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mind, seeking instruction, but unconsciously praying that he may find himself in the right. And he will seldom fail.
"Hic liber est in quo quærit sua dogmata quisque ;
"In this book many students seek each one to find
It is the same with philosophy. If you have a strong wish to find phenomena such as to confirm the conjectures you have formed, and allow that wish to bias your examination, you are ill-fitted for interrogating nature. Both that, and the other volume of the records of what God does,-Revelation,—are to be interrogated, not as witnesses, but as instructors. You must let all your conjectures hang loose upon you; and be prepared to learn from what is written in each of those volumes, with the aid of the conjectures of reason; not from reason, (nor, by the by, from feelings and fancies, and wishes, and human authority,) with Scripture for your aid.
This latter procedure, which is a very common one with theological students, may be called making an anagram of Scripture,-taking it to pieces and reconstructing it in the model of some human system of "Institutes:" building a temple of one's own, consisting of the stones of the true one pulled down and put together in a new fashion.
Yet divines of this description are often considered by others as well as by themselves, pre-eminently scriptural, from their continual employment of the very words of Scripture, and their readiness in citing a profusion of texts. But, in reality, instead of using a human commentary on Scripture, they use Scripture itself as a kind commentary on some human system. They make the warp human, and interweave an abundance of Scripture as a woof; which is just the reverse of the right procedure. But this may be called, truly, in a certain sense, "taking a text from Scripture," "preaching such and such a doctrine out of Scripture," and "improving Scripture."
Thus it is that men, when comparing their opinions with the standard of God's Word, suffer these opinions to bend the rule by which they are to be measured. But he who studies the Scriptures should remember that he is consulting the Spirit of Truth, and if he would hope for his aid, through whose enlightening and supporting grace alone those Scriptures can be read with advantage, he must search honestly and earnestly for the truth.
"Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted."
With respect to the deference due to the opinions (written or spoken) of intelligent and well-informed men, it may be remarked, that before a question has been fully argued, there is a presumption that they are in the right; but after⚫wards, if objections have been brought which they have failed to answer, the presumption is the other way. The wiser, and the more learned, and the more numerous, are those opposed to you, and the more strenuous and persevering their opposition, the greater is the probability that if there were any flaw in your argument they would have refuted you. And therefore your adhering to an opposite opinion from theirs, so far from being a mark of arrogant contempt, is, in reality, the strongest proof of a high respect for them. For example—The
strongest confirmation of the fidelity of the translations of Scripture published by the Irish School Commissioners, is to be found in the many futile attempts, made by many able and learned men, to detect errors in them.
This important distinction is often overlooked.
"Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact
Writing an Analysis, table of Contents, Index, or Notes to any book, is very important for the study, properly so called, of any subject. And so, also, is the practice of previously conversing or writing on the subject you are about to study.
I have elsewhere alluded to this kind of practice,' and suggested to the teacher 66 to put before his pupils, previously to their reading each lesson, some questions pertaining to the matter of it, requiring of them answers, oral or written, the best they can think of without consulting the book. Next, let them read the lesson, having other questions, such as may lead to any needful explanations, put before them as they proceed. And afterwards let them be examined (introducing numerous examples framed by themselves and by the teacher) as to the portion they have learned, in order to judge how far they remember it.
"Of the three kinds of questions,—which may be called, 1, preliminary questions; 2, questions of instruction; and 3, questions of examination,—the last alone are, by a considerable portion of instructors, commonly employed. And the elementary books commonly known as 'catechims,' or 'books in question and answer,' consist, in reality, of questions of this description.
"But the second kind-what is properly to be called instructive questioning— is employed by all who deserve to be reckoned good teachers.
"The first kind—the preliminary questioning-is employed (systematically and constantly) but by few. And, at first sight, it might be supposed by those who have not had experience of it, that it would be likely to increase the learner's difficulties. But if any well-qualified instructor will but carefully and judiciously try the experiment (in teaching any kind of science,) he will be surprised to find to how great a degree this exercise of the student's mind on the subject will contribute to his advancement. He will find that what has been taught in the mode above suggested, will have been learnt in a shorter time, will have been far the more thoroughly understood, and will be fixed incomparably the better in the memory."
Curiosity is as much the parent of attention, as attention is of memory; therefore the first business of a teacher-first, not only in point of time, but of importance-should be to excite, not merely a general curiosity on the subject of the study, but a particular curiosity on particular points in that subject. To teach one who has no curiosity to learn, is to sow a field without ploughing it.
