SOUND MIND; OR, CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE NATURAL HISTORY AND PHYSIOLOGY OF THE HUMAN INTELLECT.
By JOHN HASLAM, M.D.
LATE OF PEMBROKE HALL, CAMBRIDGE:
FORMERLY PRESIDENT OF THE ROYAL MEDICAL, NATURAL HISTORY,
AND CHEMICAL SOCIETIES OF EDINBURGH.
PRINTED FOR LONGMAN, HURST, REES, ORME, AND BROWN,
Printed by Strahan and Spottiswoode,
TO Sir JAMES MACKINTOSH, M.P.
The privilege of long acquaintance, and a sufficient experience of the kindness of your disposition, might be an adequate inducement to dedicate the following pages to your notice. To this offering, I am however impelled by motives, which boast a higher descent, and more enlightened character:—an admiration of your superior talents, and the adaptation of those excellent endowments, to the advancement and happiness[Pg iv] of the human race,—and by which you have been enabled
The subjects to which I now solicit the permission of prefixing your name, were once your favourite study; and I am induced to consider your profound researches into the nature and constitution of the human intellect, as the basis of that high reputation, you now so deservedly maintain among the wise and dignified of your contemporaries.
I am, Dear Sir,
with respect, esteem,
and the kindest feelings,
Your very obedient servant,
The indulgence of the public has been already extended to several works which I have submitted to its decision on the subject of Insanity; and the same favourable interpretation is now solicited for the present performance,—which attempts the more difficult investigation of Sound Mind. In treating of Mental Derangement, I became very early sensible, that a competent knowledge of the faculties and operations of the Intellect in its healthy state, was indispensably[Pg vi] necessary to him, who professed to describe its disorders:—that in order to define the aberrations, the standard should be fixed. There was indeed no lack of theories and systems of Metaphysic; and although they essentially differed, many possessed the highest reputation. Amidst this distraction of conflicting opinions, which no mediator could adequately reconcile,—without daring to contend with a host of discrepancies, or presuming to demolish the lofty edifices which scholastic Pneumatology had reared,—I determined to throw off the shackles of authority, and think for myself. For it was evident, on the freehold ground of literature, that there is “ample room and verge enough” for every man to build his own tenement;—and[Pg vii] the present construction is too lowly to intercept another’s prospect, and without those ornaments that might provoke the jealousy, or challenge the rivalship of surrounding inhabitants.
The mind of every rational person may be considered as an elaboratory, wherein he may conduct psychological experiments:—he is enabled to analyze his own acquirement,—and if he be sufficiently attentive, he may note its formation and progress in his children:—and thus trace the accumulation of knowledge, from the dawn of infancy to the meridian of manhood. The prosecution of these means, according to my own views, will qualify the diligent observer, to become the Natural Historian and Physiologist of the Human Mind.
[Pg viii]In the comparative survey of the capacities of Man, and the intelligence of animals, the contrast has appeared so striking, that it was impossible wholly to abstain from the inference of his future destination:—notwithstanding very different conclusions had been extorted by some modern physiologists. It has been often remarked, that the practitioners of the healing art, have been very moderately impressed with a solicitude for the future. This observation, in some late instances, has been unhappily confirmed:—but it would be unjust to visit the whole tribe with a sweeping and acrimonious censure, for the transgressions of a few. The reproach has, however, long existed. The venerable father of English poetry, in his descrip[Pg ix]tion of the Doctor, has passed a high and merited compliment to his learning; which at that period was a heterogeneous compound of Greek, Latin, and Arabian lore, mysteriously engrafted on Galenicals and Astrology:—yet with this courteous concession to his professional science he could not refrain from a dry and sarcastic memorandum, that
Throughout this inquiry, the province of the Theologian has never been invaded:—it has been my humble toil to collect and concentrate the scattered rays which emanate from natural reason,—a pale phosphoric light, and “uneffectual” glow, compared with the [Pg x]splendid and animating beams, which issue from the source of divine communication.
