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TALBOYS. You were going a few minutes ago to say sonrething more about Impersonations, sir.
NORTH. Nothing new. We are warranted by universal human experience in assuming it as a psychological fact, that we are formed with a disposition irresistibly carrying us to see in things out of ourselves, ourselves reflectedin things that are without life, will, and intelligence, we conceive life, will, and intelligence ; and, when the law of a stronger illusion swaying our faculties constrains us to bestow an animated form, we bestow our own. By these two intellectual processes, which in one way or another are familiar to our experience, but which seem strange when we reflect upon them, and try to understand them, we make human-shaped Impersonations of inanimate things, and of abstract notions! If we would know the magnitude of the dominion which this disposition constraining us thus to Impersonate has exercised over the human mind, we must go back into those ages of the world when this disposition exerted itself, uncontrolled by philosophy, and in obedience to religious impulses, when Inípersonations of inanimate Objects and Powers, of Moral Powers, and of notions formed by the understanding, filled the Temples of the nations with visible Deities, and were worshipped with altars and incense, hymns and sacrifice.
NORTH. If we will see how hard this dominion is to eradicate, we must look to the most civilised and enlightened times, when severe Truth has to the utmost cleansed the understanding from illusion, and observe how tenaciously these imaginary beings, with imaginary life, hold their place in our Sculpture, Painting, Poetry, and Eloquence; nay, and in our quiet and common speech; and if we should venture to expatiate in the walks of the profounder emotions, we shall sometimes be startled with the sudden apparition of boldlyimpersonated thoughts, upon occasions that did not seem to promise them, whereof one might have thought that interests of overwhelming moment would have effectively banished the play of imagination!
SEWARD Impersonation is the highest poetical figure. It is in all degrees and lengths, from a single expression up to the Pilgrim's Progress and Fairy Queen.
TALBOYS. Good, Seward.
SEWARD, It is, as you say, strongly connected with this disposition in the human mind, to produce—and believe in Power in external nature-Nymphs, Genii, Fairies, Neptune, Vulcan, Apollo, and every belief in mythology. This disposition is, the moment it sees effects which strongly affect it, to embody upon the spot the cause or power which produced them. In doing this in the old unenlightened world, it filled Nature with Deities, and not Nature only, but the human mind and life. Love was a Deity ; Fear and Anger were; Remorse was in the Furies; Memory was Mnemosyne ; Wisdom was in Pallas ; Fortune was, and Ate; and Necessity and Death were Deities.
So much the better. In some of Homer's descriptions, names that look like Impersonations are mixed with acknowledged Deities-Remorse, for instance, with Fear and Flight, which Virgil copies. Now, I don't know what he meant. I hope, for the sincerity and simplicity of his poetry, that they are not his own Impersonations for the occasion, walking with Deities of national belief.
SEWARD. The moment you allegorise fabulous poetry—that is, admit it to have been allegorically written, you destroy from it the childlike verity of belief.
NORTH. Now in whatever way we are to understand these Impersonations, the result as to our question is much the same.
SEWARD. What question, sir?
NORTH. What question? If they are meant as real, though not Impersonations of the Poet, they were Impersonations of the human mind from an earlier and more believing time. Whether they were simply and purely from human feeling, in the bosom of human society, or were framed for the belief of others by the skilful artificers of belief, is not of positive moment as to the evidence to the operations and dispositions of the human mind. Those who presided over the national life of every religion might deliberately contrive, and might deliver over to the credence of their nation, imaginary powers, conceived with inventive imagination, as a Poet conceives them. But the very inventions, and still more the simple faith that received the inventions, show the intellectual disposition to embody in living powers the causes of effects. The faith of the people shows further the disposition and ability of the human mind to attribute reality, and that by force of feeling, to the creations of its own intellect, and particularly its aptitude to cleave to those creations in which it embodies power of which it strongly feels the effects. But I would rather believe that such faith has often formed itself in the bosom of simple societies without devisers—that men have conceived and felt till they believed ; that they felt delight and beauty in a gushing fountain till they believed in a presiding spirit as fair-that the sun, the giver of light and warmth, of the day and of the year, could not appear to them a mere star of day, a larger, brighter fire. They felt a gift in his rays, and in their influence, and deified the visible orb. They thought of-they saw the terrors of war, and believed that some Power delighting in blood stirred up the hearts of men to mutual destruction.
