Contents Index

"Of what a strange nature is knowledge!": Hartleian Psychology and the Creature's Arrested Moral Sense in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Sue Weaver Schopf

In Romanticism Past and Present 5 (1981): 33-52.

{33} Studies of Frankenstein have often emphasized Mary Shelley's wide-ranging awareness of contemporary social and intellectual issues and developments in her work, as demonstrated most especially by her debts to such authors as Locke, Condillac, Diderot, Buffon, Rousseau, Milton, Ovid, Dr. Darwin, Sir Humphry Davy, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft.1 Discussion of the influence of one other important author has not been forthcoming, however, a fact all the more surprising when we realize that he appears to have provided Mary Shelley with the source for a substantial portion of Frankenstein's epistemological foundation. That author is David Hartley, who is responsible for Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duty, and His Expectations (1749).2

The assertion of Hartley's influence raises several difficult questions. First, no references to Hartley or to the Observations on Man are to be found either in Mrs. Shelley's Journal3 or in her letters,4 works traditionally consulted for documentation of the reading that influenced the creation of Frankenstein. Did Mary Shelley read a work whose powerful effects are not noted in these usually dependable sources? Perhaps -- we should remember that she did not begin keeping her journal until July 1814, and that her journal for 1816 has been lost. It is therefore possible that she read Hartley prior to 1814 or during 1816 and that we simply have no record of it.

Since the argument here advances the premise of direct influence, and since no available journal entry or epistolary reference appears to support such a premise, the temptation arises to sidestep the issue by suggesting that Mary Shelley was influenced by Hartley's theories indirectly, say, through the agency of her father -- William Godwin. Godwin admired Hartley's ingenious amalgamation of the concepts of sensationism, benevolence, necessity, and meliorism. Political Justice is occasionally a forum for some of Hartley's ideas. And several of Godwin's essays in the Enquirer are concerned with the same epistemological questions with which Hartley dealt. No doubt Godwin {34} spoke of Hartley to his daughter, as he spoke to her of other authors whose ideas he espoused. But even if Godwin did not, he owned the copies of Hartley that his daughter may have read. Godwin owned two different editions of Hartley's Observations -- the original edition of 1749 and the abridged Priestley edition of 1775 -- both of which his daughter might have perused.5 Further, it is known that Mary Shelley was familiar with Godwin's Caleb Williams, on which she modelled a good deal of Frankenstein. Caleb Williams is noteworthy in part for its striking psychological studies, energized in part by Hartleian concepts, of Barnabas Tyrrel, Caleb Williams, and Ferdinando Falkland. Could Mary Shelley have acquired her knowledge of Hartley's theories from a careful reading of her father's works? Probably not. While the works of Godwin cited above are obviously steeped in associational psychology, they are so only in a general way; moreover, they are colored by Godwin's own ideas about the forces which influence the formation of character. Godwin never resorts to a step-by-step articulation of that process in strictly Hartleian language; he absorbed Hartley's basic theories, but from the outset, in Book I of Political Justice, he undertakes to bring them into conformity with his own ideas. In the introduction to his edition of Political Justice, F. E. L. Priestley seconds the notion of Godwin's adapting Hartley's ideas to his own ends:

The part played by association in Godwin's psychology is far less important than is often supposed, and his debt to Hartley is not great. . . . Hartley's doctrine of association, with its alphabetical formulae, finds no place in Political Justice; nor will the reader find any sign of Hartley's hierarchy of Sensation, Imagination, Ambition, Self-lnterest, Sympathy, Theopathy, and the Moral Sense, or of the five 'grateful' and five 'ungrateful' passions.6
The same can be said for Caleb Williams. Mary Shelley could have derived an understanding of the general principles of associationism, sensationism, and benevolence, and their roles in the formation of character from her father's works; but Godwin's works more nearly represent a casebook of liberal English empiricism and Godwinian necessitarianism than a repository of Hartleian theory.

If Mary Shelley did not learn the details of Hartley's system from reading Godwin's works, might she have acquired such knowledge in some more purely "accidental" way? That is, might she not have perceived the essentials of Hartleian psychology as a vital part of the zeitgeist from 1797-1817, her first two decades, which culminated with the writing of Frankenstein? The 0bservations was first published in 1749. In 1772, the Reverend Herman A. Pistorius published in Rostock and Leipzig a commentary on the second part of the Observations. In 1775, Joseph Priestley published a condensed version of the {35} Observations, omitting from it most of Hartley's religious hypotheses as well as his theories concerning "vibratiuncles." The Pistorius commentary was translated and appended to the second edition published by Joseph Johnson -- Godwin's publisher -- in March 1791. Later in that same year, Johnson published a third edition of the complete Observations. These were followed by subsequent editions in 1801, 1810, and 1834. Despite the fact that David Hume (in his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, 1751), William Godwin (in Political Justice, 1793, and in the Enquirer essays, 1797), and to some extent Mary Wollstonecraft (in Chapter VI of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792) had refined Hartley's theories, the latter were still readily available in their original form and were apparently considered reputable. James Mill, in fact, based his 1829 treatise, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, on Hartley's Observations. Even though nearly seventy years passed between the writing of the Observations on Man and Frankenstein, the former was, in the early nineteenth century, still a respected primary text of associational (materialist) psychology. Mary Shelley might well have absorbed some knowledge of Hartleian principles simply by being attentive to the cultural and intellectual milieu of her times. But I seriously doubt that, without actually reading Hartley first-hand, she could have grasped the precise delineation of certain principles and the exact steps -- in order -- leading to the formation of the moral sense. One discovers both the principles and the steps in Frankenstein, with all of Hartley's ideological eccentricities intact.

