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Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development by Francis Galton

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will correspond to the graduation 4 deg.5; therefore if AB be graduated
afresh into 100 graduations, his centesimal grade, x, will be found
by the Rule of Three, thus--

x : 4 deg.5 :: 100:27; x = 450 deg./27 = 16 deg.6.

2. Another child B is classed No. 13 in a class of 25 _Answer_.--If
AB be divided into 25 graduations, the rank of No. 13 will
correspond to graduation 12 deg.5, whence as before--

x : 12 deg.5 :: 100 : 25; x = 1250 deg./25 = 50 deg.; _i.e._ B is
the median.

The second method of comparing two statistical groups, to which I
alluded in the last paragraph but one, consists in stating the
centesimal grade in the one group that corresponds with the median
or any other fractional grade in the other. This, it will be remarked,
is a very simple method of comparison, absolutely independent of any
theory, and applicable to any statistical groups whatever, whether of
physical or of mental qualities. Wherever we can sort in order,
there we can apply this method. Thus, in the above examples, suppose
A and B had been selected because they were equal when compared
together, then we can concisely express the relative merits of the
two classes to which they respectively belong, by saying that 16 deg.6
in the one is equal to 50 deg. (the median) in the other.

I frequently make statistical records of form and feature, in the
streets or in company, without exciting attention, by means of a
fine pricker and a piece of paper. The pricker is a converted silver
pencil-case, with the usual sliding piece; it is a very small one,
and is attached to my watch chain. The pencil part has been taken
out and replaced by a fine short needle, the open mouth of the case
is covered with a hemispherical cap having a hole in the centre, and
the adjustments are such that when the slide is pushed forward as
far as it can go, the needle projects no more than one-tenth of an
inch. If I then press it upon a piece of paper, held against the
ball of my thumb, the paper is indelibly perforated with a fine hole,
and the thumb is not wounded. The perforations will not be found to
run into one another unless they are very numerous, and if they
happen to do so now and then, it is of little consequence in a
statistical inquiry. The holes are easily counted at leisure, by
holding the paper against the light, and any scrap of paper will
serve the purpose. It will be found that the majority of inquiries
take the form of "more," "equal to," or "less," so I arrange the
paper in a way to present three distinct compartments to the pricker,
and to permit of its being held in the correct position and used by
the sense of touch alone. I do so by tearing the paper into the form
of a cross--that is, maimed in one of its arms--and hold it by the
maimed part between the thumb and finger, the head of the cross
pointing upward. The head of the cross receives the pricks referring
to "more"; the solitary arm that is not maimed, those meaning
"the same"; the long foot of the cross those meaning "less." It is
well to write the subject of the measurement on the paper before
beginning to use it, then more than one set of records can be kept
in the pocket at the same time, and be severally added to as occasion
serves, without fear of mistaking one for the other.

[Illustration: ]


The fundamental and intrinsic differences of character that exist in
individuals are well illustrated by those that distinguish the two
sexes, and which begin to assert themselves even in the nursery,
where all the children are treated alike. One notable peculiarity in
the character of the woman is that she is capricious and coy, and
has less straightforwardness than the man. It is the same in the
female of every sex about the time of pairing, and there can be
little doubt as to the origin of the peculiarity. If any race of
animals existed in whom the sexual passions of the female were as
quickly and as directly stirred as those of the male, each would
mate with the first who approached her, and one essential condition
of sexual selection would be absent. There would be no more call for
competition among the males for the favour of each female; no more
fighting for love, in which the strongest male conquers; no more
rival display of personal charms, in which the best-looking or
best-mannered prevails. The drama of courtship, with its prolonged
strivings and doubtful success, would be cut quite short, and the
race would degenerate through the absence of that sexual selection
for which the protracted preliminaries of love-making give
opportunity. The willy-nilly disposition of the female in matters of
love is as apparent in the butterfly as in the man, and must have
been continuously favoured from the earliest stages of animal
evolution down to the present time. It is the factor in the great
theory of sexual selection that corresponds to the insistence and
directness of the male. Coyness and caprice have in consequence
become a heritage of the sex, together with a cohort of allied
weaknesses and petty deceits, that men have come to think venial and
even amiable in women, but which they would not tolerate among

Various forms of natural character and temperament would no doubt be
found to occur in constant proportions among any large group of
persons of the same race, but what those proportions may be has
never yet been investigated. It is extremely difficult to estimate
it by observations of adults, owing to their habit of restraining
natural ill tendencies, and to their long-practised concealment of
those they do not restrain but desire to hide. The necessary
observations ought, however, to be easily made on young children in
schools, whose manifestations of character are conspicuous, who are
simultaneously for months and years under the eye of the same master
or mistress, and who are daily classed according to their various
merits. I have occasionally asked the opinion of persons well
qualified to form them, and who have had experience of teaching, as
to the most obvious divisions of character to be found among school
children. The replies have differed, but those on which most stress
was laid were connected with energy, sociability, desire to attract
notice, truthfulness, thoroughness, and refinement.

The varieties of the emotional constitution and of likings and
antipathies are very numerous and wide. I may give two instances
which I have not seen elsewhere alluded to, merely as examples of
variation. One of them was often brought to my notice at the time
when the public were admitted to see the snakes fed at the
Zoological Gardens. Rabbits, birds, and other small animals were
dropped in the different cages, which the snakes, after more or less
serpentine action, finally struck with their poison fangs or crushed
in their folds. I found it a horrible but a fascinating scene. We
lead for the most part such an easy and carpeted existence, screened
from the stern realities of life and death, that many of us are
impelled to draw aside the curtain now and then, and gaze for a
while behind it. This exhibition of the snakes at their feeding-time,
which gave to me, as it doubtless did to several others, a sense of
curdling of the blood, had no such effect on many of the visitors. I
have often seen people--nurses, for instance, and children of all
ages--looking unconcernedly and amusedly at the scene. Their
indifference was perhaps the most painful element of the whole
transaction. Their sympathies were absolutely unawakened. I quote
this instance, partly because it leads to another very curious fact
that I have noticed as regards the way with which different persons
and races regard snakes. I myself have a horror of them, and can
only by great self-control, and under a sense of real agitation,
force myself to touch one. A considerable proportion of the English
race would feel much as I do; but the remainder do not. I have
questioned numbers of persons of both sexes, and have been
astonished at the frequency with which I have been assured that they
had no shrinking whatever from the sight of the wriggling mysterious
reptile. Some persons, as is well known, make pets of them; moreover,
I am told that there is no passage in Greek or Latin authors
expressive of that form of horror which I myself feel, and which may
be compared to what is said to be felt by hydrophobic sufferers at
the undulating movements of water. There are numerous allusions in
the classics to the venom fang or the crushing power of snakes, but
not to an aversion inspired by its form and movement. It was the
Greek symbol of Hippocrates and of healing. There is nothing of the
kind in Hebrew literature, where the snake is figured as an
attractive tempter. In Hindu fables the cobra is the ingenious and
intelligent animal, corresponding to the fox in ours. Serpent worship
was very widely spread. I therefore doubt whether the antipathy to
the snake is very common among mankind, notwithstanding the
instinctive terror that their sight inspires in monkeys.

The other instance I may adduce is that of the horror of blood which
is curiously different in animals of the same species and in the
same animals at different times. I have had a good deal of
experience of the behaviour of oxen at the sight of blood, and found
it to be by no means uniform. In my South African travels I relied
chiefly on half-wild slaughter oxen to feed my large party, and
occasionally had to shoot one on every second day. Usually the rest
of the drove paid no particular heed to the place of blood, but at
other rare times they seemed maddened and performed a curious sort
of war-dance at the spot, making buck-leaps, brandishing their horns,
and goring at the ground. It was a grotesque proceeding, utterly
unlike the usual behaviour of cattle. I only witnessed it once
elsewhere, and that was in the Pyrenees, where I came on a herd that
was being driven homewards. Each cow in turn, as it passed a
particular spot, performed the well-remembered antics. I asked, and
learned that a cow had been killed there by a bear a few days
previously. The natural horror at blood, and it may be the
consequent dislike of red, is common among mankind; but I have seen
a well-dressed child of about four years old poking its finger with
a pleased innocent look into the bleeding carcase of a sheep hung up
in a butcher's shop, while its nurse was inside.

The subject of character deserves more statistical investigation
than it has yet received, and none have a better chance of doing it
well than schoolmasters; their opportunities are indeed most enviable.
It would be necessary to approach the subject wholly without
prejudice, as a pure matter of observation, just as if the children
were the fauna and flora of hitherto undescribed species in an
entirely new land.


Criminality, though not very various in its development, is
extremely complex in its origin; nevertheless certain general
conclusions are arrived at by the best writers on the subject, among
whom Prosper Despine is one of the most instructive. The ideal
criminal has marked peculiarities of character: his conscience is
almost deficient, his instincts are vicious, his power of
self-control is very weak, and he usually detests continuous labour.
The absence of self-control is due to ungovernable temper, to passion,
or to mere imbecility, and the conditions that determine the
particular description of crime are the character of the instincts
and of the temptation.

The deficiency of conscience in criminals, as shown by the absence
of genuine remorse for their guilt, astonishes all who first become
familiar with the details of prison life. Scenes of heartrending
despair are hardly ever witnessed among prisoners; their sleep is
broken by no uneasy dreams--on the contrary, it is easy and sound;
they have also excellent appetites. But hypocrisy is a very common
vice; and all my information agrees as to the utter untruthfulness
of criminals, however plausible their statements may be.

We must guard ourselves against looking upon vicious instincts as
perversions, inasmuch as they may be strictly in accordance with the
healthy nature of the man, and, being transmissible by inheritance,
may become the normal characteristics of a healthy race, just as the
sheep-dog, the retriever, the pointer, and the bull-dog, have their
several instincts. There can be no greater popular error than the
supposition that natural instinct is a perfectly trustworthy guide,
for there are striking contradictions to such an opinion in
individuals of every description of animal. The most that we are
entitled to say in any case is, that the prevalent instincts of each
race are trustworthy, not those of every individual. But even this
is saying too much, because when the conditions under which the race
is living have recently been changed, some instincts which were
adapted to the old state of things are sure to be fallacious guides
to conduct in the new one. A man who is counted as an atrocious
criminal in England, and is punished as such by English law in social
self-defence, may nevertheless have acted in strict accordance with
instincts that are laudable in less civilised societies. The ideal
criminal is, unhappily for him, deficient in qualities that are
capable of restraining his unkindly or inconvenient instincts; he
has neither sympathy for others nor the sense of duty, both of which
lie at the base of conscience; nor has he sufficient self-control to
accommodate himself to the society in which he has to live, and so to
promote his own selfish interests in the long-run. He cannot be
preserved from criminal misadventure, either by altruistic
sentiments or by intelligently egoistic ones.