As the object of these contributions, has been principally to convey my opinions, concerning the formation of the human mind, from the superior capacities that man possesses, many subjects have been left untouched, which, in similar works, urge an important claim to the attention of the reader. Among these neglected articles, the Imagination is the chief omission:—of which many authors have treated so copiously, and so well. According to my own views, the consideration of this faculty was not essential to the outline that has been traced;—and it has been rather deemed a graceful embellishment, than a [Pg xi]constituent pillar of the edifice of mind. This gay attirer of thought, that decks passion and sentiment, is also the prolific parent of fiction;—and justly banished from the retreats of sober demonstration.—To the science of numbers,—to mathematical precision, and to the whole range of experimental philosophy,—Imagination does not lend her glowing and gaudy tints. No vestiges of her colouring can be discovered in Divine ordinances, or in the systems of human jurisprudence:—neither in the Ten Commandments nor in the Statutes at Large. Imagination may indeed enliven the cold pages of historical narrative, and blend the “Utile Dulci”—but even here she is a profane intruder: and a vigilant eye must be directed, lest, in[Pg xii] some unguarded moment, her seductive blandishments should decoy the nakedness of truth. A sedate and unambitious recorder of facts, does not presume to describe her regions, or to enumerate her attributes. That delightful task must be performed by her votaries,
nor should the Orator be excluded from his fair participation and kindred alliance with this airy and fascinating group.
If the present essay should conform to nature, and be founded in truth,—should it assist the young inquirer, and more especially the medical student,—for whom no compendium of the science of mind has been hitherto prepared; my own expectations will be fully answered;[Pg xiii] and this scantling may probably lead some more capable person to an extensive investigation, enlarged comprehension, and luminous arrangement of the phenomena of the human intellect.
57. Frith-Street, Soho-Square,
|On the intellectual superiority which man has
acquired by speech, and the possession of the
|On the nature and composition of language, as
applied to the investigation of the phenomena
|On will or volition||74|
|On thought or reflection||110|
Works by the same Author.
I. Observations on Madness and Melancholy.
II. Illustrations of Madness.
III. On the Moral Management of the Insane.
IV. Medical Jurisprudence, as it relates to Insanity.
V. A Letter to the Governors of Bethlem Hospital.
The faculty of perceiving the objects which surround us, is an important feature in the history of mind; but by what means or contrivance this is effected, can only be known to the Supreme Being, who has thus been pleased to endow us; and our utmost endeavours to detect the modus operandi will be puerile and unavailing.
The first operations of the infant are to educate its senses, in order to become acquainted, through these organs, with surrounding objects. This, in the human species, is a process of very slow attain[Pg 2]ment; and our information concerning this subject, must be derived from attentively watching the progress of the infant itself; as of these early perceptions, for a reason which will be afterwards assigned, we retain no distinct recollection.
For the manner in which we become acquainted with the objects in nature, we have appropriated a term, which was probably supposed to be explanatory of the process, by which we received our intelligence of these phenomena, and have accordingly termed it Perception. The intrinsic meaning of this word is the taking, seizing, or grasping, of an object, from the Latin Cum and Capio, and the same figure pervades most of the European languages. This term may sufficiently apply to the information we[Pg 3] derive from the organ of touch; but it affords no solution of that which we obtain through the medium of the other senses, as sight, smell, and hearing. It has been the bane of philosophy, and the great obstacle to its advancement, that we have endeavoured to penetrate that which is inscrutable; and in this vain pursuit, we have neglected to detect and cultivate that which is obvious, and the legitimate province of our research.
These organs of sense are the instruments by which we obtain our different perceptions; they are the tests by which we become acquainted with the objects of nature.
When we view the newly-born infant, and consider its state for many weeks after it has become a member of our[Pg 4] community, we are then enabled to form some opinion of the almost insensible gradations, by which it acquires its perceptions. An enumeration of the progressive steps of this tardy process is within the power of any patient and accurate observer; but this detail does not constitute a part of the plan which has been adopted.
It has been endeavoured by writers on this subject, to establish a distinction between perception and sensation, and the reader for his information may consult their works: they do not however appear to have founded this distinction on any obvious difference, nor to have adduced sufficient reasons for their separate establishment, as independent properties of the nerves. To feel, to [Pg 5]experience a sensation, or to perceive, implies consciousness; it is that which is transmitted by the nerves to the sensorium, either by the organs of sense, or by the internal nerves; as pain, or feelings of which we are conscious. Consciousness is the test, the evidence, the proof of sensation or perception. This point has been adverted to, in order that terms should not be multiplied without a distinct and essential difference of meaning.
