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rance, and detects mistake; which wit cannot disconcert, nor eloquence bear down ; which appeals always to realities, and ever follows truth without insolence and without fear. For it is disgraceful to the immortal understanding of man to be governed by sounds, and to be the slave of that speech which was given to do him service. It is beneath the loftiness of his faculties to take his notions of truth from the little hamlet in which he was bred, or from the fashions of thought which prevail in his hour of life: for truth dwells not on the Danube, or the Seine, or the Thames; she is not this thing to-day, and to-morrow another; but she is of all places, and all times the same, in every change and in every chance,—as firm as the pillars of the earth, and as beautiful as its fabric. Add to the power of discovering truth, the desire of using it for the promotion of human happiness, and you have the great end and object of our existence. This is the immaculate model of excellence that every human being should fix in the chambers of his heart; which he should place before his mind's eye from the rising to the setting of the sun, – to strengthen his understanding that he may direct his benevolence, and to exhibit to the world the most beautiful spectacle the world can behold, of consummate virtue guided by consummate talents. “For some men,” says Lord Bacon, “think that the gratification of “curiosity is the end of knowledge; some, the love of “fame; some, the pleasure of dispute; some, the neces“sity of supporting themselves by their knowledge: but “the real use of all knowledge is this, – that we should “dedicate that reason which was given us by God to “the use and advantage of man.”
ON THE CONDUCT OF THE UNDERSTANDING.
IT appeared to me rather singular when I sat down to consider this subject, that one man should get up in the midst of six hundred others, and tell them how they were to conduct their understandings. One man may very fairly be supposed to have made greater attainments in botany or in chemistry than others, because he may have dedicated to those sciences a greater portion of his time and attention than others have done; but he who speaks of the conduct of the understanding, speaks of a science to which every one who hears him has been apprenticed as well as himself, and therefore his right of instructing cannot rest upon the same clear and indisputable grounds. Having reared up this edifice of modesty, and stopt a little while to admire it, I immediately proceed to demolish it by the following reflections: — that to advance opinions is not to prescribe laws; that knowledge is only extended and confirmed by this contribution of individual sentiments, which every one is free to reject or to adopt; and that nothing would ever be done if every person were to enter into a nice calculation of his own deficiencies, and the talents and acquisitions of others, to which they were contrasted; that the only practical way was, to say what you have to say at once, leaving it to time and chance whether your present opinions will be strengthened or refuted by further observation. I beg leave to renew an observation which I made in my first lecture, —that in saying any thing is so, I only mean to say I think it is so. I have a rational conviction of the difficulty of such subjects; but to express that sense of the difficulty on all occasions would be tiresome, and inconsistent with the energy of public speaking. As the general object of my lecture will be to guard against the most ordinary and flagrant errors committed in the conduct of the understanding, and as I see no use in preserving any order in their enumeration, I shall put them down only in the order in which they happen to OCCur to me. The first thing to be done in conducting the understanding is precisely the same as in conducting the body, - to give it regular and copious supplies of food, to prevent that atrophy and marasmus of mind, which comes on from giving it no new ideas. It is a mistake equally fatal to the memory, the imagination, the powers of reasoning, and to every faculty of the mind, to think too early that we can live upon our stock of understanding, —that it is time to leave off business, and make use of the acquisitions we have already made, without troubling ourselves any further to add to them. It is no more possible for an idle man to keep together a certain stock of knowledge, than it is possible to keep together a stock of ice exposed to the meridian sun. Every day destroys a fact, a relation, or an inference; and the only method of preserving the bulk and value of the pile is by constantly adding to it. The prevailing idea with young people has been, the incompatibility of labour and genius; and therefore, from the fear of being thought dull, they have thought it necessary to remain ignorant. I have seen, at school and at college, a great many young men completely destroyed by having been so unfortunate as to produce an excellent copy of verses. Their genius being now established, all that remained for them to do was, to act up to the dignity of the character; and as this dignity consisted in reading nothing new, in forgetting what they had already read, and in pretending to be acquainted with all subjects by a sort of off-hand exertion of talents, they soon collapsed into the most frivolous and insignificant of men. “When we have had con“tinually before us,” says Sir Joshua Reynolds, “the “great works of art, to impregnate our minds with “kindred ideas, we are then, and not till then, fit to “produce something of the same species. We behold “all about us with the eyes of those penetrating ob“servers whose works we contemplate; and our minds, “accustomed to think the thoughts of the noblest and “brightest intellects, are prepared for the discovery and “selection of all that is great, and noble in nature. The “greatest natural genius cannot subsist on its own “stock: he who resolves never to ransack any mind but “his own, will be soon reduced from mere barrenness “to the poorest of all imitations;–he will be obliged to “imitate himself, and to repeat what he has before “repeated. When we know the subject designed by “such men, it will never be difficult to guess what kind “of work is to be produced.” There is but one method, and that is hard labour; and a man who will not pay that price for distinction had better at once dedicate himself to the pursuit of the fox, —or play with the tresses of Neaera's hair, –or talk of bullocks, and glory in the goad There are many modes of being frivolous, and not a few of being useful; there is but one mode of being intellectually great. It would be an extremely profitable thing to draw up a short and well-authenticated account of the habits of study of the most celebrated writers with whose style of literary industry we happen to be most acquainted. It would go very far to destroy the absurd and pernicious association of genius and idleness, by showing them that H
the greatest poets, orators, statesmen, and historians,— men of the most brilliant and imposing talents, –have actually laboured as hard as the makers of dictionaries and the arrangers of indexes; and that the most obvious reason why they have been superior to other men is, that they have taken more pains than other men. Gibbon was in his study every morning, winter and summer, at 6 o'clock; Mr. Burke was the most laborious and indefatigable of human beings; Leibnitz was never out of his library; Pascal killed himself by study; Cicero narrowly escaped death by the same cause; Milton was at his books with as much regularity as a merchant or an attorney, -he had mastered all the knowledge of his time; so had Homer. Raffaelle lived but twenty-seven years; and in that short space carried the art so far beyond what it had before reached, that he appears to stand alone as a model to his successors. There are instances to the contrary; but, generally speaking, the life of all truly great men has been a life of intense and incessant labour. They have commonly past the first half of life in the gross darkness of indigent humility, —overlooked, mistaken, contemned, by weaker men,thinking while others slept, reading while others rioted, feeling something within them that told them they should not always be kept down among the dregs of the world; and then, when their time was come, and some little accident has given them their first occasion, they have burst out into the light and glory of public life, rich with the spoils of time, and mighty in all the labours and struggles of the mind. Then do the multitude cry out “a miracle of genius !” Yes, he is a miracle of genius, because he is a miracle of labour; because, instead of trusting to the resources of his own single mind, he has ransacked a thousand minds; because he makes use of the accumulated wisdom of ages, and takes as his point of departure the very last line and boundary to which science has advanced; because it