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.[6]

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.

THE CHANGEABLE OPINIONS OF CROWDS THE IDEAS OF CROWDS facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail