Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

studied so long to know. The metaphysicians look directly at it, and to them it is invisible, and they cannot agree what it is, nor how it moves. And when we look aside at the anatomy and physiology of the human frame, or, on the other hand, at the complex and endless variety of human actions and human experience, we catch only a partial and unsatisfactory glimpse of the soul which is beyond.

Thought, as we have suggested, will uncover to us almost anything sooner than the secrets of its own power. It has explained much about the conditions of rapid vegetation, and how to procure profitable crops from the earth; but how little has it yet disclosed of the conditions which secure vigorous thinking, and best promote the development of truth!

But some one may say: "I supposed that the conditions of mental activity were well known; they are quiet, peace of mind, neither too much nor too little food, and a subject which interests the feelings, or effectually calls forth the powers of the mind."

Though you know all this, you are in ignorance still. Truly a savage might profess the art of agriculture in this fashion; for all this is only as if one were to say that the conditions of success in farming were to be where there were no earthquakes or avalanches, that is, to be quiet; to have the ground cleared of trees, that is, to have the mind free from cares and the shadows of sorrows; to have neither too much nor too little sunshine and rain, that is, to be properly fed; and to have good seed to put into the ground, that is, to engage the mind with a topic which it will expand and reproduce. After all these things have been secured, it is only a sort of barbaric husbandry that we have practised. The common and rude experience of men, laboring without thinking about their labor, teaches these things, and the very beginnings of the art and science of Intellectual Economy come beyond and after these.

What shall we say of those moods

which every student passes through, which turn and return upon the mind, irresistible and mysterious? What are the causes of those strange and delightful exaltations of mind in which thought runs like a clock when the pendulum is off, and crowds a week of existence into an hour of time? Whençe are those dull days which come so unexpectedly, and sometimes lead a troop of dull followers, to interrupt our life's work for a week at a time? Where are we to search for obstructions in the channels of the mind when ideas will not flow? How is it that, after a period of clearness and activity in thought, the brain grows indolent, and, without a feeling of illness, or even of fatigue, work lags and stops? By what right is it that, at times, each faculty in our possession seems to grow independent, and refuses to return to its task at our call? What are the secret psychological conditions which influence the mental powers as strangely as if there were a goblin who had power to mesmerize Fancy and put it to sleep, to lock up Imagination in a dreary den of commonplaces, to blindfold Attention and make sport of his vain groping, and to send sober Reason off on foolish errands, so that Mistress Soul has not a servant left?

Such variations of mental power, which we call moods of mind, are often caused, doubtless, by ill-health, or by fatigue, or by some irregularity of habit, or by anxiety of mind; but the experience of every student will probably attest the existence of such variations where none of these causes can be assigned. There are moods which we cannot trace to illness, or weariness, or external circumstances. Men are prone to regard them as whims, which sometimes they struggle against and sometimes they yield to, but at all times wonder at.

The connection of the mind and body, and the dependence of the mind upon the health and vigor of the body, have been much dwelt upon; and we cannot be too deeply sensible of the debt which the student owes to those

never were. I used to wonder if I was n't dead, and had n't made a mistake about the place that I was going

to.

One day there was a noise. I had heard a great many noises, so I did n't take much notice. It came up crunching on the snow, and I did n't know but it was Gabriel or somebody with his chariot. Then I thought more likely it was a wolf.

Pretty soon I looked up, and the door was open; some men were coming in, and a woman. She was ahead of them all, she was; she came in with a great spring, and had my head against her neck, and her arm holding me up, and her cheek down to mine, with her dear, sweet, warm breath all over me; and that was all I knew.

Well, there was brandy, and there was a fire, and there were blankets, and there was hot water, and I don't know what; but warmer than all the rest I felt her breath against my cheek, and her arms about my neck, and her long hair, which she had wrapped all in, about my hands.

"O don't!" said she, and first I knew she was crying.

"But I will," says I, "for I 'm sorry." "Well, so am I," says she. Said I, "I thought I was dead, and had n't made up, Nannie."

"O dear!" said she; and down fell a great hot splash right on my face. Says I, "It was all me, for I ought to have gone back and kissed you.”

"No, it was me," said she, "for I was n't asleep, not any such thing. I peeked out, this way, through my lashes, to see if you would n't come back. I meant to wake up then. Dear me!" says she, "to think what a couple of fools we were, now!"

"Nannie," says I, "you can let the lamp smoke all you want to!"

"Aaron" she began, just as she had begun that other night, “Aaron—” but she did n't finish, and - Well, well, no matter; I guess you don't want to hear any more, do you?

But sometimes I think, Johnny, when it comes my time to go, if ever it does, — I've waited a good while for it, the first thing I shall see will

So by and by my voice came. "Nan- be her face, looking as it looked at me nie!" said I.

just then.

BUSY BRAINS. Austive Affott.

A CHAPTER OF LITERARY ANECDOTE.

