Any person who has acquired the art of examining and analyzing his own thoughts will generally find that the mental pictures which he forms of the landscapes, or the interiors, in which the scenes are laid of the events or incidents related in any work of fiction which interests him, are modelled more or less closely from prototypes previously existing in his own mind, and generally upon those furnished by the experiences of his childhood. If, for example, he reads an account of transactions represented as taking place in an English palace or castle, he will usually, on a careful scrutiny, find that the basis of his conception of the scene is derived from the arrangement of the rooms of some fine house with which he was familiar in early life. Thus, a great many things which attract our attention, and impress themselves upon our memories in childhood, become the models and prototypes—more or less aggrandized and improved, perhaps—of the conceptions and images which we form in later years.
Nature of the Effect produced by Early Impressions.
Few persons who have not specially reflected on this subject, or examined closely the operations of their own minds, are aware what an extended influence the images thus stored in the mind in childhood have in forming the basis, or furnishing the elements of the mental structures of future life. But the truth, when once understood, shows of what vast importance it is with what images the youthful mind is to be stored. A child who ascends a lofty mountain, under favorable circumstances in his childhood, has his conceptions of all the mountain scenery that he reads of, or hears of through life, modified and aggrandized by the impression made upon his sensorium at this early stage. Take your daughter, who has always, we will suppose, lived in the country, on an excursion with you to the sea-shore, and allow her to witness for an hour, as she sits in silence on the cliff, the surf rolling in incessantly upon the beach, and infinitely the smallest part of the effect is the day’s gratification which you have given her. That is comparatively nothing. You have made a life-long change, if not in the very structure, at least in the permanent furnishing of her mind, and performed a work that can never by any possibility be undone. The images which have been awakened in her mind, the emotions connected with them, and the effect of these images and emotions upon her faculties of imagination and conception, will infuse a life into them which will make her, in respect to this aspect of her spiritual nature, a different being as long as she lives.
The Nature and Origin of general Ideas.