What other possible sources of Hartley's work are there? Is there any other evidence which suggests the provenance by which Mary Shelley read Hartley? We know that Percy Bysshe Shelley ordered a copy of the Observations by means of a letter written in 1812.7 More importantly, we know that Shelley owned, read, and annotated a copy of the unabridged 1810 edition of the Observations.8 It is possible that Mary Shelley read her husband's copy or that, later on, as Byron and Shelley sat discussing "various philosophical doctrines" at Villa Diodati, Hartley's were among those considered.

The fact remains that the narrative focus of the central section of Frankenstein is on the creature's psychological development and on his subsequent explanation of how he came to devote himself to "eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind."9 The narration of that account is couched in explicitly Hartleian terms and accords precisely with the seven-step system of mental and spiritual development outlined in Hartley's Observations. While it is comforting to discover that Mary Shelley had access to a complete edition of Observations, {36} one that was annotated by Shelley in the bargain, and that she likely had the opportunity to discuss it as well, how Mary Shelley came to know this work is less important than the fact that her novel manifests unmistakably Hartleian elements -- not Hartley filtered through Hume or Godwin, but the Hartley of the Observations on Man.


In his Introduction to Volume I of the Observations,10 Hartley divides all experience into two categories: Sensations and Ideas, the latter being divided into two types -- ideas of sensation (simple) and intellectual ideas (complex). Hartley states that "all our internal Feelings seem to be attended with some degree either of Pleasure or Pain" (p. ii); the pleasures and pains and their causes he arranges into the following seven general classes which represent the various levels of man's intellectual and spiritual development:
  1. Sensation (arising from "the Impressions made on the external Senses")
  2. Imagination (arising from "Natural or artificial Beauty or Deformity")
  3. Ambition (arising from "the Opinions of others concerning us")
  4. Self-interest (arising from "Our Possession or Want of the Means of Happiness, and Security from, or Subjection to, the Hazards of Misery")
  5. Sympathy (arising from "the Pleasures and Pains of our fellow-creatures")
  6. Theopathy (arising from "the Affections excited in us by the Contemplation of the Deity")
  7. The Moral Sense (arising from "Moral Beauty and Deformity")
All of the above are fostered by the process of association which Hartley explains in Props. 10, 33, and 34: "Any Sensations A, B, C, &c. by being associated with one another a sufficient number of Times, get such a Power over the corresponding Ideas a, b, c, &c. that any one of the Sensations A, when impressed alone, shall be able to excite in the Mind b, c, &c. the Ideas of the rest" (p. 65). Hartley assumes that pleasurable experience fosters virtuous behavior and painful experience fosters evil behavior; but he also assumes that God has programmed more pleasures than pains into mortal existence and that most men are therefore destined to become both benevolent and happy. A significant consequence of these assumptions is outlined in Prop. 22:
Since God is the Source of all Good, and consequently must at last appear to be so, i.e. be associated with all our Pleasures, it seems to follow . . . that the Idea of God, and of the Ways by which his Goodness and Happiness are made manifest, must at last, take the place of and absorb all other Ideas, and He himself become, according to the Language of the Scriptures, All in All. (p 114)
{37} In short, Hartley's system suggests that pleasure leads to happiness which leads to benevolence which leads inexorably to a love of the Creator with whom we associate all of the foregoing (because all issues from Him), and thus is developed the mature moral sense.

The body of Hartleian theories elaborated above figures prominently in Mary Shelley's novel -- in a quite surprising number of ways, as we shall see. When the creature meets his creator -- Victor -- approximately a year after his creation, the former has already launched himself on a life of crime. The creature is markedly anti-social; he is filled with anger and bitter indignation toward mankind, to which he repeatedly refers as his "enemies." Yet to Victor the creature steadfastly maintains, "I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity" (p. 115). And when he insists that Victor listen to his tale, he does so in the name of "the virtues that I once possessed" (p. 117). How is one to understand the creature's loss of virtue and his becoming malicious? Mary Shelley had the option to use either her father's or, say, Rousseau's anti-societal theories to explain the creature's loss. But she chose, instead, to delineate the monster's mental and moral development in terms of Hartley's complex system of interrelated physiological and psychological responses.

The creature's first memories are of sensative experiences. "A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me," he says, "and I saw, felt, heard, and smelt at the same time" (p. 118). Like an infant, the creature has difficulty adjusting his eyes first to the dark and then to the light. When he flees the laboratory and wanders through the forest, he experiences heat and cold, hunger and thirst, fatigue and sleep, fear and pain. Having felt the last two, he "sat down and wept" (p. 119), another response like that of a child who, when overcome by a rapid series of confusing and indefinable sensations, will predictably burst into tears to express his displeasure and bewilderment. For some time the creature is unable to distinguish coherently among the various sensations. "No distinct ideas occupied my mind; all was confused," he tells Victor (p. 119). But soon he begins to experience sensory pleasures. He finds the sight of the moon pleasurable, as well as the sound of birdsong. He discovers the paradoxical nature of fire -- that it pleasantly warms and gives light, and yet painfully burns if one comes too near it.

This period is the creature's mental childhood, although his enormous physical stature and his mobility put him in contact with a greater number of sensory experiences than an ordinary child might encounter. Accordingly, the creature's intellectual growth is {38} proportionately accelerated; he reaches what might be called "mental puberty" and young adulthood in one year rather than in ten or fifteen. Thus the creature tells Victor that only a few days after his "birth," his "sensations had, by this time, become distinct," and his "mind recovered every day additional ideas" (p. 120). The formation of complex, intellectual ideas is at this point under way.

His first encounter with humanity occurs when the creature enters the hut of an old shepherd who, upon seeing him, quickly flees. The creature's next such encounter becomes disaster when he is attacked by the villagers and driven from the village. These two experiences prove valuable, however. Both cause him to associate mankind with hostile unfriendly behavior; and each experience suggests to him a prototype of the "family dwelling" and of what constitutes a minimum norm of comfort and sustenance. Hence, his first "expectations."

