Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/29

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17
EPIDEMIC DELUSIONS.

lately saw in the "stampede" at Aldershot. Or, again, a horse, even if well trained, when he gets a new rider, sometimes, as we say, "tries it on," to see whether the horse or the rider is really the master. I have heard many horsemen say that that is a very familiar experience. When you first go out with a new horse, it may be to a certain degree restive; but if the horse finds that yon keep a tight hand upon him, and that his master knows well how to keep him under control, a little struggling may have to be gone through, and the horse from that time becomes perfectly docile and obedient. But, if, on the other hand, the horse finds that he is the master, even for a short time, no end of trouble is given afterward to the rider in acquiring that power which he desires to possess. Now, that is just the case with our minds; we may follow out the parallel very closely indeed. We find that if our minds once acquire habits—habits of thought, habits of feeling—which are independent of the will, which the will has not kept under adequate regulation, these habits get the better of us; and then we find that it is very difficult indeed to recover that power of self-direction which we have been aiming at, and which the well-trained and well-disciplined mind will make its highest object. So, again, we find that there are states in which, from some defect in the physical condition of the body, or it may be from some great shock which has affected the mind and weakened for a time the power of the will, very slight impulses—just like the slight things that will make a horse shy—will disturb us unduly; and we feel that our emotions are excited in a way that we cannot account for, and we wonder why such a little thing should worry and vex us in the way that it does. Even the best of us know, within our own personal experience, that when we are excessively fatigued in body, or overstrained in mind, our power of self-control is very much weakened; so that particular ideas will take possession of us, and for a time will guide our whole course of thought, in a manner which our sober judgment makes us feel to be very undesirable. What, for instance, is more common than for a person to take offence at something that has been said or done by his most intimate friend, or by some member of his family; merely because he has been jaded or overtasked, and has not the power of bringing to the fair judgment of his common-sense the question whether that offence was really intended, or whether it was a thing he ought not to take any notice of? He broods over this notion, and allows it to influence his judgment; and, if he does not in a day or two rouse himself and master his feelings by throwing it off, it may give rise to a permanent estrangement. We are all of us conscious of states of mind of that kind.

But there are states of mind which lead to very much more serious disorder, arising from the neglect of that primary discipline and culture on which I have laid so much stress. We find that ignorance, and that want of the habit of self-control which very commonly ac-