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"It may be observed here that mathematical reasoning, as it calls for no exercise of judgment respecting probabilities, is the best kind of introductory exercise; and from the same cause, is apt, when too exclusively pursued, to make men incorrect moral reasoners.
"As for those ethical and legal reasonings which were lately mentioned as in some respects resembling those of mathematics, (viz., such as keep clear of all assertions respecting facts,) they have this difference; that not only men are not so completely agreed respecting the maxims and principles of ethics and law, but the meaning also of each term can not be absolutely, and for ever, fixed by an arbitrary definition; on the contrary, a great part of our labor consists in distinguishing accurately the various senses in which men employ each term,―ascertaining which is the most proper,-and taking care to avoid confounding them together. 66 It may be worth while to add in this place, that as a candid disposition,hearty desire to judge fairly, and to attain truth,—are evidently necessary with a view to give fair play to the reasoning powers, in subjects where we are liable to a bias from interest or feelings, so, a fallacious perversion of this maxim finds a place in the minds of some persons; who accordingly speak disparagingly of all exercise of the reasoning faculty in moral and religious subjects; declaiming on the insufficiency of mere intellectual power for the attainment of truth in such matters,―on the necessity of appealing to the heart rather than to the head, &c., and then leading their readers or themselves to the conclusion that the less we reason on such subjects the safer we are.
"But the proper office of candor is to prepare the mind not for the rejection of all evidence, but for the right reception of evidence ;—not to be a substitute for reasons, but to enable us fairly to weigh the reasons on both sides. Such persons as I am alluding to are in fact saying that since just weights alone, without a just balance, will avail nothing, therefore we have only to take care of the scales, and let the weights take care of themselves.
"This kind of tone is of course most especially to be found in such writers as consider it expedient to inculcate on the mass of mankind what-there is reason to suspect-they do not themselves fully believe, and which they apprehend is the more likely to be rejected the more it is investigated."
A curious anecdote (which I had heard, in substance, some years before) was told me by the late Sir Alexander Johnstone. When he was acting as temporary governor of Ceylon, (soon after its cession,) he sat once as judge in a trial of a prisoner for a robbery and murder; and the evidence seemed to him so conclusive, that he was about to charge the jury (who were native Cingalese) to find a verdict of guilty. But one of the jury asked and obtained permission to examine the witnesses himself. He had them brought in one by one, and cross-examined them so ably as to elicit the fact that they were themselves the perpetrators of the crime, which they afterwards had conspired to impute to the prisoner. And they were accordingly put on their trial and convicted.
Sir A. J. was greatly struck by the intelligence displayed by this juror; the more, as he was only a small farmer, who was not known to have had any remarkable advantages of education. He sent for him, and after commending the wonderful sagacity he had shown, inquired eagerly what his studies had been. The man replied that he had never read but one book, the only one he possessed, which had long been in his family, and which he delighted to study in his leisure
hours. This book he was prevailed on to show to Sir A. J., who put it into the hands of one who knew the Cingalese language. It turned out to be a translation into that language of a large portion of Aristotle's Organon. It appears that the Portuguese, when they first settled in Ceylon and other parts of the East, translated into the native languages several of the works then studied in the European Universities; among which were the Latin versions of Aristotle.
The Cingalese in question said that if his understanding had been in any degree cultivated and improved, it was to that book he owed it.
It is very important to warn all readers of the influence likely to be exercised in the formation of their opinions, indirectly, and by works not professedly argumentative, such as Poems and Tales. Fletcher of Saltoun said, he would let any one have the making of the laws of a country, if he might have the making of their ballads.
An observation in the Lectures on Political Economy on one cause which has contributed to foster an erroneous opinion of the superior moral purity of poor and half-civilized countries, is equally applicable to a multitude of other cases, on various subjects. "One powerful, but little suspected cause, I take to be, an early familiarity with poetical descriptions of pure, unsophisticated, rustic life, in remote, sequestered, and unenlightened districts;—of the manly virtue and practical wisdom of our simple forefathers, before the refinements of luxury had been introduced;—of the adventurous wildness, so stimulating to the imagination, of savage or pastoral life, in the midst of primeval forests, lofty mountains, and all the grand scenery of uncultivated nature. Such subjects and scenes are much better adapted for poets, than thronged cities, workshops, coalpits, and iron-foundries. And poets, whose object is to please, of course keep out of sight all the odious or disgusting circumstances pertaining to the life of the savage or the untutored clown, and dwell exclusively on all the amiable and admirable parts of that simplicity of character which they feign or fancy. Early associations are thus formed, whose influence is often the stronger and the more lasting, from the very circumstance that they are formed unconsciously, and do not come in the form of propositions demanding a deliberate assent. Poetry does not profess to aim at conviction; but it often leaves impressions which affect the reasoning and the judgment. And a false impression is perhaps oftener conveyed in other ways than by sophistical argument; because that rouses the mind to exert its powers, and to assume, as it were, a reasoning mood.""