The five senses, together with some auxiliaries, which will be the subjects of future notice, may be considered as the instruments or agents, by which the edifice of mind is constructed. In the act of perceiving by the different senses, there are some circumstances, which are[Pg 6] particularly deserving of attention. In order that perception may fully and certainly take place, it is necessary that the person should be undisturbed; he ought to be exempt from external intrusions, and internal perturbation. During this process the respiration is in general more slowly drawn, the body endeavours to maintain a perfect quietude, and its position becomes fixed. When we perceive objects by the eye, this organ becomes fixed and the lips are usually closed. During our examinations by the touch, the eye is also fixed, the breathing is suspended, and the lips brought into contact: the fingers are separated, and their more delicately tangent surfaces applied to the object with their utmost expansion. In the exercise of audible perception,[Pg 7] the neck is stretched forth, and the ear applied to the quarter from whence the sound appears to issue; the mouth is partly open to conduct the vibrations to the Eustachian tube. When we acquire intelligence by the smell, the lips are very firmly closed, the nostrils become dilated, and the inspiration of air through them is conducted by short and successive inhalations. From the connection between the smell and organs of taste, (and this association is more remarkable in some animals than in man,) it is difficult to describe the process, which, however, principally consists, when minutely tasting, in moving the tongue (the principal discriminator) on the palate:—but when urged by strong appetite as in the act of feeding, and when[Pg 8] divested of the restraints which refined society imposes; the nostrils are widely expanded, the eye is keenly directed to the portion, and the hands are busily employed.
Experience has sufficiently informed us that the organs of sense must be in a healthy state, in order to the due conveyance of perception. When the function of any organ is altogether defective, as when a person is born blind, he is cut off from all perception of light and of visible objects. If by nature deaf, from the intonation of sounds; and many unhappy instances of such connate defects abound among our species. In one particular subject, both these defects existed from birth; so that the sum of his intelligence was conveyed by the touch, smell,[Pg 9] and taste, or in other words, his mind was exclusively composed of the perceptions he derived from these senses. This case will be more particularly noticed in a subsequent chapter. The alterations which take place in the state of our perceptions from a morbid cause, are generally known. Thus a person labouring under a catarrh, will be unable to detect the odours which certain substances communicate in a healthy condition of his olfactory organ. In fever excited by a disordered stomach, the taste will become vitiated, and the partial obstruction of the ear by accumulated wax, will impress him with the bubbling of a pot, the singing of birds, or the ringing of bells.
The same law that produces fatigue in[Pg 10] a muscle from exertion, appears to obtain in the organs of sense. If they be excited by their appropriate stimuli too violently, or for a too long continuance, fatigue or languor is produced, their percipience is diminished, or confusedly conveyed; and they require a period of rest for their refreshment.
As we advance in our enquiries into the nature of perception, it will be evident that we cannot long continue to treat of it as a simple act, or as a distinct faculty. The organs by which we obtain our different perceptions are not insulated parts, but communicate with a substance, termed the brain, and which is continued through the vertebral column. The ultimate expansion of a nerve of sense, has been termed its sentient or[Pg 11] percipient extremity; and where it is united to the brain, its sensorial insertion. If we were to divide the optic nerve where it passes into the foramen, taking care to leave the apparatus of the eye uninjured, the visual organ would be deprived of its function, and the person or animal would be completely blind of that eye; so that a communication with the brain is necessary for the purpose or act of perception. As therefore the union of the nerve with the brain is indispensably necessary for the purpose or act of perception, we are naturally led to inquire into the properties of this substance, termed the brain. Before we proceed to this part of the subject, it will be proper to notice a fact which is of frequent occurrence. In amputations of the thigh,[Pg 12] at the moment the femoral nerve is divided, it often occurs that a pain is distinctly felt in the toes; and after the limb has been removed, even for many months, the same painful feeling of these lost extremities is occasionally experienced. This circumstance would render it probable that the larger branch of the nerve becomes itself impregnated with the sensation it transmits: indeed it is a continuation of the same substance, from its sentient extremity to its sensorial insertion. This intimate union of nerve and brain may be further illustrated: it has been already noticed, that a morbid state of the organs of sense will convey inaccurate perceptions; and it is equally certain, that disease of the brain, will excite phantasms, which appear as realities to the sensitive organs.
