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Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development by Francis Galton

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The teachers of many schools and colleges, some in America, have
kindly questioned their pupils for me; the results are given in the
two first columns of Plate I. It appears that the proportion of
young people who see numerals in Forms is greater than that of adults.
But for the most part their Forms are neither well defined nor
complicated. I conclude that when they are too faint to be of
service they are gradually neglected, and become wholly forgotten;
while if they are vivid and useful, they increase in vividness and
definition by the effect of habitual use. Hence, in adults, the two
classes of seers and non-seers are rather sharply defined, the
connecting link of intermediate cases which is observable in
childhood having disappeared.

These Forms are the most remarkable existing instances of what is
called "topical" memory, the essence of which appears to lie in the
establishment of a more exact system of division of labour in the
different parts of the brain, than is usually carried on. Topical
aids to memory are of the greatest service to many persons, and
teachers of mnemonics make large use of them, as by advising a
speaker to mentally associate the corners, etc., of a room with the
chief divisions of the speech he is about to deliver. Those who feel
the advantage of these aids most strongly are the most likely to
cultivate the use of numerical forms. I have read many books on
mnemonics, and cannot doubt their utility to some persons; to myself
the system is of no avail whatever, but simply a stumbling-block,
nevertheless I am well aware that many of my early associations are
fanciful and silly.

The question remains, why do the lines of the Forms run in such
strange and peculiar ways? the reply is, that different persons have
natural fancies for different lines and curves. Their handwriting
shows this, for handwriting is by no means solely dependent on the
balance of the muscles of the hand, causing such and such strokes to
be made with greater facility than others. Handwriting is greatly
modified by the fashion of the time. It is in reality a compromise
between what the writer most likes to produce, and what he can
produce with the greatest ease to himself. I am sure, too, that I
can trace a connection between the general look of the handwritings
of my various correspondents and the lines of their Forms. If a
spider were to visualise numerals, we might expect he would do so in
some web-shaped fashion, and a bee in hexagons. The definite
domestic architecture of all animals as seen in their nests and
holes shows the universal tendency of each species to pursue their
work according to certain definite lines and shapes, which are to
them instinctive and in no way, we may presume, logical. The same is
seen in the groups and formations of flocks of gregarious animals
and in the flights of gregarious birds, among which the wedge-shaped
phalanx of wild ducks and the huge globe of soaring storks are as
remarkable as any.

I used to be much amused during past travels in watching the
different lines of search that were pursued by different persons in
looking for objects lost on the ground, when the encampment was
being broken up. Different persons had decided idiosyncracies, so
much so that if their travelling line of sight could have scored a
mark on the ground, I think the system of each person would have
been as characteristic as his Number-Form.

Children learn their figures to some extent by those on the clock. I
cannot, however, trace the influence of the clock on the Forms in
more than a few cases. In two of them the clock-face actually appears,
in others it has evidently had a strong influence, and in the rest
its influence is indicated, but nothing more. I suppose that the
complex Roman numerals in the clock do not fit in sufficiently well
with the simpler ideas based upon the Arabic ones.

The other traces of the origin of the Forms that appear here and
there, are dominoes, cards, counters, an abacus, the fingers,
counting by coins, feet and inches (a yellow carpenter's rule
appears in one case with 56 in large figures upon it), the country
surrounding the child's home, with its hills and dales, objects in
the garden (one scientific man sees the old garden walk and the
numeral 7 at a tub sunk in the ground where his father filled his
watering-pot). Some associations seem connected with the objects
spoken of in the doggerel verses by which children are often taught
their numbers.

But the paramount influence proceeds from the names of the numerals.
Our nomenclature is perfectly barbarous, and that of other civilised
nations is not better than ours, and frequently worse, as the French
"quatre-vingt dix-huit," or "four score, ten and eight," instead of
ninety-eight. We speak of ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, etc., in
defiance of the beautiful system of decimal notation in which we
write those numbers. What we see is one-naught, one-one, one-two, etc.,
and we should pronounce on that principle, with this proviso, that
the word for the "one" having to show both the place and the value,
should have a sound suggestive of "one" but not identical with it.
Let us suppose it to be the letter _o_ pronounced short as in
"on," then instead of ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, etc., we might
say _on-naught, on-one, on-two, on-three_, etc.

The conflict between the two systems creates a perplexity, to which
conclusive testimony is borne by these numerical forms. In most of
them there is a marked hitch at the 12, and this repeats itself at
the 120. The run of the lines between 1 and 20 is rarely analogous
to that between 20 and 100, where it usually first becomes regular.
The 'teens frequently occupy a larger space than their due. It is not
easy to define in words the variety of traces of the difficulty and
annoyance caused by our unscientific nomenclature, that are
portrayed vividly, and, so to speak, painfully in these pictures.
They are indelible scars that testify to the effort and ingenuity
with which a sort of compromise was struggled for and has finally
been effected between the verbal and decimal systems. I am sure that
this difficulty is more serious and abiding than has been suspected,
not only from the persistency of these twists, which would have long
since been smoothed away if they did not continue to subserve some
useful purpose, but also from experiments on my own mind. I find I
can deal mentally with simple sums with much less strain if I
audibly conceive the figures as on-naught, on-one, etc., and I can
both dictate and write from dictation with much less trouble when
that system or some similar one is adopted. I have little doubt that
our nomenclature is a serious though unsuspected hindrance to the
ready adoption by the public of a decimal system of weights and
measures. Three quarters of the Forms bear a duodecimal impress.

I will now give brief explanations of the Number-Forms drawn in
Plates I., II., and III., and in the two front figures in Plate IV.


Fig. 1 is by Mr. Walter Larden, science-master of Cheltenham College,
who sent me a very interesting and elaborate account of his own case,
which by itself would make a memoir; and he has collected other
information for me. The Number-Forms of one of his colleagues and of
that gentleman's sister are given in Figs. 53, 54, Plate III. I
extract the following from Mr. Larden's letter--it is all for which
I can find space:--

[Illustration: PLATE I. _Examples of Number-Forms_.]

"All numbers are to me as images of figures in general; I see them
in ordinary Arabic type (except in some special cases), and they
have definite positions in space (as shown in the Fig.). Beyond 100
I am conscious of coming down a dotted line to the position of 1
again, and of going over the same cycle exactly as before, _e.g._
with 120 in the place of 20, and so on up to 140 or 150. With higher
numbers the imagery is less definite; thus, for 1140, I can only say
that there are no new positions, I do not see the entire number in
the place of 40; but if I think of it as 11 hundred and 40, I see 40
in its place, 11 in its place, and 100 in its place; the picture is
not single though the ideas combine. I seem to stand near 1. I have
to turn somewhat to see from 30-40, and more and more to see from
40-100; 100 lies high up to my right and behind me. I see no shading
nor colour in the figures."

Figs. 2 to 6 are from returns collected for me by the Rev. A.D. Hill,
science-master of Winchester College, who sent me replies from 135
boys of an average age of 14-15. He says, speaking of their replies
to my numerous questions on visualising generally, that they
"represent fairly those who could answer anything; the boys
certainly seemed interested in the subject; the others, who had no
such faculty either attempting and failing, or not finding any
response in their minds, took no interest in the inquiry." A very
remarkable case of hereditary colour association was sent to me by
Mr. Hill, to which I shall refer later. The only five good cases of
Number-Forms among the 135 boys are those shown in the Figs. I need
only describe Fig. 2. The boy says:--"Numbers, except the first
twenty, appear in waves; the two crossing-lines, 60-70, 140-150,
never appear at the _same time_. The first twelve are the image of a
clock, and 13-20 a continuation of them."

Figs. 7, 8, are sent me by Mr. Henry F. Osborn of Princeton in the
United States, who has given cordial assistance in obtaining
information as regards visualising generally. These two are the only
Forms included in sixty returns that he sent, 34 of which were from
Princeton College, and the remaining 26 from Vassar (female) College.
Figs. 9-19 and Fig. 28 are from returns communicated by Mr. W.H.
Poole, science-master of Charterhouse College, which are very
valuable to me as regards visualising power generally. He read my
questions before a meeting of about 60 boys, who all consented to
reply, and he had several subsequent volunteers. All the answers
were short, straightforward, and often amusing. Subsequently the
inquiry extended, and I have 168 returns from him in all, containing
12 good Number-Forms, shown in Figs. 9-19, and in Fig. 28. The
first Fig. is that of Mr. Poole himself; he says, "The line only
represents position; it does not exist in my mind. After 100, I
return to my old starting-place, _e.g._ 140 occupies the same
position as 40."

The gross statistical result from the schoolboys is as follows:
--Total returns, 337: viz. Winchester 135, Princeton 34, Charterhouse
168; the number of these that contained well-defined Number-Forms
are 5, 1, and 12 respectively, or total 18--that is, one in twenty.
It may justly be said that the masters should not be counted,
because it was owing to the accident of their seeing the Number-Forms
themselves that they became interested in the inquiry; if this
objection be allowed, the proportion would become 16 in 337, or one
in twenty-one. Again, some boys who had no visualising faculty at
all could make no sense out of the questions, and wholly refrained
from answering; this would again diminish the proportion. The
shyness in some would help in a statistical return to neutralise the
tendency to exaggeration in others, but I do not think there is much
room for correction on either head. Neither do I think it requisite
to make much allowance for inaccurate answers, as the tone of the
replies is simple and straightforward. Those from Princeton, where
the students are older and had been specially warned, are remarkable
for indications of self-restraint. The result of personal inquiries
among adults, quite independent of and prior to these, gave me the
proportion of 1 in 30 as a provisional result for adults. This is as
well confirmed by the present returns of 1 in 21 among boys and
youths as I could have expected.

I have not a sufficient number of returns from girls for useful
comparison with the above, though I am much indebted to Miss Lewis
for 33 reports, to Miss Cooper of Edgbaston for 10 reports from the
female teachers at her school, and to a few other schoolmistresses,
such as Miss Stones of Carmarthen, whose returns I have utilised in
other ways. The tendency to see Number-Forms is certainly higher in
girls than in boys.

Fig. 20 is the Form of Mr. George Bidder, Q.C.; it is of much
interest to myself, because it was, as I have already mentioned,
through the receipt of it and an accompanying explanation that my
attention was first drawn to the subject. Mr. G. Bidder is son of
the late well-known engineer, the famous "calculating boy" of the
bygone generation, whose marvellous feats in mental arithmetic were
a standing wonder. The faculty is hereditary. Mr. G. Bidder himself
has multiplied mentally fifteen figures by another fifteen figures,
but with less facility than his father. It has been again transmitted,
though in an again reduced degree, to the third generation. He says:

"One of the most curious peculiarities in my own case is the
arrangement of the arithmetical numerals. I have sketched this to
the best of my ability. Every number (at least within the first
thousand, and afterwards thousands take the place of units) is
always thought of by me in its own definite place in the series,
where it has, if I may say so, a home and an individuality. I should,
however, qualify this by saying that when I am multiplying together
two large numbers, my mind is engrossed in the operation, and the
idea of locality in the series for the moment sinks out of prominence."

