Essays on Education and Kindred Subjects eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 497 pages of information about Essays on Education and Kindred Subjects.
members of parliament ever putting on and taking off their spectacles.  So long as such movements are unconscious, they facilitate the mental actions.  At least this seems a fair inference from the fact that confusion frequently results from putting a stop to them:  witness the case narrated by Sir Walter Scott of his school-fellow, who became unable to say his lesson after the removal of the waistcoat-button that he habitually fingered while in class.  But why do they facilitate the mental actions?  Clearly because they draw off a portion of the surplus nervous excitement.  If, as above explained, the quantity of mental energy generated is greater than can find vent along the narrow channel of thought that is open to it; and if, in consequence, it is apt to produce confusion by rushing into other channels of thought; then by allowing it an exit through the motor nerves into the muscular system, the pressure is diminished, and irrelevant ideas are less likely to intrude on consciousness.

This further illustration will, I think, justify the position that something may be achieved by pursuing in other cases this method of psychological inquiry.  A complete explanation of the phenomena, requires us to trace out all the consequences of any given state of consciousness; and we cannot do this without studying the effects, bodily and mental, as varying in quantity at each other’s expense.  We should probably learn much if we in every case asked—­Where is all the nervous energy gone?

[1] Macmillan’s Magazine, March 1860.

[2] For numerous illustrations see essay on “The Origin and Function of Music.”


When Carlo, standing, chained to his kennel, sees his master in the distance, a slight motion of the tail indicates his but faint hope that he is about to be let out.  A much more decided wagging of the tail, passing by and by into lateral undulations of the body, follows his master’s nearer approach.  When hands are laid on his collar, and he knows that he is really to have an outing, his jumping and wriggling are such that it is by no means easy to loose his fastenings.  And when he finds himself actually free, his joy expends itself in bounds, in pirouettes, and in scourings hither and thither at the top of his speed.  Puss, too, by erecting her tail, and by every time raising her back to meet the caressing hand of her mistress, similarly expresses her gratification by certain muscular actions; as likewise do the parrot by awkward dancing on his perch, and the canary by hopping and fluttering about his cage with unwonted rapidity.  Under emotions of an opposite kind, animals equally display muscular excitement.  The enraged lion lashes his sides with his tail, knits his brows, protrudes his claws.  The cat sets up her back; the dog retracts his upper lip; the horse throws back his ears.  And in the struggles of creatures in pain, we see that the like relation holds between excitement of the muscles and excitement of the nerves of sensation.

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Essays on Education and Kindred Subjects from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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