see what trains of thought voluntarily present themselves to your mind. It is a most superior habit of some minds, to refer all the particular truths which strike them, to other truths more general: so that their knowledge is beautifully methodized: and the general truth at any time suggests all the particular exemplifications; or any particular exemplification, at once leads to the general truth. This kind of understanding has an immense and decided superiority over those confused heads in which one fact is piled upon another, without the least attempt at classification and arrangement. Some men always read with a pen in their hand, and commit to paper any new thought which strikes them; others trust to chance for its reappearance. Which of these is the best method in the conduct of the understanding, must, I should suppose, depend a great deal upon the particular understanding in question. Some men can do nothing without preparation; others, little with it: some are fountains, some reservoirs. My very humble and limited experience goes to convince me, that it is a very useless practice; that men seldom read again what they have committed to paper, nor remember what they have so committed one iota the better for their additional trouble: on the contrary, I believe it has a direct tendency to destroy the promptitude and tenacity of memory, by diminishing the vigour of present attention, and seducing the mind to depend upon future reference: at least, such is the effect I have uniformly found it to produce upon myself; and the same remark has been frequently made to me by other persons, of their own habits of study. I am by no means contending against the utility and expediency of writing; on the contrary, I am convinced there can be no very great accuracy of mind without it. I am only animadverting upon that exaggerated use of it, which disunites the mind from the body: renders the understanding no longer portable, but leaves a man's wit and talents neatly written out in his commonplace book, and safely locked up in the bottom drawer of his bureau. This is the abuse of writing. The use of it, I presume, is, to give perspicuity and accuracy; to fix a habitation for, and to confer a name upon, our ideas, so that they may be considered and reconsidered themselves, and in their arrangement. Every man is extremely liable to be deceived in his reflections, till he has habituated himself to putting his thoughts upon paper, and perceived, from such a process, how often propositions that ap



peared, before such development, to be almost demonstrable, have vanished into nonsense when a clearer light has been thrown upon them. I should presume, also, that much writing must teach a good order and method in the disposition of our reasonings; because the connection of any one part with the whole, will be made so much more evident than it can be before it is put into visible signs. Writing, also, must teach a much more accurate use of language. In conversation, any language almost will do; that is, great indulgence is extended to the language of talkers, because a talker is at hand to explain himself, and his looks and gestures are a sort of comment upon his words, and help to interpret them: but as a writer has no such auxiliary language to communicate his ideas, and no power of re-explaining them when once clothed in language, he has nothing to depend upon but a steady and careful use of




THE advantage conversation has over all the other modes of improving the mind, is, that it is more natural and more interesting. A book has no eyes, and ears, and feelings; the best are apt every now and then to become a little languid; whereas, a living book walks about, and varies his conversation and manner, and prevents you from going to sleep. There is certainly a great evil in this, as well as a good; for the interest between a man and his living folio. becomes sometimes a little too keen, and in the competition for victory they become a little too animated toward, and sometimes exasperated against, each other; whereas, a man and his book generally keep the peace with tolerable success; and if they disagree, the man shuts his book, and tosses it into a corner of the room, which it might not be quite so safe or easy to do with a living folio. It is an inconvenience in a book, that you can not ask questions; there is no explanation; and a man is less guarded in conversation than in a book, and tells you with more honesty the little niceties and exceptions of his opinions; whereas, in a book, as his opinions are canvassed where they cannot be explained and defended, he often overstates a point for fear of being misunderstood; but then, on the contrary, almost every man talks a great deal better in his books, with more sense, more information,

[ocr errors]



and more reflection than he can possibly do in his conversation, because he has more time.


Ir is a great thing toward making right judgments, if a man know what allowance to make for himself; and what discount should habitually be given to his opinions, according as he is old or young, French or English, clergyman or layman, rich or poor, torpid or fiery, healthy or ill, sorrowful or gay. All these various circumstances are perpetually communicating to the objects about them a colour which is not their true colour! whereas wisdom is of no age, nation, profession, or temperament; and is neither sorrowful nor sad. A man must have some particular qualities, and be affected by some particular circumstances; but the object is, to discover what they are, and habitually to allow for them.


THERE is one circumstance I would preach up, morning, noon, and night, to young persons for the management of their understanding. Whatever you are from nature, keep to it; never desert your own line of talent. If Providence only intended you to write posies for rings, or mottoes for twelfth-cakes, keep to posies and mottoes; a good motto for a twelfth-cake is more respectable than a villanous epic poem in twelve books. Be what nature intended you for, and you will succeed; be anything else, and you will be ten thousand times worse than nothing.


IF black and white men live together, the consequence is, that, unless great care be taken, they quarrel and fight. There is nearly as strong a disposition in men of opposite minds to despise each other. A grave man cannot conceive what is the use of wit in society; a person who takes a strong common-sense view of a subject, is for pushing out by the head and shoulders an ingenious theorist, who catches at the lightest and faintest analogies; and another man, who scents the ridiculous from afar, will hold no



commerce with him who tastes exquisitely the fine feelings of the heart, and is alive to nothing else; whereas talent is talent, and mind is mind, in all its branches! Wit gives to life one of its best flavours; common sense leads to immediate action, and gives society its daily motion; large and comprehensive views, its annual rotation; ridicule chastises folly and impudence, and keeps men in their proper sphere; subtlety seizes hold of the fine threads of truth; analogy darts away to the most sublime discoveries; feeling paints all the exquisite passions of man's soul, and rewards him by a thousand inward visitations for the sorrows that come from without. God made it all! It is all good! We must despise no sort of talent; they all have their separate duties and uses; all, the happiness of man for their object; they all improve, exalt, and gladden life.


CAUTION, though it must be considered as something very different from talent, is no mean aid to every species of talent. As some men are so skilful in economy, that they will do as much with a hundred pounds as another will do with two, so there are a species of men, who have a wonderful management of their understandings, and will make as great a show, and enjoy as much consideration, with a certain quantity of understanding, as others will do with the double of their portion; and this by watching times and persons; by taking strong positions, and never fighting but from the vantage ground, and with great disparity of numbers; in short, by risking nothing, and by a perpetual and systematic attention to the security of reputation. Such rigid economy-by laying out every shilling at compound interest-very often accumulates a large stock of fame, where the original capital has been very inconsiderable; and, of course, may command any degree of opulence, where it sets out from great beginnings, and is united with real genius. For the want of this caution, there is an habitual levity sometimes fixes itself upon the minds of able men, and a certain manner of viewing and discussing all questions in a frivolous mocking manner, as if they had looked through all human knowledge, and found in it nothing but what they could easily master, and were entitled to despise. Of all mistakes the greatest, to



live and to think life of no consequence; to fritter away the powers of the understanding, merely to make others believe that you possess them in a more eminent degree; and gradually to diminish your interest in human affairs, from an affected air of superiority, to which neither yourself nor any human being can possibly be entitled. It is a beautiful mark of a healthy and right understanding, when a man is serious and attentive to all great questions; when you observe him, with modesty and attention, adding gradually to his conviction and knowledge on such topics; not repulsed by his own previous mistakes, not disgusted by the mistakes of others, but in spite of violence and error, believing that there is, somewhere or other, moderation and truth-and that to seek that truth with diligence, with seriousness, and with constancy, is one of the highest and best objects for which a man can live.

Some men get early disgusted with the task of improvement, and the cultivation of the mind, from some excesses which they have committed, and mistakes into which they have been betrayed, at the beginning of life. They abuse the whole art of navigation, because they have stuck upon a shoal; whereas, the business is, to refit, careen, and set out a second time. The navigation is very difficult; few of us get through it at first, without some rubs and lossos-which the world are always ready enough to forgive, where they are honestly confessed, and diligently repaired. It would, indeed, be a piteous case, if a young man were pinioned down through life to the first nonsense he happens to write or talk; and the world are, to do them justice, sufficiently ready to release them from such obligation; but what they do not forgive is, that juvenile enthusiasm and error, which ends in mature profligacy; which begins with mistaking what is right, and ends with denying that there is any right at all: which leaps from partial confidence to universal skepticism; which says, "There is no such thing as true religion and rational liberty, because I have been a furious zealot, or a seditious demagogue." Such men should be taught that wickedness is never an atonement for mistake; and they should be held out as a lesson to the young, that unless they are contented to form their opinions modestly, they will too often be induced to abandon them entirely.

There is something extremely fascinating in quickness; and most men are desirous of appearing quick. The great rule for be

« ElőzőTovább »