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It is from these alone, that we can acquire, not only that force of character which is suited to the more arduous situations of life, but that complete and prompt command of attention to things external, without which the highest endowments of the understanding, however they may fit a man for the solitary speculations of the closet, are but of little use in the practice of affairs, or for enabling him to profit by his personal experience.
Where, however, such habits of inattention have unfortunately been contracted, we ought not to despair of them as perfectly incurable. The attention, indeed, as I formerly remarked, can seldom be forced in particular instances; but we may gradually learn to place the objects we wish. to attend to, in lights more interesting than those in which we have been accustomed to view them.-Philosophy of the Human Mind.
3. The Origin of Language.
In the case of objects which fall under the cognizance of any of our external senses, it is easy to conceive the origin of the different classes of words composing a conventional dialect; to conceive, for example, that two savages should agree to call this animal a Horse, and that tree an Oak. But, in words relating to things intellectual and moral, in what manner was the conventional connection at first established between the sign and the thing signified? In what manner (to take one of the simplest instances) was it settled, that the name of imagination should be given to one operation of the mind; that of recollection to a second; that of deliberation to a third; that of sagacity, or foresight, to a fourth? Or, supposing the use of these words to be once introduced, how was their meaning to be explained to a novice, altogether unaccustomed to think upon such subjects?
In answer to this question, it is to be observed, in the first place, that the meaning of many words, of which it is impossible to exhibit any sensible prototypes, is gradually collected by a species of induction, which is more or less successfully conducted by different individuals, according to the degree of their attention and judgment. The connection in which an unknown term stands in relation to the other words combined with it in the same sentence, often affords a key for its explanation in that particular instance; and, in proportion as such instances are multiplied in the writings and conversation of men well acquainted with propriety of speech, the means are afforded of a progressive approximation towards its precise import. A familiar illustration of this process presents itself in the expedient which a reader naturally employs for deciphering the meaning of an unknown word in a foreign language, when he happens not to have a dictionary at hand. The first sentence where the words occurs, affords, it is probable, sufficient foundation for a vague conjecture concerning the notion annexed to it by the author;-some idea or other being necessarily substituted in its place, in order to make the passage at all intelligible. The next sentence where it is involved, renders this conjecture a little more definite; a third sentence contracts the field of doubt within still narrower limits; till, at length, a more extensive induction fixes completely the signification we are in quest of. There cannot be a doubt, I apprehend, that it is in some such way as this, that children slowly and imperceptibly enter into the abstract and complex notions annexed to numberless words in their mother tongue, of which we should find it difficult or impossible to convey the sense by formal definitions.
The strong tendency of the mind to express itself metaphorically, or analogically, on all abstract subjects, supplies
another help to facilitate the acquisition of language. The prevalence of this tendency among rude nations has been often remarked; and has been commonly accounted for, partly from the warmth of imagination supposed to be peculiarly characteristical of savages, and partly from the imperfections of their scanty vocabularies. The truth, however, is, that the same disposition is exhibited by man in every stage of his progress; prompting him uniformly, whenever the enlargement of his knowledge requires the use of a new word for the communication of his meaning, instead of coining at once a sound altogether arbitrary, to assist, as far as possible, the apprehension of his hearers, either by the happy employment of some old word in a metaphorical sense, or by grafting etymologically on some well known stock, a new derivative, significant, to his own fancy, of the thought he wishes to impart.
To this bias of the mind to enrich language, rather by a modification of old materials, than by the creation of new ones, it is owing that the number of primitive or radical words, in a cultivated tongue, bears so small a proportion to the whole amount of its vocabulary. In an original language, such as the Greek, the truth of this remark may be easily verified; and, accordingly, it is asserted by Adam Smith, that the number of its primitives does not exceed three hundred. In the compounded languages now spoken in Europe, it is a much more difficult task to establish the fact; but an irresistible presumption in its favour arises from this circumstance, That all who have turned their attention of late, in this island, to the study of etymology, are impressed with a deep and increasing conviction, founded on the discoveries which have been already made, that this branch of learning is still in its infancy; and that the roots of an immense variety of words, commonly supposed to be genuine radicals, may
be traced, in a satisfactory manner, to the Saxon or to the Icelandic. The delight which all men, however unlettered, take in indulging their crude conjectures on the etymological questions which are occasionally started in conversation, is founded on the same circumstance ;-their experimental knowledge of the difficulty of introducing into popular speech a new sound, entirely arbitrary in its selection, and coined out of materials unemployed before. Another illustration of this occurs in the reluctance with which we adopt the idiomatical turns of expression in a foreign tongue, or even the cant words and phrases which, from time to time, are springing up in our own, till we have succeeded in forming some theory or conjecture to reconcile the apparent anomaly with the ordinary laws of human thought.—Essay on the Tendency of some late Philological Speculations.
4. The Idea of Beauty.
NOTWITHSTANDING the great variety of qualities, physical, intellectual, and moral, to which the word beauty is applicable, I believe it will be admitted, that, in its primitive and most general acceptation, it refers to objects of sight. As the epithets sweet and delicious literally denote what is pleasing to the palate, and harmonious what is pleasing to the ear; as the epithets soft and warm denote certain qualities that are pleasing in objects of touch or of feeling;-so the epithet beautiful literally denotes what is pleasing to the eye. All these epithets, too, it is worthy of remark, are applied transitively to the perceptions of other senses. We speak of sweet and of soft sounds; of warm, of delicious, and of harmonious colouring, with as little impropriety, as of a beautiful voice, or of a beautiful piece of music. Mr. Burke, himself, has somewhere spoken of the soft green of the soul. If the
transitive applications of the word beauty be more numerous and more heterogeneous than those of the words sweetness, softness, and harmony, is it not probable that some account of this peculiarity may be derived from the comparative multiplicity of those perceptions of which the eye is the common organ? Such, accordingly, is the very simple principle on which the following speculations proceed; and which it is the chief aim of these speculations to establish. . . . .
The first ideas of beauty formed by the mind, are, in all probability, derived from colours. Long before infants receive any pleasures from the beauties of form or of motion, (both of which require, for their perception, a certain effort of attention and of thought) their eye may be caught and delighted with brilliant colouring, or with splendid illumination. I am inclined, too, to suspect, that in the judgment of a peasant, this ingredient of beauty predominates over every other, even in his estimate of the perfections of the female form; and, in the inanimate creation, there seems to be little else which he beholds with any rapture.
From the admiration of colours, the eye gradually advances to that of forms; beginning first with such as are most obviously regular. Hence the pleasure which children, almost without exception, express, when they see gardens. laid out after the Dutch manner; and hence the justness of the epithet childish, or puerile, which is commonly employed to characterize this species of taste;-one of the earliest stages of its progress both in individuals and in nations.
When, in addition to the pleasures connected with colours, external objects present those which arise from certain modifications of form, the same name will be naturally applied to both the causes of the mixed emotion. The emotion appears, in point of fact, to our consciousness, simple and