A CRUDE and popular psychology of the Middle Ages, itself derived in part from elder sources, from Aristotle and Plato, from Hippocrates and Galen, descended to the time of Shakespeare and Bacon, and much that is found in the literature of the Elizabethan period becomes intelligible only through a reference to the philosophy of an earlier period; much also becomes, through such a reference, illuminated with a fuller or more exact meaning.
The elder psychology is set forth in a summary by Bartholomew de Glanville, or, as it is safer to call him, Bartholomew Anglicus, who was living and writing, it is believed, in the century which immediately preceded that of Chaucer. His Book De Proprietatibus Rerum was translated into English by Trevisa, and in the later form, known as Batman upon Bartholomew (1582), it became a popular natural history for readers of the days of Shakespeare. But as, in our own time, if we open such a volume as Professor William James’s Text Book of Psychology we shall find a considerable portion of it occupied with physiological inquiry and exposition, so in the Middle Ages it was felt that the study of the mind could not be separated from the study of the body, nor again could this be separated from a study of the four elements, out of which the whole of our globe, with all that lives and moves upon it, was formed by the Creator.
Nor was this all. The study of mind, thus involving the study of earth and its constituents, must needs be extended to a research into the influences of the heavens, of the astrological influences which affect the body and the soul of man, the powers of the stars that govern our conditions, and the play of each sign of the Zodiac upon the part of our frame specially related to it, — Aries, for instance, governing the head, Leo the heart, and Pisces the feet. With the macrocosm of the universe the microcosm of man had a correspondence. Thus the science of man became an inseparable portion of a vaster science, which included a knowledge of terrestrial and celestial phenomena. And, finally, over and above all these stood the science of sciences, — theology, — for man was not only a microcosm corresponding to the macrocosm; he proceeded, in his noblest part, immediately from God, and was made in His image.
If we should now ask an intelligent Sunday-school child, “Of how many parts did God make man ? ” the answer would probably be, “Of two, body and soul.” But the child might have been instructed in the tripartite division, and answer, “Of three, body, soul, and spirit.” Such certainly might have been the answer of a well-taught Elizabethan boy or girl, though instead of “spirit” the answerer might have used the plural “spirits,” and he would have understood by “spirit” or “spirits” something that is perhaps different from the vague significance attached to the word “spirit” as distinguished from “soul” by the child of the present day. If we were to proceed with our questioning and ask, “Which of these parts is immortal?” a prompt reply would come from the Elizabethan child:
“And why it alone?”
“Because the body and the spirits are material and are therefore perishable.”
As to the origin of the immortal substance which we name “the soul,” there was less certainty. It might, like the body, have been propagated by parents, by the parent’s soul if not his body; to use the technical term, it might have had its origin by “traduction.” “If,” writes Dryden, in the poem To Mrs. Anne Killegrew, —
Our wonder is the less to find
A soul so charming from a stock so good ;
Thy father was transfus’d into thy blood.”
But the more orthodox answer would have been, “By divine infusion.” Sir John Davies, in his poem “ On the Immotality of the Soul, “considers an objection to the theory of infusion, namely, that if the soul came thus direct from God, it could not partake of the sin of Adam. Of course he has his answers drawn from nature, and those drawn from divinity, and gives no uncertain sound in favor of the transfusion theory.
While each human soul is thus of immediately divine origin, some of its powers during our mortal life are dependent on its companion the body; certain of these powers are common to men and beasts; other functions are proper to the soul itself — apart from the body — and distinguish us as human beings from the inferior creatures. With the aid of the body the soul has the power of feeling; it has the power of knowing sensible things when they are present, and this was sometimes named “ wit; ”and, again, when sensible things are absent, the soul can behold the likeness of them by its faculty of imagination. Feeling, wit, and imagination are not peculiar to humanity; they are possessed by brutes. But to man alone belongs “Ratio,” reason, by which we discern good and evil, truth and falsehood ; and secondly — if a distinction should be made — Intellectus, understanding, by which we apprehend things immaterial, but yet intelligible. Reason may have for its object things that are of this lower earth and of our common daily life; but it has a perception in such things of qualities which are not recognized by creatures inferior to man. Intellect deals with things which are wholly beyond the apprehension of the lower animals, things spiritual and invisible.
