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CHAPTER I: Perceptions and Ideas in a Train - Henry Home, Lord Kames, Elements of Criticism, vol. 1 
Elements of Criticism, Edited and with an Introduction by Peter Jones (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). 2 vols. Vol. 1.
Part of: Elements of Criticism, 2 vols.
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Perceptions and Ideas in a Train
A man while awake is conscious of a continued train of perceptions and ideas passing in his mind. It requires no activity on his part to carry on the train: nor can he at will add any idea to the train.* At the same time we learn from daily<18> experience, that the train of our thoughts is not regulated by chance: and if it depend not upon will, nor upon chance, by what law is it governed? The question is of importance in the science of human nature; and I promise beforehand, that it will be found of great importance in the fine arts.
It appears, that the relations by which things are linked together, have a great influence in directing the train of thought. Taking a view of external objects, their inherent properties are not more remarkable, than the various relations that connect them together: Cause and effect, contiguity in time or in place, high and low, prior and posterior, resemblance, contrast, and a thousand other relations, connect things together without end. Not a single thing appears solitary and altogether devoid of connection; the only difference is, that some are intimately connected, some more slightly; some near, some at a distance.
Experience will satisfy us of what reason makes probable, that the train of our thoughts is in a great measure regulated by the foregoing relations: an external object is no sooner presented to us in idea, than it suggests to the mind other objects to which it is related; and in that manner is a train of thoughts composed. Such is the law of succession; which must be natural, because it governs all human beings. The law however seems not to be inviolable: it sometimes happens that an idea<19> arises in the mind without any perceived connection; as for example, after a profound sleep.
But though we cannot add to the train an unconnected idea, yet in a measure we can attend to some ideas, and dismiss others. There are few things but what are connected with many others; and when a thing thus connected becomes a subject of thought, it commonly suggests many of its connections: among these a choice is afforded; we can insist upon one, rejecting others; and sometimes we insist on what is commonly held the slighter connection. Where ideas are left to their natural course, they are continued through the strictest connections: the mind extends its view to a son more readily than to a servant; and more readily to a neighbour than to one living at a distance. This order, as observed, may be varied by will, but still within the limits of related objects; for tho’ we can vary the order of a natural train, we cannot dissolve the train altogether, by carrying on our thoughts in a loose manner without any connection. So far doth our power extend; and that power is sufficient for all useful purposes: to have more power, would probably be hurtful instead of being salutary.
Will is not the only cause that prevents a train of thought from being continued through the strictest connections: much depends on the present tone of mind; for a subject that accords with that tone is always welcome. Thus, in good spi-<20>rits, a chearful subject will be introduced by the slightest connection; and one that is melancholy, no less readily in low spirits: an interesting subject is recalled, from time to time, by any connection indifferently, strong or weak; which is finely touched by Shakespear, with relation to a rich cargo at sea:
Another cause clearly distinguishable from that now mentioned, hath also a considerable influence to vary the natural train of ideas; which is, that in the minds of some persons, thoughts and circumstances crowd upon each other by the slightest connections. I ascribe this to a bluntness in the discerning faculty; for a person who cannot accu-<21>rately distinguish between a slight connection and one that is more intimate, is equally affected by each: such a person must necessarily have a great flow of ideas, because they are introduced by any relation indifferently; and the slighter relations, being without number, furnish ideas without end. This doctrine is, in a lively manner, illustrated by Shakespear:
What is the gross sum that I owe thee?
Marry, if thou wert an honest man, thyself and thy money too. Thou didst swear to me on a parcel-gilt goblet, sitting in my Dolphin-chamber, at the round table, by a sea-coal fire, on Wednesday in Whit-sun-week, when the Prince broke thy head for likening him to a singing man of Windsor, thou didst swear to me then, as I was washing thy wound, to marry me, and make me my Lady thy wife. Canst thou deny it? Did not Goodwife Keech, the butcher’s wife, come in then, and call me Gossip Quickly? coming in to borrow a mess of vinegar; telling us she had a good dish of prawns; whereby thou didst desire to eat some; whereby I told thee they were ill for a green wound. And didst not thou, when she was gone down stairs, desire me to be no more so familiarity with such poor people, saying, that ere long they should call me Madam? And didst thou not kiss me, and bid me fetch thee thirty shillings? I put thee now to thy bookoath, deny it if thou canst?