The perpetuation of the criminal class by heredity is a question
difficult to grapple with on many accounts. Their vagrant habits,
their illegitimate unions, and extreme untruthfulness, are among the
difficulties of the investigation. It is, however, easy to show that
the criminal nature tends to be inherited; while, on the other hand,
it is impossible that women who spend a large portion of the best
years of their life in prison can contribute many children to the
population. The true state of the case appears to be that the
criminal population receives steady accessions from those who,
without having strongly-marked criminal natures, do nevertheless
belong to a type of humanity that is exceedingly ill suited to play
a respectable part in our modern civilisation, though it is well
suited to flourish under half-savage conditions, being naturally
both healthy and prolific. These persons are apt to go to the bad;
their daughters consort with criminals and become the parents of
criminals. An extraordinary example of this is afforded by the
history of the infamous Jukes family in America, whose pedigree has
been made out, with extraordinary care, during no less than seven
generations, and is the subject of an elaborate memoir printed in
the Thirty-first Annual Report of the Prison Association of New York,
1876. It includes no less than 540 individuals of Jukes blood, of
whom a frightful number degraded into criminality, pauperism, or

It is difficult to summarise the results in a few plain figures, but
I will state those respecting the fifth generation, through the
eldest of the five prolific daughters of the man who is the common
ancestor of the race. The total number of these was 123, of whom
thirty-eight came through an illegitimate granddaughter, and
eighty-five through legitimate grandchildren. Out of the thirty-eight,
sixteen have been in jail, six of them for heinous offences, one of
these having been committed no less than nine times; eleven others
led openly disreputable lives or were paupers; four were notoriously
intemperate; the history of three had not been traced, and only four
are known to have done well. The great majority of the women
consorted with criminals. As to the eighty-five legitimate
descendants, they were less flagrantly bad, for only five of them
had been in jail, and only thirteen others had been paupers. Now the
ancestor of all this mischief, who was born about the year 1730, is
described as having been a jolly companionable man, a hunter, and a
fisher, averse to steady labour, but working hard and idling by turns,
and who had numerous illegitimate children, whose issue has not been
traced. He was, in fact, a somewhat good specimen of a half-savage,
without any seriously criminal instincts. The girls were apparently
attractive, marrying early and sometimes not badly; but the
gipsy-like character of the race was unsuited to success in a
civilised country. So the descendants went to the bad, and such
hereditary moral weaknesses as they may have had, rose to the
surface and worked their mischief without check. Cohabiting with
criminals, and being extremely prolific, the result was the
production of a stock exceeding 500 in number, of a prevalent
criminal type. Through disease and intemperance the breed is now
rapidly diminishing; the infant mortality has of late been horrible,
but fortunately the women of the present generation bear usually but
few children, and many of them are altogether childless.

The criminal classes contain a considerable portion of epileptics
and other persons of instable, emotional temperament, subject to
nervous explosions that burst out at intervals and relieve the system.
The mad outbreaks of women in convict prisons is a most curious
phenomenon. Some of them are apt from time to time to have a
gradually increasing desire that at last becomes irresistible, to
"break out," as it is technically called; that is, to smash and tear
everything they can within reach, and to shriek, curse, and howl. At
length the fit expends itself; the devil, as it were, leaves them,
and they begin to behave again in their ordinary way. The highest
form of emotional instability exists in confirmed epilepsy, where
its manifestations have often been studied; it is found in a high
but somewhat less extraordinary degree in the hysterical and allied
affections. In the confirmed epileptic constitution the signs of
general instability of nervous action are muscular convulsions,
irregularities of bodily temperature, mobile intellectual activity,
and extraordinary oscillations between opposed emotional states. I
am assured by excellent authority that instable manifestations of
extreme piety and of extreme vice are almost invariably shown by
epileptics, and should be regarded as a prominent feature of their
peculiar constitution. These unfortunate beings see no incongruity
between the pious phrases that they pour out at one moment and their
vile and obscene language in the next; neither do they show
repentance for past misconduct when they are convicted of crimes,
however abominable these may be. They are creatures of the moment,
possessing no inhibitory check upon their desires and emotions, which
drive them headlong hither and thither.

Madness is often associated with epilepsy; in all cases it is a
frightful and hereditary disfigurement of humanity, which appears,
from the upshot of various conflicting accounts, to be on the
increase. The neurotic constitution from which it springs is however
not without its merits, as has been well pointed out, since a large
proportion of the enthusiastic men and women to whose labour the
world is largely indebted, have had that constitution, judging from
the fact that insanity existed in their families.

The phases of extreme piety and extreme vice which so rapidly
succeed one another in the same individual among the epileptics, are
more widely separated among those who are simply insane. It has been
noticed that among the morbid organic conditions which accompany the
show of excessive piety and religious rapture in the insane, none are
so frequent as disorders of the sexual organisation. Conversely, the
frenzies of religious revivals have not unfrequently ended in gross
profligacy. The encouragement of celibacy by the fervent leaders of
most creeds, utilises in an unconscious way the morbid connection
between an over-restraint of the sexual desires and impulses towards
extreme devotion.

Another remarkable phase among the insane consists in strange views
about their individuality. They think that their body is made of
glass, or that their brains have literally disappeared, or that
there are different persons inside them, or that they are somebody
else, and so forth. It is said that this phase is most commonly
associated with morbid disturbance of the alimentary organs. So in
many religions fasting has been used as an agent for detaching the
thoughts from the body and for inducing ecstasy.

There is yet a third peculiarity of the insane which is almost
universal, that of gloomy segregation. Passengers nearing London by
the Great Western Railway must have frequently remarked the unusual
appearance of the crowd of lunatics when taking their exercise in
the large green enclosure in front of Hanwell Asylum. They almost
without exception walk apart in moody isolation, each in his own way,
buried in his own thoughts. It is a scene like that fabled in
Vathek's hall of Eblis. I am assured that whenever two are seen in
company, it is either because their attacks of madness are of an
intermittent and epileptic character and they are temporarily sane,
or otherwise that they are near recovery. Conversely, the curative
influence of social habits is fully recognised, and they are promoted
by festivities in the asylums. On the other hand, the great teachers
of all creeds have made seclusion a prominent religious exercise. In
short, by enforcing celibacy, fasting, and solitude, they have done
their best towards making men mad, and they have always largely
succeeded in inducing morbid mental conditions among their followers.

Floods of light are thrown upon various incidents of devotee life,
and also upon the disgusting and not otherwise intelligible
character of the sanctimonious scoundrel, by the everyday
experiences of the madhouse. No professor of metaphysics, psychology,
or religion can claim to know the elements of what he teaches,
unless he is acquainted with the ordinary phenomena of idiocy,
madness, and epilepsy. He must study the manifestations of disease
and congenital folly, as well as those of sanity and high intellect.


I propose in this chapter to discuss a curious and apparently
anomalous group of base moral instincts and intellectual deficiencies,
that are innate rather than acquired, by tracing their analogies in
the world of brutes and examining the conditions through which they
have been evolved. They are the slavish aptitudes from which the
leaders of men are exempt, but which are characteristic elements in
the disposition of ordinary persons. The vast majority of persons of
our race have a natural tendency to shrink from the responsibility
of standing and acting alone; they exalt the _vox populi_, even when
they know it to be the utterance of a mob of nobodies, into the
_vox Dei_, and they are willing slaves to tradition, authority,
and custom. The intellectual deficiencies corresponding to these
moral flaws are shown by the rareness of free and original thought as
compared with the frequency and readiness with which men accept the
opinions of those in authority as binding on their judgment. I shall
endeavour to prove that the slavish aptitudes in man are a direct
consequence of his gregarious nature, which itself is a result of
the conditions both of his primeval barbarism and of the forms of
his subsequent civilisation. My argument will be, that gregarious
brute animals possess a want of self-reliance in a marked degree;
that the conditions of the lives of these animals have made a want
of self-reliance a necessity to them, and that by the law of natural
selection the gregarious instincts and their accompanying slavish
aptitudes have gradually become evolved. Then I shall argue that our
remote ancestors have lived under parallel conditions, and that
other causes peculiar to human society have acted up to the present
day in the same direction, and that we have inherited the gregarious
instincts and slavish aptitudes which have been needed under past
circumstances, although in our advancing civilisation they are
becoming of more harm than good to our race.

It was my fortune, in earlier life, to gain an intimate knowledge of
certain classes of gregarious animals. The urgent need of the camel
for the close companionship of his fellows was a never-exhausted
topic of curious admiration to me during tedious days of travel
across many North African deserts. I also happened to hear and read
a great deal about the still more marked gregarious instincts of the
llama; but the social animal into whose psychology I am conscious of
having penetrated most thoroughly is the ox of the wild parts of
western South Africa. It is necessary to insist upon the epithet
"wild," because an ox of tamed parentage has different natural
instincts; for instance, an English ox is far less gregarious than
those I am about to describe, and affords a proportionately less
valuable illustration to my argument. The oxen of which I speak
belonged to the Damaras, and none of the ancestry of these cattle
had ever been broken to harness. They were watched from a distance
during the day, as they roamed about the open country, and at night
they were driven with cries to enclosures, into which they rushed
much like a body of terrified wild animals driven by huntsmen into a
trap. Their scared temper was such as to make it impossible to lay
hold of them by other means than by driving the whole herd into a
clump, and lassoing the leg of the animal it was desired to seize,
and throwing him to the ground with dexterous force. With oxen and
cows of this description, whose nature is no doubt shared by the
bulls, I spent more than a year in the closest companionship.