[Pg 13]As consciousness is implied, in order to constitute the act of perception, it is of some importance to investigate the nature and meaning of this term. The consciousness of having experienced a perception by any of the senses would be an act of memory: consciousness, therefore, applies to the past; and it also accompanies our prediction of the future. When a person is writing a letter, he is at the time, conscious that his own hand is forming the characters; if this letter be afterwards submitted to his inspection, he is conscious that he wrote it; and if he be desired to write it over again, he is conscious that it will bear, both to himself and others, the character of his hand-writing. Consciousness, therefore, accompanies human action through all its[Pg 14] tenses: it is equivalent to the knowledge we possess of our own personal identity, the evidence of mind, and therefore must accompany every act of intelligence. Thus we are equally conscious that we perceive, remember, think or reflect, and reason. As consciousness must accompany every act of perception, it follows that we cannot be impressed with more than one at the same instant; for it can never be contended that we are able to experience two acts of consciousness at the same moment. The very term two, implies repetition or succession, and we could as well conceive the possibility of being, at the same time, in two different places.
As far as we are warranted to infer from the evidences it affords, an infant[Pg 15] appears to possess no consciousness; but it may be considered of early acquirement, and coeval with distinctness of perception.
These few preliminary remarks concerning perception have been submitted to the notice of the reader, in order to advance to another subject. The faculties which constitute mind are so blended, and dependant on each other, that it would only hazard confusion to proceed. But this subject will be resumed.
 There exists already furnished, a considerable mass of facts, dispersed in various works, which might be advantageously collected into a volume in order to illustrate the phenomena and laws of perception, and more especially to display the mutual assistance they afford to each other, and the superior knowledge which we have derived from their united co-operation.
Allow a human being to be gifted with his five senses, exquisitely attuned for the conveyance of those perceptions, which the separate organs and common sensory are destined to receive: let him during fifty, or as many thousand years, scent the most delicious perfumes,—convey to his palate the flavour of the choicest viands,—to his eyes, present the fairest prospects in nature,—impart to his ear the sweetest music, and regale his touch with smoothness and warmth; moreover let him be conscious of each individual perception he receives:—what would he be at the expiration of this period, without recollection? He[Pg 17] would be no more than a sheet of white paper, that had been carried round the world to receive, through the camera obscura, its most delightful views; or the bare walls of Westminster Abbey, after the commemoration of Handel. Perception and consciousness, therefore, although indispensable to the building up of mind, are by themselves inefficient and useless without the adjunct of memory.
The writers who have treated of the human faculties, have usually and properly bestowed an elaborate investigation to the developement of this interesting subject: indeed, when men first began to describe the operations of their own minds, it might be expected that they would treat copiously of its most [Pg 18]important function; but the nature of this endowment has received no elucidation from the aggregate of their labours.
The term memory has been Anglicised from the Latin Memoria; yet we possess two other words of similar meaning, and from their derivation, in a certain degree, explanatory of this process; namely, to REMEMBER and RECOLLECT. Thus if an individual have seen any particular animal, and given sufficient attention to perceive accurately its construction, so as to possess a complete perception of the different parts or members of which it is composed; he would, in the absence of the animal, be enabled to remember it. If his hand had been duly educated he might form its model, or chisel it from a block of marble; or[Pg 19] on a plain surface, according to the rules of art, might make a drawing of the animal, and with such exactitude of its different members, that it would appear to those who compared it with the original, that he perfectly re-membered it. To recollect is only a different figure for the same process, and implies to re-gather or collect, those parts which have been scattered in different directions.