Fig. 21 is that of Prof. Schuster, F.R.S., whose visualising powers
are of a very high order, and who has given me valuable information,
but want of space compels me to extract very briefly. He says to the

"The diagram of numerals which I usually see has roughly the shape
of a horse-shoe, lying on a slightly inclined plane, with the open
end towards me. It always comes into view in front of me, a little
to the left, so that the right hand branch of the horse-shoe, at the
bottom of which I place 0, is in front of my left eye. When I move
my eyes without moving my head, the diagram remains fixed in space
and does not follow the movement of my eye. When I move the head the
diagram unconsciously follows the movement, but I can, by an effort,
keep it fixed in space as before. I can also shift it from one part
of the field to the other, and even turn it upside down. I use the
diagram as a resting-place for the memory, placing a number on it
and finding it again when wanted. A remarkable property of the
diagram is a sort of elasticity which enables me to join the two
ends of the horse-shoe together when I want to connect 100 with 0.
The same elasticity causes me to see that part of the diagram on
which I fix my attention larger than the rest."

Mr. Schuster makes occasional use of a simpler form of diagram,
which is little more than a straight line variously divided, and
which I need not describe in detail.

Fig. 22 is by Colonel Yule, C.B.; it is simpler than the others, and
he has found it to become sensibly weaker in later years; it is now
faint and hard to fix.

Fig. 23. Mr. Woodd Smith:--

"Above 200 the form becomes vague and is soon lost, except that 999
is always in a corner like 99. My own position in regard to it is
generally nearly opposite my own age, which is fifty now, at which
point I can face either towards 7-12, or towards 12-20, or 20-7, but
never (I think) with my back to 12-20."

Fig. 24. Mr. Roget. He writes to the effect that the first twelve
are clearly derived from the spots in dominoes. After 100 there is
nothing clear but 108. The form is so deeply engraven in his mind
that a strong effort of the will was required to substitute any
artificial arrangement in its place. His father, the late Dr. Roget
(well known for many years as secretary of the Royal Society), had
trained him in his childhood to the use of the _memoria technica_ of
Feinagle, in which each year has its special place in the walls of a
particular room, and the rooms of a house represent successive
centuries, but he never could locate them in that way. They _would_
go to what seemed their natural homes in the arrangement shown in
the figure, which had come to him from some unknown source.

The remaining Figs., 25-28, in Plate I., sufficiently express
themselves. The last belongs to one of the Charterhouse boys, the
others respectively to a musical critic, to a clergyman, and to a
gentleman who is, I believe, now a barrister.


Plate II. contains examples of more complicated Forms, which
severally require so much minuteness of description that I am in
despair of being able to do justice to them separately, and must
leave most of them to tell their own story.

Fig. 34 is that of Mr. Flinders Petrie, to which I have already
referred (p. 66).

Fig. 37 is by Professor Herbert McLeod, F.R.S. I will quote his
letter almost in full, as it is a very good example:--

"When your first article on visualised numerals appeared in _Nature_,
I thought of writing to tell you of my own case, of which I had
never previously spoken to any one, and which I never contemplated
putting on paper. It becomes now a duty to me to do so, for it is a
fourth case of the influence of the clock-face. [In my article I had
spoken of only three cases known to me.--F. G.] The enclosed paper
will give you a rough notion of the apparent positions of numbers in
my mind. That it is due to learning the clock is, I think, proved by
my being able to tell the clock certainly before I was four, and
probably when little more than three, but my mother cannot tell me
the exact date. I had a habit of arranging my spoon and fork on my
plate to indicate the positions of the hands, and I well remember
being astonished at seeing an old watch of my grandmother's which
had ordinary numerals in place of Roman ones. All this happened
before I could read, and I have no recollection of learning the
numbers unless it was by seeing numbers stencilled on the barrels in
my father's brewery.

"When learning the numbers from 12 to 20, they appeared to be
vertically above the 12 of the clock, and you will see from the
enclosed sketch that the most prominent numbers which I have
underlined all occur in the multiplication table. Those doubly
underlined are the most prominent [the lithographer has not rendered
these correctly.--F. G.], and just now I caught myself doing what I
did not anticipate--after doubly underlining some of the numbers, I
found that all the multiples of 12 except 84 are so marked. In the
sketch I have written in all the numbers up to 30; the others are
not added merely for want of space; they appear in their
corresponding positions. You will see that 21 is curiously placed,
probably to get a fresh start for the next 10. The loops gradually
diminish in size as the numbers rise, and it seems rather curious
that the numbers from 100 to 120 resemble in form those from 1 to 20.
Beyond 144 the arrangement is less marked, and beyond 200 they
entirely vanish, although there is some hazy recollection of a
futile attempt to learn the multiplication table up to 20 times 20."

[Illustration: PLATE II. _Examples of Number Forms_.]

"Neither my mother nor my sister is conscious of any mental
arrangement of numerals. I have not found any idea of this kind
among any of my colleagues to whom I have spoken on the subject, and
several of them have ridiculed the notion, and possibly think me a
lunatic for having any such feeling. I was showing the scheme to G.,
shortly after your first article appeared, on the piece of paper I
enclose, and he changed the diagram to a sea-serpent [most amusingly
and grotesquely drawn.--F. G.], with the remark, 'If you were a rich
man, and I knew I was mentioned in your will, I should destroy that
piece of paper, in case it should be brought forward as an evidence
of insanity!' I mention this in connection with a paragraph in your

Fig. 40 is, I think, the most complicated form I possess. It was
communicated to me by Mr. Woodd Smith as that of Miss L. K., a lady
who was governess in a family, whom he had closely questioned both
with inquiries of his own and by submitting others subsequently sent
by myself. It is impossible to convey its full meaning briefly, and
I am not sure that I understand much of the principle of it myself.
A shows part only (I have not room for more) of the series 2, 3, 5, 7,
10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, each as two sides of a square,--that is,
larger or smaller according to the magnitude of the number; 1 does
not appear anywhere. C similarly shows part of the series (all
divisible by 3) of 6, 9, 15, 21, 27, 30, 33, 39, 60, 63, 66, 69, 90,
93, 96. B shows the way in which most numbers divisible by 4 appear.
D shows the form of the numbers 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27,
29, 41, 42-49, 81-83, 85-87, 89, 101-103, 105-107, and 109. E shows
that of 31, 33-35, 37-39. The other numbers are not clear, viz. 50,
51, 53-55, 57-59. Beyond 100 the arrangement becomes hazy, except
that the hundreds and thousands go on again in complete, consecutive,
and proportional squares indefinitely. The groups of figures are not
seen together, but one or other starts up as the number is thought of.
The form has no background, and is always seen _in front_. No Arabic
or other figures are seen with it. Experiments were made as to the
time required to get these images well in the mental view, by
reading to the lady a series of numbers as fast as she could
visualise them. The first series consisted of twenty numbers of two
figures each--thus, 17, 28, 13, 52, etc.; these were gone through on
the first trial in 22 seconds, on the second in 16, and on the third
in 26. The second series was more varied, containing numbers of one,
two, and three figures--thus 121, 117, 345, 187, 13, 6, 25, etc.,
and these were gone through in three trials in 25, 25, and 22 seconds
respectively, forming a general result of 23 seconds for twenty
numbers, or 2-1/3 seconds per number. A noticeable feature in this
case is the strict accordance of the scale of the image with the
magnitude of the number, and the geometric regularity of the figures.
Some that I drew, and sent for the lady to see, did not at all
satisfy her eye as to their correctness.

I should say that not a few mental calculators work by bulks rather
than by numerals; they arrange concrete magnitudes symmetrically in
rank and file like battalions, and march these about. I have one
case where each number in a Form seems to bear its own _weight_.

Fig. 45 is a curious instance of a French Member of the Institute,
communicated to me by M. Antoine d'Abbadie (whose own Number-Form is
shown in Fig. 44):--

"He was asked, why he puts 4 in so conspicuous a place; he replied,
'You see that such a part of my name (which he wishes to withhold)
means 4 in the south of France, which is the cradle of my family;
consequently _quatre est ma raison d'etre_.'"

Subsequently, in 1880, M. d'Abbadie wrote:--

"I mentioned the case of a philosopher whose, 4, 14, 24, etc., all
step out of the rank in his mind's eye. He had a haze in his mind
from 60, I believe [it was 50.--F.G.], up to 80; but latterly 80 has
sprung out, not like the sergeants 4, 14, 24, but like a captain,
farther out still, and five or six times as large as the privates 1,
2, 3, 5, 6, etc. 'Were I superstitious,' said he, 'I should
conclude that my death would occur in the 80th year of the century.'
The growth of 80 was _sudden_, and has remained constant ever since."

This is the only case known to me of a new stage in the development
of a Number-Form being suddenly attained.


Plate III. is intended to exhibit some instances of heredity. I have
no less than twenty-two families in which this curious tendency is
hereditary, and there may be many more of which I am still ignorant.
I have found it to extend in at least eight of these beyond the near
degrees of parent and child, and brother and sister. Considering that
the occurrence is so rare as to exist in only about one in every
twenty-five or thirty males, these results are very remarkable, and
their trustworthiness is increased by the fact that the hereditary
tendency is on the whole the strongest in those cases where the
Number-Forms are the most defined and elaborate. I give four
instances in which the hereditary tendency is found, not only in
having a Form at all, but also in some degree in the shape of the

Figs. 46-49 are those of various members of the Henslow family,
where the brothers, sisters, and some children of a sister have the

Figs. 53-54 are those of a master of Cheltenham College and his

Figs. 55-56 are those of a father and son; 57 and 58 belong to the
same family.

Figs. 59-60 are those of a brother and sister.

The lower half of the Plate explains itself. The last figure of all,
Fig. 65, is of interest, because it was drawn for an intelligent
little girl of only 11 years old, after she had been closely
questioned by the father, and it was accompanied by elaborate
coloured illustrations of months and days of the week. I thought
this would be a good test case, so I let the matter drop for two
years, and then begged the father to question the child casually,
and to send me a fresh account. I asked at the same time if any
notes had been kept of the previous letter. Nothing could have come
out more satisfactorily. No notes had been kept; the subject
had passed out of mind, but the imagery remained the same, with some
trifling and very interesting metamorphoses of details.

[Illustration: PLATE III. _Examples of an Hereditary Tendency to see
Number-Forms_, _4 Instances where the Number Forms in same family
are alike_ _3 Instances where the Number-Forms in same family are


I can find room in Plate IV. for only two instances of coloured
Number-Forms, though others are described in Plate III. Fig. 64 is
by Miss Rose G. Kingsley, daughter of the late eminent writer the Rev.
Charles Kingsley, and herself an authoress. She says:--

"Up to 30 I see the numbers in clear white; to 40 in gray; 40-50 in
flaming orange; 50-60 in green; 60-70 in dark blue; 70 I am not sure
about; 80 is reddish, I think; and 90 is yellow; but these latter
divisions are very indistinct in my mind's eye."