I had nearly a hundred of the beasts broken in for the waggon, for
packs, and for the saddle. I travelled an entire journey of
exploration on the back of one of them, with others by my side,
either labouring at their tasks or walking at leisure; and with
others again who were wholly unbroken, and who served the purpose of
an itinerant larder. At night, when there had been no time to erect
an enclosure to hold them, I lay down in their midst, and it was
interesting to observe how readily they then availed themselves of
the neighbourhood of the camp fire and of man, conscious of the
protection they afforded from prowling carnivora, whose cries and
roars, now distant, now near, continually broke upon the stillness.
These opportunities of studying the disposition of such peculiar
cattle were not wasted upon me. I had only too much leisure to think
about them, and the habits of the animals strongly attracted my
curiosity. The better I understood them, the more complex and worthy
of study did their minds appear to be. But I am now concerned only
with their blind gregarious instincts, which are conspicuously
distinct from the ordinary social desires. In the latter they are
deficient; thus they are not amiable to one another, but show on the
whole more expressions of spite and disgust than of forbearance or
fondness. They do not suffer from an ennui, which society can remove,
because their coarse feeding and their ruminant habits make them
somewhat stolid. Neither can they love society, as monkeys do, for
the opportunities it affords of a fuller and more varied life,
because they remain self-absorbed in the middle of their herd, while
the monkeys revel together in frolics, scrambles, fights, loves, and
chatterings. Yet although the ox has so little affection for, or
individual interest in, his fellows, he cannot endure even a
momentary severance from his herd. If he be separated from it by
stratagem or force, he exhibits every sign of mental agony; he
strives with all his might to get back again, and when he succeeds,
he plunges into its middle to bathe his whole body with the comfort
of closest companionship. This passionate terror at segregation is a
convenience to the herdsman, who may rest assured in the darkness or
in the mist that the whole herd is safe whenever he can get a
glimpse of a single ox. It is also the cause of great inconvenience
to the traveller in ox-waggons, who constantly feels himself in a
position towards his oxen like that of a host to a company of
bashful gentlemen at the time when he is trying to get them to move
from the drawing-room to the dinner-table, and no one will go first,
but every one backs and gives place to his neighbour. The traveller
finds great difficulty in procuring animals capable of acting the
part of fore-oxen to his team, the ordinary members of the wild herd
being wholly unfitted by nature to move in so prominent and isolated
a position, even though, as is the custom, a boy is always in front
to persuade or pull them onwards. Therefore, a good fore-ox is an
animal of an exceptionally independent disposition. Men who break in
wild cattle for harness watch assiduously for those who show a
self-reliant nature, by grazing apart or ahead of the rest, and
these they break in for fore-oxen. The other cattle may be
indifferently devoted to ordinary harness purposes, or to slaughter;
but the born leaders are far too rare to be used for any less
distinguished service than that which they alone are capable of
fulfilling. But a still more exceptional degree of merit may
sometimes be met with among the many thousands of Damara cattle. It
is possible to find an ox who may be ridden, not indeed as freely as
a horse, for I have never heard of a feat like that, but at all
events wholly apart from the companionship of others; and an
accomplished rider will even succeed in urging him out at a trot
from the very middle of his fellows. With respect to the negative
side of the scale, though I do not recollect definite instances, I
can recall general impressions of oxen showing a deficiency from the
average ox standard of self-reliance, about equal to the excess of
that quality found in ordinary fore-oxen. Thus I recollect there
were some cattle of a peculiarly centripetal instinct, who ran more
madly than the rest into the middle of the herd when they were
frightened; and I have no reason to doubt from general recollections
that the law of deviation from an average would be as applicable to
independence of character among cattle as one might expect it
theoretically to be. The conclusion to which we are driven is, that
few of the Damara cattle have enough originality and independence of
disposition to pass unaided through their daily risks in a tolerably
comfortable manner. They are essentially slavish, and seek no better
lot than to be led by any one of their number who has enough
self-reliance to accept that position. No ox ever dares to act
contrary to the rest of the herd, but he accepts their common
determination as an authority binding on his conscience.

An incapacity of relying on oneself and a faith in others are
precisely the conditions that compel brutes to congregate and live
in herds; and, again, it is essential to their safety in a country
infested by large carnivora, that they should keep closely together
in herds. No ox grazing alone could live for many days unless he
were protected, far more assiduously and closely than is possible to
barbarians. The Damara owners confide perhaps 200 cattle to a couple
of half-starved youths, who pass their time in dozing or in grubbing
up roots to eat. The owners know that it is hopeless to protect the
herd from lions, so they leave it to take its chance; and as regards
human marauders they equally know that the largest number of cattle
watchers they could spare could make no adequate resistance to an
attack; they therefore do not send more than two, who are enough to
run home and give the alarm to the whole male population of the
tribe to run in arms on the tracks of their plundered property.
Consequently, as I began by saying, the cattle have to take care of
themselves against the wild beasts, and they would infallibly be
destroyed by them if they had not safeguards of their own, which are
not easily to be appreciated at first sight at their full value. We
shall understand them better by considering the precise nature of
the danger that an ox runs. When he is alone it is not simply that he
is too defenceless, but that he is easily surprised. A crouching
lion fears cattle who turn boldly upon him, and he does so with
reason. The horns of an ox or antelope are able to make an ugly
wound in the paw or chest of a springing beast when he receives its
thrust in the same way that an over-eager pugilist meets his
adversary's "counter" hit. Hence it is that a cow who has calved by
the wayside, and has been temporarily abandoned by the caravan, is
never seized by lions. The incident frequently occurs, and as
frequently are the cow and calf eventually brought safe to the camp;
and yet there is usually evidence in footprints of her having
sustained a regular siege from the wild beasts; but she is so
restless and eager for the safety of her young that no beast of prey
can approach her unawares. This state of exaltation is of course
exceptional; cattle are obliged in their ordinary course of life to
spend a considerable part of the day with their heads buried in the
grass, where they can neither see nor smell what is about them. A
still larger part of their time must be spent in placid rumination,
during which they cannot possibly be on the alert. But a herd of
such animals, when considered as a whole, is always on the alert; at
almost every moment some eyes, ears, and noses will command all
approaches, and the start or cry of alarm of a single beast is a
signal to all his companions. To live gregariously is to become a
fibre in a vast sentient web overspreading many acres; it is to
become the possessor of faculties always awake, of eyes that see in
all directions, of ears and nostrils that explore a broad belt of air;
it is also to become the occupier of every bit of vantage ground
whence the approach of a wild beast might be overlooked. The
protective senses of each individual who chooses to live in
companionship are multiplied by a large factor, and he thereby
receives a maximum of security at a minimum cost of restlessness.
When we isolate an animal who has been accustomed to a gregarious
life, we take away his sense of protection, for he feels himself
exposed to danger from every part of the circle around him, except
the one point on which his attention is momentarily fixed; and he
knows that disaster may easily creep up to him from behind.
Consequently his glance is restless and anxious, and is turned in
succession to different quarters; his movements are hurried and
agitated, and he becomes a prey to the extremest terror. There can
be no room for doubt that it is suitable to the well-being of cattle
in a country infested with beasts of prey to live in close
companionship, and being suitable, it follows from the law of
natural selection that the development of gregarious and therefore
of slavish instincts must be favoured in such cattle. It also
follows from the same law that the degree in which those instincts
are developed is on the whole the most conducive to their safety. If
they were more gregarious they would crowd so closely as to
interfere with each other when grazing the scattered pasture of
Damara land; if less gregarious, they would be too widely scattered
to keep a sufficient watch against the wild beasts.

I now proceed to consider more particularly why the range of
deviation from the average is such that we find about one ox out of
fifty to possess sufficient independence of character to serve as a
pretty good fore-ox. Why is it not one in five or one in five hundred?
The reason undoubtedly is that natural selection tends to give but
one leader to each suitably-sized herd, and to repress superabundant
leaders. There is a certain size of herd most suitable to the
geographical and other conditions of the country; it must not
be too large, or the scattered puddles which form their only
watering-places for a great part of the year would not suffice; and
there are similar drawbacks in respect to pasture. It must not be
too small, or it would be comparatively insecure; thus a troop of
five animals is far more easy to be approached by a stalking
huntsman than one of twenty, and the latter than one of a hundred. We
have seen that it is the oxen who graze apart, as well as those who
lead the herd, who are recognised by the trainers of cattle as
gifted with enough independence of character to become fore-oxen.
They are even preferred to the actual leaders of the herd; they dare
to move more alone, and therefore their independence is undoubted.
The leaders are safe enough from lions, because their flanks and rear
are guarded by their followers; but each of those who graze apart,
and who represent the superabundant supply of self-reliant animals,
have one flank and the rear exposed, and it is precisely these whom
the lions take. Looking at the matter in a broad way, we may justly
assert that wild beasts trim and prune every herd into compactness,
and tend to reduce it into a closely-united body with a single
well-protected leader. That the development of independence of
character in cattle is thus suppressed below its otherwise natural
standard by the influence of wild beasts, is shown by the greater
display of self-reliance among cattle whose ancestry for some
generations have not been exposed to such danger.

What has been said about cattle, in relation to wild beasts, applies
with more or less obvious modifications to barbarians in relation to
their neighbours, but I insist on a close resemblance in the
particular circumstance, that many savages are so unamiable and
morose as to have hardly any object in associating together, besides
that of mutual support. If we look at the inhabitants of the very
same country as the oxen I have described, we shall find them
congregated into multitudes of tribes, all more or less at war with
one another. We shall find that few of these tribes are very small,
and few very large, and that it is precisely those that are
exceptionally large or small whose condition is the least stable. A
very small tribe is sure to be overthrown, slaughtered, or driven
into slavery by its more powerful neighbour. A very large tribe
falls to pieces through its own unwieldiness, because, by the nature
of things, it must be either deficient in centralisation or
straitened in food, or both. A barbarian population is obliged to
live dispersedly, since a square mile of land will support only a
few hunters or shepherds; on the other hand, a barbarian government
cannot be long maintained unless the chief is brought into frequent
contact with his dependants, and this is geographically impossible
when his tribe is so scattered as to cover a great extent of
territory. The law of selection must discourage every race of
barbarians which supplies self-reliant individuals in such large
numbers as to cause tribes of moderate size to lose their blind
desire of aggregation. It must equally discourage a breed that is
incompetent to supply such men in sufficiently abundant ratio to the
rest of the population to ensure the existence of tribes of not too
large a size. It must not be supposed that gregarious instincts are
equally important to all forms of savage life; but I hold, from what
we know of the clannish fighting habits of our forefathers, that
they were every whit as applicable to the earlier ancestors of our
European stock as they are still to a large part of the black
population of Africa.

There is, moreover, an extraordinary power of tyranny invested in
the chiefs of tribes and nations of men, that so vastly outweighs
the analogous power possessed by the leaders of animal herds as to
rank as a special attribute of human society, eminently conducive to
slavishness. If any brute in a herd makes itself obnoxious to the
leader, the leader attacks him, and there is a free fight between the
two, the other animals looking on the while. But if a man makes
himself obnoxious to his chief, he is attacked, not by the chief
single-handed, but by the overpowering force of his executive. The
rebellious individual has to brave a disciplined host; there are
spies who will report his doings, a local authority who will send a
detachment of soldiers to drag him to trial; there are prisons ready
built to hold him, civil authorities wielding legal powers of
stripping him of all his possessions, and official executioners
prepared to torture or kill him. The tyrannies under which men have
lived, whether under rude barbarian chiefs, under the great
despotisms of half-civilised Oriental countries, or under some of
the more polished but little less severe governments of modern days,
must have had a frightful influence in eliminating independence of
character from the human race. Think of Austria, of Naples, and even
of France under Napoleon III. It was stated[1] in 1870 that,
according to papers found at the Tuileries, 26,642 persons had been
arrested in France for political offences since 2nd December, 1851,
and that 14,118 had been transported, exiled, or detained in prison.

I have already spoken in _Hereditary Genius_ of the large effects of
religious persecution in comparatively recent years, on the natural
character of races, and shall not say more about it here; but it
must not be omitted from the list of steady influences continuing
through ancient historical times down, in some degree, to the
present day, in destroying the self-reliant, and therefore the
nobler races of men.

I hold that the blind instincts evolved under these long-continued
conditions have been ingrained into our breed, and that they are a
bar to our enjoying the freedom which the forms of modern
civilisation are otherwise capable of giving us. A really
intelligent nation might be held together by far stronger forces
than are derived from the purely gregarious instincts. A nation need
not be a mob of slaves, clinging to one another through fear, and
for the most part incapable of self-government, and begging to be led;
but it might consist of vigorous self-reliant men, knit to one
[6] another by innumerable ties, into a strong, tense, and elastic

[Footnote 6: _Daily News_, 17th October, 1870.]

