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cerning any doubts or difficulties that occur to the hearer, this brings it very near to conversation or discourse.
IV. Conversation is the next method of improvement, and it is attended with the following advantages :
1. When we converse familiarly with a learned friend, we have bis own-help at hand to explain to us every word and sentiment that seems obscure in his discourse, and to inform us of his whole meaning, so that we are in much less danger of mistaking his sense ; whereas in books, wbatsoever is really obscure, may also abide always obscure without remedy, since the author is not at hand, that we may enquire his senise.
If we mistake the meaning of our friend in conversation, we are quickly set right again; but in reading we many times go on in the same mistake, and are not capable of recovering ourselves from it. Thence it comes to pass, that we have so many contests in all ages about the meaning of ancient authors, and especially the sacred writers. Happy should we be, could we but converse with Moses, Isaiah, and St. Paul, and consult the prophets and apostles, when we meet with a difficult text? But that glorious conversation is reserved for the ages of future blessednesss.
. 2. When we are discoursing upon any theme with a friend, we may propose our doubts and objections against his senti. ments, and have them solved and answered at once.-The difficulties that arise in our ininds, may be removed by one enlightening word of our correspondent; whereas in reading, if a difficulty or question arise in our thoughts which the author bas not bappened to mention, we must be content without a present answer or solution of it. Books cannot speak.
3. Not only the doubts which arise in the mind upon any subject of discourse, are casily proposed and solved in conversation, but the very difficulties we meet with in books and in our private studies, may find a relief by friendly conference. We may pore upon a knotty poiot in solitary meditation many months without a solution, because perhaps we have gotten into a wrong tract of thought; and our labour (while we are pursuing a false scept) is not only useless and unsuccessful, but it leads us perhaps into a train of error for want of being corrected in the first step. But if we note down this difficulty when we read it, we may propose it to an ingenious correspondent when we sce binn; we may be relieved iq a moment, and find the difficulty vanish : he beholds the object perhaps in a different view, sets it before us in quite another light, and leads us at once into evidence and truth, and ibat with a delightful surprise.
4. Conversation calls out into light what has been lodged in all the recesses and secret chambers of the soul : hy occasional bints and incidents it brings old useful potions into remete brance; it unfolds and displays the hidden treasures of knowledge with which reading, observation and study had before furnished the mind. By mutual discourse the soul is awakened and allured to bring forth its hoards of knowledge, and it learns how to render them most useful to mapkind, A man of vást reading without conversation, is like a miser who lives only to himself.
5. In free and friendly conversation our intellectual powers are more animated, and our spirits act with a superior rigour in the quest and pursuit of unknown truths. There is a sharpness and sagacity of truth that attends conversation, beyond what we find whilst we are shut up reading and musing in our retirements. Our souls may be serene io solitude, but not sparkling, though perhaps we are employed in reading the works of the brightest writers. Often has it happened in free discourse, that new thoughts are strangely struck out, and the seeds of truth sparkle and blaze through the company, which in calm and silent reading would never have been excited. By conversation you will both give and receive this benefit; as flints when put into motion and striking against each other, produce living fire on both sides, which would never have risen froin the same hard materials in a state of rest.
6. In generous conversation, amongst ingenious and learned men, we have a great advantage of proposing our private opinions, and of bringing our own sentiments to the test, and learning in a more compendious and a safer way what the world will judge of them, how mankind will receive them, what objections may be raised against them, what defects there are in our scheme, and low to correct our own mistakes; which ad. vantages are not so easy to be obtained by our own private meditations : for the pleasure we take in our own notions, and the passion of self-love, as well as the narrowness of our own views,' tempt us to pass too favourable an opinion on our own schemes ;' whereas the variety of genius in our several associates, will give happy notices how our opinion will stand in the view of mankind.
7. It is also another considerable advantage of conversa. tion, that it furnishes the student with the knowledge of men and the affairs of life, as reading furnishes him with book-learning. A man who dwells all his days among books may have amassed together a vast heap of notions, but he may be a mere scholar, which is a contemptible sort of character in the world. A her mit who has been shut up in bis cell in a college, has contracted a sort of mould and rust upon his soul, and all his airs of behaviour have a certain aukwardness in them ; but these aukward airs are worn away by degrees in company: the rust and the mould are filed and brushed off by polite conversation. The
scholar now becomes a citizen or a gentleman, a neighbour and a friend; he learns how to dress his sentiments in the fairest colours, as well as to set them in the strongest light. Tbus be brings out his notions with honour, he makes some use of thein in the world, and improves the theory by the practice.
But before we proceed too far in finishing a bright character by conversation, we should consider that something else is necessary besides an acquaintance with men and books: and therefore I add,
V. Mere lecture, reading, and conversation, without thinking, are not sufficient to make a man of knowledge and wisdom. It is our own thought, and reflection, study and meditation, must attend all the other methods of improvement, and perfect them. It carries these advantages with it:
1. Though observation and instruction, reading and conversation may furnish us with many ideas of men and things, Fet it is our own meditation and the labour of our own thoughts, that must form our judgment of things. Our own thoughts should join or disjoin these ideas in a proposition for ourselves : it is our own mind that must judge for ourselves concerning the agreement or disagreement of ideas, and form propositions of truth out of them. Reading and conversation may acquaint us with many truths and with many arguments to support them, but it is our own study and reasoning that must determine whether these propositions are true, and whether these arguments are just and solid.
