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But besides the intellectual deficiencies it entails, there is in inattention a want of earnestness of purpose, which, if allowed to become habitual, even in trifling things, is hurtful to the mind. We are inattentive only because we are uninterested, and we should augur ill of the moral state of any one who is habitually uninterested. Attention is a kind of intellectual sincerity; it proves that we are in earnest in what we undertake, and its absence may therefore be regarded as an indication of more serious defects.

In speaking of method, we have shown how important it is to those who, like women, are liable to constant interruptions from domestic matters requiring immediate attention, to have the power of turning the latter at once, and completely, from one subject to another. This habit is of great value, not only as facilitating pursuits which without it could not be carried on, but as aiding us to gain that control over our own faculties which is an essential element of presence of mind, and insures the free and undisturbed use of reason whenever it may be required. Great concentration of thought, producing abstraction, will make this habit very difficult to acquire; but there are few who can plead such an excuse for not possessing it, and the more general causes of its deficiency are sluggishness of mind and absence of self-control.

The first step towards gaining command over our attention is to acquire the habit of steady application to whatever matter we have in hand. Some studies are in this respect preferable to others; arithmetic or geometry, for instance, to history; and, generally, whatever gives something to do, something which forces the mind to act, instead of leaving it to follow passively the narrative or reasonings of others. We must watch and check the habit of inattention in ourselves, as we should in a child we were teaching; questioning and examining ourselves as to the progress we have made, and testing it by the power of giving, in words or writing, the results of the day's study, or at least of some definite portion of the day's study.* Different

* See the Chapter on Study.

minds will, of course, require different methods, but any one earnestly bent upon curing the defect will readily find the means best suited to himself. When the habit of application is formed, then follows the more arduous task of learning to reflect and to control the succession of thought.

If it be difficult to fix our attention when we have the help of visible objects to assist it, it is certain that we shall find it still more difficult to fix it on the subtile process of thought, the action of which is so continued and habitual, that we are almost as unconscious of it as of the pulsation of the heart. We all know how easy it is to carry on any familiar occupation without a conscious effort of attention. Many persons can even read out loud, giving the proper expression and punctuation to what they read, while their thoughts are occupied with a wholly different subject, and the words convey no distinct impressions to their minds. If habit can make us thus perform, almost unconsciously, an operation which was once attended with both toil and difficulty, how much greater must be its power in rendering us inattentive to the rapid and ceaseless action of the mind, which began with the earliest dawn of intelligence, which continues even when the visible world is shut out in sleep, and which is truly the life of life! There is the same difference between reflection and that involuntary current of thought, as between seeing and observing; we cannot avoid seeing what passes before our eyes, but it may pass unheeded for want of observation; and in like manner we cannot check the flow of thought, but its aimless activity may make our waking thoughts as incoherent as our dreams, for want of that power of reflection which should give them purpose and connection. In a word, the mind continues to receive impressions, whether controlled or uncontrolled, but it works only when directed by the will, consciously exercised towards a definite purpose.

The ravings of delirium are not more different from the speech of the orator, than the rambling of uncontrolled thought from the efforts of reflection; hence few of the bad habits into which people fall, from ignorance or carelessness, are more fatal to the due exercise of moral or mental power, than that of

allowing the mind to run on at random, passing from one halfformed image to another without fixing attention upon any. Such vague, discursive wandering, if habitually indulged, weakens the power of steady attention, till it becomes difficult to fix it upon any thing. We fear, however, that a large proportion even of educated persons allow their thoughts, without scruple, to ramble in this manner whenever they are not engrossed in some active pursuit, and it is to this habit, perhaps, that we may attribute the general dislike to studies that require any continued effort of reflection, as compared with those in which the mind remains almost passive, the mere recipient of facts or images. Many people, even, who are not deficient in attention while reading, and are capable of reflection when a subject is brought, as it were, tangibly before them, have yet no idea of controlling the succession of thought when the immediate object of study is withdrawn, or of carrying out a train of reasoning or speculation. They are all more or less in the situation of the gentleman who said he did not know what people meant by thinking, and that when he saw a tree he thought it was a tree.

