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posed 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 fixt 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 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. A natural train of ideas of memory is more circumscribed, each object being, by some connexion, linked to what precedes
* See Chapter I.
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 per ceptions 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 life; a picture remarkable for likeness as well as for high colouring.
Worcester. Peace, cousin, say no more.
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
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:
I'll keep them, by this hand.
Worcester. You start away.
And lend no ear unto my purposes:
He said he would not ransom Mortimer:
Worcester. Hear you, cousin, a word.
Worcester. Farewel, my kinsman, I will talk to you
First Part, Henry IV. Act I. Sc. 4.
Having viewed a train of perceptions as directed by nature, and the variations it is susceptible of from different necessary causes, we proceed to examine how far it is subjected to will; for that this faculty hath some influence, is observed above. And first, the rate of succession may be retarded by insisting upon one object, and propelled by dismissing another before its time. But such voluntary mutations in the natural course of succession, have limits that cannot be extended by the most painful efforts: which will appear from considering, that the mind circumscribed in its capacity, cannot, at the same instant, admit many perceptions; and when replete, that it hath not place VOL. I. Kk
for new perceptions, till others are removed; consequently, that a voluntary change of perceptions cannot be instantaneous, as the time it requires sets bounds to the velocity of succession. On the other hand, the power we have to arrest a flying perception, is equally limited and the reason is, that the longer we detain any perception, the more difficulty we find in the operation; till, the difficulty becoming insurmountable, we are forced to quit our hold, and to permit the train to take its usual course.
The power we have over this train as to uniformity and variety, is in some cases very great, in others very little. A train composed of perceptions of external objects, depends entirely on the place we occupy, and admits not more nor less variety but by change of place. A train composed of ideas of memory, is still less under our power; because we cannot at will call up any idea that is not connected with the train. But a train of ideas suggested by reading, may be varied at will, provided we have books at hand.
The power that nature hath given us over our train of perceptions, may be greatly strengthened by proper discipline, and by an early application to business; witness some mathematicians, who go far beyond common nature in slowness and uniformity; and still more persons devoted to religious exercises, who pass whole days in contemplation, and impose upon themselves long and severe penances. With respect to celerity and variety, it is not easily conceived what length a habit of activity in affairs will carry some men. Let a stranger, or let any person to whom the sight is not familiar, attend the Chancellor of Great Britain through the labours but of one day, during a session of Parliament: how great will be his astonish* See Chapter 1.
ment! what multiplicity of law-business, what deep thinking, and what elaborate application to matters of government! The train of perceptions must in that great man be accelerated far beyond the ordinary course of nature: yet no confusion or hurry; but in every article the greatest order and accuracy. Such is the force of habit. How happy is man, to have the command of a principle of action that can elevate him so far above the ordinary condition of humanity !*
We are now ripe for considering a train of perceptions, with respect to pleasure and pain: and to that speculation peculiar attention must be given, because it serves to explain the effects that uniformity and variety have upon the mind. A man, when his perceptions flow in their natural course, feels himself free, light, and easy, especially after any forcible acceleration or retardation. On the other hand, the accelerating or retarding the natural course, excites a pain, which, though scarcely felt in small removes, becomes considerable toward the extremes. Aversion to fix on a single object for a long time, or to take in a multiplicity of objects in a short time, is remarkable in children; and equally so in men unaccustomed to business: a man languishes when the succession is very slow; and, if he grow not impatient, is apt to fall asleep during a rapid succession, he hath a feeling as if his head were turning round; he is fatigued, and his pain resembles that of weariness after bodily labour.
But a moderate course will not satisfy the mind, unless the perceptions be also diversified number without variety is not sufficient to constitute an agreeable train. In comparing a few objects, uniformity is pleasant; but the frequent reiteration of
*This chapter was composed in the year 1753.