But it is his refuge in the hovel adjacent to the cottage of the DeLacey family that provides the creature with his most extensive "schooling." Here, more than anywhere else, his expectations are shaped by the actions of the DeLaceys, whom he secretly observes. As the result of their influence upon him, the creature quickly advances from the intellectually primitive realm of pure sensation to the higher levels of imagination, ambition, self-interest, and sympathy.

Significantly, most of his initial experiences there -- both vicarious and actual -- are pleasurable. The warmth and comfort of the sparsely furnished cottage accord with the creature's earlier conceived notions of human habitation, but the behavior of the kind and loving members of the DeLacey family presents an entirely new view of human beings acting in harmony with one another. The creature is intensely moved by the beautiful music which the old man produces, music which surpasses the beauteous songs of the woodland birds. The tender affection which the family members show toward each other -- the smiles and laughter, and the gentle ministrations of Felix and Agatha to their father -- impress the creature deeply with "sensations of a peculiar and overpowering nature: they were a mixture of pleasure and pain, such as I had never before experienced . . . and I withdrew from the window, unable to bear these emotions" (p. 126). The simple physical beauty of the DeLacey family -- particularly that of the youthful, melancholy Agatha, as well as the contrasting youth and age of Felix and his father -- also pleases the creature as he watches them. Their use of language he finds extraordinary -- "a godlike science" (p. 130). Later, when he listens to the family's reading of famous literary texts, he is again moved to tears.



All of these natural and domestic pleasures foster in the creature feelings of benevolence and good-will toward the cottagers; but, more importantly, they develop the creature's imagination, the second level of mental development in Hartley's scale. In Prop. 94, Hartley isolates seven specific sources of the pleasures and pains of the imagination: the beauty of nature; the liberal arts of music, painting, and poetry; the sciences; the beauty of the person; wit and humor (all of which yield pleasure); and finally "gross Absurdity, Inconsistency, or Deformity" (which yield pain). Nature is the most valuable source of visual imagery and also serves an important function in fostering man's spiritual development since it inspires him to contemplate the Creator who made it all; nature not only excites but also calms the perceiver, inciting him to peaceful meditation. Music and Poetry yield intense imaginative pleasures, but the "Beauty of the Person" -- particularly female beauty -- is an exceedingly complex pleasure, one which is decidedly of a "gross, sensual" nature at first, but which with time passes into (or becomes associated with) "pure Esteem and Benevolence" (p. 435). Beauty excites desires in the viewer, said desires increasing "for some time, especially if the sensible ones are not gratified, and there be also a Mixture of Hope and Fear, in relation to the Attainment of the Affections of the beloved Person" (p. 436).

Of equal importance to the creature's development is the fact that these positive experiences are vicarious and accordingly underscore the creature's growing sense of loneliness and isolation. He wishes to be an active participant in human society, to relish the varieties of beauty and imaginative stimuli first-hand, not through a chink in the wall of his hovel. In other words, the pleasures of imagination foster strong desires in the creature -- a complex that Hartley terms ambition. "The Opinions of others concerning us, when expressed by corresponding Words or Actions, are principal Sources of Happiness or Misery," says Hartley in Prop. 95 (p. 443). We attempt to garner praise and "avoid Dispraise" by making known to or concealing from others our possession or want of the following attributes: "First, External Advantages or Disadvantages. Secondly, Bodily Perfections and Imperfections. Thirdly, Intellectual Accomplishments or Defects. Fourthly, Moral ones; i.e. Virtue or Vice" (p. 444).

In this stage of development, the creature debates the possibility of joining the society of the DeLacey family. Remembering his first two experiences with humankind, however, he decides to observe the DeLaceys until such time as he feels secure in his understanding of {40} their motivations, pleasures, and expectations of one another, so that he will not violate any established codes of proper behavior. Because of the creature's ambition, he becomes deeply concerned over what this family will think of him, and accordingly, the next series of episodes in the novel shows the creature preparing himself for the moment of his introduction to them. However, along with ambition comes the possibility of failure and the attendant pain, such as what the creature experiences when he discovers his own physical ugliness:

but how was I terrified when I viewed myself in a transparent pool! At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror, and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification. Alas! I did not yet entirely know the fatal effects of this miserable deformity. (p. 133)
The contrast between the beauty of the cottagers and his own deformity, and the anxiety which the creature feels over the probable response to his ugliness, cause him extreme pain and foster his obsession with his physical appearance. The obsesssion makes perfect sense when considered in light of Hartley's statements about "Bodily Perfections and Imperfections" -- such as "Beauty, Strength, and Health, on the one hand; and their Opposites, Deformity, Imbecillity . . ., and Disease, on the other" (p. 447) -- and their tendency to foster feelings of honor and shame in an individual. The most desirable of the "perfections" mentioned above is beauty, which not only means being beautiful, but also being thought beautiful by other human beings. Conversely, to be or to be thought ugly or "deformed," as Hartley puts it, is tantamount to "Scandal." Beauty is generally associated with virtue, ugliness with vice; the human countenance is thus charged with complex physical, social, and moral implications.11 Fearing that his appearance will disgust them, and may well cause them to think him vicious, the creature decides to cultivate other virtues which the DeLaceys apparently hold in high esteem. He imagines that "by my gentle demeanour and conciliating words, I should first win their favour, and afterwards their love" (p. 134). Thus he decides to improve himself intellectually and to begin by "acquiring the art of language" (p. 134).


