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INQUIRY into the Causes of the Diversity of Human Character in various
Ages, Nations, and Individuals.
Of the social principles of action in man. Thar man is made for society has been universally admitted, unless, perhaps, by a few paradoxical Philosophers. It is by no means on account of the advantages derived from the social intercourse, that we are prompted to seek relief from the ennui of solitude, in the
company of other men; the love of society has every appearance of an original principle implanted in the human breast; and equally prompts the child as it does the man of mature understanding. It is, likewise, distinctly to be traced in most of the tribes of animals, who seem uniformly to delight in herding together, unless they are compelled by the necessities of a predatory life, to seek for an undivided dominion in solitude.
The first, then, of man's social principles of action, which I shall consider, is this very love of society, which, for want of a more specific name, we may call the social principle itself, and which possesses all the attributes of an original and ultimate principle of action. So strong is the influence of this desire, that when deprived of the wished-for intercourse with our fellow-men, it prompts us to make companions of animals, and even of lifeless objects. The story of the state-prisoner in France, who solaced his solitary hours by forming
VOL. VII. No. XIII.
an intimacy with a spider, which inhabited his cell, is well known, as well as the wanton cruelty of his jailor, by whom he was deprived of this poor refuge of misfortune. The unfortunate Baron Trenck was led in similar circumstances to contract a like friendship with a mouse, and experienced a like severity from his keeper. In short, a state of complete solitude is the most intolerable of all conditions to a feeling mind; and those legislators have judged wisely, who have substituted, in place of capital punishments, rigorous confinement in solitude and darkness.
The social principle not only prompts us to seek for the intercourse of other men, but it induces us to participate in all their emotions, and to take a lively share in their joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. It leads us to consider every man as a brother, to bring home the particulars of his situation to ourselves, and to feel, to a certain extent, those very emotions, which we should experience, were we actually in the same situation. his exercise of the social principle constitutes what is called Sympathy, an amiable attribute of human nature, the important effects of which have been ably illustrated by various writers, particularly by Mr. Smith, in his Theory of Moral Sentiments.
By the power of sympathy, according to this writer, we change places, in imagination, with those with whom we sympathise; we fancy, for the moment, their fortune to be our own, and feel exactly as we should do, were we in like circumstances. Thus we could not see a man falling down a precipice, without an emotion of terror, or that involuntary shuddering, which we should experience, were we actually exposed to a like danger. If a blow is aimed at the leg or arm of another man, we involuntarily shrink from the imaginary danger, and endeavour, as it were, to withdraw our own limbs from the stroke. If we hear a benevolent action praised, we experience a certain glow of gratitude, as if the commendation were bestowed upon ourselves; and if we hear a person loaded with unmerited reproaches, we feel hurt, as if we ourselves received the censure.
That it is by supposing ourselves for a time in the situation of the person with whom we sympathise, that such feelings are excited, is more clearly evinced by this circumstance, that it is not necessary
for the exercise of sympathy, that its objects should have the same sense of their condition that we have. We sympathise, as is observed by Lord Kaimes, (Elem. of Criticism,) in some degree, with things
? This story is affectingly related by Lord Kaimes, as follows :-“ The Count de Lauzun was shut up by Louis XIV. in the Castle of Pignerol, and was confined there from the year 1672, to the year 1681, deprived of every comtort of life, and even of paper, pen, and ink. At a distance from every friend and relation; without light, except a glimmering through a slit in the roof; without books, occupation, or exercise ; a prey to hope deferred, and constant horror; he, to avoid insanity, had recourse to tame a spider. The spider received flies from his hand with seeming gratitude, carried on his web with alacrity, and engaged the whole attention of the prisoner. This most innocent of all ainusenients was discovered by the jailor, who, in the wantonness of power, destroyed the spider and its work. The Count described his agony to be little inferior to that of a fond mother at the loss of a darling child." (Sketches of the History of Man, Book 2. Sket, 1.)
which are inanimate; and to see in ruins a house, with which we have been long acquainted, affects us with some degree of uneasiness. We sympathise with the brute creation; and that person would be pronounced unfeeling, who should hear the cheerful song of the lark, or observe the frisking lamb, or the transport of the dog, when he finds the master he had lost, without any participation of their joy. With those of our own species, too, we sympathise, when the person concerned may have no corresponding feeling. We blush for another's ill-breeding, even when we know that he himself is not aware of it. We tremble for a mason standing on a high scaffold, though we know that custom has rendered it quite familiar to him. And upon the very same principles we are powerfully moved by a fictitious narrative, or theatrical representation, although we have a complete conviction that the joy or sorrow, with which we sympathise, is altogether imaginary.
