Practical Essays
by Alexander Bain
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The present volume is in great part a reprint of articles contributed to Reviews. The principal bond of union among them is their practical character. Beyond that, there is little to connect them apart from the individuality of the author and the range of his studies.

That there is a certain amount of novelty in the various suggestions here embodied, will be admitted on the most cursory perusal. The farther question of their worth is necessarily left open.

The first two essays are applications of the laws of mind to some prevailing Errors.

The next two have an educational bearing: the one is on the subjects proper for Competitive Examinations; the other, on the present position of the much vexed Classical controversy.

The fifth considers the range of Philosophical or Metaphysical Study, and the mode of conducting this study in Debating Societies.

The sixth contains a retrospect of the growth of the Universities, with more especial reference to those of Scotland; and also a discussion of the University Ideal, as something more than professional teaching.

The seventh is a chapter omitted from the author's "Science of Education"; it is mainly devoted to the methods of self-education by means of books. The situation thus assumed has peculiarities that admit of being handled apart from the general theory of Education.

The eighth contends for the extension of liberty of thought, as regards Sectarian Creeds and Subscription to Articles. The total emancipation of the clerical body from the thraldom of subscription, is here advocated without reservation.

The concluding essay discusses the Procedure of Deliberative Bodies. Its novelty lies chiefly in proposing to carry out, more thoroughly than has yet been done, a few devices already familiar. But for an extraordinary reluctance in all quarters to adapt simple and obvious remedies to a growing evil, the article need never have appeared. It so happens, that the case principally before the public mind at present, is the deadlock in the House of Commons; yet, had that stood alone, the author would not have ventured to meddle with the subject. The difficulty, however, is widely felt: and the principles here put forward are perfectly general; being applicable wherever deliberative bodies are numerously constituted and heavily laden with business.

ABERDEEN, March, 1884.




Error regarding Mind as a whole—that Mind can be exerted without bodily expenditure.

Errors with regard to the FEELINGS.

I. Advice to take on cheerfulness.

Authorities for this prescription.

Presumptions against our ability to comply with it.

Concurrence of the cheerful temperament with youth and health.

With special corporeal vigour. With absence of care and anxiety.

Limitation of Force applies to the mind.

The only means of rescuing from dulness—to increase the supports and diminish the burdens of life.

Difficulties In the choice of amusements

II. Prescribing certain tastes, or pursuits, to persons indiscriminately.

Tastes must repose as natural endowment, or else in prolonged education.

III. Inverted relationship of Feelings and Imagination.

Imagination does not determine Feeling, but the reverse.

Examples:—Bacon, Shelley, Byron, Burke, Chalmers, the Orientals, the Chinese, the Celt, and the Saxon.

IV. Fallaciousness of the view, that happiness is best gained by not being aimed at.

Seemingly a self-contradiction.

Butler's view of the disinterestedness of Appetite.

Apart from pleasure and pain, Appetite would not move us.

Parallel from other ends of pursuit—Health.

Life has two aims—Happiness and Virtue—each to be sought directly on its own account.

Errors connected with the WILL.

I. Cost of energy, of Will. Need of a suitable physical confirmation.

Courage, Prudence, Belief.

II. Free-will a centre of various fallacies.

Doctrines repudiated from the offence given to personal dignity. Operation of this on the history of Free-will.

III. Departing from the usual rendering of a fact, treated as denying the fact.

Metaphysical and Ethical examples.

Alliance of Mind and Matter.

Perception of a Material World.

IV. The terms Freedom and Necessity miss the real point of the human will.

V. Moral Ability and Inability.—Fallacy of seizing a question by the wrong end.

Proper signification of Moral Inability—insufficiency of the ordinary motives, but not of all motives.

* * * * *



Meanings of Relativity—intellectual and emotional.

All impressions greatest at first. Law of Accommodation and habit.

The pleasure of rest presupposes toil.

Knowledge has its charm from previous ignorance.

Silence is of value, after excess of speech.

Previous pain not, in all cases, necessary to pleasure.

Simplicity of Style praiseworthy only under prevailing artificiality. To extol Knowledge is to reprobate Ignorance.

Authority appealed to, when in our favour, repudiated when against us.

Fallacy of declaring all labour honourable alike.

The happiness of Justice supposes reciprocity.

Love and Benevolence need to be reciprocated.

The moral nature of God—a fallacy of suppressed correlative

A perpetual miracle—a self-contradiction.

Fallacy that, in the world, everything is mysterious.

Proper meaning of Mystery.

Locke and Newton on the true nature of Explanation

The Understanding cannot transcend its own experience.—Time and Space, their Infinity.

We can assimilate facts, and generalise the many into one. This alone constitutes Explanation.

Example from Gravity: not now mysterious.

Body and Mind. In what ways the mysteriousness of their union might be done away with.

* * * * *




First official recommendation of Competitive Examinations.

Successive steps towards their adoption.

First absolutely open Competition—in the India Service.

Macaulay's Report on the subjects for examination and their values.

Table of Subjects. Innovations of Lord Salisbury.

An amended Table.


Doubts expressed as to the expediency of the competitive system.

Criticism of the present prescription for the higher Services.

The Commissioners' Scheme of Mathematics and Natural Science objectionable.

Classification of the Sciences into Abstract or fundamental, and Concrete or derivative.

Those of the first class have a fixed order, the order of dependence.

The other class is represented by the Natural History Sciences, which bring into play the Logic of Classification.

Each of these is allied to one or other members of the primary Sciences.

The Commissioners' Table misstates the relationships of the various Sciences.

The London University Scheme a better model.

The choice allowed by the Commissioners not founded on a proper principle.

The higher Mathematics encouraged to excess.

Amended scheme of comparative values.

Position of Languages in the examinations.

The place in education of Language generally.

Purposes of Language acquisition.

Altered position of the Classical, languages.

Alleged benefits of these languages, after ceasing to be valuable in their original use.

The teaching of the languages does not correspond to these secondary values.

Languages are not a proper subject for competition with a view to appointments.

For foreign service, there should be a pass examination in the languages needful.

The training powers attributed to languages should be tested in its own character.

Instead of the Languages of Greece, Rome, &c., substitute the History and Literature.

Allocation of marks under this view.

Objections answered.

Certain subjects should be obligatory.

* * * * *




Attack on Classics by Combe, fifty years ago.

Alternative proposals at the present day:—

1. The existing system Attempts at extending the Science course under this system.

2. Remitting Greek in favour of a modern language. A defective arrangement.

3. Remitting both Latin and Greek in favour of French and German.

4. Complete bifurcation of the Classical and the Modern sides.

The Universities must be prepared to admit a thorough modern alternative course.

Latin should not be compulsory in the modern side.

Defences of Classics.

The argument from the Greeks knowing only their own language—never answered.

Admission that the teaching of classics needs improvement.

Alleged results of contact with the great authors of Greece and Rome—unsupported by facts.

Amount of benefit attainable without knowledge of originals.

The element of training may be obtained from modern languages.

The classics said to keep the mind free from party bias.

Canon Liddon's argument in favour of Greek as a study.

* * * * *



Metaphysics here taken as comprising Psychology, Logic, and their dependent sciences.

Importance of the two fundamental departments.

The great problems, such as Free-will and External Perception should be run up into systematic Psychology.

Logic also requires to be followed out systematically.

Slender connection of Logic and Psychology.

Derivative Sciences:—Education.

Aesthetics—a corner of the larger field of Human Happiness

The treatment of Happiness should be dissevered from Ethics

Adam Smith's loose rendering of the conditions of happiness

Sociology—treated, partly in its own field, and partly as a derivative of Psychology.

Through it lies the way to Ethics.

The sociological and the ethical ends compared.

Factitious applications of Metaphysical study.

Bearings on Theology, as regards both attack and defence.

Incapable of supplying the place of Theology.

Polemical handling of Metaphysics.

Methodised Debate in the Greek Schools.

Much must always be done by the solitary thinker.

Best openings for Polemic:—Settling' the meanings of terms.

Discussing the broader generalities.

The Debate a light for mastery, and ill-suited for nice adjustments.

The Essay should be a centre of amicable co-operation, which would have special advantages.

Avoidance of such debates as are from their very nature interminable.

* * * * *



The Higher Teaching in Greece.

The Middle Age and Boethius.

Eve of the University.

Separation of Philosophy from Theology.

The Universities of Scotland founded—their history.

First Period.—The Teaching Body.

The Subjects taught and manner of teaching.

Second Period.—The Reformation.

Modified Curriculum—Andrew Melville.

Attempted reforms in teaching.

System of Disputation.

Improvements constituting the transition to the Third Period.

The Universities and the political revolutions.

How far the Universities are essential to professional teaching: perennial alternative of Apprenticeship.

The Ideal Graduate.

* * * * *



Study more immediately supposes learning from Books.

The Greeks did not found an Art of Study, but afforded examples: Demosthenes.

