Images de page

§. 158. Contiguity the third general or primary principle,

Those thoughts and feelings, which have been connected together by nearness of time and place, are readily suggested by each other; and, consequently, contiguity in those respects is rightly reckoned, as another and third primary principle of our mental associations. When we think of Palestine, for instance, we very readily and naturally think of the Jewish nation, of the patriarchs, of the prophets, of the Saviour, and of the apostles, because Palestine was their place of residence, and the theatre of their actions. So that this is evidently an instance, where the suggestions are chiefly regulated by proximity of place. When a variety of acts and events have happened nearly at the same period, whether in the same place or not, one is not thought of without the others being closely associated with it, owing to proximity of time ;-When, therefore, the particular event of the crucifixion of the Saviour is mentioned, we are necessarily led to think of various other events, which occurred about the same period, such as the treacherous conspiracy of Judas, the denial of Peter, the conduct of the Roman soldiery, the rending of the veil of the temple, and the temporary obscuration of the sun.

The mention of Egypt suggests the Nile, the Pyramids, Cæsar, Cleopatra, the battle of Aboukir. The naming of the AMERICAN REVOLUTION immediately fills the mind with recollections of Washington, Greene, and many of their associates, whose fortune it was to enlist their exertions in behalf of freedom in the same country and at the same period.

The following passage from captain King's continuation of Cooke's last voyage furnishes a remarkable example of the operations of this principle;-" While we were at dinner in this miserable hut, on the banks of the river, Awatska, and the guests of a people, with whose existence we had before been scarce acquainted, and at the extremity of the habitable globe, a solitary, half-worn, pewter spoon, whose shape was familiar to us attracted our attention; and, on examination, we found it stamped on the back with

the word, LONDON. I cannot pass over this circumstance in silence out of gratitude for the many pleasant thoughts, the anxious hopes, and tender remembrances it excited in us. Those, who have experienced the effects, that long absence, and extreme distance from their native country, produce in the mind, will readily conceive the pleasure such a trifling incident can give."-The beauty of this illustration consists not so much in the city or place having been suggested in consequence of their seeing its name impressed on the pewter spoon, although this may be supposed to have happened on the principle of contiguity, as in the circumstance, that such a multitude of other pleasing recollections thronged around the memory of that place. When they thought of London, they thought of their homes, they thought of the inmates of those homes,they thought of a thousand incidents, which they had there witnessed ;-a striking illustration of the degree of importance, which may be accumulated on the most trivial circumstance, when that circumstance can be made to connect itself effectually with any general principles of our mental constitution.

That, which we have set down, as the third general law of mental association, is more extensive in its influence. than any others. It has been remarked with truth, that proximity in time and place forms the whole calendar of the great mass of mankind. They pay but little attention to the arbitrary eras of chronology; but date events by each other, and speak of what happened at the time of some dark day, or of some great eclipse, or of some war or revolution, or when one neighbour built a house, or another lost a child. The practice of associating a considerable number of facts with some place, or with some event too prominent and wonderful to be easily forgotten, is the great and almost the only instrument, which the mass of people employ in retaining the multitude of particulars of a personal or local nature.

$. 159. Cause and effect the fourth primary principle.

There are certain facts or events, which hold to each other the relation of invariable antecedence and sequence. That fact or event, to which some other one sustains the relation of constant antecedence, is in general called an effect;-And that fact or event, to which some other one holds the relation of invariable sequence, has in general the name of a cause. Now there may be no resemblance in the things, which reciprocally bear this relation, there may be no contrariety, and it is by no means necessary, that there should be contiguity in time or place, as the meaning of the term, contiguity, is commonly understood. There may be CAUSE and EFFECT without any one or all of these circumstances. But it is a fact, which is known to every one's experience, that when we think of the cause in any particular instance, we naturally think of the effect, and, on the contrary, the knowledge or recollection of the effect brings to mind the cause ;-And in view of this well-known and general experience, there is good reason for reckoning CAUSE and EFFECT among the general principles of our mental associations. What we here understand by principles or laws will be recollected, viz. The general designation of those circumstances, under which the regular consecution of mental states occurs.

