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THE ROUND MAN IN THE ROUND HOLE.
THE RIGHT MAN IN THE RIGHT PLACE.
Ir is a very wise rule in the conduct of the understanding, to acquire early a correct notion of your own peculiar constitution of mind, and to become well acquainted, as a physician would say, with your idiosyncrasy. Are you an acute man, and see sharply for small distances? or are you a comprehensive man, and able to take in wide and extensive views into your mind? Does your mind turn its ideas into wit? or are you apt to take a commonsense view of the objects presented to you? Have you an exuberant imagination, or a correct judgment? Are you quick, or slow? accurate, or hasty? a great reader, or a great thinker? It is a prodigious point gained if any man can find out where his powers lie, and what are his deficiencies- if he can contrive to ascertain what Nature intended him for: and such are the changes and chances of the world, and so difficult is it to ascertain our own understandings, or those of others, that most things are done by persons who could have done something else better. If you choose to represent the various parts in life by holes upon a table, of different shapes—some circular, some triangular, some square, some oblong-and the persons acting these parts by bits of wood of similar shapes, we shall generally find that the triangular person has got into the square hole, the oblong into the triangular, and a square person has squeezed himself into the round hole. The officer and the office, the doer and the thing done, seldom fit so exactly, that we can say they were almost made for each other.
REWARDS OF KNOWLEDGE.
BUT while I am descanting so minutely upon the conduct of the understanding, and the best modes of acquiring knowledge, some men may be disposed to ask, "Why conduct my understanding with such endless care? and what is the use of so much knowledge?" What is the use of so much knowledge?-what is the use of so much life?-what are we to do with the seventy years of existence allotted to us?-and how are we to live them out to the last? I solemnly declare that, but for the love of knowledge, I should consider the life of the meanest hedger and ditcher, as preferable to that of the greatest and richest man here
present for the fire of our minds is like the fire which the Persians burn in the mountains-it flames night and day, and is immortal, and not to be quenched! Upon something it must act and feed— upon the pure spirit of knowledge, or upon the foul dregs of polluting passions. Therefore, when I say, in conducting your understanding, love knowledge with a great love, with a vehement love, with a love coeval with life, what do I say, but love innocencelove virtue-love purity of conduct-love that which, if you are rich and great, will sanctify the blind fortune which has made you so, and make men call it justice-love that which, if you are poor, will render your poverty respectable, and make the proudest feel it unjust to laugh at the meanness of your fortunes—love that which will comfort you, adorn you, and never quit you-which will open to you the kingdom of thought, and all the boundless regions of conception, as an asylum against the cruelty, the injustice, and the pain, that may be your lot in the outer world— that which will make your motives habitually great and honourable, and light up in an instant a thousand noble disdains at the very thought of meanness and of fraud! Therefore, if any young man here have embarked his life in pursuit of Knowledge, let him go on without doubting or fearing the event;-let him not be intimidated by the cheerless beginnings of knowledge, by the darkness from which she springs, by the difficulties which hover around her, by the wretched habitations in which she dwells, by the want and sorrow which sometimes journey in her train; but let him ever follow her as the Angel that guards him, and as the Genius of his life. She will bring him out at last into the light of day, and exhibit him to the world comprehensive in acquirements, fertile in resources, rich in imagination, strong in reasoning, prudent and powerful above his fellows, in all the relations and in all the offices of life.
ONE of the best methods of rendering study agreeable is to live with able men, and to suffer all those pangs of inferiority, which the want of knowledge always inflicts. Nothing short of some
This passage and the following, are from the second Lecture on the Conduct of the Understanding.
such powerful motive, can drive a young person in the full possession of health and bodily activity, to such an unnatural and such an unobvious mode of passing his life as study. But this is the way that intellectual greatness often begins. The trophies of Miltiades drive away sleep. A young man sees the honour in which knowledge is held by his fellow-creatures; and he surrenders every present gratification, that he may gain them. The honour in which living genius is held, the trophies by which it is adorned after life, it receives and enjoys from the feelings of men-not from their sense of duty: but men never obey this feeling without discharging the first of all duties, without securing the rise and growth of genius, and increasing the dignity of our nature, by enlarging the dominion of mind. No eminent man was ever yet rewarded in vain; no breath of praise was ever idly lavished upon him; it has never yet been idle and foolish to rear up splendid monuments to his name: the rumour of these things impels young minds to the noblest exertions, creates in them an empire over present passions, inures them to the severest toils, determines them to live only for the use of others, and to leave a great and lasting memorial behind them.
BESIDE the shame of inferiority, and the love of reputation, curiosity is a passion very favourable to the love of study and a passion very susceptible of increase by cultivation. Sound travels so many feet in a second; and light travels so many feet in a second. Nothing more probable: but you do not care how light and sound travel. Very likely: but make yourself care; get up, shake yourself well, pretend to care, make believe to care, and very soon you will care, and care so much, that you will sit for hours thinking about light and sound, and be extremely angry with any one who interrupts you in your pursuits; and tolerate no other conversation but about light and sound; and catch yourself plaguing everybody to death who approaches you, with the discussion of these subjects. I am sure that a man ought to read as he would grasp a nettle: do it lightly, and you get molested; grasp it with all your strength, and you feel none of its asperities. There is nothing so horrible as languid study; when you sit look
THE STUDENT LIFE.
209 ing at the clock, wishing the time was over, or that somebody would call on you and put you out of your misery. The only way to read with any efficacy, is to read so heartily, that dinnertimes comes two hours before you expected it. To sit with your Livy before you, and hear the geese cackling that saved the capitol; and to see with your own eyes the Carthaginian sutlers gathering up the rings of the Roman knights after the battle of Cannæ, and heaping them into bushels; and to be so intimately present at the actions you are reading of, that when anybody knocks at the door, it will take you two or three seconds to determine whether you are in your own study, or in the plains of Lombardy, looking at Hannibal's weather-beaten face, and admiring the splendour of his single eye; this is the only kind of study which is not tiresome; and almost the only kind which is not useless: this is the knowledge which gets into the system, and which a man carries about and uses like his limbs, without perceiving that is it extraneous, weighty, or inconvenient.
HABITS OF STUDY.
To study successfully, the body must be healthy, the mind at ease, and time managed with great economy. Persons who study many hours in the day, should perhaps, have two separate pursuits going on at the same time—one for one part of the day, and the other for the other; and these of as opposite a nature as possible,
-as Euclid and Ariosto; Locke and Homer; Hartley on Man, and Voyages round the Globe; that the mind may be refreshed by change, and all the bad effects of lassitude avoided. There is one piece of advice, in a life of study, which I think no one will object to; and that is, every now and then to be completely idle-to do nothing at all: indeed, this part of a life of study is commonly considered as so decidedly superior to the rest, that it has almost obtained an exclusive preference over those other parts of the system, with which I wish to see it connected.
It has been often asked whether a man should study at stated intervals, or as the fit seizes him, and as he finds himself disposed to study. To this I answer, that where a man can trust himself, rules are superfluous. If his inclinations lead him to a fair share of exertion, he had much better trust to his inclinations alone;
where they do not, they must be controlled by rules. It is just the same with sleep; and with everything else. Sleep as much as you please, if your inclination lead you only to sleep as much as is convenient; if not, make rules. The system in everything ought to be-do as you please-so long as you please to do what is right. Upon these principles, every man must see how far he may trust to his inclinations, before he takes away their natural liberty. I confess, however, it has never fallen to my lot to see many persons who could be trusted; and the method, I believe, in which most great men have gone to work, is by regular and systematic industry.
A little hard thinking will supply the place of a great deal of reading; and an hour or two spent in this manner sometimes lead you to conclusions which it would require a volume to establish. The mind advances in its train of thought, as a restiff colt proceeds on the road in which you wish to guide him; he is always running to one side or the other, and deviating from the proper path, to which it is your affair to bring him back. I have asked several men what passes in their minds when they are thinking; and I never could find any man who could think for two minutes together. Everybody has seemed to admit that it was a perpetual deviation from a particular path, and a perpetual return to it; which, imperfect as the operation is, is the only method in which we can operate with our minds to carry on any process of thought. It takes some time to throw the mind into an attitude of thought, or into any attitude; though the power of doing this, and, in general, of thinking, is amazingly increased by habit. We acquire, at length, a greater command over our associations, and are better enabled to pursue one object, unmoved by all the other thoughts which cross it in every direction.
One of the best modes of improving in the art of thinking, is, to think over some subject, before you read upon it; and then to observe after what manner it has occurred to the mind of some great master. You will then observe whether you have been too rash or too timid; what you have omitted, and in what you have exceeded; and by this process you will insensibly catch a great manner of viewing a question. It is right in study, not only to think when any extraordinary incident provokes you to think, but from time to time to review what has passed; to dwell upon it, and to