The influence exercised by such works is overlooked by those who suppose that a child's character, moral and intellectual, is formed by those books only which are put into his hands with that design. As hardly anything can accidentally touch the soft clay without stamping its mark on it, so, hardly any reading can interest a child without contributing in some degree, though the book itself be afterwards totally forgotten, to form the character; and the parents, therefore, who, merely requiring from him a certain course of study, pay little or no attention to story-books, are educating him they know not how.
And here, I would observe that in books designed for children there are two extremes that should be avoided. The one, that reference to religious principles
1 In an article in a Review I have seen mention made of a person who discovered the falsity of a certain doctrine (which, by the way, is nevertheless a true one, that of Malthus,) instinctvely. This kind of instinct, i. e. the habit of forming opinions at the suggestion rather of feeling than of reason, is very common.
in connection with matters too trifling and undignified, arising from a well-intentioned zeal, causing a forgetfulness of the maxim whose notorious truth has made it proverbial, "Too much familiarity breeds contempt." And the other is the contrary, and still more prevailing extreme, arising from a desire to preserve a due reverence for religion, at the expense of its useful application in conduct. But a line may be drawn which will keep clear of both extremes. We should not exclude the association of things sacred with whatever are to ourselves trifling matters, (for "these little things are great" to children,) but, with whatever is viewed by them as trifling. Every thing is great or small in reference to the parties concerned. The private concerns of any obscure individual are very insignificant to the world at large, but they are of great importance to himself. And all worldly affairs must be small in the sight of the Most High; but irreverent familiarity is engendered in the mind of any one, then, and then only, when things sacred are associated with such as are, to him, insignificant things.
And here I would add that those works of fiction are worse than unprofitable that inculcate morality, with an exclusion of all reference to religious principle. This is obviously and notoriously the character of Miss Edgeworth's moral tales. And so entire and resolute is this exclusion, that it is maintained at the expense of what may be called poetical truth; it destroys, in many instances, the probability of the tale, and the naturalness of the characters. That Christianity does exist, every one must believe as an incontrovertible truth; nor can any one deny that, whether true or false, it does exercise, at least is supposed to exercise,—an influence on the feelings and conduct of some of the believers in it. To represent, therefore, persons of various ages, sex, country, and station in life, as practicing, on the most trying occasions, every kind of duty, and encountering every kind of danger, difficulty, and hardship, while none of them ever makes the least reference to a religious motive, is as decidedly at variance with reality,-what is called in works of fiction unnatural,—as it would be to represent Mahomet's enthusiastic followers as rushing into battle without any thought of his promised paradise. This, therefore, is a blemish in point of art, which every reader possessing taste must perceive, whatever may be his religious or non-religious persuasion. But a far higher, and more important, question than that of taste is involved. For though Miss Edgeworth may entertain opinions which would not permit her, with consistency, to attribute more to the influence of religion than she has done, and in that case may stand acquitted, in foro conscientiæ, of willfully suppressing anything which she acknowledges to be true and important; yet, as, a writer, it must still be considered as a great blemish, in the eyes at least of those who think differently, that virtue should be studiously inculcated, with scarcely any reference to what they regard as the mainspring of it,—that vice should be traced to every other source except the want of religious principle, that the most radical change from worthlessness to excellence should be represented as wholly independent of that Agent which they consider as the only one that can accomplish it, and that consolation under affliction should be represented as derived from every source, except the one which they look to as the only true and sure one. Is it not because there is no God in Israel, that ye have sent to inquire of Baalzebub, the God of Ekron ?" This vital defect in such works should be constantly pointed out to the young reader; and he should be warned that, to realize the picture of noble, disinterested, thorough-going virtue, presented in such and such an instance, it is absolutely necessary to resort to those
principles which in these fictions are unnoticed. He should, in short, be reminded that all these "things that are lovely and of good report," which have been placed before him, are the genuine fruits of the Holy Land; though the spies who have brought them bring also an evil report of that land, and would persuade us to remain wandering in the wilderness.
The student of history, also, should be on his guard against the indirect influence likely to be exercised on his opinions. On this point I take the liberty of quoting a passage from my Lectures on Political Economy:
“An injudicious reader of history is liable to be misled by the circumstance, that historians and travelers occupy themselves principally (as is natural) with the relation of whatever is remarkable, and different from what commonly takes place in their own time or country. They do not dwell on the ordinary transactions of human life, (which are precisely what furnish the data on which political economy proceeds,) but on every thing that appears an exception to general rules, and in any way such as could not have been anticipated. The sort of information which the political economist wants is introduced, for the most part, only incidentally and obliquely ; and is to be collected, imperfectly, from scattered allusions. So that if you will give a rapid glance, for instance, at the history of these islands, from the time of the Norman conquest to the present day, you will find that the differences between the two states of the country, in most of the points with which our science is conversant, are but very imperfectly accounted for in the main outline of the narrative.
