« ElőzőTovább »
wonder of this age, the telegraph. Need I name agriculture, which has become a practical science instead of an empirical art. There are other subjects, too, the mastering of which implies the acquisition of a large amount of useful knowledge. From these you are to make your choice; you will be guided in your selection by the tests I have laid down, and by the natural aptitude of your faculties to grapple with one subject rather than another, for the Almighty has constituted our faculties as diverse as the subjects on which they are employed. I do not undervalue knowledge of any kind. There is no knowledge, as Edmund Burke says, which is not valuable. I would only add, that though valuable, it may not always be available. But how are we to learn these things, you will
say ; our time is short, our duties many, our employments engrossing. Were a ploughboy to say to me, I cannot let my master's plough and horses stand idle while I am working out a sum under the hedge; I should reply to him, To do so would be to violate your duty, and the discharge of duty has the first claim upon you. But let us consider this matter a little, and the present illustration will do as well as any other. It is a great error to imagine that you can work out a subject only when you have it before you in the shape of books and papers. You can often more clearly realize it, bring it bodily before you,
while you are walking in the fields, or journeying along the road, or going to market, or driving the plough. There is no need that you should“ whistle at the plough for want of thought.” It is told of Brindley, the celebrated engineer who constructed the Duke of Bridgewater's canal, that when perplexed with some engineering problem of peculiar difficulty, he used to betake himself to his bed, and in the silence and solitude of his chamber, work out the solution. While engaged in your work, if it be merely mechanical, requiring no continued exercise of foresight or skill, you can turn a subject of thought over in your mind; you may start difficulties which can only be set at rest by going back for fresh food for thought to the book you had been reading. When, the other evening, you were gazing at that magnificent spectacle, the eclipse of the moon, predicted years ago as certain to occur at the precise moment of time it actually did commence—and this, by the way, is an unerring test, a rigid proof, which the meanest
understanding can comprehend, and which the most prejudiced must admit, of the reality of our knowledge, of the solidity of the foundation on which all scientific truth is based-I say, when you were examining this phenomenon, you observed how confused and dim every outline appeared, until you brought your glass to the exact focus. So it is with external things, and with subjects of internal contemplation. They are all clear in themselves, if we could only bring the mind to the precise focus for their examination.
And, while on this point, I may as well give you a caution or two. Many persons, especially those who are called quick readers, have a notion that when they get through a book, as they do through an article in the newspaper, they have mastered the contents of what they have been reading. They have fallen far short of anything of the kind. To read a book so as to expect to acquire any knowledge of it, if the book be worth reading, you must deal with it as a lawyer does with a brief. You must pencil-mark the important passages, underscore the points which the author makes, interline his arguments, and bracket his propositions. Then, read the book over again, and make an abstract of it; a little practice will give you facility; you will be surprised, in the first place, at the clearness, firmness, and precision of your knowledge of the book; and, in the next place, you will be astonished at the smallness of the compass within which the essence of a volume of considerable size may be condensed. The process reminds one of those preserved meats in air-tight canisters, which concentrate all the nutritious properties of the flesh and bones into a small compass. When you try this experiment, you will be surprised to find how much, even of the best books, is made up of what the masons call rubble stuff, with matter which is either superfluous, irrelevant, or twaddle; so true is the remark of the critic, “ Aliquando bonus dormitat Homerus.” But this you will say would take a great deal of time, would cost a world of trouble, and be a very irksome process besides. And how could we afford to spend so much time and trouble on one book, while new ones shower down upon us thick as leaves in autumn. Just so, and hence the truth of the old saying—Beware of the man of one book. The multiplicity of your reading so dilutes your attention, that it retains no flavour of any.
Now, before I conclude, I would earnestly desire once more to impress this great truth on your minds—and it cannot be too deeply cut into them—that your power of learning does not depend so much upon what is called talent and cleverness, as on the ability to bring the whole light of the mind to a point, and to keep it there. But this has been overlooked; talent and ability have been praised, as if they were the great instruments of success, while power of concentration, a great and rare gift, has been undervalued as plodding. How often do we hear, “Oh! he is a very clever lad, he sees things at a glance; I should not be surprised if, one day or other, he became Lord Chancellor.” Of another we hear, “ Oh! he is a man of great genius, of wonderful talent, but he has never applied himself to anything;" as if his great talents were an excuse for his idleness, and not the very contrary, if there be any truth in the parable of the talents. Such men are lights that shine, but they reflect no heat; and they are often admired by silly persons and flatterers—for flatterers stick to such men like barnacles to a ship lying idle, and growing foul in harbour. But, as I was proceeding to say, the great instrument of intellectual success is power of concentration, and this concentration is produced by the will excited to action by the emotions. How mysterious is the action of the memory ! Do we not, all of us, remember fragments of trifling conversations, of our going once upon a time to a particular place, and of our meeting certain people? Have we not, all of us, a recollection of matters so insignificant as the flowering of a particular shrub, the tolling of a bell, the cawing of a rook, of being at school on a particular day, or of crossing the river in a boat, all of them things occurring in remote childhood, and engraved on the memory in characters of ineffaceable distinctness, while other events of great importance and moment, nay, whole subjects of study are clean gone and utterly forgotten. These are the mysteries of memory. Who ever forgets occasions of great grief or excessive joy? Let it be an encouragement to you who are not geniuses, to you who have not talents to boast of, that learning a thing, that understanding a subject, is not so much a matter of refined intellect as of unflinching perseverance and intensified attention. When some persons one day were extravagantly admiring—if it could be extravagantly admired—the transcendant genius of Sir Isaac
Newton, and his wonderful powers of discovery, he is reported to have replied that the power of patient thinking was the only faculty in which he was conscious of being superior to other men. Patient thinking-what a volume is contained in these words! You are not to imagine that the men who have enriched the world with their discoveries, went into their libraries or studies once upon a time, and having shut their doors, sat down and said to themselves--we will now set about making discoveries, as a man might say, I will sit down and write a letter. No! discoveries are not made in that way, but rather in this. A stray hint or two is given on a subject, in which the mind takes a great interest. It may be dropped in accidental conversation, or a remark made in a book puts the mind in action, not in the study, but in the counting-house, or the open field, or possibly behind the loom. Another hint to these is added, the clue followed up leads to nothing; on doubling back it fastens on another. In this it is more successful; it leads to something not known before, but there it stops. The thing appears hopeless, and is dropped. But after awhile the mind involuntarily reverts to the inquiry, it broods in silence, it exemplifies the patient thinking of Newton, it tries some other clue, again is baffled, at last, it may be, some happy thought flashes across it as lightning from the cloud; the clue is seized, the curtain draws up, and the whole discovery stands revealed like a panorama, in all the freshness and brightness of unclouded truth then first made known to man. I would only add that these discoveries are published to the world in a very different order from that in which they are made. The chain which connects the new discovery with long-established truths is generally the last part of the work that is constructed. What I have said will explain to you how prizes, certificates, and such-like inducements actually enlarge the capacity for acquiring knowledge; the understanding computes the value of the inducement, and this calculation excites the emotions, and thus intensifies the power of attention. The hope of reward is one of the very strongest and most influential of the principles of human nature. For one man who is deterred by the fear of punishment, a thousand are stimulated by the hope of reward. Look at the comparative influence of these two principles on our criminal population. And this by the way suggests an over
whelming argument in favour of industrial education, I mean that education which includes the training of the head, the heart, and the hand, and no education for the poor deserves the name which does not embrace all three. This is the three-plied cord which binds into one strong compacted beam, those elements of man's nature which, separately taken, are frail and brittle. Look at the great moral changes which are now being effected in our juvenile criminals, by the reformatories that are doing so much good over all the country at this present time. How can any man with these patent established facts before him, stand up and deny the great use, , the overwhelming need there is for industrial instruction. Now, here are youths, born in sin, pilferers from their cradle, thieves from their childhood, criminals on principle, who imbibed with their mother's milk the maxims of crime and the precepts of evil doing; who never heard aught of anything holy but in a curse or an oath, nor of anything sacred but in a sneer, nor of any social duty but in a scoff, nor of goodness but to be gainsaid, nor of benevolence but to be banned; here, I say, are young criminals caught like the young of wild animals, those pariahs of civilization, outcasts of society, and then trained, regenerated, and disenthralled. Surely the Eastern tale, how the fountain of youth transformed the decrepitude of age and the wrinkles of the old into the vigour, strength, and beauty of the young, was not so strange as the moral renovation which is now taking place in those reformatories. But I much fear the greater the good they do, the more criminals they reform, the more felons they set up in life, the more likely is it that this great philanthropic movement will be brought to a stand-still; because, when once it becomes generally known that the old proverb, “ Honesty is the best policy,” no longer holds good, but is superseded by this other, “ Thieving is the best policy,” when you systematically reward and cherish the evil doer, while you treat with cold neglect the poor but honest child, when you nationally realize the sneer of the satirist, virtus laudatur et alget, praise virtue and let her starve; when the paupers of our crowded lanes and festering alleys shall hear how that good-for-nothing boy Tom Styles, who was tried at the Sessions, and found guilty, was sent to a reformatory, where he learned a trade, and is now a magnate in Australia, the owner of flocks and