She subsequently writes:--

"I now enclose my diagram; it is very roughly done, I am afraid, not
nearly as well as I should have liked to have done it. My great fear,
has been that in thinking it over I might be led to write down
something more than what I actually see, but I hope I have avoided

Fig. 65 is an attempt at reproducing the form sent by Mr. George F.
Smythe of Ohio, an American correspondent who has contributed much
of interest. He says:--

"To me the numbers from 1 to 20 lie on a level plane, but from 20
they slope up to 100 at an angle of about 25 deg. Beyond 100 they are
generally all on a level, but if for any reason I have to think of
the numbers from 100 to 200, or from 200 to 300, etc., then the
numbers, between these two hundreds, are arranged just as those from
1 to 100 are. I do not, when thinking of a number, picture to
myself the figures which represent it, but I do think instantly of
the place which it occupies along the line. Moreover, in the case of
numbers from 1 to 20 (and, indistinctly, from 20 up to 28 or 30), I
always picture the number--not the figures--as occupying a
right-angled parallelogram about twice as long as it is broad. These
numbers all lie down flat and extend in a straight line from 1 to 12
over an unpleasant, arid, sandy plain. At 12 the line turns abruptly
to the right, passes into a pleasanter region where grass grows, and
so continues up to 20. At 20 the line turns to the left, and passes
up the before-described incline to 100. This figure will help you in
understanding my ridiculous notions. The asterisk (*) marks the
place where I commonly seem to myself to stand and view the line. At
times I take other positions, but never any position to the left of
the (*), nor to the right of the line from 20 upwards. I do not
associate colours with numbers, but there is a great difference in
the illumination which different numbers receive. If a traveller
should start at 1 and walk to 100, he would be in an intolerable
glare of light until near 9 or 10. But at 11 he would go into a land
of darkness and would have to feel his way. At 12 light breaks in
again, a pleasant sunshine, which continues up to 19 or 20, where
there is a sort of twilight. From here to 40 the illumination is
feeble, but still there is considerable light. At 40 things light up,
and until one reaches 56 or 57 there is broad daylight. Indeed the
tract from 48 to 50 is almost as bad as that from 1 to 9. Beyond 60
there is a fair amount of light up to about 97, From this point to
100 it is rather cloudy."

In a subsequent letter he adds:--

"I enclose a picture in perspective and colour of my 'form.' I have
taken great pains with this, but am far from satisfied with it. I
know nothing about drawing, and consequently am unable to put upon
the paper just what I see. The faults which I find with the picture
are these. The rectangles stand out too distinctly, as something
lying on the plane instead of being, as they ought, a part of the
plane. The view is taken of necessity from an unnatural stand-point,
and some way or other the region 1-12 does not look right. The
landscape is altogether too distinct in its features. I rather
_know that there is_ grass, and that there are trees in the
distance, than _see_ them. But the grass within a few feet of the
line I see distinctly. I cannot make the hill at the right slope
down to the plane as it ought. It is too steep. I have had my poor
success in indicating my notion of the darkness which overhangs the
region of eleven. In reality it is not a cloud at all, but a darkness.

"My sister, a married lady, thirty-eight years of age, sees numerals
much as I do, but very indistinctly. She cannot draw a figure which
is not by far too distinct."

Most of those who associate colours with numerals do so in a vague
way, impossible to convey with truth in a painting. Of the few who
see them with more objectivity, many are unable to paint or are
unwilling to take the trouble required to match the precise colours
of their fancies. A slight error in hue or tint always dissatisfies
them with their work.

Before dismissing the subject of numerals, I would call attention to
a few other associations connected with them. They are often
personified by children, and characters are assigned to them, it may
be on account of the part they play in the multiplication table, or
owing to some fanciful association with their appearance or their
sound. To the minds of some persons the multiplication table appears
dramatised, and any chance group of figures may afford a plot for a
tale. I have collated six full and trustworthy accounts, and find a
curious dissimilarity in the personifications and preferences; thus
the number 3 is described as (1) disliked; (2) a treacherous sneak;
(3) a good old friend; (4) delightful and amusing; (5) a female
companion to 2; (6) a feeble edition of 9. In one point alone do I
find any approach to unanimity, and that is in the respect paid to 12,
as in the following examples:--(1) important and influential;
(2) good and cautious--so good as to be almost noble; (3) a more
beautiful number than 10, from the many multiples that make it
up--in other words, its kindly relations to so many small numbers;
(4) a great love for 12, a large-hearted motherly person because of
the number of little ones that it takes, as it were, under its
protection. The decimal system seemed to me treason against this
motherly 12.--All this concurs with the importance assigned for
other reasons to the number 12 in the Number-Form.

There is no agreement as to the sex of numbers; I myself had
absurdly enough fancied that _of course_ the even numbers would be
taken to be of the male sex, and was surprised to find that they
were not. I mention this as an example of the curious way in which
our minds may be unconsciously prejudiced by the survival of some
forgotten early fancies. I cannot find on inquiring of philologists
any indications of different sexes having been assigned in any
language to different numbers.

Mr. Hershon has published an analysis of the Talmud, on the odd
principle of indexing the various passages according to the number
they may happen to contain; thus such a phrase as "there were three
men who," etc., would be entered under the number 3. I cannot find
any particular preferences given there to especial numbers; even 7
occurs less often than 1, 2, 3, 4, and 10. Their respective
frequency being 47, 54, 53, 64, 54, 51; 12 occurs only sixteen times.
Gamblers have not unfrequently the silliest ideas concerning numbers,
their heads being filled with notions about lucky figures and
beautiful combinations of them. There is a very amusing chapter in
_Rome Contemporaine_, by E. About, in which he speaks of this in
connection with the rage for lottery tickets.


Numerals are occasionally seen in Arabic or other figures, not
disposed in any particular Form, but coloured. An instance of this
is represented in Fig. 69 towards the middle part of the column, but
as I shall have shortly to enter at length into the colour
associations of the author, I will pass over this portion of them,
and will quote in preference from the letter of another correspondent.

Baron von Osten Sacken, of whom I have already spoken, writes:--

"The localisation of numerals, peculiar to certain persons, is
foreign to me. In my mind's eye the figures appear _in front_ of me,
within a limited space. My peculiarity, however, consists in the
fact that the numerals from 1 to 9 are differently coloured; (1)
black, (2) yellow, (3) pale brick red, (4) brown, (5) blackish gray,
(6) reddish brown, (7) green, (8) bluish, (9) reddish brown,
somewhat like 6. These colours appear very distinctly when I think
of these figures separately; in compound figures they become less
apparent. But the most remarkable manifestation of these colours
appears in my recollections of chronology. When I think of the
events of a given century they invariably appear to me on a
background coloured like the principal figure in the dates of that
century; thus events of the eighteenth century invariably appear to
me on a greenish ground, from the colour of the figure 7. This habit
clings to me most tenaciously, and the only hypothesis I can form
about its origin is the following:--My tutor, when I was ten to
twelve years old, taught me chronology by means of a diagram on
which the centuries were represented by squares, subdivided in 100
smaller squares; the squares representing centuries had _narrow
coloured borders_; it may be that in this way the recollection of
certain figures became associated with certain colours. I venture
this explanation without attaching too much importance to it, because
it seems to me that if it was true, my _direct_ recollection of those
coloured borders would have been stronger than it is; still, the
strong association of my chronology with colour seems to plead in
favour of that explanation."

Figs. 66, 67. These two are selected out of a large collection
of coloured Forms in which the months of the year are visualised.
They will illustrate the gorgeousness of the mental imagery of
some favoured persons. Of these Fig. 66 is by the wife of an able
London physician, and Fig. 67 is by Mrs. Kempe Welch, whose sister,
Miss Bevington, a well-known and thoughtful writer, also sees
coloured imagery in connection with dates. This Fig. 67 was one
of my test cases, repeated after the lapse of two years, and quite
satisfactorily. The first communication was a descriptive account,
partly in writing, partly by word of mouth; the second, on my asking
for it, was a picture which agreed perfectly with the description,
and explained much that I had not understood at the time. The small
size of the Fig. in the Plate makes it impossible to do justice to
the picture, which is elaborate and on a large scale, with a
perspective of similar hills stretching away to the far distance,
and each standing for a separate year. She writes:--

"It is rather difficult to give it fully without making it too
definite; on each side there is a total blank."

The instantaneous association of colour with sound characterises a
small percentage of adults, and it appears to be rather common,
though in an ill-developed degree, among children. I can here appeal
not only to my own collection of facts, but to those of others, for
the subject has latterly excited some interest in Germany. The first
widely known case was that of the brothers Nussbaumer, published in
1873 by Professor Bruhl of Vienna, of which the English reader will
find an account in the last volume of Lewis's _Problems of Life and
Mind_ (p. 280). Since then many occasional notices of similar
associations have appeared. A pamphlet containing numerous cases was
published in Leipsic in 1881 by two Swiss investigators, Messrs.
Bleuler and Lehmann.[9] One of the authors had the faculty very
strongly, and the other had not; so they worked conjointly with
advantage. They carefully tabulated the particulars of sixty-two
cases. As my present object is to subordinate details to the general
impression that I wish to convey of the peculiarities of different
minds, I will simply remark--First, that the persistence of the
colour association with sounds is fully as remarkable as that of the
Number-Form with numbers. Secondly, that the vowel sounds chiefly
evoke them. Thirdly, that the seers are invariably most minute in
their description of the precise tint and hue of the colour. They
are never satisfied, for instance, with saying "blue," but will take
a great deal of trouble to express or to match the particular blue
they mean. Fourthly, that no two people agree, or hardly ever do so,
as to the colour they associate with the same sound. Lastly, that
the tendency is very hereditary. The publications just mentioned
absolve me from the necessity of giving many extracts from the
numerous letters I have received, but I am particularly anxious to
bring the brilliancy of these colour associations more vividly
before the reader than is possible by mere description. I have
therefore given the elaborately-coloured diagrams in Plate IV., which
were copied by the artist directly from the original drawings, and
which have been printed by the superimposed impressions of different
colours from different lithographic stones. They have been, on the
whole, very faithfully executed, and will serve as samples of the
most striking cases. Usually the sense of colour is much too vague
to enable the seer to reproduce the various tints so definitely as
those in this Plate. But this is by no means universally the case.

Fig. 68 is an excellent example of the occasional association of
colours with letters. It is by Miss Stones, the head teacher in a
high school for girls, who, as I have already mentioned, obtained
useful information for me, and has contributed several suggestive
remarks of her own. She says:--

"The vowels of the English language always appear to me, when I
think of them, as possessing certain colours, of which I enclose a
diagram. Consonants, when thought of by themselves, are of a
purplish black; but when I think of a whole word, the colour of the
consonants tends towards the colour of the vowels. For example, in
the word 'Tuesday,' when I think of each letter separately, the
consonants are purplish-black, _u_ is a light dove colour, _e_ is a
pale emerald green, and _a_ is yellow; but when I think of the whole
word together, the first part is a light gray-green, and the latter
part yellow. Each word is a distinct whole. I have always associated
the same colours with the same letters, and no effort will change
the colour of one letter, transferring it to another. Thus the word
'red' assumes a light-green tint, while the word 'yellow' is
light-green at the beginning and red at the end. Occasionally, when
uncertain how a word should be spelt, I have considered what colour
it ought to be, and have decided in that way. I believe this has
often been a great help to me in spelling, both in English and
foreign languages. The colour of the letters is never smeared or
blurred in any way. I cannot recall to mind anything that should
have first caused me to associate colours with letters, nor can my
mother remember any alphabet or reading-book coloured in the way I
have described, which I might have used as a child. I do not
associate any idea of colour with musical notes at all, nor with any
of the other senses."

She adds:--

"Perhaps you may be interested in the following account from my
sister of her visual peculiarities: 'When I think of Wednesday I see
a kind of oval flat wash of yellow emerald green; for Tuesday, a
gray sky colour; for Thursday, a brown-red irregular polygon; and a
dull yellow smudge for Friday.'"

