Imatges de pÓgina
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a more enduring monument in human institutions than any other man of his age. Macaulay thus graphically describes him: "The audacity of his spirit was the more remarkable, because his physical organization was unusually delicate. From a child he had been weak and sickly. In the prime of manhood, his complaints had been aggravated by a severe attack of small-pox. He was asthmatic and consumptive. His slender frame was shaken by a constant hoarse cough. He could not sleep unless his head was propped by several pillows, and could scarcely draw his breath in any but the purest air. Cruel headaches frequently tortured him. Exertion soon fatigued him. The physicians constantly kept up the hopes of his enemies by fixing some date beyond which, if there were anything certain in medical science, it was impossible that his broken constitution could hold out. Yet, through a life which was one long disease, the force of his mind never failed, on any great occasion, to bear up his suffering and languid body."

Let the weak and feeble of body, therefore, take courage of heart; and let the robust student be admonished that he cannot excuse all his inactive days upon the ground of indisposition. Fatigue is an enemy which every hard-working brain knows of; but it is an enemy, not of the workman, but only of the taskmaster. The student may resort to what healthful contrivances he pleases to avoid fatigue; but when it appears, he should not excuse himself, but yield to its impulse. He should learn to distinguish indolence, and other counterfeits, from that genuine weariness which makes the sleep of a laboring man sweet. Weariness is the best friend of labor, just as the toothache is the best friend of sound teeth. Weariness is an angel. When the proper end of your day has come, she hovers over your desk, and, if you are careless of the time, she breathes a misty breath upon your eyelids, and loads your pen with an

invisible weight; the shadow of her gray wings dims your page, and her throbbing hand upon your forehead admonishes you of her presence. Let her visits be few and far between, and it is well; but you will never regret that you entertained her even unawares. You may avoid, but never resist her. She comes from Heaven to save life.

But comes there never into your study a little imp of darkness, of intellectual darkness, we mean,—whose efforts to imitate the gentle interference of fatigue are as grotesque as they are vexatious, and who does not succeed in deceiving, however readily one may sometimes fall in with his humor? The heavy pen, the dull page, the wandering thoughts, sometimes interrupt the most successful currents of labor, in those morning hours, and in the fresh days after vacations, when we cannot find the excuse of weariness. There is an indisposition to continuous labor, which is utterly different from fatigue.

John Foster declared: "I have no power of getting fast forward in any literary task; it costs me far more labor than any other mortal who has been in the habit so long. I have the most extreme and invariable repugnance to all literary labors of any kind, and almost all mental labor. When I have anything of the kind to do, I linger hours and hours before I can resolutely set about it, and days and weeks if it is some task more than ordinary."

Dr. Humphrey recommends that the unwilling thoughts be frightened to their task by the same means which Lord Jeffrey used to drive out a headache. He says, in his letters to his son: "When you sit down to write, you sometimes will, no doubt, find it difficult to collect your scattered thoughts at the moment, and fix them upon the subject. If, in these cases, you take up a newspaper, or whatever other light reading may happen to be at hand, with the hope of luring the truants back, you will be disappointed. Nothing but stern and decided meas

ures will answer. I would advise you to resort at once to geometry or conic sections, or some other equally inexorable discipline to settle the business. I have myself often called in the aid of Euclid for a few moments, and always with good success. A little wholesome schooling of the mind upon lines and angles and proportions, when it is not in the right mood for study, will commonly make it quite willing to exchange them for the labor of composition, as the easier task of the two."

