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stock. But I do not propose it as a variety and stock of knowledge, but as a variety and freedom of thinking, as an increase to the powers and activity of the mind, not as an enlargement of its possessions.
THOSE who have read of every thing, are thought to understand every thing too; but it is not always so. Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking makes what we read ours. We are of the ruminating kind, and it is not enough to cram ourselves with a great load of collections; unless we chew them over again, they will not give us strength, and nourishment.
There are indeed in some writers visible instances of deep thoughts, close and acute reasoning, and ideas well pursued. The light these would
give would be of great use, if the reader would observe and imitate them; but that can only be done by our own meditation, and examining the reach, force, and coherence of what is said; and as far then as we apprehend and see the connection of ideas, so far it is ours; without that it is but loose matter floating in our brain.
The memory may be stored, but the judgment is little better, and the stock of knowledge not increased by being able to repeat what others have said, or produce the arguments we have found in them. Such a knowledge as this, is but knowledge by hearsay, and the ostentation of it is at best, but talking by rote, and very often upon weak and wrong principles. For all which is to be found in books, is not built upon true foundations, nor always deduced from the principles on which it is pretended to be built. Such an examination as is requisite to discover that, every reader's mind is not forward to make, especially in those who have given themselves up to a party, and only hunt for what they can scrape together, that may favour and support the tenets of it. Such men wilfully exclude themselves from truth, and from all benefit to be received by reading.
Others of more indifferency, often want attention and industry. The mind is backward in
itself to be at the pains to trace every argument to its original, and to see upon what basis it stands, and how firmly; but yet it is this that gives so much the advantage to one man more than another in reading. The mind should, by severe rules, be tied down to this, at first uneasy task; use and exercise will give it facility. So that those who are accustomed to it, readily, with one cast of the eye, take a view of the argument, and presently in many cases see where it bottoms. Those who have got this faculty, one may say, have the true key of books, and the clue to lead them through the great variety of opinions and authors to truth and certainty. To this young beginners should be accustomed, and the use explained, that they might profit by their reading. Those who are strangers to it, will be apt to think it too great a clog in the way of studies, and they will suspect they shall make but small progress, if, in the books they read, they must examine and unravel every argument, and follow it step by step up to its ori ginal.
I answer, this is a good objection, and ought to weigh with those whose reading is designed for much talk and little knowledge. But I am here enquiring into the conduct of the understanding in its progress towards knowledge; and
I that he, who fair and softly goes steadily forward in a course that points right, will sooner be at his journey's end, than he that runs after every one he meets, did he gallop all day full speed.
To which, let me add, that this way of reflecting on, and profiting by, what we read, will be an impediment in the beginning; but when custom and exercise has made it familiar, will be dis-1 patched on most occasions, without resting or interruption in the course of our reading. The motions and views of a mind exercised that way are wonderfully quick; and a man used to such sort of reflections sees as much at one glimpse as would require a long discourse to lay before another, and make out in an entire and gradual deduction. Besides, when the first difficulties. are over, the delight and sensible advantage it brings, mightily encourages and enlivens the mind in reading, which without this is very improperly called study.
OF THE TRUE USE OF
WHILST we remain in the world, we are all fettered down, more or less, to one common level, and have neither all the leisure nor all the means and advantages to soar above it, which we may procure to ourselves by breaking these fetters in retreat.
To talk of abstracting ourselves from matter, laying aside body, and being resolved, as it were, into pure intellect, is proud, metaphysical, unmeaning jargon; but to abstract ourselves from the prejudices, and habits, and pleasures, and business of the world, is no more than many are, though all are not, capable of doing. They who can do this, may elevate their souls in retreat to an higher station, and may take from thence such a view of the world as the second Scipio took in his dream from the seats of the blessed, when the whole earth appeared so little to him,