Immagini della pagina
[blocks in formation]

knowledge of a subject which enables us to strip it of all conventional forms or terms, and re-produce it in another and more familiar shape. Perhaps no person is a truly good teacher without considerable practice, because the real art consists so much in suiting the mode of teaching to the peculiarities of the scholar's mind and powers of apprehension,-a quick discernment of which is only acquired by long habit; but much may nevertheless be learnt in the course of our own studies, (and very much as we have seen to the benefit of the latter), by the practice of writing which we have recommended.

Such then, are the leading features of a general method of study,—namely, unsparing labour to attain a clear and complete comprehension of the subject, to guard against the various forms of ambiguity in an author, and the various sources of error and confusion in our own minds; a thorough examination of the books we read, both as to language and matter; careful weighing of different facts or theories, in order to form our own opinions; and lastly, sedulous attention to the means of improving and assisting memory, and of acquiring the power of clear statement and accurate and elegant expression, both for the sake of testing our own knowledge, and of being able to explain our views to others. If these general principles are borne in mind, the mode of following any particular pursuit, or what we have called the experimental part of study, is easily learnt. We do not recommend such a method as expeditious at first, but he who grudges time thus spent, and prefers a seemingly speedier course, reminds us forcibly of the child, who, in his impatience to see flowers decking his garden, brooks no delay for digging, weeding, or otherwise preparing the soil, but sticks in the frail plants amid the hard clods and stones, and rejoices in their blooming appearance, little dreaming of the grief which awaits him on the morrow, when he shall find them withered and dying!

It remains to consider the choice of subjects for study; and the choice of books, i. e., of authorities to consult when the subject is selected; and these two points require to be particularly noticed with regard to women's studies, owing to the prejudices which envelope the one, and the difficulties which surround the other. Men possess few more enviable privileges than that of seeking knowledge and instruction wherever they are to be found. Colleges, libraries, lectures, are thrown open to them, and the assistance of the learned and the experienced is theirs if they choose to seek and profit by it; while women study alone; often in secret, with no resource but that of some scanty private library, and no assistance or instruction but what they may have received in childhood from persons whose whole qualifications as teachers

[blocks in formation]

consisted, perhaps, in the possession of some foreign tongue, some brilliant accomplishment, or of such a superficial acquaintance with more useful information as would reduce knowledge itself to the level of an accomplishment.* Thus unaided, one who would study truly feels herself in a sea of difficulties, not knowing whither, nor by what means, to direct her course. Every effort will, probably, expose her to opposition or ridicule; yet if she has courage to brave this risk, she may, perhaps, find some person willing to guide her first steps,-some man, whether brother or old friend, able and glad to give her counsel and assistance. For cold and indifferent as men usually are to the general mental improvement of women,-blind as they seem to its importance, the most frivolous only are hostile to individual endeavours, and many eagerly respond to the call for aid, and show generous sympathy for the energy and the real love of knowledge which lead a woman to encounter the difficulties so needlessly heaped upon her path.

The most valuable assistance, perhaps, that is given in such a case, is in pointing out the best authorities, and thereby saving the labour that would otherwise be lost in following a wrong system, or in accepting false or uncertain theories for truth. It is so impossible to form an opinion for ourselves on a subject we are unacquainted with, that the importance of the first authorities we consult is inestimable. As a general rule we should seek the simplest and most rigidly accurate, for thus we may lay some sure foundation of knowledge to assist our subsequent researches. When we possess a certain degree of acquaintance with a subject, benefit may be derived even from works faulty in many respects; but when we are too ignorant to discern the true from the false, accuracy is the first thing to be sought after, far beyond depth of research, or originality of views.

