SENSATIONS AND FEELINGS
Feelings Educable by Parents
‘These beauteous forms
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye;
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ’mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration:—feelings, too,
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love.
W. Woordsworth, Tintern Abbey.
Reflected Sensations.—Insight—the, so to speak, scientific grip of a great poet—is amongst those ‘more things’ in heaven and earth than our philosophy has dreamed of. Wordsworth tells us that, after the lapse of years, those beauteous forms (of Tintern Abbey) gave him sensations. Now we are apt to think that sensations can only be immediate, perceived on the instant that the object is present to the senses; but the poet is, as usual, absolutely
right: we may have, so to speak, reflected sensations, as well as those that are immediate; because a conscious sensation depends upon the recognition of an impression in the sensory centres, and this recognition may be evoked, not only by an immediate sensation, but by an association which recalls the image once permanently impressed by the original sensation. Wordsworth is exquisitely right when he speaks of the repeated enjoyment of sensations sweet. ‘In lonely rooms and ’mid the din of towns and cities,’ some sudden touch of the chords of association has brought to him the soothing joy of a picture—‘Forms’ with every grace of symmetry, harmony, venerable antiquity, in the even fresh and gracious setting of a beautiful landscape. The eye of his mind is infinitely gladdened; the ear of his mind, no longer conscious of the din of cities, hears the chord struck by the Wye in its flow, and the notes of the birds and the lowing of the cattle and the acuter notes of the insect world. Again he perceives the odour of the meadowsweet, he touches the coolness of the grass; and all these are as absolutely sensations as when they were for the first time conveyed to his consciousness by the sensory organs.
Open-air Memories should be Stored.—We have in these few lines a volume of reasons why we should fill for children the storehouse of memory with many open-air images, capable of giving them reflected sensations of extreme delight. Our constant care must be to secure that they do look, and listen, touch and smell; and the way to this is by sympathetic action on our part: what we look at they will look at; the odours we perceive, they, too,
will get. We heard, the other day, of a little girl who travelled in Italy with her parents in the days of dignified family travelling-carriages. The child’s parents were conscientious, and time was precious, not by any means to be wasted on the mere idleness of travelling; so the governess and the little girl had the coupé to themselves, and in it were packed all the paraphernalia of the schoolroom; and the little girl did her sums, learned her geography, probably the counties of England, and all the rest of it, with the least possible waste of time in idle curiosity as to what the ‘faire londes’ through which she was passing might be like. A story like this shows that we are making advances, but we are still far from fully recognising that our part in the education of children should be thoughtfully subordinated to that played by Nature herself.
Memories of Delight a Source of Physical Well-being and of Mental Restoration.—To continue our study of this amazingly accurate, as well as exquisitely beautiful, psychological record: —the poet goes on to tell us that these sensations sweet are ‘felt in the blood and felt along the heart,’ a statement curiously true to fact; for a pleasurable sensation causes the relaxation of the infinitesimal nerve fibres netted around the capillaries; the blood flows freely, the heart beats quicker, the sense of well-being is increased; gaiety, gladness, supervene; and the gloom of the dull day, and the din of the busy city, exist for us no more; that is to say, memories of delight are, as it were, an elixir of life, capable, when they present themselves, of restoring us at any moment to a condition of physical well-being.
But even this is not the whole. Wordsworth
speaks of these memories as ‘passing into my purer mind with tranquil restoration’—purer because less corporeal, less affected by physical conditions, but all the same so intimately related to the physical brain, that the condition of the one must rule the other. Mind and brain, perhaps, have been alike fagged by the insistent recurrence of some one line of thought; when, suddenly, there flashes into the ‘purer mind’ the congnition of images of delight, presented in consequence of a touch to some spring of association: the current of thought is diverted into new and delightful channels; and weariness and brain fag give place to ‘tranquil restoration.’
If mere sensations are capable of doing so much for our happiness, our mental refreshment, and our physical well-being, both at the time of their reception and for an indefinite number of times afterwards, it follows that it is no small part of our work as educators to preserve the acuteness of the children’s perceptions and to store their memories with images of delight.
Sensations and Feelings Distinguished.—The poet pursues the investigation and makes a pointed distinction; he not only recovers ‘sensations sweet,’ but ‘feelings, too, of unremembered pleasure.’ Very few persons are capable of discriminating between the sensations and the feelings produced by an image recovered by some train of association. Wordsworth’s psychology is not only delicately nice, but very just, and the distinction he draws is important to the educator. The truth is, ‘the feelings’ are out of fashion at present: The Man of Feeling is a person of no account; if he still exists he keeps in the shade, being aware, through a certain quickness of
perception which belongs to him, that any little efflorescence proper to his character would be promptly reduced to pulp by some wielder of a sledge hammer. The Man of Feeling has himself to thank for this; he allowed his feelings to become fantastic; his sweet sensibilities ran away with him; he meant pathos and talked bathos; he became an exaggerated type, and, in self-preservation, Society always cuts off the offending limb, so The Man of Feeling is no more.