In Props. 12, 21, 79, and 80 of the Observations, Hartley addresses himself to the formulation of language and the development of articulate speech. He states that words can be grouped into four classes: "1. Words which have Ideas, but no Definitions; 2. Words which have both Ideas and Definitions; 3. Words which have {41} Definitions but no Ideas; 4. Words which have neither Ideas nor Definitions" (pp. 77, 277). To the first class belong "the names of simple sensible Qualities" such as the words "white" or "sweet," which "excite Ideas; but cannot be defined" (p. 278). To the second class belong "the Names of Natural Bodies, animal, vegetable, mineral," which "excite Aggregates of sensible Ideas, and at the same time may be defined" (p. 278). To the third class belong "Algebraic Quantities," which "have Definitions only" (p. 278). And to the fourth, "the Particles the, of, to, for, but, &c." which "have neither Definitions nor Ideas" (p. 279). First, the name of a visible object is learned; second, the hearing or saying of the word excites a visible idea; third, the mental picture of the object will excite an audible idea; fourth, other related sensations will be impressed into the notion of the visible object. Finally, words "denoting sensible Qualities, whether Substantive or Adjective," and "The Names of visible Actions, as Walking, Striding, &c. raise the proper visible Ideas by a like Process" (p. 273).

Through association, the saying, hearing, or (later) seeing of a word can excite whole trains of thought. This rudimentary process is superseded by the learning, through association, of more complex verbal conceptions -- such as those words which pertain to emotions and other abstract qualities.

Hartley also describes the process by which children learn to speak. An impression of pain on some part of the body first stimulates the larynx to move (the pain may involve something as simple as hunger, thirst, coldness, or fear). Shortly, the child learns by association that making such sounds wins him the attention of his parents or his nurse, so that pain or pleasure or any mere sensation becomes less and less responsible for the involuntary activation of the organs of speech. The sounds made by the child are for some time inarticulate. By listening to the articulate sounds of an adult, the child will begin to imitate simple, articulate sounds until, by degrees, he can imitate more complex ones. Once the act of speaking becomes a totally voluntary action, "the Child will be able to utter any Word or Sentence proposed to him by others, or by himself, from a mere Exertion of the Will . . ." (p. 107).

Earlier in his narrative, the creature tells Victor of his first attempts to make sounds: "Sometimes I tried to imitate the pleasant songs of the birds, but was unable. Sometimes I wished to express my sensations in my own mode, but the uncouth and inarticulate sounds which broke from me frightened me into silence again" (p. 120). Like a baby, the creature tries to make sounds which express "sensations," but which are instead merely shocking to the ear. And since no mother {42} rushes to his side to answer his "call," the creature, in these first experiences with the operation of his voice, remains ignorant of the usefulness of making sounds. His observation of the DeLacey family, however, provides him vicariously with this knowledge that a child acquires from the responses of its parents. The creature's initial difficulty in comprehending the language of the cottagers arises from the fact that "the words they uttered had no apparent connection with visible objects" (p. 131); but as he listens and observes for a lengthy period of time, just as a child would do, he soon amasses a vocabulary which consists of "the most familiar objects of discourse" (p. 131), all of which are words associated with visible objects: "fire, milk, bread, and wood" (p. 131). Next he learns the names of the cottagers. More complex and abstract conceptions, "such as good, dearest, unhappy" (p. 131), he learns later. He discovers his organs of speech still to be "harsh, but supple; and although my voice was very unlike the soft music of their tones, yet I pronounced such words as I understood with tolerable ease" (pp. 134-35). Thus, with use and practice, his articulation gradually improves.

At this point in the creature's intellectual and spiritual development, the pleasures of his existence have indeed outweighed the pains. In Hartleian terms, this fact accounts for the benevolence and sympathy which the creature feels toward the DeLacey family and for the good deeds which he secretly performs for them. He himself tells Victor: "My spirits were elevated by the enchanting appearance of nature; the past was blotted from my memory, the present was tranquil, and the future gilded by bright rays of hope and anticipations of joy" (p. 135). A fresh set of positive associations has overpowered, if not eradicated, the creature's earlier, unpleasant experiences with mankind, and virtually all of his expectations have been shaped by the DeLacey family.

The arrival of Safie at the DeLacey cottage serves inadvertently to foster the creature's ambition further. He improves his knowledge of the language by listening attentively to the lessons which Felix gives Safie. But he learns still other things which are ultimately painful and unsettling: from Volney's Ruins of Empires he gains "insight into the manners, governments, and religions of the different nations of the earth" (p. 140); he learns of man's dual nature -- "at once so powerful, so virtuous and magnificent, yet so vicious and base" (p. 140). From Felix he hears explained "the strange system of human society. . ., of the division of property, of immense wealth and squalid poverty; of rank, descent, and noble blood" (p. 141). He becomes aware that "the possessions most esteemed by your fellow {43} creatures were high and unsullied descent united with riches" (p. 141). This knowledge leads him to several tragic and fateful considerations:

A man might be respected with only one of these advantages; but, without either, he was considered, except in very rare instances, as a vagabond and a slave, doomed to waste his powers for the profits of the chosen few! And what was I? Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant; but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. I was, besides, endued with a figure hideously deformed and loathesome; I was not even of the same nature as man . . . When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me. Was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled, whom all men disowned? (p. 141)
The creature thus experiences his first sense of shame and degradation -- i.e. pains of ambition -- as the result of his newly acquired consciousness of social and monetary distinctions between men.

We should here remember that once an individual attains the third level of intellectual development in Hartley's scale -- ambition -- he becomes acutely aware of "External Advantages or Disadvantages." These Hartley defines as "fine Cloaths, Riches, Titles, and High-birth, with their Opposite, Rags, Poverty, Obscurity, and Lowbirth" (p. 444). Pride, vanity, and honor attend the possession of the former, while humility, shame, and degradation attend the latter. It is an ironic truth of society that wealth and fine clothing are most often associated with virtue, but poverty and rags "are most often attended with the most loathsome and offensive Ideas, with bodily Infirmity . . . Contempt, and Vice" (p. 445).