TALBOYS. If those ancient poets in whom this mythology remains, are to be received sometimes as delivering known and accepted names as beings, sometimes as supplying from their momentary inventions unreceived names, then this view of the case also affords proof of the same disposition we have spoken of. It shows the disposition of men to believe in powers the immediate causes of impressive effects; and the Poet must be conceived as suggesting and delivering the shape and name of Powers which it is already believed must be, though themselves are not known—not as inventing them deliberately and ornamentally, nor as declaring them from an assured and assumed knowledge. This disposition to produce shapes of powers which in early ages is attended with positive belief, afterwards remains in imagination-art, though not extinct in the work of our mind for dealing in realities. Do we, sir, ever divest ourselves of a belief in Death, Chance, Fate, Time? But a strong belief overrules with us all such illusions of fancy, withdrawing all power to the great source of power. Therefore, such a disposition, though it continues, is in real thought much oppressed and stifled, and shows itself almost accidentally, as it were, rather than in any constant opinion, for in deliberate opinion it cannot hold. But in Poetry, even in Eloquence, it remains. There we allow ourselves in illusion ; and the mind leaps up with a sort of rejoicing, to recover its old liberty of deceiving itself with splendid fictions.
SEWARD. Which is again an instance of the two different forms in which Imagination is seen in the earlier and later age-in the first, realised in belief-in the last, having its domain in the avowedly ideal world of Poetry.
NORTU. I confess, my dear friends, it appears to me not easy to explain how the mind is enabled, desire it as much as it will, to pour its own capacities into insensate things. When Lear says, “Nature, hear! dear Goddess, hear!" his passion will not believe but that there is a hearer and executor of its curse ; and it imagines nature capable of hearing. “ If prayers can pierce the clouds and enter heaven, why then, give way, dull clouds, to my quick curses.” Does not all Passion that addresses itself to inanimate objects throw into them a feeling? Would not the Invocation be idle to the unresponsive and unhearing? This, then, is the nature of human passion, that, when vehement, it cannot conceive that its will is not to be fulfilled. If there are no adequate ministers, inadequate ministers must take their place. Inanimate things must become agents. “ Rise, rise, ye wild tempests, and cover his flight.”—“Strike her young bones, ye taking airs, with lameness." This is one demand, then, of passion, the execution of its purposes. Another demand of passion is sympathy. This, we know, is one of its first and strongest demands. If, then, men will not, or are not present to sympathise, that which surrounds must. The boiling passion finds it easier to believe that winds and rocks feel with it, than that it is sole, and cut off from all participation. Hence the more exuberant passion animates things, our own gladness animates nature.
SEWARD. And how well has Adam Smith said how our sympathy includes the dead ! Of all that feel not, it may with the readiest illusion embrace those who once felt; and what do we know that they do not yet feel? Now, if this can be granted as the nature and power of passion, that, without any better ground than its own uncontrollable efflux, it can blend itself into that which is around it—that it believes lightnings and floods will destroy, merely from the intensity of will with which it wills them to destroy—though here the fitness for destruction is a reason ; but if it imagines that, undestroying, they will rise to destroy, that peace shall be converted into danger, and sleep into anguish, that food shall not nourish, and winds shall not waft, rather than it shall be left without vengeance, or baffled; then may we say that there is in Passion an absolute power of carrying itself out into other existence, and that no other condition, in such existence, is necessary, save that it shall become obviam to passion in its mood. If so, then, of course, any reason from analogy or causation becomes a very potent one to attract such passion and opinions formed by passion. Let this be established in passion at its fiercest, wildest height, and the principle is obtained. It is then the disposition of the mind under emotion to diffuse its emotion, bending the things around to suit its purposes, or at least filling them with sympathy with itself. In either case, upon this reason, that only so can the will which rises with its emotion ever be satisfied. This principle given, strongest in strongest passion, but accompanying all emotion, is the root of Impersonation. All intellectual analogies, all coincidences of reality with the demands of emotion, will quicken and facilitate this act of the mind; but neither analogies nor coincidences, nor any other inclining reasons, are requisite. The emotion will reconcile and assimilate any object to itself, if it is reduced to them. Here then is a principle sufficient to animate all nature, all being, and to any extent or height. This seems to be the foundation of Impersonation—that it is the nature of man to fill all things with himself. It is plainly a radix for all poetical Impersonation. He makes and reads everywhere reflection of mind; he does this without passion, that is, not without feeling—for in all ordinary thought there is feeling - but without transported passion. His strong passions in their transport show us in plainer evidence how he involves all things with himself, and subjects all things to himself; and his gentler feelings do the same. He is almost the cause of a world of mind revolving round and upon himself-he makes himself such a centre ; this is the constant temper and the habitual mode of conceiving and hearing of all minds.
TALBOYS. We seem, sir, to be talking of Imagination ?
NORTH. If the act of imagination is the perception of the sublime-of the beautiful, of the wonderful-then pleasure is an element of the product ;--for without pleasure, the Sublime, the Beautiful, the poetically wild or solemn, does not exist. All other ingredients, if pleasure be absent, leave the compound imperfect-the thing undone. Therefore Addison says boldly, the pleasure of Imagination, whom Akenside follows. But further, Talboys-I believe that in Imagination poetical, there is always-or almost always-Illusion. I cannot get it out of my head as a main element. In its splendour, this is past doubt-in Impersonation-Apostrophe to the dead, or absent, or unborn -- Belief is in the power of your curses-seeing the past or future as present; and in the whole fiction of Epos or Drama, the semi-belief in the life and reality of the feigned personages.
