Page images
PDF
EPUB

object would increase the confusion; but method gives a speedy and short survey of them with ease and pleasure. Method is of admirable advantage to keep our ideas from a confused mixture, and to preserve them ready for every use. The science of ontology, which distributes all beings, and all the affections of being, whether absolute or relative, under proper classes, is of good service to keep our intellectual acquisitions in such order, as that the mind may survey them at once.

V. As method is necessary for the improvement of the mind, in order to make your treasure of ideas most useful; so in all your further pursuils of truth and acquirement of rational knowledge, observe a regular progressive method. Begin with the most simple, easy and obvious ideas; then by degrees join two, and three, and more of them together ; thus the complicated ideas growing up under your eye and observation, will not give the same confusion of thought as they would do if they were all offered to the sind at once without your observing the original and formation of them. An eminent example of this appears in the study of aritbmetic. If a scholar just admitted into the school observes his master performing an operation in the rule of division, his bead is at once disturbed and confounded with the manifold comparisons of the numbers of the divisor and dividend, and the multiplication of the one and subtraction of it from the other, but if he begin regularly at addition, and so proceed by subtraction and multiplication, he will then in a few weeks be able to take in an intelligent survey of all those operations in division, and to practise them himself with ease and pleasure, each of which at first seemed all intricacy and confusion.

Ao illustration of the like nature may be borrowed from geometry and algebra, and other methematical practices : how easily does an expert geometrician with one glance of bis eye, take in a complicated diagram made up of many lines and circles, angles, and arches ? How readily iloes he judge of it, whether the demonstration designed by it be true or false? It was by degrees he arrived at this stretch of understanding; he began with a single line or a point; he joined two lines in an angle; he advanced to triangle and square, polygons and circles ; thus the powers of his understanding were stretched and augmented daily, till by diligeuce and regular application he acquired this extensive faculty of mind. But this advantage does not belong only to mathematical learning. If we apply ourselves at first in any science to clear and single ideas, and never hurry ourselves on to the following and more complicated parts of knowledge till we thoroughly understand the foregoing, we may practise the same method of enlarging the capacity of

the soul with success in any one of the sciences, or in the affairs of life and religion.

Beginning with. A, B, C, and making syllables out of letters, and words out of syllables, has been the foundation of all that glorious superstructure of arts and sciences wbich have enriched the minds and libraries of the learned world in several ages. These are the first steps by which the ample and capacious souls among mankind liave arrived at that prodigious. extent of kuowledge; which renders then the wonder and glory of the nation where they live. . Though Plato and Cicero, Descartes and Mr. Boyle, Mr. Locke and Sir Isaac Newton, were doubtless favoured by nature with a genius of uncommon amplitude; yet in their early years and first attempts of science, ibis was but limited and narrow in comparison of wbat they attained at last. But how vast and capacious were those powers which they afterwards acquired by patient attention and watchful observation, by the pursuit of clear ideas and regular method of thinking.

VI. Another means of acquiring this amplitude and capacity of mind, is u perusal of difficult entangled questions, and of the solution of them in any science. Speculative and.casuistical divinity will furnishi us with many such cases and controversies. There are some such difficulties io reconciling several parts of the epistles of St. Paul relating to the Jewish law and the Christian gospel; a happy solution whereof will require such an extensive view of things, and the reading of these happy solutions will enlarge this faculty in younger students. In morals and political subjects, Puffendorf's Law of Nature and Nations, and several determinations therein, will promote the saine amplitude of mind. Ao attendance on public trials and arguments in the civil courts of justice, will be of good advantage for this purpose, and after a man has studied the general principles of the law of nature and the laws of England in proper books, the reading the reports of adjudged cascs, collected by men of great sagacity and judgment, will richly improve his mind toward acquiring this desirable amplitude and extent of thought, and more especially in persons of that profession.

CHAP. XVII.—Of Improving the Memory. MEMORY is a distinct faculty of the mind of man, very different from perception, judgment and reasoning, and its other powers. Then we are said to remember any thing, when the idru of it arises in the mind with a consciousness at the same time that we huve had this idea before. Our memory is our

inataral power of retaining what we learn, and of recalling it on

every occasion. Therefore we can never be said to remember any thing, whether it be ideas oj' propositions, words or things, notions or arguments, of which we have not bad some former idea or perception, either by sense or imagination, thought or reflection ; but whatsoever we learn from observation, books or conversation, &c. it must all be laid up and preserved in the memory, if we would make it really useful.

So pecessary and so excellent a faculty is the memory of man, that all other abilities of the mind borrow from bence their beauty and perfection : for other capacities of the soul are almost useless without this. To what purpose are all our labours in knowledge and wisdoin, if we want memory to preserve and use what we have acquired? What signity all other intellectual or spiritual improvements, if they are lost as soon as they are obtained ? It is memory alone that enriches the mind, by preserving what our labour and industry daily collect. In a word, there can be neither knowledge, nor arts, nor sciences without memory : nor can tliere be any improvement of mankind in virtue or morals, or the practice of religion without the assistance and influence of this power. Without memory the soul of man would be but a poor destitute, naked being, with an everlasting blank spread over it, except the fleeting ideas of the present moment.

