« ForrigeFortsett »
ment, made up of the invisible soul and the bodily framework which surrounds it, iş at first voiceless and silent. Nor does it appear that it will ever send forth its sounds of harmony, until it is touched and operated upon by those outward influences which exist in the various forms and adaptations of the material world. Under these influences it is first awakened into activity. $ 4. Our first knowledge in general of a material or external origin.
In accordance with what has been said, we lay down the general principles, FIRST, that during the early period of life there is an intimate connexion between the mind and the material world; and, SECOND, that far the great'er portion of the mind's acts during that period can be traced to a material source. In proof of both positions, particularly the latter, we may properly attend to the following considerations. (I.) What has been said will
, in the first place, be found agreeable to each one's individual experience. If we look back to the early periods of life, we discover, ·not merely that our ideas are then comparatively few in number, but that far the greater proportion of them are suggested by external objects. They are forced upon us by our immediate wants; they have relation to what we ourselves see, or hear, or touch; and only a small proportion are internal and abstract. As we advance in years, susceptibilities of the mind are brought into exercise, which have a less intimate connexion with things external; and thoughts from within are more rapidly multiplied than from without. We have in some measure exhausted that which is external; and as the mind, awakened to a love of knowledge and a consciousness of its powers, has at last been brought fully into action by means of repeated affections of the senses, a new world (as yet in some degree a TERRA INCOGNITA) projects itself upon our attention, where we are called
to push our researches and gratify our curiosity.—This is the general experience, the testimony which each one can give for himself.
5. Shown further from what we notice in children. In the second place, what has been said finds confirma
tion in what we observe of the progress of the mind in infants and children generally. The course of things which we observe in them, agrees with what our personal consciousness and remembrance, as far back as it goes, enables us to testify with no little confidence in our own
No one can observe the operations of the mind in infants and children, without being led to believe, that the Creator has instituted a connexion between the mind and the material world, and that the greater portion of our early knowledge is from an outward source.
To the infant its nursery is the world. The first ideas of the human race are its particular conceptions of its nurse and mother; and the origin and history of all its notions may be traced to its animal wants, to the light that breaks in from its window, and to the few objects in the immediate neighbourhood of the cradle and hearth. When it has become a few
there are other sources of information, other fountains of thought, but they are still external and material. The child then learns the topography of his native village; he explores the margin of its river, ascends its flowering hills, and penetrates the seclusion of its valleys. His mind is full of activity; new and exalting views crowd upon his perceptions; he beholds, and hears, and handles; he wonders, and is delighted. And it is not till after he has grasped the elements of knowledge which the outward world gives, that he retires within himself, compares, reasons, and seeks for causes and effects.
It is in accordance with what has now been stated of the tendencies of mind in children, that we generally find them instructed by means of sensible objects, or by pictures of such objects. When their teachers make an abstract statement to them of an action or event, they do not understand it; they listen to it with an appearance of confusion and vacancy, for the process is undoubtedly against nature. But show them the objects themselves, or a faithful picture of them, and interpret your abstract expressions by a reference to the object or picture, and they are observed to learn with rapidity and pleasure. The time has not yet arrived for the springing up and growth of thoughts of an internal and abstract origin.
96. Further proof of the beginnings of knowledge from external causes.
In the third place, the history of language is a strong proof of the correctness of the position, that the mind is first brought into action by means of the senses, and acquires its earliest knowledge from that source. At first words are few in number, corresponding to the limited extent of ideas. The vocabulary of
The vocabulary of savage tribes (those, for example, which inhabit the American continent) is in general exceedingly limited. The growth of a language corresponds to the growth of mind; it extends itself by the increased number and power of its words, nearly in exact correspondence with the multiplication and the increased complexity of thought. Now the history of all languages teaches us, that words, which were invented and brought into use one after another in the gradual way just mentioned, were first employed to express external objects, and afterward were used to express thoughts of internal origin.
Almost all the words in every language, expressive of the susceptibilities and operations of the mind, may be clearly shown to have had an external origin and application before they were applied to the mind.
