Imatges de pÓgina
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CHAPTER IX.

UNIFORMITY AND VARIETY.

In attempting to explain uniformity and variety, in order to show how we are affected by these circumstances, a doubt occurs, what method ought to be followed. In adhering close to the subject, I foresee difficulties; and yet by indulging such a circuit as may be necessary for a satisfactory view, I probably shall incur the censure of wandering.-Yet the dread of censure ought not to prevail over what is proper: beside that the intended circuit will lead to some collateral matters, that are not only curious, but of considerable importance in the science of human nature.

The necessary succession of perceptions may be examined in two different views; one with respect to order and connexion, and one with respect to uniformity and variety. In the first view it is handled above :* and I now proceed to the second. The world we inhabit is replete with things no less remarkable for their variety than for their number: these, unfolded by the wonderful mechanism of external sense, furnish the mind with many perceptions; which, joined with ideas of memory, of imagination, and of reflection, form a complete train that has not a gap or interval. This train of perceptions and ideas depends very little on will. The mind, as has been observed,t is so constituted, “That it can by no effort break

* Chapter i.

* Locke, book ii, chap. 14.

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" off the succession of its ideas, nor keep its attention long “ fixed upon the same object:" we can arrest a perception in its course; we can shorten its natural duration, to make room for another; we can vary the succession, by change of place or of amusement; and we can in some measure prevent variety, by frequently recalling the same object after short intervals : but still there must be a succession, and a change from one perception to another. By artificial means, the succession may be retarded or accelerated, may be rendered more various or more uniform, but in one shape or another is unavoidable.

The train, even when left to its ordinary course, is not always uniform in its motion; there are natural causes that accelerate or retard it considerably. The first I shall mention, is a peculiar constitution of mind. One man is distinguished from another, by no circumstance more remarkably, than his train of perceptions: to a cold languid temper belongs a slow course of perceptions, which occasions a dullness of apprehension and sluggishness in action : to a warm temper, on the contrary, belongs a quick course of perceptions, which occasions quickness of apprehension and activity in business. The Asiatic nations, the Chinese especially, are observed to be more cool and deliberate than the Europeans: may not the reason be, that heat enervates by exhausting the spirits ? and that a certain degree of cold, as in the middle regions of Europe, bracing the fibres, rouseth the mind, and produceth a brisk circulation of thought, accompanied with vigour in action? In youth is observable a quicker succession of perceptions than in old age: and hence, in youth a remarkable avidity for variety of amusements, which in riper years give place to more uniform and more sedate occupation. This qualifies men of middle age for business, where activity is required, but with a greater proportion of uniformity than variety. In old age, a slow Vol. 1.

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and languid succession makes variety unnecessary; and for that reason, the aged, in all their motions, are generally governed by an habitual uniformity. Whatever be the cause, we may venture to pronounce, that heat in the imagination and temper, is always connected with a brisk flow of perceptions.

The natural rate of succession, depends also in some degree, upon the particular perceptions that compose the train. An agreeable object, 'taking a strong hold of the mind, occasions a slower succession than when the objects are indifferent : grandeur and novelty fix the attention for a considerable time, excluding all other ideas : and the mind thus occupied is sensible of no vacuity. Some emotions, by hurrying the mind from object to object, accelerate the succession. Where the train is composed of connected perceptions or ideas, the succession is quick; for it is so ordered by nature, that the mind goes easily and sweetly along connected objects.* On the other hand, the succession must be slow, where the train is composed of unconnected perceptions or ideas, which find not ready access to the mind; and that an unconnected object is not admitted without a struggle, appears from the unsettled state of the mind for some moments after such an object is presented, wavering between it and the former train : during that short period one or other of the former objects will intrude, perhaps oftener than once, till the attention be fixed entirely upon the new object. The same observations are applicable to ideas suggested by language: the mind can bear a quick succession of related ideas; but an unrelated idea, for which the mind is not prepared, takes time to make an impression; and therefore a train composed of such ideas, ought to proceed with a slow pace. Hence an epic poem, a play, or

* See Chapter i.

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any story connected in all its parts, may be perused in a shorter time, than a book of maxims or apothegms, of · which a quick succession creates both confusion and fatigue.

Such latitude hath nature indulged in the rate of succession; what latitude it indulges with respect to uniformity, we proceed to examine. The uniformity or variety of a train, so far as composed of perceptions, depends on the particular objects that surround the percipient at the time. The present occupation must also have an influence; for one is sometimes engaged in a multiplicity of affairs, sometimes altogether vacant. tural train of ideas of memory is more circumscribed, each object being, by some connexion, linked to what precedes and to what follows it: these connexions, which are many, and of different kinds, afford scope for a sufficient degree of variety; and at the same time prevent that degree which is unpleasant by excess. Temper and constitution also have an influence here, as well as upon the rate of succession : a man of a calm and sedate temper, admits not willingly any idea but what is regularly introduced by a proper connexion; one of a roving disposition embraces with avidity every new idea, however slender its relation be to those that preceded it. Neither must we overlook the nature of the perceptions that compose the train ; for their influence is no less with respect to uniformity and variety, than with respect to the rate of succession. The mind engrossed by any passion, love or hatred, hope or fear, broods over its object, and can bear no interruption; and in such a state, the train of perceptions must not only be slow, but extremely uniform. Anger newly inflamed eagerly grasps its object, and leaves not a cranny in the mind for another thought but of revenge. In the character of Hotspur, that state of mind

is represented to the lise; a picture remarkable for likeness as well as for high colouring.

Worcester. Peace, cousin, say no more.
And now I will unclasp a secret book,
And to your quick conceiving discontents
I'll read you matter, deep and dangerous ;
As full of peril and advent'rous spirit
As to o’erwalk a current roaring loud,
On the unsteadfast footing of a spear.

Hotspur. If he fall in, good night. Or sink or swim,
Send danger from the east into the west,
So honour cross it from the north to south;
And let them grapple. Oh! the blood more stirs
To rouse a lion than to start a hare.

Worcester. Those same noble Scots,
That are your prisoners-

Hotspur. I'll keep them all ;
By heav'n he shall not have a Scot of them :
No; if a Scot would save his soul, he shall not;
I'll keep them by this hand.

Worcester. You start away.
And lend no ear unto my purposes :
Those pris'ners you shall keep.

Hotspur. I will, that's flat :
He said he would not ransom Mortimer:
Forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer :
But I will find him when he lies asleep,
And in his ear I'll holla Mortimer !
Nay, I will have a starling taught to speak
Nothing but Mortimer, and give it him,
To keep his anger still in motion.

Worcester. Hear you, cousin, a word.

Hotspur. All studies here I solemnly defy,
Save how to gall and pinch this Bolingbroke :
And that same sword-and-buckler Prince of Wales,
(But that I think his father loves him not,
And would be glad he met with some mischance,)
I'd have him poison’d with a pot of ale.

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