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CULTURE OF THE IMAGINATION.
THE imaginative faculty may be called the creative power of the human mind. All the other faculties deal with the actual and the known; this alone reaches forth to the unknown; combines, discovers, invents, first enlarges the dominion of thought, then leads the way to new discoveries of truth. In this sense it is not too much to say with Professor Sedgwick,* that "It is by the Imagination more perhaps than by any other faculty of the soul, that man is raised above the condition of a beast. Beasts," he proceeds to say, "have senses in common with ourselves, and often in higher perfection; to a certain extent they also possess, I think, the powers of abstraction; but of the imaginative powers they offer no single trace. These high attributes of the soul confer on it a creative energy, aid it even in its generalizations from pure reason, bring before it vivid images of the past and glowing anticipations of the future, teach it to link together material and immaterial things, and to mount up from earth to heaven. All that is refined in civilized life, all that is lofty in poetry or ennobling in art, flows chiefly from this one fountain."
If we consider imagination in this light, it is evident that no system of education can be complete which does not lay some stress on its due culture and regulation. It is then singularly unfortunate that the prevailing mode of female education, which we have had occasion to blame so frequently, as affording little aid to the development of reason, should fail as signally in this respect also. The two deficiencies may probably be traced to
• On the Studies of Cambridge.
IMAGINATION, WHY UNCULTIVATED.
the same cause, namely, indifference to all the really valuable results of education as compared with the showy accomplishments required by fashion.
The mere dogmatic mode of teaching, requiring in the pupil a simple effort of the understanding and recollection, draws out little thought. The mind is not made to work out results for itself, it is not for ed to reflect even upon what it receives, still less is it led to original speculation, which however meagre and weak in its beginnings is the cradle of imagination, at the same time that it fosters the first efforts of reason. Where this system is in operation, continual dread is entertained, lest the pupil should say something foolish, something at variance with received maxims of wisdom or prudence; whereas the real ground of fear is, lest she should not have sufficient thought to say anything original at all. Better a thousand vagaries, a thousand wild theories or false conclusions, which, when expressed, it is in the teacher's power to correct, than the dull silence of vacant thought or repressed feeling and imagination, chilled by the fear of ridicule, and finally stunted by want of exercise. Under the influence of that frigid routine, imagination is not cultivated even by those studies which appeal to it most directly. Hours are spent on accomplishments without their becoming the means of inspiring a love for the fine arts, and poetry shares the fate of music and painting. Page after page is probably learnt by heart, but it is as an exercise of the memory, a mere lesson in which verbal exactness only is required, and no attention is given to the beauty of the language, no discrimination of its character and peculiarities, no observation, in short, of that which constitutes it poetry. We see the result in the want of high poetic feeling, and the neglect of our great poets which is so common among young persons in the present day.
The prevailing influences in society are no less chilling than those of the school-room. On the one hand, narrow conceptions of Utilitarian Philosophy strive to throw discredit on imagination, and scorn the beauty that flows from it, forgetting that all which raises the soul and refines the desires of man, bears the stamp of the highest utility. On the other, ascetic notions of religion add their share of contempt, treating the imaginative power as the mere ally of fiction and falsehood, forgetting how much its aid is needed in the Christian course; how much that course, which demands the constant sacrifice of the actual and the present for the future and the unseen, the neglect of what eye and ear are formed to delight in here for what " 'eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived," requires the continual exercise of that faculty of the soul which most raises us above the
ITS INFLUENCE ON CHARACTER.
narrow confines of physical realities and enjoyments. Lastly, the prevailing tone of English society is equally hostile to imagination. Branding with ridicule the exhibition of feeling or emotion, and the expression of any sentiments not belonging to everyday existence, it too often levels conversation to frigid commonplace, to the exclusion alike of originality of thought, and play of fancy.
It would be a curious speculation to inquire into the various circumstances which have combined to give to our social intercourse a character so at variance with other national peculiarities among us: to examine, for instance, the causes which have kept English conversation so reserved, and free from all flights of imagination, while our poetry bears a higher imaginative character than that of most other nations of Europe; to discover what secret influences have made our society so uniform, have so chained it to conventionalities, while our literature abounds in delineations of humorous peculiarities of character and manners; and while we are proverbial among foreigners, for originality, to seek out what can have won for us, at the same time among them, the reputation of excessive coldness, and excessive romance. Such an inquiry would lead, no doubt, to results bearing with considerable interest on the point we are considering, but it would be far beyond our limits, and we must return to our more immediate subject. Our view, even of this, will be very limited; for, leaving all consideration of imagination in its speculative and inventive character, and its influence on the other mental faculties, we shall regard only its effects on the general tone of mind, as exhibited in daily life. It is, when considered in this respect, that its cultivation is seen to be really necessary.