A certain degree of passion, sir, appears to be requisite for supporting Illusion. We well know that in all the history of Passion, to produce illusion is the common operation. Why not in Imagination ?
In natural passion, gentlemen, the Illusion reigns unchecked. In the workings of poetical imagination the Illusion is tempered and ruled, subdued under a Law, conformed to conditions and requisitions of art. Men resist the doctrine of Illusion. They dislike to know to what an immense extent they are subject to Illusions. I have no conception of Beauty or Sublimity that does not require, for effecting it, some transfusion of life and spirit from our own soul into the material object—some transmutation of the object. If so, the whole face of the Universe is illuminated to us by Illusion.
If you are asked in what parts of the Iliad Imagination assumes its most powerful sceptre, you cannot help turning to the supernatural. Everything about Gods and Goddesses—Olympus—Jupiter's nod-Vulcan making armour-all the interpositions. The terrestrial action is an Isle that floats in a sea of the marvellous; but this is for us at least Illusion-fictitious creation—the top of it. So in Shakspeare ; for we are obliged to think of the Ghosts, Witches-Caliban-Ariel.
Existences, which we accept in the sheer despite of our knowledge—that is, of reason. The rational king of the Earth, proud of his reason, and ignorant of his Imagination, grows ashamed when the facts of his Imagination are obtruded upon bim-denies them-revolts from them. To restore the belief and faith in Imagination, and to demonstrate its worth, is an enterprise obligatory on philosophy. The world seems returning to it, for a while having abhorred it. Our later poets have seen both Cause and Effect. Do you believe that thinking a child like a flower does not increase your tenderness for him or her, and that the innocence of the flower does not quicken and heighten by enshrining its beauty ? Child and Flower give and take.
Excellent. We put down, then, as the first stone in all such argument—that the act of Imagination-or the poetical act--be they one or two, is accompanied with belief.
SEAWARD. Fancy, Wit, have a touch of belief.
Even a play upon words has a motion towards belief.
No metaphysician has ever, that I have read, expounded belief. Has Hartley? This quasi-belief, or half-belief, against better knowledge, must be admitted as a sure fact or phenomenon. I don't care how hard it
may be to persuade anybody to believe as the foundation of a philosophy an absurdity, or self-contradictory proposition, " That you believe to be true, that which you know to be false." There the fact is; and without it you build your house in the air-off the ground. Soften it-explain it. Say that you know for one moment, and in the next know the contrary. Say that you lean to belief-that it is an impression, half-formed-imperfect belief-a state of mind that has partaken of the nature of belief—that it is an impression resembling belief-operating partial effects of belief. But unquestionably, no man, woman, or child has read a romance of Scott or Bulwer or Dickens, without seeing their actions and sufferings with his soul, in a way that, if his soul be honest, and can simply tell its own suffering, must by it be described as a sort of momentary belief. What are the grief, the tears, the joy, the hope, the fear, the love, the admiration, and half-worship—the vexation, the hate, the indignation, the scorn, the gratitude, yea, and the thirst of revenge-if the pageant floats by, and stirs actually to belief? The supposition is an impossibility, and the theory lies on our side, and not on Johnson's, who has nothing for him but a whim of rationalism. I take novels, because in them it is a common proof, though this species be the less noble. But take Epos from the beginning. Take Tragedy-take Comedy—and what is, was, or will it be, but a half-unsubstantial image of reality, waited upon by a half-substantial image of belief, the fainter echo of airy harps ? My drift is, that our entire affection, passion-choose your word-attended with pleasure and pain of heart and imagination-the love, the hate in either, are tlie sustaining, actuating soul of the belief. Evidence, that as the passion thrills, the belief wases, and that
Clear as mud.
I see in Imagination a power which I can express to my own satisfaction by two terms, of which you, Seward, sometimes look as if you refused me the use, disabling me from defining for you. For myself, I see " Passion moulding or influencing Intellectual Forms.” As the language stands hitherto, I do not see my way of getting out of the two terms. You want, on the lowest steps, a very elementary description-something far below the Poetsomething as yet far short of the sublime, the beautiful, and the wonderful. Tell me some one who has felt fear, or anger, or love, or hate-how these have affected for him the objects of simple apprehension or of conception; of sight, for instance-of sound ? Has anything through his fear seemed largerthrough his hate wickeder, than it is? For that differencing of an object by a passion, I know no name but Imagination. It is the transformation of a reality ; that seems to me to be the ground of what we more loftily apprehend under the name Imagination.
The great differences in the different psychological states and facts arising out of the different passions or passionate moments, are various, endless. Such influences from pleasure and pain, from loves of some sort, and from hates of some sort, take effect for us in all the objects with which we have intercourse. They make what it is to us. They make man what he is to us. They are the life of our souls. · They are given to all human spirits.
We have, all of us, clean forgotten Milton.