The Improvement of the Mind
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Page Life of the Author ........................... v
Preface, Part I., ............................ xi
Preface, Part II., ........................... xv
The Introduction ............................ 1
Chap. I. General Rules for the Improvement of Knowledge ................... 3
Chap. II. Five Methods of Improving, Described and Compared, viz. Observation, Reading, Instruction by Lectures, Conversation, and Study, with their several advantages and defects .................... 19
Chap. III. Of Observation, either by the senses or the mind ........................ 32
Chap. IV. Of reading and books, with directions relating thereto ............... 39
Chap. V. The judgment of books, both approbation and censure .................... 51
Chap. VI. Of living instructions and lectures, of teachers and learners ................... 65
Chap. VII. Of learning a language, particularly, the Latin ................... 69
Chap. VIII. Of enquiring into the sense and meaning of any speaker or writer, whether human or divine ............................ 79
Chap. IX. On conversation and profiting by it, and of persons fit or unfit for free converse ................................... 83
Chap. X. Of disputes, and general rules relating to them .......................... 99
Chap. XI. Of Socratical disputation, by question and answer ....................... 113
Chap. XII. Of forensic disputes, in courts of justice, or public assemblies ............ 116
Chap. XIII. Of academic or scholastic disputes, and the rules of them and how far they may be useful ................................ 119
Chap. XIV. Of study or meditation, and the final determination of things by our own Judgement ................................ 129
Chap. XV. Of fixing the attention .......... 142
Chap. XVI. Of enlarging the capacity of the mind ..................................... 146
Chap. XVII. Of the memory, and the improve- ment thereof ............................. 165
Chap. XVIII. Of determining a question; several cautions about it; of reason and revelation; of argument and ridicule; of assent only in proportion to the evidence, &c ....................................... 190
Chap. XIX. Of enquiring into causes and effects .................................. 209
Chap. XX. Of the sciences, and their uses in particular professions ................ 213
THE Introduction ............................ 245
Chap. I. Methods of teaching and reading lectures ................................. 247
Chap. II. Of an instructive style ......... 254
Chap. III. Of convincing of truth, or delivering from error .................... 260
Chap. IV. The use and abuse of authority ... 268
Chap. V. Of managing the prejudices of men .. 278
Chap. VI. Of instruction by preaching ...... 289
Chap. VII. Of writing books for the public .. 303
Chap. VIII. Of writing and reading controversies ............................ 308
A discourse on the education of children .... 315
Essays and composures on various subjects ... 409
The Life of the Rev. Dr. Issac Watts.
Dr. Issac Watts was born at Southampton, July 17, 1674. His father was the master of a boarding-school in that town, of very considerable reputation. He was a sufferer for non-conformity, in the time of Charles II. and when at one time in prison, his wife, it was said, was seen sitting on a stone near the prison door, suckling her son Issac.
This son was a remarkable instance of early attention to books; He began to learn Latin at the age of four, probably at home, and was afterwards taught Latin, Greek, and Hebrew by the Rev. John Pinhorne, master of the free school at Southampton, rector of All-Saints in the same place, prebendary of Leckford, and vicar of Eling in the New Forest. The proficiency he made at this school induced some persons of property to raise a sum sufficient to maintain him at one of the universities; but his determination was soon fixed to remain among the dissenters, with whom his ancestors had long been connected. In 1690, he went to an academy superintended by the Rev. Thomas Rowe, where he had for his companions, Hughes the poet, and Horte, afterwards the Archbishop of Tuam; Mr. Samuel Say, afterwards an eminent preacher among the dissenters, and other persons of literary eminence. It is well-known that Dr. Watts strove to wean Hughes from his attachment to the stage. In 1693, he joined the congregation under the care of Mr. Rowe, as a communicant.
His application to this academy was very intense, and perhaps few young men have laid in a larger stock of various knowledge. The late Dr. Gibbons was in possession of a large volume in his hand-writing, containing twenty-two Latin dissertations upon curious and important subjects, which were evidently written when at this academy; and, says Dr. Johnson, * shew a degree of knowledge, both philosophical and theological, such as very few attain by a much longer course of study.*
His leisure hours seem to have been very early occupied in poetical efforts, and particularly when, after leaving the academy in his twentieth year, he went to reside with his father at Southampton, and spent two years in reading, meditation, and prayer, to fit himself for the work of the ministry.
At the end of this time, he was invited by Sir John Hartopp to reside in his family at Stoke Newington, near London, as tutor to his son. Here he remained about four or five years; and on his birth-day, 1698, preached his first sermon, and was chosen assistant to Dr. Chauncy, minister of the congregation at Marklane. About three years after, he was appointed to succeed Dr. Chauncy; but had scarce entered on this charge, when he was so interrupted by illness, as to render an assistant necessary; and, after an interval of health, he was again seized by a fever, - which left a weakness that never wholly abated, and in a great measure checked the usefulness of his public labours. While in this afflicting situation, he was received into the house of Sir Thomas Abney, of Newington, Knight and Alderman of London, where he was entertained with the utmost tenderness, friendship, and liberality, for the space of thirty-six years. Sir Thomas died about eight years after Dr. Watts became an inmate in his family, but he continued with Lady Abney and her daughters to the end of his life. Lady Abney died about a year after him; and the last of the family, Mrs. Elizabeth Abney, in 1782.
' A coalition like this,' says Dr. Johnson, ' a state in which the notions of patronage and dependence were overpowered by the perception of reciprocal benefits, deserves a particular memorial; and I will not withhold from the reader Dr. Gibbons's representation, to which regard is to be paid as to the narrative of one who writes what he knows, and what is known likewise to multitudes besides.'
The passage thus elegantly alluded to is as follows : « Our next observations shall be made upon that remarkably kind providence which brought the Doctor into Sir Thomas Abaey's family, and continued him there till his death, a period of no less than thirty-six years. In the midst of his several labours for the glory of God and good of his generation, he is seized with a most violent and threatening fever, which leaves him oppressed with great weakness, and puts a stop at least to his public services for some years. la this distressing season, doubly so to his active and pious spirit, he is invited to Sir Thomas Abney's family, nor ever removes from it till he had finished his days. Here he enjoyed the uninterrupted demonstrations of truest friendship. Here, without any care of his own, he bad every thing which could contribute to the enjoyment of life, and favour the unwearied pursuits of his studies. Here he dwelt in a family, which, for piety, order, harmony, and every virtue, was a house of God. Here he had the privilege of a country recess, the fragrant bower, the spreading lawn, the flowery garden, and other advantages, to sooth his mind, and aid his restoration to health; to yield him, whenever he chose them, more grateful intervals for his laborious studies, and enable him to return to them with redoubled vigour and delight. Had it not been for this most happy event, he might, as to outward view, have feebly, it may be, painfully, dragged on through many more years of languor, and inability for public service, and even for profitable study, or perhaps might have sunk into his grave under the overwhelming load of infirmities in the midst of his days: and thus the church and world have been deprived of those many excellent sermons and works which he drew up and published during his long residence in this family. In a few years after his removing thither, Sir Thomas Abney dies: but his amiable consort survives, who shows the Doctor the same respect and friendship as before, and most happily for him, and great number besides; for, as her riches were great, her generosity and munificence were in full proportion: her thread of life was drawn out to a great age, even beyond that of the Doctor's; and thus this excellent man, through her kindness, and that of her daughter, the present (1780) Mrs. Elizabeth Abney, who in a like degree esteemed and honoured him, enjoyed all the benefits and felicities he experienced at his first entrance into this family, till his days were numbered and finished, and, like a shock of corn in its season, he ascended into the regions of perfect and immortal life and joy.'
In this retreat he wrote the whole, or nearly the whole, of those works which have immortalized his name as a Christian poet and philosopher. He occasionally preached: and in the pulpit, says Dr. Johnson, though his low stature, which very little exceeded five feet, graced him with no advantages of appearance, yet the gravity and propriety of his utterance made his discourses very efficacious. Such was his flow of thoughts, and such his promptitude of language, that in the latter part of his life he did not pre-compose his cursory sermons ; but having adjusted the heads, and sketched out some particulars, trusted for success to his extemporary powers.
He continued many years to study, and to preach, and to do good by his instruction and example, till at last the infirmities of age disabled him from the more laborious part of his ministerial functions; and being no longer capable of public duty, he offered to remit the salary appendant to it, but his congregation would not accept the resignation. His annual income did not exceed one hundred pounds, of which he allowed one third to the poor.
His death was distinguished by steady faith and composure, and deprived the world of his useful labours and example, Nov. 25, 1748, in the seventy- fifth year of his age. He expired in that house where his life had been prolonged and made comfortable by a long continuance of kind and tender attentions of which there are few examples.
Dr. Johnson's character of him in that admirable life he wrote for the English Poets, may be received with confidence.
- Few men hare left such purity of character, or such monuments
of laborious piety. He has provided instruction for all ages, from those who are lisping their first lessons, to the enlightened readers of Malbranche and Locke: he has left neither corporeal nor spiritual nature unexamined : he has taught the art of reasoning, and the science of the stars. His character, therefore, must be formed from the multiplicity and diversity of his attainments, rather than from any single performance; for it would not be safe to claim for him the highest iank in any single denomination of literary dignity: yet perhaps there was nothing in which be would not have excelled, if be had art divided his powers to different pursuits.'