* * * * *

The character of the corporate action of a nation in which each man
judges for himself, might be expected to possess statistical
constancy. It would be the expression of the dominant character of a
large number of separate members of the same race, and ought
therefore to be remarkably uniform. Fickleness of national character
is principally due to the several members of the nation exercising
no independent judgment, but allowing themselves to be led hither and
thither by the successive journalists, orators, and sentimentalists
who happen for the time to have the chance of directing them.

Our present natural dispositions make it impossible for us to attain
the ideal standard of a nation of men all judging soberly for
themselves, and therefore the slavishness of the mass of our
countrymen, in morals and intellect, must be an admitted fact in all
schemes of regenerative policy.

The hereditary taint due to the primeval barbarism of our race, and
maintained by later influences, will have to be bred out of it
before our descendants can rise to the position of free members of
an intelligent society: and I may add that the most likely nest at
the present time for self-reliant natures is to be found in States
founded and maintained by emigrants.

Servility has its romantic side, in the utter devotion of a slave to
the lightest wishes and the smallest comforts of his master, and in
that of a loyal subject to those of his sovereign; but such devotion
cannot be called a reasonable self-sacrifice; it is rather an
abnegation of the trust imposed on man to use his best judgment, and
to act in the way he thinks the wisest. Trust in authority is a
trait of the character of children, of weakly women, and of the sick
and infirm, but it is out of place among members of a thriving
resolute community during the fifty or more years of their middle
life. Those who have been born in a free country feel the atmosphere
of a paternal government very oppressive. The hearty and earnest
political and individual life which is found when every man has a
continual sense of public responsibility, and knows that success
depends on his own right judgment and exertion, is replaced under a
despotism by an indolent reliance upon what its master may direct,
and by a demoralising conviction that personal advancement is best
secured by solicitations and favour.


It is needless for me to speak here about the differences in
intellectual power between different men and different races, or
about the convertibility of genius as shown by different members of
the same gifted family achieving eminence in varied ways, as I have
already written at length on these subjects in _Hereditary Genius_
and in _Antecedents of English Men of Science_. It is, however, well
to remark that during the fourteen years that have elapsed since the
former book was published, numerous fresh instances have arisen of
distinction being attained by members of the gifted families whom I
quoted as instances of heredity, thus strengthening my arguments.


Anecdotes find their way into print, from time to time, of persons
whose visual memory is so clear and sharp as to present mental
pictures that may be scrutinised with nearly as much ease and
prolonged attention as if they were real objects. I became
interested in the subject and made a rather extensive inquiry into
the mode of visual presentation in different persons, so far as
could be gathered from their respective statements. It seemed to me
that the results might illustrate the essential differences between
the mental operations of different men, that they might give some
clue to the origin of visions, and that the course of the inquiry
might reveal some previously unnoticed facts. It has done all this
more or less, and I will explain the results in the present and in
the three following chapters.

It is not necessary to trouble the reader with my earlier tentative
steps to find out what I desired to learn. After the inquiry had
been fairly started it took the form of submitting a certain number
of printed questions to a large number of persons (see Appendix E).
There is hardly any more difficult task than that of framing
questions which are not likely to be misunderstood, which admit of
easy reply, and which cover the ground of inquiry. I did my best in
these respects, without forgetting the most important part of
all--namely, to tempt my correspondents to write freely in fuller
explanation of their replies, and on cognate topics as well. These
separate letters have proved more instructive and interesting by far
than the replies to the set questions.

The first group of the rather long series of queries related to the
illumination, definition, and colouring of the mental image, and
were framed thus:--

"Before addressing yourself to any of the Questions on the
opposite page, think of some definite object--suppose it is
your breakfast-table as you sat down to it this morning--and
consider carefully the picture that rises before your mind's eye."

1. _Illumination_.--Is the image dim or fairly clear? Is its
brightness comparable to that of the actual scene?

2. _Definition_.--Are all the objects pretty well defined at the
same time, or is the place of sharpest definition at any one moment
more contracted than it is in a real scene?

3. _Colouring_.--Are the colours of the china, of the toast,
bread-crust, mustard, meat, parsley, or whatever may have been on
the table, quite distinct and natural?

The earliest results of my inquiry amazed me. I had begun by
questioning friends in the scientific world, as they were the most
likely class of men to give accurate answers concerning this faculty
of visualising, to which novelists and poets continually allude,
which has left an abiding mark on the vocabularies of every language,
and which supplies the material out of which dreams and the
well-known hallucinations of sick people are built.

To my astonishment, I found that the great majority of the men of
science to whom I first applied protested that mental imagery was
unknown to them, and they looked on me as fanciful and fantastic in
supposing that the words "mental imagery" really expressed what I
believed everybody supposed them to mean. They had no more notion of
its true nature than a colour-blind man, who has not discerned his
defect, has of the nature of colour. They had a mental deficiency of
which they were unaware, and naturally enough supposed that those
who affirmed they possessed it, were romancing. To illustrate their
mental attitude it will be sufficient to quote a few lines from the
letter of one of my correspondents, who writes:--

"These questions presuppose assent to some sort of a proposition
regarding the 'mind's eye,' and the 'images' which it sees.... This
points to some initial fallacy.... It is only by a figure of speech
that I can describe my recollection of a scene as a 'mental image'
which I can 'see' with my 'mind's eye.' ... I do not see it ... any
more than a man sees the thousand lines of Sophocles which under due
pressure he is ready to repeat. The memory possesses it, etc."

Much the same result followed inquiries made for me by a friend
among members of the French Institute.

On the other hand, when I spoke to persons whom I met in general
society, I found an entirely different disposition to prevail. Many
men and a yet larger number of women, and many boys and girls,
declared that they habitually saw mental imagery, and that it was
perfectly distinct to them and full of colour. The more I pressed
and cross-questioned them, professing myself to be incredulous, the
more obvious was the truth of their first assertions. They described
their imagery in minute detail, and they spoke in a tone of surprise
at my apparent hesitation in accepting what they said. I felt that I
myself should have spoken exactly as they did if I had been
describing a scene that lay before my eyes, in broad daylight, to a
blind man who persisted in doubting the reality of vision. Reassured
by this happier experience, I recommenced to inquire among
scientific men, and soon found scattered instances of what I sought,
though in by no means the same abundance as elsewhere. I then
circulated my questions more generally among my friends and through
their hands, and obtained the replies that are the main subject of
this and of the three next chapters. They were from persons of both
sexes, and of various ages, and in the end from occasional
correspondents in nearly every civilised country.

I have also received batches of answers from various educational
establishments both in England and America, which were made after
the masters had fully explained the meaning of the questions, and
interested the boys in them. These have the merit of returns derived
from a general census, which my other data lack, because I cannot
for a moment suppose that the writers of the latter are a haphazard
proportion of those to whom they were sent. Indeed I know of some who,
disavowing all possession of the power, and of many others who,
possessing it in too faint a degree to enable them to express what
their experiences really were, in a manner satisfactory to themselves,
sent no returns at all. Considerable statistical similarity was,
however, observed between the sets of returns furnished by the
schoolboys and those sent by my separate correspondents, and I may
add that they accord in this respect with the oral information I
have elsewhere obtained. The conformity of replies from so many
different sources which was clear from the first, the fact of their
apparent trustworthiness being on the whole much increased by
cross-examination (though I could give one or two amusing instances
of break-down), and the evident effort made to give accurate answers,
have convinced me that it is a much easier matter than I had
anticipated to obtain trustworthy replies to psychological questions.
Many persons, especially women and intelligent children, take
pleasure in introspection, and strive their very best to explain
their mental processes. I think that a delight in self-dissection
must be a strong ingredient in the pleasure that many are said to
take in confessing themselves to priests.

Here, then, are two rather notable results: the one is the proved
facility of obtaining statistical insight into the processes of
other persons' minds, whatever _a priori_ objection may have been
made as to its possibility; and the other is that scientific men, as
a class, have feeble powers of visual representation. There is no
doubt whatever on the latter point, however it may be accounted for.
My own conclusion is, that an over-ready perception of sharp mental
pictures is antagonistic to the acquirement of habits of
highly-generalised and abstract thought, especially when the steps
of reasoning are carried on by words as symbols, and that if the
faculty of seeing the pictures was ever possessed by men who think
hard, it is very apt to be lost by disuse. The highest minds are
probably those in which it is not lost, but subordinated, and is
ready for use on suitable occasions. I am, however, bound to say,
that the missing faculty seems to be replaced so serviceably by other
modes of conception, chiefly, I believe, connected with the
incipient motor sense, not of the eyeballs only but of the muscles
generally, that men who declare themselves entirely deficient in the
power of seeing mental pictures can nevertheless give life-like
descriptions of what they have seen, and can otherwise express
themselves as if they were gifted with a vivid visual imagination.
They can also become painters of the rank of Royal Academicians.

The facts I am now about to relate are obtained from the returns of
100 adult men, of whom 19 are Fellows of the Royal Society, mostly
of very high repute, and at least twice, and I think I may say three
times, as many more are persons of distinction in various kinds of
intellectual work. As already remarked, these returns taken by
themselves do not profess to be of service in a general statistical
sense, but they are of much importance in showing how men of
exceptional accuracy express themselves when they are speaking of
mental imagery. They also testify to the variety of experiences to
be met with in a moderately large circle. I will begin by giving a
few cases of the highest, of the medium, and of the lowest order of
the faculty of visualising. The hundred returns were first
classified according to the order of the faculty, as judged to the
best of my ability from the whole of what was said in them, and of
what I knew from other sources of the writers; and the number
prefixed to each quotation shows its place in the class-list.


(From returns, furnished by 100 men, at least half of whom are
distinguished in science or in other fields of intellectual work.)

_Cases where the faculty is very high_.

1. Brilliant, distinct, never blotchy.

2. Quite comparable to the real object. I feel as though I was
dazzled, _e.g._ when recalling the sun to my mental vision.

3. In some instances quite as bright as an actual scene.

4. Brightness as in the actual scene.

5. Thinking of the breakfast-table this morning, all the objects in
my mental picture are as bright as the actual scene.

6. The image once seen is perfectly clear and bright.

7. Brightness at first quite comparable to actual scene.

8. The mental image appears to correspond in all respects with
reality. I think it is as clear as the actual scene.

9. The brightness is perfectly comparable to that of the real scene.

10. I think the illumination of the imaginary image is nearly equal
to that of the real one.

11. All clear and bright; all the objects seem to me well defined at
the same time.

12. I can see my breakfast-table or any equally familiar thing with
my mind's eye, quite as well in all particulars as I can do if the
reality is before me.

_Cases where the faculty is mediocre_.

46. Fairly clear and not incomparable in illumination with that of
the real scene, especially when I first catch it. Apt to become
fainter when more particularly attended to.

47. Fairly clear, not quite comparable to that of the actual scene.
Some objects are more sharply defined than others, the more familiar
objects coming more distinctly in my mind.

