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THE PERSONIFYING PASSION IN YOUTH 

WITH REMARKS UPON THE SEX 

AND GENDER PROBLEM. 

THOSE who like to find in the evolution of the individual the 
reappearance of the stages through which the race has passed, 
will be disposed to look upon the remarkable tendency to personify 
recorded in the following pages as indicating an unusually well 
marked and protracted animistic stage. 

Considered from the standpoint of philology, the following 
record will suggest the gender and sex problem. ^ Philologists have 
not yet come to an agreement as to the origin of the puzzling use 
made of gender in the naming of inanimate objects. Why, for in- 
stance, does the French say la porte, la lune, la beaut6 and le livre, 
U soleil, le retour? The plausible theory of Herder, Adelung, and 
Grimm — until recently without rival, but now attacked by several, 
Brugmann of Leipzig in particular — holds that gender in language 
reflects simply the tendency of the early man to personify and sex- 
ualise lifeless objects. Those giving the impression of the charac- 
teristics associated more particularly with the male sex were looked 
upon as masculine and designated accordingly. This theory has 
recently received the support of Gustav Roethe (1890).* 

Many of the psychological arguments brought to bear upon the 
Adeling-Grimm theory by Brugmann and others lack foundation. 
Brugmann asserts for instance that "Grimm's theory ascribes to 
the Indo-Europeans a mental condition which we cannot harmonise 

' My attention was drawn to this point by the editor of this review. 

' See the Preface to the third vol. of the third edition of Grimm's Grammar. 



SEX AND GENDER. 537 

with what we actually know of the mental life of man and of the 
races" . . . "for primitive man the external world was mostly mat- 
ter, material, just as it is for us to-day, but to him even more so 
perhaps than to us." ... . "Why should one think that primi- 
tive man overloaded language with personal metaphors instead of 
impersonal? "1 This is a statement which goes directly against 
the teachings of modern Anthropological and Child psychology. 
Grimm's explanation need not be interpreted as meaning that the 
gender differentiation had to be accompanied from the first and in 
every case by sexualisation. Objects may well have been personi- 
fied and have received the grammatical distinctions characteristic 
of the male and female sex, although there has been no taking into 
account of physical sex ; a child may personify a tree and classify 
it among the male or female objects, although for him physical sex 
does not exist. We may also take into consideration the fact that 
if the formal gender is not found in every language, it pervades 
the languages of those peoples which manifest in their religions and 
in their life generally a particularly strong tendency to sexual im- 
agery, as is the case, for instance, with the Semitic family. 

However this may be, the remarkable tendency of Mrs. X to 
personify when a child and, later on, to personify and sexualise — 
a tendency which in a lesser degree is not unusual in children and 
youth of our civilisation — will be of interest to those whose atten- 
tion has been drawn to the sex and gender problem in language. 

Whatever the interpretation one may place upon the disclo- 
sures here related, the glimpse of light they throw into the inner 
life of a person, not as unusual as most people will imagine, will no 
doubt be to many a revelation of the wide differences existing be- 
tween individuals though they be of the same social class and civi- 
lisation. For, it must be owned that despite our increasing altruism 
and the realism of our novelists, playwrights, poets and painters, 
we still find it difficult to look upon other human beings as differing 
from ourselves to any considerable extent. 

' From The Nature and Origin of the Noun Genders in the Indo- Euro;pean 
Languages, a lecture translated by Ed. Y. Robbins. New York : Charles Scrib- 
ner's Sons. 1897. 



538 THE MONIST. 

At the close of the paper we have indicated the momentous 
influence that a personifying habit, such as is displayed by Mrs. X, 
must have upon religious life. 

