tures of such objects. When their teachers make an ab stract statement to them of an action or event, they do not understand it; they listen to it with an appearance of confusion and vacancy, for the process is undoubtedly against nature. But show them the objects themselves, or a faithful picture of them, and interpret your abstract expressions by a reference to the object or picture, and they are observed to learn with rapidity and pleasure. The time has not yet arrived for the springing up. and growth of thoughts of an internal and abstract origin.

$ 39. Further proof of the beginnings of knowledge from external


In the third place, the history of language is a strong proof of the correctnessi of the position, that the mind is first brought into action by means of the senses, and acquires its earliest knowledge from that source. At first words are few in number, corresponding to the limited extent of ideas. The vocabulary of savage tribes (those, for example, which inhabit the American continent) is, in general, exceedingly limited. The growth of a language corresponds to the growth of mind; it extends itself by the increased number and power of its words, nearly in exact correspondence with the multiplication and the increased complexity, of thought. Now the history of all language teaches us, that words, which were invented and brought into use one after another, in the gradual way just mentioned, were first employed to express external objects, and afterward were used to express thoughts of an internal origin. Some writer remarks, that among the Boschuanas of South Africa, who live in a parched and arid country, the word PULO, which literally signifies rain, is the only term they have to express a blessing or blessings. But there may be blessings internal as well as external ; goods and joys of the mind as well as of the body; still, in the language of these Africans, it is all rain; the blessings of hope, and peace, and friendship, and submission, and all other modes of intellectual and sentient good, are nothing but rain.

There are thousands of instances of this kind. Almost all the words in every language expressive of the suscep.

tibilities and operations of the mind, may be clearly shown to have had an external origin and application before they were applied to the mind. TO IMAGINE, in its literal signification, implies the forming of a picture; to IMPRESS conveys the idea of leaving a stamp or mark, as the seal leaves its exact likeness or stamp on wax; to REFLECT literally means to turn back, to go over the ground again, &c. These words cannot be applied to the mind in the literal sense ; the nature of the mind will not admit of such an application ; the inference therefore is, that they first had an external application. Now if it be an established truth, that all language has a primary reference to external objects, and that there is no term expressive of mental acts which was not originally expressive of something material, the conclusion would seem to be a fair one, that the part of our knowledge, which has its rise by means of the senses, is, as a general statement, first in origin. And the more so, when we combine with these views the considerations which have been previously advanced.

Ø 40. The same subjut further illustrated. And, in the fourth place, it is not too much to say, that all the observations which have been made on persons who, from their birth, or at any subsequent period, have been deprived of any of the senses, and all the extraordinary facts which have come to our knowledge having a bearing on this inquiry, go strongly in favour of the views which have been given. It appears, for instance, from the observations which have been made in regard to persons who have been deaf until a particular period, and then have been restored to the power of hearing, that they never previously had those ideas which naturally come in by that sense. If a person has been born blind, the result is the same; or if having the sense of sight, it has so happened that he has never seen any colours of a particular description. In the one case he has no ideas of colours at all, and in the other only of those colours which he has seen. It may be said, perhaps, that this is what might be expected, and merely proves the senses to be a source of knowledge, without necessarily involving


the priority of that knowledge to what has an internal origin. But then observe the persons referred to a little further, and it will be found, as a general statement, that the powers of their minds have not been unfolded; they lay wrapped up, in a great measure, in their original darkness; no inward light springs up to compensate for the absence of that which, in other cases, bursts in from the outward world. This circumstance evidently tends to confirm the principle we are endeavouring to illustrate.

Of those extraordinary instances to which we alluded as having thrown some light on the history of our intellectual acquisitions, is the

account which is given in the Memoirs of the French Academy of Sciences for the year 1703, of a deaf and dumb young man in the city of Chartres. At the age of three-and-twenty, it so happened, to the great surprise of the whole town, that he was suddenly restored to the sense of hearing, and in a short time he acquired the use of language. Deprived for so long a period of a sense which in importance ranks with the sight and the touch, unable to hold cominunion with his fellow-beings by means of oral or written language, and not particularly compelled, as he had every care taken of him by his friends and relations, to bring his faculties into exercise, the powers of his mind remained without having opportunity to unfold themselves. Being examined by some men of discernment, it was found that he had no idea of a God, of a soul, of the moral merit or demerit of human actions; and what might seem to be yet more remarkable, he knew not what it was to die; the agonies of dissolution, the grief of friends, and the ceremonies of interment being to him inexplicable mysteries.

