صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

he knows of the truth or probability of that author's opinions.

All that he relies on without this perception, he takes upon trust upon the author's credit, without any knowledge of it at all. This makes me not at all wonder to see some men so abound in citations, and build so much upon authorities, it being the sole foundation on which they bottom most of their own tenets; so that, in effect, they have but a secondhand, or implicit knowledge, i. e. are in the right if such an one, from whom they borrowed it, were in the right in that opinion which they took from him; which indeed is no knowledge at all. Writers of this or former ages may be good witnesses of matters of fact which they deliver, which we may do well to take upon their authority; but their credit can go no farther than this, it cannot at all affect the truth and falsehood of opinions, which have no other sort of trial but reason and proof, which they themselves made use of to make themselves knowing, and so must others too that will partake in their knowledge. Indeed it is an advantage that they have been at the pains to find out the proofs, and lay them in that order that may show the truth or probability of their conclusions; and for this we owe them great acknowledgements for saving us the pains in searching those proofs which they have collected for us, and which possi


bly, after all our pains, we might not have found, nor been able to have set them in so good a light as that which they left them us in.-Upon this account we are mightily beholden to judicious writers of all ages, for those discoveries and discourses they have left behind them for our instruction, if we know how to make a right use of them; which is not to rur them over in a hasty perusal, and perhaps lodge their opinions, or some remarkable passages in our memories; but to enter into their reasonings, examine their proofs, and then judge of the truth or falsehood, probability or improbability of what they advance; not by any opinion we have entertained of the author, but by the evidence he produces, and the conviction he affords us, drawn from things themselves. Knowing is seeing, and if it be so, it is madness to persuade ourselves that we do so by another man's eyes, let him use ever so many words to tell us, that what he asserts is very visible. Till we ourselves see it with our own eyes, and perceive it by our own understandings, we are as much in the dark, and as void of knowledge as before, let us believe any learned author as much as we will.

Euclid and Archimedes are allowed to be knowing, and to have demonstrated what they say; and yet whoever shall read over their writings without perceiving the connexion of their proofs, and seeing what they show, though

he may understand all their words, yet he is not the more knowing: he may believe indeed, but does not know what they say, and so is not advanced one jot in mathematical knowledge by all his reading of those approved mathematicians.

$ 25. Haste.

THE eagerness and strong bent of the mind after knowledge, if not warily regulated, is often an hindrance to it. It still presses into farther discoveries and new objects, and catches at the variety of knowledge, and therefore often stays not long enough on what is before it, to look into it as it should, for haste to pursue what is yet out of sight. He that rides post through a country, may be able, from the transient view, to tell how in general the parts lie, and may be able to give some loose description of here a mountain, and there a plain, here a morass, and there a river; woodland in one part, and savannahs in another. Such superficial ideas and observations as these he may collect galloping over it but the more useful observations of the soil, plants, animals, and inhabitants, with their several sorts and properties, must necessarily escape him; and it is seldom men ever discover the rich mines, without some digging.

Nature commonly lodges her treasures and jewels in rocky ground. If the matter be knotty, and the sense lies deep, the mind must stop and buckle to it, and stick upon it with labour and thought, and close contemplation, and not leave it till it has mastered the difficulty, and got possession of truth. But here care must be taken to avoid the other extreme: a man must not stick at every useless nicety, and expect mysteries of science in every trivial question or scruple that he may raise. He that will stand to pick up and examine every pebble that comes in his way, is as unlikely to return enriched and laden with jewels, as the other that travelled full speed. Truths are not the better nor the worse for their obviousness or difficulty, but their value is to be measured by their usefulness and tendency. Insignificant observations should not take up any of our minutes, and those that enlarge our view, and give light towards farther and useful discoveries, should not be neglected, though they stop our course, and spend some of our time in a fixed attention

There is another haste that does often, and will mislead the mind if it be left to itself and its own conduct. The understanding is naturally forward, not only to learn its knowledge by variety (which makes it skip over one to get speedily to another part of knowledge) but also eager to enlarge its views, by running

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

« السابقةمتابعة »