Quintilian's "Institutes" a landmark.

Bacon's Essay on Studies. Hobbes.

Milton's Tractate on Education.

Locke's "Conduct of the Understanding" very specific as to rules of Study.

Watts's work entitled "The Improvement of the Mind".

What an Art of Study should attempt.

Mode of approaching it.

I. First Maxim—"Select a Text-book-in-chief".

Violations of the maxim: Milton's system.

Form or Method to be looked to, in the chief text-book.

The Sciences. History.

Non-methodical subjects.

Repudiation of plans of study by some.

Merits to be sought in a principal Text-book.

Question as between old writers and new.

Paradoxical extreme—one book and no more.

Single all-sufficing books do not exist.

Illustration from Locke's treatment of the Bible.

II. "What constitutes the study of a book?"

1. Copying literally:—Defects of this plan.

2. Committing to memory word for word.

Profitable only for brief portions of a book.

Memory in extension and intension.

3. Making Abstracts.

Variety of modes of abstracting.

4. Locke's plan of reading.

A sense of Form must concur with abstracting.

Example from the Practice of Medicine.

Example from the Oratorical Art

Choice of a series of Speeches to begin upon.

An oratorical scheme essential.

Exemplary Speeches.

Illustration from the oratorical quality of negative tact. Macaulay's Speeches on Reform.

Study for improvement in Style.

III. Distributing the Attention in Reading.

IV. Desultory Reading.

V. Proportion of book-reading to Observation at first hand.

VI. Adjuncts of Reading.—Conversation.

Original Composition.

* * * * *



Pursuit of Truth has three departments:—order of nature, ends of practice, and the supernatural.

Growth of Intolerance. How innovations became possible.

In early society, religion a part of the civil government.

Beginnings of toleration—dissentients from the State Church.

Evils attendant on Subscription:—the practice inherently fallacious.

Enforcement of creeds nugatory for the end in view.

Dogmatic uniformity only a part of the religious character: element of Feeling.

Recital of the general argument for religious liberty.

Beginnings of prosecution for heresy in Greece:—Anaxagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle.

Forced reticence in recent times:—Carlyle, Macaulay, Lyell.

Evil of disfranchising the Clerical class.

Outspokenness a virtue to be encouraged.

Special necessities of the present time: conflict of advancing knowledge with the received orthodoxy.

Objections answered:—The Church has engaged itself to the State to teach given tenets.

Possible abuse of freedom by the clergy.

The history of the English Presbyterian Church exemplifies the absence of Subscription.

Various modes of transition from the prevailing practice.

* * * * *



Growing evil of the intolerable length of Debates.

Hurried decisions might be obviated by allowing an interval previous to the vote.

The oral debate reviewed.—Assumptions underlying it, fully examined.

Evidence that, in Parliament, it is not the main engine of persuasion.

Its real service is to supply the newspaper reports.

Printing, without speaking, would serve the end in view.

Proposal to print and distribute beforehand the reasons for each Motion.

Illustration from decisions on Reports of Committees.

Movers of Amendments to follow the same course.

Further proposal to give to each member the liberty of circulating a speech in print, instead of delivering it.

The dramatic element in legislation much thought of.

Comparison of the advantages of reading and of listening.

The numbers of backers to a motion should be proportioned to the size of the assembly.

Absurdity of giving so much power to individuals.

In the House of Commons twenty backers to each bill not too many.

The advantages of printed speeches. Objections.

Unworkability of the plan in Committees. How remedied.

In putting questions to Ministers, there should be at least ten backers.

How to compensate for the suppression of oratory in the House:—Sectional discussions.

The divisions occasioned at one sitting to be taken at the beginning of the next.

Every deliberative body must be free to determine what amount of speaking it requires.

The English Parliamentary system considered as a model.

Lord Derby and Lord Sherbrooke on the extension of printing.

Defects of the present system becoming more apparent.

* * * * *

Notes and References in connection with Essay VIII. on Subscription

First imposition of Tests after the English Reformation.

Dean Milman's speech in favour of total abolition of Tests.

Tests in Scotland: Mr. Taylor Innes on the "Law of Creeds".

Resumption of Subscription in the English Presbyterian Church.

Other English Dissenting Churches.

Presbyterian Church in the United States.

French Protestant Church—its two divisions.

Switzerland:—Canton of Valid.

Independent Evangelical Church of Neuchatel.

National Protestant Church of Geneva.

Free Church of Geneva. Germanic Switzerland.

Hungarian Reformed Church.

Germany:—Recent prosecutions for heresy.

Holland:—Calvinists and Modern School.

* * * * *



On the prevailing errors on the mind, proposed to be considered in this paper, some relate to the Feelings, others to the Will.

In regard to Mind as a whole, there are still to be found among us some remnants of a mistake, once universally prevalent and deeply rooted, namely, the opinion that mind is not only a different fact from body—which is true, and a vital and fundamental truth—but is to a greater or less extent independent of the body. In former times, the remark seldom occurred to any one, unless obtruded by some extreme instance, that to work the mind is also to work a number of bodily organs; that not a feeling can arise, not a thought can pass, without a set of concurring bodily processes. At the present day, however, this doctrine is very generally preached by men of science. The improved treatment of the insane has been one consequence of its reception. The husbanding of mental power, through a bodily regime, is a no less important application. Instead of supposing that mind is something indefinite, elastic, inexhaustible,—a sort of perpetual motion, or magician's bottle, all expenditure, and no supply,—we now find that every single throb of pleasure, every smart of pain, every purpose, thought, argument, imagination, must have its fixed quota of oxygen, carbon, and other materials, combined and transformed in certain physical organs. And, as the possible extent of physical transformation in each person's framework is limited in amount, the forces resulting cannot be directed to one purpose without being lost for other purposes. If an extra share passes to the muscles, there is less for the nerves; if the cerebral functions are pushed to excess, other functions have to be correspondingly abated. In several of the prevailing opinions about to be criticised, failure to recognise this cardinal truth is the prime source of mistake.

* * * * *

To begin with the FEELINGS.

I. We shall first consider an advice or prescription repeatedly put forth, not merely by the unthinking mass, but by men of high repute: it is, that with a view to happiness, to virtue, and to the accomplishment of great designs, we should all be cheerful, light-hearted, gay.

I quote a passage from the writings of one of the Apostolic Fathers, the Pastor of Hermas, as given in Dr. Donaldson's abstract:—

"Command tenth affirms that sadness is the sister of doubt, mistrust, and wrath; that it is worse than all other spirits, and grieves the Holy Spirit. It is therefore to be completely driven away, and, instead of it, we are to put on cheerfulness, which is pleasing to God. 'Every cheerful man works well, and always thinks those things which are good, and despises sadness. The sad man, on the other hand, is always bad.'"[2]


Dugald Stewart inculcates Good-humour as a means of happiness and virtue; his language implying that the quality is one within our power to appropriate.

In Mr. Smiles's work entitled "Self-Help," we find an analogous strain of remarks:—

"To wait patiently, however, man must work cheerfully. Cheerfulness is an excellent working quality, imparting great elasticity to the character. As a Bishop has said, 'Temper is nine-tenths of Christianity,' so are cheerfulness and diligence [a considerable make-weight] nine-tenths of practical wisdom."

Sir Arthur Helps, in those essays of his, combining profound observation with strong genial sympathies and the highest charms of style, repeatedly adverts to the dulness, the want of sunny light-hearted enjoyment of the English temperament, and, on one occasion, piquantly quotes the remark of Froissart on our Saxon progenitors: "They took their pleasures sadly, as was their fashion; ils se divertirent moult tristement a la mode de leur pays"

There is no dispute as to the value or the desirableness of this accomplishment. Hume, in his "Life," says of himself, "he was ever disposed to see the favourable more than the unfavourable side of things; a turn of mind which it is more happy to possess than to be born to an estate of ten thousand a year". This sanguine, happy temper, is merely another form of the cheerfulness recommended to general adoption.

I contend, nevertheless, that to bid a man be habitually cheerful, he not being so already, is like bidding him treble his fortune, or add a cubit to his stature. The quality of a cheerful, buoyant temperament partly belongs to the original cast of the constitution—like the bone, the muscle, the power of memory, the aptitude for science or for music; and is partly the outcome of the whole manner of life. In order to sustain the quality, the physical (as the support of the mental) forces of the system must run largely in one particular channel; and, of course, as the same forces are not available elsewhere, so notable a feature of strength will be accompanied with counterpart weaknesses or deficiencies. Let us briefly review the facts bearing upon the point.

The first presumption in favour of the position is grounded in the concomitance of the cheerful temperament with youth, health, abundant nourishment. It appears conspicuously along with whatever promotes physical vigour. The state is partially attained during holidays, in salubrious climates, and health-bringing avocations; it is lost, in the midst of toils, in privation of comforts, and in physical prostration. The seeming exception of elated spirits in bodily decay, in fasting, and in ascetic practices, is no disproof of the general principle, but merely the introduction of another principle, namely, that we can feed one part of the system at the expense of degrading and prematurely wasting others.


