« ПредишнаНапред »
Of those who can read, the greater part make very little use of this inestimable advantage, and are very little the wiser for it. Again, of those who do read, a large proportion choose, rather to be diverted or amused, than instructed. They are diverted; they are &mused; but enlightened and informed in any respecta. ble measure, they are not. There are great readers, both male and female, who in no wise are well informed. Either their reading is chaffy, and uninstructive, or they neglect to join with it the close exercise of their intellectual faculties ; so that their judgments are not strengthened, nor their understandings enlarged, though an abundance of truths and facts are eonfusedly heaped together in their memories.
To attain the character of Well Informed, one must read with prudent selection as to books; with an attentive exercise of one's own reason and judgment; with close application of thought ;-and one must improve one's own mind, not by reading only, but also by a liv. ing intercourse with intelligent society. For it is not in abstraction from the world, but in the bosom of society-of well regulated and well informed societythat the mind enjoys the best opportunities for obtaining expansion and vigour. Here alone, it experiences a genial warmth, and powerful stimulations to laudabie exertions. Here alone is it, also, that the fallacies and errors of its own crude conceptions are corrected, by means of their frequent contact, comparison, and Collision, with the conceptions of kindred minds.
The road is open. The means of information are so ample and so easy of access, that the reading youths of the present day, seem to have it fairly in their power to become well informed men and women. Two hours in the twenty-four, employed in well-directed intellectual industry, might suffice, in no very long course of years, for gathering a respectable treasure of valuable knowledge. A person who should walk only one hour, or three miles and an half, every day, would, in the course of twenty years, have travelled as many steps as would reach round the globe.
Qf general diffusion of knowledge.
Part II. The rapid progress of knowledge by diffusion, which I noticed in a former paper, is deeply important to the civil and moral interests of society. It is a probable fact, that the number of readers, particularly readers of English, has increased threefold in the last thirty years. Add to this '; there are making at the present instant, more strenuous and general efforts, by many degrees, for imparting the means of instruction to all classes of the people, than were ever made before. So that there is a fair prospect that the number of English readers will be threefold greater thirty years hence, than it is even now.
The nature and magnitude of the results cannot be fully conceived beforehand. No doubt there will be, in them, a mixture of good and ill, but there is reason to expect that the good will vastly preponderate.
One of the grand objects which so remarkably engage general attention at the present time, is to diffuse, as widely as possible, a little learning ; to impart it to the children of the indigent; and, as far as may be practicable, to put it in the power of the whole rising generation to become readers. Learning admits of many degrees; and while but few can possess it in any of the highest degrees, it is the darling project of the age we live in, that all should possess it at least in some of the lowest.
Now a Poet of great and deserved celebrity hath told us, that a little learning is a dangerous thing, and has admonished, to drink of it deep, else not to taste at all. Nor has scarcely a maxim in Holy Writ, been quoted more frequently, or with greater confidence of its truth. The dogma and monition of the poet, are to be received, however, with no small degree of caution ; otherwise, there could be no encouragement for the general diffusion of learning, since it is only a little, that the generality can ever attain.
The two principal dangers which naturally arise from merely a little learning, are those of pedantry, and an aspiring temper. Let them both be viewed in a fair light,
At the time, when Pope penned the couplet to which I have reference, namely, in the early part of the last century, the bulk of the wealthy citizens even of London, especially of the female part, could neither write grammatically, nor spell correctly; as appears by sundry papers of the Spectator. Now in such a state of society, it is no wonder that those of little learning were vain of that little, and made themselves more obnoxious to ridicule by their pedantry, than the utterly illiterate were for their ignorance. But if a little learning were a possession, or acquirement, quite common, very few would be vain of it. Seldom, if ever, would a man be vain of his riches, if all other men were alike rich, or a woman of her beauty, if all other women were as beautiful as herself. And, by a parity of reason, neither man nor woman could ordinarily be vain of such measures of learning as were in the possession of the multitude.
Hence it would seem to follow, that a general diftusion of learning would have a tendency to banish pedantry, rather than to increase the number of pedants. Yet, after all, some will be pedantic, and there is no help for it ; for it lies in the brain. A weak mind, whether imbued with a little learning or with much, is prone to pedantry; of which; persons of strong, sound sense, are in no great danger, even though their learning be rather superficial than profound.
That a little learning, as well as much, naturally tends to awaken an aspiring temper, must indeed be admitted. The more general the diffusion of knowl. edge be, the greater will be the number of rival candidates for offices of honour and emolument; and of course, the greater will be the number of the disappointed and restless—of those who would gladly sacrifice the repose of their country to the views of ambia tion and personal interest. So that, while the more general diffusion of knowledge will conduce to the greater equalization of mankind, it will also conduce to multiply bitter rivalries, unless the proper antidotes be seasonably applied.
Here, much, very much, will depend upon the quality of early Education..
Early education, of the truely christian character, by which the children are taught that the learning given them is for use, rather than show, and that the proper use of it is to meliorate their minds and hearts, and make them beneficial to society ; by which they are taught to controul their appetites, to govern their passions, to moderate their desires, and to be watchful over their thoughts as well as actions, as those who must give an account; by which they are taught, in all cases to adhere inflexibly to truth and equity; and by which they are taught to be submissive to lawful authority, to be contented with the conditions which
Providence allots them, and to seek the good of others as sincerely as their own :-Such an early education, accompanied with the divine blessing, might prevent the pernicious consequences, that; otherwise, would so naturally spring out of a general diffusion of a small portion of learning. But, if the morals of the children be utterly neglected, or but very slightly, attended to, their learning, whether more or less, will render them wise for evil, rather than for goodi
Of the adaptation of Education to the various callings.
In the wise economy of nature there is a remarkable correspondence between the common standard of human capacities and the common occupations of life ; in so much that a general enlargement, as well as a general contraction of the natural capacities of mankind while in this world, would be destructive to their interests. The first-would set them above the ordinary. business of life, while the last would reduce them below it ; and, in either case, the consequences would be deplorable. Wherefore, while the necessary degree of intellect is dispensed to all, the splendid gifts. of genius have been dealt out with a sparing hand.
But let. not blind presumption attribute this frugal economy to any lack of power or of benevolence in the great First Cause. With him it is no less
easy ate a Homer or a Newton, than to create a worm ; nor is it possible that the Father of lights should grudge to impart a full necessary measure of the light of intellect. His wisdom and goodness are seen in what he with