There is sound philosophy perhaps in this recommendation. Many persons have observed that the preliminary process of "composing the thoughts" is one which requires a little time and effort, especially where one comes to his subject from a period of exercise, or repose, or any other condition in which the brain has not been active. The functional activity of the brain depends on the copious supply of the arterial blood, its activity varying with that supply, increasing as that supply is greater, and relaxing when it is diminished. But unlike other organs of the body, the brain is densely packed in an unyielding cavity, and there must be room made for this increased volume of circulation whenever it takes place. This is accomplished, physiologists tell us, in the cerebro-spinal fluid, the quantity of which has been estimated at two ounces. This fluid is readily absorbed and as readily reproduced, and thus its quantity varies in a certain inverse proportion to the volume of the circulation of blood in the brain; and by this means an equality of pressure is secured throughout all the variations in the force of the circulation. The act of adjustment between this balancing fluid and the blood requires a little period for its completion, and therefore the brain cannot instantaneously be brought to its maximum action.

Hence, where the circulation has been diverted from the brain, and the proposed mental effort requires it to be vigorously revived in the brain, time must be allowed for this process of ad

justment, and room must be made for the needed supply of blood; and perhaps a familiar demonstration in mathematics, which fixes the attention, and will instantly detect any delinquency of that faculty, may often be one of the best modes of employing this transition period, and aiding the change.

We may observe here the singular paradox, which we believe that the philosophy of the mind and the experience of the scholar equally establish, that what are usually called the heaviest or severest subjects of thought are the least exhausting to the thinker. How many students, like Chief-Justice Parsons, have been accustomed, when fatigued with the labor of deep research, or exhausted by continued train of thought upon one subject, to relax the mind with arithmetical or geometrical problems. Isaac Newton could, month after month, spend in the profoundest problems of pure mathematics twice as many hours in the day as Walter Scott could give to the composition of what we call light reading; and it will be found that mathematicians, theologians, and metaphysicians have been able to sustain more protracted labor, and with less injury, than have poets and novelists. There are not wanting reasons which aid us to understand this paradox, but we will not enter upon them here.

Irregularities of habit will doubtless disturb the action of the mind. The mental power that is thrown away and wasted by recklessness in this respect is incalculable. But there are variations in mental power in the midst of health, in the absence of fatigue, and under the most regular habits. Perhaps few authors have more carefully adapted their habits to their work, or ordered their method of life with a more quiet equality, than did Milton. went to bed uniformly at nine o'clock.* He rose in the summer generally at four, and in winter at five. When, contrary to his usual custom, he in

He

*In his youth he studied till midnight; but, warned by the early decay of sight and his disordered health, he afterwards changed his hours.

dulged himself with longer rest, he employed a person to read to him from the time of his waking to that of his rising. The opening of his day was uniformly consecrated to religion. A chapter of the Hebrew Scriptures being read to him as soon as he was up, he passed the subsequent interval till seven o'clock in private meditation. From seven till twelve he either studied, listened while some author was read to him, or dictated as some friendly hand supplied him with its pen. At twelve commenced his hour of exercise, which before his blindness was usually passed in his garden or in walking, and afterward for the most part in the swing which he had contrived for the purpose of exercise. His early and frugal dinner succeeded, and when it was finished he resigned himself to the recreation of music, by which he found his mind at once gratified and restored. He played on the organ, and sang, or his wife sang for him. From his music he returned with fresh vigor to his books or his composition. At six he admitted the visits of his friends; he took his abstemious supper, of olives or some light thing, at eight; and at nine, having smoked a pipe and drank a glass of water, he retired. Yet in the midst of this clock-like regularity his labors were broken by frequent unfruitful seasons. Symmons says of him, that "he frequently composed in the night, when his unpremeditated verse would sometimes flow in a torrent, under the impulse, as it were, of some strange poetical fury; and in these peculiar moments of inspiration, his amanuensis, who was generally his daughter, was summoned by the bell to arrest the verses as they came, and to commit them to the security of writing.

... Some days would elapse undistinguished by a verse, while on others he would dictate thirty or forty lines. .... Labor would often be ineffectual to obtain what often would be gratuitously offered to him; and his imagination, which at one instant would refuse a flower to his most strenuous cultivation, would at another time shoot up

into spontaneous and abundant vegetation." He seldom wrote any in the

summer.