His entire works have been published in six volumes, quarto, and more recently in octavo. With respect to the work now before the reader, its continued popularity would be a sufficient test of its merit, were we not enabled to add the opinion of the eminent critic already so frequently quoted. — ' Few books, says Dr. Johnson, have been perused by me with greater pleasure than his IMPROVEMENT OF THE MIND, of which the radical principles may indeed be found in Locke's Conduct of the Understanding; but they are so expanded and ramified by Watts, as to confer on him the merit of a work in the highest degree useful and pleasing. WHOEVER HAS THE CARE OF INSTRUCTING OTHERS, MAY BE CHARGED WITH DEFICIENCY IN HIS DUTY, IF THIS BOOK IS NOT RECOMMENDED.'
THE present Treatise, if it may assume the honour of that name, is made up of a variety of remarks and directions for the improvement of the mind in useful knowledge. It was collected from the observations which I had made on my own studies, and on the temper and sentiments, the humour and conduct of other men in their pursuit of learning, or in the affairs of life; and it has been considerably assisted by occasional collections, in the course of my reading, from many authors on different subjects. I confess, in far the greatest part, I stand bound to answer for the weaknesses or defects that will be found in these papers, not being able to point to other writers whence the twentieth part of them are derived.
The work was composed at different times, and by slow degrees. Now and then, indeed, it spread itself into branches and leaves, like a plant in April, and advanced seven or eight pages in a week : and sometimes it lay by without growth, like a vegetable in the winter, and did not increase half so much in the revolution of a year.
As these thoughts occurred to me in reading or meditation, or in my notices of the various appearances of things among mankind, they were thrown under those heads which make the present titles of the chapters, and were by degrees reduced to something like a method, such as the subject would admit.
On these accounts, it is not to be expected that the same accurate order should be observed, either in the whole book or in the particular chapters thereof, which is necessary in the system of any science whose scheme is projected at once. A book which has been twenty years a-writing may be indulged in some variety of style and manner, though I hope there will not be found any great difference of sentiment; for wherein I had improved in latter years, beyond what I had first written, a few dashes and alterations have corrected the mistakes : and if the candour of the Reader will but allow what is defective i n one place to be supplied by additions from another, I hope there will be found a sufficient reconciliation of what might seem, at first, to be scarce consistent,
The language and dress of these sentiments is such as the present temper of mind dictated, whether it were grave or pleasant, severe or smiling. If there has been any thing expressed with too much severity, I suspect it will be found to fall upon those sneering or daring writers of the age against religion, and against the Christian scheme, who seem to have left reason, or decency, or both, behind them, in some of their writings.
The same apology of the length of years in composing this book may serve also to excuse a repetition of the same sentiments which may happen to be found in different places without the author's design; but in other pages it was intended, so that thoae rules, for the conduct of the understanding, which are most necessary should be set in several lights, that they might, with more frequency, and more force, impress the soul. I shall be sufficiently satisfied with the good humour and lenity of my Readers, if they will please to regard these papers as parcels of imperfect sketches, which were designed by a sudden pencil, and in a thousand leisure moments, to be, one day, collected into landscapes of some little prospects in the regions of learning, and in the world of common life, pointing oat the fairest and most fruitful spots, as well as the rocks, and wildernesses, and faithless morasses of the country. But I feel age advancing upon me; and my health is insufficient to perfect what I had designed, to increase and amplify these remarks, to confirm and improve these roles, and to illuminate the several pages with a richer and more beautiful variety of examples. The subject is almost endless ; and new writers, in the present, and in the following ages, may still find sufficient follies, weaknesses, and dangers, among mankiud, to be represented in such a manner as to guard youth against them.
These hints, such as they are, I hope, may be rendered some way useful to persons in younger years, who will favour them with a perusal, and who would seek the cultivation of their own understandings in the early days of life. Perhaps they may find something here which may wake a latent genius and direct the studies of a willing mind. Perhaps it may point out to a student, now and then, what may em. ploy the most useful labours of his thoughts, and accelerate his diligence in the most momentous enquiries. Perhaps a sprightly youth might here meet with something to guard or warn him against mistakes, and withhold him, at other times, from those pursuits which are like to be fruitless and disappointing.
Let it be observed also, that, in our age, several of the ladies pursue science with success; and others of them are desirous of improving their reason, even in the common affairs of life, as well as the men: yet the characters which are here drawn occasionally are almost universally applied to one sex; but if any of the other shall find a character which suits them, they may, by a small change of the termination, apply and assume it to themselves, and accept the instruction, the admonition, or the applause which is designed in it.
"THE author's name, which is prefixed to this book, renders it altogether needless for us to say any thing in order to recommend it; and we need not assure any judicious reader, who has been conversant with Dr. Watts'* writings, that this is the genuine work of that excellent author; for he cannot fail of discerning the Doctor's easj style and beautiful manner of expression in every page. We esteem it an honour done us by that truly great man, that he was pleased, by his last will, to entrust us with his manuscripts which he designed for the press: however, he lived to publish several of those himself, after his will was made; so that not many remain to be published by us. Some indeed there are remaining, which he did originally intend for the press, but his broken state of health did not permit him to finish them, and they are left too imperfect to be ever published. Of this sort, among others, is the larger Discourse on Psalmody, which he gave notice of his intention to publish, in the preface to the second edition of his Hymns, when he withdrew the shorter essay on that subject, which was annexed to the first edition. There are also among his manuscripts, some tracts relating to a doctrinal controversy which the Doctor had been engaged in, but which the world seems to be tired of: so that, most probably, this Second Part of the Improvement of the Mind, with the Discourse on Education, and some Additions to the Reliquiae Juveniles, are all the posthumous works of Dr. Watts that will ever be printed.
As to this work in particular, a considerable part of it was corrected for the press by the Doctor's own hand; and as to the rest of it, he did not leave it so far unfinished as should, in his own judgment, discourage the publishing it; for he has left this note in a paper along with it:
* ' Though this book, or the second volume of the
Improvement of the Mind, is not so far finished as I could wish, yet I leave it among the number of books corrected for the press, for it is very easy for any person of genius and science to finish it, and publish it in a form sufficiently useful to the world.' *
The corrections we have presumed to make are comparatively but few and trivial; and when now and then it wag thought necessary to add a line or two for the illustration of any passage, it is generally put in the form of a note at the foot of the page.
It may perhaps be expected we should make some apology for delaying the publishing of this book so long after the author's death; a book that has been so much expected aud so earnestly desired, as appears by several letters found in the Doctor's study, from eminent persons and from learned societies. There are various causes that bare contributed to the delay, which the world need not be informed of but the remote distance of our habitations, and the multiplicity of business ia which each of us is statedly engaged, are circumstances pretty generally known, and which we hope will be admitted in excuse for some part of the delay, and some part the booksellers must answer for. However, we are the less solicitous to apologize for not publishing this book sooner, as we are satisfied it will be welcome now it comes ; and that those who, upon reading the first volume, have so earnestly desired the second, will not be disappointed when they read it.
We bare only to add our most sincere wishes and prayers, that a book so admirably suited to improre the minds of men, especially of the rising generation, and to promote universal goodness, as this appears to be, may be attended with a blessing from on high.
D. JENNINGS. P. DODDRIDGE.
June 26, 1751
IMPROVEMENT OF THE MIND.
Directions for the Attainment of useful Knowledge.
NO man is obliged to learn and know every thing; this can neither be sought nor required, for it is utterly impossible : yet all persons are under some obligation to improve their own understanding; otherwise it will be a barren desert, or a forest overgrown with weeds and brambles. Universal ignorance or infinite errors will overspread the mind, which is utterly neglected, and lies without any cultivation.
Skill in the sciences Is indeed the business and profession but of a small part of mankind; but there are many others placed in such an exalted rank in the world, as allows them much leisure and large opportunities to cultivate their reason, and to beautify and enrich their minds with various knowledge. Even the lower orders of men have particular railings in life, wherein they ought to acquire a just degree of skill; and this is not to be done well, without thinking and reasoning about them.
The common duties and benefits of society, which belong to every man living, as we are social creatures,and even our native and necessary relations to a family, a neighbourhood, or government, oblige all persons whatsoever to use their reasoning powers upon a thousand occasions; every hour of life calls for some regular exercise of our judgment, as to time and things, persons and actions; without a prudent and discreet determination in matters before as, we, shall be plunged into perpetual errors in our conduct. Now that which should always be practised, must at some time be learnt.
Besides, every son and daughter of Adam has a most important concern in the affairs of a life to come, and therefore it is a matter of the highest moment, for every one to understand, to judge, and to reason right about the things of religion. It is vain for any to say, we have no leisure or time for it. The daily intervals of time, and vacancies from necessary labour, together with the one day in seven in the Christian world, allows sufficient time for this, if men would but apply themselves to it with half so much zeal and diligence as the; do to the trifles and amusements of this life, and it would turn to infinitely better account.
Thus it appears to be the necessary duty, and the interest of every person living, to improve his understanding, to inform his judgment, to treasure up useful knowledge, and to acquire the skill of good reasoning, as far as his station, capacity, and circumstances, furnish him with proper means for it. Our mistakes in judgment may plunge us into much folly and guilt in practice. By acting without thought or reason, we dishonour the God that made us reason, able creatures, we often become injurious to our neighbours, kindred, or friends, and we bring sin acd misery upon ourselves: for we are accountable to God, our judge, for every part of our irregular and mistaken conduct, where he hath given us sufficient advantages to guard against those mistakes.