[Footnote 9: Zwangmaessige Lichtempfindungen durch Schall und
verwandte Erscheinungen, von E. Bleuler und K. Lehmann. Leipsig, Fues'
Verlag (R. Reisland), 1881.]

The latter quotation is a sample of many that I have; I give it
merely as another instance of hereditary tendency.

I will insert just one description of other coloured letters than
those represented in the Plate. It is from Mrs. H., the married
sister of a well-known man of science, who writes:--

"I do not know how it is with others, but to me the colours of
vowels are so strongly marked that I hardly understand their
appearing of a different colour, or, what is nearly as bad,
colourless to any one. To me they are and always have been, as long
as I have known them, of the following tints:--"

A, pure white, and like china in texture.

E, red, not transparent; vermilion, with china-white would represent

I, light bright yellow; gamboge.

O, black, but transparent; the colour of deep water seen through
thick clear ice.

U, purple.

Y, a dingier colour than I.

"The shorter sounds of the vowels are less vivid and pure in colour.
Consonants are almost or quite colourless to me, though there is
some blackness about M.

"Some association with U in the words blue and purple may account
for that colour, and possibly the E in red may have to do with that
also; but I feel as if they were independent of suggestions of the

"My first impulse is to say that the association lies solely in the
sound of the vowels, in which connection I certainly feel it the
most strongly; but then the thought of the distinct redness of such
a [printed or written] word as '_great_' shows me that the relation
must be visual as well as aural. The meaning of words is so
unavoidably associated with the sight of them, that I think this
association rather overrides the primitive impression of the colour
of the vowels, and the word '_violet_' reminds me of its proper
colour until I look at the word as a mere collection of letters.

"Of my two daughters, one sees the colours quite differently from
this (A, blue; E, white; I, black; O, whity-brownish; U, opaque brown).
The other is only heterodox on the A and O; A being with her black,
and O white. My sister and I never agreed about these colours, and I
doubt whether my two brothers feel the chromatic force of the vowels
at all."

I give this instance partly on account of the hereditary interest. I
could add cases from at least three different families in which the
heredity is quite as strongly marked.

Fig. 69 fills the whole of the middle column of Plate IV., and
contains specimens from a large series of coloured illustrations,
accompanied by many pages of explanation from a correspondent,
Dr. James Key of Montagu, Cape Colony. The pictures will tell their
own tale sufficiently well. I need only string together a few brief
extracts from his letters, as follows:--

"I confess my inability to understand visualised numerals; it is
otherwise, however, with regard to colour associations with letters.
Ever since childhood these have been distinct and unchanging in my
consciousness; sometimes, although very seldom, I have mentioned them,
to the amazement of my teachers and the scorn of my comrades. A is
brown. I say it most dogmatically, and nothing will ever have the
effect, I am convinced, of making it appear otherwise! I can imagine
no explanation of this association. [He goes into much detail as to
conceivable reasons connected with his childish life to show that
none of these would do.] Shades of brown accompany to my mind the
various degrees of openness in pronouncing A. I have never been
destitute in all my conscious existence of a conviction that E is a
clear, cold, light-gray blue. I remember daubing in colours, when
quite a little child, the picture of a jockey, whose shirt received
a large share of E, as I said to myself while daubing it with grey.
[He thinks that the letter I may possibly be associated with black
because it contains no open space, and O with white because it does.]
The colour of R has been invariably of a copper colour, in which a
swarthy blackness seems to intervene, visually corresponding to the
trilled pronunciation of R. This same appearance exists also in J, X,
and Z."

The upper row of Fig. 69 shows the various shades of brown,
associated with different pronunciations of the letter A, as in
"fame," "can," "charm," and "all" respectively. The second, third
and fourth rows similarly refer to the various pronunciations of the
other vowels. Then follow the letters of the alphabet, grouped
according to the character of the appearance they suggest. After
these come the numerals. Then I give three lines of words such as
they appear to him. The first is my own name, the second is
"London," and the third is "Visualisation." Proceeding conversely,
Dr. Key collected scraps of various patterns of wall paper, and sent
them together with the word that the colour of the several patterns
suggested to him. Specimens of these are shown in the three bottom
lines of the Fig. I have gone through the whole of them with care,
together with his descriptions and reasons, and can quite understand
his meaning, and how exceedingly complex and refined these
associations are. The patterns are to him like words in poetry,
which call up associations that any substituted word of a like
dictionary meaning would fail to do. It would not, for example, be
possible to print words by the use of counters coloured like those
in Fig. 69, because the tint of each influences that of its
neighbours. It must be understood that my remarks, though based on
Dr. Key's diagrams and statements as on a text, do not depend, by
any means, wholly upon them, but on numerous other letters from
various quarters to the same effect. At the same time I should say
that Dr. Key's elaborate drawings and ample explanations, to which I
am totally unable to do justice in a moderate space, are the most
full and striking of any I have received. His illustrations are on a
large scale, and are ingeniously arranged so as to express his

Persons who have colour associations are unsparingly critical. To
ordinary individuals one of these accounts seems just as wild and
lunatic as another, but when the account of one seer is submitted to
another seer, who is sure to see the colours in a different way, the
latter is scandalised and almost angry at the heresy of the former.
I submitted this very account of Dr. Key to a lady, the wife of an
ex-governor of one of the most important British possessions, who
has vivid colour associations of her own, and who, I had some reason
to think, might have personal acquaintance with the locality where
Dr. Key lives. She could not comprehend his account at all, his
colours were so entirely different to those that she herself saw.

I have now completed as much as I propose to say about the quaint
phenomena of Visualised Forms of numbers and of dates, and of
coloured associations with letters. I shall not extend my remarks to
such subjects as a musician hearing mental music, of which I have
many cases, nor to fancies concerning the other senses, as none of
these are so noteworthy. I am conscious that the reader may desire
even more assurance of the trustworthiness of the accounts I have
given than the space now at my disposal admits, or than I could
otherwise afford without wearisome iteration of the same tale, by
multiplying extracts from my large store of material. I feel, too,
that it may seem ungracious to many obliging correspondents not to
have made more evident use of what they have sent than my few and
brief notices permit. Still their end and mine will have been gained,
if these remarks and illustrations succeed in leaving a just
impression of the vast variety of mental constitution that exists in
the world, and how impossible it is for one man to lay his mind
strictly alongside that of another, except in the rare instances of
close hereditary resemblance.


In the course of my inquiries into visual memory, I was greatly
struck by the frequency of the replies in which my informants
described themselves as subject to "visions." Those of whom I speak
were sane and healthy, but were subject notwithstanding to visual
presentations, for which they could not account, and which in a few
cases reached the level of hallucinations. This unexpected
prevalence of a visionary tendency among persons who form a part of
ordinary society seems to me suggestive and well worthy of being put
on record. The images described by different persons varied greatly
in distinctness, some were so faint and evanescent as to appear
unworthy of serious notice; others left a deep impression, and
others again were so vivid as actually to deceive the judgment. All
of these belong to the same category, and it is the assurance of
their common origin that affords justification for directing
scientific attention to what many may be inclined to contemptuously
disregard as the silly vagaries of vacant minds.

The lowest order of phenomena that admit of being classed as visions
are the "Number-Forms" to which I have just drawn attention. They
are in each case absolutely unchangable, except through a gradual
development in complexity. Their diversity is endless, and the
Number-Forms of different persons are mutually unintelligible. These
strange "visions," for such they must be called, are extremely vivid
in some cases, but are almost incredible to the vast majority of
mankind, who would set them down as fantastic nonsense; nevertheless,
they are familiar parts of the mental furniture of the rest, in
whose imaginations they have been unconsciously formed, and where
they remain unmodified and unmodifiable by teaching. I have received
many touching accounts of their childish experiences from persons
who see the Number-Forms, and other curious visions of which I have
spoken or shall speak. As is the case with the colour-blind, so with
these seers. They imagined at first that everybody else had the same
way of regarding things as themselves. Then they betrayed their
peculiarities by some chance remark that called forth a stare of
surprise, followed by ridicule and a sharp scolding for their
silliness, so that the poor little things shrank back into themselves,
and never ventured again to allude to their inner world. I will
quote just one of many similar letters as a sample. I received it,
together with much interesting information, immediately after a
lecture I gave to the British Association at Swansea, in which I had
occasion to speak of the Number-Forms. The writer says:--

"I had no idea for many years that every one did not imagine numbers
in the same positions as those in which they appear to me. One
unfortunate day I spoke of it, and was sharply rebuked for my
absurdity. Being a very sensitive child I felt this acutely, but
nothing ever shook my belief that, absurd or not, I always saw
numbers in this particular way. I began to be ashamed of what I
considered a peculiarity, and to imagine myself, from this and
various other mental beliefs and states, as somewhat isolated and
peculiar. At your lecture the other night, though I am now over
twenty-nine, the memory of my childish misery at the dread of being
peculiar came over me so strongly that I felt I must thank you for
proving that, in this particular at any rate, my case is most common."

The next sort of vision that flashes unaccountably into existence is
the instant association in some persons of colour with sound, which
was spoken of in the last chapter, and on which I need not say more

A third curious and abiding fantasy of certain persons is invariably
to connect visualised pictures with words, the same picture to the
same word. These are perceived by many in a vague, fleeting, and
variable way, but to a few they appear strangely vivid and permanent.
I have collected many cases of this peculiarity, and am much
indebted to the authoress, Mrs. Haweis, who sees these pictures, for
her kindness in sketching some of them for me, and for permitting me
to use her name in guarantee of their genuineness. She says:--

"Printed words have always had faces to me; they had definite
expressions, and certain faces made me think of certain words. The
words had _no_ connection with these except sometimes by accident.
The instances I give are few and ridiculous. When I think of the
word Beast, it has a face something like a gargoyle. The word Green
has also a gargoyle face, with the addition of big teeth. The word
Blue blinks and looks silly, and turns to the right. The word
Attention has the eyes greatly turned to the left. It is difficult
to draw them properly because, like Alice's 'Cheshire cat,' which at
times became a grin without a cat, these faces have expression
without features. The expression of course" [note the _naive_ phrase
"of course."--F.G.] "depends greatly on those of the letters, which
have likewise their faces and figures. All the little a's turn their
eyes to the left, this determines the eyes of Attention. Ant, however,
looks a little down. Of course these faces are endless as words are,
and it makes my head ache to retain them long enough to draw."

Some of the figures are very quaint. Thus the interrogation
"what?" always excites the idea of a fat man cracking a long whip.
They are not the capricious creations of the fancy of the moment,
but are the regular concomitants of the words, and have been so as
far back as the memory is able to recall.

