Obrázky stránek

under tribute, for if he acquires an extensive government of spirits he will require large resources. To those around he must supply what is defective-correct what is wrong. If he cannot make those who are shorter sighted see the objects of his aim he must set before them a nearer object in the same direction-furnish them with materials to work upon-let fall ideas into their mind-give a bias to the whole of their mental operations—cause them to act quite in a different way from what they would have done had they not come in contact with him.

"Moral elevation requisite. Mere intellectual greatness can exert but little real power. There must be honesty, truth, and integrity without a spot, kindness, and also benevolence, so as to inspire respect and invite confidence. The very perception of this elevation of character by other men gives an immense power, and imparts value to every direct effort. It arms zeal with an irresistible authority.” -Is there not loftiness of purpose as well as maturity of intellect exhibited here? Notwithstanding the intensity of his thirst for knowledge, the thoroughly practical character of his mind always prevented him from becoming a mere intellectual reservoir. The desire for usefulness during the latter period of his life was absorbing. In his desire and effort to diffuse knowledge and goodness as extensively as possible, he is well worthy of being imitated.

4. THE MEANS HE EMPLOYED TO EFFECT SELF-IMPROVEMENT merit consideration. "Every thinker, writer, and speaker, ought to be apprised," says John Foster, "that understanding is the basis of all mental excellence." The grand requisite is vigorous and systematic thinking. Reading will yield you slight benefit except it prompts you to think. "It is my misfortune," said a late distinguished writer, "that I have read much, but have reflected little." "Readers in general who have an object beyond amusement,


are not apprised of the most important use of reading, the acquisition of power. Mere knowledge is not power; and the memory retains but a small part of the knowledge of which a book should be full. The grand object then should be to improve the strength and tone of the mind by a thinking, analysing, discriminating, manner of reading."

Unless you are willing to renounce mental sloth, and summon your entire energies to action, you cannot realize any considerable improvement. It was because John Hessel resolved to put forth his "might" that his progress was so rapid. I well remember him coming to me one day while at College, and lamenting a felt reservation of power in prosecuting his studies. "I feel," said he, "just like a lady in white gloves, who touches every thing delicately as if afraid of touching it." A few months after, he told me that this feeling was quite gone, that he could now embark his whole powers in his pursuits. "There is no want of desire on the part of most persons at this day to arrive at the result of self-culture," says Mr. Smiles, "but there is a great aversion to pay the inevitable price for it, of hard work. Dr. Johnson held that 'impatience of study was the mental disease of the present generation;' and the remark is still applicable. We may not believe that there is a royal road to learning, but we seem to believe very firmly in a popular' one. In education, we invent labour-saving processes, seek short-cuts to science.

But it will not do. All such processes are delusive." "I cannot too much impress upon your mind," says Sir Walter Scott in a letter to his son Charles, "that labour is the condition which God has imposed on us in every station of life. There is nothing worth having that can be had without it, from the bread which the peasant wins with the sweat of his brow, to the sports by which the rich man must get rid of his ennui." It was a saying of Sir Joshua Reynolds, "nothing is denied to well-directed

labour; nothing is to be obtained without it." Sir Fowell Buxton says in a letter to Joseph John Gurney: “I hold a doctrine to which I owe-not much indeed, but all the little success I ever had-namely, that with ordinary talents and extraordinary perseverance all things are attainable." Discipline your mind to toil, young reader, as John Hessel did, and your labour shall not be in vain.

He was solicitous to get a just view of the relations of things, so as to be able rightly to estimate their relative importance. An Antipodo-baptist friend once expressed surprise that he did not see immersion to be the only scriptural mode of baptism, and that the ordinance was designed to be restricted to adults. He replied, "I have several much more important subjects to investigate before I can formally examine that. It will come in its turn."

He delighted to trace facts to their principles, and to discover the general laws which pervade nature and society. He found this to be the really royal road to self-improvement. "It signifies nothing," says the author of SelfFormation, "to know that gold is gold; or iron, iron; unless we have a notion of the connexions and dependencies of these things on others. People of intellectual experience are, of course, well aware of this. They know they can gain little or nothing by laying up a load of facts in the memory, unless they refer those facts to principles, and generalize them more or less exactly, into systems." He believed that "intellectual culture consists, not chiefly, as many are apt to think, in accumulating information, though this is important, but in building up a force of thought, which may be turned at will on any subjects on which we are called to pass judgment. This force is manifested in the concentration of the attention, in accurate penetrating observation; in reducing conplex subjects to their elements; in diving beneath the effect to the cause; in detecting the



more subtle differences and resemblances of things; in reading the future in the present; and especially, in rising from particular facts to general laws, or universal truths. This last exertion of the intellect, its rising to broad views and great principles, constitutes what is called the philosophical mind, and is especially worthy of culture. What it means your own observation must have taught you. You must have taken note of two classes of men, the one always employed on details, on particular facts; and the other using these facts as foundations of higher, wider truths. The latter are philosophers. One man reads a history, and can tell you all its events, and there stops; another combines these events, brings them under one view, and learns the great causes which are at work on this or another nation, and what are its great tendencies. So one man talks continually about the particular actions of this or another neighbour; whilst another looks beyond the acts to the inward principle from which they spring, and gathers from them larger views of human nature. a word, one man sees all things apart and in fragments; whilst another strives to discover the harmony, connexion, unity of all." He habitually referred sentiments to the test of principles he held to be settled. Hence he rejected as false many of the notions current in society. A friend once said to him, speaking of a clergyman whose ministry was not evangelical, that such preachers, he believed, did more harm than good. "I don't know that," replied he, "it would go counter to an important principle, and teach that a little good is a greater evil than none at all."


He sought a thorough acquaintance with human nature. Abbot has a passage in his Corner Stone, which, had it appeared in the narrative instead of the didactic form, would have been eminently applicable to him: "Be careful to make every experiment and effort a means of

increasing your stock of knowledge of the human mind, and of its tendencies and movements in respect to religious feeling. Watch the operation of causes and the nature of effects. Look into the Bible for a standard of religious duty, and for correct views of the nature and obligation of God's laws; and then look in the wide field of action and character which is developing itself all around you, and seek practical knowledge of men there. When you fail of producing a desired effect, investigate the cause of your failure; when causes from which you would have looked for one result produce a different or a contrary one, examine the cause and ascertain the difficulty. When success attends your efforts, analyse them with care to discover what were the essential conditions of success." Without any further object than experimenting on human nature, and possibly enjoying a little innocent sport, once, when in company with a young lady with whom he was familiar, and whom he knew to be fastidious about stating her age, he set himself to elicit that fact. He artfully turned the conversation so as to enable him to state the day of the month, and of the week, on which he was born. She unsuspectingly made a similar statement. This was just what he desired, for with this data he readily ascertained the year of her birth. He afterwards informed her that he was in possession of the great secret, and to her no small surprise and chagrin, how he had come by it.

Conversation he regarded as an important means of selfimprovement. "It relieves the mind," says he, "gives a new tone to its energies, and prepares it for new exertion. It gives one a more complete command over our intellectual resources." Subjects of which I gain but an indistinct conception when alone," he once said to me, “will generally unfold themselves as soon as I begin to talk about them."

His pen proved a powerful auxiliary to his advancement.

« PředchozíPokračovat »