The perceptions we obtain by our different senses are all capable of being remembered, but in different ways. Those which we derive from sight, may be communicated by the pictures of the objects, which become the means of assisting our recollection, and thus form a durable record of our visible perceptions; of course excepting motion,[Pg 20] which pictures cannot represent; but motion, or change of place, implies a succession of perceptions. Yet this manner of record does not directly apply to the other senses: we can exhibit no pictures of odours, tastes, the lowing of a cow, the roaring of a lion, or the warbling of birds; much less do hardness and softness admit of any picturesque representations as their record. The memory of animals seems to be in the simple state: they have, through their organs, different perceptions; and in many instances these organs are more susceptible than those of the human subject. The ear of some timid species is enabled to collect the feeblest vibrations of sound, and which are inaudible to us. The eye of some birds can [Pg 21]tolerate an effulgence of light, that would dazzle and confuse our vision; and others “do their errands,” in a gloom where we could not distinguish. In certain animals the smell is so acute, that it becomes a sense of the highest importance for the purposes of their destination. But animals are incapable of recording their perceptions by any signs or tokens: they therefore possess no means of recalling them, and their recollection can only be awaked from the recurrence of the object, by which the perception was originally excited: whereas man, by the possession of speech, and of the characters in which it is recorded, can at all times revive his recollection of the past.
The simple acts of perception and memory appear to be the same in man and animals; and there are many facts which would induce us to suppose, if these faculties be identical in their nature, that the endowment of the latter is more excellent. This conjecture is hazarded from the greater susceptibility of the organs of some animals, and from their wonderful recollection of tracks which they have traversed. Among the phenomena of memory there are two very curious occurrences, and for which no adequate explanation has been hitherto afforded. Many of the transactions of our early years appear to be wholly obliterated from our recollection; they have[Pg 23] never been presented as the subject of our thoughts, but after the lapse of many years, have been accidentally revived, by our being placed in the situation which originally gave them birth. Although there are numerous instances on record, and some perhaps familiar to every reader, I shall prefer the relation of one which came under my immediate observation. About sixteen years ago, I attended a lady at some distance from town, who was in the last stage of an incurable disorder. A short time before her death, she requested that her youngest child, a girl about four years of age, might be brought to visit her, and which was accordingly complied with. The child remained with her about three days. During the last summer some[Pg 24] circumstances led me to accompany this young lady to the same house. Of her visit when a child she retained no trace of recollection, nor was the name of the village even known to her. When arrived at the house, she had no memory of its exterior; but on entering the room where her mother had been confined, her eye anxiously traversed the apartment, and she said, “I have been here before, the prospect from the window is quite familiar to me, and I remember that in this part of the room there was a bed and a sick lady, who kissed me and wept.” On minute inquiry none of these circumstances had ever occurred to her recollection during this long interval, and in all probability they would never have recurred but for the locality which [Pg 25]revived them. In a work professedly the fabric of fancy, but which is evidently a portrait from nature, and most highly finished,—in the third volume of Guy Mannering, the reader may peruse a similar but more interesting relation, where the return of Bertram to the scenes of his childhood, awakens a train of reminiscences which conduce to the developement of his history and legitimate claims. According to my own interpretation, however wonderful these phenomena of memory may appear, they merely afford examples of the simplest acts of recollection, excited by the recurrence of the original objects, at a period when language was little familiar: in the same manner as an animal, at a distant time brought into its former haunts, would[Pg 26] remember the paths it had heretofore trodden.
But there are some facts in the history of recollection which do not admit of any satisfactory solution. From these it appears, that persons in their childhood have learned a language which, from the acquirement and usage of another during many years, they have entirely forgotten; so that when spoken by others, they have been wholly unable to understand it: yet during the delirium of fever, or from inflammation of the brain and its membranes, in consequence of external injury, the former and forgotten language has been revived, and spoken with fluency: but after a restoration to health no traces of its recollection have remained. A remarkable case[Pg 27] of this kind has been published by Mr. Abernethy; and a similar instance is recorded of the lady of an ambassador. These few preliminary observations have been submitted to the reader, in order to introduce a principal part of the subject to his notice, to prevent repetitions, and from the impossibility of considering the more curious and important phenomena of perception and memory as simple and unconnected endowments.
ON THE INTELLECTUAL SUPERIORITY WHICH MAN HAS ACQUIRED BY SPEECH, AND THE POSSESSION OF THE HAND.
In our investigations of the nature and offices of the human mind, we are immediately and forcibly struck with two important circumstances, which appear to have contributed in an especial manner to the superiority of man over all other animals. Let it be admitted, without at present discussing the question, or adducing any arguments; that the constitution of the human intellect is of a higher quality, or of a finer staple,[Pg 29] than the intelligent principle of other creatures. These two endowments with which man may be considered as exclusively gifted, and which, on a deliberate survey, appear principally to have conduced to his pre-eminence in the range of intellectual creation, are speech and the possession of his hands. One of the chief characteristics by which man is distinguished from the other animals,[Pg 30] is the capability he possesses of transmitting his acquirements to posterity. The acquirements of other animals perish with them: they are incapable of recording their achievements, and, as a community, they are stationary. If the reason be sought, it will be immediately found, that they do not enjoy the appropriate organs; and this defect will be detected to arise from their want of speech and hands.
