« AnteriorContinuar »
if the right way were taken, and the methods of inquiry were ordered as they fhould be, men of little business and great leifure might go a great deal farther in it than is ufually done. To turn to the bufinefs in hand; the end and use of a little infight in thofe parts of knowledge, which are not a man's proper bufinefs, is to accuftom our minds to all forts of ideas, and the proper ways of examining their habitudes and relations. This gives the mind a freedom, and the exercifing the understanding in the feveral ways of inquiry and reasoning, which the moft fkilful have made ufe of, teaches the mind fagacity and warinefs, and a fupplenefs to apply itfelf more clofely and dexterously to the bents and turns of the matter in all its researches. Befides, this univerfal tafte of all the fciences, with an indifferency before the mind is poffeffed with any one in particular, and grown into love and admiration of what is made its darling, will prevent another evil, very commonly to be obferved in those who have from the beginning been feafoned only by one part of knowledge. Let a man be given up to the contemplation of one fort of knowledge, and that will become every thing. The mind will take fuch a tincture from a familiarity with that object, that every thing elfe, how remote foever; will be brought under the fame view. A metaphyfician will bring plowing and gardening immediately to abftract notions: the hiftory of nature hall fignify nothing to him. An alchemist, on the contrary, fhall reduce divinity to the maxims of his laboratory: explain morality by fal, fulphur and mercury'; and allegorife the fcripture itself, and the facred mysteries thercof, into the philosopher's ftone. And I heard once a man, who had a more than ordinary excellency in mufic, ferioufly accommodate Mofes's feven days of the firft week to the notes of mufic, as if from thence had been taken the meafure and method of the creation. It is of no fmall confequence to keep the mind from fuch a poffeffion, which I think is beft done by giving it a fair and equal view of the whole intellectual world, wherein it may fee the order, rank, and beauty of the whole, and give a juft allow
A a 2
ance to the diftinct provinces of the feveral sciences in the due order and usefulness of each of them.
If this be that which old men will not think neceffary, nor be easily brought to; it is fit, at leaft, that it fhould be practifed in the breeding of the young. The bufinefs of education, as I have already obferved, is not, as I think, to make them perfect in any one of the sciences, but fo to open and difpofe their minds, as may best make them capable of any, when they fhall apply themfelves to it. If men are, for a long time, accustomed only to one fort or method of thoughts, their minds grow ftiff in it, and do not readily turn to another. It is, therefore, to give them this freedom, that I think they fhould be made to look into all forts of knowledge, and exercise their understandings in fo wide a variety and stock of knowledge. But I do not propose it as a variety and stock of knowledge, but a variety and freedom of thinking, as an increase of the powers and activity of the mind, not as an enlargement of its poffeffions.
S. 20. This is that which I think great reader. are apt to be mistaken in. Thofe who have read of every thing, are thought to understand every thing too, but it is not always fo. Reading furnifhes 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; unlefs we chew them over again, they will not give us ftrength and nourishment. There are, indeed, in fome writers vifible inftances of deep thoughts, clofe and acute reafoning, and ideas well pursued. The light thefe would give would be of great ufe, if their reader would obferve and imitate them; all the reft at beft are but particulars fit to be turned into knowledge; but that can be done only by our own meditation, and examining the reach, force and coherence of what is faid; and then, as far as we apprehend and fee the connexion of ideas, fo far it is ours; without that, it is but fo much loofe matter floating in our brain. The memory may be ftored, but the judgment is little better, and the stock of knowledge
not increased, by being able to repeat what others have faid, or produce the arguments we have found in them. Such a knowledge as this is but knowledge by hear-fay, and the oftentation of it is at beft but talking by rote, and very often upon weak and wrong principles. For all that is to be found in books, is not built upon true foundations, nor always rightly deduced from the principles it is pretended to be built on. Such an examen. as is requifite 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 fcrape together, that may favour and fupport the tenets of it. Such men wilfully exclude themselves from truth, and from all true 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 fee upon what bafis it ftands, and how firmly; but yet it is this that gives fo much the advantage to one man more than another in reading. The mind fhould by fevere rules be tyed down to this, at firft, uneafy task; use and exercise will give it facility. So that those who are accustomed to it, readily, as it were with one caft of the eye, take a view of the argument, and prefently, in moft cafes, fee where it bottoms. Those who have got this faculty, one may fay, have got the true key of books, and the clue to lead them through the mizmaze of variety of opinions and authors to truth and certainty, This young beginners fhould be entered in, and showed the use of, 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 men's ftudies, and they will fufpect they fhall make but fmall progress, if, in the books they read, they must stand to examine and unravel every argument, and follow it step by step up to its original.
