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Continuation of the same subject.— Important Uses to which the
Power of Imagination is subservient.
The faculty of imagination is the great spring of human activity, and the principal source of human improvement. As it delights in presenting to the mind scenes and characters more perfect than those which we are acquainted with, it prevents us from ever being completely satisfied with our present condition, or with our past attainments; and engages us continually in the pursuit of some untried enjoyment, or of some ideal excellence. Hence the ardor of the selfish to better their fortunes, and to add to their personal accomplishments; and hence the zeal of the patriot and the philosopher to advance the virtue and the happiness of the human race. Destroy this faculty, and the condition of man will become as stationary as that of the brutes.
When the notions of enjoyment or of excellence which imagination has formed, are greatly raised above the ordinary standard, they interest the passions too deeply to leave us at all times the cool exercise of reason, and produce that state of the mind which is commonly known by the name of enthusiasm , a temper which is one of the most fruitful sources of error and disappointment; but which is a source, at the same time, of heroic actions and of exalted characters. To the exaggerated conceptions of eloquence which perpetually revolved in the mind of Cicero; to that idea which haunted his thoughts of aliquid immensum infinitumque ; we are indebted for some of the most splendid displays of human genius; and it is probable that something of the same kind has been felt by every man who has risen much above the level of humanity, either in speculation or in action. It is happy for the individual, when these enthusiastic desires are directed to events which do not depend on the caprice of fortune.
The pleasure we receive from the higher kinds of poetry takes rise, in part, from that dissatisfaction which the objects of imagination inspire us with, for the scenes, the events, and the characters, with which our senses are conversant. Tired and disgusted with this world of imperfection, we delight to escape to another of the poet's creation, where the charms of nature wear an eternal bloom, and where sources of enjoyment are opened to us, suited to the vast capacities of the human mind. On this natural love of poetical fiction, Lord Bacon has founded a very ingenious argument for the soul's immortality; and, indeed, one of the most important purposes to which it is subservient, is to elevate the mind above the pursuits of our present condition, and to direct the views to higher objects. In the mean time it is rendered subservient also, in an eminent degree, to the improvement and happiness of mankind, by the tendency which it has to accelerate the progress of society.
formances of an earlier date, which describe the adventures of imaginary orders of being. Many of them afford lessons of morality not less instructive than those in our most unexceptionable novels; and they possess, over and above, the important advantage of giving to the imagination of young persons a much more vigor. ous exercise, while they have no such tendency as novels have to mislead them in their views of human life. In most cases, it may be laid down as a rule, that fictitious histories are dangerous, in proportion as the manners they exhibit profess to approach to those which we expect to meet with in the world.
As the pictures which the poet presents to us are never (even in works of pure description) faithful copies from nature, but are always meant to be improvements on the original she affords, it cannot be doubted that they must have some effect in refining and exalting our taste, both with respect to material beauty, and to the objects of our pursuit in life. It has been alleged, that the works of our descriptive poets have contributed to diffuse that taste for picturesque beauty which is so prevalent in England, and to recall the public admiration from the fantastic decorations of art, to the more powerful and permanent charms of cultivated nature, and it is certain that the first ardors of many an illustrious character have been kindled by the compositions of Homer and Virgil. It is difficult to say, to what a degree, in the earlier periods of society, the rude compositions of the bard and the minstrel may have been instrumental in humanizing the minds of savage warriors, and in accelerating the growth of cultivated manners. Among the Scandinavians and the Celtæ we know that this order of men was held in very peculiar veneration; and, accordingly, it would appear, from the monuments which remain of these nations, that they were distinguished by a delicacy in the passion of love, and by a humanity and generosity to the vanquished in war, which seldom appear among barbarous tribes; and with which it is hardly possible to conceive how men in such a state of society could have been inspired, but by a separate class of individuals in the community, who devoted themselves to the pacific profession of poetry, and to the cultivation of that creative power of the mind, which anticipates the course of human affairs; and presents, in prophetic vision, to the poet and the philosopher, the blessings which accompany the progress of reason and refineinent.
Nor must we omit to mention the important effects of imagination in multiplying the sources of innocent enjoyment beyond what this limited scene affords. Not to insist on the noble efforts of genius, which have rendered this part of our constitution subservient to moral improvement : how much has the sphere of our happiness been extended by those agreeable fictions which introduce us to new worlds, and make us acquainted with new orders of being ! What a fund of amusement, through life, is prepared for one who reads in his childhood the fables of ancient Greece! They dwell habitually on the memory, and are ready, at all times, to fill
the intervals of business, or of serious reflection; and in his hours of
PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN MIND.
rural retirement and leisure, they warm his mind with the fire of ancient genius, and animate every scene he enters with the offspring of classical fancy.
It is however, chiefly in painting future scenes that imagination loves to indulge herself, and her prophetic dreams are almost always favorable to happiness. By an erroneous education, indeed, it is possible to render this faculty an instrument of constant and of exquisite distress; but in such cases (abstracting from the influence of a constitutional melancholy) the distresses of a gloomy imagination are to be ascribed not to nature, but to the force of early impressions.
