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Thomas Cogswell Upham.

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zon seems to the eye to be further off than the zenith ;
because between us and the former there lie many things,
as fields, hills, and waters, which we know to occupy a
great space ; whereas between us and the zenith there
are no considerable things of known dimensions. And,
therefore, the heavens appear like the segment of a
sphere, and less than a hemisphere, in the centre of
which we seem to stand. — And the wider our prospect
is, the greater will the sphere appear to be, and the less
the segment.

^45. Of objects seen on the ocean, &c.

A vessel seen at sea by a person who is not accustom-
ed to the ocean, appears much nearer than it actually is ;
and on the same principles as already illustrated. In his
previous observations of the objects at a distance, he has
commonly neticed a number of intermediate objects, in-
terposed between the distant body and himself. It is prob-
ably the absence of such objects that chiefly causes the
deception under which he labours in the present instance.

In connexion with what has been said, we are led to
make this further remark, that a change in the purity of
the air will perplex in some measure those ideas of dis-
tance which we receive from sight. Bishop Berkeley re-
marks, while travelling in Italy and Sicily, he noticed
that cities and palaces seen at a great distance appeared
nearer to him by several miles than they actually were.
The cause of this he very correctly supposed to be the
purity of the Italian and Sicilian air, which gave to ob-
jects at a distance a degree of brightness and distinct-
ness which, in the less clear and pure atmosphere of his
native country, could be observed only in those towns and
separate edifices which were near. At home he had
learned to estimate the distances of objects by their ap-
'pearance ; but his conclusions failed him when they
came to be applied to objects in countries where the air
was so much clearer. — And the same thing has been no-
ticed by other travellers, who have been placed in the
like circumstances.



68 HABITS OF SENSATION AND PERCEPTION.

CHAPTER Vn.

HABITS OF SENSATION AND PERCEPTION.
^ 46. General view of the law of habit and of its applications.

There is an important law of the mental constitution
known as the law of Habit, which may be described in
general terms as follows : That the mental action acquires
facility and strength from repetition or practice. The
fact that the facility and the increase of strength, implied
in HABIT, is owing to mere repetition, or what is more fre-
quently termed practice, we learn, as w^e do other facts
and principles in relation to the mind, from the observa-
tion of men around us, and from our own personal expe-
rience. And as it has hitherto been found impracticable
to resolve it into any general fact or principle more ele-
mentary, it may justly be regarded as something ultimate
and essential in our nature.

The term Habit, by the use of language, indicates the
facility and strength acquired in the way which has been
mentioned, including both the result and the manner of
it. As the law of habit has reference to the whole mind
of man, the application of the term which expresses it is,
of course, veij extensive. We apply it to the dexterity
of workmen in the different manual arts, to the rapidity of
the accountant, to the coup d'oeil or eye-glance of the
military engineer, to the tact and fluency of the extempo-
raneous speaker, and in other like instances. — We apply it
also in cases where the mere exercise of emotion and de-
sire is concerned ; to the avaricious man's lovte of wealth,
the ambitious man's passion for distinction, the wakeful
suspiciwis of the jealous, and the confirmed and substan-
tial benevolence of the philanthropist.

^ 47. The law of habit applicable to the mind as well ag, the body.

It is remarkable, that the law under consideration holds
good in res-oect to the body as well as the mind. In the
mechanicaJ arts, and in all cases where there is a corpo-



HABITS OF SENSATION AND PERCEPTION. 59

rea. as well as mental eifort, the effect of practice will
be found to extend to both. Not only the acts of the
mincL^re quickened and strengthened, but all those mus-
cles which are at such times employed, become stronger
and more obedient to the will. Indeed, the submission
of the muscular effort to the volition is oftentimes render-
ed so prompt by habit, that we are unable distinctly to
recollect any exercise of volition previous to the active
or muscular exertion. It is habit which is the basis
of those characteristic peculiarities that distinguish one
man's handwriting from another's; it is habit which
causes that peculiarity of attitude and motion so easily
discoverable in most persons^ termed their gait ; it is habit
also which has impressed on the muscles, immediately
connected with the organs of speech, that fixed and pre-
cise form of action, which, in different individuals, gives
rise, in part at least, to characteristics of voice. The
habit, in the cases just mentioned, is both bodily and men-
tal, and has become so strong, that it is hardly possible
to counteract it for any length of time. — The great law
of Habit is applicable to all the leading divisions of our
mental nature, the Intellect, the Sensibilities, and the
Will ; and as we advance from one view of the mind to
another, we shall have repeated occasion to notice its in-
fluence. In the remainder of this chapter we shall limit
our remarks to Habit, considered in connexion with the
Sensations and Perceptions.