48. Fairly clear as a general image; details rather misty.

49. Fairly clear, but not equal to the scene. Defined, but not
sharply; not all seen with equal clearness.

50. Fairly clear. Brightness probably at least one-half to
two-thirds of original. [The writer is a physiologist.] Definition
varies very much, one or two objects being much more distinct than
the others, but the latter come out clearly if attention be paid to

51. Image of my breakfast-table fairly clear, but not quite so
bright as the reality. Altogether it is pretty well defined; the
part where I sit and its surroundings are pretty well so.

52. Fairly clear, but brightness not comparable to that of the
actual scene. The objects are sharply defined; some of them are
salient, and others insignificant and dim, but by separate efforts I
can take a visualised inventory of the whole table.

53. Details of breakfast-table _when the scene is reflected on_ are
fairly defined and complete, but I have had a familiarity of many
years with my own breakfast-table, and the above would not be the
case with a table seen casually unless there were some striking
peculiarity in it,

54. I can recall any single object or group of objects, but not the
whole table at once. The things recalled are generally clearly
defined. Our table is a long one; I can in my mind pass my eyes all
down the table and see the different things distinctly, but not the
whole table at once.

_Cases where the faculty is at the lowest_.

89. Dim and indistinct, yet I can give an account of this morning's
breakfast-table; split herrings, broiled chickens, bacon, rolls,
rather light-coloured marmalade, faint green plates with stiff pink
flowers, the girls' dresses, etc. etc. I can also tell where all the
dishes were, and where the people sat (I was on a visit). But my
imagination is seldom pictorial except between sleeping and waking,
when I sometimes see rather vivid forms.

90. Dim and not comparable in brightness to the real scene. Badly
defined with blotches of light; very incomplete.

91. Dim, poor definition; could not sketch from it. I have a
difficulty in seeing two images together.

92. Usually very dim. I cannot speak of its brightness, but only of
its faintness. Not well defined and very incomplete.

93. Dim, imperfect.

94. I am very rarely able to recall any object whatever with any
sort of distinctness. Very occasionally an object or image will
recall itself, but even then it is more like a generalised image
than an individual image. I seem to be almost destitute of
visualising power, as under control.

95. No power of visualising. Between sleeping and waking, in illness
and in health, with eyes closed, some remarkable scenes have
occasionally presented themselves, but I cannot recall them when
awake with eyes open, and by daylight, or under any circumstances
whatever when a copy could be made of them on paper. I have drawn
both men and places many days or weeks after seeing them, but it was
by an effort of memory acting on study at the time, and assisted by
trial and error on the paper or canvas, whether in black, yellow, or
colour, afterwards.

96. It is only as a figure of speech that I can describe my
recollection of a scene as a "mental image" which I can "see" with
my "mind's eye." ... The memory possesses it, and the mind can at
will roam over the whole, or study minutely any part.

97. No individual objects, only a general idea of a very uncertain

98. No. My memory is not of the nature of a spontaneous vision,
though I remember well where a word occurs in a page, how furniture
looks in a room, etc. The ideas not felt to be mental pictures, but
rather the symbols of facts.

99. Extremely dim. The impressions are in all respects so dim, vague,
and transient, that I doubt whether they can reasonably be called
images. They are incomparably less than those of dreams.

100. My powers are zero. To my consciousness there is almost no
association of memory with objective visual impressions. I recollect
the breakfast-table, but do not see it.

These quotations clearly show the great variety of natural powers of
visual representation, and though the returns from which they are
taken have, as I said, no claim to be those of 100 Englishmen taken
at haphazard, nevertheless, to the best of my judgment, they happen
to differ among themselves in much the same way that such returns
would have done. I cannot procure a strictly haphazard series for
comparison, because in any group of persons whom I may question
there are always many too indolent to reply, or incapable of
expressing themselves, or who from some fancy of their own are
unwilling to reply. Still, as already mentioned, I have got together
several groups that approximate to what is wanted, usually from
schools, and I have analysed them as well as I could, and the general
result is that the above returns may be accepted as a fair
representation of the visualising powers of Englishmen. Treating
these according to the method described in the chapter of statistics,
we have the following results, in which, as a matter of interest, I
have also recorded the highest and the lowest of the series:--

_Highest_.--Brilliant, distinct, never blotchy.

* * * * *

_First Suboctile_.--The image once seen is perfectly clear and

_First Octile_.--I can see my breakfast-table or any equally
familiar thing with my mind's eye quite as well in all particulars
as I can do if the reality is before me.

_First Quartile_--Fairly clear; illumination of actual scene is
fairly represented. Well defined. Parts do not obtrude themselves,
but attention has to be directed to different points in succession
to call up the whole.

_Middlemost_.--Fairly clear. Brightness probably at least from
one-half to two-thirds of the original. Definition varies very much,
one or two objects being much more distinct than the others, but the
latter come out clearly if attention be paid to them.

_Last Quartile_.--Dim, certainly not comparable to the actual scene.
I have to think separately of the several things on the table to
bring them clearly before the mind's eye, and when I think of some
things the others fade away in confusion.

_Last Octile_.--Dim and not comparable in brightness to the real
scene. Badly defined, with blotches of light; very incomplete; very
little of one object is seen at one time.

_Last Suboctile_.--I am very rarely able to recall any object
whatever with any sort of distinctness. Very occasionally an object
or image will recall itself, but even then it is more like a
generalised image than an individual one. I seem to be almost
destitute of visualising power as under control.

_Lowest_.--My powers are zero. To my consciousness there is almost
no association of memory with objective visual impressions. I
recollect the table, but do not see it.

I next proceed to colour, as specified in the third of my questions,
and annex a selection from the returns classified on the same
principle as in the preceding paragraph.


_Highest_.--Perfectly distinct, bright, and natural.

_First Suboctile_.--White cloth, blue china, argand coffee-pot,
buff stand with sienna drawing, toast--all clear.

_First Octile_.--All details seen perfectly.

_First Quartile_.--Colours distinct and natural till I begin to
puzzle over them.

_Middlemost_.--Fairly distinct, though not certain that they are
accurately recalled.

_Last Quartile_.--Natural, but very indistinct.

_Last Octile_.--Faint; can only recall colours by a special effort
for each.

_Last Suboctile_.--Power is nil.

_Lowest_.--Power is nil.

It may seem surprising that one out of every sixteen persons who are
accustomed to use accurate expressions should speak of their mental
imagery as perfectly clear and bright; but it is so, and many
details are added in various returns emphasising the assertion. One
of the commonest of these is to the effect, "If I could draw, I am
sure I could draw perfectly from my mental image." That some artists,
such as Blake, have really done so is beyond dispute, but I have
little doubt that there is an unconscious exaggeration in these
returns. My reason for saying so is that I have also returns from
artists, who say as follows: "My imagery is so clear, that if I had
been unable to draw I should have unhesitatingly said that I could
draw from it." A foremost painter of the present day has used that
expression. He finds deficiencies and gaps when he tries to draw
from his mental vision. There is perhaps some analogy between these
images and those of "faces in the fire." One may often fancy an
exceedingly well-marked face or other object in the burning coals,
but probably everybody will find, as I have done, that it is
impossible to draw it, for as soon as its outlines are seriously
studied, the fancy flies away.

Mr. Flinders Petrie, a contributor of interesting experiments on
kindred subjects to _Nature_, informs me that he habitually works
out sums by aid of an imaginary sliding rule, which he sets in the
desired way and reads off mentally. He does not usually visualise
the whole rule, but only that part of it with which he is at the
moment concerned (see Plate II. Fig. 34, where, however, the artist
has not put in the divisions very correctly). I think this is one of
the most striking cases of accurate visualising power it is possible
to imagine.

I have a few returns from chess-players who play games blindfolded;
but the powers of such men to visualise the separate boards with
different sets of men on the different boards, some ivory, some wood,
and so forth, are well known, and I need not repeat them. I will
rather give the following extract from an article in the _Pall Mall
Gazette_, 27th June 1882, on the recent chess tournament at Vienna:--

"The modern feats of blindfold play (without sight of board) greatly
surpass those of twenty years ago. Paul Morphy, the American, was
the first who made an especial study of this kind of display,
playing some seven or eight games blindfold and simultaneously
against various inferior opponents, and making lucrative exhibitions
in this way. His abilities in this line created a scare among other
rivals who had not practised this test of memory. Since his day many
chess-players who are gifted with strong and clear memory and power
of picturing to the mind the ideal board and men, have carried this
branch of exhibition play far beyond Morphy's pitch; and,
contemporaneously with this development, it has become acknowledged
that skill in blindfold play is not an absolute test of similarly
relative powers over the board: _e.g._ Blackburne and Zukertort can
play as many as sixteen, or even twenty, blindfold games at a time,
and win about 80 per cent of them at least. Steinitz, who beats them
both in match play, does not essay more than six blindfold at a time.
Mason does not, to our knowledge, make any _specialite_ at all of
this sort."

I have many cases of persons mentally reading off scores when
playing the pianoforte, or manuscript when they are making speeches.
One statesman has assured me that a certain hesitation in utterance
which he has at times, is due to his being plagued by the image of
his manuscript speech with its original erasures and corrections. He
cannot lay the ghost, and he puzzles in trying to decipher it.

Some few persons see mentally in print every word that is uttered;
they attend to the visual equivalent and not to the sound of the
words, and they read them off usually as from a long imaginary strip
of paper, such as is unwound from telegraphic instruments. The
experiences differ in detail as to size and kind of type, colour of
paper, and so forth, but are always the same in the same person.

A well-known frequenter of the Royal Institution tells me that he
often craves for an absence of visual perceptions, they are so
brilliant and persistent. The Rev. George Henslow speaks of their
extreme restlessness; they oscillate, rotate, and change.

It is a mistake to suppose that sharp sight is accompanied by clear
visual memory. I have not a few instances in which the independence
of the two faculties is emphatically commented on; and I have at
least one clear case where great interest in outlines and accurate
appreciation of straightness, squareness, and the like, is
unaccompanied by the power of visualising. Neither does the faculty
go with dreaming. I have cases where it is powerful, and at the same
time where dreams are rare and faint or altogether absent. One
friend tells me that his dreams have not the hundredth part of the
vigour of his waking fancies.

The visualising and the identifying powers are by no means
necessarily combined. A distinguished writer on meta-physical topics
assures me that he is exceptionally quick at recognising a face that
he has seen before, but that he cannot call up a mental image of any
face with clearness.

Some persons have the power of combining in a single perception more
than can be seen at any one moment by the two eyes. It is needless
to insist on the fact that all who have two eyes see stereoscopically,
and therefore somewhat round a corner. Children, who can focus their
eyes on very near objects, must be able to comprise in a single
mental image much more than a half of any small object they are
examining. Animals such as hares, whose eyes are set more on the
side of the head than ours, must be able to perceive at one and the
same instant more of a panorama than we can. I find that a few
persons can, by what they often describe as a kind of touch-sight,
visualise at the same moment all round the image of a solid body.
Many can do so nearly, but not altogether round that of a
terrestrial globe. An eminent mineralogist assures me that he is
able to imagine simultaneously all the sides of a crystal with which
he is familiar. I may be allowed to quote a curious faculty of my
own in respect to this. It is exercised only occasionally and in
dreams, or rather in nightmares, but under those circumstances I am
perfectly conscious of embracing an entire sphere in a single
perception. It appears to lie within my mental eyeball, and to be
viewed centripetally.