F all working systems, the Mind ly her works; she has the assurance to

cealing the method of its operations. "No admittance" is inscribed upon the door of the laboratories of the brain. Approaching a psychological inquiry is like entering a manufactory: curious to observe its ingenious processes, we find that, though we may penetrate its court-yard and ware-rooms, every precaution is taken by its polite proprietors to prevent our interrogating its workmen or understanding its methods. The intellect often displays proud

things else in heaven and earth; but when her life is the subject of inquiry, that life seems to elude her own observation. We see in the evening sky stars so dim that the eye cannot fix upon them; we only catch glimpses of them when we are looking at some other point aside; the moment we turn the eye full upon them, they are lost to our sight. This covert and transient vision is the best which men have ever yct caught of the Mind, which they have

studied so long to know. The metaphysicians look directly at it, and to them it is invisible, and they cannot agree what it is, nor how it moves. And when we look aside at the anatomy and physiology of the human frame, or, on the other hand, at the complex and endless variety of human actions and human experience, we catch only a partial and unsatisfactory glimpse of the soul which is beyond.

Thought, as we have suggested, will uncover to us almost anything sooner than the secrets of its own power. It has explained much about the conditions of rapid vegetation, and how to procure profitable crops from the earth; but how little has it yet disclosed of the conditions which secure vigorous thinking, and best promote the development of truth!

But some one may say: "I supposed that the conditions of mental activity were well known; they are quiet, peace of mind, neither too much nor too little food, and a subject which interests the feelings, or effectually calls forth the powers of the mind."

Though you know all this, you are in ignorance still. Truly a savage might profess the art of agriculture in this fashion; for all this is only as if one were to say that the conditions of success in farming were to be where there were no earthquakes or avalanches, that is, to be quiet; to have the ground cleared of trees, that is, to have the mind free from cares and the shadows of sorrows; to have neither too much nor too little sunshine and rain, that is, to be properly fed; and to have good seed to put into the ground, that is, to engage the mind with a topic which it will expand and reproduce. After all these things have been secured, it is only a sort of barbaric husbandry that we have practised. The common and rude experience of men, laboring without thinking about their labor, teaches these things, and the very beginnings of the art and science of Intellectual Economy come beyond and after these.

What shall we say of those moods

which every student passes through, which turn and return upon the mind, irresistible and mysterious? What are the causes of those strange and delightful exaltations of mind in which thought runs like a clock when the pendulum is off, and crowds a week of existence into an hour of time? Whençe are those dull days which come so unexpectedly, and sometimes lead a troop of dull followers, to interrupt our life's work for a week at a time? Where are we to search for obstructions in the channels of the mind when ideas will not flow? How is it that, after a period of clearness and activity in thought, the brain grows indolent, and, without a feeling of illness, or even of fatigue, work lags and stops? By what right is it that, at times, each faculty in our possession seems to grow independent, and refuses to return to its task at our call? What are the secret psychological conditions which influence the mental powers as strangely as if there were a goblin who had power to mesmerize Fancy and put it to sleep, to lock up Imagination in a dreary den of commonplaces, to blindfold Attention and make sport of his vain groping, and to send sober Reason off on foolish errands, so that Mistress Soul has not a servant left?

Such variations of mental power, which we call moods of mind, are often caused, doubtless, by ill-health, or by fatigue, or by some irregularity of habit, or by anxiety of mind; but the experience of every student will probably attest the existence of such variations where none of these causes can be assigned. There are moods which we cannot trace to illness, or weariness, or external circumstances. Men are prone to regard them as whims, which sometimes they struggle against and sometimes they yield to, but at all times wonder at.

The connection of the mind and body, and the dependence of the mind upon the health and vigor of the body, have been much dwelt upon; and we cannot be too deeply sensible of the debt which the student owes to those

who have made this truth prominent to him. But, after all, it is wonderful with how much independence of bodily suffering and even of suffering in the brain

the mind carries itself, and this fact seems worthy of more distinct recognition than it has received. It significantly confirms our belief in the existence of an immaterial principle, or soul, superior to the mere functions of the brain. Great and healthful mental activity often exists in a disordered body; and biographical literature is full of illustrations of the power of a strong will to accomplish brilliant results while the system is agitated by physical distress.

Campbell, the poet, pursued his regular habit of writing every day, even under the pressure of much bodily pain.

Cowper never, when it was possible to perform his task, excused his frail and desponding body from attendance in his little summer-house, morning and afternoon, until his forty lines of Homer were arrayed in English dress. The ballad of "John Gilpin" originated during one of his illnesses. With the hope of diverting his mind during an unusually severe attack of gloom, Lady Austen related to him the history of the renowned citizen, which she had heard in her childhood. The tale made a vivid impression, and the next morning he told her that the ludicrous incident had convulsed him with laughter during the night, and that he had embodied the whole into a ballad.