We are very anxious that the remarks made here and elsewhere on governesses, should not be regarded as blame addressed to them as individuals, or even as a class. So long as parents are ready to give eighty and one hundred guineas to a governess for mere accomplishments, while they refuse the pittance of twenty-five or thirty guineas to another, because she possesses only solid information and the mind and manners of a gentlewoman, so long, of course, those who are forced to become governesses for their livelihood, must sacrifice all the essentials of education to the showy talents for which alone there is any demand. We may add, also, that while the rich choose to give to cooks and their butlers salaries double in amount of that which they grudge to the companion and teacher of their daughters, it cannot be wondered at that the members of a profession so arduous and so ill-paid, should generally be unfit for its duties, or that none in the class of gentlewomen, but those forced by dire necessity, should enter it at all.


The memory is needlessly burdened by entering too deeply or minutely into a subject, till a certain degree of familiarity has given it increased hold upon the mind. At first a simple and correct exposition of general principles is the best, however barren of interest such a mere outline may seem; just as in travelling, when we wish rapidly to gain some topographical information, instead of studying maps and plans, we hasten to any high point, whether hill or church-tower, which commands a gencral view of the surrounding town or country, and leave all examination of details till we are acquainted with the general features and the relative positions of the various objects. This preliminary view prepares the reader for deeper or more complete works, and then he cannot study them too closely.


Works giving the history of any branch of knowledge, an account of the progress gradually made, and of those who have been most instrumental in making it, are of great value to persons who are studying alone, and ignorant of the best authorities to consult. The criticisms may, perhaps, be faulty, the judgments of men and their works imperfect; still an idea is given of what has been written, and what may be consulted without fear of material error, of what points are matters of controversy, and where the general opinion of the learned agree. None, perhaps, who have not themselves helplessly wandered in the wilderness of ignorance, can conceive how valuable such a guiding thread as this may be found.

The great difficulty of obtaining books or assistance of any kind, makes it often desirable for women to determine the bent of their studies to a certain extent, according to the means of instruction that may chance to be within reach, rather than to adhere too determinately to what their own inclination points to. The time thus spent, even if not altogether employed as they would wish, is not lost, since every branch of knowledge affords food and exercise to the understanding, the mind is invigorated and enlarged, and better fitted to pursue more congenial inquiries, whenever an opportunity shall present itself. It is no doubt a great trial to be precluded from the pursuits which are most interesting; with a strong love of science, for instance, and eager desire to know something of its wonders, to be surrounded only with works of history or antiquarian research; or with a fondness for general literature or speculative questions, to have nothing but scientific works within reach; but this is woman's fate in most things, to have neither choice nor free action. Her best wisdom is to bend to her own higher purposes, the circumstances to which she is forced to submit. And in the case before us, the young reader will find that her purpose of self-improvement is

[ocr errors]


better served by studying thoroughly any subject,-the dryest theological treatise, or the grammar of a language she will never have occasion to use, than by resting content with mere desultory reading, till she finds means to follow a pursuit to which she inclines.


The choice of subjects for study is, however, so wide a question and so important, that we must reserve it for a separate chapter.

[ocr errors]



WE have just noticed the case of those who have no means of following out the pursuits most congenial to their tastes. We must now consider those, who, in a more fortunate position, surrounded with books, and tempted on every side, are in danger of flying from one pursuit to another without ever making real progress in any. This is the snare of the idle; those who work for a special purpose, are forced to be persevering and systematic in their studies; but men who have no profession are too commonly guilty of this error, and women are educated, we may say, to fall into it. They are not supposed to want knowledge for any useful purpose; what they acquire in the school-room, in the intervals of music and dancing lessons, is evidently a mere routine, to be changed on a certain day for that of balls, novelreading, and fancy-work. If, therefore, they happen to have a desire for some kind of knowledge, they naturally consider the pursuit in the light of a mere amusement, taken up without any idea of a serious purpose, and laid down again at pleasure.

When women shall have learned to take a higher view of their position, when they shall feel that mental cultivation is a privilege, no less than part of the duty they owe to God and to society, then they will consider these things differently, and be earnest in the pursuit of knowledge, the true value of which they will have learnt to feel. All subjects will not then, as now, stand in the same rank of indifferency, for all will, perhaps, be invested with new interest, while some will appear in a wholly different light, as essential for certain purposes. Just as a man, who has professional objects in view, feels no hesitation about

« IndietroContinua »