Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

6

and different principle of action, and these again must be exchanged when she enters the world, for those prevailing in the society to which she belongs. When a young girl, for instance, is spending joyless days over the lessons which are only interrupted by walks no less monotonous, her teachers must certainly urge her to perseverance by considerations very different from those which, at another time, are brought forward to convince her that learning is pedantic and unnatural in a woman, and that light and frivolous pursuits are her proper and graceful vocation. Or when emulation is stimulated to the utmost, and to excel others is made the first object of exertion, there is evidently some different view of life from that which condemns all ambition in women, and teaches the young girl to look forward to a life of retirement and submission. But we have already pointed out the inconsistency which is the characteristic of our system of education, and which results from conflicting interests, and the absence of any paramount definite aim to impel the various endeavours in the same direction. It follows, that till that aim is determined, -till knowledge is sought for objects higher than its worldly value,―till the training of the mind is considered as a duty in itself, irrespective of any forms of mental labour required by our position on earth, -till morals are regarded as practical religion, and religion as embracing the whole of life, by affording its ruling principle and its loftiest hopes,-there can be no method in women's education or existence. Their training, in short, must take a higher aim, and embrace a wider scope, than the ordinary education of the other sex- (founded on worldly motives which cannot affect them)—or it will never rise above what it is now,—the superficial polish of the mind without the real culture which should develope its powers, and train them to fulfil the important purposes for which they were given.

There is the same difference in this respect between women and men, as between the man of leisure and the man of business. The former has not the practical object of the latter to force him to exertion; if, therefore, he has not some higher purposes in view, he sinks into a mere idler, and shuffles on through an aimless, useless existence, scarcely so noble an animal as his dog or his horse Women of the upper classes enjoy, in their exemption from labour, and their freedom from the shackles of business or ambition, an inestimable advantage over the other sex, if rightly understood and made available for self-improvement; but if felt only as an excuse for idleness by the indolent, and as a privation by the active-minded, then it becomes, instead of an advantage, a real misfortune. In one or other of these views it has, unfortunately, been very generally considered, and thence has neces

WANT OF METHOD

[blocks in formation]

sarily ensued the want of method which deprives their character of its consistency, their intellect of half its power, and their life of its greatest interest.

Want of method affects the whole tone of the mind, its modes of thinking and acting, no less than of studying. It is fatal to that settled sobriety of thought, which is indispensable to the prosecution of any serious design. Strong impulse, or, in other words, a state of excited feeling, may be sufficient for some one act of importance or difficulty, but it will fail in carrying us through, even in a very simple course of action. The calmness joined to determination, which is required for the steady performance of duty, springs most surely (where moral weakness does not interfere) from the consciousness of acting by wellconsidered means, on firmly grounded principles. Consistency, in short, is but another word for method in our moral conduct and opinions; for, however strongly we may hold certain opinions or principles, until we have reduced them methodically to practice, we shall never be truly consistent.

With regard to study, the bad effects of immethodical habits, even on minds of great natural powers, is sensibly felt in lessening the amount of practical good which such powers might have produced, had they been better directed. A person in this case will work vigorously when interest is strongly roused; and so long as the fit lasts,-to use a homely but pointed expression,everything, even health itself, will be sacrificed to the engrossing pursuit. But no mind can long remain at this pitch; the strain would be destructive both of mental and bodily energies, and to this period of over-exertion, therefore, succeeds a much longer one of languid desultory occupation, during which another and more methodical student is steadily advancing, and though inferior in ability, will probably be the first to reach the goal. The old fable of the hare and the tortoise, taught the world long ago the value of a steady, though plodding advance; and the same lesson is daily exemplified to us in the triumph of persevering, systematic industry, over the brilliant but irregular efforts of undisciplined talent. We can all work zealously when prompted by strong impulse, but habits of method alone will enable us to work with that patient diligence and deliberate aim which are the indispensable elements of success in undertakings of any extent and difficulty.

Such habits, by disciplining the irregular tendencies of the mind, and training it to exert itself whenever the exertion is called for, give also a capability of attention and command over our own thoughts truly invaluable, not only as regards the increased mental power obtained, but with respect to the common

68

duties of social life in which the immethodical are often eminently defective. In the intricate net-work of social relations, each step we take reacts more or less directly on our fellow-creatures; and while we are surrounded by many whom we unconsciously influence, and by others whom it is our duty to assist, it is important that there should be in our social habits the regularity on which they may depend, and also that we should have sufficient command over our own minds to turn our attention promptly from the subject which interests ourselves at the moment to that on which they may require our assistance or sympathy. The influence of method over our habits of reasoning arises in great measure from this self-command, and from the calmness and sobriety of mind we have already noticed as the result of habitually acting on deliberate principles. Calmness is proverbially necessary to reasoning justly, and the greater the power of fixing attention promptly and closely at any given moment, the greater also must evidently be the power of exerting reason, whether for investigation or for practical decision.

It is one essential feature of method that it preserves proportion; proportion according to their relative value, between the various objects and employments of life, and in the cultivation of our own faculties. It is this proportion which constitutes a wellbalanced mind, and consequently a well-regulated life. Strong bias towards certain objects, peculiarities of character or circumstances, will always tend to destroy this balance, and it must, therefore, be the constant aim of self-training to restore it. We shall find the habit of acting upon system, with a continual regard to the principal end, to which all others should be kept subservient, the surest corrective of any undue bias, by its influence in continually preserving the feeling of the relative above the positive (or what seems at the moment the positive) value of objects. It gives us the standard by which to measure all things, and adjust the time and labour they should cost to their real worth. It is for want of some such standard, that minds, even of a high order, are often one-sided in their views. They cultivate one faculty, or follow out one pursuit, till it becomes unduly magnified in their estimation, whilst those they have neglected, sink proportionably below their proper level. It is true that eminence in any one point can, generally speaking, be attained only by exclusive devotion to it, but a well-balanced mind, accustomed to consider the vast system of human life and to regulate its own scheme in accordance with it, will not let that necessary exclusiveness of application to one subject, hide the value of what it is forced comparatively to neglect. It will not allow the work at hand, to become a screen to conceal the world beyond.

SENSE OF PROPORTION

[blocks in formation]

It must also be remembered that great eminence can be hoped for only by few, while the soundness of judgment and consistency of conduct, which depend upon the right discipline and balance of the whole mind, are attainable by all who earnestly endeavour to attain them, and are even more important in their results. Few of us have great things to do, but we all might perform our humble tasks in a spirit which, if generally diffused, would do more for the human race than the isolated efforts of the highest abilities.

For the sake of clearness and order, we are obliged to speak of education as divided into mental and moral training; and again to classify under these two general heads our different faculties and moral feelings, and to point out separately the individual value and importance of each. But, if any such separation be carried into practice-if any attempt be made to divide moral from mental training, or to cultivate one faculty to the exclusion of others--partial, instead of general, improvement will be the result. The faculties, exclusively cultivated, may attain individually great acuteness and power; but the general tone of mind and character will be lowered. We may compare two minds trained on these different systems, to two gardens, in one of which everything has been sacrificed to the cultivation of a few show flowers; while, in the other, the ground has been laid out on a well-arranged plan-every flower and shrub planted with reference to its place in the whole design, and cultivated to the utmost degree of perfection, consistent with the due development of all the rest.

In the attainment of knowledge, the same principle holds good. Each branch of study, and even each book that we read, has an individual object, and also a relation to the objects of other studies. Unless this relation be kept in mind, the variety will produce desultory knowledge, leading to no completeness, and taxing memory to the utmost, while exercising thought proportionably little; because occupying it with isolated facts, rather than with the relations of facts. But if, on the other hand, some leading idea runs through all our studies, connecting the one with the other; if, in reading several books, or pursuing different inquiries, we keep before us one main object on which every other is made to bear more or less directly, then we have order and method-the systematic development of thought, and steady progress in that real knowledge which is gained from the perception of relations. This view of method, as applied to study, is so important, that we shall return to it more fully when speaking of the objects and modes of study.*

*See Chap. X. On Study.

[blocks in formation]

The real value of time, the inestimable worth of those fleeting moments which no gold can buy, no power arrest, no repentance redeem, is never fully understood till the spirit of method presides over the whole of life, and adjusts its tasks to the hours conceded for their performance. The busy man knows the value of the time he can devote to his business; the pleasure-seeker knows the weight of every moment that is stolen from enjoyment; the industrious man treasures the hours which enable his patient diligence to overtake more brilliant rivals in the race for knowledge; and the eager one values time when his energies are awakened, and his pursuit keen; but he only whose whole life is ordered to one great purpose, whose every plan, endeavour, and action is combined, according to the highest method, into one comprehensive scheme, he only knows the value of every hour; he only is never free to trifle with time, has never a waste moment, but in sickness or in health, in the hours of relaxation no less than in those of labour, still remembers his race with the

66

great destroyer," which can end but in the grave. Youth for him has no years to give to frivolity; and age still feels the pressure of time, the necessity of progress-for the same goal is still in view, the same motives that spurred him to action in the vigour of life are urging him still.

This is a point of incalculable importance to women, whose temptations in daily life arise from trifles and idleness, privileged by custom and example. The separation of religion from the common concerns of life, which we have already noticed, and shall again have to notice repeatedly as the source of manifold evils, is, in great measure, the source of this also. The religious feeling of responsibility can alone consecrate all our pursuits and occupations. Take this feeling away, confine religion within the circle of creeds and observances, and all beyond them is at once abandoned to the dominion of inclination or expediency. There may still be activity in particular directions-there may be some lofty purpose, some noble objects isolated in the wide sea of uncertain aims, and hesitating or variable desires; but there can be no consistent and combined effort, no 'system pervading and harmonizing life, because there is no unity of purpose, no ruling and comprehensive principle embracing all action, and concentrating all forms to one end.

Amongst other habits fostered by the absence of any sense of responsibility with regard to the distribution of time, is the very pernicious one of making and breaking resolutions in small things. Certain rules, for instance, are laid down to facilitate a particular study, and certain hours appointed for its pursuit; but some exercise of self-control and self-denial is required to adhere to them; indolence, or pleasure, or caprice interfere, and the whole

« IndietroContinua »