A second presumption is furnished also from our familiar experience. The high-pitched, hilarious temperament and disposition commonly appear in company with some well-marked characteristics of corporeal vigour. Such persons are usually of a robust mould; often large and full in person, vigorous in circulation and in digestion; able for fatigue, endurance, and exhausting pleasures. An eminent example of this constitution was seen in Charles James Fox, whose sociability, cheerfulness, gaiety, and power of dissipation were the marvel of his age. Another example might be quoted in the admirable physical frame of Lord Palmerston. It is no more possible for an ordinarily constituted person to emulate the flow and the animation of these men, than it is to digest with another person's stomach, or to perform the twelve labours of Hercules.

A third fact, less on the surface, but no less certain, is, that the men of cheerful and buoyant temperament, as a rule, sit easy to the cares and obligations of life. They are not much given to care and anxiety as regards their own affairs, and it is not to be expected that they should be more anxious about other people's. In point of fact, this is the constitution of somewhat easy virtue: it is not distinguished by a severe, rigid attention to the obligations and the punctualities of life. We should not be justified in calling such persons selfish; still less should we call them cold-hearted: their exuberance overflows upon others in the form of heartiness, geniality, joviality, and even lavish generosity. Still, they can seldom be got to look far before them; they do not often assume the painfully circumspect attitude required in the more arduous enterprises. They are not conscientious in trifles. They cast off readily the burdensome parts of life. All which is in keeping with our principle. To take on burdens and cares is to draw upon the vital forces—to leave so much the less to cheerfulness and buoyant spirits. The same corporeal framework cannot afford a lavish expenditure in several different ways at one time. Fox had no long-sightedness, no tendency to forecast evils, or to burden himself with possible misfortunes. It is very doubtful if Palmerston could have borne the part of Wellington in the Peninsula; his easy-going temperament would not have submitted itself to all the anxieties and precautions of that vast enterprise. But Palmerston was hale and buoyant, and the Prime Minister of England at eighty: Wellington began to be infirm at sixty.


To these three experimental proofs we may add the confirmation derived from the grand doctrine named the Correlation, Conservation, Persistence, or Limitation of Force, as applied to the human body and the human mind. We cannot create force anywhere; we merely appropriate existing force. The heat of our fires has been derived from the solar fire. We cannot lift a weight in the hand without the combustion of a certain amount of food; we cannot think a thought without a similar demand; and the force that goes in one way is unavailable in any other way. While we are expending ourselves largely in any single function—in muscular exercise, in digestion, in thought and feeling, the remaining functions must continue for the time in comparative abeyance. Now, the maintenance of a high strain of elated feeling, unquestionably costs a great deal to the forces of the system. All the facts confirm this high estimate. An unusually copious supply of arterial blood to the brain is an indispensable requisite, even although other organs should be partially starved, and consequently be left in a weak condition, or else deteriorate before their time. To support the excessive demand of power for one object, less must be exacted from other functions. Hard bodily labour and severe mental application sap the very foundations of buoyancy; they may not entail much positive suffering, but they are scarcely compatible with exuberant spirits. There may be exceptional individuals whose total of power is a very large figure, who can bear more work, endure more privation, and yet display more buoyancy, without shortened life, than the average human being. Hardly any man can attain commanding greatness without being constituted larger than his fellows in the sum of human vitality. But until this is proved to be the fact in any given instance, we are safe in presuming that extraordinary endowment in one thing implies deficiency in other things. More especially must we conclude, provisionally at least, that a buoyant, hopeful, elated temperament lacks some other virtues, aptitudes, or powers, such as are seen flourishing in the men whose temperament is sombre, inclining to despondency. Most commonly the contradictory demand is reconciled by the proverbial "short life and merry".

Adverting now to the object that Helps had so earnestly at heart—namely, to rouse and rescue the English population from their comparative dulness to a more lively and cheerful flow of existence—let us reflect how, upon the foregoing principles, this is to be done. Not certainly by an eloquent appeal to the nation to get up and be amused. The process will turn out to be a more circuitous one.

The mental conformation of the English people, which we may admit to be less lively and less easily amused than the temperament of Irishmen, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Italians, or even the German branch of our own Teutonic race, is what it is from natural causes, whether remote descent, or that coupled with the operation of climate and other local peculiarities. How long would it take, and what would be the way to establish in us a second nature on the point of cheerfulness?

Again, with the national temperament such as it is, there may be great individual differences; and it may be possible by force of circumstances, to improve the hilarity and the buoyancy of any given person. Many of our countrymen are as joyous themselves, and as much the cause of joy in others, as the most light-hearted Irishman, or the gayest Frenchman or Italian. How shall we increase the number of such, so as to make them the rule rather than the exception?


The only answer not at variance with the laws of the human constitution is—Increase the supports and diminish the burdens of life.

For example, if by any means you can raise the standard of health and longevity, you will at once effect a stride in the direction sought. But what an undertaking is this! It is not merely setting up what we call sanitary arrangements, to which, in our crowded populations, there must soon be a limit reached (for how can you secure to the mass of men even the one condition of sufficient breathing-space?), it is that health cannot be attained, in any high general standard, without worldly means far above the average at the disposal of the existing population; while the most abundant resources are often neutralised by ineradicable hereditary taint. To which it is to be added, that mankind can hardly as yet be said to be in earnest in the matter of health.

Farther: it is especially necessary to cheerfulness, that a man should not be overworked, as many of us are, whether from choice or from necessity. Much, I believe, turns upon this circumstance. Severe toil consumes the forces of the constitution, without leaving the remainder requisite for hilarity of tone. The Irishman fed upon three meals of potatoes a day, the lazy Highlander, the Lazaroni of Naples living upon sixpence a week, are very poorly supported; but then their vitality is so little drawn upon by work, that they may exceed in buoyancy of spirits the well-fed but hard-worked labourer. We, the English people, would not change places with them, notwithstanding: our ideal is industry with abundance; but then our industry sobers our temperament, and inclines us to the dulness that Helps regrets. Possibly, we may one day hit a happier mean; but to the human mind extremes have generally been found easiest.

Once more: the light-hearted races trouble themselves little about their political constitution, about despotism or liberty; they enjoy the passing moments of a despot's smiles, and if he turns round and crushes them, they quietly submit. We live in dread of tyranny. Our liberty is a serious object; it weighs upon our minds. Now any weight upon the mind is so much taken from our happiness; hilarity may attend on poverty, but not so well on a serious, forecasting disposition. Our regard to the future makes us both personally industrious and politically anxious; a temper not to be amused with the relaxations of the Parisian in his cafe on the boulevards, or with the Sunday merry-go-round of the light-hearted Dane. Our very pleasures have still a sadness in them.

Then, again, what are to be our amusements? By what recreative stimulants shall we irradiate the gloom of our idle hours and vacation periods? Doubtless there have been many amusements invented by the benefactors of our species—society, games, music, public entertainments, books; and in a well-chosen round of these, many contrive to pass their time in a tolerable flow of satisfaction. But they all cost something; they all cost money, either directly, to procure them, or indirectly, to be educated for them. There are few very cheap pleasures. Books are not so difficult to obtain, but the enjoying of them in any high degree implies an amount of cultivation that cannot be had cheaply.

Moreover, look at the difficulties that beset the pursuit of amusements. How fatiguing are they very often! How hard to distribute the time and the strength between them and our work or our duties! It needs some art to steer one's way in the midst of variety of pleasures. Hence there will always be, in a cautious-minded people, a disposition to remain satisfied with few and safe delights; to assume a sobriety of aims that Helps might call dulness, but that many of us call the middle path.

* * * * *


II. A second error against the limits of the human powers is the prescribing to persons indiscriminately, certain tastes, pursuits, and subjects of interest, on the ground that what is a spring of enjoyment to one or a few may be taken up, as a matter of course, by others with the same relish. It is, indeed, a part of happiness to have some taste, occupation, or pursuit, adequate to charm and engross us—a ruling passion, a favourite study. Accordingly, the victims of dulness and ennui are often advised to betake themselves to something of this potent character. Kingsley, in his little book on the "Wonders of the Shore," endeavoured to convert mankind at large into marine naturalists; and, some time ago, there appeared in the newspapers a letter from Carlyle, regretting that he himself had not been indoctrinated into the zoology of our waysides. I have heard a man out of health, hypochondriac, and idle, recommended to begin botany, geology, or chemistry, as a diversion of his misery. The idea is plausible and superficial. An overpowering taste for any subject—botany, zoology, antiquities, music—is properly affirmed to be born with a man. The forces of the brain must from the first incline largely to that one species of impressions, to which must be added years of engrossing pursuit. We may gaze with envy at the fervour of a botanist over his dried plants, and may wish to take up so fascinating a pursuit: we may just as easily wish to be Archimedes when he leaped out of the bath; a man cannot re-cast his brain nor re-live his life. A taste of a high order, founded on natural endowment, formed by education, and strengthened by active devotion, is also paid for by the atrophy of other tastes, pursuits, and powers. Carlyle might have contracted an interest in frogs, and spiders, and bees, and the other denizens of the wayside, but it would have been with the surrender of some other interest, the diversion of his genius out of its present channels. The strong emotions of the mind are not to be turned off and on, to this subject and to that. If you begin early with a human being, you may impress a particular direction upon the feelings, you may even cross a natural tendency, and work up a taste on a small basis of predisposition. Place any youth in the midst of artists, and you may induce a taste for art that shall at length be decided and strong. But if you were to take the same person in middle life and immure him in a laboratory, that he might become an enthusiastic chemist, the limits of human nature would probably forbid your success.

Such very strong tastes as impart a high and perennial zest to one's life are merely the special direction of a natural exuberance of feeling or emotion. A spare and thin emotional temperament will undoubtedly have preferences, likings and dislikings, but it can never supply the material for fervour or enthusiasm in anything.

The early determining of natural tastes is a subject of high practical interest. We shall only remark at present that a varied and broad groundwork of early education is the best known device for this end.

* * * * *


III. A third error, deserving of brief comment, is a singular inversion of the relationship of the Feelings to the Imagination. It is frequently affirmed, both in criticism and in philosophy, that the Feelings depend upon, or have their basis in, the Imagination.

An able and polished writer, discussing the character of Edmund Burke, remarks: "The passions of Burke were strong; this is attributable in great measure to the intensity of the imaginative faculty". Again, Dugald Stewart, observing upon the influence of the Imagination on Happiness, says: "All that part of our happiness or misery which arises from our hopes or our fears derives its existence entirely from the power of imagination". He even goes the length of affirming that "cowardice is entirely a disease of the imagination". Another writer accounts for the intensity of the amatory sentiments in Robert Burns by the strength of his imagination.


Now, I venture to affirm that this view very nearly reverses the fact. The Imagination is determined by the Feelings, and not the Feelings by the Imagination. Intensity of feeling, emotion, or passion, is the earlier fact: the intellect swayed and controlled by feeling, shaping forms to correspond with an existing emotional tone, is Imagination. It was not the imaginative faculty that gave Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, and the poets generally, their great enjoyment of nature; but the love of nature, pre-existing, turned the attention and the thoughts upon nature, filling the mind as a consequence with the impressions, images, recollections of nature; out of which grew the poetic imaginings. Imagination is a compound of intellectual power and feeling. The intellectual power may be great, but if it is not accompanied with feeling, it will not minister to feeling; or it will minister to many feelings by turns, and to none in particular. As far as the intellectual power of a poet goes, few men have excelled Bacon. He had a mind stored with imagery, able to produce various and vivid illustrations of whatever thought came before him; but these illustrations touched no deep feeling; they were fresh, original, racy, fanciful, picturesque, a play of the head that never touched the heart. The man was by nature cold; he had not the emotional depth or compass of an average Englishman. Perhaps his strongest feeling of an enlarged or generous description was for human progress, but it did not rise to passion; there was no fervour, no fury in it. Compare him with Shelley on the same subject, and you will see the difference between meagreness and intensity of feeling. What intellect can be, without strong feeling, we have in Bacon; what intellect is, with strong feeling, we have in Shelley. The feeling gives the tone to the thoughts; sets the intellect at work to find language having its own intensity, to pile up lofty and impressive circumstances; and then we have the poet, the orator, the thoughts that breathe, and the words that burn. Bacon wrote on many impressive themes—on Truth, on Love, on Religion, on Death, and on the Virtues in detail; he was always original, illustrative, fanciful; if intellectual means and resources could make a man feel in these things, he would have felt deeply; yet he never did. The material of feeling is not contained in the intellect; it has a seat and a source apart. There was nothing in mere intellectual gifts to make Byron a misanthrope: but, given that state of the feelings, the intellect would be detained and engrossed by it; would minister to, expand, and illustrate it; and intellect so employed is Imagination.

Burke had indisputably a powerful imagination. He had both elements:—the intellectual power, or the richly stored and highly productive mind; and the emotional power, or the strength of passion that gives the lead to intellect. His intellectual strength was often put forth in the Baconian manner of illustration, in light and sportive fancies. There were many occasions where his feelings were not much roused. He had topics to urge, views to express, and he poured out arguments, and enlivened them with illustrations. He was, on those occasions, an able expounder, and no more. But when his passions were stirred to the depths by the French Revolution, his intellectual power, taking a new flight, supplied him with figures of extraordinary intensity; it was no longer the play of a cool man, but the thunders of an aroused man; we have then "the hoofs of the swinish multitude,"—"the ten thousand swords leaping from their scabbards". Such feelings were not produced by the speaker's imagination: they were produced by themselves; they had their independent source in the region of feeling: coupled with adequate powers of intellect, they burst out into strong imagery.[3]

The Orientals, as a rule, are distinguished for imaginative flights. This is apparent in their religion, their morality, their poetry, and their science. The explanation is to be sought in the strength of their feelings, coupled with a certain intellectual force. The same intellect, without the feelings, would have issued differently. The Chinese are the exception. They want the feelings, and they want the imagination. They are below Europeans in this respect. When we bring before them our own imaginative themes, our own cast of religion, accommodated as it is to our own peculiar temperament, we fail in the desired effect. Our august mysteries are responded to, not with reverential regard, but with, cold analysis.

The Celt and the Saxon are often contrasted on the point of imagination; the prior fact is the comparative endowment for emotion.

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IV. There is a fallacious mode of presenting the attainment of happiness; namely, that happiness is best secured by not being aimed at. We should be aiming always at something else.

When examined closely, the doctrine resolves itself into a kind of paradox. All sorts of puzzles come up when we attempt to follow it to its consequences.

We might ask, first, whether there is any other object of pursuit in the same predicament—wealth, health, knowledge, fame, power. These are, every one, a means or instrument of happiness, if not happiness itself. Must we, then, in the case of each, avoid aiming straight at the goal? must we look askance in some other direction?

Next, in the case of happiness proper, are we to aim at nothing at all, to drift at random; or may we aim at a definite object, provided it is not happiness; or, lastly, is there one side aim in particular that we must take? The answer here would probably be—Aim at duty in general, and at the good of others in particular. These ends are not the same as happiness, yet by keeping them steadily in the view, and not thinking of self at all, we shall eventually realise our greatest happiness.

Without, at present, raising any question as to the fact alleged, we must again remark that the prescription seems to contradict itself. Moralists of the austere type will never allow us to pursue happiness at all; we must never mention the thing to ourselves: duty or virtue is the one single aim and end of being. Such teachers may be right or they may be wrong, but they do not contradict themselves. When, however, we are told that by aiming at virtue, we are on the best possible road to happiness, this is but another way of letting us into the secret of happiness, of putting us on the right, instead of on the wrong, track, to attain it. Our teacher assumes that we are in search of happiness, and he tells us how we are to proceed; not by keeping it straight in the view, but by keeping virtue straight in the view. Instead of pointing us to the vulgar happiness-seeker who would take the goal in a line, he corrects the course, and shows us the deviation that is necessary in order to arrive at it; like the sailor making allowance for the deviation of the magnetic pole, in steering. Happiness is not gained by a point-blank aim; we must take a boomerang flight in some other line, and come back upon the target by an oblique or reflected movement. It is the idea of Young on the Love of Praise (Satire I., 5.)—

The love of Praise howe'er concealed by art, Reigns more or less and glows in every heart, The proud to gain it, toils on toils endure, The modest shun it but to make it sure.

Under this corrected method, we are happiness seekers all the same; only our aims are better directed, and our fruition more assured.

These remarks are intended to show that the doctrine of making men aim at virtue, in order to happiness, has no further effect than to teach us to include the interests of others with our own; by showing that our own interests do not thereby suffer, but the contrary. The doctrine does not substitute a virtuous motive for a selfish one; it is a refined artifice for squaring the two. The world is no doubt a gainer by the change of view, although the individual is not made really more meritorious.

We must next consider whether, in fact, the oblique aim at happiness is really the most effectual.

A few words, first, as to the original source of the doctrine of a devious course. Bishop Butler is renowned for his distinction between Self-Love and Appetite; he contends that in Appetite the object of pursuit is not the pleasure of eating, but the food: consequently, eating is not properly a self-seeking act, it is an indifferent or disinterested act, to which there is an incidental accompaniment of pleasure. We should, under the stimulus of Hunger, seek the food, whether it gave us pleasure or not.