This power of comprehension is practically attained in many cases by
indirect methods. It is a common feat to take in the whole
surroundings of an imagined room with such a rapid mental sweep as
to leave some doubt whether it has not been viewed simultaneously.
Some persons have the habit of viewing objects as though they were
partly transparent; thus, if they so dispose a globe in their
imagination as to see both its north and south poles at the same time,
they will not be able to see its equatorial parts. They can also
perceive all the rooms of an imaginary house by a single mental
glance, the walls and floors being as if made of glass. A fourth
class of persons have the habit of recalling scenes, not from the
point of view whence they were observed, but from a distance, and
they visualise their own selves as actors on the mental stage. By
one or other of these ways, the power of seeing the whole of an
object, and not merely one aspect of it, is possessed by many persons.

The place where the image appears to lie, differs much. Most persons
see it in an indefinable sort of way, others see it in front of the
eye, others at a distance corresponding to reality. There exists a
power which is rare naturally, but can, I believe, be acquired
without much difficulty, of projecting a mental picture upon a piece
of paper, and of holding it fast there, so that it can be outlined
with a pencil. To this I shall recur.

Images usually do not become stronger by dwelling on them; the first
idea is commonly the most vigorous, but this is not always the case.
Sometimes the mental view of a locality is inseparably connected
with the sense of its position as regards the points of the compass,
real or imaginary. I have received full and curious descriptions
from very different sources of this strong geographical tendency,
and in one or two cases I have reason to think it allied to a
considerable faculty of geographical comprehension.

The power of visualising is higher in the female sex than in the male,
and is somewhat, but not much, higher in public schoolboys than in
men. After maturity is reached, the further advance of age does not
seem to dim the faculty, but rather the reverse, judging from
numerous statements to that effect; but advancing years are
sometimes accompanied by a growing habit of hard abstract thinking,
and in these cases--not uncommon among those whom I have
questioned--the faculty undoubtedly becomes impaired. There is
reason to believe that it is very high in some young children, who
seem to spend years of difficulty in distinguishing between the
subjective and objective world. Language and book-learning certainly
tend to dull it.

The visualising faculty is a natural gift, and, like all natural
gifts, has a tendency to be inherited. In this faculty the tendency
to inheritance is exceptionally strong, as I have abundant evidence
to prove, especially in respect to certain rather rare peculiarities,
of which I shall speak in the next chapter, and which, when they
exist at all, are usually found among two, three, or more brothers
and sisters, parents, children, uncles and aunts, and cousins.

Since families differ so much in respect to this gift, we may
suppose that races would also differ, and there can be no doubt that
such is the case. I hardly like to refer to civilised nations,
because their natural faculties are too much modified by education
to allow of their being appraised in an off-hand fashion. I may,
however, speak of the French, who appear to possess the visualising
faculty in a high degree. The peculiar ability they show in
prearranging ceremonials _fetes_ of all kinds, and their undoubted
genius for tactics and strategy, show that they are able to foresee
effects with unusual clearness. Their ingenuity in all technical
contrivances is an additional testimony in the same direction, and
so is their singular clearness of expression. Their phrase,
"figurez-vous," or "picture to yourself," seems to express their
dominant mode of perception. Our equivalent of "imagine" is ambiguous.

It is among uncivilised races that natural differences in the
visualising faculty are most conspicuous. Many of them make carvings
and rude illustrations, but only a few have the gift of carrying a
picture in their mind's eye, judging by the completeness and
firmness of their designs, which show no trace of having been
elaborated in that step-by-step manner which is characteristic of
draughtsmen who are not natural artists.

Among the races who are thus gifted are the commonly despised, but,
as I confidently maintain from personal knowledge of them, the much
underrated Bushmen of South Africa. They are no doubt deficient in
the natural instincts necessary to civilisation, for they detest a
regular life, they are inveterate thieves, and are incapable of
withstanding the temptation of strong drink. On the other hand, they
have few superiors among barbarians in the ingenious methods by
which they supply the wants of a difficult existence, and in the
effectiveness and nattiness of their accoutrements. One of their
habits is to draw pictures on the walls of caves of men and animals,
and to colour them with ochre. These drawings were once numerous,
but they have been sadly destroyed by advancing colonisation, and
few of them, and indeed few wild Bushmen, now exist. Fortunately a
large and valuable collection of facsimiles of Bushman art was made
before it became too late by Mr. Stow, of the Cape Colony, who has
very lately sent some specimens of them to this country, in the hope
that means might be found for the publication of the entire series.
Among the many pictures of animals in each of the large sheets full
of them, I was particularly struck with one of an eland as giving a
just idea of the precision and purity of their best work. Others,
again, were exhibited last summer at the Anthropological Institute
by Mr. Hutchinson.

The method by which the Bushmen draw is described in the following
extract from a letter written to me by Dr. Mann, the well-known
authority on South African matters of science. The boy to whom he
refers belonged to a wild tribe living in caves in the Drakenberg,
who plundered outlying farms, and were pursued by the neighbouring
colonists. He was wounded and captured, then sent to hospital, and
subsequently taken into service. He was under Dr. Mann's observation
in the year 1860, and has recently died, to the great regret of his
employer, Mr. Proudfoot, to whom he became a valuable servant.

Dr. Mann writes as follows:--

"This lad was very skilful in the proverbial Bushman art of
drawing animal figures, and upon several occasions I induced
him to show me how this was managed among his people. He
invariably began by jotting down upon paper or on a slate a
number of isolated dots which presented no connection or trace
of outline of any kind to the uninitiated eye, but looked like
the stars scattered promiscuously in the sky. Having with much
deliberation satisfied himself of the sufficiency of these dots,
he forthwith began to run a free bold line from one to the other,
and as he did so the form of an animal--horse, buffalo, elephant,
or some kind of antelope--gradually developed itself. This was
invariably done with a free hand, and with such unerring accuracy
of touch, that no correction of a line was at any time attempted.
I understood from the lad that this was the plan which was invariably
pursued by his kindred in making their clever pictures."

It is impossible, I think, for a drawing to be made on this method
unless the artist had a clear image in his mind's eye of what he was
about to draw, and was able, in some degree, to project it on the
paper or slate.

Other living races have the gift of drawing, but none more so than
the Eskimo. I will therefore speak of these and not of the
Australian and Tasmanian pictures, nor of the still ruder
performances of the old inhabitants of Guiana, nor of those of some
North American tribes, as the Iroquois. The Eskimos are geographers
by instinct, and appear to see vast tracts of country mapped out in
their heads. From the multitude of illustrations of their
map-drawing powers, I may mention one of those included in the
journals of Captain Hall, at p. 224, which were published in 1879 by
the United States Government, under the editorship of Professor J. E.
Nourse. It is the facsimile of a chart drawn by an Eskimo who was a
thorough barbarian in the accepted sense of the word; that is to say,
he spoke no language besides his own uncouth tongue, he was wholly
uneducated according to our modern ideas, and he lived in what we
should call a savage fashion. This man drew from memory a chart of
the region over which he had at one time or another gone in his canoe.
It extended from Pond's Bay, in lat. 73 deg., to Fort Churchill, in lat.
58 deg.44', over a distance in a straight line of more than 960 nautical,
or 1100 English miles, the coast being so indented by arms of the
sea that its length is six times as great. On comparing this rough
Eskimo outline with the Admiralty chart of 1870, their accordance is
remarkable. I have seen many MS. route maps made by travellers a few
years since, when the scientific exploration of the world was much
less advanced than it is now, and I can confidently say that I have
never known of any traveller, white or brown, civilised or
uncivilised, in Africa, Asia, or Australia, who, being unprovided
with surveying instruments, and trusting to his memory alone, has
produced a chart comparable in extent and accuracy to that of this
barbarous Eskimo. The aptitude of the Eskimos to draw, is abundantly
shown by the numerous illustrations in Rink's work, all of which
were made by self-taught men, and are thoroughly realistic.

So much for the wild races of the present day; but even the Eskimo
are equalled in their power of drawing by the men of old times. In
ages so far gone by, that the interval that separates them from our
own may be measured in perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, when
Europe was mostly icebound, a race who, in the opinion of all
anthropologists, was closely allied to the modern Eskimo, lived in
caves in the more habitable places. Many broken relics of that race
have been found; some few of these are of bone engraved with flints
or carved into figures, and among these are representations of the
mammoth, elk, and reindeer, which, if made by an English labourer
with the much better implements at his command, would certainly
attract local attention and lead to his being properly educated, and
in much likelihood to his becoming a considerable artist if he had
intellectual powers to match.

It is not at all improbable that these prehistoric men had the same
geographical instincts as the modern Eskimo, whom they closely
resemble in every known respect. If so, it is perfectly possible
that scraps of charts scratched on bone or stone, of prehistoric
Europe, when the distribution of land, sea, and ice was very
different to what it is now, may still exist, buried underground,
and may reward the zeal of some future cave explorer.

There is abundant evidence that the visualising faculty admits of
being developed by education. The testimony on which I would
lay especial stress is derived from the published experiences of
M. Lecoq de Boisbaudran, late director of the Ecole Nationale de Dessein,
in Paris, which are related in his _Education de la M. emoire
Pittoresque_ [1] He trained his pupils with extraordinary success,
beginning with the simplest figures. They were made to study the
models thoroughly before they tried to draw them from memory. One
favourite expedient was to associate the sight memory with the
muscular memory, by making his pupils follow at a distance the
outlines of the figures with a pencil held in their hands. After
three or four months' practice, their visual memory became greatly
strengthened. They had no difficulty in summoning images at will, in
holding them steady, and in drawing them. Their copies [7] were
executed with marvellous fidelity, as attested by a commission of
the Institute, appointed in 1852 to inquire into the matter, of
which the eminent painter Horace Vernet was a member. The present
Slade Professor of Fine Arts at University College, M. Legros, was a
pupil of M. de Boisbaudran. He has expressed to me his indebtedness
to the system, and he has assured me of his own success in teaching
others in a somewhat similar way.

[Footnote 7: Republished in an 8vo, entitled _Enseignment
Artistique_. Morel et Cie. Paris, 1879.]

Colonel Moncrieff informs me that, when wintering in 1877 near Fort
Garry in North America, young Indians occasionally came to his
quarters, and that he found them much interested in any pictures or
prints that were put before them. On one of these occasions he saw
an Indian tracing the outline of a print from the _Illustrated News_
very carefully with the point of his knife. The reason he gave for
this odd manoeuvre was, that he would remember the better how to
carve it when he returned home.

