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fecond marriage, was ftrongly inclined to leffen the time of her widowhood; because this circumftance added fewel to his paffion; and he deludes himself by degrees into the opinion of an interval fhorter than the real one:
That it fhould come to this!
Vifit her face too roughly. Heav'n and earth!
By what it fed on; yet, within a month,
Let me not think-Frailty, thy name is Woman!
My father's brother; but no more like my father,
But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.
At 1. fc. 3.
The power of paffion to falfify the computation of time, is remarkable in this inftance: because time, which hath an accurate measure, is lefs K4 obfequious
obfequious to our defires and wishes, than objects which have no precife ftandard of lefs or
Good news are greedily fwallowed upon very flender 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 invifible
For the fame reason, bad news gain alfo credit upon the flightest evidence: fear, if once alarmed, has the fame effect with hope to magnify every circumstance that tends to conviction. Shakespear, who fhows more knowledge of human nature than any of our philofophers, hath in his Cymbeline* reprefented this bias of the mind; for he makes the perfon who alone was affected with the bad news, yield to evidence that did not convince any of his companions. And Othello † is convinced of his wife's infidelity from circumstances too flight to move any perfon lefs interested.
If the news intereft us in fo low a degree as to give place to reafon, the effect will not be alto
Act 2. fc. 6.
+ Act 3. fc. 8.
gether the fame: judging of the probability or improbability of the ftory, the mind fettles in a rational conviction either that it is true or not. But even in this cafe, it is obfervable, that 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.
The obfervation holds equally with refpect to future events: if a future event be either much wished or dreaded, the mind never fails to augment the probability beyond truth.
That eafinefs of belief which we find with refpect to ftories of wonders and prodigies, even the most abfurd and ridiculous, is a strange phenomenon; because nothing can be more evident than the following propofition, That the more fingular any 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 flightest evidence: but a strange and rare event, contrary to the courfe of nature, ought not to be easily believed; for it starts up without connection and without caufe, fo far as we can discover, and to overcome the improbability of fuch an event, 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 fufficient to ascertain the
the most familiar occurrence. It has been reckoned difficult to explain this irregular bias of the mind; but we are now made acquainted with the influence of paffion upon opinion and belief: a ftory of ghosts or fairies, told with an air of gravity and truth, raiseth an emotion of wonder, and perhaps of dread; and these emotions impofing upon a weak mind, imprefs upon it a tho rough conviction contrary to reafon.
Opinion and belief are influenced by propenfity as well as by paffion. An innate propensity is all we have to convince us, that the operations of nature are uniform: influenced by this propensity, we often rafhly think, that good or bad weather will never have an end; and in natural philosophy, writers, influenced by the fame propenfity, ftretch commonly their analogical reafonings beyond just bounds.
Opinion and belief are influenced by affection as well as by propenfity. The noted story of a fine lady and a curate viewing the moon through a telescope, is a pleasant illustration: I perceive, fays the lady, two fhadows inclining to each other; they are certainly two happy lovers: Not at all, replies the curate, they are two fteeples of a cathedral...
APPENDIX to Part V.
The methods that nature hath afforded for computing time and Space.
His fubject follows naturally, because it affords feveral curious examples of the influence of paffion to bias the mind in its conceptions and opinions; a leffon that cannot be too much inculcated, as there is not perhaps another bias in human nature that hath an influence fo univerfal to make us wander fron truth as well as from justice.
I begin with time; and the question is, What was the measure of time before artificial meafures were invented; and what is the measure are not at hand? at present when these I speak not of months and days, which are computed by the moon and fun; but of hours, or in general of the time that runs between any two occurrences when there is not accefs to the fun. The only natural meafure we have, is the fucceffion of our thoughts; for we always judge the time to be long or fhort, in proportion to the number of perceptions and ideas that have paffed during that interval. This meafure is indeed far from being perfect; because in a quick and in a flow fucceffion, it must evidently produce different computations