Now, any truth that there is in Butler's view amounts to this:—In our Appetites we are not thinking every instant of subduing pain and attaining pleasure; we are ultimately moved by these feelings; but, having once seen that the medium of their gratification is a certain material object (food), we direct our whole aim to procuring that. The hungry wolf ceases to think of his pains of hunger when he is in sight of a sheep; but for these pains he would have paid no heed to the sheep; yet when the sheep has to be caught, the hunger is submerged for the time; the only relevant course, even on its account, is to give the whole mind and body to the chase of the sheep. Butler calls this indifferent or disinterested pursuit; and as much as says, that the wolf is not self-seeking, but sheep-seeking, in its chase. Now, it is quite true that if the wolf could give no place in its mind for anything but its hungry pains, it would be in a bad way. It is wiser than that; it knows the remedy; it is prepared to dismiss the pains from its thoughts, in favour of a concentrated attention upon the distant flock. This proves nothing as to its unselfishness; nor does it prove that Appetite is a different thing from self-seeking or self-love.


There may be disinterested motives in our constitution; but Appetite is not in any sense one of these. We may have instincts answering to the traditional phrase used in defining instinct, "a blind propensity" to act, without aiming at anything in particular, and without any expectation of pleasure or benefit. Such instincts would conform to Butler's notion of appetite: they would be entirely out of the course of self-love or self-seeking of any sort. Whether the nest-building activity of birds, and the constructiveness of ants, bees, and beavers, comply with this condition, I do not undertake to say. There is one process better known to ourselves, not exactly an instinct, but probably a mixture of instinct and acquirement—I mean the process of Imitation—which works very much upon this model. Although coming under the control of the Will, yet in its own proper character it operates blindly, or without purpose; neither courting pleasure, nor chasing pain. In like manner, Sympathy, in its most characteristic form, proceeds without any distinct aim of pleasure to ourselves.

Nothing of this can be affirmed of the Appetites. In them, nature places us, as Bentham says, under the government of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. An appetite would cease to move us, if its painful and pleasurable accompaniments were done away with. It matters not that we remit our attention, at times, to the pain or the pleasure; these are always in the background; and the strength of the appetite is their strength.

So far as concerns Butler's example of the Appetites, there is no case for the view that to obtain happiness we must avoid aiming at it directly. If we do not aim at the pleasure in its own subjective character, we aim at the thing that immediately brings the pleasure; which is, for all practical purposes, to aim at the pleasure.

The prescription to look away from the final end, Happiness, in order to secure that end, may be tested on the example of one of our intermediate pursuits, as Health. It is not a good thing to be always dwelling on the state of our health: by doing so, we get into a morbid condition of self-consciousness, which is in itself pernicious. It does not follow that we are to live at random, without ever giving a thought to our health. There is a plain middle course. Guided by our own experience, and by the experience of those that have gone before us, we arrange our plan of life so as to preserve health; and our actions consist in adhering to that plan in the detail. So long as our scheme answers expectation, we think of nothing but of putting it in force, as occasion arises; we do not dwell upon our states of good health at all. It is some interruption that makes us self-conscious; and then it is that we have to exercise ourselves about a remedial course. This, when found, is likewise objectively pursued; our only subjectiveness lies in being aware of gradual recovery; and we are glad to get back to the state of paying no attention to the workings of our viscera. We do not, therefore, remit our pursuit; only, it is enough to observe the routine of outward actions, whose sole motive is to keep us in health.

The pursuit of the still wider end, Happiness, has much in common with the narrower pursuit. When we have discovered what things promote, and what things impede our happiness, we transfer our attention to these, as the most direct mode of compassing the end. If we are satisfied that working for other people brings us happiness, we work accordingly; this is no side aim, it is as direct as any aim can be. It may involve immediate sacrifice, but that does not alter the case; we can get no considerable happiness from any source without temporary sacrifice.


If it be said that the best mode of attaining happiness is to put ourselves entirely out of account, and to work for others exclusively, this, as already noted, is a self-contradiction. It is to tell people not to think of their own happiness, and yet to know that they are securing that in the most effectual way. It is also very questionable, indeed absolutely erroneous, in fact. The most apparent way to secure happiness is to ply all the known means of happiness, just as far as, and no farther than, they are discovered to produce the effect. We must keep a check upon the methods that we employ, and abandon those that do not answer. So long as we find happiness in serving others, so long we continue in that course. And it is a melancholy fact that Pope's bold assertion—"Virtue alone is happiness below,"—cannot be upheld against the stern realities of life. Life needs to be made up of two aims—the one, Happiness, the other Virtue, each on its own account. There is a certain mutual connection of the two, but all attempts at making out their identity are failures.

It is of very great importance to teach men the bearings of virtue on happiness, so far as these are known. There will, however, always remain a portion of duty that detracts from happiness, and must be done as duty, nevertheless. Men are entitled to pursue happiness as directly as ever they please; only, they must couple with the pursuit their round of duties to others; in which they may or may not reap a share of the coveted good for self.

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Let us, next, consider some of the difficulties and mistakes attaching to the WILL. Here there are the questions of world-renown, questions known even in Pandemonium—Free-will, Responsibility, Moral Ability, and Inability. It is now suspected, on good grounds, that, on these questions, we have somehow got into a wrong groove—that we are lost in a maze of our own constructing.


I. We shall first notice a misconception akin to some of the foregoing mistakes respecting the feelings. In addressing men with a view to spur their activity, there is usually a too low estimate of what is implied in great and energetic efforts of will. Here, exactly as in the cheerful temperament, we find a certain constitutional endowment, a certain natural force of character, having its physical supports of brain, muscle, and other tissue; and neither persuasion, nor even education, can go very far to alter that character. If there be anything at all in the observations of phrenology, it is the connection of energetic determination with size of brain. Lay your hand first on the head of an energetic man, and then on the head of a feeble man, and you will find a difference that is not to be explained away. Now it passes all the powers of persuasion and education combined to make up for a great cranial inequality. Something always comes of assiduous discipline; but to set up a King Alfred, or a Luther, as a model to be imitated by an ordinary man, on the points of energy, perseverance, endurance, courage, is to pass the bounds of the human constitution. Persistent energy of a high order, like the temperament for happiness, costs a great deal to the human system. A large share of the total forces of the constitution go to support it; and the diversion of power often leaves great defects in other parts of the character, as for example, a low order of the sensibilities, and a narrow range of sympathies. The men of extraordinary vigour and activity—our Roman emperors and conquering heroes—are often brutal and coarse. Nature does not supply power profusely on all sides; and delicate sympathies, of themselves, use up a very large fraction of the forces of the organisation. Even intellectually estimated, the power of sympathising with many various minds and conditions would occupy as much room in the brain as a language, or an accomplishment. A man both energetic and sympathetic—a Pericles, a King Alfred, an Oliver Cromwell—is one of nature's giants, several men in one.

There is no more notable phase of our active nature than Courage. Great energy generally implies great courage, and courage—at least in nine-tenths of its amount—comes by nature. To exhort any one to be courageous is waste of words. We may animate, for the time, a naturally timid person, by explaining away the signs of danger, and by assuming a confident attitude ourselves; but the absolute force of courage is what neither we nor the man himself can add to. A long and careful education might effect a slight increase in this, as in other aspects of energy of character: we can hardly say how much, because it is a matter that is scarcely ever subjected to the trial; the very conditions of the experiment have not been thought of.

The moral qualities expressed by Prudence, Forethought, Circumspection, are talked of with a like insufficient estimate of what they cost. Great are the rewards of prudence, but great also is the expenditure of the prudent man. To retain an abiding sense of all the possible evils, risks and contingencies of an ordinary man's position—professional, family, and personal—is to go about under a constant burden; the difference between a thorough-going and an easy-going circumspection is a large additional demand upon the forces of the brain. The being on the alert to duck the head at every bullet is a charge to the vital powers; so much so, that there comes a point when it is better to run risks than to pile up costly precautions and bear worrying anxieties.

Lastly, the attribute of our active nature called Belief, Confidence, Conviction, is subject to the same line of remark. This great quality—the opposite of distrust and timidity, the ally of courage, the adjunct of a buoyant temperament—is not fed upon airy nothings. It is, indeed, a true mental quality, an offshoot of our mental nature; yet, although not material, it is based upon certain forces of the physical constitution; it grows when these grow, and is nourished when they are nourished. People possessed of great confidence have it as a gift all through life, like a broad chest or a good digestion. Preaching and education have their fractional efficacy, and deserve to be plied, provided the operator is aware of nature's impassable barriers, and does not suppose that he is working by charm. It is said of Hannibal that he dissolved obstructions in the Alps by vinegar; in the moral world, barriers are not to be removed either by acetic acid or by honey.

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II. The question of Free-will might be a text for discoursing on some of the most inveterate erroneous tendencies of the mind.