The common bias of the mind undoubtedly is (such is the benevolent appointment of Providence,) to think favorably of the future ; to overvalue the chances of possible good, and to underrate the risk of possible evil; and in the case of some fortunate individuals, this disposition remains after a thousand disappointments. To what this bias of our nature is owing, it is not material for us to inquire: the fact is certain, and it is an important one to our happiness. It supports us under the real distresses of life, and cheers and animates all our labors: and although it is sometimes apt to produce, in a weak and indolent mind, those deceitful suggestions of ambition and vanity, which lead us to sacrifice the duties and the comforts of the present moment, to romantic hopes and expectations ; yet it must be acknowledged, when connected with habits of activity, and regulated by a solid judgment, to have a favorable effect on the character, by inspiring that ardor and enthusiasm which both prompt to great enterprises, and are necessary to ensure their success. When such a temper is united (as it commonly is) with pleasing notions concerning the order of the universe, and in particular concerning the condition and the prospects of man, it places our happiness, in a great measure, beyond the power of fortune. While it adds a double relish to every enjoyment, it blunts the edge of all our sufferings; and even when human life presents to us no object on which our hopes can rest, it invites the imagination beyond the dark and troubled horizon which terminates all our earthly prospects,to wander unconfined in the regions of futurity. A man of benevolence, whose mind is enlarged by philosophy, will indulge the same agreeable anticipations with respect to society; will view all the different improvements in arts, in commerce, and in the sciences, as co-operating to promote the union, the happiness, and the virtue of mankind; and amidst the political disorders resulting from the prejudices and follies of his own times, will look forward with transport, to the blessings which are reserved for posterity in a more enlightened age.
OF REASON, OR THE UNDERSTANDING PROPERLY SO CALLED; AND THE VARIOUS FACULTIES AND OPERATIONS MORE IMMEDIATELY CONNECTED WITH IT.
On the vagueness and ambiguity of the common philosophical language relative to this part of our constitucion.— Reason and reasoning,—understanding,—intellect,-judgment, &c.
The power of Reason, of which I am now to treat, is unquestionably the most important by far of those which are comprehended under the general title of intellectual. It is on the right use of this power, that our success in the pursuit both of knowledge and of happiness depends; and it is by the exclusive possession of it that man is distinguished, in the most essential respects, from the lower animals. It is, indeed, from their subserviency to its operations, that the other faculties, which have been hitherto under our consideration, derive their chief value.
In proportion to the peculiar importance of this subject are its extent and its difficulty ; both of them such as to lay me under a necessity, now that I am to enter on the discussion, to contract, in various instances, those designs in which I was accustomed to indulge myself, when I looked forward to it from a distance. The execution of them at present, even if I were more competent to the task, appears to me, on a closer examination, to be altogether incompatible with the comprehensiveness of the general plan which was sketched out in the advertisement perfixed to the First Part; and to the accomplishment of which I am anxious, in the first instance, to direct my efforts. If that undertaking should ever be completed, I may perhaps be able afterwards to offer additional illustrations of certain articles, which the limits of this part of my work prevent me from considering with the attention which they deserve. I should wish, in particular, to contribute something more than I can here introduce, towards a rational and practical system of logic, adapted to the present state of human knowledge, and to the real business of human life.
“What subject,” says Burke, “ does not branch out to infinity! It is the nature of our particular scheme, and the single point of view in which we consider it, which ought to put a stop to our researches."* How forcibly does the remark apply to all those speculations which relate to the principles of the human mind!
I have frequently had occasion, in the course of the foregoing disquisitions, to regret the obscurity in which this department of philosophy is involved, by the vagueness and ambiguity of words ; and I have mentioned, at the same time, my unwillingness to attempt verbal innovations, wherever I could possibly avoid them, without essential injury to my argument. The rule which I have adopted in my own practice is, to give every faculty and operation of the mind its own appropriate name; following, in the selection of this name, the prevalent use of our best writers; and endeavoring afterwards, as far as I have been able, to employ each word exclusively, in that acceptation in which it has hitherto been used most generally. In the judgments which I have formed on points of this sort, it is more than probable that I may sometimes have been mistaken ; but the mistake is of little consequence, if I myself have invariably annexed the same meaning to the same phrase ;-an accuracy which I am not so presumptuous as to imagine that I have uniformly attained, but which I am conscious of having, at least, uniformly attempted. How far I have succeeded, they alone who have followed my reasonings with a very critical attention are qualified to determine ; for it is not by the statement of formal definitions but by the habitual use of precise and appropriate language, that I have endeavored to fix in my reader's mind the exact import of my expressions.
In appropriating, however, particular words to particular ideas, I do not mean to censure the practice of those who may have understood them in a sense different from that which I annex to them; but I found that, without such an appropriation, I could not explain my notions respecting the human mind, with any tolerable degree of distinctness. This scrupulous appropriation of terms, if it can be called an innovation, is the only one which I have attempted to introduce; for in no instance have I presumed to annex a philosophical meaning to a technical word belonging to this branch of science, wiihout having previously shown, that it has been used in the same sense by good writers, in some passages of their works. After doing this, I hope I shall not be accused of affectation, when I decline to use it in any of the other acceptations in which, from carelessness or from want of precision, they may have been led occasionally to employ it.
Some remarkable instances of vagueness and ambiguity in the employment of words, occur in that branch of my subject of which I am now to treat. The word reason itself is far from being precise in its meaning. In common and popular discourse, it denotes that power by which we distinguish truth from falsehood, and right from wrong; and by which we are enabled to combine means for
* Conclusion of the Inquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful.