Immagini della pagina

training of which we may form the habits which bear most directly on the cultivation of reason.*


[blocks in formation]

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 every thing."

[ocr errors]

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 connection 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 system of education encourages pursuits which awaken the

* In sending this chapter to the press, we are painfully sensible of the slight and imperfect manner in which we have treated so important a subject; but to have treated it fully would have required, not a chapter, but a volume. Our limits would admit only of our pointing out the principal objects to be aimed at in Mental Training, with reference particularly to its practical influence on judgment and conduct.

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 labored 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. 2d. That we have some

guiding principle to direct our observations. To say that we will observe every thing, is tantamount to saying, that we shall observe nothing. 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 of the naturalist, the politician, or the artist will naturally take a dif ferent direction, according to the different class of facts they are in search of; and though we be neither naturalists, politicians, or artists, we must equally know what we want to ob serve, if we wish to derive any information from our observations. The next point is, that we should seek in every object or fact for its leading features, the characteristics which distinguish it specifically from other objects or facts. The power of doing this rapidly and accurately is that which constitutes a good observer, and is an important element of judgment, the soundness of which must depend on our correct appreciation of the facts before us. Such observation as this includes the exercise of two other very important faculties, namely, comparison and abstraction. The latter separates those qualities in an object which are common to it with other objects, from those which are peculiar to itself, and which, therefore, constitute its character or individuality. Comparison brings together the objects so distinguished, in order to see what relation they may bear to each other, or to some third object; and the exercise which the habit of observation gives to faculties so important constitutes its chief advantage, when viewed with reference to the cultivation of reason.

The value of acute observation to all those engaged in the labor of education, makes the proper training of this habit peculiarly important to women. The characteristics, whether bodily or mental, of children, manifest themselves by such slight indications, that they escape the eye of any but an acute observer. In the case of illness, we all know the importance of detecting the first symptoms of the disease, and the same care and vigi. lance are yet more important with regard to the moral health of

the child. The germs of error, nay, of vice, lie concealed under the demonstrations of childish feeling; the seeds of violent passions, of rooted prejudices, are sown at an early age, and fostered by circumstances to which an unobservant person attaches no importance; such a one will laugh at an exhibition of childish wrath or jealousy, vanity, or petty malice, in which another would read with pity and alarm a long tale of future guilt and misery. The evil which is not seen is, of course, not checked; and it silently increases, till it has gained a height which baffles the remedies applied at last, but too late.

The indications of peculiar talent are in the same manner perceptible only to the observing, and hence we daily see children tied down to studies repulsive to their tastes and inclinations, while strictly debarred from others for which they have natural dispositions. It is true, that where there is real genius, it breaks through all restraints. Parental blindness could not prevent Petrarch from earning immortal fame as a poet, nor Pascal from taking the rank nature had assigned him among mathematicians; but more ordinary talents are more easily stifled; and we are inclined to attribute much of the mediocrity which afflicts the world to the want of intelligent observation in parents and teachers, owing to which the natural talents of children are crushed or misdirected.


THE office of observation is to supply us with information with regard to external objects, and to observe well necessarily implies a certain exercise of attention. But attention requires a more continued effort of the mind; it does not pass, like observation, from object to object, but chooses one on which to fix itself, to the exclusion of all others. Children begin to observe in early infancy, but it is not till much later that, they are capable of continued attention. Nor is it to outward objects only that attention can be directed; it may be turned inward to the operations of the mind and the succession of thought. Reflec

tion is an act of continued attention, keeping certain points before the mind, just as certain objects are kept before the eyes, till our purpose in detaining them is fulfilled. This is the highest effort of attention. Outward objects force themselves on our notice, and easily arrest it; in reading, the forms of the letters, the visible images of thought, help to fix the wandering mind; but to call up thought, unassisted by sight or sound, to arrest its rapid course, or turn it into a different channel, to shut out the world of sensation in order to examine the workings of the world within, requires a mental effort which long practice can alone make easy. The results, however, are worth the labor they cost, for without this power of continued attention we are incapable of reflection, of connected thought, and therefore of reasoning.

In every attempt at education, attention is necessarily trained up to a certain point. The first lesson he learns teaches the child that without attention he can accomplish nothing; but the mental effort required of him is often unwillingly made, and the consequence is, that unless the teacher can find means, by exciting his interest, to make him give a willing attention, he will exercise the faculty only under the pressure of external constraint, and no habit will be formed in his mind. In later years, when the external restraint is removed, the mind, unused to voluntary exertion, accustomed to follow the impulse of the moment, and yield to each impression given to the current of thought by external objects, cannot exercise the self-control needful to concentrate its attention for more than a few moments, and after hours of reading and apparent study, it will be found that those short moments are all that have been really spent to any purpose.

Without by any means assenting to the common theory that whatever is seriously attended to will remain impressed on the memory, we may boldly affirm the converse proposition, that nothing which has not excited attention can be remembered. This fact is so obvious, that most people conscious of habits of inattention feel the necessity of correcting them, though they may not set to work with sufficient vigor or a good choice of

« IndietroContinua »