It is confest there are a thousand things which our eyes have not seen, and which would never come within the reach of our personal and immediate knowledge and observation, because of the distance of times and places : These must be known by consulting other persons; and that is done either in their writings or in their discourses. But after all, let this be a fixed point with us, that it is our own reflection and judgment must determine how far we should receive that which books or men inform us of, and bow far they are worthy of our assent and credit.
2. It is meditation and study that transfers and conveys the notions and sentiments of others to ourselves, so as to make them properly our own. It is our own judgment upon them as well as our menory of them, that makes them become our own property. It does as it were concoct our intellectual food, and iurns it into a part of ourselves : just as a man may call his limbs and his flesh his own, whether he borrowed the materials from the ox'or the sheep, from the lark or the lobster ; whether he derived it from coru or milk, the fruits of the trees, or the herbs and roots of the earth ; it is all now become one substance with bimself, and lie wields and manages those muscles and limbs for his own proper purposes, which once were the substance of other animals or vegetables; that very substance which last week was grazing in the field or swimming in the sea, waving in the milk-pail or growing in the garden, is now become part of the man.
3. By study and meditation, we improve the hints that we have acquired by observation, conversation and reading; we take more time in thinking, and by the labour of the mind we penetrate deeper into themes of knowledge, and carry our thoughts sometimes much farther on many subjects, than we ever met with either in the books of the dead or discourses of the living. It is our own reasoning that draws out one truth from another, and forms a whole scheme of science from a few hints which we borrowed elsewhere.
By a survey of these things we may justly conclude, that be who spends all his time in hearing lectures, or poring upon hooks, without observation, meditation or converse, will have but a mere bistorical knowledge of learning, and be able only to tell what others have known or said on the subject : he that lets all his time flow away in conversation, without due observation, reading, or study, will gain but a slight and superficial knowledge, which will be in danger of vanishing with the voice of the speaker; and he that confines himself merely to his closet and his own narrow observation of things, and is taught only by his own solitary thoughts, without instruction by lectures, reading, or free conversation, will be in danger of a narrow spirit, a vain conceit of himself, and an unreasonable contempt of others; and after all, he will obtain but a very limited and imperfect view and knowledge of things, and he will seldom learn how to make that knowledge useful.
These five methods of improvement should be pursued jointly, and go hand in hand, where our circumstances are so happy as to find opportunity and conveniency to enjoy them all : though I must give my opinion, that two of them, reading and meditation, should employ much more of our time than public lectures or conversation and discourse. · As for obsertalion we may be always acquiring knowledge that way, whether we are alone or in company. But it will be for our further improve. ment, if we will go over all these five methods of obtaining knowledge more distinctly, and more at large, and see what special, advances in useful science we may draw from them all.
CHAP. III.-Rules relating to Observation.
THOUGH observation in the strict sense of the word, and as it is distinguished from meditation and study, is the first means of our improvement, and in its strictest sense does not include in it any reasonings of the mind upon the things which we observe,
or inferences drawn from them; yet the motions of the mind are so exceeding swift, that it is wardly posssible for a thinking man to gain experiences or observations, without making some secret aud short reflections upon them; and therefore in giving a few directions concerning this method of improvement, I shall not so parrowly confine myself to the first mere impressions of objects op the mind by observation ; but include also some hints which relate to the first, most easy, and obvious reflections or reasonings which arise from them.
1. Let the enlargement of your knowledge be one constant view and design in life : since there is no time or place, no transactions, occurrences or engagements in life, which exclude us from this method of improving the mind. When we are alope, eren in darkness and silence, we may converse with our own bearts, observe the working of our own spirits, and reflect upon the inward motions of our own passions in some of the latest cecurrences in life; we may acquaint ourselves, with the powers and properties, the tendencies and inclinations both of body and spirit, and gain a more intimate knowledge of ourselves. When we are in company, we may discover something more of human Dature, of human passions and follies, and of human affairs, vices and virtues, by cou versing with mankind, and observing their conduct. Nor is there any thing more valuable than the knowledge of ourselves, and the knowledge of men, except it be the knowledge of God who made us, and our relation to bim as our governor.
When we are in the house or the city, vleresoever we turn, our eyes, we see the works of men ; when we are abroad in the country, we behold more of the works of God. The skies and the ground above and beneath us, and the animal and vegetable world round about us, may entertain our observation with ten thousand varieties. Endeavour therefore to “derive some in. struction or improvement of the mind from every thing wliich you see or hear, from every thing which occurs in buwan life, from every thing within you or without you.”
Fetch down some knowledge from the clouds, the sturs, the sun, the moon, and the revolution of all the planets : dig av draw up some valuable meditations from the depths of the earih, and search them through the vast oceans of water : extract some intellectual improvements from the minerals and meluls ; from the wonders of nature among the vegetables, the herbs, trees, and flowers. Learn some lessons from the birds, and the beasis, . and the meanest insect. Read the wisdom of God and his admirable contrivance in them all. Read bis almighty power, his rich and various goodness in all the works of bis bands.
From the day and the night, the bours and the flying minutes, learu a wise improvement of time, and be waichulio