Bacon in the De Augmentis follows the older psychology in distinguishing between Reason and Intellect, but he does not make his own distinction clear. It may be that he uses the word Intellect as the name of a faculty to which Reason, Imagination, and Memory make their reports, and which compares and pronounces upon those reports; at times he uses the word as a generic name including the three faculties which constitute the basis for his great division of human knowledge. He adopted from the Italian philosopher Telesio the doctrine that in man there are two souls — one rational and divine, the other irrational and common to us and the brutes; one inspired by the breath of God, the other springing from the womb of the elements; one an emanation of Deity, the other sensible and produced; one wholly immaterial, the other corporeal but so attenuated by heat as to be invisible; one immortal, the other subject to death. The lower, material soul is a breath compounded of air and fire, receiving impressions readily by virtue of its aerial quality, and propagating its energy by its fiery vigor — “clothed with the body, and in perfect animals residing chiefly in the head, running along the nerves, and refreshed and repaired by the spirituous blood in the arteries.” The study of the nature, faculties, and operations of the higher soul Bacon would leave in the main to religion; the doctrine concerning the lower, corporeal soul, he held, was a fit subject — even as regards the substance of that soul — for philosophy.
To return from Bacon to the more generally accepted doctrine of the tripartite division into body, soul, and spirit, the operation, life, or activity of the soul in man was held to be threefold — vegetable, sensible, and rational. These three modes of activity are, indeed, often spoken of as if they were three separate kinds of soul; but it seems more correct to speak of them in man as three forms of one life or energy. The vegetable soul is found apart from the other two in plants; they live and increase in size, and multiply themselves by virtue of this soul. The vegetable and sensible souls are found cooperating in animals; they not only live and grow and multiply, they also feel. In man alone are the three souls — vegetable, sensible, and rational — found working together.
When, in Jonson’s Poetaster (Act v, Scene 3), Tucca scorns to turn shark upon his friends, and scorns it with his “three souls,” he is a sound psychologist. The theory appears and reappears in Elizabethan prose and poetry. Davies in his Nosce Teipsum deals, in successive sections, with the vegetative, the sensible, and the intellectual powers of the soul. Donne, of course, could not abstain from versifying the theory, as for example where, in his letter to the Countess of Bedford, he tries to explain the harmonious relation of zeal and discretion and religion, which must coöperate even as
Have birthright of our reason’s soul, yet hence
They fly not from that, nor seek precedence.
And in one of his sermons three relations of man to temporal wealth and worldly goods — the possession and increase in riches, the sense of that advantage and its true uses for life, and last, the discerning the mercy and the purpose of God in the blessing of wealth — are compared to the three souls.
“First,” he begins, “in a natural man we conceive there is a soul of vegetation and of growth; and secondly, a soul of motion and of sense; and then thirdly, a soul of reason and understanding, an immortal soul. And the two first souls, of vegetation and of sense, we conceive to arise out of the temperament and good disposition of the substance of which that man is made; they arise out of man himself; but the last soul, the perfect and immortal soul, that is immediately infused by God.” In like manner we may, without God’s immediate intervention, both possess riches and use riches discreetly; “but the immortal soul, that is, the discerning God’s image on every piece, and the seal of God’s love in every temporal blessing, this is infused by God alone, and arises neither from parents, nor the wisdom of this world, how worldly wise soever we be, in the governing of our estates.”
Before proceeding to say something of the sensible and something of the rational soul, it will be worth while to call attention to a passage of Shakespeare and a passage of Spenser, each of which has perplexed and even baffled the commentators, yet which in truth present no difficulty to one acquainted with the popular psychology of the time, and the fanciful ingenuities based upon that psychology. In the first scene of King Lear, Regan, making declaration of her love for her father, says,—
Myself an enemy to all other joys
Which the most precious square of sense possesses,
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear highness’ love.”
How shall we explain “the most precious square of sense?” Emendations have been proposed and have been adopted by editors ; “ spacious sphere of sense ” is the reading of Singer; Mr. Craig interprets the text as meaning “Sense absolute, sense in its perfection.”
Let us for a moment leave it unexplained, and pass on to a passage of Spenser’s Faerie Queene. In the ninth canto of the second Book the House of Temperance in which Alma dwells is described. Alma is the soul; her house or castle is the body. The twenty-second stanza presents the singular architecture of this castle: —
And part triaugulare; O worke divine !