It is on the principle of cause and effect, that when we see a surgical instrument or any engine of torture, we have an idea of the pain, which they are fitted to occasion, and for a moment are tempted to imagine, that we ourselves are partially the subjects of it. The sight of a wound, inflicted however long before, suggests to us the instrument, by which it was made. When we witness any of our fellow beings in distress, we naturally think of the particular cause of it, if we know what it is; and, if we are ignorant, we make it a subject of inquiry. When we have good news to communicate, we please ourselves with the thought of the joy, which it will occasion, and the bearer of afflictive. tidings cannot but anticipate the grief, which the annunciation of them will produce.

§. 160. Secondary principles of mental association.

There are a variety of circumstances, which modify and slightly control the influence of the general laws or principles of association, and these by way of distinction are called SECONDARY. They are as follows;

(1) Our mental states will, in the first place, be more or less readily associated, according as they existed together for a greater or less length of time at first. Innumerable objects pass before us, which but very slightly arrest our attention; & although a connection is formed among them by the general principles of association, the connection is weak and easily broken, and always of short duration. We cannot, therefore, in general rely on the future remembrance of objects, unless we feel so much interest in them, as to lead us to dwell on them for some time.-(2) The probability of our mental states being associated by the general principles, will depend in some measure, secondly, on the character of the original feelings, and will be greater or less, according as those feelings were more or less lively. Bright objects are more readily recalled, than faint or obscure; also great joys and sorrows, while the many slight pleasures and pains, which are constantly occurring, are almost instantly forgotten.

(3) The parts of any mental train are the more readily suggested, thirdly, in proportion as they have been the more frequently renewed. Having read a sentence a number of times, we find ourselves able to repeat it out of book, which we could not do with merely reading it once.

(4) In the fourth place, our trains of thought and emotions will be found to be more or less strongly connected, according as they are more or less recent. We remember many incidents, even of a trifling nature, which occurred to-day or the present week, while those of yesterday or of last week are forgotten. There is an exception to this law, which should be mentioned. The associated feelings of old men, which were formed in their youth and the early part of manhood, are more readily revived, than those of later origin. This point will be further remarked on in

the chapter on MEMORY. This exception, however, it may be observed here, does not hold universally, even in the case of extreme age. The general rule holds, when the time is not extended far back. Events, which happened but a few hours before, are remembered, while there is an utter forgetfulness of those, which happened a few weeks or even days before.

(5) Our feelings, in the fifth place, are associated more strongly, as each has coexisted less with other feelings. When we have heard a song but from one person, it can scarcely be heard by us again without recalling that person to our memory. If we have heard the same words and air frequently sung by others, there is much less chance of this particular suggestion.

[ocr errors]

(6) The primary or general laws of association are modified, in the sixth place, by diversities in temper and disposition. In the minds of two persons, the one of a cheerful, the other of a gloomy disposition, the trains of thought will be very different. This difference is finely illustrated in those beautiful poems of Milton, L'ALLEGRO and IL PENSEROSO. L'ALLEGRO or the cheerful man finds pleasure and cheerfulness in every object, which he beholds ;-The great sun puts on his amber light, the mower whets his scythe, the milk-maid sings,

"And every shepherd tells his tale
"Under the hawthorn in the dale.

But the man of a melancholy disposition, IL PENSEROSO, chooses the evening for his walk, as most suitable to the temper of his mind; he listens from some lonely hillock to the distant curfew, and loves to hear the song of that "sweet bird,

That shun'st the noise of folly, "Most musical, most melancholy.

Further;-Our trains of suggested thoughts will be modified by those temporary feelings, which may be regarded, as exceptions to the more general character of our dispositions. The cheerful man is not always cheerful, nor is the melancholy man at all times equally sober and contemplative. They are known to exchange characters for

« PrécédentContinuer »