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Groom. O, how it yearn’d my heart, when I beheld
K. Rich. Rode he on Barbary? tell me gentle friend,
Groom. So proudly as he had disdain'd the ground.
K. Rich. So proud that Bolingbroke was on his back!
Richard II. Act V. Sc. 11.
Hamlet, swelled with indignation at his mother's second marriage, was strongly inclined to lessen the time of her widowhood, the shortness of the time being a violent circumstance against her; and he deludes himself by degrees into the opinion of an interval shorter than the real
That it should come to this !
Would have mourn’d longer)-married with mine uncle,
Act 1. Sc. 3.
The power of passion to falsify the computation of time is remarkable in this instance; because time, which hath an accurate measure, is less obsequious to our desires and wishes, than ubjects which have no precise standard of less or more.
Good news is greedily swallowed upon very slender evidence: our wishes magnify the probability of the event, as well as the veracity of the relater; and we believe as certain, what at best is doubtful :
Quel, che l'huom vede, amor li fa invisible
Orland. Furios. cant. i. st. 56..
For the same reason, bad news gains also credit upon the slightest evidence : fear, if once alarmed, has the same effect with hope, to magnify every circumstance that tends to conviction. Shakspeare, who shows more knowledge of human nature than any of our philosophers, hath in his Cymbeline* represented this bias of the mind; for he makes the person who alone was affected with the bad news, yield to evidence that did not convince any of his companions. And Othellot is convinced of his wife's infidelity from circumstances too slight to move any person less interested.
* Act. II. Sc. 6.
† Act III. Sc. 8.
If the news interest us in so low a degree as to give place to reason, the effect will not be altogether the same: judging of the probability or improbability of the story, the mind settles in a rational conviction either that it is true or not. But, even in that case, the mind is not allowed to rest in that degree of conviction which is produced by rational evidence : if the news be in any degree favourable, our belief is raised by hope to an improper height; and if unfavourable, by fear.
This observation holds equally with respect to future events: if a future event be either much wished or dreaded, the mind never fails to augment the probability beyond truth.
That easiness of belief with respect to wonders and prodigies, even the most absurd and ridiculous, is a strange phenomenon; because nothing can be more evident than the following proposition, that the more singular an event is, the more evidence is required to produce belief; a familiar event daily occurring, being in itself extremely probable, finds ready credit, and therefore is vouched by the slightest evidence; but to overcome the improbability of a strange and rare event, contrary to the course of nature, the very strongest evidence is required. It is certain, however, that wonders and prodigies are swallowed by the vulgar, upon evidence that would not be sufficient to ascertain the most familiar occurrence. It has been reckoned difficult to explain that irregular bias of mind; but we are now made acquainted with the influence of passion upon opinion and belief: a story of ghosts or fairies, told with an air of gravity and truth, raiseth an emotion of wonder, and perhaps of dread; and these emotions imposing upon a weak mind, impress upon it a thorough conviction contrary to reason. VoL, I.
Opinion and belief are influenced by propensity as well as by passion. An innate propensity is all we have to convince us, that the operations of nature are uniform: influenced by that propensity, we often rashly think, that good or bad weather will never have an end; and in natural philosophy, writers, influenced by the same propensity, stretch commonly their analogical reasonings beyond just bounds.
Opinion and belief are influenced by affection as well as by propensity. The noted story of a fine lady and a curate viewing the moon through a telescope, is a pleasant illustration : I perceive, says the lady, two shadows inclining to each other; they are certainly two happy lovers : Not at all, replies the curate, they are two steeples of a eathedral.
APPENDIX TO PART V.
Methods that Nature hath afforded for computing Time and
Space. This subject is introduced, because it affords several curious examples of the influence of passion to bias the mind in its conceptions and opinions; a lesson that can'not be too frequently inculcated, as there is not, perhaps, another bias in human nature that hath an influence so universal to make us wander from truth as well as from justice.
I begin with time; and the question is, What was the measure of time before artificial measures were invented; and what is the measure at present, when these are not at hand ? I speak not of months and days, which are computed by the moon and sun : but of hours, or in general of the time that passes between any two occurrences when there is not access to the sun. The only natural measure
is the succession of our thoughts; for we always judge the time to be long or short, in proportion to the number of perceptions and ideas that have passed during that interval. This measure is indeed far from being accurate; because in a quick and in a slow succession, it must evidently produce different computations of the same time: but, however inaccurate, it is the only measure by which we naturally calculate time; and that measure is applied, on all occasions, without regard to any casual variation in the rate of succession.
That measure would, however, be tolerable, did it labour under no other imperfection beside that mentioned : but in many instances it is much more fallacious; in order to explain which distinctly, an analysis will be necessary. Time is computed at two different periods; one while it is passing, another after it is past ; these computations shall be considered separately, with the errors to which each of them is liable. Beginning with computation of time while it is passing, it is a common and trite observation, That to lovers absence appears immeasurably long, every minute an hour, and every day a year: the same computation is made in every case where we long for a distant event; as where one is in expectation of good news, or where a profligate heir watches for the death of an old rich miser. Opposite to these are instances not fewer in number: to a criminal the interval between sentence and execution appears wofully short : and the same holds in every case where one dreads an approaching event; of which even a school-boy can bear witness: the hour allowed him for play, moves, in his
apprehension, with a very swift pace; before he is thoroughly engaged, the hour is gone. A computation founded on the number of ideas, will never produce estimates so regularly opposite to each other; for our wishes do not produce a slow succession of ideas, nor our fears a quick succession. What then moves nature, in the cases mention