Those two the first and last proportions are ;
The one imperfect, mortall, feminine ;
Th’ other immortall, perfect, masculine ;
Proportioned equally by seven and nine;
Nine was the circle sett in heaven’s place ;
All which compacted made a goodly diapase. 1
We may for a moment leave on one side the allusions of an arithmetical kind, seven and nine, for these have perhaps been sufficiently explained by the commentators. But what of the architecture triangular, quadrate, and circular ? In 1644 Sir Kenelm Digby published a pamphlet of Observations on this stanza, which he had written at the request of a friend. It was reprinted by Todd in his edition of Spenser, at the end of the canto in which the stanza occurs. Were nothing extant of Spenser’s writing but this stanza, the enthusiastic Sir Kenelm assures us, “these few words would make me esteem him no whit inferior to the most famous men that ever have been in any age.”
In truth it needs no long commentary to explain the architecture of the Castle of Alma; it needs no more than reference to a passage of Bartholomew Anglicus, a passage which at the same time gives, we can hardly doubt, the true explanation of Shakespeare’s “ precious square of sense.” Following elder authority, Bartholomew declares that the vegetable soul, with its three virtues of self-sustainment, growth, and reproduction, is “like to a triangle in Geometrie.” The sensible soul is “like to a quadrangle, square and four cornerde. For in a quadrangle is a lyne drawen from one corner to another corner, afore it maketh two tryangles; and the soul sensible maketh two tryangles of vertues. For wherever the soule sensible is, there is also the soule vegetabilis.” Finally, the rational soul is likened to a circle, because a circle is the most perfect of figures, having a greater power of containing than any other. The triangle of the Castle of Alma is the vegetative soul; the quadrate — identical with Shakespeare’s “square of sense” — is the sensible soul; the circle is the rational soul.
As to Spenser’s numbers, seven and nine, possibly the explanation given in the Clarendon Press edition of The Faerie Queene, Book II, may be right; the seven is there taken to refer to the seven planets, “whose influences on man’s life and nature are mysteriously great;” the nine, says the editor, “is obviously the ninth orb of the heavenly sphere, enfolding all things.” But Spenser is speaking of the Castle of Alma, not of the planets or the spheres. The triangle of the vegetative soul and the quadrate of the sensible soul give us the number seven, which sums up the corporeal part of man; but the rational soul is also necessary for man’s life, and this, with its two faculties of understanding and will, raises the total number from seven to nine.2
The functions of the vegetative soul are, as we have seen, self-maintenance, growth, and reproduction. The processes by which these functions are accomplished are four — appetite or “attraction” as Burton calls it, digestion, the retention of what is needed for nutrition, and the expulsion of what is useless or superfluous. Such is Bartholomew’s enumeration, and what is substantially identical appears in the verse of Sir John Davies: —
There she decocts and doth the food prepare ;
There she distributes it to every vein ;
There she expels what she may fitly spare.
And in Alma’s Castle we are led into a hall where the marshal is Appetite, and to the kitchen where the clerk is named Digestion, whose retainers bear away the prepared food where it is needed, while all that is “nought and noyous” is carried off by its proper conduit to the Port Esquiline.
From the vegetable we pass to the sensible soul. Its seat is the brain; on its operation depend sensation on the one hand, and motion on the other. When Hamlet pleads with his mother in the closet scene, he cries, —
Else could you not have motion; but, sure, that sense
Commentators, (and among them the writer of this paper) have interpreted “motion” in this passage as “impulse of desire,” a sense which the word certainly bears elsewhere in Shakespeare. Warburton, with his characteristic dogmatism in ignorance, would read “notion,” and Capel explains “sense” as meaning precisely what it does not — “reason.” A little knowledge of the mediæval theory would have saved much needless conjecture. Hamlet argues that bodily motion or, it may be, desire, — which is another form of motion, — implies the activity of the sensible soul, and therefore sense (that is, sensation) cannot be wholly destroyed. But it may be “apoplexed,” and here again he uses his words with strict accuracy. “ Apoplexia,” notes Trevisa in his translation of Bartholomew, “is an evil that maketh a man lose all manner feeling.”