Cowper said that he composed best in winter, because then he could find nothing else to do but think; and he contrasted himself in this respect with other poets, who have found an inspiration in the attractive scenes of the more genial seasons.

The biographer of Campbell has given us the following anecdote with respect to the oft-quoted lines,

""T is the sunset of life gives me mystical lore,

And coming events cast their shadows before." The happy thought first presented itself to his mind during a visit at Minto. He had gone early to bed, and, still meditating on "Lochiel's Warning," fell fast asleep. During the night he suddenly awoke, repeating, "Events to come cast their shadows before"! This was the very thought for which he had been hunting the whole week. He rang the bell more than once with increasing force. At last, surprised and annoyed by so unseasonable a peal, the servant appeared. The poet was sitting with one foot in the bed, and the other on the floor, with an air of mixed impatience and inspiration. "Sir, are you ill?" inquired the servant. "Ill! never better in my life. Leave me the candle, and oblige me with a cup of tea as soon as possible." He then started to his feet, seized hold of his pen, and wrote down the happy thought, but as he wrote changed the words "events to come " into "coming events," as it now stands in the text. Looking at his watch he observed that it was two o'clock, the right hour for a poet's dream; and over his cup of tea he completed his first sketch of "Lochiel."

Nor is this capriciousness exclusively the attribute of the poetic Muse.

Calvin, who studied and wrote in bed, if he felt his facility of composition quitting him, as not unfrequently he did, gave up writing and composing, and went about his out-door duties for days, weeks, and months together.

But as soon as he felt the inspiration again, he went back to his bed, and his secretary set to work forthwith.

Dr. Edward Robinson was always under the necessity of waiting upon his moods in composition. He wondered at the men who can write when they will. Sometimes for days together he could make no headway in his higher tasks.

There are avocations, like those of the advocate, the preacher, the journalist, which must be pursued continuously, well or ill, and in spite of such variations of feeling. In these labors men doubtless learn to disregard in some degree these moods of mind; but the variable quality of the productions of one man on different days confirms what testimony we have of their existence.

The zeal or the indifference, the clearness or the dulness, the quickness or the sluggishness of thought, are doubtless to some degree determined by the methods of labor into which the person falls, and by the incidental habits and circumstances of his life. It is wonderful what a vast fund of information and suggestion upon these and kindred points of mental phenomena is found in the experience of the great industrial class of the intellectual world recorded in biographical and historical literature. Let us then visit some of the busiest and most successful scholars, philosophers, poets, writers, and preachers; let us peep through the window of biography into the library, the cabinet, and the office. Let us watch the habits of some of these busy-brained men, these great masters of the intellectual world. Let us note what helps and what hindrances they have found; how they have driven their work, or how they have been driven by it, and what is the nature and degree of the systems which they have adopted in ordering their hours of labor and of relaxation.

We will visit them as we find them, without looking for examples of excellence or warnings of carelessness, and will leave the reader to make his own inferences.

VOL. XX. - NO. 121.

37

The poet Southey, who is said to have been, perhaps, more continually employed than any other writer of his generation, was habitually an early riser, but he never encroached upon the hours of the night. He gives the following account of his day, as he employed it at the age of thirty-two: "Three pages of history after breakfast (equivalent to five in small quarto printing), then to transcribe and copy for the press, or to make my selections and biographies, or what else suits my humor, till dinner-time. From dinner till tea, I write letters, read, see the newspaper, and very often indulge in a siesta, for sleep agrees with me, and I have a good substantial theory to prove that it must; for as a man who walks much requires to sit down and rest himself, so does the brain, if it be the part most worked, require its repose. Well, after tea I go to poetry, and correct and rewrite and copy till I am tired, and then turn to anything else till supper." At the age of fiftyfive, his life varied but little from this sketch. When it is said that his breakfast was at nine, after a little reading, his dinner at four, tea at six, and supper at half past nine, and that the intervals, except the time regularly devoted to a walk, between two and four, and a short sleep before tea, were occupied with reading and writing, the outline of his day during those long seasons when he was in full work will have been given. After supper, when the business of the day seemed to be over, though he generally took a book, he remained with his family, and was ready to enter into conversation, to amuse and to be amused. During the several years that he was partially employed upon the life of Dr. Bell, he devoted two hours before breakfast to it in the summer, and as much time as there was daylight for during the winter months, that it might not interfere with the usual occupations of the day. Of himself, at the age of sixty, at a time when he was thus engaged every morning at work away from his home, he says: "I get out of bed as the clock

