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CHAPTER IX.

MENTAL TRAINING.

SECT. I.-GENERAL OBSERVATIONS.

EDUCATION directed to the intellect, comprehends study or the means of acquiring knowledge, and the formation of mental habits, or the discipline of the intellectual faculties, whereby they are rendered fit and ready instruments of the will. The latter is mental training, properly so called; since it has for its direct object the development and perfection of the mind itself, without reference to any ulterior aim, to any of the special objects for which intellectual power is required.

This, next to moral training, or rather in inseparable connection with it, should be the principal aim of early education. The pliancy of the youthful mind, its unaptness for severe study, and its exemption from the demands of active life, combine to mark it as the period best fitted for the training of the powers which must afterwards be applied to special objects. The great mistake so often made, and which leads to the neglect of this important part of early training, lies in not considering the real purpose of the knowledge imparted to the young, which necessarily too limited in amount to be valuable for itself, possesses worth in proportion only to the assistance it has given in fitting the mind for future labours. When information is wanted for some special practical object, the quickest and readiest mode of acquiring it is doubtless the best, and must be followed, regardless of other considerations; but, generally speaking, in early education no such necessity exists, and the actual amount of knowledge gained is unimportant, compared with the other objects to be aimed at. If, then, by one method of teaching, a pupil could be instructed in a great variety of subjects, and taught a vast number of facts,

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MENTAL TRAINING NOT MERE INSTRUCTION.

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or forms of language, without his reason being trained, or habits of thought and observation induced;—while another method should form those habits, but leave the mind comparatively barren of information;-the latter should unhesitatingly be preferred, although its less showy results would afford little gratification to the vanity of either pupil or teacher. The well-disciplined mind will easily turn to the acquisition of further knowledge; but the head full to overflowing with the results of other men's investigations and labours, may remain satisfied with this mere book learning, and never acquire the power or habit of thinking and reasoning for itself.

Obvious as this appears, it is too commonly overlooked, and mental training is confounded with mere instruction; while parents and teachers seem to take for granted that the latter will necessarily, and of itself, train and discipline the mind. Doubtless it does so to a certain extent, by exercising some faculties, such as attention and memory; but the system in which it is made the primary object, leaves reason uncultivated, and allows imagination either to run wild, or to perish, according to disposition and circumstances. The consequences of this confusion are visible in the disproportion between the immense educational apparatus of the present day, and its actual results. The standard of general information is raised, but there is no corresponding increase of mental vigour, of sound judgment, or large and clear views; for these result, not from the mere knowledge which has been trusted to the memory, but from those carefully trained habits of mind which strengthen and assist the exercise of reason, and make thought at once vigorous and clear.

In pursuing any particular branch of knowledge, our object is special and limited, and the effect of our pursuit upon the mind is of the same partial character: but the influence of the proper discipline of the mental faculties has no limit but the capacity and duration of the mind itself; such discipline gives us the mastery of an admirable instrument, which we may afterwards apply to any object within the sphere of human thought or action. From it also springs all the moral power of intellectual culture; for it is not proficiency in this or that branch of knowledge which strengthens the mind in the performance of duty, refines its moral sensibilities, or adds weight to the influence of character; but the enlightened and liberal views, the sober cast of thought, the accuracy of judgment, making decision at once prompt and safe, which can be obtained only by mental discipline. Habit is no less powerful an auxiliary in mental, than in moral culture. When we have trained certain powers of the intellect to habitual exercise, they act, as it were, spontaneously,

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and in bringing them afterwards to bear on any special point, we have to contend with no difficulties, but those which belong to the subject itself; we are free from all those hindrances which arise from ignorance of the means of carrying on our task, or inaptitude in using those means. The advantage is the same as that which a workman, who is complete master of his tools, enjoys over one who is unaccustomed to their use, and whose awkwardness in handling them doubles the difficulty of his task. An inquiry, therefore, into what mental habits it is most necessary to train, and into the means of training them, must precede any consideration of special studies or pursuits.

INFLUENCE OF HABIT.

Among these means, study undoubtedly holds a prominent place, but its efficiency depends on the active intention in the mind of making it subservient to the purposes of mental discipline. This is the inward practical principle, without which, as we have seen, *the enforced observance of certain rules, or performance of certain acts, will fail in producing a habit. In the study of mathematics, for instance, which tends perhaps more than any other to cultivate and strengthen the reason, unless this object has been kept principally in view, great acuteness in scientific investigation may be attained, without bringing any proportional gain in general power of reasoning, or strength of judgment. Habit will operate in respect to the point on which it has been cultivated, but if the mind be turned in another direction, the power will fail. It is, in short, the object or the motive for which we study, more than the study itself, which principally affects the mind. Were it otherwise, we might confidently expect all mathematicians and lawyers to be men of acute discrimination and sound judgment; we should look for accuracy, patience, largeness of views, and earnest love of truth, from all men of science; for fortitude, decision and self-command, from all who have been trained amid the toil and dangers of a military career. How far such expectations are actually realised we need not say.