This subject is one of great importance to women, with whom needlework so often employs the hands for a large portion of the day, without in any way exercising the mind, so that thought is free to ramble, while the plea of occupation prevents any self-reproach on the ground of lost time. The encouragement thus given to vain and idle fancies tends, in no small degree, to foster the frivolous tone of mind which is so unfortunately prevalent.

Let it not be supposed, however, that we require a continual labor of thought. The mind cannot be ever on the stretch, but must have rest as well as the body; its task being done, it must be released from the control of the will, and allowed to wander as freely and carelessly as a bird through the pathless air. All we ask is, that this shall be its relaxation, not its habit; and that it shall be so disciplined, as to be recalled at will from its wildest flights and fixed on any point where its energies are wanted. At first, any length of meditation upon one subject will be found

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impossible, nor should it be attempted; but as soon as any weariness is felt, the thoughts, instead of being allowed to wander away, should be roused at once, and fixed by some active occupation. It will assist a beginner, in this difficult task, to select in the morning some special topic of reflection for the day,some aphorism, perhaps, from which it may be useful to draw deductions, some opinion which strikes the mind as new and doubtful, and therefore requires examination, some poetical passages, which deserve close attention or comparison with others, some sentence which may not have been fully understood, and the words of which will help to fix attention, as in reading. It will be found safer to make this kind of provision for thought, than to leave an undisciplined mind to the impulse of circumstances. Having done so, we feel, as it were, under an engagement to ourselves, more binding, because more posi tive, than any general resolution to reflect. The obligation may be strengthened by making it a rule to set down every night, in writing, the result of the day's meditation upon the particular subject chosen, a practice in itself favorable to habits of reflection, not only from the greater precision with which we learn to think, when obliged to find intelligible language for our thoughts, but also because the consciousness that we are preparing for a future task gives a more positive form to the mental operation.

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Above all, the aimless wanderings of imagination must for a time be checked. It is not till we have acquired habitual control over our thoughts, that we may safely indulge the airy visions of fancy, or allow the mind to seek repose amid the vague images over which, as they float by, a dreamy, poetic tinge, a wild, fantastic beauty, often throws such an indescribable charm. No such wanderings to fairy land must be allowed to interrupt the serious discipline of thought for higher purposes, and until this object is accomplished, the mind must seek its relaxation in books or conversation, but as seldom as possible loosen the reins of self-government.

It is difficult to reduce general admonitions on such a point to particular rules, and those we have given may seem trivial to

many; but when was general advice ever found sufficient to guide the inexperienced? Those who would ridicule the attempt to lay down rules for learning to reflect, only prove that they know not how difficult it is to think to any purpose, and have never considered how large a proportion of the evil and misery and folly around us, of the weakness of the good, of the sin of the wicked, proceeds from want of thought, from attention being never roused except by external objects appealing to the senses, never turned to the world within, never used to the control which brings thought under the dominion of the will. As we said with reference to rules for forming other habits, so we repeat here, the details may seem trivial, but the importance of the object gives them value and dignity.


THE principle of Association, which has seemed to some metaphysicians of sufficient importance to account for the most complicated mental phenomena, requires for our purpose no elaborate definition or proof, since it is a subject of consciousness to the most unlearned. Not only do we daily speak of pleasing or painful associations, but even the common rules of politeness and good-breeding are, as Dugald Stewart ingeniously remarks, constructed with attention to the effects of association upon the feelings.*

When we speak, then, of association, we mean that principle by which ideas that have once been in any manner connected in our minds have a tendency to suggest each other again, and the sight of external objects to recall the impressions, the thoughts, or the circumstances which attended our first seeing them. It is owing to this principle that, if any spot has been the scene of joy or grief, we cannot revisit it without awakening once more the same emotions. Even in our memory the joy or the grief will be indissolubly connected with the place in

Philosophy of the Human Mind, § on Association.

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