chapter  4
The Unelected Legislator: Associationism and Thomas Brown's Subliminal Poetic Lessons
Pages 22

Brown’s poetry is so voluminous – he published seven volumes of verse1 – and his psychological approach is so complex and in uential that he warrants a chapter of his own. He also stands out from the other psychologist-poets described in this study because he states most clearly how and why he uses verse for associationist purposes. In Lectures on the Philosophy of the Human Mind, the Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University delineated his associationist psychological theories, which many viewed as threatening to the Christian concept of free will. Signi cantly, he also applied associationist principles to his literary theorizing and attempted to practise versi ed psychology that appears, frighteningly, to be a kind of mind-control. As his psychological prose and poetic prefaces reveal, Brown believed that the psychologist-poet understands the reader better than the reader understands herself, which enables him to use the special qualities of verse to implant his message into the reader’s mind. is message is a moral one that con rms the socially governing and Christian roots of psychology and links Brown’s verse to that of Cotton and Beattie, most obviously, but also to that of all of the psychologist-poets whom I have examined here, since I have shown that, in their ways, moral management and nerve theory also governed society by providing rules for morality. More speci cally with reference to Brown’s poetry, he shows that the associationist-poet can encourage the reader to follow his ethical directions without even appearing to give advice. Although this autocratic use of psychology in verse may be alarming, it is not a perversion of the principles of associationism. It is, rather, an apt application of its principles, as I will illustrate with reference to the writings of Hartley and Stewart, as well as Brown’s own. Brown may seem to di er from his fellow psychologist-poets in his overtly tyrannical sentiments, but, as I will illustrate, he is the paramount example of the psychologist who leads society through verse because he seizes upon the unique qualities of poetry that are amenable to the deployment of his associationist programme. is psychologist-poet uses his

understanding of and talents for both associationism and verse to e ect a perfect amalgamation of the disciplines.