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As in all our common voluntary exertions we have only to will the end, and the means are arranged without our co-operation, I conclude, that in mimickry, the mimic forms a lively conception of the features he wishes to copy; and, by repeated efforts, succeeds in producing the desired effect. The case is similar when he imitates voices. He remembers and conceives strongly what he wishes to imitate, and the muscles necessary for that purpose are, as in other cases, put into action in obedience to his will. The same thing happens when a singer, who has a correct ear, catches a musical air, after hearing it once played or sung by another person.
It appears from a great variety of facts, that we lose, by disuse, the command of many muscles which were apparently meant to be subservient to voluntary motion. Different travellers have taken notice of the extraordinary power which savages have in moving their toes. I myself remember to have seen, more than twenty years ago, an Anglo-American girl who was exhibited in Edinburgh, and who supplied, in a great measure, the want of the hand by means of the foot. I recollect, in particular, to have seen her cut watch-papers, of a great variety of patterns, with a pair of scissors,—an operation which she executed with great neatness, and with astonishing rapidity. It may be worth while to add, that in order to preserve entire the sensibility and the pliability of her foot, (which approached very nearly to those of the hand in other individuals,) she had been obliged to give up almost entirely the practice of walking. This might be owing partly to her anxious care of the white leather gloves she wore on her feet, about the cleanness of which she seemed to be finically nice.
Every body must, in the cifcle of their acquaintance, have met with individuals who had the power, by an act of the will, to put their thumbs out of joint. I knew intimately a gentleman who had acquired this knack, and who used frequently to display it unconsciously when engaged in any argument. He told me that it was possessed by every boy who had been bred at the same
school with him; and that it was the common practice, as soon as their master's eye was fixed on his book, for the head boy of the class to give the signal, when all his school-fellows held up their thumbs, and were ready, upon a second signal, to execute this maneuvre.
The inference I draw from these facts is this :—That, in the case of the mimic, many of the muscles of the countenance, which, in other men, are immoveable, have acquired from exercise a certain degree of mobility, so that when the mimic wishes to assume a particular look, he has only to will the end, and his wish is immediately accomplished.
It is not, however, always, that the mimic succeeds at first. Some, who are still living, must remember to have heard the late Lord Cullen, (the most perfect of all mimics,) mention the difficulty he experienced in seizing the features of Lord Kames, when, after many fruitless efforts, he succeeded all at once, in the course of a tour with a friend in the Highlands of Scotland. The moment he had acquired the command of the hitherto dormant set of muscles on which the effect depended, he knew, by consciousness, that he had hit the resemblance ; and he appealed to his companion in the carriage for the fidelity of the portrait. It certainly became, in process of time, one of the most accurate of all his imitations.
With this power of imitation, our interpretation of natural signs, so for as it is the result of an instinct for which experience alone will not account, seems to me to have an intimate connexion. The following very slight hints will be sufficient to show that this idea is not altogether groundless.t
That our interpretation of natural signs is, in no case, the result of pure or unmixed instinct, is abundantly ob
* I think it proper to add, in justice to Lord Cullen, (a person certainly of great learning and accomplishments,) that he had given up entirely the exercise of mimickry (even in the company of his most intimate friends) many years before he was promoted to the Bench. Sometimes, indeed, in telling a story, he would forget Înimself for a moment, and unconsciously betray those marvellous powers which he seemed anxious to conceal. I recollect, in particular, that, long after the death of Mr. Adam Smith, I have been startled more than once, by hearing the very tones of his voice, accompanied by all the peculiarities of his look and manner.
† See page 4 of this Volume.
vious. Indeed, I do not know of any philosopher who has been so hardy as to maintain explicitly the contrary opinion ;—who has asserted, (for example, that the natural signs of Rage, in the countenance of another person, would convey an idea of that passion to a man who had never experienced its workings within his own breast. * The real problem with respect to this very interesting part of the human constitution is, in truth, of a very different nature from what most theorists seem of late to have supposed; and the solution of it, (if I do not greatly deceive myself,) lies deeper in the Philosophy of the Mind, than they are willing to allow.
Among those who contend, that experience alone furnishes a sufficient explanation of the phenomenon in question, two different suppositions may be formed with respect to the manner in which it operates; and to these suppositions I cannot, even in imagination, add a third. In the first place, it may be conceived, that an infant, having learned in its own case, that a smile is the natural effect or sign of a happy and affectionate state of mind, is induced by the principle of association, when it sees a smile on the countenance of its nurse, to ascribe it to emotions similar to those which it has itself experienced. Or, secondly, it may be thought, that, having uniformly observed the smiles of its nurse to be a prelude to the agreeable sensations it is accustomed to receive through the medium of her kindness, it
* Dr. Reid has been frequently charged with maintaining this doctrine; and it must be owned, that the enumeration he has made of the different kinds of natural signs afforded too plausible a ground to a captious adversary for drawing this inference with respect to his real opinion.—See his Inquiry into the Human Mind, Chap. v. Sect. 3. Of this I have been long fully aware. The following sentences
copy verbatim from an Essay on the Object of Natural Philosophy which I read before the Royal Society of Edinburgh more than forty years ago.-Šee the History of the Society prefixed to the first volume of their transactions.