I answer, this is a good objection, and ought to weigh with those whose reading is defigned for much talk and little knowledge, and I have nothing to fay to it. But I am here inquiring into the conduct of the understanding in its progrefs towards knowledge; and to thofe
A a 3
who aim at that, I may fay, that he who fair and foftly goes fteadily forward in a courfe that points right, will fooner be at his journey's end, than he that runs after every one he meets, though he gallop all day full-fpeed.
To which let me add, that this way of thinking on, and profiting by, what we read, will be a clog and rub to any one only in the beginning: when cuftom and exercife has made it familiar, it will be difpatched, on moft occafions, without refting or interruption in the courfe of our reading. The motions and views of a mind exercifed that way, are wonderfully quick; and a man ufed to fuch fort of reflections, fees as much at one glimpfe as would require a long difcourfe to lay before another, and make out in an entire and gradual deduction. Befides that, when the first difficulties are over, the delight and fenfible advantage it brings, mightily encourages and enlivens the mind in reading, which without this is very improperly called fludy.
S. 21. As an help to this, I think it may Intermediate be propofed, that for the faving the long progreffion of the thoughts to remote and first principles in every cafe, the mind fhould provide it feveral stages; that is to fay, intermediate principles, which it might have recourfe to in the examining thofe pofitions that come in its way. Thefe, though they are not felf-evident principles, yet if they have been made out from them by a wary and unquestionable deduction, may be depended on as certain and infallible truths, and ferve as unquestionable truths to prove other points depending on them by a nearer and shorter view than remote and general maxims. Thefe may ferve as landmarks to fhow what lies in the direct way of truth, or is quite befides it. And thus mathematicians do, who do not in every new problem run it back to the first axioms, through all the whole train of intermediate propofitions. Certain theorems, that they have fettled to themfelves upon fure demonftration, ferve to refolve to them multitudes of propofitions which depend on them, and are as firmly made out from thence, as if the mind went afresh over every link of the whole chain that ties them to firit felf-evident principles. Only in other
fciences great. care is to be taken, that they establish thofe intermediate principles with as much caution, exactnefs, and indifferency, as mathematicians ufe in the fettling any of their great theorems. When this is not done, but men take up the principles in this or that fcience upon credit, inclination, intereft, &c. in haste, without due examination, and most unquestionable proof, they lay a trap for themselves, and, as much as in them lies, captivate their understandings to mistake, falfhood and errour.
§. 22. As there is a partiality to opinions, which, as we have already obferved, is apt to mislead the understanding; fo there is often a partiality to studies, which is prejudicial also to knowledge and improvement. Thofe fciences which men are particularly verfed in, they are apt to value and extol, as if that part of knowledge which every one has acquainted himself with, were that alone which was worth the having, and all the reft were idle and empty amusements, comparatively of no ufe or importance. This is the effect of ignorance, and not knowledge, the being vainly puffed up with a flatulency, arifing from a weak and narrow comprehenfion. It is not amifs that every one fhould relish the fcience that he has made his peculiar study; a view of its beauties, and a sense of its usefulnefs, carries a man on with the more delight and warmth in the purfuit and improvement of it. But the contempt of all other knowledge, as if it were nothing in comparison of law or phyfic, of aftronomy or chemiftry, or perhaps fome yet meaner part of knowledge, wherein I have got fome fmattering, or am fomewhat advanced, is not only the mark of a vain or little mind; but does this prejudice in the conduct of the understanding, that it coops it up within narrow bounds, and hinders it from looking abroad into other provinces of the intellectual world, more beautiful poffibly, and more fruitful than that which it had, till then, laboured in; wherein it might find, befides new knowledge, ways or hints whereby it might be enabled the better to cultivate its own.