Before going farther it is necessary to explain the nature and the function of “the spirits.” The whole of animate and inanimate nature is pervaded by a highly attenuated and lively form of matter to which this name was applied. Bacon also uses the word “pneumaticals” in this sense, but he did no more than accept a common theory, and add some conjectures of his own. On the spirits chiefly depend all the active operations within material substances, and the operation of body upon body. They are, says Bacon, “unquiet to get forth and congregate with the air, and to enjoy the sunbeams,” and hence arise the phenomena of putrefaction. According to La Chambre the constituents of matter are of three kinds, — the gross, the subtle (that is, the spirit) and, connecting these two, the humid. Through the sap plants are nourished by the spirits in the earth. Through food every animal adds to its supply of spirits. They are found in each part of the human body, but the special centre for their development is the liver. The veins, which originate in the liver, are the channels that convey blood through the body, and with this blood is conveyed the spirits, derived from a smoke that rises from the liver. These are however only the “ natural ” spirits, as yet partaking of a certain material grossness. They pass to the heart, and are played upon by the refining influence of the air inhaled by the lungs. Here the natural are transformed into the “ vital ” spirits. From the heart spring the arteries which transmit , not blood in the strict sense of the word, but a fine aerial substance, or a spirituous blood differing greatly from that which flows in the veins. Of this the vital spirits form a chief — or as some maintained, the sole — element.
“An artery,” writes Phineas Fletcher in a note to The Purple Island (Canto II), “is a vessel long, round, hollow, formed for conveyance of that more spritely blood, which is elaborate in the heart. This blood is frothy, yellowish, full of spirits.”
The motion of these spirits is the cause of the pulse. From the heart the vital spirits pass to the brain, and being once more attenuated and refined, become the “animal” spirits.3 Now the chief functions of the animal spirits are two, — first, spreading through the nerves which originate in the brain, they convey sensations to the sensible soul and are its agent in producing motion; secondly, they act as the intermediary between man’s spiritual and immortal part, the rational soul, and its poor mortal companion, the body. And here, it is well to remember that the words “nerve” and “sinew” have in part exchanged their meanings since Elizabethan and earlier times, or rather the application of each word has been narrowed to a single and definite use. Davies uses the word “sinew” for “nerve,” but he also uses the word “nerve” in the sense familiar to us. “Nerves or sinews,” writes Burton, “are membranes without and full of marrow within; they proceed from the brain, and carry the animal spirits for sense and motion.” Here “ sinew ” means what we now call a “nerve.” On the other hand, when Prospero declares to Ferdinand that his “nerves” are in their infancy again, and have no vigor in them, the word “ nerves ” means what we understand by sinews or tendons. Hence, from its double meaning, while “a nervous person” for us means one who is subject to the weakness of nervous excitement or agitation, a “nervous arm” in our elder poetry means what we should call a strong and sinewy arm, and the meaning is not even yet obsolete.
In the function of sense or apprehension which is proper to the sensible soul, two groups of faculties — one outward, the other inward — coöperate. The “outer wit” as it is named in Trevisa’s Bartholomew, consists of the five senses. Along the nerves to each sense hasten the animal spirits, which are now named, with reference to their special employment, the spirits of feeling, or “spirits of sense.” Thus Davies writes of
And to those outward organs spreading go.
Troilus, in Shakespeare’s play, thinking of the soft seizure of Cressida’s hand, declares that compared with it
Hard as the palm of ploughman; ”
that is to say, the subtlest and most tenuous of bodies — the spirit, passing from the brain along the nerves of sensation, — seems as hard as the gross and indurated skin of the ploughman’s hand. In another passage of the same play, the eye itself is named the spirit of sense, but here the meaning is no more than that the eye, as Bartholomew has it, is the subtlest of the outer wits.
The senses make their reports concerning the external objects which have impressed them to the brain. Perhaps those reports do not agree with one another; a marble, which the eye recognizes as only one, may be felt by the fingers, if crossed, as two. There is need of some judge to compare and decide between the reports of the several senses. This judge is the inner wit, or inner sense, which Trevisa, translating Bartholomew, names also the common sense. As Bartholomew uses this term “common sense” it has a generic meaning, including under it the inner senses of imagination, reasoning, and memory. But different, writers employ the term in different ways. With Davies it means the imagination; with Burton it is the kind of reason or judgment which is concerned only with things sensible, as distinguished from the higher faculties of “understanding;” he describes it as the moderator of the other senses — “all their objects are his, and all their offices are his.” In the allegorical poem of Phineas Fletcher the meaning is identical with that of Burton. His Common Sense is a Counsellor of middle years and seemly personage, — “ Father of laws, the rule of right and wrong,” who tries the causes submitted to him by the five outward senses. However the term “common sense” may be applied, it was generally agreed that the inner senses of the sensible soul are three — reason, imagination or phantasy, and memory. The brain consists of three cells, or ventricles, or wombs,— each of these names was in common use, — and in each of these one of the three faculties had its residence; each can, however, pass on ideas to its neighbor faculty. Spenser, agreeing in this with Bartholomew and with Phineas Fletcher, places his Phantastes in the foremost cell, that is in the cell of the brain which is nearest to the forehead. He is a young man, swarthy, of crabbed hue,
His chamber is “dispainted with sundry colours” in which were writ “infinite shapes of things dispersed thin.” But Burton placed phantasy in the middle cell of the brain. The hindmost cell is assigned with little difference of opinion to memory. Certain writers add a fourth cell devoted to the special work of elaborating the animal spirits.
