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THE

PURSUIT OF KNOWLEDGE,

ILLUSTRATED BY

NOTICES OF REMARKABLE MEN.

CHAPTER I.

Pursuit of Knowledge by persons of Wealth. Napier ; Loga

rithms.

We remarked, at the close of our former volume, that the moral habits which the pursuit of knowledge has a tendency to create and foster, form one of its chief recommendations. Knowledge is, essentially and directly, power; but it is also, indirectly, virtue. And this it is in two ways. It can hardly be acquired without the exertion of several moral qualities of high value; and, having been ac. quired, it nurtures tastes, and supplies sources of enjoyment, admirably adapted to withdraw the mind from unprofitable and corrupting pleasures. Some distinguished scholars, no doubt, have been bad men; but we do not know how much worse they might have been, but for their love of learning, which, to the extent it did operate upon their characters, could not have been otherwise than beneficial. A genuine relish for intellectual enjoyments is naturally as inconsistent with a devotion to the coarser gratifications of sense, as the habit of assiduous study is with that dissipation of time, of thought, and of faculty, which a life of vicious pleasure implies.

But knowledge is also happiness, as well as power and virtue; happiness both in the acquisition and in the possession. And were the pursuit of it nothing better than a mere amusement, it would deserve the preference over all other amusements, on many accounts. Of these, indeed, the chief is, that it must, almost of necessity, become something better than an amusement; must invigorate the mind as well as entertain it, and refine and elevate the character while it gives to listlessness and weariness their most agreeable excitement and relaxation. But, omitting this consideration, it is still of all amusements the best, for other reasons. So far from losing any part of its zest with time, the longer it is known the better it is loved. There is no other pastime that can be compared with it in variety. Even to him who has been longest conversant with it, it has still as much novelty to offer as at first. It may be resorted to by all in all circumstances; by both sexes, by the young and the old, in town or in the country; by him who has only his stolen half hour to give to it, and by him who can allow it nearly his whole day; in company with others, or in solitude, which it converts into the most delightful society. Above all, it is the cheapest of all amusements, and, consequently, the most universally accessible. A book is emphatically the poor man's luxury; for it is, of all luxuries, that which can be obtained at the least cost. By means of school district libraries, we trust that, at no distant day, almost every individual of our population will be enabled to secure access for himself to an inexhaustible store of intellectual amusement and instruction.

Whatever enjoyment there may really be in in. tellectual pursuits, will not, of course, be the less to any one because he happens to be a person of wealth. . On the contrary, the advantages which this affords are perhaps on no other account more valuable than for the power which they give their possessor, of prosecuting the work of mental cultivation to a greater extent than others. The rich, if they choose, have a degree of leisure and freedom from interruption greatly exceeding what the generality of men enjoy. While others have seldom more than a few fragments of the day to give to study, after the bulk of it has been consumed, it may be, in procuring merely the bread that perish, eth, he may make literature and philosophy the vocation of his life. Among the philosophers of the ancient world, some are said to have spontaneously disencumbered themselves of their inheritances, that the cares of managing their property might not interrupt their philosophic pursuits. Crates, Thales, Democritus, Anaxagoras, are particularly mentioned as having made this sacrifice. But in those days, it is to be remembered, knowledge was only to be obtained by travelling into foreign countries; and those who sought it were therefore obliged, before setting out on its pursuit, either to relinquish altogether the possessions they had at home, or to leave them in charge of trustees, who would most likely take advantage of their stewardship either to squander or embezzle them. Doubtless ‘no one of the celebrated persons we have enumerated would have thrown away his patrimony, if he could have retained it with as little inconvenience as such an encumbrance can possibly occasion a philosopher in our own times. The only worldly imprudence, even, of which they can be fairly accused, is that of having preferred knowledge to wealth, when it was necessary to make a choice between the two; or that of having allowed themselves to be too easily cheated of the latter, in their enthusiastic devotion to the former.

The besetting temptations attendant upon the possession of wealth and leisure (which, rightly employed, constitute such inestimable advantages) are the facilities which they afford to the indulgence of mere indolence and love of pleasure. A rich man, who can live without exertion of any kind, is apt to lose the power even of that degree of exertion which is necessary for the acquisition of knowledge. Besides, his money provides him with other enjoyments; and he often never even acquires a taste for those of an intellectual kind. A defective or misdirected education too frequently only prepares him the better for yielding to the unfortunate influences of his condition; and the habits and prejudices of society come also to assist their force and confirm their dominion. When an individual thus circumstanced, therefore, betakes himself in good earnest to the pursuit of knowledge, he also is entitled to be regarded as one who has exhibited much energy of character, and conquered many difficulties, as well as he who has had to struggle with poverty or an uncongenial occupation in his attempts to obtain an acquaintance with books. The impediments which have lain in the way of the former are different from those that have beset the path of the latter; but they may not have been less difficult to overcome. The fact, at all events, is, that the temptations of wealth have often exerted as fatal an effect in repressing all ardour for intellectual pursuits, as ever did the obstructions of indigence.

Yet, where the love of knowledge has taken full possession of the heart, the rich man is in a much more favourable situation than the poor man for the prosecution of great enterprises in science or literature. These demand both leisure and ease of mind-of the first of which generally but little, and

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