"If it were possible that we could have a full report of the common business and common conversation, in the markets, the shops, and the wharfs of Athens and Piræus, for a single day, it would probable throw more light on the state of things in Greece at that time, in all that political economy is most concerned with, than all the histories that are extant put together.
"There is a danger, therefore, that the mind of the student, who proceeds in the manner I have described, may have been even drawn off from the class of facts which are, for the purpose in question, most important to be attended to.
"For, it should be observed that in all studies there is a danger to be guarded against, which Bacon, with his usual acuteness, has pointed out: that most men are so anxious to make or seek for some application of what they have been learning, as not unfrequently to apply it improperly, by endeavoring, lest their knowledge should lie by them idle, to bring it to bear on some question to which it is irrelevant; like Horace's painter, who, being skillful in drawing a cypress, was for introducing one into the picture of a shipwreck. Bacon complains of this tendency among the logicians and metaphysicians of his day, who introduced an absurd and pernicious application of the studies in which they had been conversant, into natural philosophy: 'Artis sæpe ineptus fit usus, ne sit nullus.' But the same danger besets those conversant in every other study likewise, (political economy of course not excepted,) that may from time to time have occupied a large share of each man's attention. He is tempted to seek for a solution of every question on every subject, by a reference to his own favorite science or branch of knowledge; like a schoolboy when first intrusted with a knife, who is for trying its edge on every thing that comes in his way.
"Now in reference to the point immediately before us, he who is well read in history and in travels should be warned of the danger (the more on account of the real high importance of such knowledge) of misapplying it,—of supposing
that because political economy is conversant with human transactions, and he is acquainted with so much greater an amount of human transactions than the generality of men, he must have an advantage over them in precisely the same degree, in discussing questions of political economy. Undoubtedly he has a great advantage, if he is careful to keep in view the true principles of the science; but otherwise he may even labor under a dis-advantage, by forgetting that (as I just now observed) the kind of transactions which are made most prominent and occupy the chief space, in the works of historians and travelers, are usually not those of every-day life, with which political economy is conversant. It is in the same way that an accurate military survey of any district, or a series of sketches accompanying a picturesque tour through it, may even serve to mislead one who is seeking for a knowledge of its agricultural condition, if he does not keep in mind the different objects which different kinds of survey have in view.
"Geologists, when commissioning their friends to procure them from any foreign country such specimens as may convey an idea of its geological character, are accustomed to warn them against sending over collections of curiosities—i. e. specimens of spars, stalactites, &c., which are accounted, in that country, curious, from being rarities, and which consequently convey no correct notion of its general features. What they want is, specimens of the commonest strata,-the stones with which the roads are mended, and the houses built, &c. And some fragments of these, which in that country are accounted mere rubbish, they sometimes, with much satisfaction, find casually adhering to the specimens sent them as curiosities, and constituting, for their object, the most important part of the collection. Histories are in general, to the political economist, what such collections are to the geologist. The casual allusions to common, and what are considered insignificant matters, conveying to him the most valuable information.
"An injudicious study of history, then, may even prove a hindrance instead of a help to the forming of right views of political economy. For not only are many of the transactions which are, in the historian's view, the most important, such as are the least important to the political economist, but also a great proportion of them consists of what are in reality the greatest impediments to the progress of a society in wealth: viz., wars, revolutions, and disturbances of every kind. It is not in consequence of these, but in spite of them, that society has made the progress which in fact it has made. So that in taking such a survey as history furnishes of the course of events, for instance, for the last eight hundred years, (the period I just now alluded to,) not only do we find little mention of the causes which have so greatly increased national wealth during that period, but what we chiefly do read of is, the counteracting causes; especially the wars which have been raging from time to time, to the destruction of capital, and the hindrance of improvement. Now, if a ship had performed a voyage of eight hundred leagues, and the register of it contained an account chiefly of the contrary winds and currents, and made little mention of favorable gales, we might well be at a loss to understand how she reached her destination; and might even be led into the mistake of supposing that the contrary winds had forwarded her in her course. Yet such is history!"
In reference to the study of history, I have elsewhere remarked upon the im portance, among the intellectual qualifications for such a study, of a vivid imagination, a faculty which, consequently, a skillful narrator must himself possess, and to which he must be able to furnish excitement in others. Some may, per