“ I suspect that there is foundation for a farther subdivision of natural signs than is made by the learned and ingenious Dr. Reid in his Inquiry. In the case of the perception of hardness, our sensation not only suggests to us the external quality, but it is in this way we first get the idea of it. The case seems to be different with respect to the natural expressions of passion. They are interpreted, indeed, instinctively; but our first ideas of the passions are probably derived from our own consciousness. I cannot persuade myself that the natural signs of rage would convey an idea of that passion to a man who had never felt it.
No modification of countenance could convey the idea of rage to a man who had never been conscious of that passion ; but, after having acquired the idea of this passion from his own consciousness, he is able instinctively to interpret its natural expression."
comes in process of time, to interpret their meaning, and to anticipate her tenderness, in the same manner in which it learns by experience, at a more advanced period of life, to interpret the meaning of conventional language.
With respect to the first of these theories, it seems sufficient to observe, that, in order to bestow upon it even a shadow of plausibility, it must be supposed farther, that the infant has the aid of a mirror, to enable it to know the existence of its own smiles, and what sort of appearance these smiles exhibit to the eye. That the particular modification of features connected with this expression is itself accompanied with an agreeable bodily sensation, I think highly probable ; but this throws no light whatever on the present difficulty, till it is farther explained, by what process the child learns to identify what it feels
, or is conscious of, in its own countenance, with what it sees on the countenance of another.
It is to the other hypothesis, however, that Dr. Priestley plainly leans, as may be inferred from the following very explicit statement given by himself. “I do not hesitate to say, that if it were possible always to beat and terrify a child with a placid countenance, so as never to assume that appearance but in these circumstances, and always to sooth him with what we call an angry countenance, this natural connexion of ideas would be reversed, and we should see the child frightened with a smile and delighted with a frown.” *
As this view of the subject places the interpretation of Natural and Conventional signs exactly on the same footing, it obviously suggests to us the two following queries, as preliminary subjects of consideration. Till these queries are answered in a satisfactory manner, Dr. Priestley's solution of the difficulty is of no value whatsoever; and yet, he has not even alluded to either, in the course of his argument. 1. Whence is it, that we interpret natural signs so much earlier than conventional signs? And, 2. To what cause is it owing, that their
* Priestley's Examination of Reid, &c, p. 91.
effects are so widely different on the human frame? It is scarcely necessary for me to mention, as an additional objection, that this theory overlooks altogether that physico-moral sympathy which, through the medium of the body, harmonizes different minds with each other; and which, as it is one of the most important, so it is one of the most incontestable facts connected with the theory of our common nature.
How far the hints which I am now to offer may go towards an explanation of these phenomena, I do not pretend to judge.
As every emotion of the mind produces a sensible effect on the bodily appearance, so, upon the other hand, when we assume any strongly expressive look, and accompany it with appropriate gestures, some degree of the correspondent emotion is apt to arise within us. Mr. Burke informs us, that he has often been conscious of the passion of anger rising in his breast, in consequence of his counterfeiting its external signs; and I have little doubt, that with most individuals, the result of a similar experiment will be the same. Campanella, too, the celebrated philosopher and physiognomist, (as Mr. Burke farther observes,) when he wished to form a judgment of what was passing in the mind of another, is said to have mimicked, as accurately as possible, his appearance at the moment, and then to have directed his attention to the state of his own feelings. *
* The following passage contains the whole of Mr. Burke's Observations on this very curious subject.
" It appears very clearly to me, from many examples, that when the body is disposed, by any means whatsoever, to such emotions as it would acquire by the means of a certain passion, it will itself excite something very like that passion in the mind."
“To this purpose, Mr. Spon, in his Recherches d'Antiquité, gives us a curious story of the celebrated physiognomist Campanella. This man, it seems, had not only made very accurate observations on human faces, but was very expert in mimicking such as were any way remarkable. When he had a mind to penetrate into the inclinations of those he had to deal with, he composed his face, his gesture, and his whole body, as nearly as he could, into the exact similitude of the person he intended to examine; and then carefully observed what turn of mind he seemed to acquire by this change. So that, says my author, he was able to enter into the dispositions and thoughts of people, as effectually as if he had been changed into the very men. I have often observed, that, on mimicking the looks and gestures of angry, or placid, or frightened, or daring men, I have involuntarily found my mind turned to that passion whose appearance I endeavoured to imitate ; nay, I am convinced it is hard to avoid it, though one strove to separate the passion from its corresponding gestures. Our minds and bodies are so closely and intimately connected, that one is incapable