Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

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 belong to us, and require our conformity to them, we should then call ourselves to account, and inquire seriously whether we have put them in practice or not; 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 inquire how 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 immediate 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 while 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, newspapers, 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, provided that every one be so attentive and so free

as

as to make their occasional remarks on such lines or sentences, such periods or paragraphs, as in their opinion deserve it. Now all those paragraphs or sentiments deserve a remark, which are new and uncommon, are noble and excellent for the matter of them, are strong and convincing for the argument contained in them, are beautiful and elegant for the language or the manner, or any way worthy of a second rehearsal ; and at the request of any of the company, let those paragraphs be read over again.

Such parts also of these writings as may happen to be remarkably stupid or silly, false or mistaken, should become subjects of an occasional criticism, made by some of the company, and this may give occasion to the repetition of them for the confirmation of the censure, for amusement or diversion.

Still let it be remembered, that where the historical narration is of considerable moment, where the poesy, oratory, &c. shine with some degrees of perfection and glory, a single reading is neither sufficient to satisfy a mind that has a true taste of this sort of writings, nor can we make the fullest and best improvement of them without proper reviews, and that in our retirement as well as in company. Who is there that has any taste for polite writings that would be sufficiently satisfied with hearing the beautiful pages of Steel or Addison, the admirable descriptions of Virgil or Milton, or some of the finest poems of Pope, Young, or Dryden, orice read over to them, and then lay them by for ever?

XVI. Among these writings of the latter kind we may justly reckon short miscellaneous essays on all manner of subjects : such as the Occasional Papers, the Tatlers, the Spectators, and some other books that have been compiled out of the weekly or daily products of the press, wherein are contained a great number of bright thoughts, ingenious remarks, and admirable observations, which have had a considerable share in furnishing the present age with knowledge and politeness. I wish every paper among these writings could have been

recommended

D 3

recommended both as innocent and useful. I wish every unseemly idea and wanton expression had been banished from amongst them, and every trifling page had been excluded from the company of the rest, when they had been bound up in volumes. But it is not to be expected, in so imperfect a state, that every page or piece of such mixed public papers should be entirely blameless and laudable. Yet in the main, it must be confessed, there is so much virtue, prudence, ingenuity, and goodness in them, especially in eight volumes of Spectators, there is such a reverence of things sacred, so many valuable remarks for our conduct in life, that they are not improper to lie in parlours, or summer-houses, or places of usual residence, to entertain our thoughts in

any moments of leisure, or vacant hours that occur. There is such a discovery of the follies, iniquities, and fashionable vices of mankind contained in them, that we may learn much of the humours and madnesses of the

age, and the public world, in our own solitary retirement, without the danger of frequenting vicious company, or recei, ving the mortal infection.

XVII. AMONG other books which are proper and requisite, in order to improve our knowledge in general, or our i acquaintance with any particular science, it is necessary that we should be furnished with vocabularies and dictionaries of several sorts, viz. Of common words, idioms, and phrases, in order to explain their sense ; of technical words, or the terms of art, to shew their use in arts and sciences ; of names of men, countries, towns, rivers, &c. which are called historical and geographical dictionaries, &c. These are to be consulted and used upon every occasion ; and never let an unknown word pass in your reading, without seeking for its sense and meaning in some of these writers.

If such books are not at hand, you must supply the want of them as well as you can, by consulting such as can inform you: and it is useful to note down the matters of doubt and inquiry in some pocket-book, and take the first oppor

tunity to get them resolved, either by persons or books, when we meet with them.

XVIII. Be not satisfied with a mere knowledge of the best authors that treat of any subject, instead of acquainting yourselves thoroughly with the subject itself. There is many a young student that is fond of enlarging his knowledge of books, and he contents himself with the notice he has of their title-page, which is the attainment of a bookseller rather than a scholar. Such persons are under a great temptation to practise these two follies. (1.) To heap up a great number of books at greater expence than most of them can bear, and to furnish their libraries infinitely better than their understandings. And (2.) when they have got such rich treasures of knowledge upon their shelves, they imagine themselves men of learning, and take a pride in talking of the names of famous authors, and the şubjects of which they treat, without any real improvement of their own minds in true science or wisdom. At best their learning reaches no farther than the indexes and tables of contents, while they know not how to judge or reason concerning the matters contained in those authors.

And indeed how many volumes of learning soever a man possesses, he is still deplorably poor in his understanding, till he has made these several parts of learning his own property, by reading and reasoning, by judging for himself, and remembering what he has read.

CHAP. V.

Judgement of Books.

I. IF

we would form a judgement of a book which we have not seen before, the first thing that offers is the title-page, and we may sometimes guess a little at the import and design of a book thereby ; though it must be confessed that titles are often deceitful, and promise more than the book

performs.

D4

[ocr errors]

performs. The author's name, if it be known in the world, may help us to conjecture at the performance a little more, and lead us to guess in what manner it is done. A perusal of the preface or introduction (which I before recommend. ed) may further assist our judgement; and if there be an index of the contents, it will give us still some advancing light.

If we have not leisure or inclination to read over the book itself regularly, then by the titles of chapters we may be directed to peruse several particular chapters or sections, and observe whether there be any thing valuable or important in them. We shall find hereby whether the author explains his ideas clearly, whether he reasons strongly, whether he methodizes well, whether his thoughts and sense be manly, and his manner polite ; or, on the other hand, whether he be obscure, weak, trifling, and confused : or, finally, whether the matter may not be solid and substantial, though the manner or style be rude and disagreeable.

II. By having run through several chapters and sections in this manner, we may generally judge whether the treatise be worth a complete perusal or not. But if by such an occasional survey of some chapters, our expectation be utterly discouraged, we may well lay aside that book; for there is great probability he can be but an indifferent writer on that subject, if he affords but one prize to divers blanks, and it may be some downright blots too. The piece can hardly be valuable, if in seven or eight chapters which we peruse, there be but little truth, evidence, force of reasoning, beauty, and ingenuity of thought, &c. mingled with much error, ignorance, impertinence, dulness, mean and common thoughts, inaccuracy, sophistry, railing, &c. Life is too short, and time is too precious, to read every new book quite over, in order to find that it is not worth the reading

III. There are some general mistakes which persons are frequently guilty of in passing a judgement on the books which they read.

One

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »