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CONand more caker away Fé IN
abore A, naranding ideas
clog, for it hangs upon the mind so as to hinder its
passes before their eyes; hear not the audible
I grant something must be allowed to legitimate passions, and to natural inclinations. Every man, beșides occasional affections, has beloved studies, and those
the mind will more closely stick to; but yet it is best that it should be always at liberty, and under the free disposal of the man, and to act how and upon what he directs. This we should endeavour to obtain, unless we would be content with such a flaw in our understanding, that sometimes we should be as it were without it; for it is very little better than so in cases where we cannot make use of it to those purposes we would, and which stand in present need of it.
But before fit remedies can be thought on for this disease, we must know the several causes of it, and thereby regulate the cure, if we will hope to labour with success.
One we have already instanced in, whereof all men that reflect have so general a knowledge, and so often an experience in themselves, that nobody doubts of it. A prevailing passion so pins down our thoughts to the object and concern of it, that a man passionately in love cannot bring himself to think of his ordinary affairs, or a kind mother, drooping under the loss of a child, is not able to bear a part as she was wont in the discourse of the company or conversation of her friends.
But though passion be the most obvious and general, yet it is not the only cause that binds
up derstanding, and confines it for the time to one object, from which it will not be taken off.
Besides this, we may often find that the understanding, when it has a while employed itself upon a subject which either chance, or some slight accident, offered to it, without the interest or recommendation of any passion, works itself into a warmth, and by degrees gets into a career, wherein, like a bowl down a hill, it increases its motion by going, and will not be stopped or diverted; though, when the heat is over, it sees all this earnest application was about a trifle not worth a thought, and all the pains employed about it lost labour.
There is a third sort, if I mistake not, yet lower
than this; it is a sort of childishness, if I may so say, of the understanding, wherein, during the fit, it plays with and dandles some insignificant puppet to no end, nor with any design at all, and yet cannot easily be got off from it. Thus some trivial sentence, or a scrap
of poetry, will sometimes get into men's heads, and make such a chiming there, that there is no stilling of it; no peace to be obtained, nor attention to any thing else, but this impertinent guest will take up the mind and possess the thoughts in spite of all endeavours to get rid of it. Whether every one hath experimented in themselves this troublesome intrusion of some frisking ideas which thus importune the understanding, and hinder it from being better employed, I know not. But persons of very good parts, and those more than one, I have heard speak and complain of it themselves. The reason I have to make this doubt, is from what I have known in a case something of kin to this, though much odder, and that is of a sort of visions that some people have lying quiet, but perfectly awake, in the dark, or with their eyes shut. It is a great variety of faces, most commonly very odd ones, that appear to them in a train one after another; so that having had just the sight of the one, it immediately passes away to give place to another, that the same instant succeeds, and has as quick an exit as its leader; and so they march on in a constant succession; nor can any one of them by any endeavour be stopped or retained beyond the instant of its appearance, but is thrust out by its follower, which will have its turn. Concerning this fantastical phænomenon I have talked with several people, whereof some have been perfectly acquainted with it, and others have been so wholly strangers to it, that they could hardly be brought to conceive or believe it. I knew a lady of excellent parts, who had got past thirty without having ever had the least notice of any such thing; she was so great a stranger to it, that when she heard me and another talking of it, could scarce
forbear thinking we bantered her; but some time after drinking a large dose of dilute tea, (as she was ordered by a physician) going to bed, she told us at next meeting, that she had now experimented what our discourse had much ado to persuade her of. She had seen a great variety of faces in a long train, succeeding one another, as we had described; they were all strangers and intruders, such as she had no acquaintance with before, nor sought after then; and as they came of themselves they went too; none of them stayed a moment, nor could be detained by all the endeavours she could use, but went on in their solemn procession, just appeared and then vanished. This odd phænomenon seems to have a mechanical cause, and to depend upon the matter and motion of the blood or animal spirits.
When the fancy is bound by passion, I know no way to set the mind free and at liberty, to prosecute what thoughts the man would make choice of, but to allay the present passion, or counterbalance it with another; which is an art to be got by study, and acquaintance with the passions.
Those who find themselves apt to be carried away with the spontaneous current of their own thoughts, not excited by any passion or interest, must be very wary and careful in all the instances of it to stop it, and never humour their minds in being thus triflingly busy. Men know the value of their corporeal liberty, and therefore suffer not willingly fetters and chains to be put upon them. To have the mind captivated is, for the time, certainly the greater evil of the two, and deserves our utmost care and endeavours to preserve the freedom of our better part. In this case our pains will not be lost; striving and struggling will prevail, if we constantly, on all such occasions, make use of it. We must never indulge these trivial attentions of thought; as soon as we find the mind makes itself a business of nothing, we should immediately disturb · and check it, introduce new and more serious con
siderations, and not leave till we have beaten it off from the pursuit it was upon. This, at first, if we have let the contrary practice grow to a habit, will perhaps be difficult; but constant endeavours will by degrees prevail, and at last make it easy. And when a man is pretty well advanced, and can command his mind off at pleasure from incidental and undesigned pursuits, it may not be amiss for him to go on farther, and make attempts upon meditations of greater moment, that at the last he may have a full power over his own mind, and be so fully master of his own thoughts, as to be able to transfer them from one subject to another, with the same ease that he can lay by any thing he has in his hand, and take something else that he has a mind to in the room of it. This liberty of mind is of great use both in business and study, and he that has got it will have no small advantage of ease and despatch in all that is the chosen and useful employment of his understanding.
The third and last way which I mentioned the mind to be sometimes taken up with, I mean the chiming of some particular words or sentence in the memory, and, as it were, making a noise in the head, and the like, seldom happens but when the mind is lazy, or very loosely and negligently employed. It were better indeed to be without such impertinent and useless repetitions: any obvious idea, when it is roving carelessly at a venture, being of more use, and apter to suggest something worth consideration, than the insignificant buzz of purely empty sounds. But since the rousing of the mind, and setting the understanding on work with some degrees of vigour, does for the most part presently set it free from these idle companions; it may not be amiss, whenever we find ourselves troubled with them, to make use of so profitable a remedy that is always at hand.