Want of imagination may leave all the sterling worth of character undiminished, yet it lowers its tone, and lessens its influence. For instance: we may suppose the unimaginative man to act according to the strictest rules of integrity and justice; but he will never be a man of generous feeling, or lofty enterprise. He may be incapable of rashly sacrificing or neglecting the interests of others, but the noble rashness of self-sacrifice is equally unknown to him. He would not, perhaps, for worlds, hurt the feelings of another, if they seemed to him just and right; but his imaginative nature knows nothing of the quick sympathy which reads the heart at a glance, and is moved, because the feelings themselves are earnest and true, not merely because they seem to spring from a justifiable cause. He may revolve the wisest plans, and be the safest of counsellors; but the daring which executes, the energy which looks untiringly to its object, and overcomes obstacles before the timid have scanned them-these form no
part of his character. Hence, although such men are valuable members of a community, and well deserve the lasting attachment of the few who have known and tried their solid worth, and capability of affection; yet the leaders of society, in all great things, and those whom, in daily life, we cling to with most love and reverence as well as respect, are those over whose minds imagination—to borrow a painter's expression-has thrown a warmer tone of colouring. The unimaginative seem (as Foster expresses it) to "have only the bare intellectual mechanism of the human mind, without the addition of what is to give it life and sentiment. They give one an impression analogous to that of the leafless trees observed in winter, admirable for the distinct exhibition of their branches, and minute ramifications, so clearly defined against the sky, but destitute of all the green soft luxury of foliage-which is requisite to make a perfect tree. And the affections which may exist in such minds seem to have a bleak abode; somewhat like those bare, deserted nests which you have often seen in such trees."*
INFLUENCE OF IMAGINATION
Deficiency in this respect produces a still more chilling effect in women than in men; nor is it difficult to discern the reason: for, if warmth of feeling, quickness of sympathy, ardour and generous devotion, are qualities we prize and love in the other sex, how painfully must their absence be felt in her whose mission on earth is to live for others; to depend in home-life on the power of the affections and of self-sacrifice,-in society, to soften and banish the coarser and fiercer features of man's nature, and spread all the gentle refining influences of feeling and true civilization. For such a mission nothing can compensate the want of that armth of nature, that refinement of mind, elegance of taste, and exalted admiration of all that is beautiful and excellent, which flow from a well-cultivated imagination.
Some persons may think that we have extended the moral influence of this quality too far, and that warmth of feeling, for instance, and quick sympathies arise simply from kindness of heart. This observation is in a great measure true as regards actual and present calls on our kindness, but not so when the occasions are less apparent, or their extent less known. In such cases, unless the imagination supply what is not present to the senses, the feelings, however kind, will be but feebly called forth. Dugald Stewart expresses a similar opinion on this subject: "The apparent coldness and selfishness of mankind," says he, 66 may be traced in a great measure to a want of attention, and a want of imagination. In the case of misfortunes which happen to ourselves or our near
Essay on the Application of the Term "Romantic," p. 129, 15th ed., 1841.
connections, neither of these powers is necessary to make us acquainted with our situation, so that we feel of necessity the correspondent emotions. But without an uncommon degree of both, it is impossible for any man to comprehend completely the situation of his neighbour, or to have an idea of a great part of the distress which exists in the world. If we feel, therefore, more for ourselves than for others, the difference is to be ascribed, at least partly, to this; that in the former case the facts, which are the foundation of our feelings, are more strongly before us than they possibly can be in the latter."
Imagination alone enables us to enter into situations wholly unknown to us, and drawing the vivid picture of what we have neither seen nor felt, calls forth the feelings almost as strongly as for objects of near interest. Such a process being frequently repeated, we learn to read at a glance what may be utterly foreign to our personal experience, and acquire that quick perception of feeling which, in a kind heart, produces equally rapid sympathy. Thus, also, our interest is roused by the earnestness of feeling as such, and we learn to give our sympathy to a suffering soul, whatever the cause of its suffering, or to rejoice in its joy, though we could not share in it ourselves, in the same circumstances; imagination enabling us to understand the force of the emotion, and its workings upon the mind, whether the feeling itself be, to our judgment, mistaken or not. The want of this power is felt, not merely in the case of distant distress, such as Dugald Stewart speaks of, nor in that only of public calamities to which we see so much strange apathy, but within the narrow bounds of home itself. Even there, owing to defect in this respect, we may too often see the kindest hearts remain calm and indifferent when some they truly love are agitated by strong emotions of joy or sorrow, or are engrossed with hopes and interests into which they are incapable of entering. They would do anything for our happiness, or even pleasure, but we must be amused or happy according to their notions. If we differ from them, if our joy is not like their joy, or our hearts are wayward in their sadness, then we must turn to others for sympathy and consolation. Let the annals of domestic discomfort and estrangement tell how severely women have often paid for being deficient in this respect! How often they have thereby lost influence which the truest affection, the purest virtues, failed to regain! The whole power of women is influence; which, to be lasting, must be founded on knowledge of character, or that nice discri
* Dugald Stewart, Philosophy of the Human Mind, chap. viii., sec. 4.