Bacon’s division of human studies into history, poesy, and philosophy, is founded upon the three faculties of the “rational soul,” as he calls it, but he would have been more accurate if he had said “the sensible soul.” History is connected with memory, poesy with imagination, philosophy with the reason. In a poem by Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, A Treatise of Human Learning, the date of the composition of which it is not easy to ascertain, an account almost identical is given of the centres of human knowledge. Nothing could be more natural, — reason and imagination and memory were recognized as the inner wits of the sensible soul, each in possession of a special ventricle of the brain. Of the ventricle appropriated to memory Shakespeare speaks in Love’s Labour’s Lost, — ideas “begot in the ventricle of memory,” — and in a speech of Lady Macbeth he refers to the second ventricle of reason. She promises that she will so subdue with wine and wassail the two chamberlains of Duncan, —
Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason
A limbec only.”
The idea that fumes arose from meat and drink, stupefying the brain, is of frequent recurrence; memory, occupying the part of the brain connected with the spinal marrow, is “the warder or sentinal to warn the reason against attack.” Such is the explanation of Dr. W. Aldis Wright; but perhaps the following passage from Purchas’s Microcosmus suggests the true meaning: “The Memorie is a sure Prison for such as Reason hath committed to ward ... or hath not yet leisure to hear.” It may be noticed in passing that where Shakespeare in the same speech of Love’s Labour’s Lost mentions the pia, mater, a membrane which covers the brain, — “nourished in the womb of pia mater” are the words, — he does not give the term its proper meaning; it signifies with him the brain itself or some portion of the brain, and in each of the other two passages where pia mater occurs, it is used by Shakespeare with the same inaccuracy.
Those fumes or vapors of which Lady Macbeth speaks are the cause of sleep. Such vapors, as Burton explains, arising out of the stomach, fill the nerves by which the spirits are conveyed. The common sense cannot communicate through the nerves with the external senses, and therefore the external senses cease to operate. The fantasy or imagination, however, remains free, and hence come dreams. “My spirits,” exclaims Ferdinand to Prospero, “as in a dream are all bound up;” and in the same play, Antonio, taking up Sebastian’s word that he is “indisposed to sleep,” goes on, “my spirits are nimble,” that is, the spirits can dart along the nerves without encountering the obstruction of vapors.
From the sensible soul proceeds, as we have seen, not sensation only but also motion. If we move from place to place, it is to obtain some object which we desire or to avoid some object which causes us displeasure. The efficient cause of motion is therefore either reason, or the subordinate of reason, as Burton names it, fantasy, which apprehends good or bad objects. The spirits, commissioned by reason or fantasy, contract or relax the nerves and muscles, which draw after them the joints, and thus we walk, we run, we leap, we dance, we sit.
But the word “motion” comprehends more than this. It includes the motions of the internal parts of the body, such as the passage of blood through the veins; and these are perhaps rather of a vegetable or vital origin than dependent upon the animal spirits. It includes the power of appetite, and appetite is either sensitive, which is common to man and brutes, or intellective, which is possessed by man alone, and which in a well-regulated nature controls and directs the sensitive appetite. Behind this intellective appetite — if it does not, as some hold, belong rather to our immortal part — lies the reason or the common sense; its proper functions are to seek good and to avoid evil in sensible things. In its function of seeking what is desirable, it is named the “concupiscible” appetite; in its function of repelling or evading evil it is named the “irascible” appetite. Hence arise all the affections and passions, or, as they are commonly named, “perturbations” of man. With Shakespeare the word “motion” is used in the two senses, — motion with reference to change of place, and motion, an impulse of desire, as in the line of Measure for Measure,— “the wanton stings and motions of the sense.” In more than one passage he seems to make a distinction between “affection” and “passion,” and perhaps a line in the Merchant of Venice points to what the distinction is: —
Master of passion, sways it to the mood
Of what it likes or loathes.”
