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which was much more the effect of use and practice.
I do not deny that natural disposition may often give the first rise to it, but that never carries us far without use and exercise, and it is practice alone that brings the powers of the mind as well as those of the body to their perfection. Many a good poetic vien is buried under a trade, and never produces any thing for want of improvement. The ways of discourse and reasoning are very different even concerning the same matter, at court and in the university. And he that will go but from Westminster-hall to the exchange, will find a different genius and turn in their ways of talking; and yet we cannot think, that all whose lot fell in the city, were born with different parts from those who were bred at the university, or inns of court.
To what purpose all this, but to shew that the difference so observable in men's understandings, and parts, does not arise so much from their natural faculties, as acquired habits. He would be laughed at, that should attempt to make a fine dancer out of a country hedger, at past fifty. And he will not have much better success, who will endeavour at that age, to make a man reason well, or speak handsomely, that has not been used to it, though you should
lay before him a collection of all the best precepts of logic or oratory. No body excels by hearing rules, or laying them up in his memory; practice must settle the habit of doing without reflecting on the rule. And you may as well hope to make a good painter or musician extempore, by a lecture and instruction in the arts of music and painting, as a coherent thinker, or strict reasoner by a set of rules, shewing him wherein right reasoning consists.
As therefore defects and weakness in men's understandings, as well as other faculties, are derived from want of a right use of their own minds, I am apt to think the fault is generally mislaid upon nature, and there is often a complaint of the want of parts, when the fault lies in want of a due improvement upon them. We see men frequently dextrous and sharp enough in making bargain, who, if you reason with them about matters of religion, appear perfectly stupid.
Though the faculties of the mind are improved by exercise, yet they must not be put to a stress beyond their strength. Quid valeant humeris quid ferre recusant, must be made the measure of every ones understanding who has à desire not only to perform well, but to keep up the vigour of his faculties, and not to baulk his understanding by what is too hard for it. The mind,
by being engaged in a task beyond its strength, like the body, strained by lifting at a weight too heavy, has often its force broken, and thereby gets an unaptness or an aversion to any vigorous attempt ever after.
A sinew cracked seldom recovers its former strength, or at least the tenderness of the strain remains a long while, and the memory of it longer, and leaves a lasting caution in the man, not to put the part quickly again to any robust employment. So it fares with the mind, once jaded by an attempt above its power; it is either disabled for the future, or else checks at any vigorous undertaking ever after, at least is very hardly brought to exert its force again on any subject that requires thought and meditation. The understanding should be brought to the difficult and knotty parts of knowledge, that try the strength of thought, and a full bent of the mind, by insensible degrees; and in such a gradual proceeding nothing is too difficult.
Nor let it be objected, that such a slow progress will never reach the extent of some sciences. It is not to be imagined how far constancy will carry us; however it is better to walk slowly in a rugged way, than to break a leg and be a cripple. He that begins with the calf may carry the ox; but he that will at first take up an ox,
may so disable himself, as not to be able to lift a calf after. When the mind by insensible degrees, has brought itself to attention and close thinking, it will be able to cope with difficulties, and master them without any prejudice to itself, and then it may go on roundly. Every abstruse problem, every intricate question will not baffle, discourage, or break it.
But though putting the mind unprepared upon an unusual stress, that may discourage or damp it for the future, ought to be avoided; yet this must not run it, by an over great shyness of difficulties, into a lazy sauntering, about ordinary and obvious things, that demand no thought nor application. This debases and enervates the understanding, makes it weak and unfit for labour. This is a sort of hovering about the surface of things, without any insight into them, or penetration; and when the mind has been once habituated to this lazy recumbency and satisfaction, on the obvious surface of things, it is in danger to rest satisfied there, and go no deeper, since it cannot do it without pains and digging.
He that has for some time accustomed himself to take up what easily offers itself at first view, has reason to fear he shall never reconcile
himself to the fatigue of turning and tumbling things in his mind to discover their more retired and more valuable sccrets.
THE DANGER OF PROCRASTINATION.
IN A LETTER TO A FRIEND.
I AM glad you approve and applaud my design of withdrawing myself from all tumult and business of the world; and consecrating the little rest of my time to those studies, to which nature had so motherly inclined me, and from which fortune, like a step-mother, has so long detained me. But nevertheless, you say, you would advise me not to precipitate that resolution; but to stay awhile longer with patience and complaisance, till I had gotten such an estate as might afford me, according to the saying of you and I love very much,