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Meltzer, D. (1986). On First Impressions. Contemp. Psychoanal., 22:467-470.

(1986). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 22:467-470

On First Impressions

Donald Meltzer, M.D.

OUR GROWING RESPECT FOR THE unconscious mind as the seat of creative thought has not yet come to the vital question of its role in discrimination and judgement. While we are ready to accept that the massive equipment of this unconscious mind may put before us its imaginative conjectures, in as many forms and from as many points of view of which it is capable, we are still prone to reserve for the function of consciousness, which, after all, we feel more to our credit and for which we are therefore more ready to accept responsibility, those finer functions which have to do with the correspondence of the hypothesis of meaning or significance to the evidence from observation that it is meant to cover or explain.

William Hazlitt in his "On the Knowledge of Character" wrote: "First impressions are often the truest, as we find (not infrequently) to our cost, when we have been wheedled out of them by plausible professions or studied actions. A man's look is the work of years, it is stamped on his countenance by the events of his whole life, nay, more, by the hand of nature, and it is not to be got rid of easily." Hazlitt seems often to be speaking of initial displeasure but his own madness of infatuation for his landlord's daughter reported in "Liber Amoris" commenced with a powerful first impression which subsequent events suggest may have been quite mistaken.

Similarly in describing the first meeting between Bouyard and Pecuchet, Flaubert writes: "Thus their meeting was important enough to be an adventure. They had at once become attracted by secret fibres. Besides, how can sympathies be explained? Why does some peculiarity, some imperfection, which would be indifferent or odious in one, seem enchanting in another? What is called the thunderbolt of love at first sight is true of all the passions."

It has often been said that by the age of forty a person has the face he deserves, leaving to the bloom of youth and the unlined face of early maturity a greater power of dis-simulation.

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