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envy. How ready is envy to mingle with the notices which we take of other persons ? How often is mankind prone to put an ill sense upon the actions of their neighbours, to take a survey of them in an evil position, and in an unhappy light? And by this means we form a worse opinion of our neighbours than they deserve; while, at the same time, pride and self-flattery tempt us to make unjust observations on ourselves in our own favour. In all the favourable judgements we pass concerning ourselves, we should allow a little abatement on this account.
V. In making your observations on persons, take care of indulging that busy curiosity which is ever inquiring into private and domestic affairs, with an endless itch of learning the secret history of families. It is but seldom that such a prying curiosity attains any valuable ends ; it often begets suspicions, jealousies, and disturbances in households, and it is a frequent temptation to persons to defame their neighbours. Some persons cannot help telling what they know; a busy body is most liable to become a tatler upon every occasion.
VI. Let your observations, even of persons, and their conduct, be chiefly designed in order to lead you to a better acquaintance with things, particularly with human nature ; and to inform you what to imitate, and what to avoid, rather than to furnish out matter for the evil passions of the mind, or the impertinences of discourse, and reproaches of the tongue. VII. Though it
your observations concerning persons as well as things, the subject of your discourse in learned or useful conversation, yet what remarks you make on particular persons, especially to their disadvantage, should for the most part lie hid
your own breast, till some just and apparent occasion, some necessary call of Providence, leads you to speak to them.
If the character or conduct, which you observe, be greatly culpable, it should so much the less be published. You
may treasure up such remarks of the follies, indecencies, or vices of your neighbours, as may be a constant guard against your practice of the same, without exposing the reputation of your neighbour on that account. It is a good old rule, that our conversation should rather be laid out on things than on persons; and this rule should generally be observed, unless names be concealed, wheresover the faults or follies of mankind are our present theme.
Our late archbishop Tillotson has written a small but excellent discourse on evil speaking, wherein he admirably explains, limits, and applies that general apostolic precept, Speak evil of no man, Tit. iii. 2.
VIII. Be not too hasty to erect general theories from a few particular observations, appearances, or experiments. This is what the logicians call a false induction. When general observations are drawn from so many particulars as to become certain and indubitable, these are jewels of knowledge, comprehending great treasure in a little room ; but they are therefore to be made with the greater care and caution, lest errors become large and diffusive, if we should mistake in these general notions.
A hasty determination of some universal principles, without a due survey of all the particular cases which may be included in them, is the way to lay a trap for our own understandings in their pursuit of any subject, and we shall often be taken captives into mistake and falsehood. Niveo in his youth observed, that on three Christmas-days together there fell a good quantity of snow, and now he hath writ it down in his almanack as part of his wise remarks on the weather, that it will always snow at Christmas. Euron, a young lad, took notice ten times that there was a sharp frost when the wind was in the north-east; therefore, in the middle of last July, he almost expected it should freeze, because the weather-cocks shewed him a north-east wind : and he was still more disappointed when he found it a very sultry season. It is the same hasty judgement that hath thrown scandal on a whole nation for the sake of
some culpable characters belonging to several particular natives of that country; whereas all the Frenchmen are not gay
and airy; all the Italians are not jealous and revengeful; nor all the English over-run with the spleen.
C H A P. VI.
Of Books and Reading.
I. The world is full of books, but there are multitudes which are so ill written that they were never worth any man's reading; and there are thousands more which may be good in their kind, yet are worth nothing, when the month, or year, or occasion is past for which they were written. Others may be valuable in themselves for some special purpose, or in some peculiar science, but are not fit to be perused by any but those who are engaged in that particular science or bu. siness. To what use is it for a divine or physician, or a tradesman, to read over the huge volumes of reports of judged cases in the law? or for a lawyer to learn Hebrew, and read the Rabbins? It is of vast advantage for improvement of knowledge, and saving time, for a young man to have the most proper books for his reading recommended by a judicious friend.
II. Books of importance of any kind, and especially complete treatises on any subject, should be first read in a more general and cursory manner, to learn a little what the treatise promises, and what you may expect from the writer's manner and skill. And for this end, I would advise always that the preface be read, and a survey taken of the table of contents, if there be one, before the first survey of the book. By this means you will not only be better fitted to give the book the first reading, but you will be much assisted in your second perusal of it, which should be done with greater attention and deliberation, and you will learn with more ease and readiness what the author pretends to teach. In your reading,
mark what is new or unknown to you before, and review those chapters, pages, or paragraphs. Unless a reader has an uncommon and most retentive
may venture to affirm that there is scarce any book or chapter worth reading once that is not worthy of a second perusal. At least take a careful review of all the lines or paragraphs which you marked, and make a recollection of the sections which you thought truly valuable.
There is another reason also why I would choose to take a superficial and cursory survey of a book before I sit down to read it, and dwell upon it with studious attention ; and that is, there may be several difficulties in it which we cannot easily understand and conquer at the first reading, for want of a fuller comprehension of the author's whole scheme. And therefore, in such treatises, we should not stay till we master every difficulty at the first perusal; for perhaps many of these would appear to be solved when we have proceeded farther in that book, or would vanish of themselves upon a second reading.
What we cannot reach and penetrate at first may be noted down as matter of after consideration and inquiry, if the pages that follow do not happen to strike a complete light on those which went before.
III. IF three or four persons agree to read the same book, and each bring his own remarks upon it at some set hours appointed for conversation, and they communicate mutually their sentiments on the subject, and debate about it in a friendly manner, this practice will render the reading any author more abundantly beneficial to every one of them.
IV. If several persons engaged in the same study take into their hands distinct treatises on one subject, and appoint a season of communication once a-week, they may inform each other in a brief manner concerning the sense, sentiments, and method of those several authors, and thereby promote each other's improvement, either by recommending the perusal of the same book to their companions, or
perhaps by satisfying their inquiries concerning it by conversation, without every one's perusing it. V. REMEMBER that
business in reading or in conversation, especially on subjects of natural, moral, or divine science, is not merely to know the opinion of the author or speaker, for this is but the mere knowledge of history; but your
chief business is to consider whether their opinions are right or not, 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 and 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 business indeed is only to find out the sense, and understand the true meaning 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
you 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 judgement.
VI. LET this, therefore, be your practice, especially after you have gone through one course of
any 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 deficiences : 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
are a man
science in your