“Affection” here means a man’s liking for or disinclination to some object, caused by an external impression on the senses, while “passion”—which results from the affection — signifies the inward perturbation. In Jonson’s Love’s Welcome, written when King Charles I was entertained at Welbeck in 1633, the Passions — Doubt and Love — enter with the Affections — Joy, Delight, and others. The distinction here is not very evident; but perhaps Love and Doubt are more inward — perturbations of the mind — and Joy and Delight more outward and of the senses.
The division of the Passions into two groups — the irascible and the concupiscible — determined the plan of the second Book of Spenser’s Faerie Queene, that which tells the legend of Sir Guyon, Knight of Temperance. The theme of the Book is discipline in self-control; through the first six cantos the dangers and errors to which the soul of man is exposed through the irascible passions are exhibited in the allegory; in the last six the temptations are those offered by the concupiscible passions, chief among which are the lust for money, the lust for false glory and gross ambition, and the lust for sensual pleasure. The cave of Mammon, the throne of Queen Philotime, the Bower of Bliss, with Acrasia in all her deceiving loveliness, are successively exhibited.
There is, however, another classification of the passions — that founded on their origin and composition. Some are primary and simple; others are mixed or composite. Differences of opinion appear among various writers as to the number and names of the primary passions, but a commonly accepted doctrine sets them down as four: Pleasure and Pain, — the good or evil object being present; and Hope and Fear — the good or evil object being absent, but conceived by the imagination. From these four it was held that all the other passions were evolved by successive minglings and compositions, which grew more complex as the series proceeded in its developments. In that curious piece of dramatic literature, Pathomachia, by an unknown author, no fewer than fifteen Affections play their parts. Much speculation existed as to the seat of the passions in the human body. Have they one common centre, or does each passion reside in a special organ of its own ? A general, but by no means a universally accepted, answer was that they reside in the heart. Four female figures, Pleasure and Pain, Hope and Fear, are presented on the pretty titlepage of Grimeston’s translation of Coffeteau’s A Table of Humane Passions (1621), while the title itself appears inclosed within a heart in outline. The mode in which the passions are awakened and excited is described with precision by Davies:—
The spirits of life [the vital spirits] doe their beginning take ;
These spirits of life ascending to the braine,
When they come there the spirits of sense do make.
Judge of the formes of objects, ill or well;
And as they send a good or ill report
Down to the heart, where all affections dwell,
And longing hope, and well-assuréd joy ;
If it be ill then doth it hatred move,
And trembling fear and vexing grief’s annoy.
Thomas Wright, in his Treatise on the Passions of the Mind in general, agrees with Davies in regarding the heart as the dwelling-place of the passions, and so too Timothy Bright, in his Treatise of Melancholy. Nevertheless there was a special connection between certain passions and other organs, which aided in a special way the operations of each. Thus the liver was supposed to be in a peculiar degree connected with amorous passion; the gall secreted by the liver was at least an aider and abettor of the passion of anger; what Shakespeare calls “the passion of loud laughter” was connected with the spleen, or the midriff; and the spleen, if distempered, — but indeed, of almost every organ this might be said,—was the cause of melancholy. The references to these beliefs, and to others of a like kind, are numerous in Shakespeare. The Friar in Much Ado about Nothing advises that a report be circulated of Hero’s death, and then shall Claudio mourn,
When Hamlet reproaches himself for his deficiency of wrath against his father’s murderer, he exclaims, —
But I am pigeon-liver’d and lack gall
To make oppression bitter.”
“Pigeon-livered,” for the mildness of doves and pigeons was the result of these creatures possessing no secretion of gall. Maria, in Twelfth Night, when she entreats Sir Toby to come and observe the ridiculous follies of Malvolio, cries, “If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourself into stitches, follow me.”
The amorous Duke of Illyria imagines Love enthroned in the whole nature of Olivia; the moment of this consummation will be one
These sovereign thrones, are all supplied, and fill’d
Her sweet perfections with one selfe King.”
And in truth he has named the chief organs that govern the life of man and woman— “those Triumviri” as Purchas calls them in Microcosmus, “the liver, heart and Braine, as a sensible Trinity in this Unity, having under their leading and command three great bands of a Subtill, Swift, Aerie Generation,”—the natural, vital, and animal spirits,— “all of them the bond to unite the Soule and Body, the Chariots of the Faculties, and prime instruments of all bodily actions.”