General Rules for the Improvement of Knowledge.*
* Though the most of these following Rules are chiefly addressed to those whom their fortune or their station require to addict themselves to the peculiar improvement of their minds in greater degrees of knowledge, yet every one who has leisure und opportunity to be acquainted with such writings as these, may find something among them for their own use.
Rule I.—DEEPLY possess your mind with the vast importance of a good judgment, and the rich and inestimable advantage of right reasoning.
Review the instances of your own misconduct in life ; think seriously with yourselves how many follies and sorrows you had escaped, and how much guilt and misery you had prevented, if from your early years you had but taken due paius to judge aright concerning persons, times, and things. This will awaken you with lively vigour to address yourselves to the work of improving your reasoning powers, and seizing very opportunity and advantage for that end.
II. Consider the weaknesses, frailties, and mistakes of human nature in general, which arise from the very constitution of a soul united to an animal body, and subjected to many inconveniences thereby. Consider the many additional weaknesses, mistakes, and frailties, which are derived from our original apostasy and fall from a state of innocence; how much our powers of understanding are yet more darkened, enfeebled, and imposed upon by our senses, our fancies, and our unruly passions, &c.
Consider the depth and difficulty of many truths, and the flattering appearances of falsehood, whence arises an infinite variety of dangers to which we are exposed in our judgment of things.
Read with greediness those authors that treat of the doctrine of prejudices, prepossessions, and springs of error, on purpose to make your soul watchful on all sides, that it suffer itself, as far as possible, to be imposed upon by none of them.
III. A slight view of things so momentous is not sufficient. You should therefore contrive and practise some proper methods to acquaint yourself with your own ignorance, and to impress your mind with a deep and painful sense of the low and imperfect degrees of your present knowledge, that you may be incited with labour and activity to pursue after greater measures. Among others, you may find some such methods as these successful.
1. Take a wide survey now and then of the vast and unlimited regions of learning. Let your meditations run over the names of all the sciences, with their numerous branchings, and innumerable particular themes of knowledge; and then reflect how few of them you are acquainted with in any tolerable degree. The most teamed of mortals will never find occasion to act over again what is fabled of Alexander the Great, that when he had conquered what was called the eastern world, he wept for want of more worlds to conquer.
The worlds of science are immense and endless.
2. Think what a numberless variety of questions and difficulties there are belonging even to that particular science in which you have made the greatest progress, and how few of them there are in which you have arrived at a final and undoubted certainty; excepting only those questions in the pure and simple mathematics, whose theorems are demonstrable, and leave scarce any doubt; and yet, even in the pursuit of some few of these, mankind have been strangely bewildered.
3. Spend a few thoughts sometimes on the puzzling enquiries concerning vacuums and atoms, the doctrine of infinites, indivisibles, and incommensurables in geometry, wherein there appear some insolvable difficulties: do this on purpose to give you a more sensible impression of the poverty of your understanding, and the imperfection of your knowledge. This will teach you what a vain thing it is to fancy that you know all things, and will instruct you to think modestly of your present attainments, when every dust of the earth, and every inch of empty space, surmounts your understanding, and triumphs over your presumption. Arithmo had been bred up to accounts all his life, and thought himself a complete master of numbers. But when he was pushed hard to give the square root of the number 2, he tried at it, and laboured long in millesimal fractions, till he confessed there was no end of the enquiry; and yet he learned so much modesty by this perplexing question, that he was afraid to say it was an impossible thing.
It is some good degree of improvement, when we are afraid to be positive.
4. Read the accounts of those vast treasures of knowledge which some of the dead have possessed, and some of the living do possess. Read and be astonished at the almost incredible advances which have been made in science. Acquaint yourself with some persons of great learning, that by converse among them, and comparing yourself with them, you may acquire a mean opinion of your own attainments, and may thereby be animated with new zeal, to equal them as far as possible, or to exceed: thus let your diligence be quickened by a generous and laudable emulation. If Vanillus had never met with Scitorio and Palydes, he had never imagined himself a mere novice in philosophy, nor ever set himself to study in good earnest.
Remember this, that if upon some few superficial acquirements you value, exalt, and swell yourself, as though you were a man of learning already, you are thereby building a most unpassable barrier against all improvement; you will lie down and indulge idleness, and rest yourself contented in the midst of deep and shameful ignorance.
Multi ad scientiam pervenissent si se illuc pervenisse non putassent.
IV. Presume not too much upon a bright genius, a ready wit, and good parts; for this, without labour and study, will never make a man of knowledge and wisdom. This has been an unhappy temptation to persons of a vigorous and gay fancy, to despise learning and study. They have been acknowledged to shine in an assembly, and sparkle in a discourse on common topics, and thence they took it into their heads to abandon reading and labour, and grow old in ignorance; but when they had lost their vivacity of animal nature and youth, they became stupid and sottish even to contempt aud ridicule. Lucidas and Scintillo are young men of this stamp; they shine in conversation; they spread their native riches before the ignorant; they pride themselves in their own lively images of fancy, and imagine themselves wise and learned; but they had best avoid the presence of the skilful, and the test of reasoning; and I would advise them once a day to think forward a little, what a contemptible figure they will make in age.
The witty men sometimes have sense enough to know their own foible; and therefore they craftily shun the attacks of argument, or boldly pretend to despise and renounce them, because they are conscious of their own ignorance, aud inwardly confess their want of acquaintance with the skill of reasoning.
V. As you are not to fancy yourself a learned man because you are blessed with a ready wit; so neither must you imagine that large and laborious reading, and a strong memory, can denominate you truly wise.
What that excellent critic has determined when he decided the question, whether wit or study makes the best poet, may well be applied to every sort of learning:
-Ego nec studium sine divite venu,
Nec rude quid prosit, video, ingnium; alterius sic Alter a poscit opem res, et conjurat amice.
Hor. de Art. Poet.
(Thus made English ;)
"Concerning poets there has been contest, Whether they're made by art, or nature best; But if I may presume in this affair, Among the rest my judgment to declare, No art without a genius will avail, And parts without the help of art will fail: But both ingredients jointly must unite, Or verse will never shine with a transcendent light." - Oldham.
It is meditation and studious thought, it is the exercise of your own reason and judgment upon all you read, that gives good sense even to the best genius, and affords your understanding the truest improvement. A boy of a strong memory may repeat a whole book of Euclid, yet be no geometrician; for he may not be able perhaps to demonstrate one single theorem. Memorino has learnt half the Bible by heart, and is become a living concordance, and a speaking index to theological folios, and yet he understands little of divinity.
A well furnished library, and a capacious memory, are indeed of singular use toward the improvement of the mind ; but if all your learning be nothing else but a mere amassment of what others have written, without a due penetration into the meaning, and without a judicious choice and determination of your own sentiments, I do not see what title your head has to true learning above your shelves. Though you have read philosophy and theology, morals and metaphysics in abundance, and every other art and science, yet if your memory is the only faculty employed, with the neglect of your reasoning powers, you can justly claim no higher character but that of a good historian of the sciences.
Here note, many of the foregoing advices are more peculiarly proper for those who are conceited of their abilities, and are ready to entertain a high opinion of themselves. But a modest, humble youth, of a good genius, should not suffer himself to be discouraged by any of these considerations. They are designed only as a spur to diligence, and a guard against vanity and pride.
VI. Be not so weak as to imagine, that a life of learning is a life of laziness and ease; dare not give up yourself to any of the learned professions, unless you are resolved to labour
hard at study, and can make it your delight, and the joy of your life, according to the motto of our late Lord Chancellor King:
--- Labour ipse voluptas.
It is no idle thing to be a scholar indeed. A man much addicted to luxury and pleasure, recreation and pastime, should never pretend to devote himself entirely to the sciences, unless his soul be so reformed and refined, that he can taste all these entertainments eminently in his closet, among his books and papers. Sobrino is a temperate man, and a philosopher, and be feeds upon partridge and pheasant, venison and ragouts and every delicacy, in a growing understanding, and a serene and healthy soul, though he dines on a dish of sprouts or turnips. Languinos loved his ease, and therefore chose to be brought up a scholar; he had much indolence in his temper; and as he never cared for study, he falls under universal contempt in his profession, because he has nothing but the gown and the name.
VII. Let the hope of new discoveries, as well as the satisfaction and pleasure of known trains, animate your daily industry. Do not think learning in general is arrived at its perfection, or that the knowledge of any particular subject in any science cannot be improved, merely because it has lain five hundred or a thousand years without improvement. The present age, by the blessing of God on the ingenuity and diligence of men, has brought to light such truths in natural philosophy, and such discoveries in the heavens and the earth, as seemed to be beyond the reach of man. But may there not be Sir Isaac Newtons in every science? You should never despair therefore of finding out that which has never yet been found, unless you see something in the nature of it which renders it unsearchable, and above the reach of our faculties.
Nor should a student in divinity imagine that our age is arrived at a full understanding of every thing which can be known by the Scriptures. Every age since the Reformation hath thrown some further light on difficult texts and paragraphs of the Bible, which have been long obscured by the early rise of antichrist: and since there are at present many difficulties and darknesses hanging about certain truths of Christian religion, and since several of these relate to important doctrines, such as the origin of sin, the fall of Adam, the person of Christ, the blessed Trinity, and the decrees of God, &c. which do still embarrass the minds of honest and enquiring readers, and which make work for noisy controversy; it is certain there are several things in the Bible yet unknown, and not sufficiently explained ; and it is certain that there is some way to solve these difficulties, and to reconcile these seeming contradictions. And why may not a sincere searcher of truth in the present age, by labour, diligence, study and prayer, with the beat use of his reasoning powers, find out the proper solution of those knots and perplexities which have hitherto been unsolved, and which have afforded matter for angry quarrelling; ? Happy is every man who shall be favoured of Heaven, to give a helping hand towards the introduction of the blessed age of light and love.
VIII. Do not hover always on the surface of things, nor take up suddenly with mere appearances; but penetrate into the depth of matters, as far as your time and circumstances allow, especially in those things which relate to your own profession. Do not indulge yourselves to judge of things by the first glimpse, or a short and superficial view of them; for this will fill the mind with errors and prejudices, and give it a wrong turn and ill habit of thinking, and make much work for retractation. Subito is carried away with title pages, so that he ventures to pronounce upon a large octavo at once, and to recommend it wonderfully when he had read half the preface. Another volume of controversies, of equal size, was discarded by him at once, because it pretended to treat of the Trinity, and yet he could neither find the word essence nor subsistences in the twelve first pages; but Subito changes his opinions of men and books and things so often, that nobody regards him.
As for those sciences, or those parts of knowledge, which either your profession, your leisure, your inclination, or your incapacity, forbid you to pursue with much application, or to search far into them, you must be contented with an historical and superficial knowledge of them, and not pretend to form any judgments of your own on those subjects which you understand very imperfectly.
IX. Once a day, especially in the early years of life and study, call yourselves to an account what new ideas, what new proposition or truth you have gained, what further confirmation of known truths, and what advances you have made in any part of knowledge; and let no day, if possible, pass away without some intellectual gain: such a course, well pursued, must certainly advance us in useful knowledge. It is a wise proverb among the learned, borrowed from the lips and practice of a celebrated painter,
"Nulla dies sine linea",
'Let no day pass without one line at least:'
and it was a sacred rule among the Pythagoreans, That they should every evening thrice run over the actions and affairs of the day, and examine what their conduct had been, what they had done, or what they had neglected: and they assured their pupils, that by this method they would make a noble progress on the path of virtue.
Nor let soft slumber close your eyes, Before you've recollected thrice The train of action through the day: Where have my feet chose out their way? What have I learnt, where-e'er I've been, From all I've heard, from all I've seen? What know I more that's worth the knowing? What have I done that's worth the doing? What have I sought that I should shun? What duty have I left undone? Or into what new follies run ? These self-enquiries are the road That leads to virtue, and to God.
I would be glad, among a nation of Christians, to find young men heartily engaged in the practice of what this heathen writer teaches.
X. Maintain a constant watch at all times against a dogmatical spirit; fix not your assent to any proposition in a firm and unalterable manner, till you have some firm and unalterable ground for it, and till you have arrived at some clear and sure evidence; till you have turned the proposition on all sides, and searched the matter through and through, so that you cannot be mistaken. And even where you may think you have full grounds of assurance, be not too early, nor too frequent, in expressing this assurance in too peremptory and positive a manner, remembering that human nature is always liable to mistake in this corrupt and feeble state. A dogmatical spirit has man; inconveniences attending it: as
1. It stops the ear against all further reasoning upon that subject, and shuts up the mind from all farther improvements of knowledge. If you have resolutely fixed your opinion, though it be upon too slight and insufficient grounds, yet you will stand determined to renounce the strongest reason brought for the contrary opinion, and grow obstinate against the force of the clearest argument. Positive is a man of this character; and has often pronounced his assurance of the Cartesian vortexes: last year some further light broke in upon his understanding, with uncontrollable force, by reading something of mathematical philosophy; yet having asserted his former opinions in a most confident manner, be is tempted now to wink a little against the truth, or to prevaricate in his discourse upon that subject, lest by admitting conviction, he should expose himself to the necessity of confessing his former folly and mistake: and he has not humility enough for that.
2. A dogmatical spirit naturally leads us to arrogance of mind, and gives a man some airs in conversation which are too haughty and assuming. Audens is a man of learning, and very good company ; but his infallible assurance renders his carriage sometimes insupportable.
A dogmatical spirit inclines a man to be censorious of his neighbours. Every one of his own opinions appears to him written as it were with sunbeams; and he grows angry that his neighbour does not see it in the same light. He is tempted to disdain his correspondents, as men of a low and dark understanding, because they will not believe what he does. Furio goes further in this wild track; and charges those who refuse his notions with wilful obstinacy, and vile hypocrisy; he tells them boldly, that they resist the truth, and sin against their consciences.
These are the men that, when they deal in controversy, delight in reproaches. They abound in tossing about absurdity and stupidity among their brethren : they cast the imputation of heresy and nonsense plentifully upon their antagonists; and in matters of sacred importance, they deal out their anathemas in abundance upon Christians better than themselves; they denounce damnation upon their neighbours, without either justice or mercy; and when they pronounce sentences of divine wrath against supposed heretics, they add their own human fire and indignation. A dogmatist in religion is not a great way off from a bigot, and is in high danger of growing up to be a bloody persecutor.
XI. Though caution and slow assent will guard you against frequent mistakes and retractions; yet you should get humility and courage enough to retract any mistake, and confess an error: frequent changes are tokens of levity in our first determinations; yet you should never be too proud to change your opinion, nor frighted at the name of a changeling. Learn to scorn those vulgar bugbears, which confirm foolish man in his old mistakes, for fear of being charged with inconstancy. I confess it is better not to judge, than judge falsely; it is wiser to withhold our assent till we see complete evidence; but if we have too suddenly given up our assent, as the wisest man does sometimes, if we have professed what we find afterwards to be false, we should never be ashamed nor afraid to renounce a mistake. That is a noble essay which is found among the occasional papers ' to encourage the world to repractise retractations;' and I would recommend it to the perusal of every scholar and every Christian.
XII. He that would raise his judgment above the vulgar rank of mankind, and learn to pass a just sentence on persons and things, must take heed of a fanciful temper of mind, and a humorous conduct in his affairs. Fancy and humour, early and constantly indulged, may expect an old age overrun with follies.
The notion of a humourist is one that is greatly pleased, or greatly displeased with little things; who sets his heart much upon matters of very small importance : who has his will determined every day by trifles, his actions seldom directed by the reason and nature of things, and his passions frequently raised by things of little moment. Where this practice is allowed, it will insensibly warp the judgment to pronounce little things great, and tempt you to lay a great weight upon them. In short, this temper will incline you to pass an unjust value on almost every thing that occurs; and every step you take in this path is just so far out of the way to wisdom.
XIII. For the same reason have a care of trifling with things important and momentous, or of sporting with things awful and sacred: do not indulge a spirit of ridicule, as some witty men do on all occasions and subjects. This will as unhappily bias the judgment on the other side, and incline you to pass a low esteem on the most valuable objects. Whatsoever evil habit we indulge* in practice, it will insensibly obtain a power over our understanding, and betray us into many errors. Jocander is ready with his jest to answer every thing that he hears; he reads books in the same jovial humour, and has gotten the art of turning every thought and sentence into merriment. How many awkward and irregular judgments does this man pass upon solemn subjects, even when he designs to be grave and in earnest? His mirth and laughing humour is formed into habit and temper, and leads his understanding shamefully astray. You will see him wandering in pursuit of a gay flying feather, and he is drawn by a sort of "ignis fatuus" into bogs and mire almost every day of his life.
XIV. Ever maintain a virtuous and pious frame of spirit: for an indulgence of vicious inclinations debases the understanding, and perverts the judgment. "Whoredom and wine, and new wine, take away the heart and soul and reason of a man. Sensuality ruins the better faculties of the mind; an indulgence to appetite and passion enfeebles the powers of reason : it makes the judgment weak and susceptive of every falsehood, and especially of such mistakes as have a tendency towards the gratification of the animal; and it warps the soul aside strangely from that stedfast honesty and integrity that necessarily belongs to the pursuit of truth. It is the virtuous man who is in a fair way to wisdom. ' God gives to those that are good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy.' Eccles. ii. 26.
Piety towards God, as well as sobriety and virtue, are necessary qualifications to make a truly wise and judicious man. He that abandons religion must act in such a contradiction to his own conscience and best judgment, that he abuses and spoils the faculty itself. It is thus in the nature of things, and it is thus by the righteous judgment of God: even the pretended sages among the heathens, who did not like to retain God in their knowledge, they were given up to a reprobate mind, si; vouv aSi'xi.uov, an undistinguishing or injudicious mind, so that they judged inconsistently, and practised mere absurdities, rot fj.ri av/xovra, Rom. i. 28.
And it is the character of the slaves of antichrist, 2 Thess. ii. 10, &c. that those ' who receive not the love of the truth were exposed to the power of diabolical sleights and lying wonders/ When divine revelation shines and blazes in the face of men with glorious evidence, and they wink their eyes against it, the god of this world is suffered to blind them, even in the most obvious, common, and sensible things. The great God of Heaven, for this cause, sends them strong delusions, that they should believe a lie; and the nonsense of transubstantiation in the popish world, is a most glaring accomplishmeat of this prophecy, beyond even what could have been thought of or expected among creatures who pretend to reason.