^ 4S. Of habit in relation to the smell.

We shall consider the application of the principle ol
Habit to the senses in the same order which has already
been observed. In the first place, there are habits of
Smell. — This sense, like the others, is susceptible of cul-
tivation. As there are some persons whose power of
distinguishing the difference of tw^o or more colours is
feeble ; so there are some who are doubtful and perplex-
ed in like manner in the discrimination <of odours. And
as the inability may be overocme in some measure in the
former case, so it may be irt the latter. The fact that
the powers of which the smell is capable are not more
frequently brought out and quickened, is owing to the



60 HABITS OF SENSATION AND PERCKPTION

circumstance that it is not ordinarily needed. It some-
times happens, however, that men are compelled to make
an uncommon use of it, when, by a defect in tho, other
senses, they are left without the ordinary helps to knowl-
edge. It is then we see the effects of the law of Habit
It is stated in Mr. Stewart's account of James Mitchell,
who was deaf, sightless, and speechless, and, of course,
strongly induced by his unfortunate situation to make
much use of the sense we are considering, that his smell
would immediately and invariably inform him of the pres-
ence of a stranger, and direct to the place where he
might be ; and it is repeatedly asserted, that this sense
had become in him extremely acute. — " It is related,"
says Dr. Abercrombie, " of the late Dr. Moyse, the well-
known blind philosopher, that he could distinguish a
black dress on his friends by its smell."

In an interesting account of a deaf, dumb, and blind
girl in the Hartford Asylum, recently published, state-
ments are made on this subject of a similar purport. —
" It has been observed," says the writer, " of persons
who are deprived of a particular sense, that additional
quickness or vigour seems to be bestowed on those w^hich
remain. Thus blind persons are often distinguished by
peculiar exquisiteness of touch ; and the deaf and dumb,
who gain all their knowledge through the eye, concen-
trate, as it were, their whole souls in that channel of ob-
servation. With her whose eye, ear, and tongue are
alike dead, the capabilities both of touch and smell are
exceedingly heightened. Especially the latter seems al-
most to have acquired the properties' of a new sense, and
to transcend the sagacity even of a spaniel." — Such is
the influence of habit on the intimations of the sense
under consideration.

^ 49. Of habit in relation to the taste.

The same law is applicable to the Taste. We see the
results of the frequent exercise of this sense in the quick-
ness which the dealer in wines discovers in distinguish-
ing the flavour of one wine from that of another. So
marked are the results in cases of this kind, that one is
almo6't disposed to credit the story which Cervantes re-



HABITS OF SENSATION AND PERCEPTION. 6]

lates of two persons, who were re"quested to pass their
judgment upon a hogshead which was supposed to be
very old and excellent. One of them tasted the wine,
and pronounced it to be very good, with the exception of
a slight taste of leather which he perceived m it. The
other, after mature reflection and examination, pronoun-
ced the same favourable verdict, with the exception of a
taste of iron, which he could easily distinguish. On
emptying the hogshead, there was found at the bottom an
old key with a leathern thong tied to it.

Another practical view of this subject, however, pre-
sents itself here. The sensations which we experience
in this and other like cases, not only acquire by repeti-
tion greater niceness and discrimination, but increased
strength ; (and perhaps the increased strength is in all in-
stances the foundation of the greater power of discrimi-
nation.) On this topic w^e have a wide and melancholy
source of illustration. The bibber of wine and the drink-
er of ardent spirits readily acknowledge, that the sensa-
tion w^as at first only moderately pleasing, and perhaps
in the very slightest degree. Every time they carried the
intoxicating potion to their lips, the sensation grew more
pleasing, and the desire for it waxed stronger. Perhaps
they were not aware that this process w^as going on in
virtue of a great law of humanity ; but they do not pre-
tend to deny the fact. They might, indeed, have suspect-
ed at an early period that chains were gathering around
them, whatever might be the cause ; but what objection
had they to be bound with hnks of flowers; delightful
while they lasted, and easily broken when necessary !
But here was the mistake. Link was added to link;
chain w^as woven with chain, till he who boasted of his
strength was at last made sensible of his w^eakness, and
found himself a prisoner, a captive, a deformed, altered,
and degraded slave.

