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THIS is that which I think great readers are apt to be mistaken in. Those who have read of every thing, are thought to understand every thing too; but it is not always so. Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking makes what we read ours. We are of the ruminating kind, and it is not enough to cram ourselves with a great load of collections, unless we chew them over again, they will not give us strength and nourishment. There are, indeed, in some writers visible instances of deep thoughts, close and acute reasoning, and ideas well pursued. The light these would give would be of great use, if their reader would observe and imitate them; all the rest at best are but particulars fit to be turned into knowledge; but that can be done only by our own meditation, and examining the reach, force, and coherence of what is said; and then, as far as we apprehend and see the connexion of ideas, so far it is ours; without that, it is but so much loose matter floating in our brain. The memory may be stored, but the judgment is little better, and the stock of knowledge not increased, by being able to repeat what others have said, or produce the arguments we have found in them Such a knowledge as this is but knowledge by
hearsay, and the ostentation of it is at best but talking by rote, and very often upon weak and wrong principles. For all that is to be found in books is not built upon true foun→ dations, nor always rightly deduced from the principles it is pretended to be built on. Such an examen as is requisite to discover that, every reader's mind is not forward to make; especially in those who have given themselves up to a party, and only hunt for what they can scrape together, that may favour and support the tenets of it. Such men wilfully exclude themselves from truth, and from all true benefit to be received by reading. Others of more indifferency often want attention and industry. The mind is backward in itself to be at the pains to trace every argument to its original, and to see upon what basis it stands, and how firmly; but yet it is this that gives so much the advantage to one man more than another in reading. The mind should by severe rules be tied down to this, at first, uneasy task; use and exercise will give it facility. So that those who are accustomed to it readily, as it were with one cast of the eye, take a view of the argument, and presently, in most cases, see where it bottoms. Those who have got this faculty, one may say, have got the true key of books, and the clue to lead them through the mizmaze of variety of opinions and authors to truth and certain
ty. This young beginners should be entered in, and showed the use of, that they may profit by their reading. Those who are strangers to it will be apt to think it too great a clog in the way of men's studies, and they will suspect they shall make but small progress, if, in the books they read, they must stand to examine and unravel every argument, and follow it step by step up to its original.
I answer, this is a good objection, and ought to weigh with those whose reading is designed for much talk and little knowledge, and I have nothing to say to it. But I am here inquiring into the conduct of the understanding in its progress towards knowledge; and to those who aim at that, I may say, that he who fair and softly goes steadily forward in a course that points right, will sooner be at his journey's end, than he that runs after every one he meets, though he gallop all day full-speed.
To which let me add, that this way of thinking on, and profiting by, what we read, will be a clog and rub to any one only in the beginning when custom and exercise have made it familiar. it will be despatched, on most occasions, without resting or interruption in the course of our reading. The motions and views of a mind exercised that way are wonderfully quick; and a man used to such sort of reflections see as much at
one glimpse as would require a long discourse to lay before another, and make out in an entire and gradual deduction. Besides, that when the first difficulties are over, the delight and sensible advantage it brings, mightily encourages and enlivens the mind in reading, which without this is very improperly called study.
§ 21. Intermediate principles.
As an help to this, I think it may be proposed, that, for the saving the long progression of the thoughts to remote and first principles in every case, the mind should provide its several stages; that is to say, intermediate principles, which it might have recourse to in the examining those positions that come in its way. These, though they are not self-evident principles, yet if they have been made out from them by a wary and unquestionable deduction, may be depended on as certain and infallible truths, and serve as unquestionable truths to prove other points depending on them by a nearer and shorter view than remote and general maxims. These may serve as land-marks to show what lies in the direct way of truth, or is quite besides it. And thus mathematicians do, who do not in every new problem run it back to the first axioms, through all the whole train of intermediate
propositions. Certain theorems, that they have settled to themselves upon sure demonstration, serve to resolve to them multitudes of propositions which depend on them, and are as firmly made out from thence, as if the mind went afresh over every link of the whole chain that ties them to first self-evident principles. Only in other sciences great care is to be taken that they establish those intermediate principles with as much caution, exactness, and indifferency, as mathematicians use in the settling any of their great theorems. When this is not done, but men take up the principles in this or that science upon credit, inclination, interest, &c. in haste, without due examination, and most unquestionable proof, they lay a trap for themselves, and as much as in them lies captivate their understandings to mistake, falsehood, and error.
§ 22. Partiality.
As there is a partiality to opinions, which, as we have already observed, is apt to mislead the understanding; so there is often a partiality to studies, which is prejudicial also to knowledge and improvement. Those sciences, which men are particularly versed in, they are apt to value and extol, as if that part of knowledge, which every one has acquainted himself with, were that alone which was worth