XV. Watch against the pride of your own reason, and a vain conceit of your own intellectual powers, with the neglect of divine aid and blessing. Presume not upon great attainments in knowledge by your own self-sufficiency: those who trust to their own understandings entirely, are pronounced fools in the word of God; and it is the wisest of men gives them this character, ' He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool/ Prov. xxviii. 26. And the same divine writer advises us to ' trust in the Lord with all our heart, and not to lean to our understandings, nor to be wise in our own eyes,' chap. iii. 5, 7*
Those who, with a neglect of religion and dependence on God, apply themselves to search out every article in the things of God by the mere dint of their own reason, have been suffered to run into wild excesses of foolery, and strange extravagance of opinions. Every one who pursues this vain course, and will not ask for the conduct of God in the study of religion, has just reason to fear he shall be left of God, and given up a prey to a thousand prejudices ; that he shall be consigned over to the follies of his own heart, and pursue his own temporal and eternal ruin. And even in common studies we should, by humility and dependence, engage the God of truth on our side. (Transcribers Note: This talk of God, pure nonsense that it is, does not diminish the value of his other rules.)
XVI. Offer up therefore your daily requests to God, the father of lights, that he would bless all your attempts and labours in reading, study, and conversation. Think with yourself how easily and how insensibly, by one turn of thought, he can lead you into a large scene of useful ideas: he can teach you to lay hold on a clue which may guide your thoughts with safety and ease through all the difficulties of an intricate subject. Think how easily the Author of your beings can direct your motions by his providence, so that the glance of an eye, or a word striking the ear, or a sudden turn of the fancy, shall conduct you to a train of happy sentiments. By his secret and supreme method of government, he can draw you to read such a treatise, or converse with such a person, who may give you more light into some deep subject in an hour, than you could obtain by a month of your own solitary labour.
Think with yourself with how much ease the God of spirits can cast into your minds some useful suggestion, and give a happy turn to your own thoughts, or the thoughts of those with whom you converse, whence you may derive unspeakable light and satisfaction, in a matter that has long puzzled and entangled you : he can show you a path which the vulture's eye has not seen, and lead you by some unknown gate or portal, out of a wilderness and labyrinth of difficulties, wherein you have been long wandering.
Implore constantly his divine grace to point your inclination to proper studies, and to fix your heart there. He can keep off temptations on the right hand, and on the left, both by the course of his providence, and by the secret and insensible intimations of his Spirit. He can guard your understandings from every evil influence of error, and secure you from the danger of evil books and men, which might otherwise have a fatal effect, and lead you into pernicious mistakes.
Nor let this sort of advice fall under the censure of the godless and profane, as a mere piece of bigotry or enthusiasm, derived from faith and the Bible: for the reasons which I have given to support this pious practice, of invoking the blessing of God on our studies, are derived from the light of nature as well as revelation. He that made our souls, and is the Father of spirits, shall he not be supposed to have a most friendly influence toward the instruction and government of them : The Author of our rational powers can involve them in darkness when he pleases,
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Chap. II. Five Methods of Improving, Described and Compared, viz. Observation, Reading, Instruction by Lectures, Conversation, and Study, with their several advantages and defects
Direct use of our faculties, or our reasoning powers, may be included under the general name of observation.
When this observation relates to any thing that immediately concerns ourselves, and of which we are conscious, it may be called experience. So I am said to know or experience that I have in myself a power of thinking, fearing, loving, &c. that I have appetites and passions working in me, and many personal occurrences have attended me in this life.
Observation therefore includes all that Mr. Locke means by sensation and rejection.
When we are searching out the nature or properties of any being by various methods of trial, or when we apply some active powers, or set some causes to work to observe what effects they would produce, this sort of observation is called experiment. So when I throw a bullet into water, I find it sinks: and when I throw the same bullet into quicksilver, I see it swims: but if I beat out that bullet
into a thin hollow shape, like a dish, then it will swim in the water
too. So when I strike two flints together, I find they produce fire: when I throw a seed into the earth, it grows up into a plant.
All these belong to the first method of knowledge: which I shall call observation.
II. Reading is that, means or method of knowledge whereby we acquaint ourselves with what other men have written, or published to the world in their writings. These arts of reading and writing re of infinite advantage; for by them we are made partakers of the sentiments, observations, reasonings, and improvements of all the learned world, in the most remote nations, and in former ages almost from the beginning of mankind.
III. Public or private lectures are such verbal instructions as are given by a teacher while the learners attend in silence. This is the way of learning religion from the pulpit; or of philosophy or theology from the professor's chair; or of mathematics, by a teacher showing us various theorems or problems, i. e. speculations or practices by demonstration and operation, with all the instruments of art necessary to those operations.
IV. Conversation is another method of improving our minds, wherein, by mutual discourse and enquiry, we learn the sentiments of others, as well as communicate our sentiments to others in the same manner. Sometimes indeed, though both parties speak by turns, yet the advantage is only on one side, as when a teacher and a learner meet and discourse together: but frequently the profit is mutual. Under this head of conversation we may also rank dispute* of various kinds.
V. Meditation or study includes all those exercises of the mind, whereby we render all the former methods useful for our increase in true knowledge and wisdom. It is by meditation we come to confirm our memory of things that pass through our thoughts in the occurrences of life, in our own experiences, and in the observations we make. It in by meditation that we draw various inferences, and establish in our minds general principles of knowledge. It is by meditation that we compare the various ideas which we derive from our senses, or from the operations of our souls, and join them in propositions. It is by meditation that we fix in our memory whatsoever we learn, and form our own judgment of the truth or falsehood, the strength or weakness, of what others speak or write. It is meditation or study that draws out long chains of argument, and searches and finds deep and difficult truths which before lay concealed in darkness.
It would be a needless tiling to prove, that our own solitary meditations, together with the few observations that the most part of mankind are capable of making, are not sufficient, of themselves, to lead us into the attainment of any considerable proportion of knowledge, at least in an age so much improved as ours is, without the assistance of conversation and reading, and other proper instructions that are to be attained in our days. Yet each of these five methods have their peculiar advantages, whereby they assist each other; and their peculiar defects, which have need to be supplied by the other's assistance. Let us trace over some of the particular advantages of each.
I. One method of improving the mind is observation, and the advantages of it are these:
1. It is owing to observation, that our mind is furnished with the first simple and complex ideas. It is in this that lays the groundwork and foundation of all knowledge, and makes us capable of using any of the other methods for improving the mind: for if we did not attain a variety of sensible and intellectual ideas by the sensations of outward objects, by the consciousness of our own appetites and passions, pleasures and pains, and by inward experience of the actings of our own spirits, it would be impossible either for men or books to teach us any thing. It is observation that must give us our first ideas of things, as it includes in it sense and consciousness.
2. All our knowledge derived from observation, whether it be of single ideas or of propositions, is knowledge gotten at first hand. Hereby we see and know things as they are, or as they appear to as; we take the impressions of them on our minds from the original objects themselves, which give a clearer and stronger conception of things: these ideas are more lively, and the propositions (at least in many cases) are much more evident. Whereas, that knowledge we derive from lectures, reading, and conversation, is but the copy of other men's ideas, that is, the picture of a picture; and it is one remove further from the original.
3. Another advantage of observation is, that we may gain knowledge all the day lone, and every moment of our lives; and every moment of our existence we may be adding something to our intellectual treasures thereby, except only while we are asleep, and even then the remembrance of our dreaming will teach us some truths, and lay a foundation for a better acquaintance with human nature, both in the powers and in the frailties of it.
II. The next way of improving the mind is by reading, and the advantages of it are such as these :
1. By reading we acquaint ourselves, in a very extensive manner, with the affairs, actions, and thoughts of the living and the dead, in the most remote nations, and most distant ages, and that with as much ease as though they lived in our own age and nation. By reading of books we may learn something from all parts of mankind; whereas by observation we learn all from ourselves, and only what comes within our own direct cognizance; by conversation we can only enjoy the assistance of a very few persons, viz. those who are near us, and live at the same time when we do, that is, our neighbours and contemporaries; but our knowledge is much more narrowed still, if we confine ourselves merely to our own solitary reasonings, without much observation or reading : for then all our improvement must arise only from our own inward powers and meditations.
2. By reading we learn not only the actions and the sentiments of different nations and ages, but we transfer to ourselves the knowledge and improvements of the most learned men, the wisest and the best of mankind, when or wheresoever they lived: for though many books have been written by weak and injudicious persons, yet the most of those books which have obtained great reputation in the world, are the products of great and wise men in their several ages and nations: whereas we can obtain the conversation and instruction of those only who are within the reach of our dwelling, or our acquaintance, whether they are wise or unwise; and sometimes that narrow sphere scarce affords any person of great eminence in wisdom or learning, unless one instructor happen to have this character. And as for our own study and meditations, even when we arrive at some good degrees of learning, our advantage for further improvement in knowledge by them is still far more contracted than what we may derive from reading.
3. When we read good authors, we learn the best, the most laboured, and most refined sentiments, even of those wise and learned men; for they have studied hard, and have committed to writing their matnrest thoughts, and the result of their long study and experience : whereas by conversation, and in some lectures, we obtain many times only the present thoughts of our tutors or friends, which (though they may be bright and useful) yet, at first perhaps, may be sudden and undigested, and are mere hints which have risen to no maturity.
4. It is another advantage of reading, that we may review what we have read; we may consult the page again and again, and meditate on it, at successive seasons, in our serenest and retired hours, having the book always at hand: but what we obtain by conversation and in lectures, is oftentimes lost again as soon as the company breaks up, or at least when the day vanishes, unless we happen to have the talent of a good memory, or quickly retire and note down what remarkables we have found in those discourses. And for the same reason, and for the want of retiring and writing, many and learned man has lost several useful meditations of his own, and could never recall them again.
