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tion, especially on subjects of natural, moral, or divine science, is not merely to know the opinion of the autbor or speaker, for this is but the mere kaowledge of history; but your chief busiDess is to consider whether their opinions are right or no, and to improve your own solid knowledge of that subject by meditating on the themes of their writing or discourse. Deal freely with every author you read, and yield up your assent only to evidence aod just reasoning on the subject.
Here I would be understood to speak only of human authors, and not of the sacred and inspired writings. In these, our busi ness indeed is only to find out the sense, and understand the true meaving of the paragraph and page, and our assent then is bound to follow, when we are before satisfied that the writing is divine. Yet I might add also, that even this is just reasoning, and this is sufficient evidence to demand our assent. But in the composures of men, remember you are a man as well as they'; and it is not their reason but your own, that is given to guide you when you arrive at years of discretion, of manly age and judgment.
VI. Let this therefore be your practice, especially after you have gone through one course of any science in your academical studies ; if a writer on that subject maintains the same sentiments as you do, yet if he does not explain his ideas or prove his positions well, mark the faults or defects, and endeavour to do it better, either in the margin of your book, or rather in some papers of your own, or at least let it be done in your private meditations. As for instance :
Where the author is obscure, enlighten him ; where he is imPerfect, supply his deficiencies; where he is too brief and concise, amplify a little, and set his notions in a fairer view ; where he is redundant, mark those paragraphs to be retrenched; when be trifles and grows impertinent, abandon those passages of pages ; where be argues, observe whether his reasons be conclusive; if the conclusion be true, and yet the argument weak, en« deavour to confirm it by better proofs; where he derives or infers any propositions darkly or doubtfully, make the justice of the inference appear, and add further inferences or corollaries, if such occur to your mind; where you suppose he is in a mistake, propose your objections, and correct bis sentiments; where he writes so well as to approve itself to your judgment both as just and useful, treasure it up in your memory, and count it a part of your intellectual gains.
Note, Many of these same directions which I have now giren, may be practised with regard to conversation, as well as reading, in order to render it useful in the most extensive and lasting maboer.
VII. Other things also of the like nature may be usefully
practised with regard to the authors which you read, viz. If the method of a book be irregular, reduce it into form by a little analysis of your own, or by hints in the margin; if those things are heaped together which should be separated, you may wisely distinguish and divide them. If several things relating to the same subject are scattered up and down separately through the treatise, you may bring them all to one view by references; or if the matter of a book be really valuable and deserving, you may throw it into a better method, reduce it to a more logical scheme, or abridge it into a lesser form; all these practices will have a tendency both to advance your skill in logic and method, to improve your judgment in general, and to give you a fuller survey of that subject in particular. When you have finished the treatise with all your observations upon it, recollect and determine what real improvements you have made by reading that author.
VIII. If a book has no index to it, or good table of contents it is very useful to make one as you are reading it; not with that exactness as to ivclude the sense of every page and paragraph, which should be done if you designed to print it; but it is sufficient in your index to take notice only of those parts of the book which are new to you, or which you think well written, and well worthy of your remembrance or review.
Shall I be so free as to assure my younger friends, from my own experience, that these methods of reading will cost some pains in the first years of your study, and especially in the first authors which you peruse in any science, or on any particular subject ; but the profit will richly compensate the pains. And in the following years of life, after you have read a few valuable books on any special subject in this manner, it will be very easy to read others of the same kind, because you will not usually find very much new matter in them which you have not already examined. .
IX. If the writer be remarkable for any peculiar excellencies or defects in his style or manner of writing, make just observations upon this also ; and whatever ornaments you find there, or whatsoever blemishes occur in the language or inauper of the writer, you may make just remarks upon them.And remember, that one book read over in this manner, with all this laborious meditation, will tend more to enrich your understanding, than the skimming over the surface of twenty authors.
X. By perusing books in the manner I have described, you will make all your reading subservient not only to the enlarge ment of your treasures of knowledge, but also to the improvement of your reasoning powers.
There are many who read with constancy and diligence, and yet make no advances in true knowledge by it. They are des lighted with the notions which they read or hear, as they would be with stories that are told, but they do not weigh them in their minds as in a just balance, in order to determine their truth or falsehood; they make no observations upon them, or inferences from thein. Perhaps their eye slides over the pages, or the words slide over their ears, and vanish like a rhapsody of evening tales, or the shadows of a cloud flying over a green field in a summer's day. Or if they review them sufficiently to fix them in their remembrance, it is merely with a design to tell the tale over again, and shew what men of learning they are. Thus they dream out their days in a course of reading without real advantage. As a man may be eating all day, and for want of digestion is never nourished; so these endless readers may cram themselves in vain with intellectual food, and without real improvement of their minds, for want of digesting it by proper reflections.
XI. Be diligent therefore in observing these directions.Enter into the sense and argument of the authors you read, examine all their proofs, and then judge of the truth or falsehood of their opinions ; and thereby you shall not only gain a rich increase of your understandings by those truths which the author teaches, when you shall see them well supported, but you shall acquire also by degrees an habit of judging justly, and of rea
soning well, in imitation of the good writer, whose works you • peruse.
