All operations of mind which are not produced by material things acting
upon the senses consist of a continual succession of conceptions. Some
of these conceptions are exact pictures of past perceptions, and are
attended by the consciousness that such things have existed before, and
such are called ideas of memory. Others are conceptions which, by the
process of association, are continually recurring, and arranging
themselves in new combinations, according to certain laws or principles
of association. Imagination has been defined as “that power which the
mind possesses of arranging conceptions in new combinations,” and it can
readily be seen that this includes all the ordinary successions of
thought except those of perception and memory. The term imagination has
been used in rather a vague manner by writers on the subject. Sometimes
it is used to signify all that succession of conceptions which recur
according to the laws of association, and sometimes it is used in a more
restricted sense. The more limited meaning is the one to which the term
is most commonly applied, and it seems to be the one which precision and
accuracy in the use of terms demand, and therefore it will now be
The mind is susceptible of certain emotions, which are called emotions
of taste. These, more specifically, are called emotions of beauty,
sublimity, and novelty. Such emotions are awakened by certain objects in
nature, by certain works of art, and by the use of language which
recalls conceptions of these objects. Those objects which awaken such
emotions are called objects of taste, and those arts which enable us to
produce combinations that will awaken such emotions are called the _fine
Among the fine arts are ordinarily classed painting, music, sculpture,
architecture, ornamental gardening, and poetry. The art of the painter
consists in combining, according to certain rules of proportion and
fitness of outline and color, certain objects, which, either from their
peculiar character, or from the fitness of their combination in
effecting a given design, awaken emotions of beauty or sublimity. The
highest perfection of this art consists not so much in close imitation
as in the nature of the combinations, and their unity and fitness in
producing the effect designed by the artist.
The art of the sculptor is similar in its nature, and differs chiefly in
the materials employed, and in being limited to a much more restricted
number of objects for combination.
The art of the architect consists in planning and constructing edifices,
intended either for use or ornament, and in so arranging the different
parts as to awaken emotions of beauty or sublimity from the display of
utility, fitness, grandeur of extent, or order of proportion.
The art of the musician consists in combining sounds so as to produce
such melodies or harmonies as will awaken varied emotions in the mind.
The power of this art over the human mind is much superior to that of
the others enumerated, because it can call forth both a greater variety
and more powerful emotions.
The art of the poet consists in such a use of language as will recall
objects of beauty or sublimity in combinations that are pleasing to the
mind, or as will, by the description and expression of varied emotion in
other minds, awaken similar feelings in the breast of the reader.
The art of ornamental gardening consists in such an arrangement of the
varied objects which compose a landscape as will awaken emotions of
beauty from a display of unity of design, order, fitness, and utility.
The term imagination, then, in its most frequent use, signifies _those
new combinations of conceptions which will awaken the emotions of
The painter or the poet, when he attempts the exercise of his art, has
some leading desire of an object to be secured. Under the influence of
this desire, all those conceptions, recurring by the principle of
association, which appear fitted to accomplish this object, immediately
become vivid and distinct, and are clearly retained in the mind. As
other conceptions succeed, other objects are found which will forward
the general design, and these also are retained, and thus the process
continues till the object aimed at is accomplished, and by the pen or
pencil retained in durable characters.
The action of mind to which the term _imagination_ is thus restricted
differs in no respect from other acts of conception when the mind is
under the influence of desire, except in the _nature of the objects of_
_desire_. If it is the desire of the mind to establish a proposition by
mathematical reasoning, the mind is engaged in the same process of
conception as when it is engrossed with the desire to form some
combination of taste. In both cases some object of desire stimulates the
mind, and whatever conceptions appear fitted to accomplish this object
immediately become vivid and distinct.