Paley's last, and perhaps, for his day, his greatest work, - his "Natural Theology," was principally composed during the period in which he was subject to attacks of that terribly malady, nephralgia.

So great was the delicacy of John Locke's constitution, that he was not capable of a laborious application to the medical art, which was his profession; and it is not improbable that his principal motive in studying it was that he might be qualified, when necessary, to act as his own physician.

His difficulty was a lung complaint, or asthma; but his biographer says: "It occasioned disturbance to no person but himself, and persons might be with him without any other concern than that created by seeing him suffer." Notwithstanding this permanent suffering, his works are alike laborious and voluminous.

Robert Hall, in the period when his intellectual power was most vigorous, pursued his daily studies almost regardless of the pain which was his companion through life. Dr. Gregory pursued a course of study with him in metaphysics and in mathematics; and he writes: "On entering his room in the morning, I could at once tell whether or not his night had been refreshing; for if it had, I found him at the table, the books to be studied ready, and a vacant chair set for me. If his night had been restless, and the pain still continued, I found him lying on the sofa, or, more frequently, upon three chairs, on which he could obtain an easier position. At such seasons, scarcely ever did a complaint issue from his lips; but, inviting me to take the sofa, our reading commenced. . . . . Sometimes, when he was suffering more than usual, he proposed a walk in the fields, where, with the appropriate book as our companion, we could pursue the subject. If he was the preceptor, as was commonly the case in these peripatetic lectures, he soon lost the sense of pain, and nearly as soon escaped from our author, whoever he might be, and expatiated at large upon some train of inquiry or explication which our course of reading had suggested. As his thoughts enkindled, both his steps and his words became quicker, until erelong it was difficult to say whether the body or the mind were brought most upon the stretch in keeping up with him."

Hannah More, who wrote many volumes, and accumulated a fortune of nearly a hundred and fifty thousand dollars from them, was an invalid. In her early life, as well as in her de

clining years, she was subject to successive illnesses, which threw great impediments in the way of her intellectual exertions. Morning headaches prevented her from rising early. She used to say that her frequent attacks of illness were a great blessing to her, independently of the prime benefit of cheapening life and teaching patience; for they induced a habit of industry not natural to her, and taught her to make the most of her well days. She laughingly added, it had taught her also to contrive employments for her sick ones; that from habit she had learned to suit her occupations to every gradation of the measure of capacity she possessed. "I never," she said, "afford a moment of a healthy day to transcribe, or put stops, or cross t's, or dot my i's. So that I find the lowest stage of my understanding may be turned to some account, and save better days for better things. I have learned from it also to avoid procrastination, and that idleness which often attends unbroken health."

Baxter, one of the most voluminous of English writers, was an invalid. After speaking of his multifarious labors as pastor, preacher, and also surgeon to the poor in general, he says these were but his relaxation; his writing was his chief labor, which went slowly on, for he had no amanuensis, and his weakness took up so much of his time. "All the pains that my infirmities ever brought on me," he adds, "were never half so grievous and afflictive as the unavoidable loss of time which they occasioned. I could not bear, through the weakness of my stomach, to rise before seven, and afterwards not till much later; and some infirmities I labored under made it above an hour before I could be dressed. An hour I must have of necessity to walk before dinner, and another before supper, and after supper I could seldom study." He is described as one of the most diseased men that ever reached the full limit of human life, entering upon mature life diseased and

sore from head to foot, and with the symptoms of old age. His "Saint's Rest" was written as his meditation in a severe illness, and after he had been given up by his physicians.

Lindley Murray commenced his work as a grammarian, and his other writings, after disease had fixed upon his declining years. Having successively engaged in the practice of law, and in mercantile pursuits, and having retired from the latter with some property, he fell into ill-health, which compelled him to go abroad, and kept him an exile through the remainder of his long life. The disease with which he was afflicted was a weakness in the lower limbs, which precluded him from walking, and, after a time, from taking any exercise whatever. He was thus imprisoned, as it were, in a countryseat, near York, in England; and here he commenced those literary labors, which, so far from being forbidden by his illness, did much to alleviate his sufferings. He says: "In the course of my literary labors, I found that the mental exercise which accompanied them was not a little beneficial to my health.

The motives which excited me to write, and the objects which I hoped to accomplish, were of a nature calculated to cheer the mind, and to give the animal spirits a salutary impulse. I am persuaded that, if I had suffered my time to pass away with little or no employment, my health would have been still more impaired, my spirits depressed, and perhaps my life considerably shortened."

Of Lord Jeffrey, who was a very hardworking man, it is said that one of his cures for a headache was to sit down and clear up a deep legal question.

The cases of Pascal, Dr. Johnson, Channing, and others, will doubtless occur to the reader. It will suffice here to mention one more,-that of William of Orange, whose vigorous, comprehensive, and untiring intellect through a long course of years wielded and shaped the destinies of England, and enabled him, if not to make a more brilliant page in history, yet to leave

« AnteriorContinua »