There is a threefold operation. The sensation of taste
Requires an enhanced degree of pleasantness ; the feeling
of uneasiness is increased iif a corresponding measure
when the sensation is not indulged by drinking ; and the
desire, which is necessarily attendant on the uneasy feel-
ing, becomes in like manner more and more imperative.

F



62 HABITS OF SENSATION AND PERCEPTION.

To alleviate the uneasy feeling and this importunate de-
sire, the unhappy man goes again to his cups, and with
a shaking hand pours down the delicious poison. What
then ? He has added a new link to his chain ; at every
repetition it grows heavier and heavier, till that, which at
first he bore lightly and cheerfully, now presses him like
a coat of iron, and galls like fetters of steel. There is a
great and fearful law of his nature bearing him down to
destruction. Every indulgence is the addition of a new
weight to what was before placed upon him, thus less-
ening the probability of escape, and accelerating his
gloomy, fearful, and interminable sinking. We do not
mean to say that he is the subject of an implacable des-
tiny, and cannot help himself But it would seem that
he can help himself only in this way ; by a prompt, ab-
solute, and entire suspension of the practice in all its
forms, which has led him into this extremity. But few,
however, have the resoluti.on to do this ; the multitude
make a few unwilling and feeble efforts, and it:^sign them-
selves to the horrors of their fate.

(} 50. Of habit in relation to the hearing.

There is undoubtedly a natural difference in the quick-
ness and discrimination of hearing. This sense is more
acute in some than in others ; but in those who possess
it in much natural excellence, it is susceptible of a high
degree of cultivation. Musicians are a proof of this,
whose sensibility to the melody and concord of sweet
sounds continually increases with the practice of their art.

The increase of sensibility in the perceptions of hear-
ing is especially marked and evident, when uncommon
causes have operated to secure such practice. And this is
the state of things with the Blind. The readers of Sir
Walter Scott may not have forgotten the blind fiddler,
who figures so conspicuously with verse and harp in Red
Gauntlet; a character sufficiently extraordinary, but by
no means an improbable exaggeration. The blind neces-
sarily rely much more than others on the sense of hear-
ing. By constant practice they increase the accuracy
and power of its perceptions. Shut out from the beau-
tit5 J hat are seen, they please themselves with what is



HABITS OF SENSATION AND PERCEPTION. 63

heard, and greedily drink in the melodies of song. Ac-
cordingly, music is made by them not only a solace,
but a business and a means of support ; and in the In-
stitutions for the Blind this is considered an important
department of instruction.

Many particular instances on record, and well authen-
ticated, confirm the general statement, that the ear may
be trained to habits, and that thus the sensations of sound
may come to us with new power and meaning. It is re-
lated of a celebrated blind man of Puiseaux in France,
that he could determine the quantity of fluid in vessels by
the sound it produced while running from one vessel into
another. " Dr. Rush," as the statement is given in Aber-
crombie's Intellectual Powers, "relates of two blind young
men, brothers, of the city of Philadelphia, that they knew
when they approached a post in walking across a street
by a peculiar sound which the ground under their feet
emitted in the neighbourhood of the post ; and that they
could tell the names of a number of tame pigeons, with
which they amused themselves in a little garden, by only
hearing them fly over their heads." Dr. Saunderson,
who became blind so early as not to remember having
seen, when happening in any new^ place, as a room, pi-
azza, pavement, court, and the like, gave it a character by
means of the sound and echo from his feet ; and in that
way was able to identify pretty exactly the place, and
assure himself of his position afterward. A wri'ter in the
First Volume of the Manchester Philosophical Memoirs,
who is our authority also for the statement just made,
speaks of a certain blind man in that city as follows : " 1 .
had an opportunity of repeatedly observing the peculiar
manner in which he arranged his ideas and acquired his
information. Whenever he was introduced into compa-
ny, I remarked that he continued some time silent. The
sound directed him to judge of the dimensions of the
room, and the different voices of the number of persons
tiiat were present. His distinction in these respects was
very accurate, and his memoty so retentive that he was
seldom mistaken. I have known him instantly recognise
a person on first hearing him, though more than two years
had elapsed since the time of their last meeting. He



