صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

too fast into general observations and conclusions, without a due examination of particulars enough whereon to found those general axioms. This seems to enlarge their stock, but it is of fancies, not realities; such theories built upon narrow foundations stand but weakly, and, if they fall not of themselves, are at least very hardly to be supported against the assaults of opposition.-And thus men being too hasty to erect to themselves general notions and ill-grounded theories, find themselves deceived in their stock of knowledge, when they come to examine their hastily assumed maxims themselves,or to have then attacked by others. General observations drawn from particulars, are the jewels of knowledge, comprehending great store in a little room; but they are therefore to be made with the greater care and caution, lest if we take counterfeit for true, our loss and shame be the greater when our stock comes to a severe scrutiny. One or two particulars may suggest hints of inquiry, and they do well to take those hints; but if they turn them into conclusions, and make them presently general rules, they are forward indeed, but it is only to impose on themselves by propositions assumed for truths without sufficient warrant To make such observations, is, as has been already remarked, to make the head a magazine of materials, which can hardly be called

knowledge, or at least it is but like a collection of lumber not reduced to use or order; and he that makes every thing an observation, has the same useless plenty, and much more falsehood mixed with it. The extremes on both sides are to be avoided, and he will be able to give the best account of his studies who keeps his understanding in the right mean between them.

§ 26. Anticipation.

WHETHER it be a love of that which brings the first light and information to their minds, and want of vigour and industry to inquire; or else that men content themselves with any appearance of knowledge, right or wrong; which, when they have once got, they will hold fast : this is visible, that many men give themselves up the first anticipations of their minds, and are very tenacious of the opinions that first possess them; they are often as fond of their first conceptions as of their first born, and will by no means recede from the judgment they have once made, or any conjecture or conceit which they have once entertained. This is a fault in the conduct of the understanding, since this firmness, or rather stiffness of the mind, is not from an adherence to truth, but a submission to prejudice. It is an unreasonable homage paid to prepossession, whereby we

show a reverence not to (what we pretend to seek) truth, but what by hap-hazard we chance to light on, be it what it will. This is visibly a preposterous use of our faculties, and is a downright prostituting of the mind to resign it thus, and put it under the power of the first comer. This can never be allowed, or ought to be followed as a right way to knowledge, till the understanding (whose business it is to conform itself to what it finds in the objects without) can by its own opinionatry change that, and make the unalterable nature of things comply with its own hasty determinations, which will never be. Whatever we fancy, things keep their course; and the habitudes, correspondences, and relations, keep the same to one another.

27. Resignation.

CONTRARY to these, but by a like dangerous excess on the other side, are those who always resign their judgment to the last man they heard or read. Truth never sinks into these men's minds, nor gives any tincture to them, but cameleon-like, they take the colour of what is laid before them, and as soon lose and resign it to the next that happens to come in their way. The order wherein opinions are proposed or received by us, is no rule of their rectitude, nor ought to be a cause of their pre

ference. First or last in this case, is the effect of chance, and not the measure of truth or falsehood. This every one must confess, and therefore should, in the pursuit of truth, keep his mind free from the influence of any such accidents. A man may as reasonably draw cuts for his tenets, regulate his persuasion the cast of a die, as take it up for its novelty, or retain it because it had his first assent, and he was never of another mind. Well-weighed reasons are to determine the judgment; those the mind should be always ready to hearken and submit to, and by their testimony and suffrage, entertain or reject any tenet indifferently, whether it be a perfect stranger, or an old acquaintance.

$28. Practice.

THOUGH the faculties of the mind are improved by exercise, yet they must not be put to a stress beyond their strength. Quid valeant humeri, quid ferre recusent, must be made the measure of every one's understanding who has a desire not only to perform well, but to keep up the vigour of his faculties, and not to bask his understanding by what is too hard for it. The mind, by being engaged in a task beyond its strength, like the body, strained by lifting at a weight too heavy, has often its force broken, and thereby gets an unaptness or an

aversion to any vigorous attempt ever after A sinew cracked seldom recovers its former strength, or at least the tenderness of the sprain remains a good while after, and the memory of it longer, and leaves a lasting caution in the man not to put the part quickly again to any robust employment. So it fares in the mind once jaded by an attempt above its power; it either is disabled for the future, or else checks at any vigorous undertaking ever after, at least is very hardly brought to exert its force again on any subject that requires thought and meditation. The understanding should be brought to the difficult and knotty parts of knowledge, that try the strength of thought, and a full bent of the mind by insensible degrees, and in such a gradual proceeding nothing is too hard for it. Nor let it be objected, that such a slow progress will never reach the extent of some sciences. It is not to be imagined how far constancy will carry a man ; however, it is better walking slowly in a rugged way, than to break a leg and be a cripple. He that begins with the calf may carry the ox ; but he that will at first go to take up an ox, may so disable himself, as not be able to lift up a calf after that. When the mind, by insensible degrees, has brought itself to attention and close thinking, it will be able to cope with difficulties, and master them without any prejudice to itself,

« السابقةمتابعة »