This is laborious indeed, and the mind is backward to undergo the fatigue of weighing every argument and tracing every thing to its original. It is much less labour to take all things upon trust; believing is much easier than arguing. But when Studentio had once persuaded his mind to tie itself down to this method which I have prescribed, he sensibly gained an admirable facility to read, and judge of what he read, by his daily practice of it, and the man made large advances in the pure suit of truth; while Plumbinus and Plumeo made less progress in knowledge, though they had read over more folios. Plumeo skimmed over the pages like a swallow over the flowery meads in May. Plumbinus read every line and syllable, but did not give himself the trouble of thinking and judging about them.They both could boast in company of their great reading, for they knew more titles and pages than Studentio, but were far less acquainted with science.
I confess those whose reading is designed only to fit them for much talk, and little knowledge, may content themselves to run over their authors in such a sudden and trifling way; they may devour libraries in this manner, yet be poor reasoners at last, and base no solid wisdom or true learning. The traveller who walks on fair and softly in a course that points right, and examines every turning before he ventures upon it, will come sooner and safer to his journey's end, than he who runs through every Jane he meets, though he gallop full speed all the day.The man of much reading and a large retentive memory, but without meditation, may become, in the sense of the world, a knowing man; and if he converses much with the ancients, be may attain the fame of learning too; but he spends his days afar oft from wisdom and true judgment, and possesses very little of the substantial riches of the mind.
XII. Necer apply yourselves to read any human author with a determination before-hand either for or against him, or with a settled resolution to believe or disbelieve, to confirm or to oppose whatsoever he saith ; but always read with a design to lay your inind open to truth, and to embrace it wheresoever you find it, as well as to reject every falsehood, though it appear under ever so fair a disguise. How unhappy are those men who seldom take an author into their hands, but they have determined before they begin, whether they will like or dislike him! They have got some notion of bis name, bis character, his party, or his principles, by general conversation, or perhaps by some slight view of a few pages : and having all their own opinions adjusted before-hand, they read all that he writes with a prepossession either for or against him. Unhappy those who bunt and purvey for a party, and scrape together out of every author, all those things, and those only which favour their own tenets, while they despise apd neglect all the rest !
XIII. Yet take this caution. I would not be understood here, as though I persuaded a person to live without any settled principles at all, by which to judge of men and books and things ; or that I would keep a man always doubting about liis foundations. The chief things that I design in this advice, are these three :
1. That after our most necessary and important principles of science, prudence and religion, are settled upon good grounds, with regard to our present conduct and our future hopes, we should read with a just freedom of thought, all those books " which treat of such subjects as may adıit of doubt and reasonable dispute. Nor should any of our opinions be so resolved upon, especially in younger years, as never to hear or to bear an opposition to them.
2. When we peruse those authors who defend our own settled sentiments, we should not take all their arguings for just and solid : but we should make a wise distinction betwixt the corn and the chaff, between solid reasoning and the mere superficial colours of it; nor should we readily swallow down all their lesser opinions because we agree with them in the greater.
3. That when we read those authors which oppose our most certain and established principles, we should be ready to receive any informations from them in other points, and not abandon at once every thing they say, though we are well fixed in opposition to their main point of arguing.
-Fas est, et ab hoste doceri. VIRG.
Amongst your friends amongst your foes,
The flower's divine where'er it grows :
Neglect the prickles, and assume the ruse. XIV. What I have said hitherto on this subject, relating to books and reading, must be chiefly understood of that sort of books, and those hours of our reading and study, whereby we design to improve the intellectual powers of the mind with natural, moral, or divine knowledge. As for those treatises which are written to direct or to enforce and persuade our practice, there is one thing further necessary; and that is, that when our consciences are convinced that these rules of prudence or duty beloug to us, and require our conformity to them, we should then call ourselves to account, and enquire seriously whether we have put them in practice or no; we should dwell upon the arguments, and impress the motives and methods of persuasion upon our own hearts, till we feel the force and power of them inclining us to the practice of the things which are there recommended.
If folly or vice be represented in its open colours, or its secret disguises, let us search our hearts, and review our lives, and enquire bow far we are criminal; nor should we ever think we have done with the treatise till we feel ourselves in sorrow for our past misconduct, and aspiring after a victory over those vices, or till we find a cure of those follies begun to be wrought upon our souls.
In all our studies and pursuits of knowledge, let us remember that virtue and vice, sin and holiness, and the conformation of our hearts and lives to the duties of true religion and morality, are things of far more consequence than all the furniture of our understandings, and the richest treasures of mere speculative knowledge; and that because they have a more in pediate and effectual influence upon our eternal felicity or eternal sorrow,
XV. There is yet another sort of books, of which it is proper I should say something wbile I am treating on this subject; and these are history, poesy, travels, books of diversion or amusement ; among which we may reckon also little common pamphlets, news-papers, or such like: for many of these, I confess once reading may be sufficient, where there is a tolerable good memory
Or when several persons are in company, and one reads to the rest such sort of writings, once hearing may be sufficient;