« IndietroContinua »
Maintenon expressed it, to the intolerable weariness of striving to amuse one who is no longer capable of being amused.
The pleasures arising from active pursuits, on the contrary, last as long as the power of exertion. This holds good even of bodily activity. Many a man of seventy enjoys the pleasures of the chase with the eagerness of a boy, whilst the mere sensualist of the same age is dead to every excitement. Still truer is it of those pursuits which call into activity the higher powers of the mind; and which, from their very nature, are inexhaustible, holding forth new, and ever new, treasures to excite and reward our labours. Even when our energies fail us for the pursuit, and the lamp of life burns low and dim, the spirit yet retains its freshness, and only folds its wings as it sinks towards its earthly grave, that it may spread them for a bolder and higher flight in the regions beyond.
Finally, it must never be forgotten that, whether consciously for good, or unconsciously for evil, the influence of habit is incessantly at work. Every day in which we neglect to make it minister to our improvement, ministers to our deterioration. We cannot lessen its power, though we may bend it to our will; like the torrent which rushes past our dwelling, whose eternal flow of waters we cannot arrest, although we can so direct it as to make it the most efficient and indefatigable of servants.
POWER OF HABIT UNCEASING.
ONE of the first and most important objects for which we require the power of habit, is the attainment of method. By method, we do not mean simply methodical habits in this or that particular, but the spirit of system pervading the mind, and regulating the whole of life, on deliberate and well-ordered plan. This is the very foundation of self-education. When we begin to reflect on our own nature and faculties, on the purposes for which they are given in this world, and the indications they afford of the nature of a future existence, we are led to feel the necessity of systematic training, to fit us for the fulfilment of our appointed task. The unity of purpose which connects the different phases of life, when life is viewed at once as a course of present duty and a school for a future and higher sphere of existence, presses upon us the necessity of method, to carry the same unity into our own aims and endeavours, and to make all the various circumstances and actions of life combine towards the attainment of its one great end, the fulfilment of God's purposes in our existence.
As system is the assemblage of many particulars in subordination to one common object or leading idea, so method is the order by which system is carried out, and various and often complicated means made to serve one common purpose. Method, in its more limited sense, may be said to consist in the regular observance of certain means to attain certain ends, and implies steady action upon a pre-determined principle. In a more general view, it rises from mere regularity to harmony, from the pursuance of particular ends to the combination of various ends into one general system of action, animated by one common principle.
Nature furnishes us with the most complete exemplification of method. In her works, so full of order and harmony, we see system within system, but in each smaller and most minute circle the same method in the working out of the results as in the greatest, the construction of an insect's wing evincing the combination of means towards a definite object, as plainly as the movements of the planets. The objects may differ in magnitude and importance; they may appeal to higher feelings, and more powerfully affect the imagination, but the principle of order runs through all alike, and imparts to nature that harmony and consequent grandeur of aspect which impresses the mind so irresistibly with the sense of an invisible, but all-pervading Power. And as we contemplate it, we feel compelled to believe in the existence of some yet wider system, of which, that which we see forms but a part, and only one, perhaps, of the infinite methods employed in carrying out ends too vast to be apprehended by human intellect. The lesson thus learnt from the study of God's works, should be applied to our own modes of action, and the same principle of well-ordered method should run through our life, from those high interests reaching far beyond our sight into the veiled regions of eternity, down to each small detail of daily duty. It is amongst the latter that we shall find the school for method, which may thence be carried up into a wider sphere.
We all know that some degree of arrangement is necessary in every scheme; for unless the means employed, whether many or few, simple or complicated, be duly combined towards the proposed end, they will neutralise or destroy each other. Method, then, implying deliberate arrangement in the use of means, and steady advance towards a definite point, must be the very essence of every well-grounded plan; that in which the nature of a plan consists; and to attempt the accomplishment of any design without it, is the act of one who is so far an irrational creature, that he is incapable of understanding the adaptation of means to ends. Let the number of undertakings, public and private, which end in failure from this cause alone, proclaim how large a portion of mankind must, in this sense, be termed irrational!
METHOD IN THE WORKS OF NATURE.