III. The advantage of verbal instructions by public or private lectures are these:
1. There is something more sprightly, more delightful and entertaining in the living discourse of a wise, learned, and well-qualified teacher, than there is in the silent and sedentary practice of reading. The very turn of voice, the good pronunciation, and the polite and alluring manner which some teachers have attained, will engage the attention, keep the soul fixed, and convey and insinuate into the mind the ideas of things in a more lively and forcible way, than the mere reading of books in the silence and retirement of the closet.
2. A tutor or instructor, when he paraphrases and explains other authors, can mark out the precise point of difficulty or controversy, and unfold it. He can show you which paragraphs are of greatest importance, and which are of less moment. He can teach his hearers what authors, or what parts of an author, are best worth reading on any particular subject, and thus save his disciples much time and pains, by shortening the labours of their closet and private studies. He can show you what were the doctrines of the ancients, in a compendium which perhaps would cost much labour and the perusal of many- books to attain. He can inform you what new doctrines or sentiments are arising in the world before they come to be public ; as well as acquaint you with his own private thoughts, and his own experiments and observations, which never were, and perhaps never will be, published to the world, and yet may be very valuable and useful.
3. A living instructor can convey to our senses those notions with which he would furnish our minds, when he teaches us natural philosophy, or most parts of mathematical learning. He can make the experiments before our eyes. He can describe figures and diagrams, point to the lines and angles, and make out the demonstration in a more intelligible manner by sensible means, which cannot so well be done by mere reading, even though we should have the same figures lying in a book before our eyes. A living teacher, therefore, is a most necessary help in these studies.
I might add also, that even where the subject of discourse is moral, logical, or rhetorical, &c., and which does not directly come under the notice of our senses, a tutor may explain his ideas by such familiar examples, and plain or simple similitudes, as seldom find place in books and writings.
4. When an instructor in his lectures delivers any matter of difficulty, or expresses himself in such a manner as seems obscure, so that you do not take up his ideas clearly or fully, you have opportunity, at least when the lecture is finished, or at other proper seasons, to inquire how such a sentence should be understood, or how such a difficulty may be explained and removed.
If there be permission given to free converse with the tutor, either in the midst of the lecture, or rather at the end of it, concerning any doubts or difficulties that occur to the hearer, this brings it very near to conversation or discourse. .
IV. Conversation is the next method of improvement, and it is attended with the following advantages :
1. When we converse familiarly with a learned friend, we have his own help at hand to explain to as every word and sentiment that seems obscure in his discourse, and to inform us of his whole meaning ; so that we are in much less danger of mistaking his sense: whereas in books, whatsoever is really obscure may also abide always obscure without remedy, since the author is not at hand, that we may inquire his sense.
If we mistake the meaning of our friend in conversation, we are quickly set right again; but in reading, we many times go on in the same mistake, and are not capable of recovering ourselves from it. Thence it comes to pass that we have so many contests in all ages about the meaning of ancient authors, and especially the sacred writers. Happy should we be, could we but converse with Moses, Isaiah, and St. Paul, and consult the prophets and apostles, when we meet with a difficult text! but that glorious conversation is reserved for the ages of future blessedness.
2. When we are discoursing upon any theme with a friend, we may propose our doubts and objections against his sentiments, and have them solved and answered at once. The difficulties that arise in our minds may be removed by one enlightening word of our correspondent; whereas in reading, if a difficulty or question arise in our thoughts, which the author has not happened to mention, we must be content -without a present answer or solution of it. Books cannot speak.
3. Not only the doubts which arise in the mind upon any subject of discourse are easily proposed and solved in conversation, but the very difficulties we meet with in books, and in our private studies, may find a relief by friendly conference. We may pore upon a knotty point in solitary meditation many months without a solution, because perhaps we have gotten into a wrong tract of thought; and nur labour (while we are pursuing u false scent) is not only useless and unsuccessful, but it leads us perhaps into a long train of error for want of being corrected in the first step. But if we note down this difficulty when we read it, we may propose it to an ingenious correspondent when we see him; we may be relieved in a moment, and find the difficulty vanish: he beholds the object perhaps in a different view, sets it before us in quite another light, leads us at once into evidence and truth, and that with a delightful surprise.
4. Conversation calls out into light what has been lodged in all the recesses and secret chambers of the soul; by occasional hints and incidents it brings old useful notions into remembrance; it unfolds and displays the hidden treasures of knowledge with which reading, observation, and study, had before furnished the mind. By mutual discourse, the soul is awakened and allured to bring forth its hoards of knowledge, and it learns how to render them most useful to mankind. A man of vast reading without conversation, is like a miser, who lives only to himself.
5. In free and friendly conversation, our intellectual powers are more animated, and our spirits act with a superior vigour in the quest and pursuit of unknown truths. There is a sharpness and sagacity of thought that attends conversation, beyond what we find whilst we are shut up reading and rousing in our retirements. Our souls may be serene in solitude, but not sparkling, though perhaps we are employed in reading the works of the brightest writers. Often has it happened in free discourse, that new thoughts are strangely struck out, and the seeds of truth sparkle and blaze through the company, which in calm and silent reading would never have been excited. By conversation you will both give and receive this benefit; as flints, when put into motion, and striking against each other, produce living fire on both sides, which would never have arisen from the same hard materials in a state of rest,
6. In generous conversation, amongst ingenious and learned men, we have a great advantage of proposing our private opinions, and of bringing our own sentiments to the test, and learning in a more compendious and safer way what the world will judge of them, how mankind will receive them, what objections may be raised against them, what defects there are in our scheme, and how to correct our own mistakes; which advantages are not so easy to be obtained by our own private meditations: for the pleasure we take in our own notions, and the passion of self-love, as well as the narrowness of our views, tempt us to pass too favourable an opinion on our own schemes ; whereas the variety of genius in our several associates, will give happy notices how our opinions will stand in the view of mankind.
7. It is also another considerable advantage of conversation, that it furnishes the student with the knowledge of men and the affairs of life, as reading furnishes him with book learning. A man who dwells all his days among books, may have amassed together a vast heap of notions; but he may be a mere scholar, which is a contemptible sort of character in the world. A hermit, who has been shut up in his cell in a college, has contracted a sort of mould and rust upon his soul, and all his airs of behaviour have a certain awkwardness in them ; but these awkward airs are worn away by degrees in company: the rust and the mould are filed and brushed off by polite conversation. The scholar now becomes a citizen or a gentleman, a neighbour and a friend; he learns how to dress his sentiments in the fairest colours, as well as to set them in the strongest light. Thus he brings out his notions with honour; he makes some use of them in the world, and improves the theory by the practice.
But before we proceed too far in finishing a bright character by conversation, we should consider that something else is necessary besides an acquaintance with men and books: and therefore I add,
V. Mere lectures, reading, and conversation, without thinking, are not sufficient to make a man of knowledge and wisdom. It is our own thought and reflection, study and meditation, must attend all the other methods of improvement, and perfect them. It carries these advantages with it:
1. Though observation and instruction, reading and conversation, may furnish us with many ideas of men aud things, yet it is our own meditation, and the labour of our own thoughts, that must form our judgment of things. Our own thoughts should join or disjoin these ideas in a proposition for ourselves: it is our own mind that must judge for ourselves concerning the agreement or disagreement of ideas, and form propositions of truth out of them. Reading and conversation may acquaint us with many truths, and with many arguments to support them; but it is our own study and reasoning that must deteimine whether these propositions are true, and whether these arguments are just and solid.
It is confessed there are a thousand things which our eyes have not seen, and which would never come within the reach of our personal aiid immediate knowledge and observation, because of the distance of times and places: these must be known by consulting other persons; and that is done either in their writings or in their discourses. But after all, let this be a fixed point with us, that it is our own reflection and judgment mast determine how far we should receive that which books or men inform us of, and how far they are worthy of our assent and credit.
2. It is meditation and study that transfers and conveys the notions and sentiments of others to ourselves, so as to make them properly our own. It is our own judgment upon them, as well as our memory of them, that makes them become our own property. It does as it were concoct our intellectual food, and tarns it into a part of ourselves: just as a man may call his limbs and his flesh his own, whether he borrowed the materials from the ox or the sheep, from the lark or the lobster: whether he derived it from corn or milk, the fruits of the trees, or the herbs and roots of the earth; it is all now become one substance with himself, and he wields and manages those muscles and limbs for his own proper purposes, which once were the substance of other animals or vegetables; that very substance which last week was grazing in the field or swimming in the sea, waving in the milk-pail, or growing in the garden, is now become part of the man.
3. By study and meditation we improve the hints that we have acquired by observation, conversation, and reading: we take more time in thinking, and by the labour of the mind we penetrate deeper into the themes of knowledge, and carry our thoughts sometimes much farther in many subjects, than we ever met with, either in the books of the dead or discourses of the Living. It is our own reasoning that draws out one truth from another, and forms a whole scheme or science from a few hints which we borrowed elsewhere.