Here we see how much knowledge a person was deprived of merely by Kis wanting the single sense of hearing; a proof that the senses were designed by our Creator to be the first source of knowledge, and that without them the faculties of the soul would never become operative.

§ 41. Subject illustrated frum the case of James Mitchell. But the foregoing is not the only instance of this sort


which ingenious men have noticed and recorded. In the Transactions of the Royal Society at Edinburgh (vol. vii., pt. 1) is a Memoir communicated by Dugald Stewart, which gives an account of James Mitchell, a boy born deaf and blind. The history of this lad, who laboured under the uncommon affliction of this double deprivation, illustrates and confirms all that has been above stated. He made what use he could of the only senses which he possessed, those of touch, taste, and smell, and gained from them a number of ideas. It was a proof of the diligence with which he employed the limited means which were given him, that he had, by the sense of touch, thoroughly explored the ground in the neighbourhood of the house where he lived, for hundreds of yards. But deprived of sight, of hearing, and of intercourse by speech, it was very evident to those who observed him, as might be expected, that his knowledge was in amount exceedingly small. He was destitute of those perceptions which are appropriate to the particular senses of which he was deprived ; and also of many other notions of an internal origin, which would undoubtedly have arisen if the powers of the mind had previously been rendered fully operative by means of those assistances which it usually receives from the bodily organs.—Such instances as these, however they may at first appear, are extremely important. They furnish us with an appeal, not to mere speculations, but to fact. And it is only by checking undue speculation, and by recurring to facts, that our progress in this science will become sure, rapid, and delightful.*

$ 42. Illustration from the case of Caspar Hauser. There is a recent instance, perhaps more decisive than has ever before occurred, and as melancholy as it is deeply interesting. We refer to the case of Caspar Hauser. It appears, from all that can be gathered on the subject, that this unfortunate lad was from infancy confined in a

* The statements concerning the young man of Chartres are particularly examined in Condillac's Essay on the Origin of Knowledge, at Section fourth of Part first. The interesting Memoir of Stewart has recently been rep ablished in the third volume of his Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind.


of his age,

low and small apartment, which he sometimes called a cage. No light ever entered this little prison. Till his release in the seventeenth year

he never saw the sky, nor the pleasant light of day, nor ever perceived any difference between day and night. Whenever he awoke from sleep, which was generally sound and at stated intervals, he found a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water. near him. Sometimes the water was mixed with opium or some other intoxicating drug. Under the influence of this mixtyre, which was occasionally given him, he was suddenly cast into a profound slumber; and when he afterward a woke, he found that he had a clean shirt on, and that his nails had been cut. He never saw the face of the man who changed his clothing and brought him his food and drink. The only objects which he had to amuse himself with were two wooden horses and several ribands. These horses he believed to have a degree of life and sensibility. His only occupation was to move them backward and forward by his side ; and to tie the ribands upon them in various positions. While in his little prison he never heard a human voice, nor any other sound except what he himself made in playing with his little wooden companions. Thus it was in a solitude and inactivity little less than that of the grave, he spent his infancy, childhood, and youth.

But it is unnecessary to go into all the particulars of this unfortunate young man's history.

When he was released from his confinement in the year 1828, he was, as nearly as could be ascertained from the structure and developements pf his body, about 17 years of age. And what was the condition of his mind ? He had no knowledge of language, excepting a few words, to which he seems to have attached scarcely any meaning. When he appeared, helpless and alone, in the streets of Nuremberg, the common questions of the police officers were put to him. What is your name? What is your business? Whence came you? But he had no perception of their import. He heard without understanding; he saw without pefceiving; the tears stood in his eye; unintelligible sounds and sorrowful moans burst from his lips. He was entirely ignorant of all the common objects and occurren

« VorigeDoorgaan »