multiplication of words. But, while we find it so much for our convenience to make use of this term, we should be careful and not impose upon ourselves, by ever remembering that it is the name, nevertheless, not of an original and independent faculty, which of itself accomplishes all that has been mentioned, but of a complex or combined action of a number of faculties.


$ 310. Illustration from the writings of Dr. Reid. Dr. Reid (Essay iv., ch 4) gives the following graphical statement of the selection which is made by the writer from the variety of his constantly arising and departing conceptions.—“ We seem to treat the thoughts, that present themselves to the fancy in crowds, as a great man treats those [courtiers) that attend his levee. They are all ambitious of his attention. He

goes round the circle, bestowing a bow upon one, a smile upon another ; asks a short question of a third, while a fourth is honoured with a particular conference; and the greater part have no particular mark of attention, but go as they

It is true, he can give no mark of his attention to those who were not there, but he has a sufficient number for making a choice and distinction.”

$ 311. Grounds of the preference of one conception to another.

A question after all arises, On what principle is the mind enabled to ascertain that congruity or incongruity, fitness or unfitness, agreeably to which it makes the selection from its various conceptions ? The fact is admitted, that the intellectual principle is successively in a series of different states, or, in other words, that there are successive conceptions or images; but the inquiry still remains, Why is one image in the group thought or known to be more worthy than any other image, or why are any two images combined together in preference to any two others ?

The answer is, It is owing to no secondary law, but to an instantaneous and original suggestion of fitness or unfitness. Those conceptions which, by means of this original power of perceiving the relations of things, are found to be suitable to the general outlines of the subject, are detained. Those images which are perceived to possess a peculiar congruity and fitness for each other are united together, forming new and more beautiful compounds. While others, although no directly voluntary power appears to be exercised over either class, are neglected, and soon become extinct. But no account of this vivid feeling of approval or disapproval, of this very rapid perception of the mutual congruity of the images for each other, or for the general conception of the subject, can be given, other than this, that with such a power the original Author of our intellectual susceptibilities has been pleased to form us. This is our nature; here we find one of the elements of our intellectual efficiency; without it we inight still be intellectual beings, but it would be with the loss both of the reasoning power and of the imagination.

312. Illustration of the subject from Milton. What has been said can perhaps be made plainer by considering in what way Milton must have proceeded in forming his happy description of the garden of Eden. He had formed, in the first place, some general outlines of the subject; and as it was one which greatly interest: ed his feelings, the interest which was felt tended to keep the outlines steadily before him. If the feeling of interest was not sufficient to keep the general subject before the mind, he could hardly fail to detain it there by adding the influence of a direct and decisive act of the will. Then the principles of association, which are ever at work, brought up a great variety of conceptions, having a relation of some kind to those general features ; such as conceptions of rocks, and woods, and rivers, and green leaves, and golden fruit. The next step was the exercise of that

which we have of perceiving relations, which we sometimes de nominate the Judgment, but more appropriately the susceptibility or power of Relative Suggestion. By means of this he was at once able to deterrnine whether the conceptions which were suggested were suitable to the general design of the description and to each other, and whether they would have, when combined together to form i ne picture, a pleasing effect. Accordingly, those which were judged most suitable were combined together as parts of the imaginary creation, and were detained and fixed by means of that feeling of interest and those acts of the will which were at first exercised towards the more prominent outlines merely; while others speedily disappeared from the mind. And thus arose an imaginary landscape, glowing with a greater variety and richness of beauty, more interesting and perfect in every respect, than we can ever expect to find realized in nature.


Ø 313. The creations of imagination not entirely voluntary. From the explanation which has been given of the operations of the power under consideration, it will be seen that in its action it is subject to limitations and restrictions. The opinion that even persons of the most ready and fruitful imagination can form new imaginary creations whenever they choose by a mere volition, however widely it may have prevailed, does not appear to be wellfounded. In accordance with what may be regarded as the coinmon opinion, we will suppose, as an illustration of what we mean, that a person wills to imagine a sea of melted brass, or an immense body of liquid matter which has that appearance. The very expressions, it will be noticed, are nugatory and without meaning, since the sea of brass which the person wills to conceive of or imagine is, by the very terms of the proposition, already present to his thoughts. Whatever a person wills, or, rather, professes to will to imagine, he has, in fact, already imagined; and, consequently, there can be no such thing as imaginations which are exclusively the result of a direct act of the will. So that the powers of invention, although the influence of the indirect and subordinate action of the will may be considerable, must be aroused and quickened to their highest efforts in some other way.

