S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
When we turn our serious attention to the economy of the mind, we perceive that it is capable of a variety of processes of the most remarkable and most important nature. We find, also, that we can exert a voluntary power over these processes by which we control, direct, and regulate them at our will,and that when we do not exert this power the mind is left to the influence of external impressions, or casual trains of association, often unprofitable, and often frivolous. We thus discover that the mind is the subject of culture and discipline, which, when duly exercised, must produce the most important results on our condition as rational and moral beings; and that the exercise of them involves a responsibility of the most solemn kind, which no man can possibly put away from him.
The mind of man is able to discern universal propositions by its native force, without any previous notion or applied reasoning, which method of attaining truth is by a peculiar name styled intellection.
I strongly recommend you to follow the analogy of the body in seeking the refreshment of the mind. Everybody knows that both man and horse are very much relieved and rested if, instead of lying down and falling asleep, or endeavouring to fall asleep, he changes the muscles he puts in operation; if instead of level ground he goes up and down hill, it is a rest both to the man walking and the horse which he rides: a different set of muscles is called into action. So I say, call into action a different class of faculties, apply your minds to other objects of wholesome food to yourselves as well as of good to others, and, depend upon it, that is the true mode of getting repose in old age. Do not overwork yourselves: do everything in moderation.
Besides this, the mind of man itself is too active and restless a principle ever to settle on the true point of quiet. It discovers every day some craving want in a body which really wants but little. It every day invents some new artificial rule to guide that nature which, if left to itself, were the best and surest guide. It finds out imaginary beings prescribing imaginary laws; and then it raises imaginary terrors to support a belief in the beings, and an obedience to the laws. Many things have been said, and very well, undoubtedly, on the subjection in which we should preserve our bodies to the government of our understanding; but enough has not been said upon the restraint which our bodily necessities ought to lay on the extravagant sublimities and eccentric rovings of our minds. The body, or, as some love to call it, our inferior nature, is wiser in its own plain way, and attends to its own business more directly, than the mind with all its boasted subtlety.
The more accurately we search into the human mind, the stronger traces we everywhere find of His wisdom who made it. If a discourse on the use of the parts of the body may be considered as a hymn to the Creator, the use of the passions, which are the organs of the mind, cannot be barren of praise to him, nor unproductive to ourselves of that noble and uncommon union of science and admiration, which a contemplation of the works of infinite wisdom alone can afford to a rational mind; whilst, referring to him whatever we find of right or good or fair in ourselves, discovering his strength and wisdom even in our own weakness and imperfection, honouring them where we discover them clearly, and adoring their profundity where we are lost in our search, we may be inquisitive without impertinence, and elevated without pride; we may be admitted, if I may dare to say so, into the counsels of the Almighty by a consideration of his works.
We say that destruction is the order of nature, and some say that men must not hope to escape the universal law. Now we deceive ourselves in this use of words; there is in reality no destruction in the material world. True, the tree is resolved into its elements, but its elements survive; and, still more, they survive to fulfil the same end which they before accomplished. Not a power of nature is lost. The particles of the destroyed tree are left at liberty to form new, perhaps more beautiful and useful, combinations; they may shoot up into more luxuriant foliage, or enter into the structure of the highest animals. But were mind to perish, there would be absolute, irretrievable destruction; for mind, from its nature, is something individual, an uncompounded essence, which cannot be broken into parts and enter into union with other minds. I am myself, and can become no other being. My experience, my history, cannot become my neighbours. My consciousness, my memory, my interest in my past life, my affections, cannot be transferred. If in any instance I have withstood temptation, and through such resistance have acquired power over myself and a claim to the approbation of my fellow-beings, this resistance, this power, this claim, are my own; I cannot make them anothers. I can give away my property, my limbs; but that which makes myselfin other words, my consciousness, my recollections, my feelings, my hopesthese can never become parts of another mind. In the extinction of a thinking, moral being, who has gained truth and virtue, there would be an absolute destruction. This event would not be as the setting of the sun, which is a transfer of light to new regions; but a quenching of the light. It would be a ruin such as Nature nowhere exhibits: a ruin of what is infinitely more precious than the outward universe, and is not, therefore, to be inferred from any of the changes of the material world.
