Immagini della pagina

If a writer's argument be very long, or involve much explanation or illustration, the reader will find it useful to write out the heads, so as to keep the connection more immediately before him. And if the style be wordy, or the subject one which admits of the aid of rhetoric, the same precautions that we recommended to help in acquiring a clear apprehension will be necessary here, that, the argument being stripped of adventitious ornament, the mind may form its judgment on the reasoning alone, unaffected by the eloquence of the exposition. Critical judgment will next inquire into the arrangement of the whole work, the connection of its parts, the excellence or defects of its style; and the young reader should render to herself a strict account of her reasons for approving or disapprov ing on any of these points. It may also be of use occasionally to record those reasons in writing, especially if they seem doubtful, or if the observations that have occurred to us are such as had not occurred before, in order to refer to them on reading the same work again, or other writings on the same subject. The observations may be utterly worthless, — what seems new to us may be, in fact, trite or exploded, but it is in this as in all our early endeavors to study, it is not the intrinsic value of what we acquire that is of most importance, but the labor of the mind, and its gradual training to sound habits of thought.

When first beginning to study any subject, we can have no opinion concerning it at all; that must be slowly built up as our ignorance is dispelled, and fresh knowledge gives us more and more means of judging. Each day's reading and reflection will create or strengthen impressions, and suggest thoughts, which gradually shape themselves into definite opinion. These as they arise should be carefully noted, in writing, if the memory is not very accurate, and subsequently compared with later views, - reëxamined by the light of further knowledge, till we feel ourselves competent to pronounce a judgment. One who studies thus will ponder over one book, while another perhaps runs through several, but his profit will be in proportion to his apparent tardiness. The second reading of the

same work is also better for beginners than going on to a new one; it enables the mind to make a certain portion of knowledge more firmly its own, either by waking again the same train of reflection, or, if a different one, by exciting comparison between the two. It facilitates our taking that wide grasp of a subject which only a well trained and exercised mind takes rapidly or at once.

It is not every book that it is desirable to read in this laborious manner. We are here speaking of real study, and if any subject is considered worth serious study at all, it is worth the utmost labor to form sound opinions and to obtain accurate knowledge concerning it. Moreover, it is the labor itself which is valuable, from its effect in strengthening the faculties and fitting them for use, and its good results will be felt in all subsequent reading. On the other hand, the harm the mind receives from the habit of resting satisfied with hasty and imperfect information is in some ways greater than that caused by complete ignorance. What Lord Bacon says of the evil done to science by the too early framing of methods "whereby a compact body being erected, there was a form of perfectness, and men sought for no further progress," applies with the same force to hasty conclusions and ill-digested theories in each individual mind. These crude notions, formed on imperfect grounds, or the mere result, perhaps, of ignorant admiration of some brilliant paradox, bear also a “form of perfectness,” a semblance of complete knowledge, which leads the mind to contemplate its acquisition with fondness, and closes up the avenue to correction and improvement. Although, therefore, in exercising our judgment in study, it is inevitable that some opinion should be formed before we are really perhaps competent to form one, let it not, we repeat, be allowed to assume a higher character than is warranted by the grounds on which it rests. This caution will save us at least from cheating ourselves. We shall not call our ignorance of difficulties, clearness of discernment, nor take, as too many are apt to take, the glimmer of our own farthing candle for the ray of truth's guiding star.

3. We come now to the third great point to be considered in study; namely, Retention, "the custody of knowledge," as Lord Bacon expresses it. No argument is required to prove the importance of retaining the knowledge which it has cost so much labor to acquire; but only those who have attentively considered the subject know how much the method in which the acquisition was made influences its retention. The advantage of a naturally good memory, which facilitates almost beyond calculation the labor of study, is not to be commanded; it is a gift beyond our reach; the great point, then, to consider is how a bad memory can be turned to the best account, by what means its weakness can be assisted, and its feeble powers drawn out to the utmost.

