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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 labouring 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 be required for the sake of its bearing on. particular questions, while the remainder is of no importance to us, and would only distract attention from that on which we are immediately engaged. The long-approved school-room plan of reading a certain number of pages each day is not so unlike, as its advocates would suppose, from that of the lady who, having a great desire to study, began to read the first volume in the left-hand corner of the upper shelf of the book-case, and read on from shelf to shelf to the end!
CULTIVATION OF MEMORY.
The influence of attention on memory is proverbial, and reflection, which is in one sense an act of prolonged attention, is beneficial in the same manner; the impression on the memory is strengthened, as if the latter were really some material substance on which objects could be more or less deeply stamped according to the time they are in contact. But reflection presents also another advantage. In thinking over anything we have read we rarely ponder the very words of the author, but the subject is
framed anew in our own language; its various parts follow according to the order of succession natural to our peculiar habits of thought and association; it becomes naturalised, if we may so express it, in our mind, and is clothed in the garb most familiar to its new habitation. It is for this reason also that Dugald Stewart recommends the practice of writing as a means of improving the memory; *for what we write follows the order of succession most natural to us, and to which, therefore, the mind will most readily recur; and thus the statements or reasonings of another, reproduced in our own language, acquire something of the same kind of hold on the memory which our own speculations would have.
WORKS OF REFERENCE.
We have said nothing on the most favourite specific for improving a bad memory, namely, learning by heart; for our own experience leads us to place but little value upon it. And although in this we have the majority of opinions against us, we may at least quote Locke on our side. "For," says he, "the learning of pages of Latin by heart, no more fit the memory for retention of anything else, than the graving of one sentence in lead makes it more capable of retaining any other characters." But this is a point to be decided by personal experience. Certain general principles only can be laid down as true, and to be followed by all; other things may be added, and the detail carried out according to the capacity and peculiar turn of mind of the individual. Whether or not the practice of learning by heart increases the power of memory in other studies, it may be of no small use and delight in itself, by causing the mind to dwell frequently on the images of grandeur and beauty which fine poetry presents, and accustoming the ear to the cadence and melody of language in its highest form. This alone is a study of great value.
Good works of reference are valuable to a weak memory, and the reader should never spare the labour of consulting them, nor suffer himself to remain on any point in that confused state which results from imperfect recollection; but should instantly search, even for the twentieth or the hundredth time, for the information that will set him right. It is a most false notion of the economy of time, which grudges that which is so spent, for the uneasiness caused by the sense of confusion incapacitates the mind for close 'attention or reasoning, even when the defect of memory does not create misapprehension of the subject under consideration.
Works of reference are also valuable in saving a weak memory the effort of remembering unessential particulars, and among these may often be classed things, on the accurate recol
* Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind. Chap. vi., sec. 5.
lection of which many a person's whole reputation for knowledge is founded; dates, for instance, and a variety of facts, the chief value of which may have been to establish certain general principles. Such principles or laws, which are the expression of real knowledge, and the basis of further speculation, are the essentials which the memory must by every means be made to retain, while its weakness is spared on points it can better afford to lose. It is not intended to depreciate the knowledge of the latter when it can be combined with what is truly important; a good memory which retains not only general principles and reasonings, but all the facts and particulars on which they are founded, is an invaluable possession; but it is, as we have said, a natural gift, and nothing can supply its place. With a bad memory, as with other natural defects, we can only strive to let the evil press where its effects will be least injurious; we must perforce remain ignorant of much, but we can choose of what character our ignorance shall be, and we can prevent its being a bar to the free action of the mental powers, though we cannot prevent its incapacitating us, in great measure, from shining in society. One who has a very small sum to spend is forced to choose the one thing he feels to be most necessary, and so one who has a weak memory must select, when studying, those points which are most needful, and be content to forego the rest and to endure the labour of searching, when required, for what his memory will not retain.
One of the great disadvantages women labour under in studying, is the want of any test of their progress. The frequent examinations to which a man is subject, in the course of his education, and the positive test afforded by the practical application of his knowledge, in whatever profession he may embrace, furnish him with the continual means of proving his capacity; he cannot, if he have any earnestness or ability, deceive himself long as to the extent of his information, and, indeed, the opinion of others is generally loud enough to correct his error, if he should be blind to his deficiencies. But women mostly study alone, with none to examine their progress, and nothing to test their powers; they may, therefore, be self-deceived to any extent, unless they take some pains themselves to remedy the defect. The most practical method of doing so, is by gaining the habit of writing down the result of study, as though preparing for examination, or wishing to impart knowledge to another; the manner in which we do this, clearly and well, or confusedly and unintelligibly, is one of the surest tests of the extent and accuracy of our information, whether we have mastered the subject or only skimmed its surface.