In connection with all the operations of the corporeal part of man — the body, the vegetable and sensible souls, the spirits, — and especially in connection with the play of the passions, it should be remembered that, setting aside the rational and immortal soul, men are creatures made of the four elements, and according to the different proportion which the qualities of these elements bear in our composition, we exhibit differences of complexion, and probably of conduct. “Does not our life consist of the four elements ? ” asks Sir Toby Belch. The elements are, of course, earth, air, fire, and water. Their qualities are heat, coldness, dryness, moisture. Fire is hot and dry; air is hot and moist; water is cold and moist; earth is cold and dry. Now as each of the four qualities preponderates in our bodies, and especially in the blood, and as it is combined with other qualities, our temperament is determined. It may be a simple temperament, — hot, or cold, or moist, or dry; it may on the other hand be a compound temperament, — hot and moist, or hot and dry; cold and moist, or cold and dry. We can hardly hope that any of us should possess the perfect, temperament, where each quality bears its due proportion, that temperament named “Eucrasy.” It is this perfect Eucrasy which, at the close of Julius Cæsar, Mark Antony ascribes to the dead Brutus: —
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world ’This was a man ! ’ ”
Now the food which we cat, itself consisting of the four elements, and having their several qualities, is converted by the internal processes of the body into four humors, which have a certain correspondence with the elements, from which they are derived. These primary, nutritive humors are blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy. In what we popularly call “blood” each of these humors is found, and as it courses through the veins each humor supplies nutriment in a peculiar degree to that organ of the body which it is specially adapted to nourish. Thus phlegm, which is cold and moist, in a peculiar degree supplies the brain — itself a cold and moist substance — with the food it needs; choler, which is hot and dry, feeds especially the lungs; and so with the rest. A “cool” head, and a “warm” heart, describe only the healthy condition of these organs. As each of the humors preponderates in a man’s veins, his complexion — which is often identified with the temperament — is determined; he is of a sanguine complexion, or it is melancholy, or phlegmatic, or choleric. And, the bodily organs being the instruments of the sensible soul, the thoughts and passions of a man are obviously in a great degree influenced by his complexion.
The doctrine that man is made of the four elements is frequently referred to by Shakespeare. It forms the theme of two connected sonnets, the forty-fourth and forty-fifth, written in absence from the friend to whom his Sonnets are addressed. The dull elements of earth and water cannot leap across the distance which separates him from his friend — that is the theme of the forty-fourth sonnet; the other two elements, air and fire, are gone on embassy to his friend, leaving him mere earth and water —
Sinks down to death, oppress’d with melancholy,
Until life’s composition be recured
By those swift messengers return’d from thee.
Thus the doctrine is applied to his purposes in the forty-fifth sonnet. “I am fire and air,” cries Cleopatra, when about to apply the asp to her breast,
I give to baser life.”
The Dauphin’s horse in Henry V — for all animals are made of the four elements— “is pure air and fire, and the dull elements of earth and water never appear in him, but only in patient stillness while his rider mounts him.” The word “temperament” is never employed by Shakespeare; “temper” fills its place. The small page, Moth, in Love’s Labour’s Lost, loves a little fooling with his solemn and self-conceited master, Don Adriano. The Don would learn from Moth what was the complexion of Samson’s love, Delilah. “Of all the four,” answers the impertinent boy, “or the three, or the two, or one of the four?” — which is indeed, about all that we can conjecture concerning Delilah’s complexion, the question giving no less opening to conjecture than those of Sir Thomas Browne’s Urn-Burial,—what song the Sirens sang, and what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women. The word “humour” is gloriously abused by Pistol in Henry IV and by Nym in the Merry Wives. Ben Jonson comments upon the careless use of the word for some fantastic oddity, and, through his Asper, in the opening of Every Man out of his Humour, he gives the correct definition. By a metaphorical transfer Jonson himself, as is explained by Asper, extends the significance of the word from physiology to psychology, and makes this idea a basis for his dramatic representation of character: —
Unto the general disposition ;
As when some one peculiar quality
Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw
All his affects, his spirits, and his powers
In their confluctions all to run one way,
This may be truly said to be a humour.
