Practical Essays eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 299 pages of information about Practical Essays.

[Footnote 2:  Donaldson’s “History of Christian Literature and Doctrine,” Vol.  I., p. 277.]

[Footnote 3:  Intensity of passion stands confessed in the self-delineations of men of imaginative genius.  We forbear to quote the familiar instances of Wordsworth, Shelley, or Burns, but may refer to a remarkable chapter in the life of the famous Scotch preacher, Dr. Thomas Chalmers.  The mere title of the chapter is enough for our purpose.  It related to his early youth, and ran thus, in his own words:—­“A year of mental elysium”.  It is while living at a white-heat that all the thoughts and conceptions take a lofty, hyperbolical character; and the outpouring of these at the time, or afterwards, is the imagination of the orator or the poet.

The spread of the misconception that we have been combating is perhaps accounted for by the circumstance that imagination in one man is the cause of feeling in others.  Wordsworth, by his imaginative colouring, has excited a warmer sentiment for nature in many spectators of the lake country.  That, however, is a different thing.  We may also allow that the poet intensifies his own feelings by his creative embodiments of them.]

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By Relativity is here meant the all-pervading fact of our nature that we are not impressed, made conscious, or mentally alive, without some change of state or impression.  An unvarying action on any of our senses is the same as no action at all.  An even temperature, such as that enjoyed by the fishes in the tropical seas, leaves the mind an entire blank as regards heat and cold.  We can neither feel nor know without recognising two distinct states.  Hence all knowledge is double, or is the knowledge of contrasts or opposites:  heavy is relative to light; up supposes down; being awake implies the state of sleep.

The applications of the law in the sphere of emotion are chiefly contemplated in what follows.  Pleasure and pain are never absolute states; they have reference always to the previous condition.  Until we know what that has been in any case, we cannot pronounce upon the efficacy of a present stimulation.  We see a person reposing, apparently in luxurious ease; if the state has been immediately consequent upon a protracted and severe exertion, we are right in calling it highly pleasurable.  Under other circumstances, it might be quite the reverse.

There is an offshoot or modification of the principle, arising out of the operation of habit.  Impressions made upon us are greatest when they are absolutely new:  after repetition they all lose something of their power; although, by remission and alternative, the causes of pleasure and pain have still a very considerable efficacy.  Many of the consequences of this great fact are sufficiently acknowledged, or, if they are not, it is from other causes than our

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