This test is vehemently opposed by all superficial readers, who
would, nevertheless, contend that they thoroughly understand what they read. They attribute their failure in the attempt to unfold their knowledge, to nervousness, to bad memory, to want of a command of language, or of power of expressing themselves, —to anything, in short, but the right cause. It is true that all these things are obstacles to making a clear and good exposition, but they would not prevent some intelligible statements being given; for, as we have elsewhere* had occasion to remark, when the mind has a clear and definite conception, the language to express it will flow almost spontaneously. The expression may not be happy or forcible, but, we repeat, it will convey intelligibly the well-defined thought; the real difficulty, if any exists, is in the mind. It is a point easily tried. Let any person pleading the above excuses be questioned with the very book before him, and it will generally be found that some link of the argument has been passed over, or some circumstance disregarded, or some point which gave force and aptness to the illustration not discerned; that in one way or another, in short, the principle involved has not been distinctly apprehended. Allowing, however, full force to the objections, it only becomes the more advisable to pursue any course which will make it indispensable to overcome such difficulties, since they arise from defects which ought to be corrected. The want of memory, for instance, is clearly a defect to be remedied if possible; and so likewise is the want of habit or of power of expressing ourselves well; since few things are more indicative of a really cultivated mind than the command of correct and elegant language.
In acquiring the practice of writing for this purpose, more care should be taken with the mere form than if notes are only kept to assist the memory. The expressions must not only be intelligible and correct, but they should be carefully chosen to convey a meaning forcibly in as few words as may be, and the statement should be simple and well arranged, all which points are apt to be slurred over in a mere book of notes. We naturally understand our own statement, however faulty,—at least, at the moment of making it,—though many of us might afterwards be in the situation of Jean Paul Richter, who, being asked the meaning of a sentence he had written, replied that God and himself knew at the time he wrote it, but now God alone possessed the secret! A certain habit of criticism is necessary to make us aware of its imperfections; but this spirit of criticism is more quickly aroused when we suppose our remarks addressed to another person. We then become aware that some point, which seemed clear
* See Chap. ix., sec. 6.
to ourselves, requires more elucidation, that the terms we use must be carefully sifted, lest, owing to any peculiar opinions of our own, we should have employed them to convey a meaning which does not commonly belong to them. Our taste is awakened by thus, in some measure, studying the art of composition; the ear becomes more quick to detect clumsy or inelegant language, abruptness or uneasy length in the sentences; and we continue to grow more and more critical till a habit is formed of easily and clearly expressing whatever is clearly defined in the mind.
In every respect the habit of writing is beneficial. In the rapidity of unexpressed thought, we are apt to pass too lightly over a subject; some of its bearings escape us, which in the slower meditation of writing come to view; or some suggestions occur, and are passed over and forgotten, which, if followed out, might have led to valuable speculations,—valuable as an exercise to the mind, even if their intrinsic worth were small. In proportion, then, as journals dwelling upon feelings, upon the emotions and hopes of daily life, are weakening and injurious to the mind, the record of thought, the summary of studies, or of the speculations suggested by those studies, is beneficial, not only as facilitating labour and testing our progress, but as developing the understanding and giving the command of its powers. This practice has an especial value for women, not only for the reasons mentioned above, but also because teaching should ever be considered by them in the light of a serious avocation, belonging to their natural position. Every mother is not, indeed, bound to teach her own children, in so far as the mere routine of book-instruction goes; but she who is unfit to do so, who has not, to a certain extent studied the subject, falls sadly short of the duties of her natural vocation. And although she may devolve actual lessons upon another, who but herself will give that far larger and more important amount of instruction, which an inquiring child is hourly seeking?
Some persons may think that no great ability can be required to teach, when the pupils are mere children; but this shows their ignorance of the latter, and their want of consideration of the subject. Without speaking of that difficult part of the teacher's art, which consists in watching the indications of a child's mind, in order to train its opening powers, the mere task of explanation is one of great difficulty. With older scholars, a few words of illustration or allusion to other subjects, or an explanation in which technical terms, or others that seem more suitable, may be employed, will convey the desired information; but far greater simplicity and clearness of language is needed with children, as with all uneducated persons, and that thorough