Realizing that in the eyes of society he is not only a lowly, ignorant being but also an unbearably ugly one, the creature becomes convinced that his only hope of gaining a station in human society lies through the mastery of language and the development of a persuasive tongue. The creature's attitude toward language and his expectations are interesting, particularly when we realize that they are but another extension of his growing ambition. Hartley tells us that a consciousness of "Intellectual Accomplishments or Defects" is a significant aspect of this level of psychological growth. Intellectual accomplishments carry with them the promise of honor, encouragement, and praise; but ignorance, folly, and dullness bring shame upon the individual. One profoundly important accomplishment is the mastery of language, and one of the most significant human relationships is that forged between the child and the person (usually a parent) from whom he learns language.12 Since we generally learn language first from one whom we trust, we tend to trust likewise in the veracity and the straightforwardness of words. We come to believe that since the use of language {43} obtains for us what we wish from our parents, then it will surely be sufficient means by which to fulfill our wants and needs or simply to communicate various ideas to others. Articulateness is thus associated in the mind with a variety of intellectual pleasures. All of the creature's hopes and fears stem from his fervent desire for approval by the DeLacey family which had unknowingly functioned as surrogate parents to the creature. And it is at this critical stage in his mental and spiritual development that the scales begin to tip in favor of painful experiences, rather than pleasurable ones.


This heightened consciousness in the creature shows that he has attained to the fourth level of intellectual development in Hartley's scale: self-interest. His new knowledge has not made him happy, but sad; it has, additionally, fostered strong feelings of desire in the creature and stimulated him to achieve happiness by any possible means.

In Prop. 96, Hartley divides self-interest into three types:

First, Gross Self-interest, or the cool Pursuit of the Means whereby the Pleasures of Sensation, Imagination, and Ambition, are to be obtained, and their Pains avoided.

Secondly, Refined Self-interest, or a like Pursuit of the Means that relate to the Pleasures and Pains of Sympathy, Theopathy, and the Moral Sense.

And, Thirdly, Rational Self-interest, or the Pursuit of a Man's greatest possible Happiness without any Partiality to this or that Kind of Happiness, Means of Happiness, Means of a Means, &c. (p. 458).

The individual starts by seeking the maximum possible happiness ("maximum" here is both a quantitative and and a qualitative term) through activities involving Sensation, Imagination, and Ambition (outlined previously), and then progresses to those involving the "higher" intellectual and spiritual levels of Sympathy, Theopathy, and the Moral Sense. He seeks out the "Pleasures of Friendship, Generosity, Devotion and Self-approbation," not necessarily "from any particular vivid Love of his Neighbor, or of God, or from a Sense of Duty to him, but intirely from the View of private Happiness" (p. 464). It is this very sense of self-interest which underlies many of the "Pleasures and Duties of Benevolence, Piety, and the Moral Sense" (p. 464).

By observing the relations within the DeLacey family, and particularly those between Felix and Safie, the creature comes to understand precisely what he is missing:

{45} Oh, that I had for ever remained in my native wood, nor known nor felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst, and heat!

Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock. I wished sometimes to shake off all thought and feeling: but I learned that there was but one means to overcome the sensation of pain, and that was death -- a state which I feared yet did not understand. I admired virtue and good feelings, and loved the gentle manners and amiable qualities of my cottagers; but I was shut out from intercourse with them, except through means which I obtained by stealth, when I was unseen and unknown, and which rather increased than satisfied the desire I had of becoming one among my fellows. The gentle words of Agatha, and the animated smiles of the charming Arabian, were not for me. The mild exhortations of the old man, and the lively conversation of the loved Felix, were not for me. Miserable, unhappy wretch! (pp. 141-42).

In this one passage alone, the creature recounts for Victor practically the entire program of his mental development -- from sensation to imagination to ambition to self-interest. We can also discern elements of sympathy and benevolence in his attitude toward the cottagers. But his obsessive, unfulfilled longing to join their society, to be the object of their love, and the recipient of the joys attendant upon the physical beauty of the two women, will -- as Hartley suggests and Mary Shelley soon shows us -- turn strong desire into its opposite: aversion.

All of the pleasures, Hartley tells us, generate the passions of love, while the pains generate the passions of hatred. Love excited to a certain degree fosters desire, while hatred fosters aversion. But Hartley stresses the close relationship of these seemingly antithetical emotions. In Prop. 89, he states that "We often desire and pursue things which give Pain rather than Pleasure" (p. 372); he accounts for this fact by saying that "at first they afforded Pleasure, and . . . they now give Pain on account of a Change in our Nature and Circumstances" (p. 372). Having desired something, though, and finding only pain attending the acquisition of it, a person discovers that "the Recurrence of Pain will at last render the Object undesirable and hateful" (p. 372). Moreover,

in the Course of a long Pursuit, so many Fears and Disappointments, apparent or real, in respect of the subordinate Means, and so many strong Agitations of Mind passing the Limits of Pleasure, intervene, as greatly to chequer a State of Desire with Misery. For these same Reasons States of Aversion are chequered with Hope and Comfort (p. 372).