For one thing, it gives occasion to remark on the influence exerted over our opinions by the feeling of Personal Dignity. Of sources of bias, prejudices, "Idola," "fallacies a priori" this may be allowed precedence. For example, the maxim has been enunciated by some philosophers, that, of two differing opinions, preference is to be given (not to what is true, but) to what ennobles and dignifies human nature. One of the objections seriously entertained against Darwin's theory is that it humbles our ancestral pride. So, to ascribe to our mental powers a material foundation is held to be degrading to our nobler part. Again, a philosopher of our own day—Sir W. Hamilton—has placed on the title-page of his principal work this piece of rhetoric: "On earth, there is nothing great but man; in man, there is nothing great but mind". Now one would suppose that there are on earth many things besides man deserving the appellation of "great"; and that the mechanism of the body is, in any view, quite as remarkable a piece of work as the mechanism of the mind. There was one step more that Hamilton, as an Aristotelian, should have made: "In mind, there is nothing great but intellect". Doubtless, we ought not to dissect an epigram; but epigrams brought into a perverting contact with science are not harmless. Such gross pandering to human vanity must be held as disfiguring a work on philosophy.

The sentiment of dignity has much to answer for in the doctrine of Free-will. In Aristotle, the question had not assumed its modern perplexity; but the vicious element of factitious personal importance had already peeped out, it being one of the few points wherein the bias of the feelings operated decidedly in his well-balanced mind. In maintaining the doctrine that vice is voluntary, he argues, that if virtue is voluntary, vice (its opposite) must also be voluntary; now to assert virtue not to be voluntary would be to cast an indignity upon it. This is the earliest association of the feeling of personal dignity with the exercise of the human will.


The Stoics are commonly said to have started the free-will difficulty. This needs an explanation. A leading tenet of theirs was the distinction between things in our power and things not in our power; and they greatly overstrained the limits of what is in our power. Looking at the sentiment about death, where the idea is everything, and at many of our desires and aversions, also purely sentimental, that is, made and unmade by our education (as, for example, pride of birth), they considered that pains in general, even physical pains and grief for the loss of friends, could be got over by a mental discipline, by intellectually holding them not to be pains. They extolled and magnified the power of the will that could command such a transcendent discipline, and infused an emotion of pride into the consciousness of this greatness of will. In subsequent ages, poets, moralists, and theologians followed up the theme; and the appeal to the pride of will may be said to be a standing engine of moral suasion. This originating of a point of honour or dignity in connection with our Will has been the main lure in bringing us into the jungle of Free-will and Necessity.

It is in the Alexandrian school that we find the next move in the question. In Philo Judaeus, the good man is spoken of as free, the wicked man as a slave. Except as the medium of a compliment to virtue, the word "freedom" is not very apposite, seeing that, to the highest goodness, there attaches submission or restraint, rather than liberty.

The early Christian Fathers (notably Augustine) advanced the question to the Theological stage, by connecting it with the great doctrines of Original Sin and Predestination; in which stage it shared all the speculative difficulties attaching to these doctrines. The Theological world, however, has always been divided between Free-will and Necessity; and probably the weightiest names are to be found among the Necessitarians. No man ever brought greater acumen into theological controversy than did Jonathan Edwards; and he took the side of Necessity.

Latterly, however, since the question has become one of pure metaphysics, Free-will has been the favourite dogma, as being most consonant to the dignity of man, which appears to be its chief recommendation, and its only argument. The weight of reasoning is, I believe, in favour of necessity; but the word carries with it a seeming affront, and hardly any amount of argument will reconcile men to indignity.

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III. Another weakness of the human mind receives illustration from the free-will controversy, and deserves to be noticed, as helping to account for the prolonged existence of the dispute: I mean the disposition to regard any departure from the accustomed rendering of a fact as denying the fact itself. The rose under another name is not merely less sweet, it is not a rose at all. Some of the greatest questions have suffered by this weakness.


The physical theory of matter that resolves it into points of force will seem to many as doing away with matter no less effectually than the Berkeleyan Idealism. A universe of inane mathematical points, attracting and repelling each other, must appear to the ordinary mind a sorry substitute for the firm-set earth, and the majestically-fretted vault of heaven, with its planets, stars, and galaxies. It takes a special education to reconcile any one to this theory. Even if it were everything that a scientific hypothesis should be, the previously established modes of speech would be a permanent obstruction to its being received as the popular doctrine.

But the best illustrations occur in the Ethical and Metaphysical departments. For example, some ethical theorists endeavour to show that Conscience is not a primitive and distinct power of the mind, like the sense of colour, or the feeling of resistance, but a growth and a compound, being made up of various primitive impulses, together with a process of education. Again and again has this view been represented as denying conscience altogether. Exactly parallel has been the handling of the sentiment of Benevolence. Some have attempted to resolve it into simpler elements of the mind, and have been attacked as denying the existence of the sentiment. Hobbes, in particular, has been subjected to this treatment. Because he held pity to be a form of self-love, his opponents charged him with declaring that there is no such thing as pity or sympathy in the human constitution.

A more notable example is the doctrine of the alliance of Mind with Matter. It is impossible that any mode of viewing this alliance can erase the distinction between the two modes of existence—the material and the mental; between extended inert bodies, on the one hand, and pleasures and pains, thoughts and volitions, on the other. Yet, after the world has been made familiar with the Cartesian doctrine of two distinct substances—the one for the inherence of material facts, and the other for mental facts—any thinker maintaining the separate mental substance to be unproved, and unnecessary, is denounced as trying to blot out our mental existence, and to resolve us into watches, steam-engines, or speaking and calculating machines. The upholder of the single substance has to spend himself in protestations that he is not denying the existence of the fact, or the phenomena called mind, but is merely challenging an arbitrary and unfounded hypothesis for representing that fact.


The still greater controversy—distinct from the foregoing, although often confounded with it—relating to the Perception of a Material World, is the crowning instance of the weakness we are considering. Berkeley has been unceasingly stigmatised as holding that there is no material world, merely because he exposed a self-contradiction in the mode of viewing it, common to the vulgar and to philosophers, and suggested a mode of escaping the contradiction by an altered rendering of the facts. The case is very peculiar. The received and self-contradictory view is exceedingly simple and intelligible in its statement; it is well adapted, not merely for all the commoner purposes of life, but even for most scientific purposes. The supposition of an independent material world, and an independent mental world, created apart, and coming into mutual contact—the one the objects perceived, and the other the mind perceiving—expresses (or over-expresses) the division of the sciences into sciences of matter and sciences of mind; and the highest laws of the material world at least are in no respect falsified by it. On the other hand, any attempt to state the facts of the outer world on Berkeley's plan, or on any plan that avoids the self-contradiction, is most cumbrous and unmanageable. A smaller, but exactly parallel instance of the situation is familiar to us. The daily circuit of the sun around the earth, supposed to be fixed, so exactly answers all the common uses that, in spite of its being false, we adhere to it in the language of every-day life. It is a convenient misrepresentation, and deceives nobody. And such will, in all likelihood, be the usage regarding the external world, after the contradiction is admitted, and rectified by a metaphysical circumlocution. Speculators are still only trying their hand at an unobjectionable circumlocution; but we may almost be sure that nothing will ever supersede, for practical uses, the notion of the distinct worlds of Mind and Matter. If, after the Copernican demonstration of the true position of the sun, we still find it requisite to keep up the fiction of his daily course; much more, after the final accomplishment of the Berkeleyan revolution (to my mind inevitable), shall we retain the fiction of an independent external world: only, we shall then know how to fall back upon some mode of stating the case, without incurring the contradiction.

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IV. To return to the Will. The fact that we have to save, and to represent in adequate language, is this:—A voluntary action is a sequence distinct and sui generis; a human being avoiding the cold, searching for food, and clinging to other beings, is not to be confounded with a pure material sequence, as the fall of rain, or the explosion of gunpowder. The phenomena, in both kinds, are phenomena of sequence, and of regular or uniform sequence; but the things that make up the sequence are widely different: in the one, a feeling of the mind, or a concurrence of feelings, is followed by a conscious muscular exertion; in the other, both steps are made up of purely material circumstances. It is the difference between a mental or psychological, and a material or physical sequence—in short, the difference between mind and matter; the greatest contrast within the whole compass of nature, within the universe of being. Now language must be found to give ample explicitness to this diametrical antithesis; still, I am satisfied that rarely in the usages of human speech has a more unfortunate choice been made than to employ, in the present instance, the antithetic couple—Freedom and Necessity. It misses the real point, and introduces meanings alien to the case. It converts the glory of the human character into a reproach (although its leading motive throughout has been to pay us a compliment). The constancy of man's emotional nature (but for which our life would be a chaos, an impossibility) has to be explained away, for no other reason than that, at one time, a blundering epithet was applied to designate the mental sequences. Great is the difference between Mind and Matter; but the terms Freedom and Necessity represent the point of agreement as the point of difference; and this being made familiar, through iteration, as the mode of expressing the contrast, the rectification is supposed to unsettle everything, and to obliterate the wide distinction of the two natures.