The curious associations existing in some minds between vow- 
els and colors formed the subject of the conversation at a recent 
dinner at which I was a guest. Illustrations of mental forms and 
of pseudo-chromesthesia were given, and one of the company told 
of the amusing vagaries into which some French "decadent" poets 
had been led by a misunderstanding of the facts. He mentioned 
the famous Sonnet des Voyelles of Arthur Rimbaud ; the still more 
surprising Instrumentation Verbale of Ren6 Ghil, a treatise in which 
the latter-day poets will find the fixed musical value of each vowel 
and of each consonant; and, the climax of it all, the crazed at- 
tempt of M. Rounardo and Mme. Framen de Labrdly to produce 
a symphony not of sound only but of sensations of different kinds. 
As freaks of the imagination were in order, and many strange 
experiences were being told, our hostess said with an uneasy 
smile that for her neither letters nor sounds had a color value, 
but that the figures were either male or female and had each a 
well-marked individuality. There was too little encouragement in 
the incredulous or quizzical looks of several of those present to in- 
duce her to proceed with her revelations, but later on, in private, 
she readily satisfied my curiosity, and I now place her statements 
before the reader together with a few comments and no apology, 
feeling sure that a bit of individual psychology bringing to light 
some features of the hidden physiognomy of a fellow being can 
hardly be lacking in interest and may very well lead to a better 
understanding of those with whom, though in daily contact, we so 
often fail to "make connexion." What did Sentimental Tommy's 
teacher know of the real hero of Mr. Barrie's novel? Never once 
did he meet Stroke, although Tommy was in his class-room all the 
the year round. ^ 



> A somewhat similar case will be found recorded in the Pedagogical Sent' 
inary, Vol. II., under the title "The Individuality of Numbers." 



SEX AND GKNDER. 539 

The lady I am writing of — let her be called Mrs. X — was not 
acquainted with any experience, similar to her own ; moreover, she 
had never given a systematic account of what is related in this 
paper, and only rarely had she mentioned the facts in a general 
way, as, for instance, recently at the dinner-table. When a child, 
she took it for granted that there was nothing unusual in her ideas 
about numbers, trees, etc., and consequently did not speak of it. 
Occasionally when she happened to make some reference to her 
"old nurse" — an apple-tree peeping at night into her room— she 
discovered that she was not understood by her playmates and so 
she would say no more about it. It is only when about sixteen or 
seventeen years of age that Mrs. X realised clearly that her mental 
life differed in this respect from that of most people, but she never 
felt particularly uneasy on that score. It may not be useless for 
the writer to affirm here his confidence in the exactness of the lady's 
statements. She was desirous of giving a faithful account of what 
was wanted, a thing she is as able to do as the average person of 
good judgment and of culture. 

"Figure One, said Mrs. X, is distinctly negative; it does 
not interest me, but it is a Him." — A Ifim?^ — "Yes, he goes about 
in trousers. He is grown up and slender ; but beyond that I never 
had a clear idea of what he was like. 

"Two is also a man, good looking, fresh-complexioned and 
blonde — a commonplace person, a sort of brother to Three." — 
What do you mean by a sort of brother? — "Well, he is a brother, but 
does not seem to be intimate with him ; they have nothing particu- 
lar to do with each other. Two is a little older than Three. I do 
not know about the color of his eyes. 

"Three is a pretty girl about sixteen with curly hair and a 
rosy complexion, rather unreflective and very merry. She is per- 
fectly devoted to Four, who makes light of her." 

"Four is a brunette, very handsome, very clever, so much 
more clever than Three ! She is reserved ; people might think of 

> The author's queries are put in italics. 



54© THE MONIST. 

her as being haughty, but she is really very nice. I am very fond 
of her. For Three, she has a kind of affectionate endurance . . . 
you know, she is so much more clever than Three ! 

"As to Five, she is a very 'frumpy' old person, tiresome, and 
flavorless. She wears a wig and lives in a boarding-house. A little 
fat ; don't you know, a sort of figure five. It is so easy to hood- 
wink her ; she is awfully slow of comprehension. She is always 
acting chaperon for the others." — I did not suppose there would be 
a call for chaperons in your figure-world? — "Oh, yes, she accom- 
panies the young women when they go anywhere." 

As I was taking down her last remarks, Mrs. X suddenly ex- 
claimed in the voice of one who is making a discovery, "Isn't it 
strange? It occurs to me that it is always summer. I don't be- 
lieve it ever was winter ; is it not queer ! Girls are always wearing 
summer dresses." 