During this critical period, the creature's imagination is further stimulated and his ambition aroused by his reading of Paradise Lost, Plutarch's Lives, and the Sorrows of Werther. These works strengthen two of his already existing ideas: that virtue is associated with pleasure and pain with vice, and that unlike every other person in the universe, {46} he "was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence" (p. 153). He experiences an enormous shock when he reads Victor's journal and learns at last all the hideous details of his "accursed origin" (p. 154). Again and again the creature castigates himself for being ugly -- and Victor for making him so. His concern with physical beauty, and his awareness that human beings likewise respond favorably to beauty and adversely to deformity, spur on his obsessive desire to compensate for the pain he feels by becoming involved in the joys of human society: "to see their sweet looks directed towards me with affection was the utmost limit of my ambition . . . . I required kindness and sympathy; but I did not believe myself utterly unworthy of it" (p. 156).


It is at this point that the creature attains to the intellectual level of sympathy, as Hartley delineates it. But here again, he experiences far more pains than pleasures. And because of the intensity, contiguity, and frequency of these occurrences, the benevolent and gentle sensibility of the creature is extirpated. In Prop. 97, Hartley divides the "Pleasures and Pains of Sympathy" into four classes: "First, Those by which we rejoice at the Happiness of Others. Secondly, Those by which we grieve for their Misery. Thirdly, Those by which we rejoice at their Misery. And, Fourthly, Those by which we grieve for their Happiness" (p. 471). The first class of sympathetic affections is experienced when we socialize and converse with friends and when we exercise good-will or benevolence; the second consists primarily of feelings of compassion.

Throughout his narrative, we find numerous examples of the creature's budding sense of sympathy for the DeLacey family. He rejoices when they are happy and feels sad when they are worried. He secretly performs chores for them to lighten their daily burden of work. In this way he indulges in the fantasy that he is an active participant in the family circle. But the fantasy is insufficient to his needs and desires, and he at last musters his courage and presents himself to M. DeLacey. The old man proves no disappointment; he warmly and sympathetically listens to the creature's confused yet obviously tragic tale. Moreover, he reinforces still other expectations of the creature: "Do not despair. To be friendless is indeed to be unfortunate; but the hearts of men, when unprejudiced by any obvious self-interest, are full of brotherly love and charity. Rely, therefore, on your hopes; and if these friends are good and amiable, do not despair" (p. 158). DeLacey {47} unintentionally raises the poor creature's hopes still further. Exactly at this tense and passionate moment, Felix and the others return, confirming the creature's worst fears as Agatha faints, Safie flees, and Felix undertakes to tear him away from M. DeLacey.

From this point on, the creature feels only the "pains of sympathy," as Hartley calls them: those by which we rejoice at the misery and grieve for the happiness of our fellow men. The former involve feelings of anger, revenge, jealousy, cruelty, and malice.13 These feelings spring from the realization that someone else intends us harm -- either physical or mental anguish of some sort. The latter pains of sympathy -- those by which we grieve for the happiness of our fellow men -- involve the feelings of "Emulation and Envy" (p. 482). These spring from the comparison of our own happiness or misery in terms of "Pleasures, Honors, Riches, [and] Power" (p. 482) with that of others. The most important of these pleasures, says Hartley, is the relationship between husband and wife. All of the pleasures of Sensation, Imagination, and Ambition seem to culminate in this union. The presence or absence of this relationship results in the strong feelings -- either pleasurable or painful ones -- that arise when we compare ourselves to others in this respect. The powerful bond existing between parents and children is likewise either a source of great bliss (if one has a mate and children) or of great envy (if one has not). Parents, caring for their children tenderly and attentively from the infants' earliest recollection, inspire a much desired love and devotion from their offspring.14 All of these strong feelings arise from our ever increasing need for love, affection, and acceptance. When we possess these, the faculty of sympathy is greatly augmented, but lacking these important human ties, we can expect subsequent development -- toward the levels of Theopathy and the Moral Sense -- to be grossly inhibited, if not altogether arrested.

Consumed with envy of the warm human relationships that he can never enjoy, envy of the tender family circles that he will never penetrate, and envy of the physical affection he can never hope to receive, the creature allows his bitter hatred for the entire race virtually to extinguish all other ideas. In one swift moment he is betrayed, and he is rudely expelled from the DeLacey cottage. This occurs despite the creature's mastery of language, his benevolent (yet self-serving) motives, his good deeds, and his earnest desire to fraternize with the family. Contrary to what his associations have conditioned him to believe, virtue and goodness do not necessarily lead to pleasure and happiness. The pain suffered as the result of losing all of these treasured illusions at once induces the creature to declare "everlasting {48} war against the species, and, more than all, against him who had formed me, and sent me forth to this insupportable misery" (p. 162).

Shortly after the creature declares that "The mildness of my nature had fled, and all within me was turned to gall and bitterness" (p. 166), however, he appears ironically enough to be momentarily restored to tranquillity -- and even happiness -- by the beauties of an early spring morning. While in this conciliatory frame of mind, the creature rescues a little girl from drowning, but instead of being thanked, he is shot by her father, thus giving the ultimate lie to the creature's repulsed but still living hope for human community. It is this final example of human ingratitude and injustice that sets the creature on an inexorable path of evil and revenge. This one last scene in which the creature's sympathies are alternately raised and dashed seems to have been included to demonstrate the Hartleian notion that benevolence is indeed so natural a result of man's development, and so deeply rooted in his consciousness, that is is quite difficult to eradicate. But the point is that it can be eradicated -- given the requisite amount of pain, both physical and intellectual, resulting from severe disappointment, unfulfilled longing, and a deep sense of isolation from and rejection by one's fellow men.