But in order that sympathy may be most powerfully excited, it is certainly necessary, that its object should have those very feelings, which we ourselves experience. The execution of a hardened criminal will excite very different emotions, from that of an offender filled with penitence and contrition, and fully sensible of all the horrors of his situation. The distresses of the vulgar, whose feelings are supposed to be dull and obtuse, are never witnessed with such lively emotion, as those of the more cultivated and refined, whose minds are known to be alive to the stings of misfortune. No evil can be more truly deplorable, than that of the complete loss of reason ; yet, if the maniac appears happy in his frenzy, he is contemplated with little compassion, and will more frequently excite a smile than a tear.
The beneficial effects of the principle of sympathy are very apparent. It is this which enables us to contemplate the good fortune of our neighbour without envy, and even with rejoicing; but what is still more advantageous, it is this which induces us to participate cordially in his distress. How soothing is it to the afflicted, to pour out their sorrows to the sympathising ear! How greatly is grief alleviated, when the oppressed mind, as it is emphatically expressed, thus dis, burthens itself ! And how greatly does it aggravate affliction, when it is of that kind, that others cannot be expected to enter into it! It is the kind appointment of nature, that we are inclined to sympathise much more cordially in the misfortunes of others, than in their joys; insomuch that the term Sympathy has been frequently employed as entirely synonymous with pity or compassion, although from the illustracions already given, it is sufficiently apparent that we parti. cipate in the good, as well as in the evil fortune of others. Our sharing the latter is, however, much more beneficial than our partici. pation of the former; and, therefore, nature has kindly appointed a compassionate monitor within us, by which we are prompted to this friendly participation. It is remarked by Mr. Smith, that men are generally much more anxious to communicate to their friends their sorrows, than their joys, because they do not feel so confident of sympathy for the latter as for the former. Sympathy, too, enhances the pleasure of most of our social enjoyments, and increases by. a kind of reflection the mirth and good humor of every company. It greatly
promotes our desire of acquiring knowledge, by the pleasure it im. parts to the communication of it to others, even after it has lost all its novelty to ourselves. In this way we can explain the pleasure which professed story-tellers take in repeating the same anecdote a thousand times over, without having recourse to the satirical explanation of Montaigne, “that such men recollect every thing but their own repetitions.” They sympathise in the supposed feelings of their hearers, and feel to a certain extent that pleasure which they experienced when the anecdote was new to themselves.
I am not sure, whether what has been called the principle of Imitation in man, may not be resolved into a particular exercise or modification of sympathy,, or of the social principle of which I am now treating. Aristotle long ago denominated man wer peopentixòv, imitative animal;" and certainly the tendency to imitation plays a very important part in the human constitution, more especially in the earlier part of life. It is the principle of imitation, that seems chiefly to prompt children to the acquisition of language, as soon as their organs are qualified for so difficult a task. “ I apprehend,” says Dr. Reid, (Essay 3d. on the Active Powers, c. 2.) “ that human nature disposes us to the imitation of those among whom we live, when we neither desire nor will it. It is commonly thought, that children often learn to stammer by imitation ; yet, I believe, no person ever desired or willed to learn that quality. I apprehend, that instinctive imitation has no small influence in forming the peculiarities of provincial dialects, the peculiarities of voice, gesture, and manner, which we see in some families, the manners peculiar to different ranks, and different professions; and, perhaps, even in forming national characters, and the human character in general. The instances that history furnishes of wild men, brought up from early years without the society of any of their own species, are so few, that we cannot build conclusions upon them with great certainty. But all I have heard agreed in this, that the wild man gave but
very slender indications of the rational faculty ; and with regard to his mind, was hardly distinguishable from the more sagacious of the brutes."
So social a being is man, therefore, that he not only ardently seeks for the intercourse of his fellow-creatures, and cordially participates in their joys and sorrows, but is naturally inclined to copy their looks, gestures, accents, and general behaviour; and in consequence of this natural propensity, he certainly makes a much more rapid progress in acquiring the various improvements of the civilised state, than he otherwise would do. The contagious nature of insanity, of hysteric disorders, of panics, and of all the different kinds of enthusiasm, receives a satisfactory explanation from the influence of the principle of Imitation; and the same principle serves to account for the effects, so far as they were not pretended, of what was called Mesmerism, or Animal Magnetism.
The principle of Imitation serves to throw considerable light upon a fact of the human constitution, which is attended with no small difficulty, and has given rise to much diversity of opinion among philosophers, I mean the Interpretation of Natural Signs. The expression of certain passions and affections of the mind, by peculiar