Before you go on won't you tell me whether the personality of these 
figures is present to your mind whenever you see or think of a number? 
— "As soon as I dwell an instant on them their personality mate- 
rialises, but it remains unnoticed if I am in a hurry, or if the arith- 
metical meaning of the figures is of much concern to me, as when 
I have my check-book in hand. When a young girl, the human 
element in the digits was of more emphatic interest to me than 
now. It has decreased during the past six years. Perhaps this 
decline coincided with great sorrows I underwent at that time. 
Since then, I have lost much of the passionate interest I took in all 
kinds of people. Otherwise their personality has not changed ; 
they remain as to age, looks, and idiosyncrasies what they always 
were, for I do not remember their ever being without the well- 
marked individuality I have been telling you &ho\xt."— I can't very 
well conceive of the way in which these figures can be said to be alive; 
how, when, do they get into action? This appears to me so odd that it 
requires a vigorous effort of my imagination to get your meaning. 
— "Why, it is plain enough! For instance, if I had to make a 
little sum, let us say 123-I-456. When those people are put like 
that, things will happen between them. Sometimes at school I 
was very much annoyed and distressed when the teacher would put 



SEX AND GENDER. 54I 

side by side people who did not belong well together ; for instance 
Eight and Three. I could not make the sum ; it could not be done, 
that is all. I must say that their doings were not quite spontane- 
ous ; they were, in part at least, semi-consciously guided by me, 
somewhat as when playing with dolls. I would play with figures 
at times to defeat punishment, when it consisted of an arithmetical 
task. I have always abhorred arithmetic, as everything else de- 
manding concentration of mind. I used to have very excitmg times 
with my figures. But, although I might wilfully contrive happen- 
ings between them, their character was fixed and beyond my power 
to modify. In idle moments, and I managed to find a great many 
such moments, I would develop on my slate a human appearance 
for numbers ; and I would often feel that I was not doing justice 
to their characters when writing them down. But this is a digres- 
sion ; I have not finished introducing you to the digits. We stopped 
at six. 

" Six is a young man about twenty. A kind of masculine coun- 
terpart of Three, for whom he is suspected of entertaining tender 
feelings. His hair is curly and blonde ; he is ruddy, broad-shoul- 
dered, about five feet eleven in height — an English type. He is 
very fond of boating and frequently rows on the Thames." — Are you 
acquainted with London and the Thames? — "No, I never was in Eng- 
land. 

"Seven: a decorative old piece of bric-a-brac in the shape of 
a retired lawyer or something like that, tall, thin, scrupulously 
neat in his appearance, using beautiful English, fussy in trifling 
matters. A man of distinguished bearing this decorous old Seven 
with his thin gray hair parted in the middle and brought forward 
at the sides. He is always predicting the weather or some impend- 
ing trouble or other ; but nobody pays the slightest attention to 
him or to his prognostications. When things announced have come 
to pass he never fails to say ' I told you so, but you would not listen 
to me.' 

"Eight might be looked upon as a masculine counterpart of 
Four. He is about twenty-eight, tall, dark, very good-looking and 
very clever. I have the impression that he has travelled a good 



542 THE MONIST. 

deal. He is an accomplished person ; he fences, plays music, speaks 
several languages, — a little conceited, sarcastic, and reserved. You 
see, a very attractive fellow, and I must say that I am rather in 
love with him. He and Four distinctly care for each other, but 
they are always hurting each other's feelings. 

"Nine is an entirely different kind of man; a hard-working, 
industrious, uninteresting person, — the sort of person that would 
be a trustee, you know : honest, intelligent, but very limited and 
without imagination. A good family man . . . only I don't know 
his family. 

"The compound numbers do not have as a rule a constant 
personality ; only a few of them have. Nineteen for instance is a 
good deal like Four ; Twenty resembles Six, and Fifteen bears a 
strong likeness to Three. You see that the personality of the sep- 
arate figures making up the numbers is for nothing in the results. 
I have no close personal interest in any of them. 

