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Should we not find a large portion of our race deformed? Besides there is no necessity for having recourse to such a solution in order to account for the fact of unusual births. They are to be referred to the anomalous productions of nature. We cannot explain the manner in which the fætus in the womb, grows into the regular form of the human species; and why should we expect to explain the manner in which it grows into the irregular and distorted? But upon a sober view of the subject, can it be considered in any degree wonderful, chat amidst the thousands and millions of births which take place upon the globe, a child should have been born in Paris, whose limbs all exhibited the appearance of having been broken, and that by a singular contingency, that child's mother should have seen the execution of a criminal upon the rack? Such contingencies in other matters are not uncommon, and excite no surprise. Besides, I am confident, that to those who will take the pains to examine minutely, the similitude between children of whom such reports are circulated among the vulgar, and the objects to which they are compared, it will appear to be very remote and scarcely perceptible. It is usually the imagination of the spectator, which, at first, conceives a resemblance, and then fills up the outlines. The force of fancy in such cases is immense. I remember myself to have seen in the state of North Carolina, a young woman of a singular appearance, and very defective in understanding, whose face was vulgarly said to resemble a sturgeon's, and that resemblance was ascribed to the effect produced upon her mother by a fright into which she was thrown in crossing a river, when a fish of that species leaped suddenly into the boat. I could not trace the smallest resemblance between the young woman and the fish, which was so generally perceptible, and should never have thought of such a thing, had it not been suggested by others.
Facts of the kind above referred to, are to be accounted for upon principles similar to those upon which we explain the phenomena of dreaming, and their interpretations. Is it in any degree remarkable, that amidst the endless succession of thoughts which occur to the mind in dreams, where the most variegated scenes are displayed to the fancy, webs of every hue are woven by it, and where we seem to pass through all sorts, and conditions of being, sometimes retracing the past, and then anticipating the future, there should be some things represented to us which bear a resemblance or analogy to what afterwards takes place in reality? The symbols too, or hieroglyphics, which are supposed to adumbrate the scenes of real life, are of so ambiguous and doubtful interpretation, that like the responses of the ancient oracles, they may be made to signify very different and even opposite things. It will be excused in the poet with the license of his profession, to represent dreams as coming down from heaven; but in the sober inquiries of the philosopher, no impressions can be found upon them which bear its sacred image and superscription. It would be strange, indeed, if the Creator had resorted to this fantastic mode of communicating to us information, which we are unable to obtain, in our waking hours, by the severest application of mind and the most persevering habits of investigation.
All that idle confidence, therefore, in dreams by which the peace of some persons is, in no slight degree disturbed, or in the power of the mother's imagination to produce such great effects in the form of the child, is to be regarded as childish superstition, from which philosophy should cleanse the soul.
Progress of the Mind, in the Acquisition of Ideas,
PercepTIVITY, or the power of perceiving, seems to be the distinguishing property, that separates animate from inanimate nature. The perceptive powers, however, of the different species of animals differ greatly in their degree of delicacy and refinement. Those substances and qualities which are, in a high degree, agreeable to some animals, are extremely offensive to others. The line of separation between the vegetable and animal kingdom is not always distinctly marked. The lowest link of animated nature, as the cockle and the oyster, partake so nearly equally of the properties of the animal and the vegetable, that it is difficult to decide under which denomination they should be classed. Of all animals, man, undoubtedly, is susceptible of the greatest variety, of the nicest and most delicate perceptions. Brutes appear to be entirely incapable of reflecting upon the operations of the principle within them, and those bodily sensations to which all their knowledge is confined, are of the coarsest and grossest kind. Let us now pursue our primitive man, in the prosecution of that knowledge which his limited faculties enable him to attain.
By sensation and reflection we have seen him attain all his simple ideas, about the existence and qualities of body and mind. Some ideas he would obtain by one sense only, others by several senses; some by reflection or sensation only, and others by both sensation and reflection. Light, and the several colours, as white, red, yellow, green, blue, with their several shades and modifications, come into the mind by sight alone; sounds and tones, only by the ear; the several tastes and smells, only by the palate and nose. The ideas of space, extension; solidity, resistance, hardness, impulse, impenetrability, we get originally by touch, as soon as we press our hands upon bodies, and find that they resist them; although afterwards we learn to judge of some of them by the other senses, as by the eye and ear. By reflection alone do we obtain our simple ideas of duration and succession, perception or thinking, volition or willing, with their several simple modes, as remembrance, discerning or discri. mination, imagining, reasoning, judging, knowledge, faith, doubting, &c. The ideas of pleasure, pain, delight, torment, power, existence, unity, and number, come both by sensation and reflection. Positive ideas too may be derived from privative causes, as the rays of light strike upon the eye and give us a perception of light, the absence of those rays occasion a new affection of the organs and gives us a notion of darkness. So the absence of heat gives us a sensation of cold, the absence of whiteness, the sensation of black, that of taste, insipidity, of noise, silence, the absence of something of which we have a complex idea, a notion of nothing. By reflecting upon the train of ideas as they pass and repass through the mind, we obtain our notions of succession and duration; by comparing objects with themselves as they ap. pear at different times, we get ideas of identity and diversity; by comparing different objects with each other, our ideas of equality and inequality, relation, similitude and dissimilitude; and by witnessing objects produce changes or alterations in each other, we obtain our ideas of power.