I could mention instances within my own experience in which the
visualising faculty has become strengthened by practice; notably one
of an eminent electrical engineer, who had the power of recalling
form with unusual precision, but not colour. A few weeks after he
had replied to my questions, he told me that my inquiries had
induced him to practise his colour memory, and that he had done so
with such success that he was become quite an adept at it, and that
the newly-acquired power was a source of much pleasure to him.

A useful faculty, easily developed by practice, is that of retaining
a retinal picture. A scene is flashed upon the eye; the memory of it
persists, and details, which escaped observation during the brief
time when it was actually seen, may be analysed and studied at
leisure in the subsequent vision.

The memories we should aim at acquiring are, however, such as are
based on a thorough understanding of the objects observed. In no
case is this more surely effected than in the processes of
mechanical drawing, where the intended structure has to be portrayed
so exactly in plan, elevation, side view, and sections, that the
workman has simply to copy the drawing in metal, wood, or stone, as
the case may be. It is undoubtedly the fact that mechanicians,
engineers, and architects usually possess the faculty of seeing
mental images with remarkable clearness and precision.

A few dots like those used by the Bushmen give great assistance in
creating an imaginary picture, as proved by our general habit of
working out ideas by the help of marks and rude lines. The use of
dolls by children also testifies to the value of an objective
support in the construction of mental images. The doll serves as a
kind of skeleton for the child to clothe with fantastic attributes,
and the less individuality the doll has, the more it is appreciated
by the child, who can the better utilise it as a lay figure in many
different characters. The chief art of strengthening visual, as well
as every other form of memory, lies in multiplying associations; the
healthiest memory being that in which all the associations are
logical, and toward which all the senses concur in their due
proportions. It is wonderful how much the vividness of a
recollection is increased when two or more lines of association are
simultaneously excited. Thus the inside of a known house is much
better visualised when we are looking at its outside than when we
are away from it, and some chess-players have told me that it is
easier for them to play a game from memory when they have a blank
board before them than when they have not.

There is an absence of flexibility in the mental imagery of most
persons. They find that the first image they have acquired of any
scene is apt to hold its place tenaciously in spite of subsequent
need of correction. They find a difficulty in shifting their mental
view of an object, and examining it at pleasure in different
positions. If they see an object equally often in many positions the
memories combine and confuse one another, forming a "composite" blur,
which they cannot dissect into its components. They are less able to
visualise the features of intimate friends than those of persons of
whom they have caught only a single glance. Many such persons have
expressed to me their grief at finding themselves powerless to
recall the looks of dear relations whom they had lost, while they
had no difficulty in recollecting faces that were uninteresting to

Others have a complete mastery over their mental images. They can
call up the figure of a friend and make it sit on a chair or stand
up at will; they can make it turn round and attitudinise in any way,
as by mounting it on a bicycle or compelling it to perform gymnastic
feats on a trapeze. They are able to build up elaborate geometric
structures bit by bit in their mind's eye, and add, subtract, or
alter at will and at leisure. This free action of a vivid
visualising faculty is of much importance in connection with the
higher processes of generalised thought, though it is commonly put
to no such purpose, as may be easily explained by an example. Suppose
a person suddenly to accost another with the following words:--
"I want to tell you about a boat." What is the idea that the word
"boat" would be likely to call up? I tried the experiment with this
result. One person, a young lady, said that she immediately saw the
image of a rather large boat pushing off from the shore, and that it
was full of ladies and gentlemen, the ladies being dressed in white
and blue. It is obvious that a tendency to give so specific an
interpretation to a general word is absolutely opposed to philosophic
thought. Another person, who was accustomed to philosophise, said
that the word "boat" had aroused no definite image, because he had
purposely held his mind in suspense. He had exerted himself not to
lapse into any one of the special ideas that he felt the word boat
was ready to call up, such as a skiff, wherry, barge, launch, punt,
or dingy. Much more did he refuse to think of any one of these with
any particular freight or from any particular point of view. A habit
of suppressing mental imagery must therefore characterise men who
deal much with abstract ideas; and as the power of dealing easily
and firmly with these ideas is the surest criterion of a high order
of intellect, we should expect that the visualising faculty would be
starved by disuse among philosophers, and this is precisely what I
found on inquiry to be the case.

But there is no reason why it should be so, if the faculty is free
in its action, and not tied to reproduce hard and persistent forms;
it may then produce generalised pictures out of its past experiences
quite automatically. It has no difficulty in reducing images to the
same scale, owing to our constant practice in watching objects as
they approach or recede, and consequently grow or diminish in
apparent size. It readily shifts images to any desired point of the
field of view, owing to our habit of looking at bodies in motion to
the right or left, upward or downward. It selects images that
present the same aspect, either by a simple act of memory or by a
feat of imagination that forces them into the desired position, and
it has little or no difficulty in reversing them from right to left,
as if seen in a looking-glass. In illustration of these generalised
mental images, let us recur to the boat, and suppose the speaker to
continue as follows:--"The boat was a four-oared racing-boat, it was
passing quickly to the left just in front of me, and the men were
bending forward to take a fresh stroke." Now at this point of the
story the listener ought to have a picture well before his eye. It
ought to have the distinctness of a real four-oar going to the left,
at the moment when many of its details still remained unheeded, such
as the dresses of the men and their individual features. It would be
the generic image of a four-oar formed by the combination into a
single picture of a great many sight memories of those boats.

In the highest minds a descriptive word is sufficient to evoke
crowds of shadowy associations, each striving to manifest itself.
When they differ so much from one another as to be unfitted for
combination into a single idea, there will be a conflict, each being
prevented by the rest from obtaining sole possession of the field of
consciousness. There could, therefore, be no definite imagery so
long as the aggregate of all the pictures that the word suggested of
objects presenting similar aspects, reduced to the same size, and
accurately superposed, resulted in a blur; but a picture would
gradually evolve as qualifications were added to the word, and it
would attain to the distinctness and vividness of a generic image
long before the word had been so restricted as to be individualised.
If the intellect be slow, though correct in its operations, the
associations will be few, and the generalised image based on
insufficient data. If the visualising power be faint, the
generalised image will be indistinct.

I cannot discover any closer relation between high visualising power
and the intellectual faculties than between verbal memory and those
same faculties. That it must afford immense help in some professions
stands to reason, but in ordinary social life the possession of a
high visualising power, as of a high verbal memory, may pass quite
unobserved. I have to the last failed in anticipating the character
of the answers that my friends would give to my inquiries, judging
from my previous knowledge of them; though I am bound to say that,
having received their answers, I could usually persuade myself that
they were justified by my recollections of their previous sayings
and conduct generally.

The faculty is undoubtedly useful in a high degree to inventive
mechanicians, and the great majority of those whom I have questioned
have spoken of their powers as very considerable. They invent their
machines as they walk, and see them in height, breadth, and depth as
real objects, and they can also see them in action. In fact, a
periodic action of any kind appears to be easily recalled. But the
powers of other men are considerably less; thus an engineer officer
who has himself great power of visual memory, and who has
superintended the mathematical education of cadets, doubts if one in
ten can visualise an object in three dimensions. I should have
thought the faculty would be common among geometricians, but many of
the highest seem able somehow to get on without much of it. There is
a curious dictum of Napoleon I. quoted in Hume's _Precis of Modern
Tactics_, p. 15, of which I can neither find the original authority
nor do I fully understand the meaning. He is reported to have said
that "there are some who, from some physical or moral peculiarity of
character, form a picture (_tableau_) of everything. No matter what
knowledge, intellect, courage, or good qualities they may have,
these men are unfit to command." It is possible that "tableau"
should be construed rather in the sense of a pictorial composition,
which, like an epigrammatic sentence, may be very complete and
effective, but not altogether true.

There can, however, be no doubt as to the utility of the visualising
faculty when it is duly subordinated to the higher intellectual
operations. A visual image is the most perfect form of mental
representation wherever the shape, position, and relations of
objects in space are concerned. It is of importance in every
handicraft and profession where design is required. The best workmen
are those who visualise the whole of what they propose to do, before
they take a tool in their hands. The village smith and the carpenter
who are employed on odd jobs employ it no less for their work than
the mechanician, the engineer, and the architect. The lady's maid
who arranges a new dress requires it for the same reason as the
decorator employed on a palace, or the agent who lays out great
estates. Strategists, artists of all denominations, physicists who
contrive new experiments, and in short all who do not follow routine,
have need of it. The pleasure its use can afford is immense. I have
many correspondents who say that the delight of recalling beautiful
scenery and great works of art is the highest that they know; they
carry whole picture galleries in their minds. Our bookish and wordy
education tends to repress this valuable gift of nature. A faculty
that is of importance in all technical and artistic occupations,
that gives accuracy to our perceptions, and justness to our
generalisations, is starved by lazy disuse, instead of being
cultivated judiciously in such a way as will on the whole bring the
best return. I believe that a serious study of the best method of
developing and utilising this faculty, without prejudice to the
practice of abstract thought in symbols, is one of the many pressing
desiderata in the yet unformed science of education.


Persons who are imaginative almost invariably think of _numerals_ in
some form of visual imagery. If the idea of _six_ occurs to them,
the word "six" does not sound in their mental ear, but the figure 6
in a written or printed form rises before their mental eye. The
clearness of the images of numerals, and the number of them that can
be mentally viewed at the same time, differs greatly in different
persons. The most common case is to see only two or three figures at
once, and in a position too vague to admit of definition. There are
a few persons in whom the visualising faculty is so low that they
can mentally see neither numerals nor anything else; and again there
are a few in whom it is so high as to give rise to hallucinations.
Those who are able to visualise a numeral with a distinctness
comparable to reality, and to behold it as if it were before their
eyes, and not in some sort of dreamland, will define the direction in
which it seems to lie, and the distance at which it appears to be.
If they were looking at a ship on the horizon at the moment that the
figure 6 happened to present itself to their minds, they could say
whether the image lay to the left or right of the ship, and whether
it was above or below the line of the horizon; they could always
point to a definite spot in space, and say with more or less
precision that that was the direction in which the image of the
figure they were thinking of, first appeared.

Now the strange psychological fact to which I desire to draw
attention, is that among persons who visualise figures clearly there
are many who notice that the image of the same figure invariably
makes its first appearance in the same direction, and at the same
distance. Such a person would always see the figure when it first
appeared to him at (we may suppose) one point of the compass to the
left of the line between his eye and the ship, at the level of the
horizon, and at twenty feet distance. Again, we may suppose that he
would see the figure 7 invariably half a point to the left of the
ship, at an altitude equal to the sun's diameter above the horizon,
and at thirty feet distance; similarly for all the other figures.
Consequently, when he thinks of the series of numerals 1, 2, 3, 4,
etc., they show themselves in a definite pattern that always
occupies an identical position in his field of view with respect to
the direction in which he is looking.