After a second period of virtual insanity (the first occurring after his expulsion by the DeLaceys), precipitated by uncontrolled bouts of rage, the creature vows "eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind" (p. 168). And, interestingly, it is to vengeance against Victor -- his creator -- that he devotes himself. This, too, illustrates an important Hartleian principle: Hartley assumes that the numerous pleasures which we experience will make us happy and engender our benevolence; this benevolence will lead to "Theopathy" -- a loving awareness of and respect for our Creator, from whom issue all the pleasures of life; the Creator thus becomes "All in All" to us, as we are henceforth guided by a fully developed moral sense. Now this very process has occurred in the mental and spiritual development of the creature -- but in a totally perverted fashion. The creature's pains finally outweigh his pleasures; these foster unhappiness in him which fills him with malice; attributing all of his pain and misery to his creator -- Victor -- he thus comes to despise, rather than love, his "god." And therefore Victor becomes the principal target of the creature's rage and desire for revenge -- his "All in All." The result of this perverse development is that he willfully commits himself to a life of evil deeds.

{49} The creature clearly understands the source of his own wickedness. Repeatedly, when admonishing Victor that he must create a mate for him, the creature asserts,

I am malicious because I am miserable . . . If I have no ties and no affections, hatred and vice must be my portion; the love of another will destroy the cause of my crimes . . . My vices are the children of a forced solitude that I abhor; and my virtues will necessarily arise when I live in communion with an equal. I shall feel the affections of a sensitive being, and become linked to the chain of existence and events from which I am now excluded. (pp. 172, 175-76)
But when the creature realizes that Victor is adamant in his refusal to give him a mate, his violent passions -- fed by this supreme disappointment -- are aroused to the most extreme limits. He arrives at that state of mind which Hartley calls "pure disinterested Cruelty and Malice" (p. 481), whereby the anger and desire for revenge are self-proliferating and habitual and no longer require external stimulation to quicken them.


The creature's mental and spiritual development thus comes to an end. He fails to attain to the last two stages in Hartley's scale -- Theopathy and the Moral Sense -- because, as Mary Shelley shows us, he meets with more sensative and intellectual pains than pleasures, and he is denied the reciprocal human relationships so vital to normal, healthy psychological growth.

Mary Shelley's use of Hartley not only explains the creature's arrested development; it also affects our understanding of the underlying ethos of the novel. Her reliance upon Hartley suggests that Mary Shelley, like her father, subscribed to the doctrines of mechanistic determinism and that she was a thoroughgoing empiricist, convinced of the essential goodness of human nature but equally certain that early sensative experiences largely determine what we become as adults. The novel demonstrates that sensative and intellectual pain -- particularly those resulting from social ostracism and a loveless environment -- are directly responsible for the moulding of the doleful or misanthropic personality. Perhaps the creature was delineated with such compassion because the author herself was no stranger to this same kind of suffering.15 The novel can be viewed as an admonishment to all parents, for it offers what is tantamount to "scientific proof" of the dangerous consequences which can ensue in the absence of necessary parental love for and approval of their offspring.

Although Mary Shelley never directly mentions Hartley's work, the, similarities between the systematic account of spiritual and {50} psychological development recorded in the Observations on Man and that which characterizes the inner life of the creature in her novel are so striking that it is difficult to believe she was not quite familiar with this seminal work of sensationist psychology. Her failure ever to mention Hartley is of course troublesome, and it is possible to speculate endlessly as to why she did not do so. I confess that even Percy Shelley's statement in his Preface to Frankenstein -- that the work was not intended to advance "any philosophical doctrine of whatever kind" -- itself begs the question and arouses my suspicion. I find his remarks similar in tone to those which have prefaced many other works of literature (and, nowadays, films), words which assert that the work is purely fictitious and that the characters "bear no resemblance to real persons either living or dead," when such is clearly not the case. I suspect that Shelley made that statement because the work so patently does advance a particular philosophical doctrine. Whether Mary Shelley read Hartley prior to 1814 or during 1816, and whether it was Godwin's or Shelley's copy that she read, the evidence of the similarities between the Observations and Frankenstein suggests that she possessed a more than casual familiarity with Hartley's work.16


* I am grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities for a grant which afforded me the opportunity to continue the research necessary for the completion of this paper at the State University of New York at Stony Brook during the summer of 1979. I should also like to express my gratitude to David V Erdman, W. Paul Elledge, and Donald H. Reiman who read various drafts of the paper and offered many valuable suggestions; and to the staff of the Carl H. Pforzheimer Library who allowed me to examine Percy Shelley's personal copy of the Observations on Man.

1 Particularly illuminating are the following studies: Irving H. Buchen, "Frankenstein and the Alchemy of Creation and Evolution," TWC, 8 (1977), 103-12; Laura E. Crouch, "Davy's A Discourse, Introductory to a Course of Lectures on Chemistry: A Possible Scientific Source of Frankenstein," K-SJ, 27 (1978), 35-44; Wilfred Cude, "Mary Shelley's Modern Prometheus: A Study in the Ethics of Scientific Creativity," DalhR, 52 (1972), 212-25; P. D. Fleck, "Mary Shelley's Notes to Shelley's Poems and Frankenstein," SiR, 6 (1967), 226-54; M. A. Goldberg, "Moral and Myth in Mrs. Shelley's Frankenstein," K-SJ, 8 (1959), 27-38; Robert Kiely, The Romantic Novel in England (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), pp. 155-73; George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher, eds., The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1979); Burton R. Pollin, "Philosophical and Literary Sources of Frankenstein," CompLit, 17 (Spring 1965), 97-108; Katherine R. Powers, "The Influence of William Godwin on the Novels of Mary Shelley," Diss. University of Tennessee 1972; Marc A. Rubenstein, "'My Accursed Origin': The Search for the Mother in Frankenstein," SiR, 15 (Spring 1976), 165-94; L. J. Swingle, "Frankenstein's Monster and Its Romantic Relatives: Problems of Knowledge in English Romanticism," TSLL., 15 (1973), 51-65; Leslie Tannenbaum, "From Filthy Type to {51} Truth: Miltonic Myth in Frankenstein," K-SJ, 26 (1977), 101-13; Samuel H. Vasbinder, "Scientific Attitudes in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: Newtonian Monism as a Basis for the Novel," Diss. Kent State University 1976.

