Friday, January 28, 2011

Possessed by Them

"[quoting from Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe] Vol. i. p. 17. 'But my ill fate pushed me on now with an obstinacy that nothing could resist; and though I had several times loud calls from my reason, and my more composed judgment to go home, yet I had no power to do it. I know not what to call this, nor will I urge that it is a secret over-ruling decree that hurries us on to be the instruments of our own destruction, even though it be before us, and that we rush upon it with our eyes open.'

"The wise only possess ideas; the greater part of mankind are possessed by them. Robinson Crusoe was not conscious of the master-impulse, even because it was his master, and had taken, as he says, full possession of him. When once the mind, in despite of the remonstrating conscience, has abandoned its free power to a haunting impulse or idea, then whatever tends to give depth and vividness to this idea or indefinite imagination, increases its despotism, and in the same proportion renders the reason and free will ineffectual. Now, fearful calamities, sufferings, horrors, and hair-breadth escapes will have this effect, far more than even sensual pleasure and prosperous incidents. Hence the evil consequences of sin in such cases, instead of retracting or deterring the sinner, goad him on to his destruction. This is the moral of Shakspeare's Macbeth, and the true solution of this paragraph,—not any overruling decree of divine wrath, but the tyranny of the sinner's own evil imagination, which he has voluntarily chosen as his master."

- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Notes on Robinson Crusoe," collected in The Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Volume 4 edited by James Marsh.

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