Second part, Henry IV. act 2. sc. 2.1
On the other hand, a man of accurate judgement cannot have a great flow of ideas; because<22> the slighter relations, making no figure in his mind, have no power to introduce ideas. And hence it is, that accurate judgement is not friendly to declamation or copious eloquence. This reasoning is confirmed by experience; for it is a noted observation, That a great or comprehensive memory is seldom connected with a good judgement.
As an additional confirmation, I appeal to another noted observation, That wit and judgement are seldom united. Wit consists chiefly in joining things by distant and fanciful relations, which surprise because they are unexpected: such relations, being of the slightest kind, readily occur to those only who make every relation equally welcome. Wit, upon that account, is in a good measure incompatible with solid judgement; which, neglecting trivial relations, adheres to what are substantial and permanent. Thus memory and wit are often conjoined: solid judgement seldom with either.
Every man who attends to his own ideas, will discover order as well as connection in their succession. There is implanted in the breast of every man a principle of order, which governs the arrangement of his perceptions, of his ideas, and of his actions. With regard to perceptions I observe, that in things of equal rank, such as sheep in a fold, or trees in a wood, it must be indifferent in what order they be surveyed. But in things of<23> unequal rank, our tendency is, to view the principal subject before we descend to its accessories or ornaments, and the superior before the inferior or dependent: we are equally averse to enter into a minute consideration of constituent parts, till the thing be first surveyed as a whole. It need scarce be added, that our ideas are governed by the same principle; and that in thinking or reflecting upon a number of objects, we naturally follow the same order as when we actually survey them.
The principle of order is conspicuous with respect to natural operations; for it always directs our ideas in the order of nature: thinking upon a body in motion, we follow its natural course; the mind falls with a heavy body, descends with a river, and ascends with flame and smoke: in tracing out a family, we incline to begin at the founder, and to descend gradually to his latest posterity: on the contrary, musing on a lofty oak, we begin at the trunk, and mount from it to the branches: as to historical facts, we love to proceed in the order of time; or, which comes to the same, to proceed along the chain of causes and effects.
But tho’, in following out an historical chain, our bent is to proceed orderly from causes to their effects, we find not the same bent in matters of science: there we seem rather disposed to proceed from effects to their causes, and from particular propositions to those which are more general. Why this difference in matters that appear so nearly re-<24>lated? I answer, The cases are similar in appearance only, not in reality. In an historical chain, every event is particular, the effect of some former event, and the cause of others that follow: in such a chain, there is nothing to bias the mind from the order of nature. Widely different is science, when we endeavour to trace out causes and their effects: many experiments are commonly reduced under one cause; and again, many of these causes under one still more general and comprehensive: in our progress from particular effects to general causes, and from particular propositions to the more comprehensive, we feel a gradual dilatation or expansion of mind, like what is felt in an ascending series, which is extremely pleasing: the pleasure here exceeds what arises from following the course of nature; and it is that pleasure which regulates our train of thought in the case now mentioned, and in others that are similar. These observations, by the way, furnish materials for instituting a comparison between the synthetic and analytic methods of reasoning: the synthetic method, descending regularly from principles to their consequences, is more agreeable to the strictness of order; but in following the opposite course in the analytic method, we have a sensible pleasure, like mounting upward, which is not felt in the other: the analytic method is more agreeable to the imagination; the other method will be preferred by those only who with rigidity ad-<25>here to order, and give no indulgence to natural emotions.*
It now appears that we are framed by nature to relish order and connection. When an object is introduced by a proper connection, we are conscious of a certain pleasure arising from that circumstance. Among objects of equal rank, the pleasure is proportioned to the degree of connection: but among unequal objects, where we require a certain order, the pleasure arises chiefly from an orderly arrangement; of which one is sensible, in tracing objects contrary to the course of nature, or contrary to our sense of order: the mind proceeds with alacrity down a flowing river, and with the same alacrity from a whole to its parts, or from a principal to its accessories; but in the contrary direction, it is sensible of a sort of retrograde motion, which is unpleasant. And here may be remarked the great influence of order upon the mind of man: grandeur, which makes a deep impression, inclines us, in running over any series, to proceed from small to great, rather than from great to small; but order prevails over that tendency, and affords pleasure as well as facility in passing from a whole to its parts and from a subject to its ornaments, which are not felt in the opposite course. Elevation touches the mind no less<26> than grandeur doth; and in raising the mind to elevated objects, there is a sensible pleasure: the course of nature, however, hath still a greater influence than elevation; and therefore, the pleasure of falling with rain, and descending gradually with a river, prevails over that of mounting upward. But where the course of nature is joined with elevation, the effect must be delightful: and hence the singular beauty of smoke ascending in a calm morning.