When in perfect darkness, if the field of view be carefully watched,
many persons will find a perpetual series of changes to be going on
automatically and wastefully in it. I have much evidence of this. I
will give my own experience the first, which is striking to me,
because I am very unimpressionable in these matters. I visualise
with effort; I am peculiarly inapt to see "after-images," "phosphenes,"
"light-dust," and other phenomena due to weak sight or sensitiveness;
and, again, before I thought of carefully trying, I should have
emphatically declared that my field of view in the dark was
essentially of a uniform black, subject to an occasional
light-purple cloudiness and other small variations. Now, however,
after habituating myself to examine it with the same sort of strain
that one tries to decipher a signpost in the dark, I have found out
that this is by no means the case, but that a kaleidoscopic change
of patterns and forms is continually going on, but they are too
fugitive and elaborate for me to draw with any approach to truth. I
am astonished at their variety, and cannot guess in the remotest
degree the cause of them. They disappear out of sight and memory the
instant I begin to think about anything, and it is curious to me
that they should often be so certainly present and yet be habitually
overlooked. If they were more vivid, the case would be very different,
and it is most easily conceivable that some very slight
physiological change, short of a really morbid character, would
enhance their vividness. My own deficiencies, however, are well
supplied by other drawings in my possession. These are by the Rev.
George Henslow, whose visions are far more vivid than mine. His
experiences are not unlike those of Goethe, who said, in an
often-quoted passage, that whenever he bent his head and closed his
eyes and thought of a rose, a sort of rosette made its appearance,
which would not keep its shape steady for a moment, but unfolded
from within, throwing out a succession of petals, mostly red but
sometimes green, and that it continued to do so without change in
brightness and without causing him any fatigue so long as he cared to
watch it. Mr. Henslow, when he shuts his eyes and waits, is sure in
a short time to see before him the clear image of some object or
other, but usually not quite natural in its shape. It then begins to
change from one form to another, in his case also for as long a time
as he cares to watch it. Mr. Henslow has zealously made repeated
experiments on himself, and has drawn what he sees. He has also tried
how far he is able to mould the visions according to his will. In
one case, after much effort, he contrived to bring the imagery back
to its starting-point, and thereby to form what he terms a "visual
cycle." The following account is extracted and condensed from his
very interesting letter, and will explain the illustrations copied
from his drawings that are given in Plate IV.

Fig. 70. The first image that spontaneously presented itself was a
cross-bow (1); this was immediately provided with an arrow (2),
remarkable for its pronounced barb and superabundance of feathering.
Some person, but too indistinct to recognise much more of him than
the hands, appeared to shoot the arrow from the bow. The single
arrow was then accompanied by a flight of arrows from right to left,
which completely occupied the field of vision. These changed into
falling stars, then into flakes of a heavy snowstorm; the ground
gradually appeared as a sheet of snow where previously there had
been vacant space. Then a well-known rectory, fish-ponds, walls, etc.,
all covered with snow, came into view most vividly and clearly
defined. This somehow suggested another view, impressed on his mind
in childhood, of a spring morning, brilliant sun, and a bed of red
tulips: the tulips gradually vanished except one, which appeared now
to be isolated and to stand in the usual point of sight. It was a
single tulip, but became double. The petals then fell off rapidly in
a continuous series until there was nothing left but the pistil
(3), but (as is almost invariably the case with his objects) that
part was greatly exaggerated. The stigmas then changed into three
branching brown horns (4); then into a knob (5), while the stalk
changed into a stick. A slight bend in it seems to have suggested a
centre-bit (6); this passed into a sort of pin passing through a
metal plate (7), this again into a lock (8), and afterwards into a
nondescript shape (9), distantly suggestive of the original cross-bow.
Here Mr. Henslow endeavoured to force his will upon the visions, and
to reproduce the cross-bow, but the first attempt was an utter
failure. The figure changed into a leather strap with loops (10), but
while he still endeavoured to change it into a bow the strap broke,
the two ends were separated, but it happened that an imaginary
string connected them (11). This was the first concession of his
automatic chain of thoughts to his will. By a continued effort the
bow came (12), and then no difficulty was felt in converting it into
the cross-bow, and thus returning to the starting-point. Fig. 71.
Mr. Henslow writes:--

"Though I can usually summon up any object thought of, it not only
is somewhat different from the real thing, but it rapidly changes.
The changes are in many cases clearly due to a suggestiveness in the
article of something else, but not always so, as in some cases
hereafter described. It is not at ail necessary to think of any
particular object at first, as something is sure to come
spontaneously within a minute or two. Some object having once
appeared, the automatism of the brain will rapidly induce the series
of changes. The images are sometimes very numerous, and very rapid
in succession: very frequently of great beauty and highly brilliant.
Cut glass (far more elaborate than I am conscious of ever having seen),
highly chased gold and silver filigree ornaments; gold and silver
flower-stands, etc.; elaborate coloured patterns of carpets in
brilliant tints are not uncommon.

"Another peculiarity resides in the extreme restlessness of my
visual objects. It is often very difficult to keep them still, as
well as from changing in character. They will rapidly oscillate or
else rotate to a most perplexing degree, and when the characters
change at the same time a critical examination is almost impossible.
When the process is in full activity, I feel as if I were a mere
spectator at a diorama of a very eccentric kind, and was in no way
concerned with the getting up of the performance.

"When a succession of images has been passing, I sometimes _determine_
to introduce an object, say a watch. Very often it is next to
impossible to succeed. There is an evident struggle. The watch,
pure and simple, will not come; but some hybrid structure
appears--something round, perhaps--but it lapses into a warming-pan
or other unexpected object.

"This practice has brought to my mind very clearly the distinction
between at least one form of automatism of the brain and volition;
but the strength of the former is enormous, for the visual objects,
when in full career of the change, are _imperative_ in their refusal
to be interfered with.

"I will now describe the cases illustrated. Fig. 71. I thought of a
gun. The _stock_ came into view, the metal plate on the end very
distinct towards the left (1). The wood was elaborately carved. I
cannot recall the pattern. As I scrutinised it, the stock oscillated
up and down, and _crumpled up_. The metallic plate sank inwards: and
the stock contracted so that it looked not unlike a tuning-fork
(2). I gave up the stock and proceeded cautiously to examine the lock.
I got it well into view, but no more of the gun. It turned out to be
an old-fashioned flint-lock. It immediately began to nod backwards
and forwards in a manner suggestive of the beak of a bird pecking.
Consequently it forthwith became converted into the head of a bird
with a long curved beak, the knob on the lock (3) becoming the head
of the bird. I then looked to the right expecting to find the barrel,
but the snout of a saw-fish with the tip _distinctly_ broken off
appeared instead. I had not thought either of a _flint_-lock or of a
saw-fish: both came spontaneously.

"Fig. 72. I have several times thought of a rosebud, as Goethe is
said to have been able to see one at will, and to observe it expand.
The following are some of the results:--The bud appeared
unexpectedly a moss rosebud. Its only abnormal appearance was the
inordinately elongated sepals (1). I tried to _force_ it to expand.
It enlarged but only partially opened (2), when all of a sudden it
burst open and the petals became reflexed (3).[10]

"Fig. 73. The spontaneous appearance of a poppy capsule (1)
dehiscing as usual by 'pores,' but with inordinately long and
arching valves over the pores. These valves were eminently
suggestive of hooded flowers. Hence they changed to a whorl of
_salvias_ (2). Each blossom now gyrated rapidly in a vertical plane.
Concentrating observation on _one_ rotating flower, it became a
'rotating haze,' as the rapid motion rendered the flower totally
indistinct. The 'haze' now shaped itself into a circle of moss with
a deep funnel-like cavity. This was suggestive of a bird's nest. It
became lined with _hair_, but the nest was a _deep_, pointed cavity.
A nest was suggestive of eggs. Hence a series appeared (4); the two
rows meeting in one at the apex appears to have arisen from the
_perspective_ view of the nest. The eggs all disappeared but one
(5), which increased in size; the bright point of light now shone
with great intensity like a star; then it gradually grew dimmer and
dimmer till it disappeared into the usual hazy obscurity into which
all [my] visual objects ultimately vanish."

I have a sufficient variety of cases to prove the continuity between
all the forms of visualisation, beginning with an almost total
absence of it, and ending with a complete hallucination. The
continuity is, however, not simply that of varying degrees of
intensity, but of variations in the character of the process itself,
so that it is by no means uncommon to find two very different forms
of it concurrent in the same person. There are some who visualise
well, and who also are seers of visions, who declare that the vision
is not a vivid visualisation, but altogether a different phenomenon.
In short, if we please to call all sensations due to external
impressions "_direct"_ and all others "_induced_" then there are
many channels through which the "_induction_" of the latter may
take place, and the channel of ordinary visualisation in the persons
just mentioned is different from that through which their visions

The following is a good instance of this condition. A friend writes:

"These visions often appear with startling vividness, and so far
from depending on any voluntary effort of the mind, [10] they remain
when I often wish them very much to depart, and no effort of the
imagination can call them up. I lately saw a framed portrait of a
face which seemed more lovely than any painting I have ever seen,
and again I often see fine landscapes which bear no resemblance to
any scenery I have ever looked upon. I find it difficult to define
the difference between a waking vision and a mental image, although
the difference is very apparent to myself. I think I can do it best
in this way. If you go into a theatre and look at a scene--say of a
forest by moonlight--at the back part of the stage you see every
object distinctly and sufficiently illuminated (being thus unlike a
mere act of memory), but it is nevertheless vague and shadowy, and
you might have difficulty in telling afterwards all the objects you
have seen. This resembles a mental image in point of clearness. The
waking vision is like what one sees in the open street in broad
daylight, when every object is distinctly impressed on the memory.
The two kinds of imagery differ also as regards voluntariness, the
image being entirely subservient to the will, the visions entirely
independent of it. They differ also in point of suddenness, the
images being formed comparatively slowly as memory recalls each
detail, and fading slowly as the mental effort to retain them is
relaxed, the visions appearing and vanishing in an instant. The
waking visions seem quite close, filling as it were the whole head,
while the mental image seems farther away in some far-off recess of
the mind."

[Footnote 10: The details and illustrations of four other
experiments with the image of a rosebud have been given me. They all
vary in detail.]

The number of sane persons who see visions no less distinctly than
this correspondent is much greater than I had any idea of when I
began this inquiry. I have received an interesting sketch of one,
prefaced by a description of it by Mrs. Haweis. She says:--

"All my life long I have had one very constantly-recurring vision, a
sight which came whenever it was dark or darkish, in bed or otherwise.
It is a flight of pink roses floating in a mass from left to right,
and this cloud or mass of roses is presently effaced by a flight of
'sparks' or gold speckles across them. The sparks totter or vibrate
from left to right, but they fly distinctly upwards; they are like
tiny blocks, half gold, half black, rather symmetrically placed
behind each other, and they are always in a hurry to efface the roses;
sometimes they have come at my call, sometimes by surprise, but they
are always equally pleasing. What interests me most is that, when a
child under nine, the flight of roses was light, slow, soft, close
to my eyes, roses so large and brilliant and palpable that I tried to
touch them; the _scent_ was overpowering, the petals perfect, with
leaves peeping here and there, texture and motion all natural. They
would stay a long time before the sparks came, and they occupied a
large area in black space. Then the sparks came slowly flying, and
generally, not always, effaced the roses at once, and every effort
to retain the roses failed. Since an early age the flight of roses
has annually grown smaller, swifter, and farther off, till by the
time I was grown up my vision had become a speck, so instantaneous
that I had hardly time to realise that it was there before the
fading sparks showed that it was past. This is how they still come.
The pleasure of them is past, and it always depresses me to speak of
them, though I do not now, as I did when a child, connect the vision
with any elevated spiritual state. But when I read Tennyson's
_Holy Grail_, I wondered whether anybody else had had my vision,
'Rose-red, with beatings in it.' I may add, I was a London child who
never was in the country but once, and I connect no particular
flowers with that visit. I may almost say that I had never seen a
rose, certainly not a quantity of them together."