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V. What is called Moral Ability and Inability is another artificial perplexity in regard to the will, and might also be the text for a sermon on prevailing errors. More especially, it exemplifies what may be termed seizing a question by the wrong end.

The votary, we shall say, of alcoholic liquor is found fault with, and makes the excuse, he cannot help it—he cannot resist the temptation. So far, the language may pass. But what shall we say to the not uncommon reply,—You could help it if you would. Surely there is some mystification here; it is not one of those plain statements that we desire in practical affairs. Whether we are dealing with matter or with mind, we ought to point out some clear and practicable method of attaining an end in view. To get a good crop, we till and enrich the soil; to make a youth knowing in mathematics, we send him to a good master, and stimulate his attention by combined reward and punishment. There are also intelligible courses of reforming the vicious: withdraw them from temptation till their habits are remodelled; entice them to other courses, by presenting objects of superior attraction; or, at lowest, keep the fact of punishment before their eyes. By these methods many are kept from vices, and not a few reclaimed after having fallen. But to say, "You can be virtuous if you will," is either unmeaning, or it disguises a real meaning. If it have any force at all—and it would not be used unless, some efficacy had been found attaching to it,—the force must be in the indirect circumstances or accompaniments. What, then, is the meaning that is so unhappily expressed? In the first place, it is a vehicle for conveying the strong wish and determination of the speaker; it is a clumsy substitute for—"I do wish you would amend your conduct"; an expression containing a real efficacy, greater or less according to the estimate formed of the speaker by the person spoken to. In the next place, it presents to the mind of the delinquent the ideal of improvement, which might also be done in unexceptionable phrase; as one might say—"Reflect upon your own state, and compare yourself with the correct and virtuous liver". Then, there is a touch of the stoical dignity and pride of will. Lastly, there may be a hint or suggestion to the mind of good and evil consequences, which is the most powerful motive of all. In giving rise to these various considerations, even the objectionable expression may have a genuine efficacy; but that does not justify the form itself, which by no interpretation can be construed into sense or intelligibility.


Moral Inability means that ordinary motives are insufficient, but not all motives. The confirmed drunkard or thief has got into the stage of moral inability; the common motives that keep mankind sober and honest have failed. Yet there are motives that would succeed, if we could command them. Men may be sometimes cured of intemperance when the constitution is so susceptible that pain follows at once on indulgence. And so long as pleasure and pain, in fact and in prospect, operate upon the will, so long as the individual is in a state wherein motives operate, there may be moral weakness, but there is nothing more. In such cases, punishment may be properly employed as a corrective, and is likely to answer its end. This is the state termed accountability, or, with more correctness, PUNISHABILITY, for being accountable is merely an incident bound up with liability to punishment. Moral weakness is a matter of a degree, and in its lowest grades shades into insanity, the state wherein motives have lost their usual power—when pleasure and pain cease to be apprehended by the mind in their proper character. At this point, punishment is unavailing; the moral inability has passed into something like physical inability; the loss of self-control is as complete as if the muscles were paralysed.

In the plea of insanity, entered on behalf of any one charged with crime, the business of the jury is to ascertain whether the accused is under the operation of the usual motives—whether pain in prospect has a deterring effect on the conduct. If a man is as ready to jump out of the window as to walk downstairs, of course he is not a moral agent; but so long as he observes, of his own accord, the usual precautions against harm to himself, he is to be punished for his misdeeds.

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These various questions respecting the Will, if stripped of unsuitable phraseology, are not very difficult questions. They are about as easy to comprehend as the air-pump, the law of refraction of light, or the atomic theory of chemistry. Distort them by inapposite metaphors, view them in perplexing attitudes, and you may make them more abstruse than the hardest proposition of the "Principia". What is far worse, by involving a simple fact in inextricable contradictions, they have led people gravely to recognise self-contradiction as the natural and the proper condition of a certain class of questions. Consistency is very well so far, and for the humbler matters of every-day life, but there is a higher and a sacred region where it does not hold; where the principles are to be received all the more readily that they land us in contradictions. In ordinary matters, inconsistency is the test of falsehood; in transcendental subjects, it is accounted the badge of truth.


[Footnote 1: Fortnightly Review, August, 1868.]

[Footnote 2: Donaldson's "History of Christian Literature and Doctrine," Vol. I., p. 277.]

[Footnote 3: Intensity of passion stands confessed in the self-delineations of men of imaginative genius. We forbear to quote the familiar instances of Wordsworth, Shelley, or Burns, but may refer to a remarkable chapter in the life of the famous Scotch preacher, Dr. Thomas Chalmers. The mere title of the chapter is enough for our purpose. It related to his early youth, and ran thus, in his own words:—"A year of mental elysium". It is while living at a white-heat that all the thoughts and conceptions take a lofty, hyperbolical character; and the outpouring of these at the time, or afterwards, is the imagination of the orator or the poet.

The spread of the misconception that we have been combating is perhaps accounted for by the circumstance that imagination in one man is the cause of feeling in others. Wordsworth, by his imaginative colouring, has excited a warmer sentiment for nature in many spectators of the lake country. That, however, is a different thing. We may also allow that the poet intensifies his own feelings by his creative embodiments of them.]

* * * * *



By Relativity is here meant the all-pervading fact of our nature that we are not impressed, made conscious, or mentally alive, without some change of state or impression. An unvarying action on any of our senses is the same as no action at all. An even temperature, such as that enjoyed by the fishes in the tropical seas, leaves the mind an entire blank as regards heat and cold. We can neither feel nor know without recognising two distinct states. Hence all knowledge is double, or is the knowledge of contrasts or opposites: heavy is relative to light; up supposes down; being awake implies the state of sleep.

The applications of the law in the sphere of emotion are chiefly contemplated in what follows. Pleasure and pain are never absolute states; they have reference always to the previous condition. Until we know what that has been in any case, we cannot pronounce upon the efficacy of a present stimulation. We see a person reposing, apparently in luxurious ease; if the state has been immediately consequent upon a protracted and severe exertion, we are right in calling it highly pleasurable. Under other circumstances, it might be quite the reverse.

There is an offshoot or modification of the principle, arising out of the operation of habit. Impressions made upon us are greatest when they are absolutely new: after repetition they all lose something of their power; although, by remission and alternative, the causes of pleasure and pain have still a very considerable efficacy. Many of the consequences of this great fact are sufficiently acknowledged, or, if they are not, it is from other causes than our ignorance. The weakness is moral, rather than intellectual, that makes us expect that the first flush of a great pleasure, a newly-attained joy or success, will continue unabated. The poor man, probably, does not overrate the gratification of newly-attained wealth; what he fails to allow for is the deadening effect of an unbroken experience of ease and plenty. The author of "Romola" says of the hero and the heroine, in the early moments of their affection, that they could not look forward to a time when their kisses should be common things. So it is with the attainment of all great objects of pursuit: the first access of good fortune may not disappoint us; but as we are more and more removed from the state of privation, as the memory of the prior experience fades away, so does the vividness of the present enjoyment. It is the same with changes for the worse: the agony of a great loss is at first overpowering; gradually, however, the system accommodates itself to the new condition, and the severity dies away. What is called on these occasions the "force of custom" is the application of the law of Accommodation, or Relativity modified by habit.


It is a familiar experience of mankind, yet hard to realise upon mere testimony, that the pleasures of rest, repose, retirement, are wholly relative to foregone labour and toil; after the first shock of transition, they are less and less felt, and can be renewed only after a renewal of the contrasting experience. The description, in "Paradise Lost," of the delicious repose of Adam and Eve in Eden is fallacious; the poet credits them with an intensity of pleasure attainable only by the brow-sweating labourer under the curse.

The delights of Knowledge are relative to previous Ignorance; for, although the possession of knowledge is in many ways a lasting good, yet the full intensity of the charm is felt only at the moment of passing from mystery to explanation, from blankness of impression to intellectual attainment. This form of the pleasure is sustained only by new acquisitions and new discoveries. Moreover, in the minor forms of the gratification due to knowledge, we never escape the law of relativity; the "power" delights us by relation to our previous impotence. Plato supposed that, in knowledge, we have an example of a pure pleasure, meaning one that had no reference to foregone privation or pain; but such "purity" would be a barren fact, not unlike the pure air of a bladeless and waterless desert. A state of uninterrupted good health, although a prime condition of enjoyment, is of itself a state of neutrality or indifference. The man that has never been ill cannot sing the joys of health; the exultation of that strain is attainable only by the valetudinarian.

* * * * *

These examples have been remarked upon in every age. It is the moral weakness of being carried away by a present strong feeling, as if the state would last for ever, that blinds each of us in turn to the stern reality of the fact. There are, however, numerous instances, coming under Relativity, wherein the indispensable correlative is more or less dropped out of sight and disavowed. These are the proper errors or fallacies of Relativity, a branch of the comprehensive class termed "Fallacies of Confusion". The object of the present essay is to exhibit a few of these errors as they occur in questions of practical moment.