The Feelings should be Objective, not Subjective.—Nor is this the only charge that ‘the feelings’ have to sustain. So long as the feelings remain objective, they are, like the bloom to the peach, the last perfection of a beautiful character; but when they become subjective, when every feeling concerns itself with the ego, we have, as in the case of sensations, morbid conditions set up; the person begins by being ‘over sensitive,’ hysteria supervenes, perhaps melancholia, an utterly spoilt life. George Eliot has a fine figure which aptly illustrates this subjective condition of the feelings. She tells us that a philosophic friend had pointed out to her that whereas the surface of a mirror or of a steel plate may be covered with minute scratches going in every direction, if you hold a lighted candle to the surface all these random scratches appear to arrange themselves and radiate from the central flame; just so with the person whose feelings have been permitted to minister to his egotistic consciousness: all things is heaven and earth are ‘felt’ as they affect his own personality.
What the Feelings are and are not.—What are the feelings? Perhaps they are best expressed in
Coleridge’s phrase of ‘a vague appetency of the mind’; and we may do something to clear our thoughts by a negative examination. The feelings are not sensations, because they have no necessary connection with the senses; they are to be distinguished from the two great affections (of love and justice) because they are not actively exercised upon any objects; they are distinct from the desires because they demand no gratification; and they are distinguishable from the intellectual operations which we call thought, because while thought proceeds from an idea, is active, and arrives at a result, the feelings arrive from perceptions, are passive, and not definitely progressive.
Every Feeling has its Positive and its Negative.—Every feeling has its positive and its negative, and these in almost infinitely varying degrees: pleasure, displeasure; appreciation, depreciation; anticipation, foreboding; admiration, contempt; assurance, hesitancy; diffidence, complacency; and so on, through many more delicate nuances of feeling that are nameable, and yet more, so delicate that language is too rough an instrument for their expression.
The Feelings not Moral or Immoral.—It will be observed that all these feelings have certain conditions in common; none are distinctly moral or immoral; they have not arrived at the stage of definite thought; they exist vaguely in what would appear to be a semi-conscious intellectual region. Why, then, need we concern ourselves about this little known tract of that terra incognita which we call human nature? This ‘why’ is the question of the prose-philosopher—our poet sees deeper. In one of the most exquisitely discriminating passages
in the whole field of poetry, he speaks of feelings of unremembered pleasure as having no slight or trivial influence on a good man’s life, as the sources of ‘little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love.’
Connection between Unremembered Feelings and Acts.—Even the feeling of ‘unremembered pleasure’—for it is possible to have the spring of association touched so lightly that one recovers the feeling of former pleasure without recovering the sensation, or the image which produced the sensation, but only just the vague feeling of the pleasure, as when one hears the word ‘Lohengrin’ and does not wait, as it were, to recover the sensation of musical delight, but just catches a waft of the pleasure which the sensation brought—the feeling of unremembered pleasure, intangible, indefinite, as it is, produces that glow of the heart which warms a good man to ‘acts of kindness and of love,’ as little, as nameless, and as unremembered as the feelings out of which they spring.
These Trifling Acts the Best Portion of a Good Man’s Life.—Nameless as they are, the poet does not hesitate to rank these trifling acts as the ‘best portion of a good man’s life.’ But it is only out of the good man’s heart that these good issues come, because, as we have said, the feelings are not in themselves moral; they act upon that which is there, and the point brought before us is, that the influence of the feelings is, at the same time, powerful and indirect. Why should the recollection of Tintern Abbey cause a good man to do some little kind thing? We can only give the ultimate answer that ‘God has made us so,’ that a feeling of even
unremembered pleasure prompts the good man to give forth out of the good treasure of his heart in kindness and in love. We have but to think of the outcome of feelings at the negative pole to convince us of the nice exactitude of the poet’s psychology. Suppose, that we are not exactly displeased, but unpleased, dull, not quickened by any feeling of pleasure: let us ask ourselves if, in this condition of our feelings, we are prompted to any outpouring of love and kindness upon out neighbours.
The Perception of Character one of our Finest Feelings.—Here is another aspect of the feelings, of very great importance to us who have the education of children.
‘I do not like you, Doctor Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell,’
is a feeling we all know well enough, and is, in fact, that intuitive perception of character—one of our finest feelings and best guides in life—which is too apt to be hammered out of us by the constant effort to beat down our sensibilities to the explicit and definite. One wonders why people complain of faithless friends, untrustworthy servants, and disappointed affections. If the feelings were retained in truth and simplicity, there is little doubt that they would afford for each of us such a touchstone of character in the persons we come in contact with, that we should be saved from making exigeant demands on the one hand, and from suffering disappointment on the other.
The Orator Plays upon Feelings.—The orator plays, by preference, upon the gamut of the feelings. He throws in arguments by the way; brightens his discourse with graphic word-picture, metaphor, simile;
but for his final effect he relies upon the impression he has been able to make upon the feelings of his audience, and the event proves him to be right.
Enthusiasm.—Not only our little nameless acts, but the great purposes of our lives, arise out of our feelings. Enthusiasm itself is not thought, though it arises when we are
‘Stung with the rapture of a sudden thought’;
it is a glowing, malleable condition of the forces of our nature, during which all things are possible to us, and we only wait for a lead. Enthusiasm in its earliest stage is inconsequent, incoherent, devoid of purpose, and yet is the state out of which all the great purposes of life shape themselves. We feel, we think, we say, we do; this is the genesis of most of our activities.