There may perhaps arise some of the difficulties already experienced, in the separate consideration of these human attributes,—speech and the hand; as much of the superiority which man possesses has resulted from their combined assistance. It is, however, important to treat of each individually, as far as their [Pg 31]separate influence and effects can be distinctly traced. The consideration of speech or significant sound, would naturally introduce an enquiry into its structure and philosophy: but as this knowledge can be collected from the works of many enlightened writers on these subjects, it is unnecessary to obtrude on the reader that which he may find already prepared.
Speech is ordinarily acquired by the ear, and the sound conveyed through that organ is imitated by the voice. When any object in nature is named by its appropriate articulate sound, as a tree, a fish, a horse, if the object be duly noted and the term remembered, it will mutually, on the presentation of the [Pg 32]object, recall the term; or if the term be mentioned, the recollection of the object will arise. Without reverting to the formation of words by letters, or proceeding to the structure of sentences by words, which is the province of the grammarian, it will be seen that these significant sounds, enable human beings to convey to each other the perceptions they have experienced, or are impressed with, at the moment of communication. This endowment of speech to man would, alone, have constituted him vastly superior to the other animals. But whatever might have been his attainments, either from his own discoveries or from the experience of his contemporaries, his departure from life would have consigned the products of his[Pg 33] genius and wisdom to the treachery and mutilation of another’s recollection. Even in the enlightened and polished period of our present existence, we are fully acquainted with the loss or addition which a fact experiences, from being transmitted through a succession of narrators.
Had man been merely furnished with speech, without the means of recording his acts and reflections, we might indeed have preserved by tradition, the names of Homer, Virgil, Cicero, Shakspeare, and Milton; but their works,—those majestic columns which now support the temple of fame, would have perished, had there not been a contrivance to record the productions of their genius. This art, of conferring permanence on the [Pg 34]significant sounds of the human voice, has taught us to appreciate and revere the taste and wisdom of our predecessors; and to feel, that although their bodies are buried in peace, yet their names live for evermore:—but more especially this contrivance has preserved the laws of nations, and above all other blessings, has transmitted, in the Sacred Volume, the commandments of the living God.
From the brief notice which has been bestowed on this subject, it will be seen, that man could have made but inconsiderable advances in the scale of intellectual progression, by speech alone;—that how much soever this faculty might have elevated him above animals, by endowing his perceptions with intelligence, and rendering his thoughts the[Pg 35] circulating medium of his community; yet had he remained without the power of registering the edicts of his mind, language would have expired in its cradle; and as the body mingles with its mother-earth, intelligent sound would have been blended and lost in the medium that produced it.
The next subject to be considered, (and its importance will justify an ample review, and minute consideration,) is the hand; a member which may be considered, with some trifling exceptions, as exclusively bestowed on man. The wonderful construction of this part of the human body might be sufficiently exemplified by its achievements. Its anatomy has not, hitherto, been so minutely investigated, as to demonstrate the almost[Pg 36] infinite variety of motions to which it is adapted; nor has it been sufficiently compared with the somewhat analogous structure and function in certain of the simiæ, in the claw of the parrot, or with the proboscis of the elephant.
At the extremity of the fingers, in the human hand, and on their inner surface, resides the organ of Touch; a sense, of which animals are comparatively deficient. Touch, is distinguished from feeling, which it is the general property of all the nerves to convey, and this feeling is likewise accompanied with consciousness. Thus pain may be felt in the different organs of sense, without any corresponding perception, which it is their separate office to import. Although the acute organ of touch has its[Pg 37] seat at the extremity of the fingers, yet the whole surface of the skin (of the human subject) is susceptible, but in an inferior degree, of tangible perceptions. It is sensible of heat and cold, of hard and soft, rough and smooth. The tongue enjoys also a considerable capability of tangible discrimination; but let any person attempt to ascertain the state of his pulse, by applying the tongue to the wrist, he will find it a very unsatisfactory test.
