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Essays. He has been desirous, in principles deduced from the structure of man, and the comparative anatomy of animals, to lay a foundation for studying the influence of the mind upon the body; and he ventures to expect great indulgence to an attempt at once so new and so difficult, where there is no authority to consult but that of nature.
After the first edition was published, I was so fortunate as to make discoveries in the Nervous System, which gave a new and extraordinary interest to the subject of these essays. I found that there was a system of nerves, distinguishable by structure and endowments, which had hitherto been confounded with the common nerves; and having traced them through the face, and neck, and body, and compared them in the different classes of animals, it was finally discovered that these nerves were the sole agents in expression, when the frame was wrought under the influence of passion.
Here was secure ground on which to proceed ; before this, but vague surmises could be entertained of the nature of expression, since the organs had not been ascertained, or only partially. We witnessed emotions, we felt the sympathies implanted in our nature, nevertheless the description of passion was a mere description; poetical it might be, but never philosophical, since it was not known by what links the organs were excited, nor by what course the influence of the mind was propagated to the muscular frame. We might study to be accurate and ininute, but something was wanting, and the inquirer was thrown back dissatisfied.
In proof of this I take the following extract from Dr. Beattie*.
Descartes, and some other philosophers, have endeavoured to explain the physical cause which connects a human passion with its correspondent natural sign. They wanted to show, from the principles of motion, and of the animal economy, why fear, for example, produces trembling and paleness; why laughter attends the perception of incongruity; why anger inflames the blood, contracts the brows, and distends the nostrils; why shame is accompanied with blushing; why despair fixes the teeth together, distorts the joints, and disfigures the features; why scorn shoots out the lip; why sorrow overflows at the eyes; why envy and jealousy look askance; and why admiration raises the eyebrows and opens the mouth. Such inquiries may give rise to ingenious observation, but are not in other respects useful, because never attended with success. He who established the union of soul and body knows how and by what intermediate instruments the one operates upon the other. But to man this is a mystery unsearchable. We can only say that tears accompany sorrow, and the other natural signs their respective passions and sentiments, because such is the will of our Creator, and the law of the human constitution.”
* Dissertations, Moral and Critical, 4to. p. 242.
Yes, if that will be declared, we must abide by it and search no further. But, on the other hand, something informs me that it is acceptable to exercise the talents bestowed upon us, and to search and explain the Creator's works. This divine and philosopher says well, if we are to look on the surface only. But where is his authority for going no deeper? No doubt he believed that he was giving a very accurate statement of the effects of passion, but it would be easy to show that he has jumbled signs, quite incongruous, from an ignorance of their natural relations. We have in this extract an enumeration of phenomena the most surprising in the whole extent of nature, and the most affecting to human sympathies. We must confess that they are so deeply implanted in our nature, that we shall not be able to discover the ultimate connexion between the emotions of the soul and those signs of the body. But this conviction should not extinguish the desire of comprehending the organs of expression, more than those of the voice, or of seeing and hearing.
In these Essays the subject matter does not always correspond with the titles, so although there be something said of the forms of beauty, and the expression in painting, the work has a larger scope, and aims at greater usefulness. It has been the author's main design to furnish a sufficient foundation for arranging the symptoms of disease, and for a more accurate description of them.
The description of a disease is a mere catalogue of signs, if their cause and relation be not understood; and' if no cause for certain appearances, and no relation among them be observed, the signs can neither be accurately recorded nor remembered.
The motion of one part of the body, produced by the excitement of another, and the movements produced by passion on the frame of the body, become symptoms when caused by disease.
A man pulling on a rope draws his breath and