Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

We bear a good deal nowadays about changes in character, about dual personality, the mental results of accident and illness, and of moral metamorphoses of all kinds. No doubt many of these phenomena cannot be denied. On the other hand, they are of such rare occurrence that the discussion of them is more or less academic. The most permanent element in life is. after all, the element of character. Indeed, it is the only thing upon which, among the changes and chances of life, we can count at all:—

The earth (great mother of us all). That only seems unmoved and permanent, And unto Mutability not thrall, Yet Is she changed in part and eke in generall.

In nine hundred and ninety-nine cases oat of a tbonsand, men and women do not change, except outwardly. The man we knew ten years ago and know now is the man we shall know teu years hence If we are both alive. He may make a fortune or he may lose one. He may succeed or he may fall. His wealth or his poverty may take him into a new society or into new surroundings, it may give him a new manMr, but it will not make him a new man. We may send him away because he Is a scamp to somewhere where scamplshness does not obtrusively show. But men are not made Mints by climate or by the absence of

civilized restraints; neither are they made sinners, though their natural tendencies sometimes find fuller scope In a freer world. A man may grow stronger or feebler in health as the years go by, he must grow older, he may grow wiser, but In character he is most unlikely to change. We do not deny that the experience of life has some effect upon the proportions of character. Circumstances may develop a man's will at the expense or his judgment, or his power of discrimination to the detriment of his power of decision. Trouble may sharpen his sympathies or luck increase a natural buoyancy. But these changes are, so to speak, functional; they are not organic. There are always possibilittesS of improvement and deterioration, but J these take place almost always along*) strictly prescribed lines, and tend to I accentuate rather than to obliterate"^ the natural characteristics. The impulsive man will not become cautions, or the cautious man rash, though education may do something to make both of them more reasonable. It looks sometimes as though there were not tears enough in the world to quench the hopes of the naturally hopeful, or happiness enough to inspirit those who are naturally depressed. After each separate satisfaction the discontented man "falls back," as Dr. Johnson said, "into the habit of wishing," and after each rebuff of fortune the cheerful fellow resumes his habit of thankfulness.

The only thing which seems really to modify character is a serious change of conviction, and even that change, unless assisted by religious emotion, has seldom any very marked effect. While they are still young, men often entirely alter their political opinions, but as a rule they turn to those views which best befit their character, having received the discarded set at second hand and without serious consideration from their parents. The man who was early taught that the world exists to supply a certain section of society with comfort, amusement, and an outlet for their energies, and to consider the good of the many only so far as is expedient in the Interests of the few, and who attained to years of discretion before he questioned his creed, may become—In accordance with his character—a philanthropist and a democrat. On the other hand, a man who at twenty, or even at twenty-five, believed that all questions, both moral and social, could be settled by counting heads, may become—again in accordance with his character—a firm believer in the government of the wise. The effects of upbringing last longer with some than with others. We can well imagine that the experience of a war might turn a youth at the University from a peace-at-any-price Little Englander into a Jingo Imperialist. The same war npon another under-graduate might have an exactly opposite effect. Their characters would not be changed, but a great event would have brought each man to himself, and forced him to shake off his inherited prejudices, or should we say pre-judgments? Nevertheless, the exception exists. A man who at the height of his powers deliberately changes his mind goes through a terrible mental ordeal, one which leaves its mark upon every part of hi* being; but, as a rule, the change owes little to circumstances. Sudden reve

lations and sudden disiilusionments do occur, and then, as it were, the continuity of character is broken, and we do not know for good or evil what will happen next; but those common joys and sorrows to which flesh is heir have no such revolutionary effect Sometimes when our friends have had some great blow or some great stroke of fortune we feel almost afraid to see them. We have a vague fear that they will be different; but almost always we say to ourselves, as we think over the dreaded moment, that they were "just like themselves."