Allusions to the hot, the cold, the moist, the dry temperaments are, of course, of most frequent occurrence in Elizabethan literature. The elements, with their children, known as the complexions, and the five senses appear upon the stage, each appropriately habited, in the moral masque, Microcosmus, by Thomas Nabbes. The subject of the masque is not unlike that of the old moralities — the struggle for Physander, who represents (as his name signifies) the natural man, between the powers of good and evil. At the close Physander is accused in the court of Conscience of infidelity to his lawful spouse, Bellanima, the soul. Fire and Air, the active elements, are presented as men in the vigor of youth; Water and Earth, the passive elements, as women. Choler is a fencer with rent garments, Blood, a dancer, Phlegm, an old physician, and Melancholy, a musician, swarthy of hue, attired in black, a lute in his hand. “He is likewise,” adds the description of the dramatis personœ “an amorist.” Melancholy and love are both connected in a special degree with the liver and hence with one another; it will be remembered how large a proportion of Burton’s Anatomy is devoted to the melancholy of lovers.
It remains to say a few words of that part of man which is wholly immaterial, — his immortal part, the rational soul. But they may well be few, for as Burton, quoting from Velcurio, puts it, this is “a pleasant but a doubtful subject, and with the like brevity to be discussed.” The two chief faculties of the reasonable soul are first, wit, or understanding, or intellect (for each of these terms is used), and secondly, will; an understanding occupied not only with particular and material things but capable of comprehending truths that are general, universal,and divine; a will, not merely set in motion bv desires of the lower nature, but, when duly informed and illuminated by the understanding, capable of seeking the highest good, which is God Himself. From each of these faculties a habit of life may proceed, — from the will, the active life; from the understanding, the life contemplative. Instead of understanding and will, we may, if we please, use the word “intellect ” as comprehending both functions, with a distinction between “the intellect speculative” and “the intellect practical.” Under these heads subordinate powers may be ranged; thus, the understanding includes a memory, which is not, like the memory of the sensible soul, a perishable thing, but which survives the great change of death, when the reasonable soul enters on its disembodied state.
In Humour’s Heaven on Earth by John Davies of Hereford, the ornaments of Psyche (the soul) are Wit, Will, and Memory: —
Which Heaven and Earth religiously adore ;
And in her will she wore grace most divine ;
But in her memory she Artes did store ;
To whom the Common Sense was Treasurer.
The Conscience, again, may be regarded as one of the powers of the higher understanding. The images of things sent up by the sensible to the reasonable soul are tested, judged, purified, and when found in accordance with truth are offered by the understanding to the will. But the will of the reasonable soul is something far different from appetite. “The object of appetite,” writes Hooker in the first Book of Ecclesiastical Polity, “is whatsoever sensible good may be wished for; the object of will is that good which reason doth lead us to seek.” The will, illuminated by the understanding, in its own right of freedom chooses good. It cannot directly control the appetites, which move instinctively and involuntarily when the objects of their desire are presented to them; but the will can refuse the gratifications demanded by the appetites. Over the irascible and concupiscible passions the power of the reasonable soul is, or rather may and ought to be, supreme. All these and kindred matters are discoursed of in much detail by Primeaudaye in the Second Tome of the French Académie. The doctrine of the reasonable soul was sung by Phineas Fletcher in the Purple Island, and by Sir John Davies in Nosce Teipsum. Thus Davies puts it: —
Which doth for common good in Counsell sit,
And when Wit is resolved, Will lends her power
To execute what is devised by Wit.
Of Fancies Court the Judgments false and vaine,
Will holds the royal scepter in the soule,
And on the passions of the heart doth raigne.
Some writers, and among them Samuel Purchas, argue that all the operations of the sensible, and even those of the vegetative, soul are ultimately dependent on the reasonable soul; “Not the liver, but the Soule, in and by the Liver, sanguifies; as the Heart and Braine are but Shoppes and Tooles for Life and Sense; the Workman is the Soule in these.”
But we need pursue these discussions, and the diversity of opinions, no farther. The whole of the little world of man, the Microcosm, has now been mapped out, as it was known to Elizabethan explorers. Explorers they were to some small extent, but in a considerable degree they did no more than repeat what had come down to them with authority from their predecessors.4
- So Dryden (“ A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day ”) — “ The diapason closing full in man.”↩
- The powers are (1) life, in the sense of self-maintenance, (2) growth, (3) reproduction; (4) the common sense, (5) imagination, (6) reason, (7) memory; (S) understanding, (9) will.↩
- The affable archangel, explaining to Adam (Paradise Lost, bk. v, 482-485) the processes of nutrition, uses the words “ vital,”"animal,” and “ intellectual ” spirits, in place of natural, vital, and animal.↩
- An excellent resumé of the whole subject will be found in the preface to A Table of Humane Passions, by N. Coffeteau, translated by E. Grimeston, 1621 ; much may also be learned from The Examination of Men’s Wits, by Huarte, translated by R. C.↩