Autobiography HTML version

"A grief without a pang, void, dark and drear, A drowsy, stifled, unimpassioned
grief, Which finds no natural outlet or relief In word, or sigh, or tear."
In vain I sought relief from my favourite books; those memorials of past nobleness and
greatness from which I had always hitherto drawn strength and animation. I read them
now without feeling, or with the accustomed feeling minus all its charm; and I became
persuaded, that my love of mankind, and of excellence for its own sake, had worn itself
out. I sought no comfort by speaking to others of what I felt. If I had loved anyone
sufficiently to make confiding my griefs a necessity, I should not have been in the
condition I was. I felt, too, that mine was not an interesting, or in any way respectable
distress. There was nothing in it to attract sympathy. Advice, if I had known where to
seek it, would have been most precious. The words of Macbeth to the physician often
occurred to my thoughts. But there was no one on whom I could build the faintest hope of
such assistance. My father, to whom it would have been natural to me to have recourse in
any practical difficulties, was the last person to whom, in such a case as this, I looked for
help. Everything convinced me that he had no knowledge of any such mental state as I
was suffering from, and that even if he could be made to understand it, he was not the
physician who could heal it. My education, which was wholly his work, had been
conducted without any regard to the possibility of its ending in this result; and I saw no
use in giving him the pain of thinking that his plans had failed, when the failure was
probably irremediable, and, at all events, beyond the power of his remedies. Of other
friends, I had at that time none to whom I had any hope of making my condition
intelligible. It was, however, abundantly intelligible to myself; and the more I dwelt upon
it, the more hopeless it appeared.
My course of study had led me to believe, that all mental and moral feelings and
qualities, whether of a good or of a bad kind, were the results of association; that we love
one thing, and hate another, take pleasure in one sort of action or contemplation, and pain
in another sort, through the clinging of pleasurable or painful ideas to those things, from
the effect of education or of experience. As a corollary from this, I had always heard it
maintained by my father, and was myself convinced, that the object of education should
be to form the strongest possible associations of the salutary class; associations of
pleasure with all things beneficial to the great whole, and of pain with all things hurtful to
it. This doctrine appeared inexpugnable; but it now seemed to me, on retrospect, that my
teachers had occupied themselves but superficially with the means of forming and
keeping up these salutary associations. They seemed to have trusted altogether to the old
familiar instruments, praise and blame, reward and punishment. Now, I did not doubt that
by these means, begun early, and applied unremittingly, intense associations of pain and
pleasure, especially of pain, might be created, and might produce desires and aversions
capable of lasting undiminished to the end of life. But there must always be something
artificial and casual in associations thus produced. The pains and pleasures thus forcibly
associated with things, are not connected with them by any natural tie; and it is therefore,
I thought, essential to the durability of these associations, that they should have become
so intense and inveterate as to be practically indissoluble, before the habitual exercise of
the power of analysis had commenced. For I now saw, or thought I saw, what I had
always before received with incredulity --that the habit of analysis has a tendency to wear