ePub 版

ing the person who feels it, to trust too much to extempore exertions.” In general, I believe it may be laid down as a rule, that those who carry about with them a great degree of acquired information, which they have always at command, or who have rendered their own discoveries so familiar to them, as always to be in a condition to explain them, without recollection, are very seldom possessed of much invention, or even of much quickness of apprehension. A man of original genius, who is fond of exercising his reasoning powers anew on every point as it occurs to him, and who cannot submit to rehearse the ideas of others, or to repeat by rote the conclusions which he has deduced from previous reflection, often appears, to superficial observers, to fall below the level of ordinary understandings; while another, destitute both of quickness and invention, is admired for that promptitude in his decisions, which arises from the inferiority of his intellectual abilities. It must indeed be acknowledged in favour of the last description of men, that in ordinary conversation they form the most agreeable, and perhaps the most instructive companions. How inexhaustible soever the invention of an individual may be, the variety of his own peculiar ideas can bear no proportion to the whole mass of useful and curious information of which the world is already possessed. The conversation, accordingly, of men of genius, is sometimes extremely limited; and is interesting to the few alone, who know the value, and who can distinguish the marks of originality. In consequence too of that partiality which every man feels for his own speculations, they are more in danger of being dogmatical and disputatious, than those who have no system which they are interested to defend.

* In the foregoing observations it is not meant to be implied, that originality of genius is incompatible with a ready recollection of acquired knowledge; but only that it has a tendency unfavourable to it, and that more time and practice will commonly be necessary to familiarize the mind of a man of invention to the ideas of others, or even to the conclusions of his own understanding, than are requisite in ordinary cases. Habits of literary conversation, and, still more, habits of extempore discussion in a popular assembly, are peculiarly useful in giving us a ready and practical command of our knowledge. There is much good sense in the following aphorism of Bacon: “Reading makes a full man, writing a correct man, and speaking a ready man.” See a commentary on this aphorism in one of the Numbers of the Adventurer.

WOL. I. 51

The same observations may be applied to authors. A book which contains the discoveries of one individual only, may be admired by a few, who are intimately acquainted with the history of the science to which it relates, but it has little chance for popularity with the multitude. An author who possesses industry sufficient to collect the ideas of others, and judgment sufficient to arrange them skilfully, is the most likely person to acquire a high degree of literary fame: and although, in the opinion of enlightened judges, invention forms the chief characteristic of genius, yet it commonly happens that the objects of public admiration are men who are much less distinguished by this quality, than by extensive learning and cultivated taste. Perhaps too, for the multitude, the latter class of authors is the most useful; as their writings contain the more solid discoveries which others have brought to light, separated from those errours with which truth is often blended in the first formation of a system.



OF iMagination.

Analysis of Imagination.

In attempting to draw the line between Conception and Imagination, I have already observed, that the province of the former is to present us with an exact transcript of what we have formerly felt and perceived; that of the latter, to make a selection of qualities and of circumstances from a variety of different objects, and by combining and disposing these, to form a new creation of its own. According to the definitions adopted, in general, by modern philosophers, the province of imagination would appear to be limited to objects of sight. “It is the sense of sight,” (says Mr. Addison,) “which furnishes the Imagination “with its ideas; so that by the pleasures of Imagination, I “here mean such as arise from visible objects, either when “we have them actually in view, or when we call up their “ideas into our minds, by paintings, statues, descriptions, “ or any the like occasions. We cannot, indeed, have a “single image in the fancy, that did not make its first en“trance through the sight.” Agreeably to the same view of the subject, Dr. Reid observes, that “Imagination pro“perly signifies a lively conception of objects of sight; the “former power being distinguished from the latter, as a “part from the whole.” That this limitation of the province of imagination to one particular class of our perceptions is altogether arbitrary,

seems to me to be evident; for, although the greater part of the materials which imagination combines be supplied by this sense, it is nevertheless indisputable, that our other perceptive faculties also contribute occasionally their share. How many, pleasing images have been borrowed from the fragrance of the fields and the melody of the groves; not to mention that sister art, whose magical influence over the human frame, it has been, in all ages, the highest boast of poetry to celebrate In the following passage, even the more gross sensations of Taste form the subject of an ideal repast, on which it is impossible not to dwell with some complacency; particularly after a perusal of the preceding lines, in which the Poet describes “the wonders of “ the Torrid Zone.”

Bear me, Pomona to thy citron groves;
To where the lemon and the piercing lime,
With the deep orange, glowing through the green,
Their lighter glories blend. Lay me reclin'd
Beneath the spreading tamarind that shakes,
Fann'd by the breeze, its sever-cooling fruit:
Or, stretch'd amid these orchards of the sun,
O let me drain the cocoa's milky bowl,
More bounteous far than all the frantic juice
Which Bacchus pours! Nor, on its slender twigs
Low bending, be the full pomegranate scorn'd;
Nor, creeping through the woods, the gelid race
Of berries. Oft in humble station dwells
Unboastful worth, above fastidious pomp.
Witness, thou best Anana, thou the pride
Of vegetable life, beyond whate'er
The Poets imag'd in the golden age:
Quick let me strip thee of thy spiny coat,
Spread thy ambrosial stores, and feast with Jove!”

What an assemblage of other conceptions, different from all those hitherto mentioned, has the genius of Virgil come bined in one distich

* Thomson's Summer.

Hic gelidi fontes, hic mollia prata, Lycori,
Hic nemus: hic ipso tecum consumerer aevo.

These observations are sufficient to show, how inadequate a notion of the province of Imagination (considered even in its reference to the sensible world) is conveyed by the definitions of Mr. Addison and of Dr. Reid.—But the sensible world, it must be remembered, is not the only field where Imagination exerts her powers. All the objects of human knowledge supply materials to her forming hand; diversifying infinitely the works she produces, while the mode of her operation remains essentially uniform. As it is the same power of Reasoning which enables us to carry on our investigations with respect to individual objects, and with respect to classes or genera; so it was by the same process of Analysis and Combination, that the genius of Milton produced the Garden of Eden; that of Harrington, the Commonwealth of Oceana; and that of Shakespeare, the characters of Hamlet and Falstaff. The difference between these several efforts of invention, consists only in the manner in which the original materials were acquired; as far as the power of Imagination is concerned, the processes are perfectly analogous.

The attempts of Mr. Addison and of Dr. Reid to limit the province of imagination to objects of sight, have plainly proceeded from a very important fact, which it may be worth while to illustrate more particularly;-That the mind has a greater facility, and, of consequence, a greater delight in recalling the perceptions of this sense than those of any of the others; while, at the same time, the variety of qualities perceived by it is incomparably greater. It is this sense, accordingly, which supplies the painter and the statuary with all the subjects on which their genius is exercised; and which furnishes to the descriptive poet the largest and the most valuable portion of the materials which he combines. In that absurd species of prose composition, too,

« 上一頁繼續 »