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RULES FOR THE ATTAINMENT OF KNOWLEDGE.
1. DEEPLY impress your mind with the vast importance of a sound judgment, and the rich and inestimable advantage of right reasoning. Review the instances of your own misconduct in life, and observe how many follies and sorrows you would have escaped, if from your early years you had taken due pains to judge rightly concerning persons, times, and things. This will awaken you to the work of improving your reasoning powers, and of seizing every opportunity and advantage for this end.
2. Take a wide survey, now and then, of the unlimited regions of learning. Let your meditations run over the names of all the sciences, with their numerous branchings and particular themes of knowledge, and then reflect with how few of them you are acquainted. The most learned of mortals will never find occasion to act over again what is fabled of Alexander the Great; that when he had conquered what was called the Eastern world, he wept for want of more worlds to conquer. The worlds of science are innumerable and endless.
3. Read the accounts of those vast treasures of knowledge which some of the dead have possessed, and some of the live ing do possess, and be astonished at the almost incredible advances that have been made in science. Acquaint yourself with some persons of great learning, that, by comparing yourself with them, you may acquire a just opinion of your own attainments, and be animated with a generous and laudable emulation to equal or exceed them. But remember, if pon a few superficial acquirements you value and exalt yourself, as though you were already learned, you are thereby erecting an impassable barrier against all improvement.
4. Presume not too much upon a bright genius, a ready
* Alex-an’der the Great; a Grecian general of great talents but corrupt morals.
wit and good parts; for these, without labor and study, will never make a man of knowledge and wisdom. Persons of a gay and vigorous fancy have often fallen into this mistake. They have been acknowledged to shine in an assembly, and sparkle in a discourse upon common topics, and therefore have resolved to abandon reading and study; but when they had lost their vivacity of animal nature and youth, they became stupid and sottish even to contempt and ridicule. It is meditation and studious thought that gives good sense even to the best genius. 5. Exercise your reason and judgment upon
you for if your learning be a mere accumulation of what others have written, without a due penetration into the meaning, and a judicious choice and determination of your own sentiments, your head has little better title to true knowledge than the shelves of your library.
6. Do not be suddenly taken upon the surfaces of things, or with mere appearances, for this will fill the mind with errors and prejudices, and give it an ill habit of thinking; but penetrate into the depth of matters, as far as your time and circumstances will allow.
7. Once a day, especially in the early years of life and study, examine what new ideas you have gained, and what advances you have made in any part of knowledge, and let no day, if possible, pass away without some intellectual gain. It was a sacred rule among the Pythagoreans, that they should, every evening, run thrice over the actions and affairs of the day, and examine what their conduct had been, what they had done, and what they had neglected; assured that, by this method, they would make a rapid progress in the path of knowledge and virtue.
a Py-thag-o're-ans; the followers of Pythag'oras, a Grecian philosophor.
ON THE STUDY OF HISTORY.
1. The advantages found in history seem to be of three kinds; it amuses the fancy, improves the understanding, and strengthens virtue. In reality, what entertainment is there more agreeable to the mind than to be transported into the remotest ages of the world, and to observe human society, in its infancy, making the first faint essays towards the arts and sciences ?
2. What is more pleasant than to see the policy of government and the civility of conversation refining by degrees, and everything that is ornamental to human life advancing toward its perfection ? than to mark the rise, progress, declension, and final extinction, of the most flourishing empires; the virtues which contribute to their greatness, and the vices which drew on their ruin?
3. In short, to see all the human race, from the beginning of time, pass as it were in review before us, appearing in their true colors, without any of those disguises which, during their lifetime, so much perplex the judgment of the beholders, what spectacle can be imagined so magnificent, so various, so interesting ?
4. What amusement, either of the senses or imagination, can be compared with it? Shall those trifling pastimes, which engross so much of our time, be preferred, as more satisfactory and more fit to engage our attention? How perverse must that taste be, which is capable of so wrong a choice of pleasures !
5. But history is a most improving part of knowledge, as well as an agreeable amusement; and, indeed, a great part of what we commonly call erudition, and value so highly, is nothing but an acquaintance with historical facts. An extensive knowledge of this kind belongs to men of letters; but I must think it an unpardonable ignorance in persons of whatever sex or condition not to be acquainted with the history of their own country, along with the histories of ancient Greece a and Rome.
6. But I must add, that history is not only a valuable part of knowledge, but opens the door to many other parts of knowledge, and affords materials to most of the sciences. And, indeed, if we consider the shortness of human life, and our limited knowledge even of what passes in our own time, we must be sensible, that we should be forever children in understanding, were it not for this invention which extends our experience to all past ages, and to the most distant nations; making them contribute as much to our improvement in wisdom as if they had actually lain under our observation.
7. A man acquainted with history may, in some respects, be said to have lived from the beginning of the world, and to have been making continual additions to his stock of knowledge in every century. There is also an advantage in that knowledge which is acquired by history, above what is learned by the practice of the world, that it brings us acquainted with human affairs, without diminishing in the least from the most delicate sentiments of virtue.
8. And, to tell the truth, I scarcely know any study or occupation so unexceptionable as history in this particular. Poets can paint virtue in the most charming colors; but as they address themselves entirely to the passions, they often become advocates for vice. Even philosophers are apt to bewilder themselves in the subtilty of their speculations; and we have seen some go so far as to deny the reality of all moral distinction.b
9. But I think it a remark worthy the attention of the speculative reader, that the historians have been, almost without exception, the true friends of virtue, and have always represented it in its proper colors, however they may have erred in their judgments about particular persons. Nor is this combination of historians in favor of virtue at all difficult to be accounted for.
a Ancient Greece comprised all of modern Greece, and a large part of Turkey in Eu. ropo. b Moral distinction; the distinction of right and wrong, of merit and demerit.
10. When a man of business enters into life and action, he is more apt to consider the characters of men as they have relation to his interest, than as they stand in themselves, and has his judgment warped on every occasion by the violence of his passion. When a philosopher contemplates characters and manners in his closet, the general abstract view of the objects, leaves the mind so cold and unmoved, that the sentiments of nature have no room to play, as he scarcely feels the difference betwixt vice and virtue.
11. History keeps in a just medium betwixt these extremes, and places the objects in their true point of view. The writers of history, as well as the readers, are sufficiently interested in the characters and events, to have a lively sentiment of blame or praise; and, at the same time, have no particular interest or concern to pervert their judgment.
POMPEII. 1. I. REPOSED my weary pilgrim-limbs at last in Rome. Rome! once the center of the world, through which its destiny vibrated, like the crimson gush of man's existence in the human heart! How fallen now! how sad, how desolate, how weak, how ruined ! Yet who can stand in the hallowed spot of Rome's ancient power and grandeur, but with silent awe and wonder!
2. Rome is great and powerful still; but the attractive show of marshaled monks and robed priests adds nothing to her greatness, and augments not her grandeur. She is great in ruin! great in the glorious achievements of another age. Her power and influence among the kingdoms and principalities of the world, long since passed away; and her scepter has been broken.
3. But still all nations must and do go there, to bend before the altar of genius, and to pay a willing homage to her treas
a Pompeii, (Pom-pë yi;) an ancient city of Italy, overwhelmed by an eruption of the volcanic mountain Vesuvius.