Memory is very useful to those who speak, as well as Yo those who learn. It assists the teacher and the orator, as well as the scholar or the hearer. The best speeches and instructions are almost lost, if those who hear them immediately forget then). And those who are called to speak in public are much better heard and accepted, when they can deliver their discourse by the help of a lively genius and a ready memory, than when they are forced to read all that they would communicate to their hearers. Reading is certainly a heavier way of the conveyance of our sentiments ; and there are very few mere readers, who have the felicity of penetrating the soul and awakening the passions of those who hear, by such a grace of power and oratory, as the man who seems to talk every word from his very heart, and pours out the riches of his own knowledge upon the people round about bim by the help of a free and copious memory. "This gives life and spirit to every thing that is spoken, and has a natural tendency to make a deeper impression on the minds of men : it awakens the dullest spirits, causes them to receive a discourse with more affection and pleasure, and adds a singular grace and excellency both to the person, and his oration.

A good judgment, and a good memory are very different qualifications. A person may have a very strong, capacious, and retentive memory, where the judgment is very poor and weak; as sometimes it happens in those who are but one degree above an idiot, who have manifested an ainazing strength and extent of memory, but have bardly been able to join or disjoin two or three ideas in a wise and happy manner, to make a solid rational proposition. There have been instances of others who have had but a very tolerable power of memory, yet their judgment has been of a much superior degree, just and wise, solid and excellent.

Yet it must be acknowledged, that where a happy memory is found in any person, there is one good foundation laid for a wise and just judgment of things, wheresoever the natural genius has any thing of sagacity and brightness to make a right use of it. A good judgment must always in some measure depend upon a survey and comparison of several things together in the mind, and determining the truth of some doubtful proposition by that survey and comparison. When the mind bas, as it were, set all those various objects present before it, which are necessary to form a true proposition or judgment concerning any thing, it then determines that such and such ideas are to be joined or disjoined, to be affirmed or denied ; and this in a consistency and correspondence with all those other ideas or propositions which any way relate or belong to the same subject. Now there can be no such comprehensive survey of many things without a tolerable degree of memory; it is by reviewing things past we learn to judge of the future: and it happens sometimes, that if one needful or important subject or idea be absent, the judgment concerning the thing enquired will thereby become false or mistaken.

You will enquire then, How comes it to pass, that there are some persons who appear in the world of business as well as in the world of learning, to have a good judgment, and bave acquired the just character of prudence and wisdom, and yet have neither a very bright genius, nor sagacity of thought, nor a very happy memory, so that they cannot set before their winds at once a large scene of ideas, in order to pass a judgment.

Now we may learn from Pensoroso some account of this difficulty. You shall scarcely ever find this man forward in judg. ing and determining things proposed to bim : but he always takes time, and delays, and suspends, and ponders things maturely, before he passes his judgment: then he practises a slow ineditation, ruminates on the subject, and thus perlaps in two or three niglits and days rouses and awakens those several ideas, one after another as he can, which are necessary in order to judge right of the thing proposed, and makes them pass before his review in succession : this he doth to relieve the want both of a quick sagacity of thought, and of a ready memory and speedy recollec. tion; and this caution and practice, lays the foundation of his

just judgment and wise conduct. He surveys well before le judges.

Whence I cannot but take occasion to infer one good rule of advice, to persons of higher as well as lower genius, and of large as well as narrow memories, viz. That they do not too hastily pronounce concerning matters of doubt or enquiry, where there is not an urgent necessity of present action. The bright genius is ready to be so forward as often betrays itself into great errors in judgment, speech and conduct, without a continual guard upon itself, and using the bridle of the tongue. And it is by tbis delay and precaution, that many a person of much lower natural abilities, shall often excel persons of the brightest gevius in wisdom and prudence.

It is often found, that a fine genius has but feeble memory : for where the genius is bright, and the imagination vivid, the power of memory may be too much neglected and lose its improvement. An active fancy readily wanders over a multitude of objects, and is continually entertaining itself with new flying images; it runs through a number of new scenes or new pages with pleasure, but without due attention, and seldom suffers itself to dwell long enough upon any one of them to make a deep impression thereof upon the mind and commit it to lasting remembrance. Tbis is one plain and obvious reason, why there are some persons of very bright parts and active spirits, who have but short and narrow powers of remembrance ; for having riches of their own, they are not solicitous to borrow.

And as such a quick and various fancy and invention may be some bindrance to the attention and memory, so a mind of a good retentive ability, and which is ever crowding its memory with things which it learns and reads continually, may prevent, restrain and cramp the invention itself. The memory of Lectorides, is ever ready upon all occasions to offer to his mind something out of other men's writings or conversations, and is presenting him with the thoughts of other persons perpetually : thus the man who had naturally a good flowing invention, does not suffer himself to pursue his own thoughts. Soine persons who have been blest by nature with sagacity and no contemptible genius, have too often forbid the exercise of it, by tying themselves dowo to the memory of the volumes they have read, and the sentiments of other men contained in them.

Where the inemory has been almost constantly employing itselt in scraping together new acquirements, and where there has not been a judginent sufficient to distinguish what things were fit to be recominended and treasured up in the memory, and what things were idle, useless, or needless, the mind has been filled with a wretched beap and hotch-potch of words, or ideas, and the soul may be said to have had large possessions, but no true riches.

« PreviousContinue »