"One while to trace a theorem in mathematicks through a long labyrinth of intricate turns and subtilties of thought; another, to be conscious of the sublime ideas and comprehensive views of a philosopher, without any fatigue or wasting of my own spirits"
— Berkeley, George (1685-1753)
No. 35. Tuesday, April 21
O vitae philosophia dux virtutis indagatrix!--CICERO.
TO NESTOR IRONSIDE, ESQ.
'I am a man who have spent great part of that time in rambling through foreign countries, which young gentlemen usually pass at the university; by which course of life, altho' I have acquired no small insight into the manners and conversation of men, yet I could not make proportionable advances in the way of science and speculation. In my return through France, as I was one day setting forth this my case to a certain gentleman of that nation with whom I had contracted a friendship, after some pause, he conducted me into his closet, and, opening a little amber cabinet, took from thence a small box of snuff, which he said was given him by an uncle of his, the author of The Voyage to the World of Descartes; and, with many professions of gratitude and affection, made me a present of it, telling me at the same time, that he knew no readier way to furnish and adorn a mind with knowledge in the arts and sciences than that same snuff rightly applied.
'You must know, said he, that Descartes was the first who discovered a certain part of the brain, called by anatomists the Pineal Gland, to be the immediate receptacle of the soul, where she is affected with all sorts of perceptions, and exerts all her operations by the intercourse of the animal spirits which run thro' the nerves that are thence extended to all parts of the body. He added, that the same philosopher having considered the body as a machine or piece of clockwork, which performed all the vital operations without the concurrence of the will, began to think a way may be found out for separating the soul for some time from the body, without any injury to the latter; and that, after much meditation on that subject, the above-mentioned virtuoso composed the snuff he then gave me; which, if taken in a certain quantity, would not fail to disengage my soul from my body. Your soul (continued he) being at liberty to transport herself with a thought wherever she pleases, may enter into the Pineal Gland of the most learned philosopher, and, being so placed, become spectator of all the ideas in his mind, which would instruct her in a much less time than the usual methods. I returned him thanks, and accepted his present, and with it a paper of directions.
'You may imagine it was no small improvement and diversion to pass my time in the Pineal Glands of philosophers, poets, beaux, mathematicians, ladies, and statesmen. One while to trace a theorem in mathematicks through a long labyrinth of intricate turns and subtilties of thought; another, to be conscious of the sublime ideas and comprehensive views of a philosopher, without any fatigue or wasting of my own spirits. Sometimes, to wander through perfumed groves, or enamelled meadows, in the fancy of a poet: At others, to be present when a battel or a storm raged, or a glittering palace rose in his imagination; or to behold the pleasures of a country life, the passion of a generous love, or the warmth of devotion wrought up to rapture. Or (to use the words of a very ingenious author) to
Behold the raptures which a writer knows,
When in his breast a vein of fancy glows,
Behold his business while he works the mine,
Behold his temper when he sees it shine.
'These gave me inconceivable pleasure. Nor was it an unpleasant entertainment sometimes to descend from these sublime and magnificent ideas to the impertinences of a beau, the dry schemes of a coffee-house politician, or the tender images in the mind of a young lady. And as, in order to frame a right idea of human happiness, I thought it expedient to make a trial of the various manners wherein men of different pursuits were affected; I one day entered into the Pineal Gland of a certain person who seemed very fit to give me an insight into all that which constitutes the happiness of him who is called a man of pleasure. But I found myself not a little disappointed in my notion of the pleasures which attend a voluptuary, who has shaken off the restraints of reason.
'His intellectuals, I observed, were grown unserviceable by too little use, and his senses were decayed and worn out by too much. That perfect inaction of the higher powers prevented appetite in prompting him to sensual gratifications; and the outrunning natural appetite produced a loathing instead of a pleasure. I there beheld the intemperate cravings of youth, without the enjoyments of it; and the weakness of old age, without its tranquility. When the passions were teized and roused by some powerful object, the effect was, not to delight or sooth the mind, but to torture it between the returning extreams of appetite and satiety. I saw a wretch racked, at the same time, with a painful remembrance of past miscarriages, a distaste of the present objects that sollicite his senses, and a secret dread of futurity. And I could see no manner of relief or comfort in the soul of this miserable man, but what consisted in preventing his cure, by inflaming his passions and suppressing his reason. But tho' it must be owned he had almost quenched that light which his Creator had set up in his soul, yet in spight of all his efforts, I observed at certain seasons frequent flashes of remorse strike thro' the gloom, and interrupt that satisfaction he enjoyed in hiding his own deformities from himself.
'I was also present at the original formation or production of a certain book in the mind of a Free-thinker, and, believing it may be not unacceptable to let you into the secret manner and internal principles by which that phaenomenon was formed, I shall in my next give you an account of it. I am, in the mean time,
'Your most obedient humble servant,
N.B. Mr. Ironside has lately received out of France ten pound averdupoise weight of this philosophical snuff, and gives notice that he will make use of it, in order to distinguish the real from the professed sentiments of all persons of eminence in court, city, town, and country.
(Vol. 7, pp.185-7)
See also John Calhoun Stephens, ed., The Guardian (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1982).