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COMPOSITION A GREAT AID TO IMPROVEMENT. 247
In the early part of his studious career he extracted extensively. To the end of life he journalized. He scarcely had a thought he deemed worth preserving which he did, not insert in his journal. He practised writing until it became quite a pleasurable exercise. Of the immense benefit resulting from the practice he became increasingly convinced. It converted his mental materials into a definite shape, and enabled him to ascertain their extent. It preserved him from resting contented with half-formed notions of a subject. It rendered his resources available. It called his reflecting faculties into powerful activity, and invigorated them. It improved both the matter and style of his conversation. It created a demand for information, and caused it to be seized with avidity. Of the truth of this any one may soon satisfy himself. Let any man write for an hour or two, and he will find that his mental appetite has been sharpened, and it will readily digest appropriate nourishment. It tended to the formation of good mental habits. It greatly improved his powers of observation. It caused a vast fund of information to be collected which was both portable and readily inspected.
Self-improvement is largely dependent on memory. Mr. Hessel cordially subscribed to the beautifully-expressed sentiment of the late Mr. Jay: "Memory, like a friend, loves to be trusted, and rewards confidence." He was convinced that distinctness and depth of impression materially contributed to retentiveness. In reading, the size and clearness of the type had much to do, in his opinion, with the production of such an impression, and he therefore preferred a book with good type and good paper. On this principle, and also because he believed that extensive practice in it injured the style, he abandoned the use of short-hand, after having acquired great proficiency in reading as well as writing it. To enable him to recal beautiful scenes in nature, he would close his eyes after
having gazed upon them for a while, and employ himself in painting them upon memory's canvass.
Such were the chief means employed for mental culture. Many, it is to be feared, employ the means of moral culture heedless of results. Not so was it with Mr. Hessel.
Means were to him a ladder only.
The affections are the moulding power of our character. Ascertain what a man loves and hates, and the intensity of his love and hatred, his moral nature is then revealed. is the worthiness of the object of our love, so is our ex cellence. The highest excellence can be secured only by love to the Highest Being. Mr. Hessel's history forcibly illustrates this truth. In the vicarious sufferings and death of Christ he saw an expression of the Divine holiness and justice which inspired the profoundest awe, and a manifestation of God's love to man which kindled the intensest admiration, gratitude, and love.
Necessary as he believed public worship, private prayer, and Bible-study to be, he attached scarcely less importance. to meditation. He would have said with Dr. Channing, "Reverie was once the hectic of my soul; meditation has been its life." "Real action," it has been well observed "is in silent moments. The epochs of our life are not in the visible facts of our choice of a calling, our marriage, our acquisition of an office, and the like, but in a silent. thought by the way-side as we walk; in a thought which revises our entire manner of life, and says: 'Thus hast thou done, but it were better thus.' This revisal or correction is a constant force, which, as a tendency, reaches through our life-time." He who by meditation gets his soul penetrated with a sense of the all-pervading presence of his Lord, his Father, and his Judge, feels, even in the bustling city, that an emancipating and elevating force is constantly at work within him.
While urgently enforcing the diligent use of means of
"I HAVE NO TALENT."
moral culture, I fully concur in this utterance of a valuable writer. "The moral nature is fed by right action amidst present duties, rather than by direct efforts exerted on the character. Improvement is less promoted by constant selfwatching, than by a generous pouring forth of our minds and hearts on grand objects. Great men are produced by great ends. We improve without intending, without knowing it, by mere intercourse with great minds. Perhaps direct effort is chiefly important as preparing us for these more gently pervading influences. The best growth is that which we do not rigidly determine."
I must not terminate my remarks without a few words of reply to some current objections. Many a youth finds a quietus to the perturbations excited by the stimulating appeals of some lecturer, in the off-handed soliloquy "I have no talent." Unquestionably a great difference exists in men's capacity for mental improvement, but great improvement is attainable by every man. John Hessel exhibited no remarkable superiority at twenty-one. Here are declarations from his own pen after he entered College. "Greek this afternoon. Very difficult. But I find I must not be afraid of labour." "I doubt very much whether I shall ever arrive at any thing like excellence. I have not patience for severe and continuous study. I would fain attain the end without the means.' Composition became quite a pleasurable exercise and he attained to great facility in it; at this period, however, he writes: "I feel a great reluctance to composition." "I have an unconquerable reluctance to write." Had it not been for his invincible determination to make the best use of his powers, he would have descended to the oblivion which annually entombs so many.
This determination was not maintained without many a struggle, and involved what was for some time felt to be
irksome toil. But the moment application became a habit, irksomeness was transformed into delight. And so will it be in your case. Persevere in your battle against sloth and fickleness, and the taxing of your powers will soon prove a pleasurable excitement. The severer your struggle, the more joyous your victory. "The longer I live," says Sir Fowell Buxton, "the more I am certain that the great difference between men, between the feeble and the powerful, the great and insignificant, is ENERGY-INVINCIBLE DETERMINATION—a purpose once fixed, and then death or victory. THAT QUALITY WILL DO ANYTHING THAT CAN BE DONE IN THIS WORLD; and no talents, no circumstances, no opportunities, will make a two-legged creature A MAN without it."
Know, my young friend, that the plea "I have no talent” is understood to mean : I have no disposition; I care nothing about improvement." This is a feature of ill-omen in a young man. It betrays the want of moral principle, and marks him as the tempting prey of bad associates.
Do not conclude that because you cannot learn many things you can learn nothing. Apply yourself resolutely to the mastery of some one pursuit. It matters comparatively little how slow your progress. Thoroughness with slowness is better than rapidity with superficialness. "Time and patience change the mulberry leaf to satin." Lord St. Leonards has thus explained the secret of his success: "I resolved when beginning to read law, to make everything I acquired perfectly my own, and never to go to a second thing till I had entirely accomplished the first. Many of my competitors read as much in a day as I read in a week; but at the end of twelve months my knowledge was as fresh as on the day it was acquired, while theirs had glided from recollection."
"I have no time" is a more common plea for negligence.
"An earnest purpose finds time or makes it" says Capel William Chambers of Edinburgh has exemplified this. "My education" says he, " was that which is supplied at the humble parish school of Scotland; and it' was only when I went to Edinburgh, a poor boy, that I devoted my evenings, after the labours of the day, to the cultivation of that intellect which the Almighty has given me. From seven or eight in the morning till nine or ten at night, was I at my business as a bookseller's apprentice, and it was only during hours after these, stolen from sleep, that I could devote myself to study. I assure you that I did not read novels; my attention was devoted to physical science and other useful matters. During that period I taught myself French." Mark what he adds: "I look back to those times with great pleasure, and am almost sorry I have not to go through the same troubles again. I reaped more pleasure when I had not a sixpence in my pocket, studying in a garret in Edinburgh, than I now find when sitting amidst all the elegancies and comforts of a parlour.” Physical toil for ten or twelve hours a day, if not exhausting, does not incapacitate for two or three hours of mental exertion. And "an hour a day, if profitably employed, would enable any man of ordinary capacity," says Mr. Smiles," to master a complete science very shortly. It would make an ignorant man well-informed in ten years."
Attention to two things, practicable to the busiest man, will infallibly secure improvement. One of these is reading. Avoid light reading; of newspapers and periodicals read little. "Few have been sufficiently sensible of the importance of that economy in reading," says John Foster, "which selects, almost exclusively, the very first order of books. Why should a man, except for some special reason, read a very inferior book at the time that he might be reading one of the highest order." The other is observation. Be a keen observer. Inquire into the properties and uses