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THE BEST COMPANY.
Gibbon was in his study every morning, winter and summer, at six o'clock; Mr. Burke was the most laborious and indefatigable of human beings; Leibnitz was never out of his library; Pascal killed himself by study; Cicero narrowly escaped death by the same cause; Milton was at his books with as much regularity merchant or an attorney-he had mastered all the knowledge of his time; so had Homer. Raffaelle lived but thirty-seven years; and in that short space carried the art so far beyond what it had before reached, that he appears to stand alone as a model to his successors. There are instances to the contrary; but, generally speaking, the life of all truly great men has been a life of intense and incessant labour. They have commonly passed the first half of life in the gross darkness of indigent humility-overlooked, mistaken, contemned, by weaker men-thinking while others slept, reading while others rioted, feeling something within them that told them they should not always be kept down among the dregs of the world; and then, when their time was come, and some little accident has given them their first occasion, they have burst out into the light and glory of public life, rich with the spoils of time, and mighty in all the labours and struggles of the mind. Then do the multitude cry out "a miracle of genius!" Yes, he is a miracle of genius, because he is a miracle of labour; because, instead of trusting to the resources of his own single mind, he has ransacked a thousand minds; because he makes use of the accumulated wisdom of ages, and takes as his point of departure the very last line and boundary to which science has advanced; because it has ever been the object of his life to assist every intellectual gift of nature, however munificent, and however splendid, with every resource that art could suggest, and every attention diligence could bestow.
AFFECTATIONS OF KNOWLEDGE.
If we are to read, it is a very important rule in the conduct of the understanding, that we should accustom the mind to keep the best company, by introducing it only to the best books. But there is a sort of vanity some men have, of talking of, and reading, obscure half-forgotten authors, because it passes as a matter of course, that he who quotes authors which are so little read, must be completely and thoroughly acquainted with those
authors which are in every man's mouth. For instance, it is very common to quote Shakespeare; but it makes a sort of stare to quote Massinger. I have very little credit for being well acquainted with Virgil; but if I quote Silius Italicus, I may stand some chance of being reckoned a great scholar. In short, whoever wishes to strike out of the great road, and to make a short cut to fame, let him neglect Homer, and Virgil, and Horace, and Ariosto, and Milton, and, instead of these, read and talk of Fracastorius, Sannazarius, Lorenzini, Pastorini, and the thirty-six primary sonneteers of Bettinelli; let him neglect everything which the suffrage of ages has made venerable and grand, and dig out of their graves a set of decayed scribblers, whom the silent verdict of the public has fairly condemned to everlasting oblivion. If he complain of the injustice with which they have been treated, and call for a new trial with loud and importunate clamour, though I am afraid he will not make much progress in the estimation of men of sense, he will be sure to make some noise in the crowd, and to be dubbed a man of very curious and extraordinary erudition.
Then there is another piece of foppery which is to be cautiously guarded against-the foppery of universality-of knowing all sciences and excelling in all arts-chemistry, mathematics, algebra, dancing, history, reasoning, riding, fencing, Low Dutch, High Dutch, natural philosophy, and enough Spanish to talk about Lope de Vega: in short, the modern precept of education very often is, "Take the Admirable Crichton for your model; I would have you ignorant of nothing!" Now my advice, on the contrary, is, to have the courage to be ignorant of a great number of things, in order to avoid the calamity of being ignorant of everything. I would exact of a young man a pledge that he would never read Lope de Vega; he should pawn to me his honour to abstain from Bettinelli, and his thirty-five original sonneteers; and I would exact from him the most rigid securities that I was never to hear anything about that race of penny poets who lived in the reigns of Cosmo and Lorenzo di Medici.
I know a gentleman of the law who has a thorough knowledge of fortifications, and whose acquaintance with bastions, and counterscarps, and parallels, is perfectly astonishing. How impossible it is for any man not professionally engaged in such pursuits to evince a thorough acquaintance with them, without lowering him
self in the estimation of every man of understanding who hears him! How thoroughly aware must all such men be, that the time dedicated to such idle knowledge has been lost to the perfection of those mental habits, any one of which is better than the most enormous load of ill-arranged facts! . . . . .
We do not want readers, for the number of readers seems to be very much upon the increase, and mere readers are very often the most idle of human beings. There is a sort of feeling of getting through a book-of getting enough out of it, perhaps, for the purpose of conversation—which is the great cause of this imperfect reading, and the forgetfulness which is the consequence of it: whereas the ambition of a man of parts should be, not to know books, but things; not to show other men that he has read Locke, and Montesquieu, and Beccaria, and Dumont, but to show them that he knows the subjects on which Locke and Beccaria and Dumont have written. It is no more necessary that a man should remember the different dinners and suppers which have made him healthy, than the different books which have made him wise. Let us see the result of good food in a strong body, and the result of great reading in a full and powerful mind.
ATTACHMENT TO TRUTH.
A SINCERE attachment to truth, moral and scientific, is a habit which cures a thousand little infirmities of mind, and is as honourable to a man who possesses it, in point of character, as it is profitable in point of improvement. There is nothing more beautiful in science than to hear any man candidly owning his ignorance. It is so little the habit of men who cultivate knowledge to do sothey so often have recourse to subterfuge, nonsense, or hypothesis, rather than to a plain, manly declaration, either that they themselves do not understand the subject, or that the subject is not understoodthat it is really quite refreshing to witness such instances of philosophical candour, and it creates an immediate prepossession in favour of the person in whom it is observed.
ABUSE OF WORDS.
NEXT to this we have the abuse of words, and the fallacy of associations; compared with which all other modes of misconducting
the understanding are insignificant and trivial. What do you mean by what you say? Are you prepared to give a clear account of words which you use so positively, and by the help of which you form opinions that you seem resolved to maintain at all hazards? Perhaps I should astonish many persons by putting to them such sort of questions:— Do you know what is meant by the word nature? Have you definite notions of justice? How do you explain the word chance? What is virtue? Men are every day framing the rashest propositions on such sort of subjects, and prepared to kill and to die in their defence. They never, for a single instant, doubt of the meaning of that, which was embarrassing to Locke, and in which Leibnitz and Descartes were never able to agree. Ten thousand people have been burned before now, or hanged, for one proposition. The proposition had no meaning. Looked into and examined in these days, it is absolute nonsense. A man quits his country in disgust at some supposed violation of its liberties, sells his estates, and settles in America. Twenty years afterward, it occurs to him, that he had never reflected upon the meaning of the word; that he has packed up his goods and changed his country for a sound.
Fortitude, justice, and candour, are very necessary instruments of happiness; but they require time and exertion. The instruments I am now proposing to you you must not despise—grammar, definition, and interpretation-instruments which overturn the horrible tyranny of adjectives and substantives, and free the mind from the chains of that logocracy in which it is so frequently enslaved. Now have the goodness to observe what I mean. If you choose to quarrel with your eldest son, do it; if you are determined to be disgusted with the world, and to go and live in Westmoreland, do so; if you are resolved to quit your country, and settle in America, go!-only, when you have settled the reasons upon which you take one or the other of these steps, have the goodness to examine whether the words in which those reasons are contained have really any distinct meaning; and if you find they have not, embrace your first-born, forget America, unloose your packages, and remain where you are!
There are men
who suffer certain barren generalities to get the better of their understandings, by which they try all their opinions, and make them their perpetual standards of right and wrong: as
do is very
thus-Let us beware of novelty; The excesses of the people are always to be feared: or these contrary maxims-that there is a natural tendency in all governments to encroach upon the liberties of the people; or that everything modern is probably an improvement of antiquity. Now what can the use be of sawing about a set of maxims to which there are a complete set of antagonist maxims? For of what use is it to tell me that governors have a tendency to encroach upon the liberties of the people? and is that a reason why you should throw yourself systematically in opposition to the government? What you say is very true; what you foolish. For is there not another maxim quite as true, that the excesses of the people are to be guarded against? and does not one evil à priori require your attention as well as another? The business is, to determine, at any one particular period of affairs, which is in danger of being weakened, and to act accordingly, like an honest and courageous man; not to lie like a dead weight at one end of the beam, without the smallest recollection there is any other, and that the equilibrium will be violated alike whichever extreme shall preponderate. In the same manner, a thing is not good because it is new, or good because it is old; there is no end of retorting such equally true principles: but it is good because it is fit for the purpose for which it was intended, and bad because it is not.
COURAGE IN THE USE OF TALENT.
A GREAT deal of talent is lost to the world for the want of a little courage. Every day sends to their graves a number of obscure men who have only remained obscure because their timidity has prevented them from making a first effort; and who, if they could only have been induced to begin, would in all probability have gone great lengths in the career of fame. The fact is, that in order to do anything in this world worth doing, we must not stand shivering on the bank, and thinking of the cold and the danger, but jump in and scramble through well as we can. as will not do to be perpetually calculating risks, and adjusting nice chances: it did all very well before the Flood, when a man could consult his friends upon an intended publication for a hundred and fifty years, and then live to see its success for six or seven centu