2 To my knowledge, only the Vasbinder dissertation (see note 1 above) discusses at any length Hartleian psychology in connection with the novel Frankenstein (pp. 87-96), but the author's treatment of the subject is so sketchy that the argument is fairly inconclusive. Occasionally one encounters a brief reference to "possible" Hartleian elements in the novel: e.g., Peter Brooks, "'Godlike Science / Unhallowed Arts': Language, Nature, and Monstrosity" in The Endurance of Frankenstein, p. 209; Mary Poovey, "My Hideous Progeny: Mary Shelley and the Feminization of Romanticism," PMLA, 95 (May 1980), 346.

3 Ed. Frederick L. Jones (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1947).

4 The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, ed. Betty T. Bennett (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980).

5 The two editions of Hartley are listed as lot #274 and #275 in the sale catalogue for the auction of Godwin's personal library. See "Catalogue of the Curious Library of that very eminent and distinguished author, William Godwin, Esq. to which are added, The Very Interesting and Original Autograph Manuscripts of His Highly Esteemed Publications. Which will be sold by auction, by Mr. Sotheby and Sons, Wellington Street, Strand, On Friday, June 17, 1836, and following Day at Twelve O'Clock" in Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons, VIII, ed. Seamus Deane (Mansell: Sotheby Parke Bernet Publications, 1973).

6 Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness, III (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1946), 11.

7 The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley as comprised in The Life of Shelley by Thomas Jefferson Hogg, The Recollections of Shelley and Byron by Edward John Trelawny, Memoirs of Shelley by Thomas Love Peacock, introd. Humbert Wolfe (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd, 1933), p. 357.

8 Shelley's copy of the Observations on Man is in the Carl H. Pforzheimer Library.

9 Mary Shelley, Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, ed. James Rieger (New York: Pocket Books, 1976). All subsequent references allude to this edition and will be cited parenthetically within the text.

10 All references are to the facsimile edition of Hartley's 1749 work, with an introduction by Theodore L. Huguelet (Delmar, N. Y.: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints 1976), and will hereafter be cited parenthetically within the text.

11 Hartley's exact statement is as follows:

Beauty has an intimate Connexion with one of the most violent of our Desires; affords a great Pleasure, even when this Desire is not felt explicitly; has the highest Encomiums bestowed upon it in Books . . ., and the highest Compliments paid to it in Discourse; and is often the Occasion of Success in Life. . . . No Wonder therefore, that both Sexes . . . should desire both to be and be thought beautiful, and be pleased with all the associated Circumstances of these Things; and that the Fear of being or being thought deformed, should be a Thing to which the Imagination has the greatest Reluctance. And the Reputation of Beauty, with the Scandal of Deformity, influences so much the more, as Beauty and Deformity are not attended with their respective pleasing or displeasing Associates, except when they are made apparent to, and taken notice of, by the World. (p. 447)
12 Hartley states:
. . . the Words and Phrases of the Parents, Governors, Supervisors, and Attendants, have so great an Influence over Children, when they first come to the use of Language, as instantly to generate an implicit Belief, a strong Desire, or a high Degree of Pleasure. They have no Suspicions, Jealousies, Memories, or Expectations of being deceived or disappointed; and therefore a Set of Words expressing Pleasures of any Kind, which they have experienced. put together in almost any manner, will raise up in them a pleasurable State, and opposite Words a Painful one. (p. 450)
13 Anger, Hartley says, is a "sudden Start of Passion," while cruelty is "a more settled Habit of Mind, disposing Men to take a Delight in inflicting Misery and Punishment, and in satiating their Thirst after these, by beholding the Tortures and Anguish of the Sufferers" (p. 478).

14 We should recall that the creature tells Victor about learning this very lesson from Felix's conversations with Safie:

I heard of the difference of sexes; and the birth and growth of children; how the father dotes on the smiles of the infant, and the lively sallies of the older children; how all the life and cares of the mother were wrapped up in the precious charge; . . . of brother, sister, and all the various relationships which bind one human being to another in mutual bonds. (p. 142)
15 Of the several psychoanalytical readings of this novel, two particularly support this conclusion: Marc A. Rubenstein's "'My Accursed Origin': The Search for the Mother in Frankenstein" (see note 1 above), which suggests that Mary Shelley's strong feelings of abandonment by her mother and her confusion as to the consequences of giving birth influenced the narrative structure and theme of the novel; and Douglas Bond's analysis in Psychiatric Annals (December 1973) which considers Mary's stressful relationship with her very cold father, William Godwin.

16 This paper is by no means an exhaustive study of the Hartleian elements at work in Frankenstein, since my concern has been only with the psychological development of the creature. Another important mental odyssey is traced in the novel as well: that of Victor Frankenstein, whose childhood experiences are also described in terms of the process of the association of ideas and of his progress through the various levels of Sensation, Imagination, Ambition, Self-lnterest, and Sympathy. Like that of his creature (who, it has been often remarked, functions as the alter-ego of his creator), Victor's moral progress is also arrested before he attains to Theopathy and the Moral Sense because of the nature of his particular obsession. (In this respect, the character of Victor bears comparison with several characters in Godwin's Caleb Williams.) A brief section of Mary Poovey's "My Hideous Progeny: Mary Shelley and the Feminization of Romanticism" (see note 2 above) addresses itself to the key events in Victor's youth which shape his expectations and behavior. But Poovey discusses them as essentially "Lockean" in depiction, although she concedes that Mary Shelley might also have been "answering, among others, William Godwin and David Hartley" (p. 346, n. 6).