By a survey of these things we may justly conclude, that he who spends all his time in hearing lectures, or poring upon books, without observation, meditation, or converse, will have but a mere historical knowledge of learning, and be able only to tell what others have known or said on the subject: he that lets all his time flow away in conversation, without due observation, reading, or study, will gain but a slight and superficial knowledge, which will be in danger of vanishing with the voice of the speaker: and he that confines himself merely to his closet, and his own narrow observation of things, and it taught only by his own solitary thoughts, without instruction by lectures, reading, or free conversation, will be in danger of a narrow spirit, a vain conceit of himself, and an unreasonable contempt of others; and after all, he will obtain but a very limited and imperfect view and knowledge of things, and he will seldom learn how to make that knowledge useful.
These five methods of improvement should be pursued jointly, and go hand in hand, where our circumstances are so happy as to find opportunity and conveniency to enjoy them all: though I must give my opinion that two of them, viz, reading and meditation, should employ much more of our time than public lectures, or conversation and discourse. As for observation, we may be always acquiring knowledge that way, whether we are alone or in company.
But it will be for our further improvement, if we go over all these five methods of obtaining knowledge more distinctly and more at large, and see what special advances in useful science we may draw from them all.
CHAP. III. Rules relating to Observation.
THOUGH observation, in the strict sense of the word, and as it is distinguished from meditation and study, is the first means of improvement, and in its strictest sense does not include in it any reasonings of the mind upon the things which we observe, or inferences drawn from them; yet the motions of the mind are so exceeding swift, that it is hardly possible for a thinking man to gain experiences or observations without making some secret and short reflections upon them : and therefore, in giving a few directions concerning this method of improvement, I shall not so narrowly confine myself to the first mere impression of objects on the mind by observation; but include also some hints which relate to the first, most easy and obvious reflections or reasoning which arise from them.
I. Let the enlargement of your knowledge be one constant view and design in life; since there is no time or place, no transactions, occurrences, or engagements in life, which exclude us from this method of improving the mind. When we are alone, even in darkuess and silence, we may converse with our own hearts, observe the working of our own spirits, and reflect upon the inward motions of our own passions in some of the latest occurrences in life; we may acquaint ourselves with the powers and properties, the tendencies and inclinations both of body and spirit, and gain a more intimate knowledge of our* aelves. When we are in company, we may discover something more of human nature, of human passions and follies, and of human affairs, vices, and virtues, by conversing with mankind, and observing their conduct. Nor is there any thing more valuable than the knowledge of ourselves, and the knowledge of men, except it be the knowledge of God who made us, and our relation to him as our Governor.
When we are in the house or the city, wheresoever we turn our eyes, we see the works of men; when we are abroad in the country, we behold more of the works of God. The skies and the ground above and beneath us, and the animal and vegetable world round about us, may entertain our observation with ten thousand varieties.
Endeavour therefore to derive some instruction or improvement of the mind from every thing which you see or hear, from every thing which occurs in human life, from every thing within you or without you.
Fetch down some knowledge from the clouds, the stars, the sun, the moon, and the revolutions of all the planets. Dig and draw up some valuable meditations from the depths of the earth, and search them through the vast oceans of water. Extract some intellectual improvements from the minerals and metals ; from the wonders of nature among the vegetables and herbs, trees and flowers. Learn some lessons from the birds and the beasts, and the meanest insect. Heed the wisdom of God, and his admirable contrivance in them all: read his almighty power, His rich and various goodness, in all the works of his hands.
From the day and the night, the hours and the flying minutes, learn a wise improvement of time, and be watchful to seize every opportunity to increase in knowledge.
From the vicissitudes and revolutions of nations and families, and from the various occurrences of the world, learn the instability of mortal affairs, the uncertainty of life, the certainty of death. From a coffin and a funeral, learn to meditate upon your own departure.
From the vices and follies of others, observe what is hateful in them ; consider how such a practice looks in another person, and remember that it looks as ill or worse to yourself. From the virtue of others, learn something worthy of your imitation.
From the deformity, the distress, or calamity of others, derive lessons of thankfulness to God, and hymns of grateful praise to your Creator, Governor, and Benefactor, who has formed you in a better mould, and guarded you from those evils. Learn also the sacred lesson of contentment in your own estate, and compassion to your neighbour under his miseries.
From your natural powers, sensations, judgment, memory, hands, feet, &c. make this inference, that they were not given you for nothing, but for some useful employment to the honour of your Maker, and for the good of your fellow-creatures, as well as for your own best interest and final happiness.
From the sorrows, the pains, the sicknesses, and sufferings that attend you, learn the evil of sin, and the imperfection of your present state. From your own sins and follies, learn the patience of God toward you, and the practice of humility toward God and man.
Thus from every appearance in nature, and from every occurrence of life, you may derive natural, moral, and religious observations, to entertain your minds, as well as rules of conduct in the affairs relating to this life and that which is to come.
II. In order to furnish the mind with a rich variety of ideas, the laudable curiosity of young people should be indulged and gratified, rather than discouraged. It is a very hopeful sign in young persons, to see them curious in observing, and inquisitive in searchiug into the greatest part of things that occur; nor should such an enquiring temper be frowned into silence, nor be rigorously restrained, but should rather be satisfied by proper answers given to all those queries.
For this reason also, where time and fortune allow it, young people should be led into company at proper seasons, should be carried abroad to see the fields, and the woods, and the rivers, the buildings, towns, and cities distant from their own dwelling; they should be entertained with the sight of strange birds, beasts, fishes, insects, vegetables, and productions both of nature and art of every kind, whether they are the products of their own or foreign nations: and in due time, where Providence gives opportunity, they may travel under a wise inspector or tutor to different parts of the world for the same end, that they may bring home treasures of useful knowledge.
III. Among all these observations write down what is most remarkable and uncommon: reserve these remarks in store for proper occasions, and at proper seasons take a review of them. Such a practice will give you a habit of useful thinking; this will secure the workings of your soul from running to waste; and by this means even your looser moments will turn to happy account both here and hereafter.
And whatever useful observations have been made, let them be at least some part of the subject of your conversation among your friends at next meeting.
Let the circumstances or situations in life be what or where they will, a man should never neglect this improvement which may be derived from observation. Let him travel into the East or West Indies, and fulfil the duties of the military or the mercantile life there; let him rove through the earth or the seas, fof his own humour as a traveller, or pursue his diversions in what part of the world he pleases as a gentleman: let prosperous or adverse fortune call him to the most distant parts of the globe; still let him carry on his knowledge aud the improvement of his soul by wise observations. In due time, by this means, he may render himself some way useful to the societies of mankind.
Theobaldino, in his younger years, visited the forests of Norway on the account of trade and timber, and besides his proper observations of the growth of trees on those northern mountains, he learned there was a sort of people called Fins, in those confines which border upon Sweden, whose habitation is in the woods: and he lived afterwards to give a good account of them and some of their customs to the Royal Society for the improvement of natural knowledge. Puteoli was taken captive into Turkey in his youth, and travelled with his master in their holy pilgrimage to Mecca, whereby he became more intelligent in the forms, ceremonies, and fooleries of the Mahometan worship, than perhaps any Briton knew before; and by his manuscripts we are more acquainted in this last century with the Turkish sacred than any one had ever informed us.
IV. Let us keep our minds as free as possible from passions and prejudices; for these will give a wrong turn to our observations both on persons and things. The eyes of a man in the jaundice make yellow observations on every thing; and the soul tinctured with any passion or prejudice, diffuses a false colour over the real appearances of things, and disguises many of the common occurrences of life: it never beholds things in a true light, nor suffers them to appear as they are. Whensoever, therefore, you would make proper observations, let self, with all its influences, stand aside as far as possible: abstract your own interest and your own concern from them, and bid all friendships and enmities stand aloof and keep out of the way, in the observations that you make relating to persons and things.
If this rule were well obeyed, we should be much better guarded against those common pieces of misconduct in the observations of men, viz. the false judgments of pride and envy. How ready is envy to mingle with the notices which we take of other persons ? How often is mankind prone to put an ill sense upon the actions of their neighbours, to take a survey of them in an evil position, and in an unhappy light? And by this means we form a worse opinion of our neighbours than they deserve; while at the same time pride and self-flattery tempt us to make unjust observations on ourselves in our own favour. In all the favourable judgments we pais concerning ourselves, we should allow a little abatement on this account.
V. in making your observations on persons, take care of indulging that busy curiosity which is ever enquiring into private and domestic affairs, with an endless itch of learning the secret history of families. It is but seldom that such a prying curiosity attains any valuable ends ; it often begets suspicions, jealousies, and disturbances in households, and it in a frequent temptation to persona to defame their neighbours: some persons cannot help telling what they know: a busy-body is most liable to become a tattler upon every occasion.
VI. Let your observation, even of persons and their conduct, be chiefly designed in order to lead you to a better acquaintance with things, particularly with human nature; and to inform you what to imitate and what to avoid, rather than to furnish out matter for the evil passions of the mind, or the impertinencies of discourse and reproaches of the tongue.
VII. Though it may be proper sometimes to make your observations concerning persons as well as things, the subject of your discourse in learned or useful conversations, yet what remarks you make oo particular persons, especially to their disadvantage, should for the most part lie hid in your own breast, till some just and apparent occasion, some necessary call of Providence, leads you to speak to them.
If the character or conduct which you observe be greatly culpable, it should so much the less be published. You may treasure up such remarks of the follies, indecencies, or vices of your neighbours, as may be a constant guard againbt your practice of the same, without exposing the reputation of your neighbour on that account. It is a good old rule, that our conversation should rather be laid out on things than on persons; and this rule should generally be observed, unless names be concealed, wheresoever the faults or follies of mankind are our present theme.