All our duties, pursuits, and aims may be regarded as schemes, for there is, or should be, some settled purpose in them all; and these again should find their due place as means in the general scheme of life. The latter requires, to carry it duly out, the strictest application of method; yet to this it is most seldom applied; and while common concerns are arranged, sometimes very carefully and minutely, on some sort of definite plan, in the general disposal of life, there is too often no method, because the
majority of mankind have in that highest concern no definite plan at all. They wish to get through life with as much ease to themselves, and as little harm to their neighbours as they can, and to find themselves in Heaven at last; but definite purpose they have none, and of any definite means of making the conflicting elements of human life harmonize towards a settled aim they have never thought. There is no method in their struggle with evil, for they wait to resist it till the hour of temptation arrives; there is none in the formation of their own minds and characters, for these they leave to circumstances; there is none in the good they would do to others, for this they trust to impulse; and none in their aims of bliss in another world, for they leave it to selfindulgent habits, frivolous ambition, and worldly desires, to cradle their dreams of heavenly glory. Little, then, is it to be wondered at, that the earthly temple of the Holy Spirit is so seldom built up to its fair and lofty proportions, and that what moralists and philosophers have said of the noble capabilities of the human soul remains rather, like the ancient statues of the gods, the ideal of beauty, than the representation of the actual.
Method, then, we repeat, in its true and wide sense, is that which orders the means towards carrying out the scheme of life; which classes and combines all our plans and pursuits with reference to this scheme, assigning to each its due place and value, and thereby introducing other harmony into the endless diversity of aims, interests, and actions, which, at first sight, appear so unconnected and conflicting. Between the life thus methodised and one without method, there is the same difference as between the tangled mass of unwound silk and the wellwoven web.
To carry out this purpose, it is not enough merely to introduce method into our individual arrangements; we must also consider the wider system to which we belong, and the relations in which we are placed with regard to others, so as to understand the part we are destined to fill in the social economy, and regulate our individual scheme in accordance with it. We must remember that no human being stands alone; the moral world has no non-conductors by which to isolate us from our fellows, and break the natural affinities by which we are bound to them, and both influence and are influenced in return. Each individual forms part of the general system of society, and the system can work well and produce its proper fruits of harmonious action and progressive improvement in proportion only as each member understands his own position in it, and carefully studies to fit himself for its duties.* If we were more in the habit of thus
* See Chap. I.
IN THE WHOLE COURSE OF LIFE.
viewing our position in life, there would be less discontented struggling to shake off its duties and responsibilities, or to grasp at what does not belong to it. Each of us, down to the very humblest, might feel that he had an appointed place, and that his share of work, however homely, was as useful in its own sphere, and as necessary to the right working of the whole machinery as the nobler labour of others. With greater method there would be greater harmony of action, and real progress would take place of the jarring conflicts between individuals and classes which so grievously retard the full development of human means and capacities.
If we look at the actual state of education amongst us, and the views of life which it indicates, we shall at once perceive how much it is wanting in this higher order of method. As far, indeed, as worldly affairs are concerned, men generally find in their professional occupations or in public business the leading idea or centre round which all other objects and pursuits group themselves as conducive or subordinate to it. This, however, embraces only one portion of existence, and leaves all beyond to "the reproof of chance," the vague and desultory guidance of circumstance. It brings method into their worldly career, but makes no attempt to connect this with the higher system of which it forms part, and with those aims which stretch into another stage of existence. But women have not even the advantage of a worldly object to give steadiness and consistency to their endeavours, and consequently their external life is as desultory as the inner is undisciplined.
To look for method where there is no object to aim at, were at least as unreasonable as to expect to attain any specific object without its assistance; and female education is without method, because without a definite purpose or principle beyond that of compliance with the shifting rules of custom, fashion, or individual inclinations. Between a girl's education and her afterlife there is no connection; the latter affords no certain sphere of action for the faculties cultivated and the knowledge acquired by the former. Even her moral and religious training, to which, generally, serious attention is paid, is so unsystematically carried on, the connection between the abstract principles taught, and their bearing on daily life, are so little, or so carelessly pointed out, that half their influence on character is lost. Morals are disconnected from religion, religion from the secular interests of life, and the exercise of the intellect regarded as apart from all, a mere matter of individual inclination, rather to be repressed than encouraged. The consequence is, that to each portion of her ordinary education a woman must bring a different view of life,