« PreviousContinue »
connexion between Public Morals and enlightened systems of Political Economy, I shall content myself with remarking the watchful attention which is due by the legislator, in his arrangements both for the instruction and for the amusement of the people, to the obvious conclusions suggested by the phenomena which have been now under review. If I do not deceive myself, many new and important applications of the same principles might be made to the education of youth, notwithstanding the dogmatical assertion of Dr. Johnson,“ that education is now as well understood, and has long been as well understood, as it ever can possibly be.” Something, I must once more acknowledge, appears to myself to be still practicable, beyond what was executed or attempted by our forefathers, during the dark ages of Popish superstition. By availing ourselves cautiously of the growing lights of science, to correct the errors, and to supply the omissions of our predecessors, would not additional usefulness and additional stability be at once imparted to their venerable institutions? But on this argument I forbear to enlarge. The period of reformation is, to all appearance, much too distant, to give to the prosecution of it the smallest degree of practical interest.
“ Alas ! how faint,
APPENDIX. See Page 134.
NUMBERLESS facts might be adduced, to show how very much the effects of all the imitative arts are aided by the imagination of the spectator or of the hearer. But I shall confine myself in this Appendix to an example which, as far as I know, has not hitherto attracted the notice of philosophers ;-I mean the art of the Ventriloquist,—an art which, if I am not mistaken, will be found, on examination, to bear a closer analogy to the nobler art of the painter, than we should, at first sight, be disposed to apprehend.
In what follows, I take for granted that my readers are acquainted with the distinction, so finely illustrated by Bishop Berkeley, between the original and the acquired perceptions of our different senses ; more particularly, between the original and the acquired perceptions of the eye and of the ear. It is on the former of these senses that Berkeley has chiefly enlarged ; and this he has done with such a fulness and clearness of illustration, that succeeding writers have in general done nothing more than to repeat over his reasonings, with very little, either of alteration or of addition. The metaphysical problems relating to the sense of hearing have been hitherto overlooked by almost all our physiologists, although they present various subjects of inquiry, not less curious and difficult than those connected with the theory of vision.
The senses of hearing and of seeing agree in this, that they both convey to us intimations concerning the distances, and also concerning the directions of their respective objects. The intimations, indeed, which we receive by the former, are by no means so precise as those of the latter. They are, however, such as to be of essential use to us in the common concerns of life. That one sound comes from the immediate neighbourhood,-another from a distance; one sound from above, another from below; one from before,—another from behind ; one from the right hand,—another from the left, are judgments which we have every moment occasion to form, and which we form with the most perfect confidence.
With respect to the signs which enable us to form our estimates of distance by the ear, there is little or no difficulty ; as they seem to consist merely of the different gradations of which sounds are susceptible in point of loudness and of distinctness. In what manner our estimates of direction are formed, has not, I think, been as yet satisfactorily explained ; nor, indeed, do I know of
any writer whatever, excepting Mr. Gough of Kendal, who has even attempted the solution of the problem. The difficulty attending it arises, probably, in some measure, from the imperfection of our knowledge
concerning the theory of sound ; a subject which, after all the researches of Sir Isaac Newton, continues to be involved in considerable obscurity. One thing seems to be pretty obvious, that the effect of which we are conscious depends on the mechanical impression connected with the direction in which the last impulse is made on the organ of hearing ; but how this impulse is modified according to the position of the sonorous body, (although that it is so, our daily experience leaves no doubt) it is not an easy matter to imagine.
If this conclusion be admitted, the imitation of the ventriloquist (in so far as direction is concerned) would appear to be not only unaccountable, but quite impossible; inasmuch as the effect on the hearer's ear, which serves to him as a sign of the place of the object, does not depend on any particular modification of sound which a mimic can copy, but on the actual direction in which the sound falls upon the organ.