In Educating the Feelings we Modify the Character.—But our feelings, as our thoughts, depend upon what we are; we feel in all things as ‘ ’tis our nature to,’ and the point to be noticed is that our feelings are educable, and that in educating the feelings we modify the character. A pressing danger of our day is that the delicate task of educating shall be exchanged for the much simpler one of blunting the feelings. This is the almost inevitable result of a system where training is given en masse; but not the necessary result, because the tone of feelings of a headmaster or mistress is almost with certainty conveyed, more or less, to a whole school. Still, perhaps, the perfect bloom of the feelings can only be preserved under quite judicious individual culture, and, therefore, necessarily devolves upon parents.
The Sixth Sense of Tact.—The instrument to be employed in this culture is always the same—the blessed sixth sense of Tact. It is possible to call up the feeling one desires by a look, a gesture; to dissipate it entirely by the rudeness of a spoken word. Our silence, our sympathy, our perception, give place and play to fit feelings, and, equally, discourage and cause to slink away ashamed the feeling which should not have place.
Beware of Words.—But let us beware of words; let us use our eyes and our imagination in dealing with the young; let us see what they are feeling and help them by the flow of our responsive feeling. But words, even words of praise and tenderness, touch this delicate bloom of nature as with a hot finger, and behold! it is gone. Let us consider carefully what feelings we wish to stimulate, and what feelings we wish to repress in our children, and then, having made up our minds, let us say nothing. We all know the shrinking, as of a sore place, with which children receive some well-meant word from a tactless friend.
A Feeling is Communicated by Sympathy.—The sense of spiritual touch is our only guide in this region of the feelings, but with this alone we may tune the spirits of the children to great issues, believing that they are capable of all things great. We wish them to revere. Now, reverence is a feeling before it becomes a thought or an act, and it is a communicable feeling, but communicable, like the light of a torch, only by contact. The sentiment of reverence fills our own souls when we see a bird on its nest, and old man at his cottage door, a church in which have centred the aspirations of a village for many an age; we feel, and the children feel our
feeling, and they feel too; a feeling is communicated by sympathy, but perhaps in no other way. The ignoble habit of depreciation is in the first place a feeling. It is quite easy to put the children into that other attitude of feeling called forth by the fitness and goodness of the thing regarded, and we all know that it is easy to appreciate or depreciate the same thing. These two feelings alone illustrate the importance of the delicate culture we have in view, for among the minor notes of character none tend more to differentiate persons than this of perceiving cause of satisfaction in an object or a person, or of perceiving cause of dissatisfaction in the same object or person.
Persons are Differentiated by their Powers of Appreciation or Depreciation.—An appreciative habit of feeling is a cause of tranquil joy to its possessor, and of ease and contentment to the people connected with him. A depreciative habit, on the contrary, though it affords a little pleasurable excitement because it ministers to the vanity of the ego (I dislike this person or this thing, therefore I know better or am better than others), disturbs tranquillity and puts the person out of harmony with himself and with his surroundings; no stable joy comes of depreciation. But even in dealing with feelings of this class we must remember that tact, sympathy and communicable feeling are our only implements; the feelings are not thoughts to be reasoned down; they are neither moral nor immoral to challenge our praise or our blame; we cannot be too reticent in our dealings with them in children, nor too watchfully aware that the least inadvertence may bruise some tender blossom of feeling.
Some Danger in Persiflage.—This is the risk which attends the habit of persiflage and banter in family talk; a little is thoroughly good and wholesome, but this kind of play should be used with very great tact, especially by the elders. Children understand each other so well that there is far less risk of hurt feelings from the tormenting schoolboy than from the more considerate elder.
To Deal with the Feelings of the Young a Delicate Task.—There is only one case in which the feelings may not have free play, and that is when they reflect the consciousness of the ego. What are commonly called sensitive feelings—that is, susceptibility for oneself and about oneself, readiness to perceive neglect or slight, condemnation or approbation—through belonging to a fine and delicate character, are in themselves of less worthy order, and require very careful direction lest morbid conditions should be set up. To ignore wisely is an art, and the girl who craves to know what you thought of her when she said this or did the other, need not be told brutally that you did not think of her at all; it is quite enough for her to perceive that your regard is fixed upon something impersonal both to her and you; she takes the hint and looks away from herself, and nothing is said to cause her pain. It appears to be an immutable law that our feelings, as our sensations, must find their occupation in things without; the moment they are turned in upon themselves harm is done. The task of dealing with the susceptibilities of young people is one of the most delicate that falls to us elders, whether we be parents or friends. Undiscriminating sympathy is very perilous, and bluntness of perception is very damaging; we are between Scylla and Charybdis, and
must needs walk humbly and warily in this delicate work of dealing with the feelings of children and young people. Our only safeguard is to cherish in ourselves ‘the soft, meek, tender soul,’ sensitive to the touch of God, and able to deal in soft, meek, tender ways with children, beings of fine and delicate mould as they are.