Page images
PDF
EPUB

certain reasons for reconsidering this popular opinion, and for treating the Emotion of Sympathy as a sentiment having a Natural History and being normally progressive through various and very diverse phases ; differing in all men, not solely according to their temperaments or moral self-control, but, still more emphatically, according to the stage of genuine civilization which they may have attained. It is superfluous to remark that this inquiry is an important one, and must, if successfully conducted, serve to throw no small light on the whole subject of the Social Affections. Here, in the electric commotion caused by the actual spectacle of vivid pain or pleasure, we must needs find the best marked among all the multifarious psychological phenomena which result from the collision of human souls. Benevolence is, in truth, only the extension of such instant and vehement sympathy with actually-witnessed pain or pleasure, into the remoter and less ascertained conditions of our fellow-creatures' sufferings and enjoyments; all our Cruelty is only the perpetuation and exacerbation of the converse sentiment. As a flash of lightning is to latent electricity, such is the rapid and vivid Emotion struck out in us by the sight of another's agony or ecstacy, compared with our calm, habitual social sentiments. Hitherto little attention has been paid to such Emotions, because (as above remarked) it has been assumed that they exhibit uniform phenomena; and that if a man be so far elevated above a senseless clod as to feel anything at the sight of another's Pain, that which he feels is always sympathetic Pain ; and if he feel anything at sight of Pleasure, it is Pleasure. So deeply, indeed, is this delusion rooted in our minds, that it is almost impossible at the first effort to dissever the idea of such sympathy from our conception of human nature in its rudest stage; much more to divide it from the sentiment of Love, or avoid confounding the lack of it with personal Hatred. With those whom we love (it is taken for granted) we must sympathize intensely; and with the rest of mankind in lesser measure, unless some special bar of antipathy intervene. But a little reflection will shew that this is far from holding good as universally true. There is such a thing as Love which is wholly a Love of Complacency without admixture of Benevolence; which seeks its own gratification, and is perfectly callous to the pains and joys of its object. And there is often absolute absence of sympathy between man and man, when no personal hatred exists interfere with its expansion. The explanation of the facts must be found, if at all, by disentangling the roots of Egotism and Altruism (now so closely interwoven, but in their origin so far apart) at the very nexus of immediate Sympathy, where one human heart reflects back in vivid Emotion the Emotion of another.

All our

that 66

never has the destitute been utterly forsaken.” Also (p. 210) that “the foundations of Sympathy and Iinitation are the same;" and that though “the power of interpreting emotional expression is acquired, some of the manifestations of feeling do instinctively excite the same kind of emotion in others, the principal instances occurring under the tender emotion. The moistened eye, and the sob, wail or whine of grief, by a pre-established connection or coincidence, are at once signs and exciting causes of the same feeling.”

The first question which concerns us is: Does the description of Sympathy, as above given, as the common sentiment of men and women at our stage of civilization, apply properly to the spontaneous sentiments of children and savages ? Does their Emotion at the sight of Pain or Pleasure take the same form as ours, and does it prompt them to similar actions ? There are grounds, I believe, for denying that it does anything of the kind, and for surmising that the Emotion felt at such stages at the sight of Pain is more nearly allied to Anger and Irritation than to Tenderness and Pity; and the Emotion felt at the sight of Pleasure, more akin to Displeasure than to reflected Enjoyment.

Before endeavouring to interpret the sentiments of savages in these matters, we shall do well to cast a preliminary glance at the behaviour of the lower animals, concerning which we know somewhat more, and are less liable to be misled. Without assuming that the feelings of brutes supply, in a general way, any direct evidence regarding those of even the most degraded tribes of men, they may justly be held to afford useful indication of them in the case of those actions wherein brute and savage obviously coincide, while the sentiments of civilized humanity fail to supply any explanation.

Of all the facts of natural history, none is better ascertained than the painful one, that alnıost all kinds

of animals have a propensity to destroy their sick and aged or wounded companions. The hound which has fallen off his bench, the wolf caught in a trap, the superannuated rook or robin-in truth, nearly all known creatures, wild or domesticated, undergo involuntary “Euthanasia” from the teeth, bills or claws of their hitherto friendly associates. It may be said to be the law of creation that such destruction of the sick and aged should take place; a law whose general beneficence, as curtailing the slow torments of hunger and decay, has properly been adduced by natural theologians to console us for its seeming repulsiveness and severity. The sight of another animal of its kind in agony appears to act on the brute as an incentive to destructive rage. He is vehemently excited, rushes at the sufferer, bellowing, barking or screeching wildly, and commonly gores, bites or pecks it till it dies. The decay of its aged companion, though it affects the animal less violently than its agony, stirs somehow the same instinct, which is the precise converse of helpful pity; and, if the species be gregarious, a whole flock or herd will often join to extinguish the last spark of expiring life in one of their own band. There are of course exceptions to this rule, especially among domesticated animals, which sometimes acquire gentler habits, and at one stage of advance merely forsake their sick companions, and at another actually help and befriend them. The broad fact, however, on which I desire to insist at this moment is, that at the sight of Pain animals generally feel an impulse to Destroy rather than to Help; a passion more nearly resembling Anger than Tenderness. This emotion (to avoid continual circumlocution) will be indicated in the following pages by the term which seems most nearly to describe its chief characteristic, namely, Heteropathy. It is the converse of “Sympathy,” as we understand that feeling; and it differs from “Antipathy” as Anger differs from Hatred ; Heteropathy being the sudden and (possible transient emotion, and Antipathy implying permanent dislike, with a certain combination of disgust.

The sight of the Pleasure of another animal does not seem generally to convey more Pleasure to the brute than the sight of another's Pain inspires it with Pity. As a rule, the beast displays under such circumstances emotions ludicrously resembling the exhibitions of human envy, jealousy and dudgeon. Only will the friendly dog testify delight at his comrade's release from his chain; or the generous horse display satisfaction when his yoke-mate is turned out in the same field with

him to graze.

Keeping these facts of animal life in view, we are surely justified in interpreting the murderous practices in vogue to the present day among many savage tribes (and formerly common all over the world) as monumental institutions, preserving still the evidence of the early sway of the same passion of Heteropathy in the human race in its lowest stage of development. The half-brutal Fuegian, who kills and eats his infirm old grandfather, differs in no perceptible way, as regards his

« PreviousContinue »