws of association by which I find them directed, without giving myself the trouble to direct them into one channel rather than another, or to marshal and actively to prescribe the various turns and mutations they may be impelled to pursue.

It is thus that we are sick; and it is thus that we

« 上一頁繼續 »