Mr. Gough himself seems to be sensible of this, and, accordingly, he supposes the art of the ventriloquist to consist in a power of throwing his voice at pleasure towards the. different walls of a room, so as to produce an echo in that particular direction which suits his purpose. His own words are : “He who is master of this art, has nothing to do but to place his mouth obliquely to the company, and to dart his words, if I may use the expression, against an opposing object, whence they will be reflected immediately, so as to strike the ears of the audience from an unexpected quarter, in consequence of which, the reflector will appear to be the speaker.” But to this theory two obvious and insurmountable objections occur: 1. Supposing the ventriloquist to possess this very extraordinary power of producing an echo in a room where none was ever heard before, it still remains to be explained, how this echo comes to drown, or rather to annihilate the original sound. In every case of echo, two sounds at least are heard. Whence is it, then, that the echo of the ventriloquist's voice should so completely supplant the original sound, as to occupy solely and exclusively the attention of the audience?
2. Mr. Gough's theory proceeds altogether on the
supposition, that the art of ventriloquism can be practised only within the walls of a room ; whereas I apprehend the fact to be, that it may be exercised, at least, with equal advantage, in the open air. If this last statement be correct, it puts an end to the controversy at
I was much pleased to observe the coincidence between both these remarks, (which struck me when I first read Mr. Gough's paper,) and the following strictures on his theory of ventriloquism, in a very ingenious article of the Edinburgh Review. After quoting the same passage which I have already referred to, the reviewer proceeds thus :
Though this comprehends the scope of the author's doctrine, we are of opinion that it affords a deficient and inadequate explanation even of the case that he relates, in which the ventriloquist performed his operations in a confined room. The power of projecting the voice against a plain wall, so that it shall be reflected to a given point, is difficult, and we may almost say.impossible of attainment. But, granting that this power were attained, the reflected tones of the voice must be a mere echo, whilst the sounds proceeding immediately from the mouth of the speaker, being both louder in degree, and prior in point of time, must necessarily, as is the case in every echo, drown the first parts of the reflected sounds, and make the remainder appear evidently different from the original. The author seems to have been led into this theory by the analogy of light, without perhaps duly considering that the particles of light move successively in direct lines ; whereas the undulations of sound must necessarily expand and enlarge, as they proceed on from the sounding body. But the feats of ventriloquism are often performed sub dio, when no means for reflecting the voice can be present, and where, of course, the author's doctrine cannot in any respect apply. He has omitted to mention a cause which has a very powerful influence in effecting the deception, viz. the expectation excited in the spectator or hearer, by the artist having previously informed him from whence he
proposes to make the sounds proceed. This circumstance, of
raising expectation almost to belief, aided by a peculiarly happy talent for imitating singular or striking sounds, such, for example, as the cries of a child, in the act of suffocation, is perhaps a more probable explanation of the phenomena of ventriloquism.”*
In the conclusion of the foregoing passage, the reviewer alludes to the influence of Imagination in aiding the illusions of the ventriloquist ; a circumstance which Mr. Gough has altogether overlooked, but which in my opinion, is one of the chief principles to be attended to in this discussion. Indeed, I am strongly inclined to think, that the art of the ventriloquist, when he produces a deception with respect to direction, consists less in his imitative faculty, than in the address with which he manages the imaginations of his audience. In this respect ventriloquism and painting appear to me to be exact counterparts to each other. The painter can copy, with mathematical accuracy, the signs of different direction ; but it is impossible for him to copy all the signs connected with difference of distance,for this obvious reason, that the objects in his representation are all at the same distance from the eye, and, consequently, are viewed without any change in its conformation, or in the inclination of the optic axes. The ventriloquist on the other hand, can copy the signs of different distances, but not the signs of different directions. We know, however, in the case of the eye, that if all the signs of different direction be copied, as in a correct perspective drawing, the imagination is able to supply, in a considerable degree, the signs of different distances. The imitation may not be so perfect as to produce any thing approaching to a deception ; but the effect is powerfully assisted by the imagination of the spectator, who, in this, as in all other imitative arts, consults his own pleasure most effectually, when he yields himself up, without resistance, to the agreeable delusions practised on him by the artist. In like manner, in the case of the ear, is it not probable, from analogy, that if the ventriloquist can imitate the signs of different distances, the imagination