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set of books or writings, and to pursue only one train of reasoning.
It is not an uncommon practice both among political and religious sectaries, to avoid reading any book, or even listening to any conversation favourable to the wrong side of the question; that is to say, the side that opposes their own party. When books are read, it is for the purpose of what is called being improved by them, or to treasure up in the memory the sentiments contained in them, and to acquire the habit of thinking as the author thinks. This, when done under the notion that it improves the human mind, is abundantly absurd. It is acting as if we came into the world, not to improve our faculties by the discernment of truth, but to become sectaries of one kind or other. It ought to be remembered that no man can become wise merely by the wisdom of another. He who believes a principle only because he is told that it is true, cannot justly be said to know it, or to have become any wiser. If a man is told that the whole of a thing is always greater than any of its parts, he has no doubt been informed of what is very true; but if he impli citly believe this assertion as a matter of fact, and do not, by an act of his own understanding, perceive its reality, and how and why every possible objection to it must necessarily be false-he is not advanced one step towards the perfection of an intelligent being. That perfection consists in every individual, not in having the memory stored with propositions, but in the capacity of discerning truth by the proper energy of his own mind.
It is indeed said, that weak minds may be misled by the indiscriminate perusal of whatever has been thought or written by ingenious men: but all minds are originally formed weak, that is, ignorant; and the object of their creation is, that they may one day become vigorous, which can never be accomplished without the full exercise of their faculties. Providence trains up the minds of men to penetration and vigour, not by placing them amidst enlightened beings, who might at once introduce them to much knowledge, but amidst their equals, that is to say, among erring beings, whose various opinions afford full employment to our faculties to discover truth amidst the obscurity in which they usually involve it. If we would improve successfully our intellectual powers, we must do for ourselves what nature has already, in some degree, done for us. For the sake of going right, we must encounter the hazard of going wrong. We ought to attend to what others have thought as an intellectual exercise which nature has provided for us, but at the same time to receive what is said in books, or by men, not as truths, but as thoughts concerning truth, which we are not to believe, but to weigh and consider. Even if our own conclusions should often prove false, we shall still gain much; we shall, at least, acquire application, accuteness, and energy of mind, qualities which bring us near to the description of excellent beings; which will at the long run enable us to rectify every error, and carry us forward in that improving career which our nature is formed to run.' P. 156.
In stating the relative importance of the sciences, morals are placed in the first, practical philosophy in the second, and mathematics in the last rank; an arrangement which we are by no means unwilling to receive, provided the inverse order be adopted in the mode of teaching them. Mathematics, in the present state of the world, seem particularly adapted to open, and to give steadiness and attention to, the mind; which might be led very much astray by the want of demonstration in moral science, and the prejudice with which it is by different parties inculcated. But men cannot be always studying, and a wearisomeness will spring up in the most diligent minds. How are they to be amused? and is it lawful to seek for amusement, in a world where the cultivation of intellect is of so much importance? The question is well discussed in a chapter upon this subject.
The exertion of attention, or of a considerable effort of activity and skill, is as necessary to render amusements pleasing, as it is to the improvement of our intellectual powers. But if the human mind must be occupied, its employment ought surely to be rational rather than frivolous; the more especially as the one is not less consistent with pleasure than the other. Amusements, that is to say, occupations intended for no valuable purpose, are seldom sought after, and are never found necessary, by those who seriously wish to make progress in intellectual improvement, or even by those who are under the influence of any powerful or steady passion. Such men have no occasion for them, as their minds are already sufficiently' occupied, and they feel nothing of the uneasiness that attends absolute idleness. Every amusement, therefore, or whatever has nothing further for its object than to prevent the necessity of think ing, and to render idleness agreeable, may justly be regarded as a contrivance hostile to the end of our existence. It wastes in fruitless trifling the time allotted in this world for the amelioration of our nature; and it has not even the excuse of affording an adequate return of pleasure in exchange. The activity of amusement is no doubt pleasing; but the activity of business is more pleasing upon the whole, as it is more permanent and more vigorous. Hence it is well known that men of business are happier than men who have no employment, excepting that of seeking after amusement.
This general censure does not apply to that bodily exercise which the situation of some persons renders necessary to the enjoyment of health, and which is not a pastime, but a duty : It is only directed against those who struggle hard to waste their existence, by exert ing all their wits in contriving how to get out of this world without performing any part of the business for which they were sent into it. And surely the human constitution must be well fitted for pressing onward to excellence, since a man often suffers almost as much labour, fatigue, and hardship, in getting quit of time by idleness and amusement, as he would do by filling up the moments of it with the efforts of a mind advancing progressively in wisdom.
This is daily illustrated in the case of those who, by the arrangements of society, are born to the possession of the means of gratifying all their passions. The miserable exertions made by them to fill up their vacancy of mind frequently cost them more care, more loss of health, of fortune, and of true enjoyment, than would have been necessary to have rendered them the most enlightened of mankind. Nature, however, has so managed matters that they usually do, in the midst of their anxiety for amusement, acquire a small degree of improvement arising from that very anxiety, although this improvement is often too small to be of much importance either to themselves or to the world.' P. 197.
If the author pushes his system much further than may perhaps be practicable, and would have the time filled up by various, by well directed, and by constant activity, still many of his exhortations to shake off indolence are excellent; and we would only bring to his recollection the old saying, that a bow never relaxed will be good for nothing.'
The appetites, affections, and passions, form an interesting part of this work; and in the introduction to this topic a just distinction is advanced on the use which nature makes of our appetites and affections, and the conduct which men as individuals ought to observe with regard to them.'