The understanding can conceive the whole world, and paint in itself the invisible pictures of all things. It is capable of apprehending and discoursing of things superior to its own nature. It is suited to all objects, as the eye to all colours, or the ear to all sounds. How great is the memory to retain such varieties, such diversities! The will also can accommodate other things to itself. It invents arts for the use of man; prescribes rules for the government of states; ransacks the bowels of nature; makes endless conclusions, and steps in reasoning from one thing to another, for the knowledge of truth. It can contemplate and form notions of things higher than the world.
Who ever knew mere matter understand, think, will? and what it hath not, it cannot give. That which is destitute of reason and will, could never reason and will. It is not the effect of the body; for the body is fitted with members to be subject to it. It is in part ruled by the activity of the soul, and in part by the counsel of the soul; it is used by the soul, and knows not how it is used. Nor could it be from the parents, since the souls of the children often transcend those of the parents in vivacity, acuteness, and comprehensiveness. One man is stupid, and begets a son with a capacious understanding; one is debauched and beastly in morals, and begets a son who from his infancy testifies some virtuous inclinations, which sprout forth in delightful fruit with the ripeness of his age. Whence should this difference arise,a fool beget the wise man, and a debauched the virtuous man?
Pleasures of the mind are more at command than those of the body. A man may think of a handsome performance, or of a notion that pleases him, at his leisure. This entertainment is ready with little warning or expense; a short recollection brings it upon the stage, brightens the idea, and makes it shine as much as when it was first stamped upon the memory.
The mind of man is too light to bear much certainty among the ruffling winds of passion and opinion; and if the luggage be prized equally with the jewels, none will be lost out till all be shipwrecked.
If we consider the mind merely with a view of observing and generalizing the various phenomena it reveals, that is, of analyzing them into capacities or faculties, we have one mental science, or one department of mental science; and this we may call the phenomenology of mind.
There are not more differences in mens faces, and the outward lineaments of their bodies, than there are in the makes and tempers of their minds; only there is this difference, that the distinguishing characters of the face, and the lineaments of the body, grow more plain with time, but the peculiar physiognomy of the mind is most discernible in children.
Whatever ideas the mind can receive and contemplate without the help of the body, it can retain without the help of the body too; or else the soul, or any separate spirit, will have but little advantage by thinking.
The mind by being engaged in a task beyond its strength, like the body strained by lifting at a weight too heavy, has often its force broken, and thereby gets an unaptness or an aversion to any vigorous attempt ever after.
The mind upon the suggestion of any new notion runs after similes to make it the clearer to itself; which, though it may be useful in explaining our thoughts to others, is no right method to settle true notions in ourselves.
When men are grown up, and reflect on their own minds, they cannot find anything more ancient there than those opinions which were taught them before their memory began to keep a register of their actions.
Less terrible is it to find the body wasted, the features sharp with the great life-struggle, than to look on the face from which the mind is gonethe eyes in which there is no recognition. Such a sight is a startling shock to that unconscious habitual materialism with which we are apt familiarly to regard those we love: for, in thus missing the mind, the heart, the affection that sprung to ours, we are suddenly made aware that it was the something within the form, and not the form itself, that was so dear to us. The form itself is still, perhaps, little altered; but that lip which smiles no welcome, that eye which wanders over us as strangers, that ear which distinguishes no more our voicesthe friend we sought is not there! Even our own love is chilled backgrows a kind of vague superstitious terror. Yes! it was not the matter, still present to us, which had conciliated all those subtle nameless sentiments which are classed and fused in the word affection,it was the airy, intangible, electric somethingthe absence of which now appalls us.
Mankind are in the end always governed by superiority of intellectual qualities, and none are more sensible of this than the military profession. When, on my return from Italy, I assumed the dress of the Institute, and associated with men of science, I knew what I was doing; I was sure of not being misunderstood by the lowest drummer in the army.
The mind of man hath two parts: the one always frequented by the entrance of manifold varieties; the other desolate and overgrown with grass, by which enter our charitable thoughts and divine contemplations.
Logicians distinguish two kinds of operations of the mind: the first kind produces no effect without the mind; the last does. The first they call immanent acts, the second transitive. Conceiving, as well as projecting or resolving, are what the schoolmen called immanent acts of the mind, which produce nothing beyond themselves. But painting is a transitive act, which produces an effect distinct from the operation, and this effect is the picture.
Aristotle affirms the mind to be at first a mere rasa tabula; and that notions are not ingenite, and imprinted by the finger of nature, but by the latter and more languid impressions of sense, being only the reports of observation, and the result of so many repeated experiments.