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own impressions and opinions perfectly accord with
Grant, that these truisms, or common-place remarks, can neither instruct nor entertain ; yet they do no harm, and meanwhile are of special use in the threshold of conversation. But though talkers seem licensed to make a free use of them, the same indulgence belongs not to speakers and writers. This is so important a distinction, that were it generally minded, many a discourse and speech would be abridged one half at least, and many a massy volume would shrink into a puny pamphlet.
Another method of commencing conversation, particularly with strangers, is assailing them with questions that “come home to their business and bosoms." This method has venerable antiquity of its side. Whence comest, and whither goest thou? What is thy occupation, and of what people art thou ?—are questions, with which travellers were wont to be greeted at first sight, in times of old, when manners were natural and unsophisticated ; and they seem always to have been answered as frankly, and with the like good humour, as they were asked.
Nor is this custom defensible solely upon the ground of its claims to high antiquity ; for, placed merely on its own bottom, much might be said in favour of it. In the first place, it gives the stranger a fair opportunity of talking about himself; an employment, for the most part delicious to the heart both of man and woman. Furthermore, it shows that the querist, as a fellow member of the great human family, feels a lively interest in behalf of every one of that family he meets. And finally, it discovers a fund of curious inquisitiveness, inher ent in the breasts of none but ingenious mortals, and which, under proper encouragement, seldom fails of turning to some good account. Look ye: the Athenians, who were of all men the most ingenious, had a superabundance of this same curiosity : whilst, on the other hand, we are told by travellers and voyagers, of certain tribes now existing, who manifest no curiosity at all; and that circumstance is considered as a clear mark of their stupidity.
Upon the whole, however, if I might be permitted to give an opinion on so nice a point, I would say, that to begin conversation with remarks upon the weather, is the better way of the two; especially, since the variableness of our climate furnishes a colloquial stock of that sort amply enough for the thousandth generation.
Of the inquisitiveness of Children.
One of the distinctive qualities of our nature is the principle of curiosity; whereby we are distinguishable even more clearly, than by the principle of reason, from the brute animals, of which several kinds seem possessed of some small degree of rational faculty, but very seldom, or never, manifest an inquisitive curiosity after any
kind of information. Whereas, in our own species, the disposition to pry out the How, and the Why, is sometimes seen from the very cradle, and is always to be regarded as an auspicious token ; it being, in fact, the germin of all future improvement-the genuine bud of intellectual fruit. Nor scarcely is it conceivable, how great advantage might be taken of such a toward disposition, were it under the constant management of superior skill united with patient in
dustry. But, in the nurture and training up of children, this important particular is, for the most part, overlooked, and their early curiosity either damped or misdirected. And, in this way, many are made dullards or frivolous, who might have been shaped to intellectual excellence.
“ Curiosity in children," observes the admirable Locke," is but an appetite after knowledge, and therefore ought to be encouraged in them, not only as a good sign, but as the great instrument nature has provided to remove that ignorance they are born with ; and which, without this busy inquisitiveness, will make them dull and useless creatures."
The passage here quoted, is a text, which might furnish matter enough for a long practical discourse on education. But my design is, only to throw out hints to be improved and enlarged upon by the intelligent reader.
Were we ourselves cast upon a strange country, where every thing was unknown to us, and were destined to spend our lives there, our only way of acquiring the knowledge of it, would be by questioning the experienced inhabitants. Accordingly, if not downright dolts, we should feel disposed to ask them a mul. titude of questions, of which the most part would seem frivolous, impertinent, and even ridiculous, to those who knew the country well. Now, should they all, with one accord, refuse to answer our questions, or turn ús off with false or improper answers, or laugh us to scorn for our ignorance and impertinence, and even proceed to chide us with contumelious expressions, for the interruption and trouble given them by our inquisitiveness ; such treatment would naturally damp and discourage us, and involve us at last in the hopeless condition of contented ignorance.
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But should we there, find only a few to heed our inquiries ; to give patient and correct answers to our questions; to encourage our curiosity by the gentleness of their manner and the readiness of their replies : how deeply, should we feel ourselves indebted to those precious few, and how happily facilitated would be our progress!
And such as this, but yet more eminently so, dition of little children. Not merely are they strangers in a strange land; they are come into a world where, to them, every thing is new and strange ; a world, of which, and of all therein, they are utterly ignorant. And how do these newly-born citizens of the world act? Why, just as persons come to years,
would act under the like circumstances. God hath given them an appetite for knowledge, and they seek after it with ardency. What is this? What is that made for? How is it done, and why is it so 2 These, and scores of similar questions, are asked in early childhood ; and though they would be impertinent and ridiculous if coming from the lips of adult age, yet from the mouths of these little prattlers they are strictly proper. To them the information they enquire after is material, though their questions may seem trifling in the eyes of those to whom the things are long since known.
A great deal might be made out of the inquisitive. ness or curiosity, so natural to children. If rightly managed, it would be the main-spring of intellectual improvement. Were their enquiries properly encouraged, it would lead them to think for themselves; it would put them upon the exercise of their reason, as well as of their memory; and would settle in them the habit of enquiry. At the same time, whenever there were observable in them a forward pertness, or any real impertinence, it might easily be checked with
out dampening their curiosity, by parents or teachers possessing any considerable degree of prudence and skill.
But all this, requires a considerable degree of toil. It is by much the easier way, barely to give the child a lesson to learn by heart, and whip him if his memory fail, than to aid in enlightening and enlarging the infantile faculties of his understanding. And so, we generally take this easier way. We stop their little mouths, when they presume to interrupt, or puzzle us, with their questions, and, instead of encouraging them to start subjects of themselves, we confine them to our own prescriptions. We pinion the young mind, and then bid it soar.
Some parents, observing carefully the old proverb, to “ nip in the bud," indignantly rebuke the inquisitiveness of their children, as insufferable impertinence. And sure enough, such children are effectually nipt in the bud ; for it is ten to one, that they will never become men and women of enquiring minds. Others, again, turn off the questions of their children with false answers, and thereby directly lead them to the practice of lying. I have seen fathers, so stately and stern, that their children scarcely durst speak to them, and much less familiarly to question them. And I have seen schoolmasters, who would requite the familiar question of a little pupil, with a frightening frown, if not with a hard blow.