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an inferiour model of perfection. What Reynolds observes of Painting, may be applied to all the other Fine Arts; that, “as the Painter, by bringing together in one piece, those “beauties, which are dispersed amongst a great variety of “individuals, produces a figure more beautiful than can be “found in nature; so that artist who can unite in himself “ the excellencies of the various painters, will approach “nearer to perfection than any of his masters.”*
Of the Influence of Imagination on Human Character and Happiness.
HiTHER.To we have considered the power of Imagination chiefly as it is connected with the Fine Arts. But it deserves our attention still more, on account of its extensive influence on human character and happiness. The lower animals, as far as we are able to judge, are entirely occupied with the objects of their present perceptions: and the case is nearly the same with the inferiour orders of our own species. One of the principal effects which a liberal education produces on the mind, is to accustom us to withdraw our attention from the objects of sense, and to direct it, at pleasure, to those intellectual combinations which delight the imagination. Even, however, among men of cultivated understandings, this faculty is possessed in very unequal degrees by different individuals; and these differences (whether resulting from original constitution or from early education) lay the foundation of some striking varieties in human character. What we commonly call sensibility, depends, in a great measure, on the power of imagination. Point out to two men, any object of compassion ;-a man, for example, reduced by misfortune from easy circumstances to indigence. The one feels merely in proportion to what he perceives
by his senses. The other follows, in imagination, the unfortunate man to his dwelling, and partakes with him and his family in their domestic distresses. He listens to their eonversation, while they recal to remembrance the flattering prospects they once indulged; the circle of friends they had been forced to leave ; the liberal plans of education which were begun and interrupted ; and pictures out to himself all the various resources which delicacy and pride suggest, to conceal poverty from the world. As he proceeds in the painting, his sensibility increases, and he weeps, not for what he sees, but for what he imagines. It will be said, that it was his sensibility which originally roused his imagination ; and the observation is undoubtedly true ; but it is equally evident, on the other hand, that the warmth of his imagination increases and prolongs his sensibility. This is beautifully illustrated in the Sentimental Journey of Sterne. While engaged in a train of reflections on the State Prisons in France, the accidental sight of a starling in a cage suggests to him the idea of a captive in his dungeon. He indulges his imagination, “and looks through “the twilight of the grated door to take the picture.” “I beheld,” (says he,) “his body half-wasted away with “long expectation and confinement, and felt what kind of “sickness of the heart it is, which arises from hope defer“red. Upon looking nearer, I saw him pale and feverish : “in thirty years the western breeze had not once sanned his “blood : he had seen no sun, no moon, in all that time, nor “had the voice of friend or kinsman breathed through his “ lattice. His children But here my heart began to “bleed, and I was forced to go on with another part of the “portrait. “He was sitting upon the ground, in the farthest corner “of his dungeon, on a little straw, which was alternately “his chair and bed : a little calendar of small sticks was “laid at the head, notched all over with the dismal days' “and nights he had passed there :—he had one of these “little sticks in his hand, and with a rusty nail he was “etching another day of misery to add to the heap. As I “darkened the little light he had, he lifted up a hopeless “eye towards the door, then cast it down—shook his head, “ and went on with his work of affliction.” The foregoing observasions may account, in part, for the effect which exhibitions of fictitious distress produce on some persons, who do not discover much sensibility to the distresses of real life. In a Novel, or a Tragedy, the picture is completely finished in all its parts; and we are made acquainted not only with every circumstance on which the distress turns, but with the sentiments and feelings of every character with respect to his situation. In real life we see, in general, only detached scenes of the Tragedy : and the impression is slight, unless imagination finishes the characters, and supplies the incidents that are wanting. It is not only to scenes of distress that imagination increases our sensibility. It gives us a double share in the prosperity of others, and enables us to partake, with a more lively interest, in every fortunate incident that occurs either to individuals or to communities. Even from the productions of the earth, and the vicissitudes of the year, it carries forward our thoughts to the enjoyments they bring to the sensitive creation, and by interesting our benevolent affections in the scenes we behold, lends a new charm to the beauties of nature. I have often been inclined to think, that the apparent coldness and selfishness of mankind may be traced, in a great measure, to a want of attention and a want of imagination. In the case of misfortunes which happen to ourselves, or to our near connections, neither of these powers is necessary to make us acquainted with our situation ; so
that we feel, of necessity, the correspondent emotions. But without an uncommon degree of both, it is impossible for any man to comprehend completely the situation of his neighbour, or to have an idea of a great part of the distress which exists in the world. If we feel therefore more for ourselves than for others, the difference is to be ascribed, at least partly, to this ; that, in the former case, the facts which are the foundation of our feelings, are more fully before us than they possibly can be in the latter. In order to prevent misapprehensions of my meaning, it is necessary for me to add, that I do not mean to deny that it is a law of our nature, in cases in which there is an interference between our own interest and that of other men, to give a certain degree of preference to ourselves; even supposing our neighbour's situation to be as completely known to us as our own. I only affirm, that, where this preference becomes blameable and unjust, the effect is to be accounted for partly in the way I mentioned.* One striking proof of this is, the powerful emotions which may be occasionally excited in the minds of the most callous, when the attention has once been fixed, and the imagination awakened, by eloquent and circumstantial and pathetic description. A very amiable and profound moralist, in the account which he has given of the origin of our sense of justice, has, I think, drawn a less pleasing picture of the natural constitution of the human mind, than is agreeable to truth. “To disturb,” (says he,) “the happiness of our neigh“bour, merely because it stands in the way of our own ; to “take from him what is of real use to him, merely because “it may be of equal or of more use to us; or, to indulge, “in this manner, at the expense of other people, the natu“ral preference which every man has for his own happi“ness above that of other people, is what no impartial spec“tator can go along with. Every man is, no doubt, first “and principally recommended to his own care ; and as he “is fitter to take care of himself than of any other person, “it is fit and right that it should be so. Every man, “therefore, is much more deeply interested in whatever “immediately concerns himself, than in what concerns any “other man : and to hear, perhaps, of the death of another “person with whom we have no particular connection, will “give us less concern, will spoil our stomach, or break our “rest, much less than a very insignificant disaster which “has befallen ourselves. But though the ruin of our neigh“bour may affect us much less than a very small misfortune “of our own, we must not ruin him to prevent that small “misfortune, nor even to prevent our own ruin. We must “here, as in all other cases, view ourselves not so much “according to that light in which we may naturally appear “to ourselves, as according to that in which we naturally “appear to others. Though every man may, according to “the proverb, be the whole world to himself, to the rest of “mankind he is a most insignificant part of it. Though his “own happiness may be of more importance to him than “that of all the world besides, to every other person it is “of no more consequence than that of any other man. “Though it may be true, therefore, that every individual, “in his own breast, naturally prefers himself to all mankind, “yet he dares not look mankind in the face, and avow that “he acts according to this principle. He feels that, in this “preference they can never go along with him, and that how “natural soever it may be to him, it must always appear “excessive and extravagant to them. When he views “himself in the light in which he is conscious that others “will view him, he sees that to them he is but one of the
* I say partly; for habits of inattention to the situation of other men undoubtedly presuppose some defect in the social affections.