" Have you noticed that all these people are gentlefolks, or 
have been so? Some of them have degenerated ; Five for instance, 
for lack of means. She is always talking about the past, poor 
thing ! She has no children. " — // is a very interesting collection of 
people to have around, I am sure, but I do not yet see clearly what 
sort of life these people lead. What do they do? — " Some of them 
are rather inactive, but that could not be said of Three, Four, Six, 
and Eight. I have really much affection for them ; they are such 
rare people! What do they do? Well, they have no end of 
love affairs. I witness most thrilling love scenes, as detailed and 
distinct as in real life." — It goes on all the time even yeti — "Yes, 
even now; is it not strange that they do not learn better! But they 
do not marry, and do not grow old. Their relations with each 
other are episodic, not continued and progressive. I was telling 
you that Four and Eight frequently wound each other's feelings. 
One of the reasons for this is that Four used to frivol with Six, a 
very nice young fellow but quite boyish. She does not do it as 
much now as in the past. Three and Six are very open in their 
expressions of regard ; Three is so young, you know. They are 
often ridiculous. Three is in awe of Eight who used to tease her 



SEX AND GENDER. 543 

good-humoredly. The love episodes are vivid enough, but brief, 
because I have to pass onto other things." — Please tell me when, 

on what occasion, these scenes take place "Without any particular 

occasion. They take place when I am reading in my room, or 
when at my desk, if my attention chances to be caught by a nu- 
meral. I often say to one or to the other of them, ' Oh, I wish you 
would go away, that I might do my work, ' for it is as much of an 
interruption as if somebody were speaking to me." 

Do you know whether the mood of your number-friends changes 
with your own humor? — "No, it does not. They are never de- 
pressed and, as I have just noticed, they enjoy continued fair 
weather; but what I read often suggests their actions. 

"To this day I find relief in the company of these people. 
There are times when I say to myself, 'O that I might be left 
alone to live a while wjth my people-' " When I asked what was 
her relation to them, I was surprised to find that I had put an ab- 
surd question. "I have no dealings with them; of course not, I 
could not. " And when I insisted upon having a reason, she only 
repeated, "I do not know why; I simply could not. It seems 
strange you don't understand ; though of course, you cannot since 
you don't know them. It is like water and oil ; we cannot mix." 

On continuing to question, it came out that not only numerals, 
but also everything else, had sex and a more or less clearly marked 
individuality. "The minute I think about anything, it assumes 
personality : furniture, fruit, flowers, etc. For instance my rotating 
chair is a dullard ; he is so slow that he often makes me impatient 
and I tell him 'Oh, go away, you stupid thing.' When I was in 
my teens this personal side of objects filled and dominated my life. 
Trees were particularly dear to me. But I have not yet told you 
that the letters of the alphabet also have personality. It is a much 
vaguer one than that of numbers and it is really only with the first 
letters of the alphabet that I am well acquainted. ^4 is a digni- 
fied matron, handsome and distinguished. She lacks imagination, 
though. B is also middle aged, sometimes a man and sometimes 
a woman." 

At this point Mrs. X, noticing that in taking down her remarks 



544 THE MONIST. 

I wrote the small letters a, b, exclaimed, "But I am speaking of 
capital, printed letters ; only printed letters have personality. The 
small ones are the children of the large ones, but a is not neces- 
sarily the child of A." 

"C is a young man, a sort of captain, gallant and daring." 
As Mrs. X appeared to have little more to say about letters, I 
inquired why it was that they occupied so modest a place in her 
imaginary world. "Might it not be," she answered, "that the 
difficulty I experienced in learning arithmetic and my dislike for it 
account for the greater definiteness and wealth of meaning of the 
figures when compared with the letters? The very irksomeness of 
arithmetic drove me to dwell upon the personal side of the figures ; 
I would thus begin to attach myself to them as I do to real per- 
sons, and they would become firmly established in my affections. 
It was not so with letters ; the meaning of what I was reading 
would keep my attention and so my dreaming propensity was held 
in check. I do not know which were first, the number or the letter- 
personalities." 