We have already spoken of the influence of different habits of association upon the memory, and remarked that the most valuable kind of memory is trained by connecting our information according to principles of philosophical association; in other words, according to the real relations of facts, in order to link each new acquisition with whatever is analogous to it in our previous knowledge. Each new fact so added, not only retains additional hold on the memory, but prepares the latter for the reception of further knowledge by bringing into view a still greater number of relations and analogies, which serve again as so many links between fresh information and that already stored in the mind. Suppose, for instance, an ignorant person, or a mere careless reader, taking up an historical work, unless his memory is peculiarly good he will probably find it difficult even to remember the succession of events, while their causes and consequences will be wholly forgotten. But if a person already possessed of historical knowledge reads the history of some period with which he is unacquainted, the events do not follow each other to his apprehension, as isolated facts, for he perceives their analogy to other historical events; he examines the points of difference and of resemblance, — how far the causes were alike, - how far the consequences were the same, or were altered by difference in the state of the times, or of national character, — and thus the facts become linked in

his mind, and with each fresh link obtain additional hold on the memory. They no longer stand as mere words in a chronological table, but form part of a series illustrating a truth or principle.

To the same cause may be referred the advantage which a weak memory derives from connecting in some measure any two or more subjects of study with which it may be occupied ; that is, in carrying on relative pursuits, or such as involve inquiries relative to the same class of objects. These throw light upon each other; the facts one study presents are referred to facts already learnt in the kindred pursuit, and tend to illustrate the same, or closely allied principles. For instance, if we are much engaged with some branch of natural philosophy, we shall find that we can at the same time more easily read and remember a work on any other scientific subject, than one on history or politics; while, on the other hand, if we are studying the latter, our attention will be more easily turned to questions of moral philosophy or legislation, than to science. In these cases the train of association is extended, not disturbed; the newly acquired knowledge bears relation to that already possessed, and the work of memory is proportionably facilitated.

There is so much connection between subjects of the same class, that it is easy for the young student to avail herself of the advantages thus offered by the influence of association. Nor is this advantage confined to assisting the memory; such a method of study also calls forth more thought, and preserves the mind at once from the one-sidedness of exclusive devotion to a single subject, and from the vagueness and confusion of desultory reading. Even among subjects of the same class, one should be chosen as the chief object of study, to which others should be kept in subordination; one leading idea is thus kept prominent in the mind, and this is an essential feature of an efficient system. No doubt some general information on science may be gained by reading successively upon chemistry, mechanics, geology, &c., without in any way connecting these studies; but the effect on the mind, as well as the character of the knowledge acquired, will be very different if one of these

subjects be made the principal object, the centre to which the others are to be referred. Method at once introduces order, memory is assisted instead of being burdened, and the attempt to trace the various relations presented by these different subjects, the labor of classifying the facts, and following out the general principles they tend to develop, leads to further knowl edge, and gives a degree of exercise to the various faculties of the mind, which serve to invigorate and increase its power.

The fact that no one subject can be pursued to any extent, without necessitating inquiries into a variety of others which are closely related to it, sufficiently proclaims this method as the most natural and the best. The deeper we go, the wider we find the relations, the more intimately connected the great laws, which each branch of knowledge seeks to investigate; the most profound researches of modern science tend to bring more and more into view these ultimate relations. And it is the same with other subjects as with science; the study of history, for instance, cannot be seriously pursued, without leading to inquiries into the general laws which govern human passion and action, into the principles of legislation and the progress of literature, and the deeper the study, the greater the knowledge required of all these closely related subjects.

Some persons, who intend to be very methodical in their pursuits, make the mistake of supposing it to be necessary always to read one book through before beginning another; and, in their dread of desultory habits, continue this tedious succession, which in some cases may be wholly opposed to true method. The order which it is desirable to maintain is in the mind itself; in the matter stored in the memory, not in the succession of the pages we read; one, therefore, who reads through twenty volumes, from the dedication to the appendix, may be desultory, because superficial and careless of mental arrangements; whereas another who turns from book to book, from passage to passage, may be laboring systematically, if he is keeping one steady purpose in view. It may be necessary to refer to many volumes to illustrate a single point, or it is possible that one volume only, or one chapter even, of a work should

« IndietroContinua »