Bearing, then, in mind the great principle on which the formation of habits depends, we clearly see in what relation intellectual pursuits stand to mental training, and the influence of the one upon the other. When our object is to form certain mental habits, our studies must be chosen with exclusive reference to their aptness for such a purpose; and the amount of information gained must be considered as subordinate in importance to the state of the mind while studying, and to the extent and direction of its activity after the hours of study are over;

*See Ch. ii., on Habit.

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OBSERVATION.

to the habitual tendencies, in short, which our pursuits foster and strengthen.

As reason is the highest faculty of the intellect, holding the same pre-eminent position in the intellectual as conscience in the moral nature, so those habits which tend to strengthen the power of reasoning, to facilitate its exercise, and correct its results, are of the first importance in mental discipline. Constant reference to this paramount object will give method to our endeavours, and by preventing the exclusive cultivation of one faculty at the expense of another, will preserve that harmony and proportion of the mind which are essential to its full development. It is in order to point out the general method by which this result may be attained, not with the view of presenting anything like an analysis of the mental powers, that we shall now briefly examine those among our faculties, by the methodical training of which we may form the habits which bear most directly on the cultivation of reason.

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SECT. II. OBSERVATION.

THE faculty of observation is one of the first unfolded in the human mind, accompanying the earliest dawn of infant intelligence, and giving the measure of its growth. In later years, the development of other powers greatly influences observation, and according to the education the child receives, it is blunted and misdirected, or cultivated and improved, till it becomes an important instrument of knowledge. He in whom it has been unfortunately blunted, goes on as a dull plodder through the world, blind to half the beauties it contains, untaught by its varied scenes of good and evil; while the active and observing mind finds

Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.'

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The well-known child's story of "Eyes and no Eyes" might be read with profit by many a grown-up person, who has never yet learnt to observe, nor even felt the value of observation. The poet, the wit, the artist, the philosopher, all owe to their powers of observation, that which books could never have given them.

It is from its close connexion with the spirit of inquiry, which is the root of the love of knowledge, that observation acquires its chief value. That which we do not perceive we shall certainly not inquire about; and, therefore, it is, that every rational

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system of education encourages pursuits which awaken the powers of observation. The difficulty, however, is not so much to awaken a power, which is called into action from the very first hours of life, as to improve and direct it. The question is, not simply to observe, but to observe that which is worth observing. Most people have observation enough for that which interests them; women, in particular, are quick and nice observers, but, unfortunately, their observation is generally directed to points of no real value. They will note, with minute accuracy, every detail in the dress, equipage, or manner of their acquaintance, while they remain blind to changes in the spirit of the times, to the working of principles which affect, perhaps, every social relation around them. Even where observation is of a higher kind, the want of reflection often makes it useless. The consequence is, that in society we often hear women make quick and clever remarks on people and things, but seldom hear them utter a reflection which shows that their inquiry or observation has extended below the surface.

When we speak, then, of training the habit of observation, we mean in connection with a rational spirit of inquiry, and a sense of the relative importance of the points to be observed. We may refer to the clever little work by Miss Martineau, entitled, "How to observe," as showing how powerful an instrument is accurate and well-directed observation in the attainment of knowledge. Wherever our object is the collection of facts, it is evident that observation is the first and most important means of attaining it: but its value depends on what we observe. Of two people, for instance, who give an account of the same event, one will add detail to detail, till the mind of the hearer becomes confused by their multiplicity, while the other, seizing only upon the important points, those which give the character of the fact, will, in a few words, convey a clear and accurate impression of it. Just as a mere sketch or outline by a master-hand conveys more in its few characteristic touches than the finished and laboured drawing of a less practised artist.

There are two conditions, then, necessary to make observation useful:-1st. That the mind be sufficiently alive and interested to observe quickly and accurately. 2nd. That we have some guiding principle to direct our observations. To say that we will observe everything is tantamount to saying that we shall observe nothing to any purpose. In travelling, for instance, if we have any object beyond the mere passive pleasure which arises from change of place and scene, we must know beforehand what sort of information we wish for, and to what we should direct observation, in order to attain it. The observation, for instance, of

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