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Not but that sundry, in almost all manual arts, are as wonderful; but I name those which the world takes notice of for such, because on that very account they give money to see them. All these admired motions, beyond the reach and almost conception of unpractised spectators, are nothing but the mere effects of use and industry in men, whose bodies have nothing peculiar in them from those of the amazed lookers on.
As it is in the body, so it is in the mind; practice makes it what it is, and most even of those excellencies, which are looked on as natural endowments, will be found, when examined into more narrowly, to be the product of exercise and to be raised to that pitch only by repeated actions. Some men are remarked for pleasantness in raillery; others for apologues and apposite diverting stories. This is apt to be taken for the effect of pure nature, and that the rather, because it is not got by rules, and those who excel in either of them never purposely set themselves to the study of it, as an art to be learnt. But yet it is true that at first some lucky hit, which took with somebody, and gained him commendation, encouraged him to try again, inclined his thoughts and endeavours that way, till at last he insensibly got a facility in it, without perceiving how; and that is attributed wholly to nature, which was much more the effect of
use and practice. I do not deny that natural disposition may often give the first rise to it, but that never carries a man far, without use and exercise; and it is practice alone that brings the powers of the mind, as well as those of the body, to their perfection. Many a good poetic vein is buried under a trade, and never produces any thing for want of improvement. We see the ways of discourse and reasoning are very different, even concerning the same matter, at court and in the university. And he that will go but from Westminster-hall to the Exchange, will find a different genius and turn in their ways of talking; and yet one cannot think that all whose lot fell in the city were born with different parts from those who were bred at the university or inns of court.
To what purpose all this, but to show that the difference, so observable in men's understandings and parts, does not arise so much from their natural faculties as acquired habits. He would be laughed at that should go about to make a fine dancer out of a country hedger, at past fifty. And he will not have much better success, who shall endeavour, at that age, to make a man reason well, or speak handsomely, who has never been used to it, though you should lay before him a collection of all the best precepts of logic or oratory. Nobody is made any thing by hearing of rules, or laying them up in his memory;
practice must settle the habit of doing with-out reflecting on the rule, and you may as well hope to make a good painter or musician extempore by a lecture and instruction in the arts of music and painting, as a coherent thinker, or a strict reasoner, by a set of rules, showing him wherein right reasoning consists.
This being so, that defects and weakness in men's understandings, as well as other faculties, come from want of a right use of their own minds, I am apt to think the fault is generally mislaid upon nature, and there is often a complaint of want of parts, when the fault lies in want of a due improvement of them. We see men frequently dexterous and sharp enough in making a bargain, who, if you reason with them about matters of religion, appear perfectly stupid.
§ 5. Ideas.
I WILL not here, in what relates to the right conduct and improvement of the understanding, repeat again the getting clear and determined ideas, and the employing our thoughts rather about them than about sounds put for them, nor cf settling the signification of words which we use with ourselves in the search of truth, or with others in discoursing about it. Those hinderances of our understandings in the pursuit of knowledge I have
sufficiently enlarged upon in another place, so that nothing more needs here to be said of those matters.
THERE is another fault that stops or misleads men in their knowledge, which I have also spoken something of, but yet is necessary to mention here again, that we may examine it to the bottom, and see the root it springs from, and that is a custom of taking up with principles that are not self-evident, and very often not so much as true. It is not unusual to see men rest their opinions upon foundations that have no more certainty and solidity than the propositions built on them, and embraced for their sake. Such foundations are these and the like, viz. The founders or leaders of my party are good men, and therefore their tenets are true; it is the opinion of a sect that is erroneous, therefore it is false; it hath been long received in the world, therefore it is true; or it is new, and therefore false.
These, and many the like, which are by no means the measures of truth and falsehood, the generality of men make the standards by which they accustom their understanding to judge. And thus they falling into a habit of determining of truth and falsehood by such wrong measures, it is no wonder they should
embrace error for certainty, and be very positive in things they have no ground for.
There is not any, who pretends to the least reason, but, when any of these his false maxims are brought to the test, must acknowledge them to be fallible, and such as he will not allow in those that differ from him ; and yet after he is convinced of this, you shall see him go on in the use of them, and the very next occasion that offers, argue again upon the same grounds. Would one not be ready to think that men are willing to impose upon themselves, and mislead their own understandings, who conduct them by such wrong measures, even after they see they cannot be relied on? But yet they will not appear so blameable as may be thought at first sight; for I think there are a great many that argue thus in earnest, and do it not to impose on themselves or others. They are persuaded of what they say, and think there is weight in it, though in a like case they have been convinced there is none; but men would be intolerable to themselves, and contemptible to others, if they should embrace opinions without any ground, and hold what they could give no manner of reason for. True or false, solid or sandy, the mind must have some foundation to rest itself upon, and, as I have remarked in another place, it no sooner entertains any` proposi