THE EXAGGERATION AND INGENUOUSNESS OF THE SENTIMENTS OF CROWDS.
Whether the feelings exhibited by a crowd be good or bad, they
present the double character of being very simple and very
exaggerated. On this point, as on so many others, an individual
in a crowd resembles primitive beings. Inaccessible to fine
distinctions, he sees things as a whole, and is blind to their
intermediate phases. The exaggeration of the sentiments of a
crowd is heightened by the fact that any feeling when once it is
exhibited communicating itself very quickly by a process of
suggestion and contagion, the evident approbation of which it is
the object considerably increases its force.
The simplicity and exaggeration of the sentiments of crowds have
for result that a throng knows neither doubt nor uncertainty.
Like women, it goes at once to extremes. A suspicion transforms
itself as soon as announced into incontrovertible evidence. A
commencement of antipathy or disapprobation, which in the case of
an isolated individual would not gain strength, becomes at once
furious hatred in the case of an individual in a crowd.
The violence of the feelings of crowds is also increased,
especially in heterogeneous crowds, by the absence of all sense
of responsibility. The certainty of impunity, a certainty the
stronger as the crowd is more numerous, and the notion of a
considerable momentary force due to number, make possible in the
case of crowds sentiments and acts impossible for the isolated
individual. In crowds the foolish, ignorant, and envious persons
are freed from the sense of their insignificance and
powerlessness, and are possessed instead by the notion of brutal
and temporary but immense strength.
Unfortunately, this tendency of crowds towards exaggeration is
often brought to bear upon bad sentiments. These sentiments are
atavistic residuum of the instincts of the primitive man, which
the fear of punishment obliges the isolated and responsible
individual to curb. Thus it is that crowds are so easily led
into the worst excesses.
Still this does not mean that crowds, skilfully influenced, are
not capable of heroism and devotion and of evincing the loftiest
virtues; they are even more capable of showing these qualities
than the isolated individual. We shall soon have occasion to
revert to this point when we come to study the morality of
Given to exaggeration in its feelings, a crowd is only impressed
by excessive sentiments. An orator wishing to move a crowd must
make an abusive use of violent affirmations. To exaggerate, to
affirm, to resort to repetitions, and never to attempt to prove
anything by reasoning are methods of argument well known to
speakers at public meetings.
Moreover, a crowd exacts a like exaggeration in the sentiments of
its heroes. Their apparent qualities and virtues must always be
amplified. It has been justly remarked that on the stage a crowd
demands from the hero of the piece a degree of courage, morality,
and virtue that is never to be found in real life.
Quite rightly importance has been laid on the special standpoint
from which matters are viewed in the theatre. Such a standpoint
exists no doubt, but its rules for the most part have nothing to
do with common sense and logic. The art of appealing to crowds
is no doubt of an inferior order, but it demands quite special
aptitudes. It is often impossible on reading plays to explain
their success. Managers of theatres when accepting pieces are
themselves, as a rule, very uncertain of their success, because
to judge the matter it would be necessary that they should be
able to transform themselves into a crowd.
that pieces refused by all theatrical managers obtain a
prodigious success when by a stroke of chance they are put on the
stage. The recent success of Francois Coppee's play "Pour la
Couronne" is well known, and yet, in spite of the name of its
author, it was refused during ten years by the managers of the
principal Parisian theatres.
"Charley's Aunt," refused at every theatre, and finally staged at
the expense of a stockbroker, has had two hundred representations
in France, and more than a thousand in London. Without the
explanation given above of the impossibility for theatrical
managers to mentally substitute themselves for a crowd, such
mistakes in judgment on the part of competent individuals, who
are most interested not to commit such grave blunders, would be
inexplicable. This is a subject that I cannot deal with here,
but it might worthily tempt the pen of a writer acquainted with
theatrical matters, and at the same time a subtle
psychologist--of such a writer, for instance, as M. Francisque
Here, once more, were we able to embark on more extensive
explanations, we should show the preponderating influence of
racial considerations. A play which provokes the enthusiasm of
the crowd in one country has sometimes no success in another, or
has only a partial and conventional success, because it does not
put in operation influences capable of working on an altered
I need not add that the tendency to exaggeration in crowds is
only present in the case of sentiments and not at all in the
matter of intelligence. I have already shown that, by the mere
fact that an individual forms part of a crowd, his intellectual
standard is immediately and considerably lowered. A learned
magistrate, M. Tarde, has also verified this fact in his
researches on the crimes of crowds. It is only, then, with
respect to sentiment that crowds can rise to a very high or, on
the contrary, descend to a very low level.
Next: THE INTOLERANCE, DICTATORIALNESS AND CONSERVATISM OF CROWDS.
Previous: THE SUGGESTIBILITY AND CREDULITY OF CROWDS.