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bably of a salutary nature, and may
the means, in a certain degree beneficial like sleep, by which the machine is restored, and the man comes forth from its discipline reinvigorated, and afresh capable of his active duties.
This condition of our nature has considerably less vitality in it, than we experience in a complete and perfect dream. In dreaming we are often conscious of lively impressions, of a busy scene, and of objects and feelings succeeding each other with rapidity. We sometimes imagine ourselves earnestly speaking: and the topics we treat, and the words we employ, are supplied to us with extraordinary fluency. But the sort of vacancy and inoccupation of which I here treat, has a greater resenıblance to the state of mind, without distinct and clearly unfolded ideas, which we experience before we sink into sleep. The mind is in reality in a condition, more properly accessible to feeling and capable of thought, than actually in the exercise of either the one or the other. We are conscious of existence and of little
We move our legs, and continue in a peripatetic state; for the man who has gone out of his house with a purpose to walk, exercises the power of volition when he sets out, but proceeds in his motion by a semi-voluntary act, by a sort of vis inertia, which will not cease to operate without an express reason for doing so, and advances a thousand steps without distinctly willing any but the first. When it is necessary to turn to the right or the left, or to choose between any two directions on which he is called upon to decide, his mind is so far brought into action as the case may expressly require, and no further.
I have here instanced in the case of the peripatetic: but of how many classes and occupations of human life may not the same thing be affirmed ? It happens to the equestrian, as well as to him that walks on foot. It occurs to him who cultivates the fruits of the earth, and to him who is occupied in any
of the thousand manufactures which are the result of human ingenuity. It happens to the soldier in his march, and to the mariner on board his vessel. It attends the individuals of the female sex through all their diversified modes of industry, the laundress, the housemaid, the sempstress, the netter of purses, the knotter of fringe, and the worker in tambour, tapestry and embroidery. In all, the limbs or the fingers are employed mechanically; the attention of the mind is only required at intervals ; and the thoughts remain for the most part in a state of non-excitation and repose.
It is a curious question, but extremely difficult of solution, what portion of the day of every human creature must necessarily be spent in this sort of intellectual indolence. In the lower classes of society its empire is certainly very great; its influence is extensive over a large portion of the opulent and luxurious ; it is least among those who are intrust
ed in the more serious affairs of mankind, and among the literary and the learned, those who waste their lives, and consume the midnight-oil, in the search after knowledge.
It appeared with sufficient clearness in the immediately preceding Essay, that the intellect cannot be always on the stretch, nor the bow of the inind for ever bent. In the act of composition, unless where the province is of a very inferior kind, it is likely that not more than two or three hours at a time can be advantageously occupied. But in literary labour it will often occur, that, in addition to the hours expressly engaged in composition, much time may be required for the collecting materials, the collating of authorities, and the bringing together a variety of particulars, so as to sift from the mass those circumstances which
purpose of the writer. In all these preliminary and inferior enquiries it is less necessary that the mind should be perpetually awake and on the alert, than in the direct office of composition. The situation is considerably similar of the experimental philosopher, the man who by obstinate and unconquerable application resolves to wrest from nature her secrets, and apply them to the improvement of social life, or to the giving to the human mind a wider range or a more elevated sphere. A great portion of this employment consists more in the motion of the hands and the opportune glance of the eye, than in the labour of the head, and allows to the operator from time to time an interval of rest from the momentous efforts of invention and discovery, and the careful deduction of consequences in the points to be elucidated.
There is a distinction, sufficiently familiar to all persons who occupy a portion of their time in reading, that is made between books of instruction, and books of amusement. From the student of mathematics or any of the higher departments of science, from the reader of books of investigation and argument, an active attention is demanded. Even in the perusal of the history of kingdoms and nations, or of certain memorable periods of public affairs, we can scarcely proceed with any satisfaction, unless in so far as we collect our thoughts, compare one part of the narrative with another, and hold the mind in a state of activity. We are obliged to reason while we read, and in some degree to construct a discourse of our own, at the same time that we follow the statements of the author before us. Unless we do this, the sense and spirit of what we read will be apt to slip from under our observation, and we shall by and by discover that we are putting together words and sounds only, when we purposed to store our minds with facts and reflections. We apprehended not the sense of the writer even when his pages were under our eye, and of consequence have nothing laid up in the memory after the hour of reading is completed.
In works of amusement it is otherwise, and most
especially in writings of fiction. These are sought after with avidity by the idle, because for the most part they are found to have the virtue of communicating impressions to the reader, even while his mind remains in a state of passiveness. He finds himself agreeably affected with fits of mirth or of sorrow, and carries away the facts of the tale, at the same time that he is not called upon for the act of attention. This is therefore one of the modes of luxury especially cultivated in a highly civilized state of society.
The same considerations will also explain to us the principal part of the pleasure that is experienced by mankind in all states of society from public shews and exhibitions. The spectator is not called upon to exert himself; the amusement and pleasure come to him, while he remains. voluptuously at his ease; and it is certain that the exertion we make when we are compelled to contribute to, and become in part the cause of our own entertainment, is more than the human mind is willing to sustain, except at seasons in which we are specially on the alert and awake.
This is further one of the causes why men in general feel prompted to seek the society of their fellows. We are in part no doubt called upon in select society to bring our own information along with us, and a certain vein of wit, humour or narrative, that we may contribute our proportion to the general stock. We read the newspapers, the newest pub