* * * * *

When it is said, as by Carlyle and others, "speech is silvern, silence is golden," there is implied a condition of things where speech has been in excess; and but for this excess, the assertion is untrue. One might as well talk of the delights of hunger, or of cold, or of solitary confinement, on the ground of there being times when food, warmth, or society may be in excess, and when the opposing states would be a joyful change.

The Relativity of Pleasures, although admitted in many individual cases, has often been misconceived. The view is sometimes expressed, that there can be no pleasure without a previous pain; but this goes beyond the exigencies of the principle. We cannot go on for ever with any delight; but mere remission, without any counterpart pain, is enough for our entering with zest on many of our pleasures. A healthy man enjoys his meals without any sensible previous pain of hunger. We do not need to have been miserable for some time as a preparation for the reading of a new poem. It is true that if the sense of privation has been acute, the pleasure is proportionally increased; and that few pleasures of any great intensity grow up from indifference: still, remission and alternation may give a zest for enjoyment without any consciousness of pain.

The principle of Comparison is capriciously made use of by Paley, in his account of the elements of Happiness. He applies it forcibly and felicitously to depreciate certain pleasures—as greatness, rank, and station—and withholds its application from the pleasures that he more particularly countenances,—namely, the social affections, the exercise of the faculties, and health.

* * * * *


The great praise often accorded to Simplicity of Style, in literature, is an example of the suppression of the correlative in a case of mutual relationship. Simplicity is not an absolute merit; it is frequently a merit by correlation. Thus, if a certain subject has never been treated except in abstruse and difficult terminology, a man of surpassing literary powers, setting it forth in homely and intelligible language, produces a work whose highest praise is expressed by Simplicity. Again, after the last century period of artificial, complex, and highly-wrought composition, the reaction of Cowper and Wordsworth in favour of simplicity was an agreeable and refreshing change, and was in great part acceptable because of the change. It does not appear that Wordsworth comprehended this obvious fact; to him, a simplicity that cost nothing to the composer, and brought no novelty to the reader, had still a transcendent merit.

* * * * *

It has been a frequent practice of late years to celebrate the praises of Knowledge. Many eloquent speakers have dilated on the happiness and the superiority of the enlightened and the cultivated man. Now, the correlative or obverse must be equally true: there must be a corresponding degradation and disqualification attaching to ignorance and the want of instruction. This correlative and equally cogent statement is suppressed on certain occasions, and by persons that would not demur to the praises of knowledge: as, when we are told of the native good sense, the untaught sagacity, the admirable instincts of the people,—that is, of the ignorant or the uneducated. Hence the great value of the expository device of following up every principle with its, counter-statement, the matter denied when the principle is affirmed. If knowledge is a thing superlatively good, ignorance—the opposite of knowledge—is a thing superlatively bad. There is no middle standing ground.

* * * * *

In the way that people use the argument from Authority, there is often an unfelt contradiction from not adverting to the correlative implication. If I lay stress upon some one's authority as lending weight to my opinion, I ought to be equally moved in the opposite direction when the same authority is against me. The common case, however, is to make a great flourish when the authority is one way, and to ignore it when it is the other way. This is especially the fashion in dealing with the ancient philosophers. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are quoted with much complacency when they chime in with a modern view; but, in points where they contradict our cherished sentiments, we treat them with a kind of pity as half-informed pagans. It is not seen that men liable to such gross errors as they are alleged to have committed—say on Ethics—are by that fact deprived of all weight in allied subjects, as, for example, Politics—in which Aristotle is still quoted as an authority.

* * * * *


Many of the sins against Relativity can be traced to rhetorical exaggeration. Some remarkable instances of this can be cited.

When a system of ranks and dignities has once been established, there are associations of dignity and of indignity with different conditions and occupations. It is more dignified to serve in the army than to engage in trade; to be a surgeon is more honourable than to be a watchmaker. In this state of things a fervid rhetorician, eager to redress the inequalities of mankind, starts forth to preach the dignity of all labour. The device is a self-contradiction. Make all labour alike dignified, and nothing is dignified; you simply abolish dignity by depriving it of the contrast that it subsists upon.

Pope's lines—

Honour and shame from no condition rise; Act well your part; there all the honour lies—

cannot be exempted from the fallacy of self-contradiction. Differences of condition are made by differences in the degree of honour thereto attached. If every man that did his work well were put on a level, in point of honour, with every other man that did the same; if the gatekeeper of a mansion, by being unfailingly punctual in opening the gate, were to be equally honoured with a great leader of the House of Commons, then, indeed, equality of pay would be the only thing wanted to abolish all differences of condition. There is, no doubt, in society, a quantity of misplaced honour; but so long as there are employments exceptionally arduous, and virtues signally beneficent in their operation, honour is a legitimate spur and reward, and should be graduated according to the desert in each case.

In spurring the ardour of youth to studious exertion, it is common to repeat the Homeric maxim, "to supplant every one else, and stand out first". The stimulating effect is undoubted; it is strong rhetorical brandy. Yet only one man can be first, and the exhortation is given simultaneously to a thousand.[5]


In the discussion and inculcation of the moral duties and virtues, there has been, in all ages, a tendency to suppress correlative facts, and to affirm unconditionally what is true only with a condition. Thus, the admirable nature of Justice, and the happiness of the Just man, are a proper theme to be extolled with all the power of eloquence. It has been so with every civilized people, pagan as well as Christian. In the dialogues of Plato, justice is a prominent subject, and is adorned with the full splendour of his genius. Aristotle, in one of the few moments when he rises to poetry, pronounces justice "greater than the evening-star or the morning-star". Now all this panegyric is admissible only on the supposition of reciprocal justice. Plato, indeed, had the hardihood to say that the just man is happy in himself, and by reason of his justice, even although others are unjust to him; but the position is untenable. A man is happy in his justice if it procure for him justice in return; as a citizen is happy in his civil obedience, if it gain him protection in return. There are two parties in the case, and the moralist should obtain access to both; he should induce the one to fulfil his share before promising to the other the happiness of justice and obedience. It may be rhetorical, but it is not true, that justice will make a man happy in a society where it is not reciprocated. Justice, in these circumstances, is highly noble, praiseworthy, virtuous; but the applying of these lofty compliments is the proof that it does not bring happiness, and is an attempt to compensate the deficiency. There is a certain tendency, not very great as human nature is constituted, for justice to beget justice in return—for social virtue on one side to procure it on the other side. This is a certain encouragement to each man to perform his own part, in hope that the other party concerned may do the same. Still, the reciprocity occasionally fails, and with that the benefits to the just agent. It is necessary to urge strongly upon individuals, to impress upon the young, the necessity of performing their duty to society; it is equally implied, and equally indispensable, that society should perform its part to them. The suppressing of the correlative obligation of the State to the individual leaves a one-sided doctrine; the motive of the suppression, doubtless, is that society does not often fail of its duties to the individual, whereas individuals frequently fail of their duties to society. This may be the fact generally, but not always. It is not the fact where there are bad laws and corrupt administration. It is not the fact where the restraints on liberty are greater than the exigencies of the State demand. It is not the fact, so long as there is a single vestige of persecution for opinions. To be thoroughly veracious, for example, in a society that restrains the discussion and expression of opinions, is more than such a society is entitled to.

* * * * *


The same fallacy occurs in an allied theme,—the joys of Love and Benevolence. That love and benevolence are productive of great happiness is beyond question; but then the feeling must be mutual, it must be reciprocated. One-sided love or benevolence is a virtue, which is as much as to say it is not a pleasure. The delights of benevolence are the delights of reciprocated benevolence; until reciprocated, in some form, the benevolent man has, strictly speaking, the sacrifice and nothing more. There is a great reluctance to encounter this simple naked truth; to state it in theory, at least, for it is fully admitted in practice. We fence it off by the assumption that benevolence will always have its reward somehow; that if the objects of it are ungrateful, others will make good the defect at last. Now these qualifications are very pertinent, very suitable to be urged after allowing the plain truth, that benevolence is intrinsically a sacrifice, a painful act; and that this act is redeemed, and far more than redeemed, by a fair reciprocity of benevolence. Only such an admission can keep us out of a mesh of contradictions. Like justice in itself, Benevolence in itself is painful; any virtue is pain in the first instance, although, when equally responded to, it brings a surplus of pleasure. There may be acts of a beneficent tendency that cost the performer nothing, or that even may chance to be agreeable; but these examples must not be given as the rule, or the type. It is the essence of virtuous acts, the prevailing character of the class, to tax the agent, to deprive him of some satisfaction to himself; this is what we must start from; we are then in a position to explain how and when, and under what circumstances, and with what limitations, the virtuous man, whether his virtue be justice or benevolence, is from that cause a happy man.

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