A common form of vision is a phantasmagoria, or the appearance of a
crowd of phantoms, sometimes hurrying past like men in a street. It
is occasionally seen in broad daylight, much more often in the dark;
it may be at the instant of putting out the candle, but it generally
comes on when the person is in bed, preparing to sleep, but by no
means yet asleep. I know no less than three men, eminent in the
scientific world, who have these phantasmagoria in one form or
another. It will seem curious, but it is a fact that I know of no
less than five editors of very influential newspapers who experience
these night visitations in a vivid form. Two of them have described
the phenomena very forcibly in print, but anonymously, and two
others have written on cognate experiences.

A near relative of my own saw phantasmagoria very frequently. She
was eminently sane, and of such good constitution that her faculties
were hardly impaired until near her death at ninety. She frequently
described them to me. It gave her amusement during an idle hour to
watch these faces, for their expression was always pleasing, though
never strikingly beautiful. No two faces were ever alike, and no
face ever resembled that of any acquaintance. When she was not well
the faces usually came nearer to her, sometimes almost suffocatingly
close. She never mistook them for reality, although they were very
distinct. This is quite a typical case, similar in most respects to
many others that I have.[1]

A notable proportion of sane persons have had not only visions, but
actual hallucinations of sight, sound, or other sense, at one or
more periods of their lives. I have a considerable packet of
instances contributed by my personal friends, besides a large number
communicated to me by other correspondents. One lady, a
distinguished authoress, who was at the time a little fidgeted, but
in no way overwrought or ill, assured me that she once saw the
principal character of one of her novels glide through the door
straight up to her. It was about the size of a large doll, and it
disappeared as suddenly as it came. Another lady, the daughter of an
eminent musician, often imagines she hears her father playing. The
day she told me of it the incident had again occurred. She was
sitting in her room with her maid, and she asked the maid to open
the door that she might hear the music better. The moment the maid
got up the hallucination disappeared. Again, another lady,
apparently in vigorous health, and belonging to a vigorous family,
told me that during some past months she had been plagued by voices.
The words were at first simple nonsense; then the word "pray" was
frequently repeated; this was followed by some more or less coherent
sentences of little import, and finally the voices left her. In short,
the familiar hallucinations of the insane are to be met with far
more frequently than is commonly supposed, among people moving in
society and in good working health.

I have now nearly done with my summary of facts; it remains to make
a few comments on them.

The weirdness of visions lies in their sudden appearance, in their
vividness while present, and in their sudden departure. An incident
in the Zoological Gardens struck me as a helpful simile. I happened
to walk to the seal-pond at a moment when a sheen rested on the
unbroken surface of the water. After waiting a while I became
suddenly aware of the head of a seal, black, conspicuous, [12] and
motionless, just as though it had always been there, at a spot on
which my eye had rested a moment previously and seen nothing. Again,
after a while my eye wandered, and on its returning to the spot the
seal was gone. The water had closed in silence over its head without
leaving a ripple, and the sheen on the surface of the pond was as
unbroken as when I first reached it. Where did the seal come from,
and whither did it go? This could easily have been answered if the
glare had not obstructed the view of the movements of the animal
under water. As it was, a solitary link in a continuous chain of
actions stood isolated from all the rest. So it is with the visions;
a single stage in a series of mental processes emerges into the
domain of consciousness. All that precedes and follows lies outside
of it, and its character can only be inferred. We see in a general
way that a condition of the presentation of visions lies in the
over-sensitiveness of certain tracks or domains of brain action and
the under-sensitiveness of others, certain stages in a mental
process being represented very vividly in consciousness while the
other stages are unfelt; also that individualism is changed to

[Footnote 12: See some curious correspondence on this subject in
the _St. James' Gazette_, Feb. 10, 15, and 20, 1882.]

I do not recollect seeing it remarked that the ordinary phenomena of
dreaming seem to show that partial sensitiveness is a normal
condition during sleep. They do so because one of the most marked
characteristics of the dreamer is the absence of common sense. He
accepts wildly incongruous visions without the slightest scepticism.
Now common sense consists in the comprehension of a large number of
related circumstances, and implies the simultaneous working of many
parts of the brain. On the other hand, the brain is known to be
imperfectly supplied with blood during sleep, and cannot therefore
be at full work. It is probable enough, from hydraulic analogies,
that imperfect irrigation would lead to partial irrigation, and
therefore to suppression of action in some parts of the brain, and
that this is really the case seems to be proved by the absence of
common sense during dreams.

A convenient distinction is made between hallucinations and illusions.
Hallucinations are defined as appearances wholly due to fancy;
illusions, as fanciful perceptions of objects actually seen. There
is also a hybrid case which depends on fanciful visions fancifully
perceived. The problems we have to consider are, on the one hand,
those connected with "_induced_" vision, and, on the other hand,
those connected with the interpretation of vision, whether the
vision be _direct_ or _induced_.

It is probable that much of what passes for hallucination proper
belongs in reality to the hybrid case, being an illusive
interpretation of some induced visual cloud or blur. I spoke of the
ever-varying patterns in the optical field; these, under some slight
functional change, may become more consciously present, and be
interpreted into fantasmal appearances. Many cases could be adduced
to support this view.

I will begin with illusions. What is the process by which they are
established? There is no simpler way of understanding it than by
trying, as children often do, to see "faces in the fire," and to
carefully watch the way in which they are first caught. Let us call
to mind at the same time the experience of past illnesses, when the
listless gaze wandered over the patterns on the wall-paper and the
shadows of the bed-curtains, and slowly evoked the appearances of
faces and figures that were not easily laid again. The process of
making the faces is so rapid in health that it is difficult to
analyse it without the recollection of what took place more slowly
when we were weakened by illness. The first essential element in
their construction is, I believe, the smallness of the area covered
by the glance at any instant, so that the eye has to travel over a
long track before it has visited every part of the object towards
which the attention is directed generally. It is as with a plough,
that must travel many miles before the whole of a small field can be
tilled, but with this important difference--the plough travels
methodically up and down in parallel furrows; the eye wanders in
devious curves, with abrupt bends, and the direction of its course
at any instant depends on four causes: (1) on the easiest sequence
of muscular motion, speaking in a general sense, (2) on idiosyncrasy,
(3) on the mood, and (4) on the associations current at the moment.
The effect of idiosyncrasy ft excellently illustrated by the
"Number-Forms," where we observe that a very special sharply-defined
track of mental vision is preferred by each individual who sees them.
The influence of the mood of the moment is shown in the curves that
are felt appropriate to the various emotions, as the lank drooping
lines of grief, which make the weeping willow so fit an emblem of it.
In constructing fire-faces it seems to me that the eye in its
wanderings tends to follow a favourite course, and it especially
dwells upon the marks that happen to coincide with that course. It
feels its way, easily diverted by associations based on what has
just been noticed, until at last, by the unconscious practice of a
system of "trial and error," it hits upon a track that will
suit--one that is easily run over and that strings together
accidental marks in a way that happens to form a well-connected
picture. This fancy picture is then dwelt upon; all that is
incongruous with it becomes disregarded, while all deficiencies in
it are supplied by the fantasy. The latest stages of the process
might be represented by a diorama. Three lanterns would converge on
the same screen. The first throws an image of what the imagination
will discard, the second of that which it will retain, the third of
that which it will supply. Turn on the first and second, and the
picture on the screen will be identical with that which fell on the
retina. Shut off the first and turn on the third, and the picture
will be identical with the illusion.

Turner the painter made frequent use of a practice analogous to that
of looking for fire-faces in the burning coals; he was known to give
colours to children to daub in play on paper, while he keenly
watched for suggestive but accidental combinations.

I have myself had frequent experience of the automatic construction
of fantastic figures, through a practice I have somewhat encouraged
for the purpose, of allowing my hand to scribble at its own will,
while I am giving my best attention to what is being said by others,
as at small committees. It is always a surprise to me to see the
result whenever I turn my thoughts on what I have been subconsciously
doing. I can rarely recollect even a few of the steps by which the
drawings were made; they grew piece-meal, with some almost forgotten
notice, from time to time, of the sketch as a whole. I can trace no
likeness between what I draw and the images that present themselves
to me in dreams, and I find that a very trifling accident, such as a
chance dot on the paper, may have great influence on the general
character of any one of these automatic sketches.

Visions, like dreams, are often mere patchworks built up of bits of
recollections. The following is one of these:--

"When passing a shop in Tottenham Court Road, I went in to order a
Dutch cheese, and the proprietor (a bullet-headed man whom I had
never seen before) rolled a cheese on the marble slab of his counter,
asking me if that one would do. I answered 'Yes,' left the shop, and
thought no more of the incident. The following evening, on closing
my eyes, I saw a head detached from the body rolling about slightly
on a white surface. I recognised the face, but could not remember
where I had seen it, and it was only after thinking about it for
some time that I identified it as that of the cheesemonger who had
sold me the cheese on the previous day. I may mention that I have
often seen the man since, and that I found the vision I saw was
exactly like him, although if I had been asked to describe the man
before I saw the vision I should have been unable to do so."

Recollections need not be combined like mosaic work; they may be
blended, on the principle of composite portraiture. I suspect that
the phantasmagoria may be in some part due to blended memories; the
number of possible combinations would be practically endless, and
each combination would give a new face. There would thus be no limit
to the dies in the coinage of the brain.

I have found that the peculiarities of visualisation, such as the
tendency to see Number-Forms, and the still rarer tendency to
associate colour with sound, is strongly hereditary, and I should
infer, what facts seem to confirm, that the tendency to be a seer of
visions is equally so. Under these circumstances we should expect
that it would be unequally developed in different races, and that a
large natural gift of the visionary faculty might become
characteristic not only of certain families, as among the
second-sight seers of Scotland, but of certain races, as that of the

It happens that the mere acts of fasting, of want of sleep, and of
solitary musing, are severally conducive to visions. I have myself
been told of cases in which persons accidentally long deprived of
food became for a brief time subject to them. One was of a pleasure
party driven out to sea, and not being able to reach the coast till
nightfall, at a place where they got shelter but nothing to eat.
They were mentally at ease and conscious of safety, but all were
troubled with visions that were half dreams and half hallucinations.
The cases of visions following protracted wakefulness are well known,
and I have collected a few of them myself. I have already spoken of
the maddening effect of solitariness: its influence may be inferred
from the recognised advantages of social amusements in the treatment
of the insane. It follows that the spiritual discipline undergone
for purposes of self-control and self-mortification, have also the
incidental effect of producing visions. It is to be expected that
these should often bear a close relation to the prevalent subjects
of thought, and although they may be really no more than the
products of one portion of the brain, which another portion of the
same brain is engaged in contemplating, they often, through error,
receive a religious sanction. This is notably the case among
half-civilised races.

The number of great men who have been once, twice, or more frequently,
subject to hallucinations is considerable. A list, to which it would
be easy to make large additions, is given by Brierre de Boismont
(_Hallucinations_, etc., 1862), from whom I translate the following
account of the star of the first Napoleon, which he heard,
second-hand, from General Rapp:--

"In 1806 General Rapp, on his return from the siege of Dantzic,
having occasion to speak to the Emperor, entered his study without
being announced. He found him so absorbed that his entry was
unperceived. The General seeing the Emperor continue motionless,
thought he might be ill, and purposely made a noise. Napoleon
immediately roused himself, and without any preamble, seizing Rapp
by the arm, said to him, pointing to the sky, 'Look there, up there.'
The General remained silent, but on being asked a second time, he
answered that he perceived nothing. 'What!' replied the Emperor,
'you do not see it? It is my star, it is before you, brilliant;'
then animating by degrees, he cried out, 'it has never abandoned me,
I see it on all great occasions, it commands me to go forward, and
it is a constant sign of good fortune to me.'"

