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THE subject of education is deeply interesting, involving as it does the well-being of all classes, and is one that is yearly engrossing a greater amount of attention from the public at large. In fact, so much has been -written on this point, and so much done to make instruction easy and agreeable, that we are almost tempted to believe, that the old saying, " There is no royal road to learning," will have to be laid by amongst the things that have been.
A branch of this subject, however, and that a most important one, has scarcely received its due share of attention,—we mean Self-education. One of the great points to be aimed at in the instruction of a child, is not merely to cram his head with dry facts and theories, but to plant in his mind a wish for self-improvement hereafter, when he is thrown upon his own resources; and this view of the case opens to us two general questions, namely, By what means is this wish to be implanted in the mind of a child 1 and, How, when that child becomes a man, is he to regulate and act up to it 1 By what means, then, is this wish to be implanted in the mind of a child 1 In many ways. First, by patience, gentleness, and truth, in the manner of the instructor: this will cause the pupil to look up to his moral and intellectual superiority; he will admire, and naturally wish to be like him. If a child remarks, when he comes out of school, "How crabbed the «ld gentleman has been to-day," you may feel sure little good has been done: the boy may have learned his lessons by heart, but no seed of that more valuable acquisition,—the love of learning, has been planted in his mind. Secondly, by inculcating a love of order and regularity. If this is not firmly fixed in a child's mind, when he grows up and his future education depends upon himself, his studies will be desultory, and his mind will not acquire that power and accuracy of reasoning which it might otherwise possess. Thirdly, by teaching the value of time. Let children play to their hearts' content—this is not idleness; if they do not play heartily, they will seldom work heartily: but habits of listless indolence, and sitting doing nothing, when ill-health is not the cause, should be gently corrected by precept, and still more by example. Fourthly, by teaching the habit of observing and reasoning upon little things. And, lastly, by making your instructions as interesting as the subject will permit, and never attempting to force on the young brain prematurely: for this will, in nine cases out of ten, give a disgust to learning altogether.
"When all this is accomplished we shall probably find a substantial groundwork for the individual himself to work upon afterwards. He has learned order, industry, and observation; and these three combined must produce a wish for moral aud mental improvement. This brings us to the second question: How, when the child becomes a man, is he to regulate and act up to these wishes t This should be done by his endeavouring steadily to promote his moral and intellectual growth, and can be performed to a great extent in the workshop as well as in the library. A man is neither called upon or permitted to forsake the daily duties of life for intellectual studies; but let him, in his youth, imbibe the three principles above mentioned—of order, industry, and observation, and it will be wonderful how much may be done with very few advantages. We may pursue a course of study which will only render us disputatious and dictatorial: to prevent this, let us ever keep in view that triad of excellence, "The good, the beautiful, the true." Let us look for examples of goodness, rather than of evil, particularly among our fellow men; let us search for beauty, not deformity, in nature, and in that sublimest work of nature and God—the mind of man; and let us candidly bow before the truth, even when it interferes with our preconceived notions, rather than sophistically defend an error, because we have heretofore upheld it, and do not like to confess ourselves in the wrong.
Perhaps a few hints as to the manner in which this self-tuition is to be carried on, may not be unacceptable to the youthful student. Never attempt to do too much at once—it will only confuse your mind. Whatever subject you take up, devote your full energies to it, and read the work on which you are engaged steadily through, not dipping into it hither and thither, missing some chapters because they are dull, others because they are hard: this kind of reading may give you the appearance of great knowledge, and enable you to shine in general society, but it will be gloss rather than reality, and knowledge acquired in this way will seldom stand the test of close examination.—Of course there are works to which this does not apply, but they belong to the class of lighter literature, and are read as much for their amusement as for any other cause. It will often be a considerable help to the memory, also, if, while you study a work, you write down a short abstract of its contents—doing so will impress the facts upon your mind; but if you adopt this plan, you must not fancy that merely having the abstract in your possession secures the continuance of the knowledge itself in your brain: you must think over it," you must refresh your memory, if the facts seem slipping from you, by reading from time to time the abstract you have thus made; treated otherwise it becomes but a broken reed to your intellectual support. Do not be discouraged from attempting the study of any subject in which you take an interest, because others may tell you that you have not the ability or the opportunities, of doing so properly: there is no better means of improving the abilities than by exerting them ; and as for the second objection, the want of opportunities, do the best with what lies in your power, and you will then be prepared to make good use of any further knowledge that may be thrown in your way. Rest assured in the meanwhile that the information thus acquired will not be the less sweet because it has been attained by a steep and rugged path.