'Nature' (says Mr. Forsyth) 'excites and cherishes them, but it is our duty as rational beings to subdue and restrain them. In this we may seem to contend against nature, but in truth we fulfil her purpose, which is that of at once exciting us to action by motives, and of teaching us skill and self command by appretiating and subduing these motives.'
The benevolent affections are generally esteemed objects of praise; but as, according to our author, every affection implies a certain degree of imperfection of character,' it is not benevolence, but that which regulates benevolence, which ought to be regarded as the supreme director of human conduct, and as the ultimate object of human pursuit.' We might be in danger of sinking in the scale of being, if benevolent affec tions were considered by us of little estimation; but this evil is guarded against by the consideration of their value in the formation of character. Though they do not constitute the perfection of our nature, yet they are closely connected with that perfection; and they are the means, by which a very considerable portion of it is produced: the most generous and af fectionate minds are at the same time the most active, earnest, and valuable.' Rules for cultivating the benevolent affections are rejected for two reasons: because a blind affection cannot constitute the perfection of an intelligent being; and because our affections grow up spontaneously and require no culture. And if an individual is engaged in the true pursuit of human
life, he will ultimately love only the wise and the amiable, and be thus regarded with approbation by every intelligent being.
The malevolent affections are stigmatised by every thinking mind: as a man improves in the study of wisdom, he will become superior to malevolent passions, and they who labour under them will be in his eyes objects of compassion. Avarice, self-love, ambition, and the passion for reforming the world, are treated separately; and under the article of self-love is an observation on a class of selfish men, who in peaceable times so often govern the world, but in periods of political trouble are frightened off the stage. They call themselves moderate men. Under this pretence of moderation, which is mere cowardice or selfishness, they leave the field to more ardent spirits, and are disposed of at pleasure by every successive party.'
The inconsistency of a life under the direction of the passions is well described:
• We wish to reconcile contradictions, by pursuing at once both wisdom and folly, by indulging our passions, and acquiring selfcommand at the same time. Hence we often talk of our own pro sperity, and of the prosperity of our native country, as connected, not with the progress of reason, but with the acquisition of lands and goods. It is seldom recollected that we and our country exist in vain, excepting so far as we advance in moral excellence. We talk of the importance of virtue, and, at the same time, both our fathers and we have talked of our country's interests in distant regions, as promoted by conquests and treachery and murder; that is to say, we allow that moral worth is a good thing, while, at the same time, we consider ourselves as deriving advantage from something, not only different from intellectual improvement, but even altogether hostile to its progress, and inconsistent with its existence.
It is not wonderful that this contradictory and inaccurate mode of thinking should infect our conduct. We have no single object of pursuit, but alter our schemes, as avarice, ambition, pleasure, or conscience, chance to be uppermost. We perform religious ceres monies from habit, or a superstitious reverence for we know not what. We indulge our passions, because it pleases us for the instant to do so, or because others do the same.. We pursue the objects of these passions with anxiety, and are thrown into grief and despair by disappointment with regard to them. We do kind actions, because we are of a soft temper, or are met with in a good humour; and we act harshly when the contrary' is the case. We pursue riches, because the world admires them; and we think Qurselves and our families ruined by the loss of them, because fools have said that we are so. Thus we stagger on at random, without principle, through life. At the end of it, we know not whether we have been wise or foolish, and begin to wonder what is to be come of us hereafter. The terrors of superstition lay hold of us.
Some lay these asleep by levity, and others by vain prayers and repentance: till at last, between hope and despair, we find ourselves compelled to close our eyes, and to take a leap into the dark.'P. 298.
The passions could not be found in the human race without a tendency to some good purpose; and in appreciating their value a question occurs, which no doubt frequently arises in the thinking mind. Nations have been seen to rise and fall; pursuing nearly the same career of the passions, and then vanishing from off the face of the earth. Is this process to go on for ever? and is there no possibility of preserving a nation from the fate that has attended its predecessors? There is only one way, it seems, to arrest its destiny. Unless the pursuit of human improvement is the object the most highly valued in it, and numbers are employed in that task, the passions will effect their purpose, which ends in total ruin,
Upon the existence of persons engaging in it in sufficient numbers to enable them to influence the character, opinions, and pursuits of society, the future destiny of nations depends. In ancient Rome, accomplished and virtuous men, who considered power and fame and riches as pursuits subordinate to intellectual excellence, were so few, that when half a dozen individuals were cut off, the nation was lost. The extensive diffusion of knowledge has with us greatly altered the character and state of society. But as I am here discussing the duty of individuals towards themselves, or the subject of self-improvement, I shall only remark, that they who have engaged in it as the great business of life, to which other pursuits are accounted and rendered subordinate, may well reflect with pride and satisfaction, that upon them rest the hope of future ages and the stability of their country. It may be difficult to say how many righteous persons will, in this stage of the history of the world, be necessary to save a guilty city; but it is certain, that the nation in which men honestly and truly engaged in the pursuit of intellectual improvement shall first abound, will become perma, nent upon the earth. Being engaged in an improving instead of a fluctuating career, it will at all times contain multitudes of active and enlightened men, capable of seizing every advantage that may occur in human affairs. It will therefore steadily increase, while other nations decline and pass away; and its race, constantly augmenting in numbers and intelligence, will ultimately be the masters of the globe.' P. 329.
From the contemplation of man in himself and his duties in consequence, we are led to the relationship which subsists between him and the Creator; and religion forms a very important topic of discussion. It is divided by our author into two kinds; that which arises out of the passions and the imagination, and that which is founded on reason or the dictates