Napoleon was no doubt a consummate actor, ready and unscrupulous in
imposing on others, but I see no reason to distrust the genuineness
of this particular outburst, seeing that it is not the only instance
of his referring to the guidance of his star, as a literal vision
and not as a mere phrase, and that his belief in destiny was

It appears that stars of this kind, so frequently spoken of in
history, and so well known as a metaphor in language, are a common
hallucination of the insane. Brierre de Boismont has a chapter on
the stars of great men. I cannot doubt that visions of this
description were in some cases the basis of that firm belief in
astrology, which not a few persons of eminence formerly entertained.

The hallucinations of great men may be accounted for in part by
their sharing a tendency which we have seen to be not uncommon in
the human race, and which, if it happens to be natural to them, is
liable to be developed in their overwrought brains by the isolation
of their lives. A man in the position of the first Napoleon could
have no intimate associates; a great philosopher who explores ways
of thought far ahead of his contemporaries must have an inner world
in which he passes long and solitary hours. Great men may be even
indebted to touches of madness for their greatness; the ideas by
which they are haunted, and to whose pursuit they devote themselves,
and by which they rise to eminence, having much in common with the
monomania of insanity. Striking instances of great visionaries may
be mentioned, who had almost beyond doubt those very nervous seizures
with which the tendency to hallucinations is intimately connected.
To take a single instance, Socrates, whose _daimon_ was an audible
not a visual appearance, was, as has been often pointed out, subject
to cataleptic seizure, standing all night through in a rigid attitude.

It is remarkable how largely the visionary temperament has
manifested itself in certain periods of history and epochs of
national life. My interpretation of the matter, to a certain extent,
is this--That the visionary tendency is much more common among sane
people than is generally suspected. In early life, it seems to be a
hard lesson to an imaginative child to distinguish between the real
and visionary world. If the fantasies are habitually laughed at and
otherwise discouraged, the child soon acquires the power of
distinguishing them; any incongruity or nonconformity is quickly
noted, the visions are found out and discredited, and are no further
attended to. In this way the natural tendency to see them is
blunted by repression. Therefore, when popular opinion is of a
matter-of-fact kind, the seers of visions keep quiet; they do not
like to be thought fanciful or mad, and they hide their experiences,
which only come to light through inquiries such as these that I have
been making. But let the tide of opinion change and grow favourable
to supernaturalism, then the seers of visions come to the front. The
faintly-perceived fantasies of ordinary persons become invested by
the authority of reverend men with a claim to serious regard; they
are consequently attended to and encouraged, and they increase in
definition through being habitually dwelt upon. We need not suppose
that a faculty previously non-existent has been suddenly evoked, but
that a faculty long smothered by many in secret has been suddenly
allowed freedom to express itself, and to run into extravagance
owing to the removal of reasonable safeguards.


Man is so educable an animal that it is difficult to distinguish
between that part of his character which has been acquired through
education and circumstance, and that which was in the original grain
of his constitution. His character is exceedingly complex, even in
members of the simplest and purest savage race; much more is it so in
civilised races, who have long since been exempted from the full
rigour of natural selection, and have become more mongrel in their
breed than any other animal on the face of the earth. Different
aspects of the multifarious character of man respond to different
calls from without, so that the same individual, and, much more, the
same race, may behave very differently at different epochs. There
may have been no fundamental change of character, but a different
phase or mood of it may have been evoked by special circumstances,
or those persons in whom that mood is naturally dominant may through
some accident have the opportunity of acting for the time as
representatives of the race. The same nation may be seized by a
military fervour at one period, and by a commercial one at another;
they may be humbly submissive to a monarch, or become outrageous
republicans. The love of art, gaiety, adventure, science, religion
may be severally paramount at different times.

One of the most notable changes that can come over a nation is from
a state corresponding to that of our past dark ages into one like
that of the Renaissance. In the first case the minds of men are
wholly taken up with routine work, and in copying what their
predecessors have done; they degrade into servile imitators and
submissive slaves to the past. In the second case, some circumstance
or idea has finally discredited the authorities that impeded
intellectual growth, and has unexpectedly revealed new possibilities.
Then the mind of the nation is set free, a direction of research is
given to it, and all the exploratory and hunting instincts are
awakened. These sudden eras of great intellectual progress cannot be
due to any alteration in the natural faculties of the race, because
there has not been time for that, but to their being directed in
productive channels. Most of the leisure of the men of every nation
is spent in rounds of reiterated actions; if it could be spent in
continuous advance along new lines of research in unexplored regions,
vast progress would be sure to be made. It has been the privilege of
this generation to have had fresh fields of research pointed out to
them by Darwin, and to have undergone a new intellectual birth under
the inspiration of his fertile genius.

A pure love of change, acting according to some law of contrast as
yet imperfectly understood, especially characterises civilised man.
After a long continuance of one mood he wants to throw himself into
another for the pleasure of setting faculties into action that have
been long disused, but not yet paralysed by disuse, and which have
become fidgety for employment. He has so many opportunities for
procuring change, and has so complex a nature that he easily learns
to neglect a more deeply-seated feeling that innovation is wicked,
and which is manifest in children and barbarians. To a civilised man
the varied interests of civilisation are temptations in as many
directions; changes in dress and appliances of all kinds are
comparatively inexpensive to him owing to the cheapness of
manufactures and their variety; change of scene is easy from the
conveniences of locomotion. But a barbarian has none of these
facilities: his interests are few; his dress, such as it is, is
intended to stand the wear and tear of years, and all weathers; it
is relatively very costly, and is an investment, one may say, of his
capital rather than of his income; the invention of his people is
sluggish, and their arts are few, consequently he is perforce taught
to be conservative, his ideas are fixed, and he becomes scandalised
even at the suggestion of change.

The difficulty of indulging in variety is incomparably greater among
the rest of the animal world. If a pea-hen should take it into her
head that bars would be prettier than eyes in the tail of her spouse,
she could not possibly get what she wanted. It would require
hundreds of generations in which the pea-hens generally concurred in
the same view before sexual selection could effect the desired
alteration. The feminine delight of indulging her caprice in matters
of ornament is a luxury denied to the females of the brute world,
and the law that rules changes in taste, if studied at all, can only
be ascertained by observing the alternations of fashion in civilised

There are long sequences of changes in character, which, like the
tunes of a musical snuff-box, are regulated by internal mechanism.
They are such as those of Shakespeare's "Seven Ages," and others due
to the progress of various diseases. The lives of birds are
characterised by long chains of these periodic sequences. They are
mostly mute in winter, after that they begin to sing; some species
are seized in the early part of the year with so strong a passion
for migrating that if confined in a cage they will beat themselves
to death against its bars; then follow courtship and pairing,
accompanied by an access of ferocity among the males and severe
fighting for the females. Next an impulse seizes them to build nests,
then a desire for incubation, then one for the feeding of their young.
After this a newly-arisen tendency to gregariousness groups them
into large flocks, and finally they fly away to the place whence they
came, goaded by a similar instinct to that which drove them forth a
few months previously. These remarkable changes are mainly due to
the conditions of their natures, because they persist with more or
less regularity under altered circumstances. Nevertheless, they are
not wholly independent of circumstance, because the period of
migration, though nearly coincident in successive years, is modified
to some small extent by the weather and condition of the particular

The interaction of nature and circumstance is very close, and it is
impossible to separate them with precision. Nurture acts before birth,
during every stage of embryonic and pre-embryonic existence, causing
the potential faculties at the time of birth to be in some degree
the effect of nurture. We need not, however, be hypercritical about
distinctions; we know that the bulk of the respective provinces of
nature and nurture are totally different, although the frontier
between them may be uncertain, and we are perfectly justified in
attempting to appraise their relative importance.

I shall begin with describing some of the principal influences that
may safely be ascribed to education or other circumstances, all of
which I include under the comprehensive term of Nurture.


The furniture of a man's mind chiefly consists of his recollections
and the bonds that unite them. As all this is the fruit of experience,
it must differ greatly in different minds according to their
individual experiences. I have endeavoured to take stock of my own
mental furniture in the way described in the next chapter, in which
it will be seen how large a part consists of childish recollections,
testifying to the permanent effect of many of the results of early
education. The same fact has been strongly brought out by the
replies from correspondents whom I had questioned on their mental
imagery. It was frequently stated that the mental image invariably
evoked by certain words was some event of childish experience or
fancy. Thus one correspondent, of no mean literary and philosophical
power, recollects the left hand by a mental reference to the
rocking-horse which always stood by the side of the nursery wall
with its head in the same direction, and had to be mounted from the
side next the wall. Another, a politician, historian, and scholar,
refers all his dates to the mental image of a nursery diagram of the
history of the world, which has since developed huge bosses to
support his later acquired information.

Our abstract ideas being mostly drawn from external experiences,
their character also must depend upon the events of our individual
histories. For example, the spoken words house and home must awaken
ideas derived from the houses and the homes with which the hearer is,
in one way or other, acquainted, and these could not be the same to
persons of various social positions and places of residence. The
character of our abstract ideas, therefore, depends, to a
considerable degree, on our nurture.

I doubt, however, whether "abstract idea" is a correct phrase in
many of the cases in which it is used, and whether "cumulative idea"
would not be more appropriate. The ideal faces obtained by the
method of composite portraiture appear to have a great deal in
common with these so-called abstract ideas. The composite portraits
consist, as was explained, of numerous superimposed pictures,
forming a cumulative result in which the features that are common to
all the likenesses are clearly seen; those that are common to a few
are relatively faint and are more or less overlooked, while those
that are peculiar to single individuals leave no sensible trace at

This analogy, which I pointed out in a Memoir on Generic Images,
[11] has been extended and confirmed by subsequent experience of the
process. One objection to my view was that our so-called
generalisations are commonly no more than representative cases, our
recollections being apt to be unduly influenced by particular events,
and not by the totality of what we have seen; that the reason why
some one recollection has prevailed is that the case was sharply
defined, or had something unusual about it, or that our frame of
mind was at the time of observation susceptible to that particular
kind of impression. I have had exactly the same difficulties with
the composites. If one of the individual portraits has sharp outlines,
or if it is unlike the rest, or if the illumination is temporarily
strong, it will assert itself unduly in the result. The cases seem
to me exactly analogous. I get over my photographic difficulty very
easily by throwing the sharp portrait a little out of focus, by
eliminating such portraits as have exceptional features, and by
toning down the illumination to a standard intensity.

[Footnote 11: "Generic Images," _Proc. Royal Institute_, Friday,
April 25, 1879, partly reprinted in the Appendix.]