Hitherto we have spoken only of the manner of studying; perhaps we may be allowed a few words also as to the choice of study. This is a most important branch of self-education. Look first dispassionately and carefully into your own mind, and see what is its natural bent. We will suppose you have an imaginative turn, and delight in works of poetry and description: read such works and enjoy them, but in moderation; if you indulge in them too much you will gradually give an undue ascendancy to your imagination, to the detriment of the other faculties of your mind,—and the true secret of self education is, to keep all in due subordination and maintain a just balance, so as to allow the judgment to work freely, unbiassed- by any preconceived train of 'ideas. Again, let us imagine you are of a speculative turn of mind, and particularly fascinated with metaphysical works; here we would repeat the caution with tenfold earnestness, because the more deeply we involve ourselves in studies of this kind the more fascinating they become, until they may so far engross us that we cease to take that interest in the ordinary affairs of every-day life around us, which we ought to do; we become visionary speculators, and at last are bewildered and lost in the confusion of our own thoughts; we have dwelt upon these subjects until all others have been deprived of that amount of consideration which is their due, and we cease to appreciate them rightly, for we have again overturned the balance of power in the human mind. Such, alas ! we fear, has been but too often the case with many a noble mind, which, with proper discipline, was fit for better things. Let us not, however, be understood to say that metaphysical works in general are to be excluded from our course of study; on the contrary, there are few subjects which give the mind a more exciting exercise; but as medical science teaches us that the most valuable medicine may be converted into a deadly poison by immoderate use, so may mental food, unduly supplied, produce the same result also: if we do not keep our mental powers under our control, they will soon, like restive horses, run away with us whither they will.
This preservation of mental equilibrium is a great point to be considered in self-education, but it is not the only one; there is another also, which, though at first sight it appears distinct from the former, will on a little consideration be found to be intimately connected with it: it is, that we should carefully avoid assuming as our settled belief any newtheory on any new subject. There is something in novelty which is apt either to fascinate or disgust us, according to our turn of thought; but in neither of these states is the mind free to act the part of an impartial judge. Give the case, therefore, your careful and earnest attention, and then lay it by for a time, as far as you can, in the storehouse of your memory, until all undue excitement of feeling either for or against the subject has cooled down, then bring it forward and see in what light it appears.
Do not be wearied with repeating this process again and again, if necessary. At each new review the matter will stand out in a clearer light to your mental eye; above all do not be afraid of having to avow to others the fact that you have not yet made up your mind what you will think,—it may often save you from the shame of saying, six months later, I have changed my mind again. If possible, also, where two rival theories are made to rest upon the same foundation, read both before you give in your allegiance to either: strong arguments will probably be brought forward on both sides; if you read those of one party only, you may be carried away by their apparent unanswerableness; but this will be acting the part of a judge who should listen only to the plaintiffs charge, and refuse to attend to the defendant's explanation: such a judge you would consider unworthy of a seat upon the bench. Are you fitted to decide any question by acting in a similar manner? One adherent who joins because his judgment, after a careful examination of the case, is convinced, is worth two who do so from the momentary satisfaction of hearing, like the Athenians, "some new thing," and whose judgment, unstrengthened by previous mental exercise, will be swayed by any fresh argument brought forward on either side, like a bulrush waving hither and thither in every breeze.
We will now endeavour to give a practical illustration of our theory, applied to the study of geology.
Let us suppose a man utterly ignorant of this science to commence with Dr. Buckland's " Bridgwater Treatise on Geology and Mineralogy." He will probably be deeply interested when he reads of the diluvial and volcanic changes which have brought the crust of our earth into the state in which it now exists. His imagination, possibly, will be captivated by the grandeur of the forces existing (according to Dr. Buckland) in those early times, compared to what they are now. He will picture to his mind's eye a vast incandescent globe, gradually cooling down, till the particles on its surface are so reduced in temperature as to approach and crystallize, thus forming a solid crust of occidated metal and metalloids, constituting the various rocks of the granitic series; but this crust will not remain a level surface,—he will perceive portions of it upraised by the expansive power of internal heat and vapour. Next, he will view the action of immense oceans, produced by the union of oxygen and hydrogen, spread over tracts of this primitive formation; and he will see there is no appearance of quietude and rest in this as yet lifeless and uninhabitable world.
