« PreviousContinue »
tures." We are persuaded that any one, who will repeat the experiments of Burke, will be convinced of the correctness of his observations. Let him, for example, by a voluntary effort, work the features into a smile; or, what is the same thing, let him bring the muscles of his face into a given state of contraction, and he will be immediately conscious of that agreeable mental emotion, which ordinarily corresponds to that position of the features. Again, let any one voluntarily express in his countenance a frown, and he will perceive, that the tone of the mind simultaneously assumes a corresponding sternness and severity.
There are other facts, which tend strongly to confirm the view we are taking of the effects of muscular action upon the states of the mind. We presume none will be disposed to deny that laughter, excited by tickling, is accompanied by the same hilarity of mind, that attends laughter on ordinary occasions. Now only two explanations can be given of this phenomenon. It may be said that the external impression produces a state of mind similar to that which ordinarily gives rise to laughter, and that consequently laughter ensues, as if the mental state had resulted from any other cause. Or it may be explained by saying, that the titillation acts directly upon the muscles of expression and respiration, and that the state of the mind results from the violent agitation of these muscles. In favor of the last explanation it may be said, that it accords well with the analogy of other cases in which the natural expression of an emotion becomes the cause which excites it. Besides, though the emotion attendant upon laughter is allied to pleasure, yet the sensation caused by tickling is decidedly disagreeable. It is anticipated with dread, and experienced with dislike. Thus, to make the sensation produced by tickling the direct cause of the attendant hilarity of mind, is to make it, at the same moment, the direct cause of two emotions, one of pleasure, and the other of pain. It is, therefore, difficult to account for this agreeable state of mind under circumstances decidedly painful, except by supposing that the muscular agitation, caused by the tickling, reacts so strongly upon the mind, as to impress upon it an agreeable emotion in opposition to the other disagreeable circumstances. The physiology (if we may be allowed the expression) of the government and control of the passions tends strongly to confirin our view of this subject. For example, by refraining from expressing a rising passion, the emotion is checked and soon subsides. But let the muscles of expression yield to the impulse of passion, instead of submitting to the rational control of the will, and all is lost. One angry look, one passionate word opens at once the flood-gates of angry excitement, and the torrent flows forth unchecked; so true is it that “ the beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water.” But he who, under the influence of rising anger, can compose his countenance to a calm and placid expression, may say with authority to the surging elements of passion : “Peace, be still.” There can be no doubt that in both these instances, the state of the muscles of expression reacts strongly upon the mind. In the first instance, by an angry expression, the passion is kindled into a tenfold fury; in the second, a placid exterior, like a rock-bound barrier, resists and turns back the rushing torrent, that is struggling to pour itself forth with resistless power.
This point is illustrated by a change, which not unfrequently takes place in the temper of an individual by a change of circumstances. Let us suppose that a person has been trained to habits of self-government, and grown up in a community, where to disregard an insult, or overlook an injury is universally regarded as a mark of magnanimity. Let him change his residence, and attach himself to a community where the laws of honor require him to be quick to resent and prompt to chastise the most trifling insult or injury. At first, he does not find his feelings in harmony with things around him. But, yielding to the force of circumstances, he feels himself obliged sometimes to make at least a show of resentment, in order to sustain his character as a man of honor. This mere show of resentment, which at first does violence to old habits and feelings, will speedily stir up the combustible elements of his nature, and kindle in his breast a passion, which is liable to be roused to a flame by every breeze of circumstance. The same view is sustained by facts connected with the moral treatment of the insane. There is a species of insanity characterized by the most wild and frantic ravings. A successful mode of treating this frightful symptom is to encourage the patient to resist the impulse of madness, by a voluntary effort to preserve his calmness and composure, and by refraining from any expression of the passion by which he is agitated.
A rational view of the relation between the will and the emotions confirms us in the views we are taking on this point. What then is the relation of the will to the whole class of the
emotive states of the mind ? Does the will produce them by direct action ? Does desire spring up in obedience to volition, as the hand rises to the head? Can a man suddenly reverse the whole current of his feelings by a mere act of the will, as he could turn on his heel? It is too obvious to require argument, that the emotions, the desires, the passions, the affections are not voluntary states of the mind. They all spring from causes without the mind; desire is excited in view of some object; passion has its exterior exciting cause. No effort of the will can call into exercise the affections without directing the mind to their proper objects. And yet, every well balanced mind feels that the desires and the passions are not entirely free from the wholesome discipline of the will. To suppose otherwise is to reduce the mind to a humiliating bondage to matter, to render man the slave of desire, the sport of passion. A simple appeal to consciousness is sufficient to convince any one, that, though the will cannot directly excite or check the passions or the affections, it does still possess some kind of prompting and controlling power over them. If then this prompting and controlling power be not direct in its action, it must be traced to the empire which the will exercises over the muscles of expression, and the reaction of those muscles upon the states of the mind. We may add under this head the power which the mind has of choosing its objects of attention, and thus, by that choice, of determining the character of its emotive states.
