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above, seem to me to afford evidence little short of demonstration, that the thing was impossible. I am disposed to extend the same opinion to all the other branches of moral science; in particular, to the various ethical systems which were taught in the Grecian schools. Amongst all the mutual charges which were urged against each other by these rival sects, it does not appear that any of them were accused of having stolen their doctrines from abroad.
I shall only observe farther on this head, that the different ethical systems of the Greeks were plainly indigenous plants of the soil, being the natural result (as has been shown most ingeniously by Mr. Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments) of the turbulent and unsettled state of society in the Grecian commonwealths. That these systems, particularly that of the Stoics, should have sprung up among the inhabitants of Hindostan, is hardly conceivable, in consistence with the accounts that have been handed down to us from the earliest ages of their quiet, submissive, and pacific character. *
The question concerning the antiquity of the Indian astronomy, and other branches of mathematical science, is much more problematical, and must be decided upon other data. But it appears to me, that the extraordinary coincidence remarked by Sir William Jones, between the tenets of the Hindoo sects upon moral subjects, and those professed by the different sects in ancient Greece, can be accounted for in no other way, so simple and satisfactory, as that suggested by Gibbon.
* See Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, Vol. II.
OF THE PRINCIPLE OR LAW OF SYMPATHETIC IMITATION.
Of our Propensity to this Species of Imitation.
The subject of Language leads, by a natural transition, to that of Imitation; a principle of human nature to which children owe their first acquisitions in the art of speech; and which, in every period of life, exerts a very powerful influence over our accent, mode of pronunciation, and forms of expression. It is not, however, solely, or even chiefly on this account, that I introduce the subject of Imitation here. The view which I mean to take of it relates principally to some other phenomena of our constitution, which, though equally important, have been hitherto much less attended to by philosophers. The phenomena, indeed, which I first mentioned, are matter of daily experience, and force themselves on the notice of the most careless observer.
In ranking imitation among the original principles or ultimate facts in our constitution, it is, I presume, scarcely necessary for me to observe, that I do not use that term exactly in the popular sense in which it is commonly understood. I do not suppose, for example, that it is in consequence of any instinctive or mysterious process, that a painter or an author forms his taste in painting or in writing, on the models exhibited by his predecessors; for all this may obviously be resolved, in the most satisfactory manner, into more simple and general laws. The Imitation of which I am here to treat, and which I have distinguished by the title of Sympathetic, is that chiefly which depends on the mimical powers connected with our bodily frame; and which,
in certain combinations of circumstances, seems to result, with little intervention of our will, from a sympathy between the bodily organizations of different individuals. * Of various particulars connected with this class of phenomena, philosophy, I suspect, will never be able to give a complete explanation.t
* In Buffon's Natural History, there is a passage from which one would be apt to conclude, at first sight, that he had in view the distinction between the two different kinds of imitation which I have here attempted to point out; and that what he calls l'Imitation Machinale corresponds exactly to what I have called Sympathetic Imitation. On a more attentive, examination; however, it will be found that by this phrase he means nothing more than the cause which gives rise to the uniformity in the operations of instinct among animals of the same species ; a cause which, according to Buffon, consists merely in the uniformity of their organization; and which, therefore, can with no propriety be denominated Imitation, without departing entirely from all the common meanings of that word.
“D'ailleurs il faut distinguer deux sortes d'imitation, l'une réfléchie et sentie, et l'autre machinale et sans intention ; la première acquise, et la seconde, pour ainsi dire, innée; l'une n'est que le résultat de l'instinct commun répandu dans l'espèce entière, et ne consiste que dans la similitude des mouvemens et des opérations de chaque individu, qui tous semblent être induits ou contraints à faire les mêmes choses; plus ils sont stupides, plus cette imitation tracée dans l'espèce est parfaite : un mouton ne fait et ne fera jamais que ce qu'ont fait et font tous les autres moutons :. la première cellule d'une abeille ressemble à la dernière ; l'espèce entière n'a pas plus d'intelligence qu'un seul individu, et c'est in cela que consiste la différence de l'esprit à l'instinct; ainsi l'imitation naturelle n'est dans chaque espèce qu'un résultat de similitude, une nécessité d'autant moins intelligente et plus aveugle qu'elle est plus également répartie : l'autre imitation qu'on doit regarder comme artificielle, ne peut ni se répartir, ni se communiquer à l'espèce ; elle n'appartient qu'a l'individu qui la reçoit, qui la possède sans pouvoir la donner le perroquet le mieux instruit ne transmettra pas le talent de la parole à ses petits.”--Buffon, Hist. Nat. I am sorry that I cannot at present refer to the particular passage.