And this process saves a student from being (as many are) intellectually damaged by having a very good memory. For an unskillful teacher is content to put before his pupils what they have to learn, and ascertaining that they remember it. And thus those of them whose memory is ready and attentive, have their mind left in a merely passive state, and are like a person always carried about in a sedan chair, till he has almost lost the use of his limbs. And then it is made a wonder that a person who has been so well taught, and who was so quick in
1 See Preface to Easy Lessons on Reasoning. Page v.
learning and remembering, should not prove an able man; which is about as reasonable as to expect that a capacious cistern, if filled, should be converted into a perennial fountain. Many are saved, by the deficiency of their memory, from being spoiled by their education; for those who have no extraordinary memory, are driven to supply its defects by thinking. If they do not remember a mathe matical demonstration, they are driven to devise one. If they do not exactly retain what Aristotle or Smith have said, they are driven to consider what they were likely to have said, or ought to have said. And thus their faculties are invigorated by exercise.
Now, this kind of exercises a skillful teacher will afford to all; so that no one shall be spoiled by the goodness of his memory.
A very common practice may be here noticed, which should be avoided, if we would create a habit of studying with profit-that of making children learn by rote what they do not understand. "It is done on this plea-that they will hereafter learn the meaning of what they have been thus taught, and will be able to make a practical use of it." But no attempt at economy of time can be more injudicious. Let any child whose capacity is so far matured as to enable him to comprehend an explanation,-e. g., of the Lord's Prayer,—have it then put before him for the first time, and when he is made acquainted with the meaning of it, set to learn it by heart; and can any one doubt that, in less than a half a day's application, he would be able to repeat it fluently? And the same would be the case with other forms. All that is learned by rote by a child before he is competent to attach a meaning to the words he utters, would not, if all put together, amount to so much as would cost him, when able to understand it, a week's labor to learn perfectly. Whereas, it may cost the toil, often the vain toil, of many years, to unlearn the habit of formalism—of repeating words by rote without attending to their meaning; a habit which every one conversant with education knows to be in all subjects most readily acquired by children, and with difficulty avoided even with the utmost care of the teacher; but which such a plan must inevitably tend to generate. It is often said, and very truly, that it is important to form early habits of piety; but to train a child in one kind of habit, is not the most likely way of forming the opposite one; and nothing can be more contrary to true piety, than the Romish superstition (for such in fact it is) of attaching efficacy to the repetition of a certain form of words as a charm, independent of the understanding and of the heart.
"It is also said, with equal truth, that we ought to take advantage of the facility which children possess of learning; but to infer from thence, that Providence designs us to make such a use (or rather abuse) of this gift as we have been censuring, is as if we were to take advantage of the readiness with which a new-born babe swallows whatever is put into its mouth, to dose it with ardent spirits, instead of wholesome food and necessary medicine. The readiness with which children learn and remember words, is in truth a most important advantage if rightly employed; viz., if applied to the acquiring that mass of what may be called arbitrary knowledge of insulated facts, which can only be learned by rote, and which is necessary in after life; when the acquisition of it would both be more troublesome, and would encroach on time that might otherwise be better employed. Chronology, names of countries, weights and measures, and indeed all the words of any language, are of this description. If a child had even ten times the ordi
1 London Review. No. xi, pages 412, 413.
nary degree of the faculty in question, a judicious teacher would find abundance of useful employment for it, without resorting to any that could possibly be detrimental to his future habits, moral, religious, or intellectua] "
One very useful precept for students, is never to remain long puzzling out any difficulty; but lay the book and the subject aside, and return to it some hours after, or next day; after having turned the attention to something else. Sometimes a person will weary his mind for several hours in some efforts (which might have been spared) to make out some difficulty; and next day, when he returns to the subject, will find it quite easy.
The like takes place in the effort to recollect some name. You may fatigue yourself in vain for hours together; and if you turn to something else (which you might as well have done at once) the name will, as it were, flash across you without an effort.
There is something analogous to this, in reference to the scent of dogs. When a wounded bird, for instance, has been lost in the the thicket, and the dogs fail, after some search, to find it, a skillful sportsman always draws them off, and hunts them elsewhere for an hour, and then brings them back to the spot to try afresh; and they will often, then, find their game readily: though, if they had been hunting for it all the time, they would have failed.
It seems as if the dog-and the mind—having got into a kind of wrong track, continued in the same error, till drawn completely away elsewhere.