As solid matter rises above the water, by the previously-mentioned internal action of heat, he will see that it becomes exposed to destruction by atmospheric agents;—by rains, torrents, and inundations, at that time acting with intense violence, washing down, in the form of mud, sand, and gravel, the detritus of the primary unstratified rocks, and depositing them upon the bottom of the then existing seas. Here they would have remained had not the ever-restless internal volcanic agent converted them, by its heat, into beds of gneiss, slate, &c, and again raised them above the level of the water into dry land. Again and again will he watch the same changes taking place, but as strata after strata is formed, altered, depressed, or raised, he marks that it is no idle, useless movement which is thus continually going on: the barren earth becomes gradually clothed with luxuriant verdure, land and water teem with life and happiness, and he recognizes, with gratitude and reverence, the fatherly hand of a divine Creator.
But should he close his book, and say, Now I know enough? Certainly not. He has yet but one foot within the threshold of science—he has read but one view of the case.
These grand volcanic and diluvial agents, whom he now supposes to act with such enormous energy, in the early stages of our planet's formation, are represented in a less impressive, but perhaps more sober point of view by other geologists; as producing, eventually, the same results indeed, but, by a long series of action, differing in nothing from that which goes on at the present day before our eyes. Let our student now take up a work of this class, say " Lyell's Principles of Geology." He will there be told, that " It was contrary to analogy to suppose that Nature had been at any former epoch parsimonious of time and prodigal of violence." He will be shown what the aqueous and igneous forces can and are doing at the present day, and will be gradually led forward towards the conclusion, that the same action we see going on before us now has been taking place in the same maimer for countless ages before our existence. For example, to show us the force of currents in depositing sedimentary strata, Lyell gives us the following, amongst many other striking illustrations :—The river Amazon which, after a long and rapid course, empties itself into the Atlantic Ocean, bears with it a vast amount of sediment, which, however, is not immediately deposited, that river retaining so much of its original impulse that its waters are not wholly mingled with those of the ocean at the distance of 300 miles from its mouth. During this transit it is crossed by the equatorial current, which, after flowing along the coast of Africa, crosses the Atlantic to South America, and passes along the northern coast of Brazil to the Gulf of Mexico. The sediment of the Amazon is thus constantly carried to the north-west, and an immense tract of swamp is formed down the coast of Guiana, with a long range of muddy shoals bordering the marshes, and becoming converted into land.
Again, when treating of volcanic agency, he gives a remarkable account of the effects of an earthquake which visited Chili in 1822, and produced a permanent alteration of level over an area of 100,000 square miles. The whole country, from the foot of the Andes to a great distance under the sea, is supposed to have been raised. The same process appears to have been going on for a long time previously; for, besides the beach thus newly raised above high-water mark, there are several older elevated lines of beach, one above the other, extending in a parallel direction to the shore, to the height of fifty feet above the sea.
Will it be said that if, in both these theories, the agents and the results are actually the same, only differing in intensity, and therefore in duration, if both equally exemplify the wisdom and goodness of our Lord, why pause so long on a subject of comparatively smaller moment?
We might answer the question by another. Is there no difference worth noting between the action of the wild tornado, which carries everything before it with terrific violence, and that of the trade-wind, which bears us along, possibly in the same direction, with steady and uniform motion 1
But questions are not arguments; and we would rather answer our interrogator thus: Here are two views of one case, standing in opposition to each other; both, therefore cannot be true. It is of the utmost importance in the study of any subject, that we should not willingly deviate from the truth one hair's breadth in either direction. One false step may lead us on to a thousand others, and we cannot be too cautious against hastily adopting any conclusion, without viewing dispassionately all the arguments which may be brought forward on both sides. But another advantage arises from this mode of inquiry: while the student, in so doing, is only intent on making himself a sound geologist, he is unconsciously taking an important step forward in the higher art of self-education. He has not merely been storing his mind with facts, but been exercising, and thereby strengthening, his reasoning faculties and his judgment. He has been teaching them to perform the office for which they were granted to him. Had he said, "I need not trouble my head about these things," this lesson would have been lost.
But his geological studies will lead him to questions of far more importance, and far greater difficulty, than the one we have hitherto discussed, when he commences an examination of the fossiliferous deposits contained in the various strata.