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the fame time we learn from daily experience, that the train of our thoughts is not merely cafual and if it depend not upon will, nor upon chance, by what law is it governed? The queftion is of importance in the science of human nature; and I promife beforehand, that it will be found of great importance in the fine arts. It appears that the relations by which things are linked together, have a great influence in directing the train of thought; because we find by experience, that ideas are connected in the mind precisely as their objects are externally. Taking a view of external objects, we fee that their inherent properties are not more remarkable than the various relations by which they are connected together: one thing perceived to be a cause, is connected with its feveral effects; fome things are connected by contiguity in time, others by contiguity in place; fome are connected by refemblance, fome by contraft; fome go before, fome follow: not a fingle thing appears folitary and altogether devoid of connection; the only difference is, that fome are intimately connected, fome more flightly; fome near, fome at a diftance.
Experience may fatisfy us of what reafon makes probable, that the train of our thoughts is in a great measure regulated by the foregoing connections. Where a number of things are linked together, the idea of any one fuggefts the reft; and in this manner is a train of thoughts compofed;
fed fuch is the law of fucceffion; whether an original law, or whether directed by fome latent principle, is doubtful; and probably will for ever remain fo. This law, however, is not inviolable it fometimes happens, though rarely, that an idea prefents itfelf to the mind without any connection, fo far at least as can be discovered.
But though we cannot add to the train an unconnected idea, yet it frequently depends on our will to attend to fome ideas, and to difmifs others. There are few things but what are connected with many others; and when a thing thus connected becomes a fubject of thought, it generally fuggefts many of its connections: among thefe a choice is afforded; we can infift upon one, rejecting others; and we can even infist upon what has the flighteft connection. Where ideas are left to their natural courfe, they are generally continued through the ftrongest connections: the mind extends its view to a fon more readily than to a fervant, and more readily to a neighbour than to one living at a diftance. This order, as obferved, may be varied by will, but ftill within the limits of connected objects; for though we can vary the order of a natural train, we cannot diffolve it altogether, by carrying on our thoughts in a loofe manner without any connection. So far doth our power extend; and fuch power is fufficient for all ufeful purposes: to give us more power, would probably be detrimental instead of being falutary.
Will is not the only cause that prevents a train of thought from being continued through the ftrongest connections: much depends on the prefent tone of mind; for a fubject that accords with this tone is always welcome. Thus, in good fpirits, a chearful fubject will be introduced by the flighteft connection; and one that is melancholy, not lefs readily in low fpirits: an interesting subject is recalled, from time to time, by any connection indifferently, itrong or weak; which is finely touched by Shakespear, with relation to a rich cargo at sea :
My wind, cooling my broth,
Would blow me to an ague, when I thought
Merchant of Venice, at 1. fc. 1.
Another caufe clearly distinguishable from that now mentioned, hath alfo a confiderable influence to vary the natural train of ideas; which
is, that in fome minds of a fingular frame, thoughts and circumstances crowd upon each other by the flighteft connection. I afcribe this to a defect in the faculty of difcernment; for a perfon who cannot accurately distinguish between a flight connection and one that is more folid, is equally affected with both fuch a perfon muft neceffarily have a great flow of ideas, because they are introduced by any relation indifferently; and the flighter relations, being without number, muft furnish ideas without end. This doctrine is, in a lively manner, illuftrated by Shakespear:
Falstaff. What is the grofs fum that I owe thee?
Hoftefs. Marry, if thou wert an honest man, thyself and thy money too. Thou didst fwear to me on a parcel-gilt goblet, fitting in my Dolphin chamber, at the round table, by a fea-coal fire, on Wednesday in Whitfun-week, when the Prince broke thy head for likening him to a finging man of Windfor, thou didst swear to me then, as I was wafhing thy wound, to marry me, and make me my Lady thy wife. Canft thou deny it ? Did not Goodwife Keech, the butcher's wife, come in then, and call me Goffip Quickly? Coming in to borrow a mess of vinegar; telling us fhe had a good dish of prawns; whereby thou didst defire to eat fome; whereby I told thee they were ill for a green wound? And didft not thou, when she was gone down ftairs, defire me to be no more fo familiarity with fuch poor people, saying, that ere long they fhould call me Madam? And didit thou not kiss me, and bid me fetch thee thirty fhillings? put thee now to thy book-oath, deny it if thou canft. Second part, Henry IV. ačt 2. fc. 2.
On the other hand, a man of accurate judgement cannot have a great flow of ideas; becaufe the flighter relations, making no figure in his mind, have no power to introduce ideas. And hence it is, that accurate judgement is not friendly to declamation or copious eloquence. This reafoning is confirmed by experience; for it is a noted obfervation, That a great or comprehenfive memory is feldom connected with a good judge
As an additional confirmation, I appeal to another noted obfervation, That wit and judgement are feldom united. Wit confifts chiefly in joining things by diftant and fanciful relations, which furprise because they are unexpected: fuch relations being of the flightest kind, readily occur to that perfon only who makes every relation equally welcome. Wit, upon that account, is, in a good meafure, incompatible with folid judgement; which, neglecting trivial relations, adheres to what are fubftantial and permanent. Thus memory and wit are often conjoined: folid judgement feidom with either.
Every man who attends to his own ideas, will difcover order as well as connection in their fucceffion. There is implanted in the breaft of every man a principle of order, which governs the arrangement of his perceptions, of his ideas, and of his actions. With regard to perceptions I obferve, that to things of equal rank, where there is no room for a preference, order cannot be