A while ago you mentioned your affection for tre^s. Tell me some- 
thing about it, please? — "Yes, my dearest friends in nature are 
trees, apple-trees above all others. I always had a strong sense of 
their personality. A pale, thin tree is likely to be a woman. Tulip 
trees, poplars, birches, and beeches, are always women, while oaks 
are always masculine. Some species have men and women among 
them." — And the weeping willow? — "It is a woman, of course. 
Apple-trees are always old people, kindly and old. I love them, 
O I just love them ! When we were young, my sister and I, we 
lived much outside, running about, climbing into trees like boys. 
There was behind our house a dear apple-tree for which I had a ro- 
mantic attachment. It was rather hard to climb and I alone of 
our band of children could get into it. I had a delicious feeling 
that she was a strong mother caring for me and for the robin who 
lived in it. At night she would sometimes look into my room 
through the window. When sitting in this tree I would talk with 
her. As we went away for the winter I would leave things with 
her, my dominoes for instance, to keep until the next season to- 



SEX AND GENDER. 545 

gether with the robin's nest. " — Did you care particularly for your 
dominoes i — "Why, yes, a good deal. I should have told you that 
they were my dolls ; we did not play dominoes, but dolls, with 
them. And, by the way, you may like to know that I always hated 
ready-made dolls ; they looked to me so stupid. I could not do 
what I wanted with them, while with dominoes I could accommo- 
date my fancy and turn them at any time into any kind of person I 
chose. I played dolls with dominoes until I was twelve, I believe." 
— Did your friends know about the apple-tree'' s being a foster mother 
to you i — "I hardly know, I did not think of telling them. People 
I did not like I would drive away from the neighborhood of the 
tree. I have also pleasant recollections of three plum-trees : two 
small ones who were the children and one large one. I would also 
leave things with them to keep through the winter. 

" For brooks I had a particular fondness, and, strange to say, 
I found great delight in frightening myself with them. We spent 
once two months of the summer near the Connecticut River. On 
one side of the road leading from the house to the river and then 
along its banks there were cornfields, and, beyond them, marshes 
and a small stream. I would go to the marshes almost every eve- 
ning during the two months, alone, and sit motionless, listening to 
the whispering voice of the wind in the corn and to the murmur of 
the water and then, suddenly, start for home as fast as I could run, 
seized with panic. And yet I knew there was no danger. I always 
loved solitude ; whenever I could I would get off in the country 
alone. Nevertheless, I had very warm feelings for my brothers 
and sisters as well as for inanimate objects. I recall a little plaster 
figure that stood on the mantle-piece. When my sister broke it 
accidentally I secluded myself to cry, although we had never been 
allowed to play with it. In fact, since I am grown up I have often 
lamented the tenacity and the warmth of my feelings for people j 
they master me and stick to me even when they are no longer de- 
served. It is at times a heavy burden." 

It will be hard for the many unimaginative, business-ridden 
Americans to see in a form of consciousness so different from theirs 



546 THE MONIST. 

anything more than the over-indulgence of a lively fancy, such as 
most of us are guilty of at some time or other during adolescence ; 
it indicates merely an hypertrophied disposition to dreamery not 
worth talking about, they will say. Such an opinion falls short, it 
seems, of a sufficient appreciation of the case. An anthropomorphic 
passion such as the one revealed here is characteristic of a psycho- 
logical type from which the matter-of-fact, analytical, objective, 
person is as far removed as one human being can well be from an- 
other of the same civilisation. No doubt Mrs. X is gifted with a 
riotous imagination, but, although necessary, this quality of mind 
is not at all adequate as an explanation ; why should it spend itself 
in the creation of living persons out of inanimate objects? That is 
the trait which particularises the case of Mrs. X. It betokens, it 
is evident, the existence of peculiar affective forces. Under their 
guidance the intellect creates a world in which hard facts are but 
scantily represented, and yet a world potent in the formation of 
the person's opinions, judgments, and, most of all, in the molding 
of her affective attitudes towards, and reactions to, the world of 
objective existences. 