Those who do not see figures with the same objectivity, use
nevertheless the same expressions with reference to their mental
field of view. They can draw what they see in a manner fairly
satisfactory to themselves, but they do not locate it so strictly in
reference to their axis of sight and to the horizontal plane that
passes through it. It is with them as in dreams, the imagery is
before and around, but the eyes during sleep are turned inwards and

The pattern or "Form" in which the numerals are seen is by no means
the same in different persons, but assumes the most grotesque
variety of shapes, which run in all sorts of angles, bends, curves,
and zigzags as represented in the various illustrations to this
chapter. The drawings, however, fail in giving the idea of their
apparent size to those who see them; they usually occupy a wider
range than the mental eye can take in at a single glance, and compel
it to wander. Sometimes they are nearly panoramic.

These Forms have for the most part certain characteristics in common.
They are stated in all cases to have been in existence, so far as
the earlier numbers in the Form are concerned, as long back as the
memory extends; they come into view quite independently of the will,
and their shape and position, at all events in the mental field of
view, is nearly invariable. They have other points in common to
which I shall shortly draw attention, but first I will endeavour to
remove all doubt as to the authenticity and trustworthiness of these

I see no "Form" myself, and first ascertained that such a thing
existed through a letter from Mr. G. Bidder, Q.C., in which he
described his own case as a very curious peculiarity. I was at the
time making inquiries about the strength of the visualising faculty
in different persons, and among the numerous replies that reached me
I soon collected ten or twelve other cases in which the writers
spoke of their seeing numerals in definite forms. Though the
information came from independent sources, the expressions used were
so closely alike that they strongly corroborated one another. Of
course I eagerly followed up the inquiry, and when I had collected
enough material to justify publication, I wrote an account which
appeared in _Nature_ on 15th January 1880, with several illustrations.
This has led to a wide correspondence and to a much-increased store
of information, which enables me to arrive at the following
conclusions. The answers I received whenever I have pushed my
questions, have been straightforward and precise. I have not
unfrequently procured a second sketch of the Form even after more
than two years' interval, and found it to agree closely with the
first one. I have also questioned many of my own friends in general
terms as to whether they visualise numbers in any particular way.
The large majority are unable to do so. But every now and then I
meet with persons who possess the faculty, and I have become
familiar with the quick look of intelligence with which they receive
my question. It is as though some chord had been struck which had
not been struck before, and the verbal answers they give me are
precisely of the same type as those written ones of which I have now
so many. I cannot doubt of the authenticity of independent statements
which closely confirm one another, nor of the general accuracy of
the accompanying sketches, because I find now that my collection is
large enough for classification, that they might be arranged in an
approximately continuous series. I am often told that the
peculiarity is common to the speaker and to some near relative, and
that they had found such to be the case by accident. I have the
strongest evidence of its hereditary character after allowing, and
over-allowing, for all conceivable influences of education and
family tradition.

Last of all, I took advantage of the opportunity afforded by a
meeting of the Anthropological Institute to read a memoir there on
the subject, and to bring with me many gentlemen well known in the
scientific world, who have this habit of seeing numerals in Forms,
and whose diagrams were suspended on the walls. Amongst them are
Mr. G. Bidder, Q.C., the Rev. Mr. G. Henslow, the botanist;
Prof. Schuster, F.R.S., the physicist; Mr. Roget, Mr. Woodd Smith,
and Colonel Yule, C.B., the geographer. These diagrams are given
in Plate I. Figs. 20-24. I wished that some of my foreign
correspondents could also have been present, such as M. Antoine
d'Abbadie, the well-known French traveller and Membre de l'Institut,
and Baron v. Osten Sacken, the Russian diplomatist and entomologist,
for they had given and procured me much information.

I feel sure that I have now said enough to remove doubts as to the
authenticity of my data. Their trustworthiness will, I trust, be
still more apparent as I proceed; it has been abundantly manifest to
myself from the internal evidences in a large mass of correspondence,
to which I can unfortunately do no adequate justice in a brief memoir.
It remains to treat the data in the same way as any other scientific
facts and to extract as much meaning from them as possible.

The peculiarity in question is found, speaking very roughly, in about
1 out of every 30 adult males or 15 females. It consists in the
sudden and automatic appearance of a vivid and invariable "Form" in
the mental field of view, whenever a numeral is thought of, in which
each numeral has its own definite place. This Form may consist of a
mere line of any shape, of a peculiarly arranged row or rows of
figures, or of a shaded space.

I give woodcuts of representative specimens of these Forms, and very
brief descriptions of them extracted from the letters of my
correspondents. Sixty-three other diagrams on a smaller scale will
be found in Plates I., II. and III., and two more which are coloured
are given in Plate IV.

[Illustration: ]

D.A. "From the very first I have seen numerals up to nearly 200,
range themselves always in a particular manner, and in thinking of a
number it always takes its place in the figure. The more attention I
give to the properties of numbers and their interpretations, the
less I am troubled with this clumsy framework for them, but it is
indelible in my mind's eye even when for a long time less
consciously so. The higher numbers are to me quite abstract and
unconnected with a shape. This rough and untidy [8] production is
the best I can do towards representing what I see. There was a
little difficulty in the performance, because it is only by catching
oneself at unawares, so to speak, that one is quite sure that what
one sees is not affected by temporary imagination. But it does not
seem much like, chiefly because the mental picture never seems
_on_ the flat but _in_ a thick, dark gray atmosphere deepening in
certain parts, especially where 1 emerges, and about 20. How I get
from 100 to 120 I hardly know, though if I could require these
figures a few times without thinking of them on purpose, I should
soon notice. About 200 I lose all framework. I do not see the actual
figures very distinctly, but what there is of them is distinguished
from the dark by a thin whitish tracing. It is the place they take
and the shape they make collectively which is invariable. Nothing
more definitely takes its place than a person's age. The person is
usually there so long as his age is in mind."

[Footnote 8: The engraver took much pains to interpret the meaning
of the rather faint but carefully made drawing, by strengthening
some of the shades. The result was very very satisfactory, judging
from the author's own view of it, which is as follows:--"Certainly
if the engraver has been as successful with all the other
representations as with that of my shape and its accompaniments,
your article must be entirely correct."]

T. M. "The representation I carry in my mind of the numerical series
is quite distinct to me, so much so that I cannot think of any
number but I at once see it (as it were) in its peculiar place in
the diagram. My remembrance of dates is also nearly entirely
dependent on a clear mental vision of their _loci_ in the diagram.
This, as nearly as I can draw it, is the following:--"

[Illustration: ]

"It is only approximately correct (if the term 'correct' be at all
applicable). The numbers seem to approach more closely as I ascend
from 10 to 20, 30, 40, etc. The lines embracing a hundred numbers
also seem to approach as I go on to 400, 500, to 1000. Beyond 1000 I
have only the sense of an infinite line in the direction of the arrow,
losing itself in darkness towards the millions. Any special number
of thousands returns in my mind to its position in the parallel
lines from 1 to 1000. The diagram was present in my mind from early
childhood; I remember that I learnt the multiplication table by
reference to it at the age of seven or eight. I need hardly say that
the impression is not that of perfectly straight lines, I have
therefore used no ruler in drawing it."

J.S. "The figures are about a quarter of an inch in length, and in
ordinary type. They are black on a white ground. The numeral 200
generally takes the place of 100 and obliterates it. There is no
light or shade, and the picture is invariable."

[Illustration: ]

etc. etc.
30 40 50 60 70 80 90 |

In some cases, the mental eye has to travel along the faintly-marked
and blank paths of a Form, to the place where the numeral that is
wanted is known to reside, and then the figure starts into sight. In
other cases all the numerals, as far as 100 or more, are faintly
seen at once, but the figure that is wanted grows more vivid than its
neighbours; in one of the cases there is, as it were, a chain, and
the particular link rises as if an unseen hand had lifted it. The
Forms are sometimes variously coloured, occasionally very
brilliantly (see Plate IV.). In all of these the definition and
illumination vary much in different parts. Usually the Forms fade
away into indistinctness after 100; sometimes they come to a dead
stop. The higher numbers very rarely fill so large a space in the
Forms as the lower ones, and the diminution of space occupied by
them is so increasingly rapid that I thought it not impossible they
might diminish according to some geometrical law, such as that which
governs sensitivity. I took many careful measurements and averaged
them, but the result did not justify the supposition.

It is beyond dispute that these forms originate at an early age;
they are subsequently often developed in boyhood and youth so as to
include the higher numbers, and, among mathematical students, the
negative values.

Nearly all of my correspondents speak with confidence of their Forms
having been in existence as far back as they recollect. One states
that he knows he possessed it at the age of four; another, that he
learnt his multiplication table by the aid of the elaborate mental
diagram he still uses. Not one in ten is able to suggest any clue as
to their origin. They cannot be due to anything written or printed,
because they do not simulate what is found in ordinary writings or

About one-third of the figures are curved to the left, two-thirds to
the right; they run more often upward than downward. They do not
commonly lie in a single plane. Sometimes a Form has twists as well
as bends, sometimes it is turned upside down, sometimes it plunges
into an abyss of immeasurable depth, or it rises and disappears in
the sky. My correspondents are often in difficulties when trying to
draw them in perspective. One sent me a stereoscopic picture
photographed from a wire that had been bent into the proper shape.
In one case the Form proceeds at first straightforward, then it
makes a backward sweep high above head, and finally recurves into
the pocket, of all places! It is often sloped upwards at a slight
inclination from a little below the level of the eye, just as
objects on a table would appear to a child whose chin was barely
above it.

It may seem strange that children should have such bold conceptions
as of curves sweeping loftily upward or downward to immeasurable
depths, but I think it may be accounted for by their much larger
personal experience of the vertical dimension of space than adults.
They are lifted, tossed and swung, but adults pass their lives very
much on a level, and only judge of heights by inference from the
picture on their retina. Whenever a man first ventures up in a
balloon, or is let, like a gatherer of sea-birds' eggs, over the
face of a precipice, he is conscious of having acquired a much
extended experience of the third dimension of space.

The character of the forms under which historical dates are
visualised contrast strongly with the ordinary Number-Forms. They
are sometimes copied from the numerical ones, but they are more
commonly based both clearly and consciously on the diagrams used in
the schoolroom or on some recollected fancy.

The months of the year are usually perceived as ovals, and they as
often follow one another in a reverse direction to those of the
figures on the clock, as in the same direction. It is a common
peculiarity that the months do not occupy equal spaces, but those
that are most important to the child extend more widely than the rest.
There are many varieties as to the topmost month; it is by no means
always January.

The Forms of the letters of the alphabet, when imaged, as they
sometimes are, in that way, are equally easy to be accounted for,
therefore the ordinary Number-Form is the oldest of all, and
consequently the most interesting. I suppose that it first came into
existence when the child was learning to count, and was used by him
as a natural mnemonic diagram, to which he referred the spoken words
"one," "two," "three," etc. Also, that as soon as he began to read,
the visual symbol figures supplanted their verbal sounds, and
permanently established themselves on the Form. It therefore existed
at an earlier date than that at which the child began to learn to
read; it represents his mental processes at a time of which no other
record remains; it persists in vigorous activity, and offers itself
freely to our examination.

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