« 前へ次へ »
ON PERSONAL CHARACTER.
“Men palliate and conceal their original qualities, but do not extirpate them." MONTAIGNE's Essays.
No one ever changes his character from the time he is two years old; nay, I might say, from the time he is two hours old. We may, with instruction and opportunity, mend our manners, or else alter for the worse, "as the flesh and fortune shall serve;" but the character, the internal, original bias, remains always the same, true to itself to the very last
“And feels the ruling passion strong in death!”
A very grave and dispassionate philosopher (the late celebrated chemist, Mr. Nicholson) was so impressed with the conviction of the instantaneous commencement and development of the character with the birth, that he published a long and amusing article in the Monthly Magazine, giving a detailed account of the progress, history, education, and tempers of two twins, up to the period of their being eleven days old. This is, perhaps, considering the matter too curiously, and would amount to a species of horoscopy, if we were to build on such premature indications ; but the germ no doubt is there, though we must wait a little longer to see what form it takes. We need not in general wait long. The Devil soon betrays the cloven foot; or a milder and better spirit appears in its stead. A temper sullen or active, shy or bold, grave or lively, selfish or romantic, (to say nothing of quickness or dulness of appre. hension) is manifest very early; and imperceptibly, but irresistibly moulds our inclinations, habits, and pursuits through life. The greater or less degree of animal spirits,- of nervous irritability, — the complexion of the blood, -the proportion of “hot, cold, moist, and dry, four champions fierce that strive for mastery,” — the Saturnine or the Mercurial, the disposition to be affected by objects near, or at a distance, or not at all, - to be struck with novelty, or to brood over deep-rooted impresssions, - to indulge in laughter or in tears, the leaven of passion or of prudence that tempers this frail clay, is born with us, and never quits us. “ It is not in our stars,” in planetary influence, but neither is it owing “ to ourselves,
that we are thus or thus.” The accession of knowledge, the pressure of circumstances, favourable or unfavourable, does little more than minister occasion to the first predisposing bias-than assist, like the dews of heaven, or retard, like the nipping north, the growth of the seed originally sown in our constitution—than give a more or less decided expression to that personal character, the outlines of which nothing can alter. What I mean is, that Blifil and Tom Jones, for instance, by changing places, would never have changed characters. The one might, from circumstances, and from the notions instilled into him, have become a little less selfish, and the other a little less extravagant; but with a trifling allowance of this sort, taking the proposition cum grano salis, they would have been just where they set out. Blifil would have been Blifil still, and Jones what nature intended him to be. I have made use of this example without any apology for its being a fictitious one, because I think good novels are the most authentic as well as most accessible repositories of the natural history and philosophy of the species.
I shall not borrow assistance or illustration from the organic system of Doctors Gall and Spurzheim, which reduces this question to a