We will not attempt to trace the influence that this mental 
make-up must infallibly exercise on the psychological physiognomy. 
It would be a task beyond the scope of this paper. Neither shall 
we try to adduce reasons for the connexion between specific objects 
and particular personalities : why seven is a "decorative old piece 
of bric-a-brac," why the apple-tree is a devoted foster mother, or 
why three and six, as also four and eight, stand for assorted couples, 
the smaller number being the female and its double the male, are 
queries of subordinate interest. Mere chance, the looks of the 
thing, its quality or virtue, its situation, and many other properties 
and contingencies, will account for these associations. We shall 
limit ourselves to a few considerations touching the influence of 
the passion of Mrs. X on her religious life. 

The vividness of one's religious sentiments, and consequently 
the power of religion, is, at least at a certain intellectual level, 
closely dependent upon the ability to form and to maintain a clear 
apprehension of the divinity under an anthropomorphic form. 



SEX AND GENDER. 547 

There are unfortunate persons, true lovers of virtue, who, despite 
the best of dispositions, are denied the benefits of religion. They 
know of it only what the initiated affirm to be its accessories : ethi- 
cal, judicial, and aesthetic impressions and ideas, and this simply 
because of their deficiency in that particular kind of affective imagi- 
nation with which Mrs. X appeared to be so remarkably gifted and 
without which the clothing of the efficient principle of the universe 
in human shape is hardly possible. 

We thought that Mrs. X had probably been able early in life 
to endow the divine with a lusty personal reality and had main- 
tained with Him a lively and continued intercourse. But this con- 
jecture was not entirely justified by her statements concerning her 
childhood. She said: "I don't think I bothered with God when 
I was a child, except when frightened. Usually I did not care a 
button for Him. I would say my prayers as directed, but auto- 
matically ; it meant very little to me. Only if I got into a plight I 
would cling with the completest faith to what I had been taught 
about God's power and his readiness to answer our prayers. It 
was then a source of great comfort to me." It is clear that God 
was not to her the everpresent Friend and Companion, but only a 
far-off, mighty, and uncongenial personage whom one lets alone as 
much as possible. Other beings, discerned through the physical 
appearance of nature, lay nearer to her heart and to her imagina- 
tion, and engrossed her attention to the exclusion of God. This, 
after all, is perfectly natural and healthy. 

When we pass from childhood to adolescence and maturity, 
the problem in hand assumes a highly serious aspect. Of the pos- 
sible outcomes the following are worthy of consideration. She 
might have followed the way leading to the disintegration of the 
traditional feeling and willing Divinity and replaced it by impersonal 
cosmic forces molding the physical as well as the moral universe into 
an organic system. In this case, her peculiar way of reacting to her 
environment helping her, she might have found in the feeling of 
unity with the cosmos an effective religious power not very differ- 
ent in quality from the sense of physical and moral dependence 
upon God said to be the root of the religious consciousness. Or, 



548 THE MONIST. 

if this conception of the universe was not within her possibilities, 
the criticism, unavoidable at her stage of culture, threatening de- 
struction to an anthropomorphic Divinity, might have been held in 
abeyance by her love for the personal and her thirst for intercourse 
with feeling and willing creatures. In this latter case she would 
present the instructive and not infrequent spectacle of a person 
thrusting back light to keep possessions accounted dear. A person 
with the psychic endowment of Mrs. X might do this successfully, 
provided scientific training had not strengthened beyond control 
the need for clear conceptions and the habit of facing all problems 
irrespective of their affective consequences to one's self. The ad- 
vantage to her of this insecure position is that she would escape 
the pathetic torments endured by many sensitive and religiously in- 
clined souls. In this connexion one is reminded of the case of the 
unfortunate Romanes. 

These and similar thoughts having crossed our mind, we could 
not refrain from asking Mrs. X to let us peep into her religious 
consciousness, and as we had a set of printed questions prepared 
for an investigation in the field of religion, we handed her a copy 
of these. Many devout people had found no objection whatsoever 
to answering them. When she had read the first queries and had 
fully grasped their purpose, she recoiled in evident distress. Her 
confused apologetic refusal implied that she did not dare look her 
beliefs squarely in the face ; only to think of it threw her into a 
panic. When asked how this was, she made no difficulty in acknowl- 
edging that inquisitiveness in this part of her life might mean death 
to many a cherished and indispensable persuasion. 

James H. Leuba. 
Bryn Mawr College, Pa.