George Cheyne, An Essay on Health and Long Life (1725), p. 124

The soul resides eminently in the brain, where all the nervous fibres terminate inwardly, like a musician by a well tuned instrument, which has keys within, on which it may play, and without, on which other persons and bodies may also play. By the inward keys, I understand those means by which the thoughts of the mind affect the body; and by the outward, those whereby the actions or sensations of the body affect the mind. Both these affectations may be called passions in a general way, as either part of the compound is acted upon.

A Newtonian image of the nervous system which Sterne shared saw the nerves as similar to a stringed instrument. The fibres picked up vibrations from the outside and in vibrating, caused new vibrations. Cheyne's picture of feeling is similar in terms of the musical metaphor and in terms of the obscurity of where a particular feeling is coming from; while he seems to have located the various internal and external factors which can generate passion, the image of even a well-tuned piano played by mutliple players (particularly if one thinks of someone inside the instrument) suggests cacophany as easily as it does harmony. The brain, the body, and other persons and objects are simultaneously playing us. The music won't always be nice.

Related terms:

a dictionary of sensibility
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critical bibliography