When we attempt to trace the first steps in each operation of our
minds, we are usually baulked by the difficulty of keeping watch,
without embarrassing the freedom of its action. The difficulty is
much more than the common and well-known one of attending to two
things at once. It is especially due to the fact that the elementary
operations of the mind are exceedingly faint and evanescent, and
that it requires the utmost painstaking to watch them properly. It
would seem impossible to give the required attention to the
processes of thought, and yet to think as freely as if the mind had
been in no way preoccupied. The peculiarity of the experiments I am
about to describe is that I have succeeded in evading this difficulty.
My method consists in allowing the mind to play freely for a very
brief period, until a couple or so of ideas have passed through it,
and then, while the traces or echoes of those ideas are still
lingering in the brain, to turn the attention upon them with a
sudden and complete awakening; to arrest, to scrutinise them, and to
record their exact appearance. Afterwards I collate the records at
leisure, and discuss them, and draw conclusions. It must be
understood that the second of the two ideas was never derived from
the first, but always directly from the original object. This was
ensured by absolutely withstanding all temptation to reverie. I do
not mean that the first idea was of necessity a simple elementary
thought; sometimes it was a glance down a familiar line of
associations, sometimes it was a well-remembered mental attitude or
mode of feeling, but I mean that it was never so far indulged in as
to displace the object that had suggested it from being the primary
topic of attention.

I must add, that I found the experiments to be extremely trying and
irksome, and that it required much resolution to go through with them,
using the scrupulous care they demanded. Nevertheless the results
well repaid the trouble. They gave me an interesting and unexpected
view of the number of the operations of the mind, and of the obscure
depths in which they took place, of which I had been little
conscious before. The general impression they have left upon me is
like that which many of us have experienced when the basement of our
house happens to be under thorough sanitary repairs, and we realise
for the first time the complex system of drains and gas and water
pipes, flues, bell-wires, and so forth, upon which our comfort
depends, but which are usually hidden out of sight, and with whose
existence, so long as they acted well, we had never troubled

The first experiments I made were imperfect, but sufficient to
inspire me with keen interest in the matter, and suggested the form
of procedure that I have already partly described. My first
experiments were these. On several occasions, but notably on one
when I felt myself unusually capable of the kind of effort required,
I walked leisurely along Pall Mall, a distance of 450 yards, during
which time I scrutinised with attention every successive object that
caught my eyes, and I allowed my attention to rest on it until one
or two thoughts had arisen through direct association with that
object; then I took very brief mental note of them, and passed on to
the next object. I never allowed my mind to ramble. The number of
objects viewed was, I think, about 300, for I had subsequently
repeated the same walk under similar conditions and endeavoured to
estimate their number, with that result. It was impossible for me to
recall in other than the vaguest way the numerous ideas that had
passed through my mind; but of this, at least, I am sure, that
samples of my whole life had passed before me, that many bygone
incidents, which I never suspected to have formed part of my stock
of thoughts, had been glanced at as objects too familiar to awaken
the attention. I saw at once that the brain was vastly more active
than I had previously believed it to be, and I was perfectly amazed
at the unexpected width of the field of its everyday operations.
After an interval of some days, during which I kept my mind from
dwelling on my first experiences, in order that it might retain as
much freshness as possible for a second experiment, I repeated the
walk, and was struck just as much as before by the variety of the
ideas that presented themselves, and the number of events to which
they referred, about which I had never consciously occupied myself
of late years. But my admiration at the activity of the mind was
seriously diminished by another observation which I then made, namely,
that there had been a very great deal of repetition of thought. The
actors in my mental stage were indeed very numerous, but by no means
so numerous as I had imagined. They now seemed to be something like
the actors in theatres where large processions are represented, who
march off one side of the stage, and, going round by the back, come
on again at the other. I accordingly cast about for means of laying
hold of these fleeting thoughts, and, submitting them to statistical
analysis, to find out more about their tendency to repetition and
other matters, and the method I finally adopted was the one already
mentioned. I selected a list of suitable words, and wrote them on
different small sheets of paper. Taking care to dismiss them from my
thoughts when not engaged upon them, and allowing some days to
elapse before I began to use them, I laid one of these sheets with
all due precautions, under a book, but not wholly covered by it, so
that when I leaned forward I could see one of the words, being
previously quite ignorant of what the word would be. Also I held a
small chronograph, which I started by pressing a spring the moment
the word caught my eye, and which stopped of itself the instant I
released the spring; and this I did so soon as about a couple of
ideas in direct association with the word had arisen in my mind. I
found that I could not manage to recollect more than two ideas with
the needed precision, at least not in a general way; but sometimes
several ideas occurred so nearly together that I was able to record
three or even four of them, while sometimes I only managed one. The
second ideas were, as I have already said, never derived from the
first, but always direct from the word itself, for I kept my
attention firmly fixed on the word, and the associated ideas were
seen only by a half glance. When the two ideas had occurred,

I stopped the chronograph and wrote them down, and the time they
occupied. I soon got into the way of doing all this in a very
methodical and automatic manner, keeping the mind perfectly calm and
neutral, but intent and, as it were, at full cock and on hair trigger,
before displaying the word. There was no disturbance occasioned by
thinking of the forthcoming revulsion of the mind the moment before
the chronograph was stopped. My feeling before stopping it was
simply that I had delayed long enough, and this in no way interfered
with the free action of the mind. I found no trouble in ensuring the
complete fairness of the experiment, by using a number of little
precautions, hardly necessary to describe, that practice quickly
suggested, but it was a most repugnant and laborious work, and it
was only by strong self-control that I went through my schedule
according to programme. The list of words that I finally secured was
75 in number, though I began with more. I went through them on four
separate occasions, under very different circumstances, in England
and abroad, and at intervals of about a month. In no case were the
associations governed to any degree worth recording, by remembering
what had occurred to me on previous occasions, for I found that the
process itself had great influence in discharging the memory of what
it had just been engaged in, and I, of course, took care between the
experiments never to let my thoughts revert to the words. The
results seem to me to be as trustworthy as any other statistical
series that has been collected with equal care.

On throwing these results into a common statistical hotch-pot, I
first examined into the rate at which these associated ideas were
formed. It took a total time of 660 seconds to form the 505 ideas;
that is, at about the rate of 50 in a minute, or 3000 in an hour.
This would be miserably slow work in reverie, or wherever the
thought follows the lead of each association that successively
presents itself. In the present case, much time was lost in mentally
taking the word in, owing to the quiet unobtrusive way in which I
found it necessary to bring it into view, so as not to distract the
thoughts. Moreover, a substantive standing by itself is usually the
equivalent of too abstract an idea for us to conceive properly
without delay. Thus it is very difficult to get a quick conception
of the word "carriage," because there are so many different
kinds--two-wheeled, four-wheeled, open and closed, and all of them
in so many different possible positions, that the mind possibly
hesitates amidst an obscure sense of many alternatives that cannot
blend together. But limit the idea to say a laudau, and the mental
association declares itself more quickly. Say a laudau coming down
the street to opposite the door, and an image of many blended
laudaus that have done so forms itself without the least hesitation.

Next, I found that my list of 75 words gone over 4 times, had given
rise to 505 ideas and 13 cases of puzzle, in which nothing
sufficiently definite to note occurred within the brief maximum
period of about 4 seconds, that I allowed myself to any single trial.
Of these 505 only 289 were different The precise proportions in
which the 505 were distributed in quadruplets, triplets, doublets,
or singles, is shown in the uppermost lines of Table I. The same
facts are given under another form in the lower lines of the Table,
which show how the 289 different ideas were distributed in cases of
fourfold, treble, double, or single occurrences.

Total Number of | |
Associations. | Occurring in |
| Quadruplets. | Triplets. | Doublets. | Singles.|
505 | 116 | 108 | 114 | 167 |
Per cent . 100 | 23 | 21 | 23 | 33 |
Total Number of | |
Different | Occurring |
Associations. +-------------------------------------------------+
| Four times. |Three times.| Twice. | Once. |
289 | 29 | 36 | 57 | 167 |
Per cent . 100 | 10 | 12 | 20 | 58 |

I was fully prepared to find much iteration in my ideas but had
little expected that out of every hundred words twenty-three would
give rise to exactly the same association in every one of the four
trials; twenty-one to the same association in three out of the four,
and so on, the experiments having been purposely conducted under
very different conditions of time and local circumstances. This shows
much less variety in the mental stock of ideas than I had expected,
and makes us feel that the roadways of our minds are worn into very
deep ruts. I conclude from the proved number of faint and barely
conscious thoughts, and from the proved iteration of them, that the
mind is perpetually travelling over familiar ways without our memory
retaining any impression of its excursions. Its footsteps are so
light and fleeting that it is only by such experiments as I have
described that we can learn anything about them. It is apparently
always engaged in mumbling over its old stores, and if any one of
these is wholly neglected for a while, it is apt to be forgotten,
perhaps irrecoverably. It is by no means the keenness of interest
and of the attention when first observing an object, that fixes it
in the recollection. We pore over the pages of a _Bradshaw_, and
study the trains for some particular journey with the greatest
interest; but the event passes by, and the hours and other facts
which we once so eagerly considered become absolutely forgotten. So
in games of whist, and in a large number of similar instances. As I
understand it, the subject must have a continued living interest in
order to retain an abiding place in the memory. The mind must refer
to it frequently, but whether it does so consciously or
unconsciously is not perhaps a matter of much importance. Otherwise,
as a general rule, the recollection sinks, and appears to be utterly
drowned in the waters of Lethe.

The instances, according to my personal experience, are very rare,
and even those are not very satisfactory, in which some event
recalls a memory that had lain _absolutely_ dormant for many years.
In this very series of experiments a recollection which I thought
had entirely lapsed appeared under no less than three different
aspects on different occasions. It was this: when I was a boy, my
father, who was anxious that I should learn something of physical
science, which was then never taught at school, arranged with the
owner of a large chemist's shop to let me dabble at chemistry for a
few days in his laboratory. I had not thought of this fact, so far
as I was aware, for many years; but in scrutinising the fleeting
associations called up by the various words, I traced two mental
visual images (an alembic and a particular arrangement of tables and
light), and one mental sense of smell (chlorine gas) to that very
laboratory. I recognised that these images appeared familiar to me,
but I had not thought of their origin. No doubt if some strange
conjunction of circumstances had suddenly recalled those three
associations at the same time, with perhaps two or three other
collateral matters which may be still living in my memory, but which
I no not as yet identify, a mental perception of startling vividness
would be the result, and I should have falsely imagined that it had
supernaturally, as it were, started into life from an entire
oblivion extending over many years. Probably many persons would have
registered such a case as evidence that things once perceived can
never wholly vanish from the recollection, but that in the hour
of death, or under some excitement, every event of a past life
may reappear. To this view I entirely dissent. Forgetfulness
appears absolute in the vast majority of cases, and our supposed
recollections of a past life are, I believe, no more than that
of a large number of episodes in it, to be reckoned perhaps in
hundreds of thousands, but certainly not in tens of hundreds of
thousands, that have escaped oblivion. Every one of the fleeting,
half-conscious thoughts that were the subject of my experiments,
admitted of being vivified by keen attention, or by some appropriate
association, but I strongly suspect that ideas which have long since
ceased to fleet through the brain, owing to the absence of current
associations to call them up, disappear wholly. A comparison of old
memories with a newly-met friend of one's boyhood, about the events
we then witnessed together, show how much we had each of us forgotten.
Our recollections do not tally. Actors and incidents that seem to
have been of primary importance in those events to the one have been
utterly forgotten by the other. The recollection of our earlier
years are, in truth, very scanty, as any one will find who tries to
enumerate them.

My associated ideas were for the most part due to my own unshared
experiences, and the list of them would necessarily differ widely
from that which another person would draw up who might repeat my
experiments. Therefore one sees clearly, and I may say, one can see
_measurably_, how impossible it is in a general way for two
grown-up persons to lay their minds side by side together in perfect
accord. The same sentence cannot produce precisely the same effect on

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