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The transition which occurs in the following lines, seems to be suggested by the accidental mention of a word ; and is certainly one of the happiest in our language.
Heavens ! how unlike their Belgic Sires of old !
Numberless illustrations of the same remark might be collected from the ancient Poets, more particularly from the Georgics of Virgil, where the singular selicity of the transitions has attracted the notice even of those, who have been the least disposed to indulge themselves in philosophical refinements concerning the principles of Criticism. A celebrated instance of this kind occurs in the end of the first Book :-the consideration of the weather and of its common prognostics leading the fancy, in the first place, to those more extraordinary phenomena which, according to the superstitious belief of the vulgar, are the forerunners of political revolutions; and, afterwards, to the death of Caesar, and the battles of Pharsalia and Philippi. The manner in which the Poet returns to his original subject, displays that exquisite art which is to be derived only from the diligent and enlightened study of nature.
Scilicet et tempus veniet, clim finibus illis
The facility with which ideas are associated in the mind, is very different in different individuals : a circumstance
which, as I shall afterwards shew, lays the soundation of remarkable varieties among men, both in respect of genius
and of character. I am inclined, too, to think that in the other sex (probably in consequence of early education) ideas are more easily associated together, than in the minds of men. Hence the liveliness of their fancy, and the superiority they possess in epistolary writing, and in those kinds of poetry, in which the principal recommendations are ease of thought and expression. Hence, too, the facility with which they contract or lose habits, and accommodate their minds to new situations; and, I may add, the disposition they have to that species of superstition which is founded on accidental combinations of circumstances. The influence which this facility of association has on the power of Taste, shall be afterwards considered.
Of the Power which the Mind has over the Train of its Thoughts,
By means of the Association of Ideas, a constant current of thoughts, if I may use the expression, is made to pass through the mind while we are awake. Sometimes the current is interrupted, and the thoughts diverted into a new channel, in consequence of the ideas suggested by other men, or of the objects of perception with which we are surrounded. So completely, however, is the mind in this particular subjected to physical laws, that it has been justly observed,” we cannot, by an effort of our will, call up any one thought ; and that the train of our ideas depends on causes which operate in a manner inexplicable by us.
This observation, although it has been censured as paradoxical, is almost self-evident ; for, to call up a particular thought, supposes it to be already in the mind. As I shall have frequent occasion, however, to refer to the observation afterwards, I shall endeavour to obviate the only objection which, I think, can reasonably be urged against it; and which is founded on that operation of the mind, which is commonly called recollection or intentional memory. It is evident, that, before we attempt to recollect the particular circumstances of any event, that event in general must have been an object of our attention. We remember the outlines of the story, but cannot at first give a complete account of it. If we wish to recal these circumstances, there are only two ways in which we can proceed. We must either form different suppositions, and then consider which of these tallies best with the other circumstances of the event; or, by revolving in our mind the circumstances we remember, we must endeavour to excite the recollection of the other circumstances associated with them. The first of these processes is, properly speaking, an inference of reason, and plainly furnishes no exception to the doctrine already delivered. We have an instance of the other mode of recollection, when we are at a loss for the beginning of a sentence in reciting a composition that we do not perfectly remember ; in which case we naturally repeat over, two or three times, the concluding words of the preceding sentence, in order to call up the other words which used to be connected with them in the memory. In this instance, it is evident, that the circumstances we desire to remember, are not recalled to the mind in immediate consequence of an exertion of volition, but are suggested by some other circumstances with which they are connected, independently of our will, by the laws of our constitution. Notwithstanding, however, the immediate dependence of the train of our thoughts on the laws of association, it must not be imagined that the will possesses no influence over it. This influence, indeed, is not exercised directly and immediately, as we are apt to suppose, on a superficial view
* By Lord KAIMEs, and others.
of the subject : but it is, nevertheless, very extensive in its effects ; and the different degrees in which it is possessed by different individuals, constitute some of the most striking inequalities among men, in point of intellectual capacity. Of the powers which the mind possesses over the train of its thoughts, the most obvious is its power of singling out any one of them at pleasure ; of detaining it ; and of making it a particular object of attention. By doing so, we not only stop the succession that would otherwise take place, but, in consequence of our bringing to view the less obvious relations among our ideas, we frequently divert the current of our thoughts into a new channel. If, for example, when I am indolent and inactive, the name of Sir Isaac Newton accidentally occur to me, it will perhaps suggest, one after another, the names of some other eminent mathematicians and astronomers, or of some of his illustrious contemporaries and friends: and a number of them may pass in review before me, without engaging my curiosity in any considerable degree. In a different state of mind, the name of Newton will lead my thoughts to the principal incidents of his life, and the more striking features of his character: or, if my mind be ardent and vigorous, will lead my attention to the sublime discoveries he made, and gradually engage me in some philosophical investigation. To every object, there are others which bear obvious and striking relations ; and others, also, whose relation to it does not readily occur to us, unless we dwell upon it for some time, and place it before us in different points of view. But the principal power we possess over the train of our ideas, is founded on the influence which our habits of think: ing have on the laws of Association; an influence which is so great, that we may often form a pretty shrewd judgment
concerning a man's prevailing turn of thought, from the WOL. I.
transitions he makes in conversation or in writing. It is well known, too, that by means of habit, a particular associating principle may be strengthened to such a degree, as to give us a command of all the different ideas in our mind, which have a certain relation to each other; so that when any one of the class occurs to us, we have almost a certainty that it will suggest the rest. What confidence in his own powers must a speaker possess, when he rises without premeditation, in a popular assembly, to amuse his audience with a lively or an humorous speech | Such a considence, it is evident, can only arise from a long experience of the strength of particular associating principles. To how great a degree this part of our constitution may be influenced by habit, appears from facts which are familiar to every one. A man who has an ambition to become a punster, seldom or never fails in the attainment of his object; that is, he seldom or never fails in acquiring a power which other men have not, of summoning up, on a particular occasion, a number of words different from each other in meaning, and resembling each other, more or less, in sound. I an inclined to think that even genuine wit is a habit acquired in a similar way; and that, although some individuals may, from natural constitution, be more fitted than others to acquire this habit, it is founded in every case on a peculiarly strong association among certain classes of our ideas, which gives the person who possesses it, a command over those ideas which is denied to ordinary men. But there is no instance in which the effect of habits of association is more remarkable, than in those men who possess a facility of rhyming. That a man should be able to express his thoughts perspicuously and elegantly, under the restraints which rhyme imposes, would appear to be incredible, if we did not know it to be fact. Such a power implies a wonderful command both of ideas and of expressions, and yet