If we discuss women as apart from men, it is almost more true of them than of their husbands and brothers that they are as they were made. How often does a frivolous woman become serious, or a hard one kind, or Viet vers&t Did any one ever know a candid woman who became deceitful, or a schemer who became simple? If we know her only slightly, we may mistake the light heart of youth for frivolity, or a discontented spirit for a thoughtful disposition, or take tact for subtlety or subtlety for tact; and so we may think as the years go on that a radical change has taken place in her character. But ask her family or her intimate friends. They have fallen into no such error. Again, among women opinions may be said to be almost Invariably the outcome of character, always admitting that those who have, as Tope said, "no character at all" are yet as a rule well supplied with ready-made opinions. The woman who thinks will always think the same. Not that women are less charitable than men. The best women are far more so. Perhaps no man Is as well able as some women to hold absolutely to a given view while appreciating fully the mind and the motives of some one who holds the direct opposite. There are cases where & woman's want of logic assists her

judgment in a marked degree. The exceptional woman may force herself •to it; but she has not as a rule any sreat desire to look into the evidence on the opposite side. Who has? Certain men belonging to the intellectual class to whom continuous and ordered thinking has given the courage to risk a conviction, and in whom mental gallantry is the splendid flower of mental discipline. No one else. It is said that it Is always a woman who makes a home, and we think it is partly because women supply at every turn the element of permanence we all long for. They may not be open-minded, but, in spite of the poets, they are constant

After all, what amount of evidence tan produce the certainty which Is often produced by knowledge of character? How often do we stake our all upon the fact that So-and-so is "safe" and will keep our secret, or honest and will not take our money, or honorable and

The Spectator.

will not repeat our careless words, if it were not so, if changes in character were really common, civilized life would be impossible. To look at the lighter side of the picture, what amusement could life afford to quiet, respectable people who desire smiles and not excitement if it were common for all the actors whom they from their corner can see upon the stage of life to play out of their roles? Life would not be a drama at all. It would be u horrible medley of half-seen acts and broken dialogue. It is the strict limitation which the changelessness of character puts upon the mutability of things which makes life both dear aud entertaining, which mitigates the terrible sense of chance and instability that occasionally makes the heart of the strongest man stand still with terror, and supplies to men and women that never-ending source of recreation and enjoyment which we call "human Interest."

WORDS TO CONJURE WITH.

Thought transference, or clairvoyance, or second sight Is a mode of motion very easy to believe In. It might be argued that it owes its revived popularity In some measure to wireless telegraphy. If a sound-wave that can only be detected by an intensely delicate instrument may traverse immense distances along the roadway of the mysterious ether, why should not the vibrations involved in the process of thought pass from one brain to another attuned by some accident to these particular notes?

Star to star vibrates light. May soul

to soul Strike through some finer element of

its own?

Men of science pretend to have discovered that the brain is distinctly hot

ter when a man, for example, reads poetry to himself than when he reads It aloud, but whether this be true or no it Is quite certain that intense thinking is accompanied by internal vibration and it is logically possible, one may almost say likely, that the message of this vibration should be detectable if any instrument were sensitive enough. So it happens that the world lends a ready ear to the marvels of clairvoyance. In a little book ' just published, clairvoyance Is said to have been invented by Robert Houdin, the conjurer In the forties of the last century, but though he may have been the first to use the phrase "seconde vue," similar tricks, if they are tricks, have been practised from very early

1 "Thought Reading." By Frederick Wicks London: Slmpkln, Marshall, la.

time. Belief in the occult, which has often inclnded thought reading in one form or another, has come over the world in more or less regular cycles; and it was exploited by Cagliostro with not less success, though of course more hypocrisy, than by Hondin.

Probably the emergence of each of these cycles has been due rather to human nature than to the conscious efforts of spiritual quacks, But the subject has given such splendid opportunities to conjurers, whether of the honest skill of Mr. Maskelyne or the adventurous greed of Mr. Slndge, that the enthusiasm for the occult has finally exploded in mockery. The writer of this book worked with one of the most famous of conjurers, manufactured some of his instruments, and was behind the scenes of the K6ance. Twenty-five years ago he published a rational explanation of what we may call the mechanics of the mystery, and the extraordinary curiosity evoked by the performance of the Zancigs gives a peculiar interest to this recapitulation and expansion of the old explanations, Any two people who practised the codes that he outlines could unquestionably, if they were as quick and industrious, perform most of the feats of Heller, Hondin, and the Zancigs, lt is worth notice that Mr. Zancig bas himself told us of his capacity for laborious industry.