† Whether our propensity to this bodily imitation be or be not, resolvable into that which gives origin to the initative arts, I shall not here inquire. Mr. Burke considers both propensities as the saine principle, and as an ultimate fact in our nature. “As sympathy makes us take a concern in whatever inen feel, so imitation prompts us to copy whatever they do: and, consequently, we have a pleasure in imitating, and in whatever belongs to imitation, merely as it is such, without any intervention of the reasoping faculty. It is by imitation far more than by precept, that we learn every thing. This forms our marners, our opinions, our lives. Herein it is that painting, and many other agreeable arts, have laid one of the principal foundations of their power.”—Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful.
In order to prevent misapprehensions of Mr. Burke's meaning, it may be proper to remind my readers, that he is here speaking of the propensity to imitation, and of the pleasure connected with imitation, not of the power to imitate, or of the means by which we carry our propensity into effect. To speak of this power or of these means (wben considered with a reference to the imitative arts) as incapable of analysis, would be a manifest absurdity. As for the propensity and the pleasure, Mr. Burke plainly considered them as general laws of our constitution, both as they are exhibited in the bodily imitation of the individual, and in the arts of painting and poetry. In the former of these cases (which is the only one that falls under our present examination) I am not ashamed to acknowledge, that the propensity and the power are, to me, equally inexplicable.
Mr. Burke concludes his very short and superficial section on this subject with observing, that “ Aristotle has spoken so much and so solidly upon the force of imitation in his Poetics, that it makes any farther discourse upon it the less necessary.” It is almost superfluous for me to add, that the design of Aristotle's treatise did not lead him to touch, in the slightest manner, on that species of imitation which I am now attempting to illustrate. He appears, however, as well as Burke,
In general, it may be remarked, that whenever we see, in the countenance of another individual, any sudden change of features; more especially, such a change as is expressive of any particular passion or emotion ; our own countenance has a tendency to assimilate itself to his.* Every man is sensible of this when he looks at a person under the influence of laughter, or in a deep melancholy. Something, too, of the same kind, takes place in that spasm of the muscles of the jaw, which we experience in yawning; an action which is well known to be frequently excited by the contagious power of example. Even when we conceive in solitude, the external expression of any passion, the effect of the conception is visible in our own appearance. This is a fact of which every person must be conscious, who attends, in his own case, to the result of the experiment; and it is a circumstance which has been often remarked with respect to historical painters, when in the act of transferring to the canvass the glowing pictures of a creative imagination.
If this general fact be admitted, it will enable us to account for a phenomenon, which, although overlooked by most men from its familiarity, cannot fail to suggest an interesting subject of speculation to those who reflect on the circumstances with due attention. What I allude to is, that a mimic, without consulting a mirror, knows, by a sort of consciousness or internal feeling, the moment when he has hit upon the resemblance he wishes to exhibit. This phenomenon (which has always appeared to me an extremely curious and important one) seems to be altogether inexplicable, unless we suppose,
to have included it in the general idea which he annexed to the word ; and (like him) to have thought it unnecessary to particularize any of the circumstances by which it is so remarkably distinguished from every thing else to which the same appellation is applied.
* Imitation is congenial with man from his infancy. One of his characteristic distinctions from other animals is the being most addicted to it, acquiring his knowledge by it, and delighting in every species of it. A proof of this may be drawn from the works of art, where those things which we see with pain in themselves, we delight to see represented as accurately as possible ; such as the figures of the most savage wild beasts, and of dead bodies.”—The Poetics of Aristotle, chap. iv. translated by Mr. Pye.
* “Ut ridentibus adrident, ita flentibus adient
Horat. Ars. Poët.
that, when the muscles of the mimic's face are so modified as to produce the desired combination of features, he is conscious, in some degree, of the same feeling or sensation which he had, when he first became acquainted with the original appearance which he has been attempting to copy.
Nor is it the visible appearance alone of others, that we have a disposition to imitate. We copy instinctively the voices of our companions, their tones, their accents, and their modes of pronunciation. Hence that general similarity in point of air and manner, observable in all who associate habitually together, and which every man acquires in a greater or less degree; a similarity unheeded, perhaps, by those who witness it daily, and whose attention, accordingly is more forcibly called to the nicer shades by which individuals are discriminated from each other; but which catches the eye of every stranger with incomparably greater force than the specific peculiarities which, to a closer observer, mark the endless varieties of human character.
The influence of this principle of imitation on the outward appearance is much more extensive than we are commonly disposed to suspect. It operates, indeed, chiefly on the air and movements, without producing any very striking effect on the material form in its quiescent state. So difficult, however, is it to abstract this form from its habitual accompaniments, that the members of the same community, by being accustomed to associate from their infancy in the intercourse of private life, appear, to a careless observer, to bear a much closer resemblance to each other than they do in reality; while, on the other hand, the physical diversities which are characteristical of different nations, are, in his estimation, proportionally magnified.
The important effects of the same principle, when considered in relation to our moral constitution, will afterwards appear. At present, I shall only remark, that the reflection which Shakspeare puts into the mouth of Falstaff, with respect to the manners of Justice Shallow and his attendants, and which Sir John expresses with all the precision of a philosophical observer, and all the