I am extremely sensible of the disgust men generally have to abstract speculation; and I would avoid it altogether, if it could be done in a work that professes to draw the rules of criticism from human nature, their true source. We have but a single choice, which is, to continue a little longer in the same train, or to abandon the undertaking altogether. Candor obliges me to notify this to my readers, that such of them as have an invincible aversion to abstract speculation, may stop short here; for till principles be unfolded, I can promise no entertainment to those who shun thinking. But I flatter myself with a different bent in the generality of readers: some few, I imagine, will relish the abstract part for its own sake; and many for the useful purposes to which it may be applied. For encouraging the latter to proceed with alacrity, I assure them beforehand, that the foregoing speculation leads to many important rules of criticism, which shall be unfolded in the<27> course of this work. In the mean time, for instant satisfaction in part, they will be pleased to accept the following specimen.
Every work of art that is conformable to the natural course of our ideas, is so far agreeable; and every work of art that reverses that course, is so far disagreeable. Hence it is required in every such work, that, like an organic system, its parts be orderly arranged and mutually connected, bearing each of them a relation to the whole, some more intimate, some less, according to their destination: when due regard is had to these particulars, we have a sense of just composition, and so far are pleased with the performance. Homer2 is defective in order and connection; and Pindar3 more remarkably. Regularity, order, and connection, are painful restraints on a bold and fertile imagination; and are not patiently submitted to, but after much culture and discipline. In Horace4 there is no fault more eminent than want of connection: instances are without number. In the first fourteen lines of ode 7. lib. 1. he mentions several towns and districts, more to the taste of some than of others: in the remainder of the ode, Plancus is exhorted to drown his cares in wine. Having narrowly escaped death by the fall of a tree, this poet* takes occasion to observe justly, that while we guard against some dangers,<28> we are exposed to others we cannot foresee: he ends with displaying the power of music. The parts of ode 16. lib. 2. are so loosely connected as to disfigure a poem otherwise extremely beautiful. The 1st, 2d, 3d, 4th, 11th, 24th, 27th odes of the 3d book, lie open all of them to the same censure. The first satire, book 1. is so deformed by want of connection, as upon the whole to be scarce agreeable: it commences with an important question, How it happens that people, though much satisfied with themselves, are seldom so with their rank or condition. After illustrating the observation in a sprightly manner by several examples; the author, forgetting his subject, enters upon a declamation against avarice, which he pursues till the line 108.: there he makes an apology for wandering, and promises to return to his subject; but avarice having got possession of his mind, he follows out that theme to the end, and never returns to the question proposed in the beginning.
Of Virgil’s Georgics,5 tho’ esteemed the most complete work of that author, the parts are ill connected, and the transitions far from being sweet and easy. In the first book† he deviates from his subject to give a description of the five zones: the want of connection here, as well as in the description of the prodigies that accompanied the death of Caesar, are scarce pardonable. A digression on<29> the praises of Italy in the second book,‡ is not more happily introduced: and in the midst of a declamation upon the pleasures of husbandry, which makes part of the same book,§ the author introduces himself into the poem without the slightest connection. In the Lutrin,6 the Goddess of Discord is introduced without any connection: she is of no consequence in the poem; and acts no part except that of lavishing praise upon Lewis the Fourteenth. The two prefaces of Sallust7 look as if by some blunder they had been prefixed to his two histories: they will suit any other history as well, or any subject as well as history. Even the members of these prefaces are but loosely connected: they look more like a number of maxims or observations than a connected discourse.
An episode in a narrative poem, being in effect an accessory, demands not that strict union with the principal subject, which is requisite between a whole and its constituent parts: it demands, however, a degree of union, such as ought to subsist between a principal and accessory; and therefore will not be graceful if it be loosely connected with the principal subject. I give for an example the descent of Aeneas into hell, which employs the sixth book of the Aeneid: the reader is not prepared for that important event: no cause is assigned that can make it appear necessary, or even natural,<30> to suspend for so long a time the principal action in its most interesting period: the poet can find no pretext for an adventure so extraordinary, but the hero’s longing to visit the ghost of his father recently dead: in the mean time the story is interrupted, and the reader loses his ardor. Pity it is that an episode so extremely beautiful, were not more happily introduced. I must observe at the same time, that full justice is done to this incident, by considering it to be an episode; for if it be a constituent part of the principal action, the connection ought to be still more intimate. The same objection lies against that elaborate description of Fame in the Aeneid:* any other book of that heroic poem, or of any heroic poem, has as good a title to that description as the book where it is placed.