Now and again the explanation shows up a marvel hardly less great than the alleged mystery. Washington May Bishop, for instance, was able to perform his astonishing trick, known as the ring-threading trick, by means of a capacity to put his shoulder out of joint by sheer force of will. Even this would have been no good if he had not possessed an almost incredlble power of grasp with the top joints of his fingers, Again, when he astonished Huxley by discovering the shilling of which only Huxley knew the

hiding-place, he brought off the feat by help of a delicacy of sensation which almost amounted to another sense. As he moved about with Huxley's hand on his wrist he could always detect a change of pressure when, as children say, he was "getting hot." lt was a case of what Huxley himself called ''unconscious cerebration": the brain. whether its owner would or not, perceptibly affected the nerves of the fin gers,

But the feats of clairvoyance which have most astounded the wide-eyed public have been accomplished by little simple dodges that have nothing wonderful in them at all. Of these dodges no one perhaps has a more extensive and peculiar knowledge than Mr. Wicks, A certain number of revelations on the working of codes has been published in the newspapers, but here we are given in detail, in a variety of concrete instances, the exact working of the codes and the precise manipulations of the silent tricks, The thing is simple enough. By making letters stand for figures, any one, so long as he is allowed to speak, can convey to a stndent of the code any figures he wishes, and the principle may be extended in all sorts of directions, For example, you promise to convey to the clairvoyante, who is blindfolded, an accurate knowledge of the different objects that you will successively touch. Your first step is to utter some common word which in your code conveys the class of thing—for instance, "good" may stand for clothing; then the initial letters of the brief sentences you utter will inform her of the first few letters of the word, and the whole thing is done. Feats that filled you with astonishment are seen to be lndicrously simple, and the conjurer proper appears to be a person infinitely cleverer and more wonderful than the most accomplished thought-reader. Mr. Wicks begins his little book with

this sentence, 'The capacity of the human mind for wonder naturally disposes the uninformed to superstition, and for every unusual occurrence for which no explanation is perceivable on the surface, they look to the supernatural as the only possible cause of that they do not understand." When he wrote this did he know that Aristotle begins his Metaphysics with much the same sentiment? He, too, started from the maxim that "the world begins in wonder," but the world seems to end in wonder too: omnia exeunt in mysterium. No amount of exposure will ever persuade the world against n belief in the forces which, for want of a better word, we call supernatural. Nothing, of course, is supernatural; if it is here at all, it is natural. But the world is in its way right. We are beset by forces of which we have no perception. On either side of each conscious sense is a sense that perceives without knowing it perceives. Sensitive people are said to have been filled with an unreasonable terror on entering a room where n crime had been

Tbe Outlook.

committed. According to one plausible theory their senses are aware, though their intelligence is not, of the smell of blood. The brain itself has probably a very wide debatable ground —wider, it may be, than the senses of bearing and smelling. We have what Mr. Myers called a subliminal consciousness, and the brain may possibly have the capacity to register sensations which do not come by way of the senses. The facts of mesmerism, Bus piclously near to clairvoyance, are not disputed. No doubt the world will be more foolishly credulous than usual if, in the light of these precise revelations, it does not enjoy a laugh at its own gullibility. But the new revelations only half reveal. Let us by all means apply what the ancients called Occam's razor and cut off as superfluous all unnecessary causes, but the codes and the conjuring skill of Mr. Maskelyne are no more an "open sesame" to the doors of mystery than were the sortes Tergilianae which the Middle Ages took as a short cut across the roundabout roads of reason.

BOOKS AND AUTHORS.

Messrs. Macmillau are preparing a cheap edition of Mr. Winston Churchill's biography of his father. it will be in a single volume of over nine hundred pages, and will be issued at 7s. 6d. net.

Three short stories for very young readers are included in Nina Bhoades's "Priscilla of the Doll Shop" (LothropLee & Shepard Co.). The book belongs in the category of the Prudy and Dotty Dimple Books of the lamented "Sophie May" and seems well calculated to minister to the pleasure of small girls of to-day ns those did to their mothers.

Under the title "Aims and ideals in Art" E. P. Dutton & Co. publish eight lectures which were given in 1905 and 1906 by George Clausen, Professor of Painting, to the students of the Royal Academy. At the same time, in a uniform volume, they publish a new edition, the third, of Mr. Clausen's "Six Lectures on Painting" which were delivered before the same audience in 1904. Both volumes are fully illustrated, and they are an important and interesting contribution to the discussion both of the theory and the practice of art.

No doubt curious readers will attempt to identify the "Felicity" of

« PreviousContinue »