Always trust, therefore, for the overcoming of a difficulty, not to long continued study after you have once got bewildered, but to repeated trials, at intervals.
It may be here observed, that the student of any science or art should not only distinctly understand all the technical language, and all the rules of the art, but also learn them by heart, so that they may be remembered as familiarly as the alphabet, and employed constantly and with scrupulous exactness. Otherwise, technical language will prove an encumbrance instead of an advantage, just as a suit of clothes would be, if instead of putting them on and wearing them, one should carry them about in his hand.
“There is no stond or impediment in the wit, but may be wrought out by fit studies."
It is a pity that Bacon did not more fully explain the mode in which different kinds of studies act on the mind. As an exercise of the reasoning faculty, pure mathematics is an admirable exercise, because it consists of reasoning alone, and does not encumber the student with any exercise of judgment: and it is well always to begin with learning one thing at a time, and to defer a combination of mental exercises to a later period. But then it is important to remember that mathematics does not exercise the judgment; and consequently, if too exclusively pursued, may leave the student very ill qualified for moral reasonings.
"The definitions, which are the principles of our reasoning, are very few, and the axioms still fewer; and both are, for the most part, laid down and placed before the student in the outset; the introduction of a new definition or axiom being of comparatively rare occurrence, at wide intervals, and with a formal statement, besides which, there is no room for doubt concerning either. On the other hand, in all reasonings which regard matters of fact, we introduce, almost at every step, fresh and fresh propositions (to a very great number) which had not been elicited in the course of our reasoning, but are taken for granted; viz., facts,
and laws of nature, which are here the principles of our reasoning, and maxims, or 'elements of belief,' which answer to the axioms in mathematics. If, at the opening of a treatise, for example, on chemistry, on agriculture, on political economy, &c., the author should make, as in mathematics, a formal statement of all the propositions he intended to assume as granted, throughout the whole work, both he and his readers would be astonished at the number; and, of these, many would be only probable, and there would be much room for doubt as to the degree of probability, and for judgment in ascertaining that degree.
"Moreover, mathematical axioms are always employed precisely in the same simple form: e. g., the axiom that 'the things equal to the same are equal to one another,' is cited, whenever there is need, in those very words; whereas the maxims employed in the other class of subjects, admit of, and require, continual modifications in the application of them. E. g., 'the stability of the laws of nature,' which is our constant assumption in inquiries relating to natural philosophy, appears in many different shapes, and in some of them does not possess the same complete certainty as in others; e. g., when, from having always observed a certain sheep ruminating, we infer, that this individual sheep will continue to ruminate, we assume that 'the property which has hitherto belonged to this sheep will remain unchanged;' when we infer the same property of all sheep, we assume that 'the property which belongs to this individual belongs to the whole species;' if, on comparing sheep with some other kinds of horned animals,' and finding that all agree in ruminating, we infer that 'all horned animals ruminate,' we assume that 'the whole of a genus or class are likely to agree in any point wherein many species of that genus agree:' or in other words, 'that if one of two properties, &c., has often been found accompanied by another, and never without it, the former will be universally accompanied by the latter;' now all these are merely different forms of the maxim, that nature is uniform in her operations,' which, it is evident, varies in expression in almost every different case where it is applied, and the application of which admits of every degree of evidence, from perfect moral certainty, to mere conjecture.
"The same may be said of an infinite number of principles and maxims appropriated to, and employed in, each particular branch of study. Hence, all such reasonings are, in comparison of mathematics, very complex; requiring so much more than that does, beyond the process of merely deducing the conclusion logically from the premises: so that it is no wonder that the longest mathematical demonstration should be so much more easily constructed and understood than a much shorter train of just reasoning concerning real facts. The former has been aptly compared to a long and steep, but even and regular, flight of steps, which tries the breath, and the strength, and the perseverance only; while the latter resembles a short, but rugged and uneven, ascent up a precipice, which requires a quick eye, agile limbs, and a firm step; and in which we have to tread now on this side, now on that-ever considering, as we proceed, whether this or that projection will afford room for our foot, or whether some loose stone may not slide from under us. There are probably as many steps of pure reasoning in one of the longer of Euclid's demonstrations, as in the whole of an argumentative treatise on some other subject, occupying perhaps a considerable volume.
1 Viz., having horns on the skull. What are called the horns of the rhinoceros are quite different in origin, and in structure, as well as in situation, from what are properly called