[Pg 38]It has been already observed, that the perception of objects conveyed through the organ of vision, may be represented by drawings, so as sufficiently and accurately to convey the same perception to the eye of another: thus we recognise the likeness of a person by his portrait; the view of a known country from the landscape; the quadruped, bird, or insect, by its picture: but the perceptions of the organ of touch, can only be communicated through the medium of language; and the same may be observed concerning those derived from the smell and taste. We may indeed submit the same objects of touch, smell, and taste, to a number of persons, who, in all probability, (their organs being similar,) would be impressed with the same perceptions:[Pg 39] but these perceptions, recollected, and the objects which excited them absent, can only be communicated through the medium of significant sound.
It may be a subject of curious investigation, although foreign to our present enquiry, whether man, in possession of articulate organs, discovered speech, and imposed names on his perceptions; or whether he was originally gifted with this endowment. Without attempting to discuss this question, it is sufficient to remark, that the structure and composition of our own language, and of its northern kindred, afford sufficient evidence of a very rude and necessitous origin.
After man had acquired the means of communicating his perceptions by significant sounds, the next important [Pg 40]discovery was the art of recording them, so that they might serve as the vehicle of intelligence to his distant contemporaries, or be transmitted to posterity as the sources of improvement. The human hand is the immediate agent by which this contrivance is displayed. It is not intended to trace the history of this wonderful and precious discovery, but to remark, that human ingenuity, has likewise established the record of sounds which are not significant, and which are termed the notations of music.
The science of accurate admeasurements has been exclusively discovered by man; and for the attainment of this important acquisition, it will be seen that the hand has been chiefly and progressively instrumental. When we [Pg 41]contemplate the present state of man, in our own nation, surrounded by the conveniences which gratify his wants, and behold him practised in their enjoyment, we are little disposed to revert to that period of his history, when he struggled to continue his existence, and trace his tardy progression from rudeness to refinement.
Although we now measure space and time, bodies solid and fluid, heat and its absence with the facility of a single glance; yet if we consider the slow, and painful steps, by which such acquirements have been attained, we shall be forcibly impressed, how much we are the creatures of patient experiment, and also how[Pg 42] mainly the hand has contributed to our advancement. If we investigate the standards of admeasurement, we find that many have been derived from the human body, and more especially from its operative instrument, the hand. That the members and dimensions of our own body should have been the original standards of measurement is most natural, and the terms in which they are conveyed afford a sufficient illustration of the fact. Thus, we have a nail; pollex, pouce, pulgada, Swedish tum, for an inch; which word has been misapplied by our Saxon predecessors, and corrupted from the Latin uncia, which related only to weight. We still measure by digits, by fingers’ breadth, by hands high. Cubit from cubitus, was formerly employed.[Pg 43] We now retain ell, aune, ulna. Foot, pace, pas, pes. Yard, not as Mr. Tooke supposed from the Saxon gyrwan, to prepare, but from gyrdan, cingere, and is employed to represent the girth of the body. Fathom, the distance of the arms when extended to embrace, from which the meaning is implied in most languages. But it will be immediately[Pg 44] perceived, that measurement could not proceed to any considerable extent, could neither be compounded by addition, nor subdivided, without the employment and comprehension of numbers.
In our childhood we are taught the knowledge of numbers; and those who have superintended the work of education, must have witnessed the difficulty of impressing on the mind of the child, this kind of information. Alphabetic characters, compared with numbers, are readily acquired: whether it be from the imperfect manner, in which the science of numbers is usually taught, or from the actual difficulty in comprehending the subject, it is not pretended to determine; although, from some considerations, the latter is most probable. The names of[Pg 45] different objects are easily acquired, and children examine such objects by their different senses, more especially by the eye and touch; they become desirous of learning their properties, or of becoming acquainted with their construction: and this investigation affords them delight, and excites or gratifies their curiosity. But numbers possess no such attraction; numbers, do not involve any of the obvious properties of these objects, neither their colour, shape, sound, smell, or taste; it therefore becomes perplexing for them to comprehend, if five similar substances, as so many apples, or nuts, be arranged before them, why each, should bear a name, different from the thing itself, and different from each other: why this nut should be termed one, another two, and the next three.