Let us now suppose an individual under the influence of some turbulent and exciting passion, which glares out in the expression of the countenance, and shows itself in corresponding gestures and attitudes of the body. How can this passion be controlled ? It may be checked by an effort of the will to calm the muscular agitation, and assume an opposite expression of countenance; it may be supplanted by directing the mind to objects and views which are tranquilizing in their influence. Let it not be supposed in this case that the voluntary state of the muscles of expression has no influence in controlling the passion. It would be impossible to turn the attention to new objects, while the mind is raging with excited passion. The muscular reaction, then, is necessary to quell the insurrection that has broken out among the faculties of the soul, before they can be brought to listen to the salutary voice of reason and conscience. But let us suppose that some state of the affections, which the mind does not enjoy, is desirable. How shall it ar
that has brought to let us se
rive at that enjoyment? This question is best answered by an example. A person has acquired a habit of looking at things through a false and gloomy medium. His countenance is habitually clouded with gloom and despondency; his heart is corroded with the gnawings of envy and misanthropy. How shall he come to the enjoyment of that happiness, which flows from a more kindly estimate of his fellow-men? Let him, by a voluntary effort, light up in his countenance the smile of cheerfulness. This state of the features, by its reaction upon the brain, disposes the mind to more happy emotions. Then let the thoughts be steadily turned to those objects, and to those views of Providence, which tend to tranquilize the soul, and shed upon its darkness the light of joy and hope.
We are persuaded that a few experiments will convince any one of the correctness of the views we are presenting. Let one try to feel cheerful, with an expression of gloom on his countenance, or to feel gloomy, while a smile is playing on his features ; and he will be convinced that the only way to change the current of the feelings is to lead the way by the expression of the countenance. He will also find, that a vacant indifference of expression is incompatible with any considerable movement of the emotions. In a voluntary effort to call up an emotion, by assuming its expression, something like the following phenomena seem to be observable. 1. The mind is thrown into a state corresponding to the external expression. 2. The imagination is simultaneously roused to action, and seems struggling to call up some object or image, suited to sustain the emotion, which has been forced, as it were, upon the mind. 3. If the imagination speedily seizes upon some object calculated to perpetuate the given emotion, the countenance continues settled and expressive, and the emotion acquires a certain degree of steadiness and permanency. 4. But if, on the contrary, the imagination fails to call up an object suited to give permanency to the mental state, the result will differ according to the nature and strength of the emotion. If the emotion expressed be a placid one, and no object or image spring up before the mind to sustain it, the expression of the countenance will soon subside into vacancy, and the mental emotion into momentary fatuity. But if the passion expressed be strong and turbulent in its character, and its expression require a strong muscular effort, without any object before the mind to preserve its equilibrium, the countenance becomes discomposed and expres
sive of an unnatural frenzy, and the mind runs wild into a mnomentary delirious excitement.
If the views which we have presented be correct, it is evident that no passion or emotion of the mind can be voluntarily called up without assuming its expression; and that when the countenance is made to express a passion, and thus to awaken it in the mind, no healthy emotion can be kept up, without having before the mind the appropriate exciting object. We see, then, the folly of those public speakers, who depend more, on public occasions, upon their own voluntary efforts to excite their emotions, than upon the spontaneous inspiration of the subject they discuss.
Thus far, in discussing the effects of muscular action upon the mental states, we have limited our inquiries to the muscles of expression. But nothing can be more evident, than that muscular action, which has no connection with the physiology of expression, is capable of powerfully modifying the operations of the mind. The following experiment is a satisfactory illustration of this proposition, as well as a proof of its truth. When an individual finds the action of his mind growing languid and sluggish, and experiences a difficulty in mental exertion, let him suddenly throw all the muscles of the body into a state of strong tension, and every faculty of the mind will receive a momentary impulse, and all its actions will be quickened. · Nothing is more common than for a person to rouse himself from a state of mental lethargy, by vigorous muscular exertion. There can be no doubt that those public speakers, whose principle characteristics are strength of voice, and a sort of grotesque violence of gesture, do, by their muscular exertions, engender in themselves a corresponding wildness of mental excitement.
We wish not to be understood, in the above discussion, as pretending to be able, in all instances, to trace out with certainty the exact relations between cause and effect. We only claim to be able, in a series of psycho-physiological phenomena, to point out, with a high degree of probability, the first link in the chain of connection by which they are bound together. Whenever the mind acts upon the body, a corresponding state is produced in the latter, which in its turn reacts upon the mind; and thus it is by a sort of reflex sympathy or reciprocal action of body and mind, that the effect rises to its maximum ; so that it would be hardly philosophical to refer the ultimate result to,