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you should select for the cultivation and advantage of the mind, the general rule is, choose such as, by their brightness of parts, and their diligence in study, or by their superior advancement in learning, or peculiar excellency in any art, science or accomplishment, divine or human, may be capable of administering to your improvement; and be sure to maintain and keep some due regard to their moral character always, lest, while you wander in quest of intellectual gain, you fall into the contagion of irreligion and vice. No wise man would venture into a house infected with the plague, in order to see the finest collections of any virtuoso in Europe.
XXVII. Nor is it every sober person of your acquaintance, no, nor every man of bright parts, or rich in learning, that is fit to engage in free conversation for the inquiry after truth. Let a person have ever so illustrious talents, yet he is not a proper associate for such a purpose, if he lie under any of the following infirmities.
(1.) If he be exceedingly reserved, and hath either no inclination to discourse, or no tolerable capacity of speech and language for the communication of his sentiments.
(2.) If he be haughty and proud of his knowledge, imperious in his airs, and is always fond of imposing his sentiments on all the company.
(3.) If he be positive and dogmatical in his own opinions, and will dispute to the end ; if he will resist the brightest evidence of truth rather than suffer himself to be overcome, or yield to the plainest and strongest reasonings.
(4.) If he be one who always affects to outshine all the company, and delights to hear himself talk or flourish upon a subject, and make long harangues, while the rest must be all silent and attentive.
(5.) If he be a person of a whiming and unsteady turn of mind, who cannot keep close to a point of controversy, but wanders from it perpetually, and is always solicitous to say something, whether it be pertinent to the question
(6.) If he be fretful and peevish, and given to resentment upon all occasions ; if he knows not how to bear contradice tion, or is a ready to take things in a wrong sense ; if he is swift to feel a supposed offence, or to imagine himself affronted, and then break out into a sudden passion, or retain silent and sullen wrath.
(7.) If he affect wit on all occasions, and is full of his conceits and puns, quirks or quibbles, jests and repartees ; these may agreeably entertain and animate an hour of mirth, but they have no place in the search after truth.
(8.) If he carry always about him a sort of craft, and cunning, and disguise, and act rather like a spy than a friend. Have care of such a one as will make an ill use of free. dom in conversation, and immediately charge heresy upon you, when you happen to differ from those sentiments which authority or custom has established.
In short, you should avoid the man in such select conver. sation, who practises any thing that is unbecoming the character of a sincere, free, and open searcher after truth.
Now, though you may pay all the relative duties of life to persons of these unhappy qualifications, and treat them with decency and love, so far as religion and humanity oblige you, yet take care of entering into a free debate on matters of truth or falsehood in their
especially about the principles of religion. I confess, if a person of such a temper happens to judge and talk well on such a subject, you may hear him with attention, and derive what profit you can from his discourse ; but he is by no means to be chosen for a free conference in matters of inquiry and knowledge.
XXVIII. WHILE I would persuade you to beware of such persons, and abstain from too much freedom of discourse amongst them, it is very natural to infer, that you should watch against the working of these evil qualities in your own breast, if you happen to be tainted with any of them yourself. Men of learning and ingenuity will justly
avoid your acquaintance, when they find such an unhappy and unsociable temper prevailing in you.
XXIX. To conclude: when you retire from company, then converse with yourself in solitude, and inquire what you
have learnt for the improvement of your understanding, or for the rectifying your inclination, for the increase of your virtues, or the meliorating your conduct and behaviour in any
future parts of life. If you have seen some of your company candid, modest, humble in their manner, wise and sagacious, just and pious in their sentiments, polite and graceful, as well as clear and strong in their expression, and universally acceptable and lovely in their behaviour, endeavour to impress the idea of all these upon your memory, and treasure them
imitation. XXX. If the laws of reason, decency, and civility have not been well observed amongst your associates, take notice of those defects for your own improvement: and from every occurrence of this kind, remark something to imitate or to avoid, in elegant, polite, and useful conversation. Perhaps you will find that some persons present have really displeased the company by an excessive, and too visible an affectation to please, i. e. by giving loose to servile flattery, or promiscuous praise; while others were as ready to oppose and contradict every thing that was said. Some have deserved just censure for a morose and affected taciturnity, and others have been anxious and careful lest their silence should be interpreted a want of sense, and therefore they have ventured to make speeches, though they had nothing to say which was worth hearing. Perhaps you will observe that one was ingenious in his thoughts and bright in his language, but he was so top full of himself, that he let it spill on all the company; that he spoke well indeed, but that he spoke too long, and did not allow equal-time of liberty to his associates. You will remark that another was full charged to let out his words before his friend had done speaking, or impatient of the least opposition to any thing he said. You will remember that some persons have
talked at large, and with great confidence, of things which they understood not, and others counted every thing tedious and intolerable that was spoken upon subjects out of their sphere, and they would fain confine the conference entirely within the limits of their own narrow knowledge and study. The errors of conversation are almost infinite.
XXXI. By a review of such irregularities as these, you may
learn to avoid those follies and pieces of ill conduct which spoil good conversation, or make it less agreeable and less useful; and by degrees you will acquire that delightful and easy manner of address and behaviour in all useful correspondences, which may render your company every where desired and beloved ; and at the same time among the best of your companions you may make the highest improvement in your own intellectual acquisitions, that the discourse of mortal creatures will allow, under all our disadvantages in this sorry state of mortality. But there is a day coming, when we shall be seized away from this lower class in the school of knowledge, where we labour under the many dangers and darknesses, the errors and the incumbrances of flesh and blood, and our conversation shall be with angels, and more illuminated spirits in the upper regions of the universe.
I. Under the general head of conversation for the improvement of the mind, we may rank the practice of disputing ; that is, when two or more persons appear to maintain different sentiments, and defend their own, or oppose the other's opinion, in alternate discourse, by some methods of argument.
II. As these disputes often arise in good earnest, where the two contenders do really believe the different proposi
tions which they support, so sometimes they are appointed as mere trials of skill in academies, or schools, by the students: sometimes they are practised, and that with apparent fervour, in courts of judicature by lawyers, in order to gain the fees of their different clients, while both sides perhaps are really of the same sentiment with regard to the cause which is tried.
III. In common conversation disputes are often managed without any forms of regularity or order, and they turn to good or evil purposes, chiefly according to the temper of the disputants. They may sometimes be successful to search out truth, sometimes effectual to maintain truth, and convince the mistaken ; but at other times a dispute is a mere scene of battle, in order to victory and vain triumph.
IV. THERE are some few general rules which should be observed in all debates whatsoever, if we would find out truth by them, or convince a friend of his error, even though they be not managed according to any settled forms of disputation : and as there are almost as many opinions and judgements of things as there are persons, so when several persons happen to meet and confer together upon any subject, they are ready to declare their different sentiments, and support them by such reasonings as they are capable of. This is called debating or disputing, as is above described.
V. When persons begin a debate, they should always take care that they are agreed in some general principles or propositions which either more nearly or remotely affect the question in hand : for otherwise they have no foundation or hope of convincing each other ; they must have some common ground to stand upon while they maintain the contest.
When they find they agree in some remote propositions, then let them search farther, and inquire how near they approach to each other's sentiments; and whatsoever propositions they agree in, let these lay a foundation for the mutual liope of conviction. Hereby you will be prevented from running at every turn to some original and remote