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THE AMERICAN READER,
Cultivation of the Mind.-HUMPHREY.
It is the intelligent and immortal mind, which pre-eminently distinguishes man from the countless forms of animated nature around him. It is this, which not only gives him dominion over them all; but raises him to an alliance with angels; and through grace, to converse with God himself. Mysterious emanation of the Divinity! Who can measure its capacity, or set bounds to its progression in knowledge?
But this intelligent and immortal principle, which we call mind, is not created in full strength and maturity. As the body passes slowly through infancy and childhood, so does the mind. Feeble at first, it grows with the growth and strengthens with the strength of the corporeal system. Destitute alike of knowledge at their birth, the children of one family, or generation, have, in this respect, no advantage over those of another. All, the high as well as the low, the rich as well as the poor,
every thing to learn.
No one was ever born a Newton or an Edwards. It is patient, vigorous and long continued application that makes the great mind. All must begin with the simplest elements of knowledge, and advance from step to step in nearly the same manner. Thus native talent in a child, may be compared to the small capital with which a young merchant begins in trade. It is not his fortune, but only the means of making it.
Or it may be likened to a quarry of fine marble, or to a mine of the precious metals. The former, never starts up spontaneously into Cyprian Venuses nor does the latter, of its own accord, assume the shape and value of a shining currency. Much time and labour and skill are requisite, to fashion the graceful statue, and to refine and stamp the yellow treasure.
In every system of education, two things should be kept steadily in view :first, that the mind itself to be formed; is to be gradually expanded and strengthened into vigorous manhood, by the proper exercise of its faculties; and secondly, that it is to be enriched and embellished with various knowledge. In practice, however, these two things cannot be separated. For at the same time, that the plastic hand of education is strengthening and enlarging the mind, by subjecting it to severe and sometimes painful discipline, this very exercise, is continually enriching it with new and important ideas.
Thus, to illustrate the point by a plain similitude, we do not, when we begin with the child, find the intellectual temple already built and waiting only to be furnished; but we have got to lay the foundation, and carry up the walls, and fashion the porticos and arches, while we are carving the ornaments, and bringing in all that is requisite to finish the edifice and furnish the apartments. That, then, must obviously be the best system of mental education, which does most to develope and strengthen the intelleetual powers, and which pours into the mind the richest streams of science and literature.
The object of teaching should never be, to excuse the student from thinking and reasoning; but to learn him how to think and to reason. You can never make your son, or your pupil a scholar, by drawing his diagrams, measuring his angles, finding out his equations and translating his Majora. No. He must do all these things for himself. It is his own application that is to give him distinction. It is climbing the hill of science by dint of effort and perseverance and not being carried up on other men's shoulders.
Let every youth, therefore, early settle it in his mind, that if he would ever be any thing, he has got to make himself ; or in other words, to rise by personal application. Let him always try his own strength, and try it effectually, before he is allowed to call upon Hercules. Put him first upon his own invention; send him back again and again to the resources of his own mind, and make him feel, that there is nothing too hard for industry and perseverance to accomplish.
In his early and timid flights, let him know that stronger pinions are near and ready to sustain him, but only in case of absolute necessity. When in the rugged paths of science, difficulties which he cannot surmount impede his progress, let him be helped over them ; but never let him think of being led, when he has power to walk without help, nor of carrying his ore to another's furnace, when he can melt it down in his own.
To excuse our young men from painful mental labour, in a course of liberal education, would be about as wise, as to invent easier cradle springs for the conveyance of our children to school, or softer cushions for them to sit on at home, in order to promote their growth and give them vigorous constitutions. By adopting such methods, in the room of those distinguished men, to whom we have been accustomed to look for sound literary and theological instruction ; for wise laws and the able administration of justice, our pulpits and courts and professorships and halls of legislation, would soon be filled, or rather disgraced, by a succession of weak and rickety pretenders.
Evils of neglecting the early Improvement of the Mind.
THERE is not a greater inlet to misery and vices of all kinds, than the not knowing how to pass our vacant hours. For what remains be done, when the first part of their lives, who are not brought up to any manual employment, is slipt away without an acquired relish for reading, or taste for other rational satisfactions ?—That they should pursue their pleasures ?-But religion apart, common prudence will warn them to tie up the wheel as they begin to go down the hill of life.
Shall they then apply themselves to their studies ? Alas! the seed time is already past! The enterprising and spirited ardour of youth being over, without having
been applied to those valuable purposes for which it was given, all ambition of excelling upon generous and laudable schemes quite stagnates. If they have not some poor expedient to deceive the time, or, to speak more properly, to deceive themselves, the length of a day will seem tedious to them, who, perhaps, have the unreasonableness to complain of the shortness of life in general.
When the former part of our life has been nothing but vanity, the latter end of it can be nothing but vexation. In short, we must be miserable, without some employment to fix, or some amusement to dissipate our thoughts : the latter we cannot command in all places, nor relish at all times; and therefore there is an absolute necessity for the former.
We may pursue this or that new pleasure; we may be fond for a while of a new acquisition ; but when the graces of novelty are worn off, and the briskness of our first desire is over, the transition is very quick and sudden, from an eager fondness to a cool indifference. Hence there is a restless agitation in our minds, still craving something new, still unsatisfied with it, when possessed; till melancholy increases, as we advance in years, like shadows lengthening towards the close of day.
Hence it is, that men of this stamp are continually complaining that the times are altered for the worse : because the sprightliness of their youth represented every thing in the most engaging light; and when men are in high good humour with themselves, they are apt to be so with all around; the face of nature brightens up, and the sun shines with a more agreeable lustre.
But when old age has cut them off from the enjoyment of false pleasures, and habitual vice has given them a distaste for the only true and lasting delights; when a retrospect of their past lives presents nothing to view but one wide tract of uncultivated ground; a soul distempered with spleen, remorse, and insensibility of each rational satisfaction, darkens and discolours every object; and the change is not in the times, but in them, who have been forsaken by those gratifications which they would not forsake.
How much otherwise is it with those who have laid up an inexhaustible fund of knowledge ! When a man has been laying out that time in the pursuit of some great and