Page images

Sect. V. Circumstances operating on the Passions....III. Importance.

jects is analogous to the quantity of matter in physical subjects, as on quantity the moment of moving bodies in a great measure depends. An action may derive importance from its own nature, from those concerned in it as acting or suffering, or from its consequences. It derives importarice from its own nature, if it be stupendous in its kind, if the result of what is uncommonly great, whether good or bad, passion or invention, virtue or vice, as what in respect of generosity is godlike, what in respect of atrocity is diabolical: it derives importance from those concerned in it, when the actors or the sufferers are considerable, on account either of their dignity or of their number, or of both : it derives importance from its consequences, when these are remarkable in regard to their greatness, their multitude, their extent, and that either as to the many and distant places affected by them, or as to the future and remote periods to which they may reach, or as to both. ALL the four remaining circumstances derive their efficacy purely from one and the same cause, the connexion of the subject with those occupied, as speaker or hearers, in the discourse. Self is the centre here, which hath a similar power in the ideal world, to that of the sun in the material world, in communicating both light and heat to whatever is within the sphere of its activity, and in a greater or a less degree, according to the nearness or remoteness.

Sect. V. Circumstances operating on the passions.

PART IV.... Proximity of time.

FIRST, as to proximity of time, every one knows, that any melancholy incident is the more affecting that it is recent. Hence it is become common with story-tellers, that they may make a deeper impression on their hearers, to introduce remarks like these ; that the tale which they relate is not old, that it happened but lately, or in their own time, or that they are yet living who had a part in it, or were witnesses of it. Proximity of time regards not only the past, but the future. An event that will probably soon happen, hath greater influence upon us than what will probably happen a long time hence. I have hitherto proceeded on the hypothesis, that the orator rouses the passions of his hearers, by exhibiting some past transaction; but we must acknowledge that passion may be as strongly excited by his reasonings concerning an event yet to come. In the judiciary orations there is greater scope for the former, in the deliberative to the latter; though in each kind there may occasionally be scope for both. All the seven circumstances enumerated are applicable, and have equal weight, whether they relate to the future or to the past. The only exception that I know of is, that probability and plausibility are scarce distinguishable, when used in reference to events in futurity. As in these there is no access for testimony, what constitutes the principal distinction is quite excluded. In comparing the influence of the past upon our minds, with

Part IV. Proximity of time.

that of the future, it appears, in general, that if the evidence, the importance, and the distance of the objects be equal, the latter will be greater than the former. The reason, I imagine, is, we are conscious, that as every moment, the future, which seems placed before us, is approaching; and the past, which lies,

as it were, behind, is retiring, our nearness or relation to the one constantly increaseth as the other decreaseth. There is something like attraction in the first case, and repulsion in the second. This tends to interest us more in the future than in the past, and consequently, to the present view, aggrandizes the one and diminishes the other.

WHAT, nevertheless, gives the past a very considerable advantage, is its being generally susceptible of much stronger evidence than the future. The lights of the mind are, if I may so express myself, in an opposite situation to the lights of the body. These discover clearly the prospect lying before us, but not the ground we have already passed. By the memory, on the contrary, that great luminary of the mind, things past are exhibited in retrospect; we have no correspondent faculty to irradiate the future : and even in matters which fall not within the reach of our memory, past events are often clearly discoverable by testimony, and by effects at present existing ; whereas, we have nothing equivalent to found our arguments upon in reasoning about things to

Sect. V. Circumstances operating on the passions.

come. It is for this reason, that the future is considered as the province of conjecture and uncertainty.

Parr P....Connexion of Place.

Local connexion, the fifth in the above enumeration, hath a more powerful effect than proximity of time. Duration and space are two things, (call them entities, or attributes, or what you please) in some respects the most like, and in some respects the most unlike, to one another. They resemble in continuity, divisibility, infinity, in their being deemed essential to the existence of other things, and in the doubts that have been raised as to their having a real or independent existence of their own. They differ in that the latter is permanent, whereas the very essence of the former consisteth in transitoriness; the parts of the one are all successive, of the other all co-existent. The greater portions of time are all distinguished by the memorable things which have been transacted in them, the smaller portions by the revolutions of the heavenly bodies; the portions of place, great and small (for we do not here consider the regions of the fixed stars and planets) are distinguished by the various tracts of land and water, into which the earth is divided, and subdivided; the one distinction intelligible, the other sensible; the one chiefly known to the inquisitive, the other in a great measure obvious to all.

Part V. Connexion of place.

HENCE perhaps it arises, that the latter is considered as a firmer ground of relation, than the former. Who is not more curious to know the notable transactions which have happened in his own country from the earliest antiquity, than to be acquainted with those which have happened in the remotest regions of the globe, during the century wherein he lives? It must be owned, however, that the former circumstance is more frequently aided by that of personal relation than that of the latter. Connexion of place not only includes vicinage, but every other local relation, such as being in a province under the same government with us, in a state that is in alliance with us, in a country well known to us, and the like. Of the influence of this connexion in operating on our passions, we have daily proofs. With how much indifference, at least with how slight and transient emotion, do we read in newspapers the accounts of the most deplorable accidents in countries distant and unknown How much, on the contrary, are we alarmed and agitated on being informed, that any such accident hath happened in our neighbourhood,

and that even though we be totally unacquainted with the persons concerned 2

PART VI....Relation to the persons concerned.

STILL greater is the power of relation to the persons concerned, which was the sixth circumstance men

« PreviousContinue »