Our late Archbishop Tillotson has written a small but excellent discourse on evil speaking, wherein he admirably explains, limits, and applies, that general apostolic precept, Speak evil of no man, Tit. iii. 2.
VIII. Be not too hasty to erect general theories from a few particular observations, appearances, or experiments. This is what the logicians call a false induction. When general observations are drawn from so many particulars as to become certain and indubitable, these are jewels of knowledge, comprehending great treasure in a little room: but they are therefore to be made with the greater care and caution, lest errors become large and diffusive, if we should mistake in these general notions.
A hasty determination of some universal principles, without a due survey of all the particular cases winch may be included in them, is the way to lay a trap for our own understandings, in their pursuit of any subject, and we shall often be taken captives into mistake and falsehood. Niveo in his youth observed, that on three Christmas-days together there fell a good quantity of snow, and now hath writ it down in his almanack, as a part of bis wise remarks on the weather, that it will always snow at Christmas. Euron, a young lad, took notice ten times, that there was a sharp frost when the wind was in the north-east; therefore in the middle of last July he almost expected it should freeze, because the weathercocks shewed him a north-east wind; and he was still more disappointed, when he found it a very sultry season. It is the same hasty judgment that hath thrown scandal on a whole nation for the sake of some culpable characters belonging to several particular natives of that country; whereas all the Frenchmen are not gay and airy; all the Italians are not jealous and revengeful; nor are all the English overrun with the spleen.
CHAP. IV. Of Books and Reading.
I. THE world is full of books; but there are multitudes which are so ill written, they were never worth any man's reading: and there are thousands more which may be good in their kind, yet are worth nothing when the month or year, or occasion is past for which they were written. Others may be valuable in themselves for some special purpose, or in some peculiar science; but are not fit to be perused by any but those who are engaged in that particular science or business. To what use is it for a divine or physician, or a tradesman, to read over the huge volumes of reports of judged cases in the law? or for a lawyer to learn Hebrew, and read the Rabbins? It is of vast advantage for improvement of knowledge, and saving time, for a young man to have the most proper books for his reading recommended by a judicious friend.
II. Books of importance of any kind, and especially complete treatises on any subject, should be first read in a more general and cursory manner, to learn a little what the treatise promises, and what you may expect from the writer's manner and skill. And for this end I would advise always, that the preface be read, and a survey taken of the table of contents, if there be one, before the first survey of the book. By this means you will not only be better fitted to give the book the first reading, but you will be much assisted in your second perusal of it, which should be done with greater attention and deliberation, and you will learn with more ease and readiness what the author pretends to teach. In your reading, mark what is new or unknown to you before, and review those chapters, pages, or paragraphs. Unless a reader has an uncommon and most retentive memory, I may venture to affirm, that there is scarce any book or chapter worth reading once, that is not worthy of a second perusal. At least to take a careful review of all the lines or paragraphs which you marked, and make a recollection of the sections which you thought truly valuable.
There is another reason also why I would choose to take a superficial and cursory survey of a book, before I sit down to read it, and dwell upon it with studious attention; and that is, there may be several difficulties in it which we cannot easily understand and conquer at the first reading, for want of a fuller comprehension of the author's whole scheme. And therefore in such treatises, we should not stay till we master every difficulty at the first perusal ; for perhaps many of these would appear to be solved when we have proceeded further in that book, or would vanish of themselves upon a second reading.
What we cannot reach and penetrate at first, may be noted down as matter of after consideration and enquiry, if the pages that follow do not happen to strike a complete light on those which went before.
III. If three or four persons agree to read the same book, and each bring his own remarks upon it, at some set hours appointed for conversation, and they communicate mutually their sentiments on the subject, and debate about it in a friendly manner, this practice will render the reading any author more abundantly beneficial to every one of them.
IV. If several persons engaged in the same study take into their hands distinct treatises on one subject and appoint a season of communication once a week, they may inform each other in a brief manner concerning the sense, sentiments, and method of those several authors, and thereby promote each other's improvement, either by recommending the perusal of the same book to their companions, or perhaps by satisfying their enquiries concerning it by conversation, without every one's perusing it.
V. Remember that your business in reading or in conversation, especially on subjects of natural, moral, or divine science, is not merely to know the opinion of the author or speaker, for this is but the mere knowledge of history ; but your chief business is to consider whether their opinions are right or no, and to improve your own solid knowledge on that subject by meditation on the themes of their writing or discourse. Deal freely with every author you read, and yield up your assent only to evidence aud just reasoning on the subject.
Here I would be understood to speak only of human authors, and not of the sacred and inspired writings. In these our business is only to find out the true sense, and understand the true meaning of the paragraph and page, and our assent then is bound to follow when we arc before satisfied that the writing is divine. Yet I might add also, that even this is sufficient evidence to demand out assent.
But in the composures of men, remember you are a man as well as they; and it is not their reason but your own that is given to guide you when you arrive at years of discretion, of manly age and judgment.
VI. Let this therefore be your practice, especially after you have gone through one course of any science in your academical studies; if a writer on that subject maintains the same sentiments as you do, yet if he does not explain his ideas or prove the positions well, mark the faults or defects, and endeavour to do it better, either in the margin of your book, or rather in some papers of your own, or at least let it be done in your private meditations. As for instance:
Where the author is obscure, enlighten him; where he is imperfect, supply his deficiencies: where he is too brief and concise, amplify a little, and set his notions in a fairer view : where he is redundant, mark those paragraphs to be retrenched: when he trifles and grows impertinent, abandon those passages or pages: where he argues, observe whether his reasons be conclusive: if the conclusion be true, and yet the argument weak, endeavour to confirm it by better proofs: where he derives or infers any propositions darkly or doubtfully, make the justice of the inference appear, and make further inferences or corollaries, if such occur to your mind: where you suppose he is in a mistake, propose your objections and correct his sentiments: what he writes so well as to approve itself of your judgment, both as just and useful, treasure it up in your memory, and count it a part of your intellectual gains.
Note, Many of these same directions which I have now given, may be practised with regard to conversation, as well as reading, in order to render it useful in the most extensive and lasting manner.
VII. Other things also of the like nature may be usefully practised with regard to the authors which you read, viz. If the method of a book be irregular, reduce it into form by a little analysis of your own, or by hints in the margin: if those things are heaped together, which should be separated, you may wisely distinguish and divide them: if several things relating to the same subject are scattered up and down separately through the treatise, you may bring them all to one view by references ; or if the matter of a book be really valuable and deserving, you may throw it into a better method, reduce it to a more logical scheme, or abridge it into a lesser form: AH these practices will have a tendency both to advance your skill in logic, and method, to improve your judgment in general, and to give you a fuller survey of that subject in particular. When you have finished the treatise with all your observations upon it, recollect and determine what real improvements you have made by reading that author.
VIII. If a book has no index to it, or good table of contents, it is very useful to make one as you are reading it: not with that exactness as to iuclude the sense of every page and paragraph, which should be done if you designed to print it; but it is sufficient in your index to take notice only of those parts of the book which are new to you, or which you think well written, and well worthy of your remembrance or review.
Shall I be so free as to assure my younger friends, from my own experience, that these methods of reading will cost some pains in the first years of your study, and especially in the first authors which you peruse in any science, or on any particular subject: but the profit will richly compensate the pains. And in the following years of life, after you have read a few valuable books on any special subject in this manner, it will be very easy to read others of the same kind, because you will not usually find very much new matter in them which you have not already examined.
If the writer be remarkable for any peculiar excellencies or defects in his style or manner of writing, make just observations upon this also; and whatsoever ornaments you find there, or whatsoever blemishes occur in the language or manner of the writer, you may make just remarks upon them. And remember that one book read over in this manner, with all tins laborious meditation, will tend more to enrich your understanding, than the skimming over the surface of twenty authors.
IX. By perusing books in the manner I have described, you will make all your reading subservient not only to the enlargement of your treasures ot knowledge, but also to the improvement of your reasoning powers.
There are many who read with constancy and diligence, and yet make no advances in true knowledge by it. They are delighted with the notions which they read or hear, as they would be with stories that are told ; but they do not weigh them in their minds as in a just balance, in order to determine their truth or falsehood; they make no observations upon them, or inferences from them. Perhaps their eye slides over the pages, or the words slide over their ears, and vanish like a rhapsody of evening tales, or the shadows of a cloud flying over a green field in a summer's day.
Or if they review them sufficiently to fix them in their remembrance, it is merely with a design to tell the tale over again, and shew what men of learning they are. Thus they dream out their days in a course of reading, without real advantage. As a man may be eating all day, and for want of digestion is never nourished ; so these endless readers may cram themselves in vain with intellectual food, and without real improvement of their minds, for want of digesting it by proper reflections.
5. Be diligent therefore in observing these directions. Enter into the sense and arguments of the authors you read; examine all their proofs, and then judge of the truth or falsehood of their opinions; and thereby you shall not only gain a rich increase of your understanding, by those truths which the author teaches, when you see them well supported, but you shall acquire also by degrees a habit of judging justly, and of reasoning well, an imitation of the good writer whose works you peruse.
This is laborious indeed, and the mind is backward to undergo the fatigue of weighing every argument, and tracing every thing to its original. It is much less labour to take all things upon trust; believing is much easier than arguing. But when Studentio had once persuaded his mind to tie itself down to the method I have prescribed, he sensibly gained an admirable facility to read, and judge of what he read by his daily practice of it, and the man made large advances in the pursuit of truth;