In a natural landscape we every day perceive a multitude of objects connected by contiguity solely; which is not unpleasant, because objects of sight make an impression so lively, as that a relation even of the slightest kind is relished. This however ought not to be imitated in description: words are so far short of the eye in liveliness of impression, that in a description connection ought to be carefully studied; for new objects introduced in description are made more or less welcome in proportion to the degree of their connec-<31>tion with the principal subject. In the following passage, different things are brought together without the slightest connection, if it be not what may be called verbal, i.e. taking the same word in different meanings.
The introduction of an object metaphorically or figuratively, will not justify the introduction of it in its natural appearance: a relation so slight can never be relished:
The relations among objects have a considerable influence in the gratification of our passions, and even in their production. But that subject is reserved to be treated in the chapter of emotions and passions.*
There is not perhaps another instance of a building so great erected upon a foundation so slight in<32> appearance, as the relations of objects and their arrangement. Relations make no capital figure in the mind, the bulk of them being transitory, and some extremely trivial: they are however the links that, by uniting our perceptions into one connected chain, produce connection of action, because perception and action have an intimate correspondence. But it is not sufficient for the conduct of life, that our actions be linked together, however intimately: it is beside necessary that they proceed in a certain order; and this also is provided for by an original propensity. Thus order and connection, while they admit sufficient variety, introduce a method in the management of affairs: without them our conduct would be fluctuating and desultory; and we should be hurried from thought to thought, and from action to action, entirely at the mercy of chance.<33>
[* ]For how should this be done? what idea is it that we are to add? If we can specify the idea, that idea is already in the mind, and there is no occasion for any act of the will. If we cannot specify any idea, I next demand, how can a person will, or to what purpose, if there be nothing in view? We cannot form a conception of such a thing. If this argument need confirmation, I urge experience: whoever makes a trial will find, that ideas are linked together in the mind, forming a connected chain: and that we have not the command of any idea independent of the chain.
[1. ]Act 2, sc. 1.
[* ]A train of perceptions or ideas, with respect to its uniformity and variety, is handled afterward, chap. 9.
[2. ]Homer: one or more Greek authors of the epic poem the Iliad, of unknown identity and date, although probably about 800 b.c. The poem describes the war waged against Troy, the anger of Achilles toward Agamemnon, and the slaying of Hector.
[3. ]Pindar (ca. 522–442 b.c.): Greek lyric poet, author of odes celebrating winners at the Olympic Games. He influenced Horace and, later, John Dryden (1631–1700).
[4. ]Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65–8 b.c.): Roman poet, who studied philosophy in Athens; author of the Satires (35 and 30 b.c.) and Odes (23 b.c.). “Let others praise famed Rhodes, or Mitylene, or Ephesus, or the walls of Corinth, that overlooks two seas, or Thebes renowned for Bacchus, Delphi for Apollo, or Thessalian Tempe” (The Odes and Epodes, bk. 1.7).
[* ]Lib. 2. ode 13.
[5. ]Publius Vergilius Maro (70–19 b.c.): Roman poet, whose epic poem the Aeneid recounts the adventures of Aeneas and the Trojans; his Georgics is a didactic poem on agriculture. In Dryden’s verse translation the references are 1.322; 2.207, 673.
[† ]Lin. 231.
[‡ ]Lin. 136.
[§ ]Lin. 475.
[6. ]The Lutrin (1674): a satirical poem by Nicolas Boileau (1636–1711), French poet and critic, and a friend of Molière (1622–73), La Fontaine (1621–95), and Racine (1639–99), to all of whom Kames refers.
[7. ]Gaius Sallustius Crispus (86–35 b.c.): Roman historian and associate of Caesar in the civil war. Frequently translated into English; it was commonplace to regret the prefaces (for example, the 1709 translation by John Rowe, p. xix).
[* ]Lib. 4. lin. 173.
[9. ]The Conquest of Granada, or Almanzor and Almahide, 1670, by John Dryden, satirized in The Rehearsal, 1672, written in part by George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham (1628–87), and from which Kames also quotes.
[* ]Chap. 2. part 1. sect. 4.