And this view admits of some practical applications. Men of the greatest minds (great, we mean, in the walks of literature) are kept in check by the principles which are involved in the exercise of imagination. Genius, whatever capabilities we may attribute to it, has its laws. And it is true, in regard to every standard work of the imagination, that it is the result, not of an arbitrary and unexplainable exercise of that power, but of a multitude of circumstances prompting and regulating its action; such as the situation in life, early education, domestic habits, associates, reading, scenery, religion, and the influence of local superstitions and traditionary incidents. These are like the rain and sunshine to the earth, without which it necessarily remains in its original barrenness, giving no signs of vivification and beauty. In the matter of creative power Bunyan will bear a comparison undoubtedly with Walter Scott; but Scott, in the situation in which he was placed, and with the habits of thought and feeling which he cherished, could not have written the Pilgrim's Progress; nor could Bunyan, on the other hand, have written the Heart of Mid Lothian ; not because either of them was destitute of the requisite degree of imagination, but because the creations of the imagination always have a relation to circumstances, and are not the result of a purely arbitrary act of the will.

$ 314. Illustration of the statements of the preceding section.

It would be an easy matter, and not without interest, to illustrate this fact in the operations of the mind by a reference to the private history of those individuals from whom the great works of literature have originated. But, as this does not come within our plan, we will refer merely to a single instance.—Moore relates, in his life of Lord Byron, that on a certain occasion he found him occupied with the history of Agathon, a romance by Wieland. And, from some remarks made at the time, he seems to be of opinion that Byron was reading the work in question as a means of furnishing suggestions to, and of quickening his own imaginative powers. He then adds, “I am inclined to think it was his practice, when engaged in the composition of any work, to excite his vein by the perusal of others on the same subject or plan, from which the slightest hint caught by his imagination as he read was sufficient to kindle there such a train of thought as but for that spark had never been awakened.”

This is said of a distinguished poet. Painting is an art kindred with poetry, and both are based on the imagination. Accordingly, the remarks which have been made apply also to painting, and, indeed, to every other art which depends essentially on the imaginative power

. “ Invention,” says Sir Joshua Reynolds, “ is one of the great marks of genius; but, if we consult experience, we shall find that it is by being conversant with the inventions of others that we learn to invent, as by reading the thoughts of others we learn to think. It is in vain for painters or poets to endeavour to invent without materials on which the mind may work, and from which invention must originate. Nothing can come of nothing. Homer is supposed to have been possessed of all the learning of his time; and we are certain that Michael Angelo and Raffaelle were equally possessed of all the knowledge in the art which had been discovered in the works of their predecessors.")*

Ø 315. On the utility of the faculty of the imagination We have proceeded thus far in endeavouring to explain the nature of imagination ; and we here turn aside from this general subject for the purpose of remarking on the utility of this power. And this appears to be necessary, since there are some who seem disposed to prejudice its claims in that respect. They warmly recommend the careful culture of the memory, the judgment, and the reasoning power, but look coldly and suspiciously on the imagination, and would rather encourage a neglect of it. But there is ground for apprehending that a neglect of this noble faculty in any person who aspires to a full developement and growth of the mind, cannot be justified either by considerations drawn from the nature of the mind itself, or by the practical results of such a course.

In speaking on the utility of the imagination, it is certainly a very natural reflection, that the Creator had some design or purpose in furnishing men with it, since we find universally that he does nothing in vain. And what design could he possibly have, if he did not intend that it should be employed, that it should be rendered active, and trained up with a suitable degree of culture ? But if we are thus forced upon the conclusion that this facul

* Discourses before the Royal Academy, VI.


« VorigeDoorgaan »