64 HABirS OF SENSATION AND PERCEPTION.

determined pretty nearly the stature of those he was con-
versing with by the direction of their voices; and he
made tolerable conjectures respecting their tempers and
dispositions by the manner in which they conducted their
conversation "

^51. Application of habit to the touch.

The sense of touch, like the others, may be exceedingly
improved by habit. The more we are obliged to call it
into use, the more attention we pay to its intimations. By
the frequent repetition, therefore, under such circumstan-
ces, these sensations not only acquire increased intense-
ness in themselves, but particularly so in reference to our
notice and remembrance of them. But it is desirable to
confirm this, as it is all other principles from time to time
laid down, by an appeal to facts, and by careful induc-
tions from them.

Diderot relates of the blind man of Puiseaux, mention
ed in a former section, that he was capable of judging of
his distance from the fireplace by the degree of heat, and
of his approach to any solid bodies by the action or pulse
of the air upon his face. The same thing is recorded of
many other persons in a similar situation ; and it may be
regarded as a point well established, that blind people
who are unable to see the large and heavy bodies pre-
senting themselves in their way as they Avalk about, gen-
erally estimate their approach to them by the increased
resistance of the atmosphere. A blind person, owing to
the increased accuracy of his remaining senses, especially
of the touch, would be better trusted to go through the
various apartments of a house in the darkness of midnight,
than one possessed of the sense of seeing without any ar-
tificial light to guide him.

In the celebrated Dr. Saunderson, who lost his sight in
very early youth, and remained blind through life, al-
though he occupied the professorship of mathematics in
the English University of Cambridge, the touch acquired
such acuteness that he could distinguish, by merely let*
ting them pass through his fingers, spurious coins, which
were so well executed as to deceive even skilful judges
who could see.*

♦ Memoirs of the Manchester Philosophical Society, vol. i., p. 164..



HABITS OF SENSATION AND PERCEPTION. 66

The case of a Mr. John Metcalf, otherwise caHcd Bhnd
Jack, which is particuhirly dwelt upon by the author of
the Article in the Memoirs just referred to, is a striking
one. The writer states that he became blind at an early
period ; but, notwithstanding, followed the profession of
a wagoner, and occasionally of a guide in intricate roads'
during the night, or when the tracks were covered with
snow. At length he became a projector and surveyor of
highways in difficult and mountainous districts ; an em-
ployment for which one would naturally suppose a blind
man to be but indifferently qualified. But he was found '
to answer all the expectations of his employers, and most
of the roads over the Peak in Derbyshire, in England,
were altered by his directions. Says the person who
gives this account of Blind Jack, " I have several times
met this man, with the assistance of a long staff, traversing
the roads, ascending precipices, exploring valleys, and
investigating their several extents, forms, and situations,
50 as to answer his designs in the best manner."

In the interesting Schools for the Blind which have
recently been established in various parts of the world,
the pupils reapd by means of the fingers. They very soon
learn by the touch to distinguish one letter from another,
which are made separately for that purpose of wood,
metals, or other hard materials. The printed sheets
which they use are conformed to their method of study-
ing them. The types are much larger than those ordina-
rily used in printing ; the paper is very thick, and being
put upon the types while wet, and powerfully pressed,
the letters on it are consequently raised, and appear in
rehef. The pupils having before learned to distinguish
one letter from another, and also to combine them into
syllables and words, are able after a time to pass their
fingers along the words and sentences of these printed
sheets, and ascertain their meaning, with a good degree
ui rapidity.

^ 52. Other striking instances of habits of touch.