strikes six, and shut the house door after me as it strikes seven. After two hours' work, home to breakfast; after which my son engages me till about half past ten, and, when the post brings no letters that interest or trouble me, by eleven I have done with the newspaper, and can then set about what is properly the business of the day. But I am liable to frequent interruptions, so that there are not many mornings in which I can command from two to three unbroken hours at the desk. At two I take my daily walk, be the weather what it may, and when the weather permits, with a book in my hand. Dinner at four, read about half an hour, then take to the sofa with a different book, and after a few pages get my soundest sleep, till summoned to tea at six. My best time during the winter is by candlelight; twilight interferes with it a little, and in the season of company I can never count upon an evening's work. Supper at half past nine, after which I read an hour, and then to bed. The greatest part of my miscellaneous work is done in the odds and ends of time."

Shelley rose early in the morning, walked and read before breakfast, took that meal sparingly, wrote and studied the greater part of the morning, walked and read again, dined on vegetables (for he took neither meat nor wine), conversed with his friends (to whom his house was ever open), again walked out, and usually finished with reading to his wife till ten o'clock, when he went to bed. This was his daily existence. His book was generally Plato, or Homer, or one of the Greek tragedians, or the Bible, in which last he took a great interest. Out of twenty-four hours he frequently read sixteen. "He wrote his Prometheus," says Willis, "in the baths of Caracalla, near the Coliseum." It was his favorite haunt in Rome.

The poet Campbell thus describes his labors, when in London, at the age of fifty-five: "I get up at seven, write letters for the Polish Association until half past nine, breakfast, go to the club

and read the newspapers till twelve. Then I sit down to my studies, and, with many interruptions, do what I can till four. I then walk round the Park and generally dine out at six. Between nine and ten I return to chambers, read a book or write a letter, and go to bed always before twelve." "His correspondence," says his biographer, “ occupied four hours every morning, in French, German, and Latin. He could seldom act with the moderation necessary for his health. Whatever object he once took in hand, he determined to carry out, and found no rest until it was accomplished." Whatever he wrote during his connection with the New Monthly and the Metropolitan was written hurriedly. If a subject was proposed for the end of a month, he seldom gave it a thought until it was no longer possible to delay the task. He would then sit down in the quietest corner of his chambers, or, if quiet was not to be found in town, he would start off to the country, and there, shut in among the green fields, complete his task. When sixty-two years old, he says: "I am only six hours out of the twenty-four in bed. I study twelve, and walk six. Oranges, exercise, and early rising serve to keep me flourishing."

"Procter (Barry Cornwall) usually writes," says Willis, "in a small closet adjoining his library. There is just room enough in it for a desk and two chairs, and his favorite books, miniature likenesses of authors, manuscripts, &c., piled around in true poetical confusion." He confines his labors to the daytime, eschewing evening work. In a letter to a friend, some years ago, he wrote: "I hope you will not continue to give up your nights to literary undertakings. Believe me (who have suffered bitterly for this imprudence) that nothing in the world of letters is worth the sacrifice of health and strength and animal spirits which will certainly follow this excess of labor."

Cowper, at the age of fifty-three, and at a busy period of his life, says: "The morning is my writing time, and

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