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tellectual habits which are favourable to gaiety, vivacity, and wit.
When a man, under the habitual influence of a warm imagination, is obliged to mingle occafionally in the scenes of real bufinefs, he is perpetually in danger of being misled by his own enthufiafm. What we call good fenfe in the conduct of life, confifts chiefly in that temper of mind which enables its poffeffor to view, at all times, with perfect coolnefs and accuracy, all the various circumstances of his fituation; fo that each of them may produce its due impreffion on him, without any exaggeration arifing from his own peculiar habits. But to a man of an ill-regulated imagination, external circumftances only ferve as hints to excite his own thoughts, and the conduct he purfues has, in general, far lefs reference to his real fituation, than to fome imaginary one, in which he conceives himself to be placed in confequence of which, while he appears to himfelf to be acting with the most perfect wisdom and confiftency, he may frequently exhibit to others all the appearances of folly. Such, pretty nearly, feems to be the idea which the Author of the "Reflexions on the "Character and Writings of Rouffeau," has formed of that extraordinary man, "His faculties," we are told, "were flow in their operation, but his heart "was ardent: it was in confequence of his own me"ditations that he became impaffioned: he difcovered "no fudden emotions, but all his feelings grew upon reflexion. It has, perhaps, happened to him to
Madame de STAEL.
"fall in love gradually with a woman, by dwelling "on the idea of her during her abfence. Sometimes "he would part with you with all his former affec❝tion; but if an expreffion had efcaped you, which might bear an unfavourable conftruction, he would "recollect it, examine it, exaggerate it, perhaps dwell upon it for a month, and conclude by a total breach "with you. Hence it was, that there was scarce a "poffibility of undeceiving him; for the light which "broke in upon him at once was not fufficient to "efface the wrong impreffions which had taken place "so gradually in his mind. It was extremely diffi. "cult, too, to continue long on an intimate footing "with him. A word, a gefture, furnished him with "matter of profound meditation: he connected the "moft trifling circumftances like fo many mathema. "tical propofitions, and conceived his conclufions to "be fupported by the evidence of demonftration. I "believe," continues this ingenious writer, "that "imagination was the ftrongest of his faculties, and "that it had almost absorbed all the reft. He dreamed "rather than exifted, and the events of his life might "be faid, more properly, to have paffed in his mind, "than without him: a mode of being, one should "have thought, that ought to have fecured him from "diftruft, as it prevented him from obfervation; but "the truth was, it did not hinder him from attempt
ing to obferve; it only rendered his obfervations "erroneous, That his foul was tender, no one can "doubt, after having read his works; but his imagination fometimes interpofed between his reafon "and his affections, and deftroyed their influence:
"he appeared fometimes void of fenfibility; but it was because he did not perceive objects such as they were. Had he feen them with our eyes, his "heart would have been more affected than ours."
In this very striking defcription we fee the melancholy picture of sensibility and genius approaching to infanity. It is a cafe, probably, that but rarely occurs, in the extent here defcribed: but, I believe, there is no man who has lived much in the world, who will not trace many refembling features to it, in the circle of his own acquaintances: perhaps there are few, who have not been occafionally confcious of fome resemblance to it in themselves.
To thefe obfervations we may add, that by an exceffive indulgence in the pleafures of imagination, the tafte may acquire a faftidious refinement unfuit. able to the prefent fituation of human nature; and thofe intellectual and moral habits, which ought to be formed by actual experience of the world, may be gradually fo accommodated to the dreams of poetry and romance, as to difqualify us for the fcene in which we are destined to act. Such a diftempered ftate of the mind is an endless fource of error; more particularly when we are placed in thofe critical fituations, in which our conduct determines our future happiness or mifery; and which, on account of this extensive influence on human life, form the principal groundwork of fictitious compofition. The effect of novels, in mifleading the paflions of youth, with refpect to the most interesting and important of all relations, is one of the many inftances of the inconveniences refulting from an ill-regulated imagination.
The paffion of love has been, in every age, the favourite fubject of the poets, and has given birth to the fineft productions of human genius. These are the natural delight of the young and fufceptible, long before the influence of the paffions is felt; and from thefe a romantic mind forms to itself an ideal model of beauty and perfection, and becomes enamoured with its own creation. On a heart which has been long accustomed to be thus warmed by the imagination, the excellencies of real characters make but a flight impreffion: and, accordingly, it will be found, that men of a romantic turn, unlefs when under the influence of violent paffions, are feldom attached to a particular object. Where, indeed, fuch a turn is united with a warmth of temperament, the effects are different; but they are equally fatal to happiness. As the diftinctions which exift among real characters are confounded by falfe and exaggerated conceptions of ideal perfection, the choice is directed to some object by caprice and accident; a flight refemblance is mif- taken for an exact coincidence; and the defcriptions of the poet and novelift are applied literally to an individual, who perhaps falls fhort of the common ftandard of excellence. "I am certain," fays the Author laft quoted, in her account of the character of Rouffeau," that he never formed an attachment "which was not founded on caprice. It was illufions "alone that could captivate his paffions; and it was "neceffary for him always to accomplish his mistress "from his own fancy. I am certain alfo," she adds, "that the woman whom he loved the moft, and perhaps the only woman whom he loved conftantly, was his own Julie."
In the cafe of this particular paffion, the effects of a romantic imagination are obvious to the most carelefs obferver; and they have often led moralifts to regret, that a temper of mind fo dangerous to happiness fhould have received so much encouragement from fome writers of our own age, who might have employed their genius to better purposes. Thefe, however, are not the only effects which fuch habits of study have on the character. Some others, which are not fo apparent at first view, have a tendency, not only to mislead us where our own happiness is at stake, but to defeat the operation of thofe active principles, which were intended to unite us to fociety. The manner in which imagination influences the mind, in the inftances which I allude to at prefent, is curious, and deferves a more particular explanation.
I fhall have occafion afterwards to fhew*, in treating of our moral powers, that experience diminishes the influence of paffive impreffions on the mind, but ftrengthens our active principles. A courfe of debauchery deadens the fenfe of pleasure, but increases the defire of gratification. An immoderate ufe of ftrong liquors deftroys the fenfibility of the palate, but strengthens the habit of intemperance. The enjoyments we derive from any favourite purfuit gradually decay as we advance in years: and yet we continue to profecute our favourite purfuits with increas ing fteadiness and vigour,
The following reafoning was fuggefted to me by a paffage in Butler's Analogy, which the reader will find in Note [U] at the
end of the volume.