The power of the touch will increase in proportion to
the necessity of a reliance on it. The more frequent the
resort to it, the stronger will be the habit ; but the neces-
F2



66 HABITS OF SENSATION AND PERCEPTION.

sity c : his frequent reference to it will be found to be
peculiarly great where a person is deprived of two of his
other senses. It is noticed of James Mitchell, whose case
has been already referred to, that he distinguished such
ai'ticles as belonged to himself from the property of others
by this sense. Although the articles were of the same
form and materials with those of others, it would seem
that he was not at a loss in identifying what was his own.
It will be recollected that he could neither see nor hear,
and was, of course, speechless. He was obliged, there-
fore, to depend chiefly on the touch. This sense was the
principal instrument he made use of in forming an ac-
quaintance with the strangers w^ho frequently visited him.
And what is particularly remarkable, he actually explored
by it, at an early period, a space round his father's resi-
dence of about tw^o hundred yards in extent, to any part
of which he was in the practice of walking fearlessly and
without a guide, whenever he pleased.

It is related of the deaf and blind girl in the Hartford
Asylum, that it is impossible to displace a single article
in her drawers without her perceiving and knowing it ;
and that, when the baskets of linen are weekly brought
from the laundress, she selects her own garments without
hesitation, however widely they may be dispersed among
the mass. This is probably owing, at least in great part,
to habits of touch, by means of which the sense is render-
ed exceedingly acute. — Diderot has even gone so far as
to conjecture that persons deprived of both sight and
hearing would so increase the sensibility of touch as to
locate the seat of the soul in the tips of the fingers.

^ 5',i. Habits considered in relation to the sight.

The law of habit affects the sight also. By a course
of training this sense seems to acquire new power. The
length and acuteness of vision in the mariner who has
long traversed the ocean has been frequently referred to.
— A writer in the North American Review (July, 1833)
says, he once " knew a man, in the Greek island of Hy-
dra, who was accustomed to take his post every day for
thirty years on the summit of the island, and look out for
the approach of vessels ; and although there were over



HABITS OF SENSATION AND PERCEPTION. 67

tnree hundred sail belonging to the island, he would tell
the name of each one as she approached with unerring
certainty, while she was still at such a distance as to pre-
sent to a common eve only a confused white blur upon
the clear horizon." There are numerous instances to the
same effect, occasioned by the situations in which men
are placed, and the calls lor the frequent exercise of the
sight. The almost intuitive vision of the skilful engineer
is, beyond doubt, in most cases merely a habit. He has
so often fixed his eye upon those features in a country
which have a relation to his peculiar calling, that he in-
stantly detects the bearing of a military position, its sus-
ceptibility of defence, its facilities of approach and re-
treat, &c.

No man is born without the sense of touch, but many
are born w^ithout the sense of hearing ; and, wherever this
is the case, we are entitled to look for habits of sight.
Persons under such circumstances naturally and necessa-
rily rely much on the visual sense, whatever aids may be
had by them from the touch. Hence habits ; "und these
imply increased quickness and power, wherever they ex-
ist. It is a matter of common remark, that the keenness
of visual observation in the deaf and dumb is strikingly
increased by their peculiar circumstances. Shut out from
the intercourse of speech, they read the minds of men in
their movements, gestures, and countenances. They no-
tice w^ith astonishing quickness, and apparently without
any effort, a thousand things which escape the regards of
others. This fact is undoubtedly the foundation of the
chief encouragement which men have to attempt the in-
struction of that numerous and unfortunate class of their
fellow-beings. They can form an opinion of what an-
other says to them by the motion of the lips ; and some-
times even with a great degree of accuracy. That this last,
however, is common, it is not necessary to assert; that it
is possible, v^^e have the testimony of well-authenticated
•facts. In one of his letters, gishop Burnet mentions to
this effect the case of a young lady at Geneva. — " At
two years old," he says, " it was perceived that she had
lost her hearing, and ever since, though she hears great
noises, yet hears nothing of what is said to her ; but, by



68 HABITS OF SENSATION AND PERCEPTION.

observing the motion of the lips and mouths of others,
ihe acquired so many words, that out of these she has



Online LibraryThomas Cogswell UphamElements of mental philosophy, abridged and designed as a text-book for academies and high schools → online text (page 6 of 45)