TO IMAGINE, in its literal signification, implies the forming of a picture; to IMPRESS conveys the idea of leaving a stamp or mark, as the seal leaves its exact likeness or stamp on wax; to REFLECT literally means to turn back, to go over the ground again, &c. These words cannot be applied to the mind in the literal sense; the nature of the mind will not admit of such an application; the inference therefore is, that they first had an external application. Now if it be an established truth, as the history of languages seems to show that it is, that all language has a primary reference to external objects, and that there is no term expressive of mental acts which was not originally expressive of something material, the conclusion would seem to be a fair one, that the part of our knowledge which has its rise by means of the senses, is, as a general statement, first in origin. And the more so, when we combine with these views the considerations which have been previously advanced.
07. The same subject further illustrated. And, in the fourth place, it is not too much to say, that all the observations which have been made on persons who, from their birth or at any subsequent period, have been deprived of any of the senses, and all the extraordinary facts which have come to knowledge, having a bearing on this inquiry, go strongly in favour of the views which have been given.—It appears, for instance, from the observations which have been made in regard to persons who have been deaf until a particular period, and then have been restored to the power of hearing, that they have never previously had those ideas which naturally come in by that sense. If a person has been born blind, the result is the same; or if, having the sense of sight, it has so happened that he has never seen any colours of a particular description. In the one case, he has no ideas of colour's at all; and in the other, only of those colours which he has seen. It may be said, perhaps, that this is what might be expected, and merely proves the senses to be a source of knowledge, without necessarily involving the priority of that knowledge to what has an internal origin. But then observe the persons referred to a little further, and it will be found, as a general statement, that the internal powers of their minds have not been unfolded; they lay wrapped up in a great measure in their original darkness; no inward light springs up to compensate for the absence of that which, in other cases, bursts in from the outward world. This circumstance evidently tends to confirm the principles which we are endeavouring to illustrate.
Of those extraordinary instances to which we alluded, as having thrown some light on the history of our intellectual acquisitions, is the account which is given in the Memoirs of the French Academy of Sciences for the year 1703, of a deaf and dumb young man in the city of Chartres. At the age of three-and-twenty, it so happened, to the great surprise of the whole town, that he was suddenly restored to the sense of hearing, and in a short time he acquired the use of language. Deprived for so long a period of a sense which, in importance, ranks with the sight and the touch, unable to hold communion with his fellow-beings by means of oral or written language, and not particularly compelled, as he had every care taken of him by his friends and relations, to bring his faculties into exercise, the powers of his mind remained without having opportunity to unfold themselves. Being examined by some men of discernment, it was found that he had no idea of a God, of a soul, of the moral merit or demerit of human actions, and, what might seem to be yet more remarkable, he knew not what it was to die; the agonies of dissolution, the grief of friends, and the ceremonies of interment being to him inexplicable mysteries.
Here we see how much knowledge a person was deprived of, merely by his wanting the single sense of hearing; a proof that the senses were designed by our Creator to be the first source of knowledge, and that without them the faculties of the soul would never become operative.
Ø 8. Illustration from the case of James Mitchell. But this is not the only instance of this sort which ingenious men have noticed and recorded. In the Transactions of the Royal Society at Edinburgh, (vol. vii., part i.,) is a Memoir communicated by Dugald Stewart, which gives an account of James Mitchell, a boy born deaf and blind. The history of this lad, who laboured under the uncommon affliction of this double deprivation, illustrates and confirms all that has been above stated. He made what use he could of the only senses which he possessed, those of touch, taste, and smell, and gained from them a number of ideas. It was a proof of the diligence with which he employed the limited means which were given him, that he had by the sense of touch thoroughly explored the ground in the neighbourhood of the house where he lived for hundreds of yards. But deprived of sight, of hearing, and of intercourse by speech, it was very evident to those who observed him, as might be expected, that his knowledge was in amount exceedingly small. He was destitute of those perceptions which are appropriate to the particular senses of which he was deprived; and also of many other notions of an internal origin, which would undoubtedly have arisen, if the