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This being so, it becomes of consequence to possess some means of preserving those ideas which our more fortunate moments may cast up, and to preserve them in such order and arrangement that we can turn to them when we want them. I recommend, therefore, for this purpose, a commonplace book for sermons, so contrived as to answer two ends; first, to collect proper subjects, and secondly, under each subject to collect proper sentiments. Whenever, which will happen more frequently than we expect, reading, meditation, conversation, especially with persons of the same class and rank of life as our congregations are composed of, what we hear them say, or what we perceive them to think, shall suggest any useful subject of discourse, of explanation, advice, caution, or instruction, let it be marked down at the time. We may not want it at the time, but let it be marked down. A distinct subject should stand at the head of a distinct page, and have a whole page left to it, in order that when afterwards any thing relating to the same subject is presented to our minds, it may be inserted under its proper head. By which means, when we sit down to the composition of a sermon, we have only to go to our book for a subject, and not only for a subject, but for many of the sentiments which belong to it, and the division of argument into which our doctrine will run. And these are more likely to be natural, solid, and useful, from the very circumstance of having occurred spontaneously and occasionally, instead of being sought by labor and straining.
In the office of composition, to which the remainder of my address will relate, there are three directions which appear to me to comprehend all that can be laid down as to artificial assistance. These are repeated transcribing, repeated revisions, and revisions with intervals of considerable length. The late Mr Hartley, whose knowledge of human uuderstanding no one will dispute, whenever he saw a faulty composition, was wont to say it had not been written over often enough. Whatever be the cause of it, there is no position of the mind which brings the attention so closely and separately to the words of a composition, both to their choice and arrangement, or which enables a writer to descry so readily his own mistakes and oversights, as that in which the act of transcribing places bim. No man ever sketches over his composition without mending it. By reading, he may judge perhaps better of the texture and disposition of the argument, than by writing ; because he takes in more parts at once, his eye surveys a larger field; but for the language, for a minute, and, as I have called it, sepa
rate attention to sentences, expressions, and even words, and for all the advantage which a vigorous scrutiny can give, in point of correctness and propriety, one writing is worth many readings. It may be said, perhaps, that so much anxiety about diction will destroy one of the best properties of popular writing, ease of style and manner. The very reverse of this is the truth, unless we choose to call slovenliness ease. There are no compositions in the language which have been so admired for this very quality of ease as those of Mr Sterne, yet none, I believe, ever cost their author more trouble. I remember to have seen a letter of his, in which he speaks of himself as having been incessantly employed for six months upon one small volume. I mention this for the sake of those who are not sufficiently apprised, that in writing, as in many other things, ease is not the result of negligence, but the perfection of art.
But, secondly, I would recommend frequent revisals of every thing you write. This advice is more particularly necessary to young composers, and it is necessary on this account; of most men it may be said, that the genius is ripe before the judgment. The imagination is at its perfection about thirty. It opens with the bloom of youth, and sometimes does not survive it; on the contrary, the judgment seldom attains its maturity till much later. Being in a great measure the fruit of experience, it is of slow growth, and is in a state, perhaps, of constant progress, at least so long as the powers of the understanding remain entire. He, therefore, who addresses himself to any species of composition in the earlier part of his life, comes to it with the advantage of a fertile and glowing imagination, but often with great imbecility and unsoundness of judgment. Any man who peruses, after a lapse of years, his early productions, will be sensible of this. This danger, arising from the constitution of the human mind, can only be guarded against by two precautions ; patience in writing and industry in revising. Upon the question of slow or rapid composition, I have nothing to deliver; every man must be guided by the experience of his own faculties. In general, I think, slow composition does not answer well, for what is composed slowly must necessarily be composed a little at a time, the consequence of which is, that the piecing and joining will be numerous and difficult to unravel ; perhaps, also, the flow of thought ought not to be interrupted too often. But in proportion as the first sketch or draught of any work is hastily struck off, a more careful and rigorous correction ought to be applied. In the process of composition a man puts down every thing. When he comes, therefore, to exercise a second and severer
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judgment, a large crop of weeds will fall before him. And it is not one revision nor two that will be sufficient. Many faults will escape a first, many a second scrutiny, and it is only by a successive application of the attention, that accuracy, I mean such a degree of it as every one would wish to give to his compositions, can be finally attained.
But, thirdly, it is necessary that these revisions be made at due distances of time. A very simple example will show the reason of this rule. In the easiest operation of arithmetic, the casting up an account, a person may do it twenty times together, and twenty times together commit the same mistake. But if he should repeat the process at due distances of time, it is scarcely possible that that should take place. So it fares with our critical sagacity ; very gross improprieties may elude examination, and if they once escape our attention, it is probable they will continue to escape it at that time, let us read over our composition ever so often. It is necessary, therefore, that the mind should come fresh to the subject, that the taste be not blunted by too much exercise, the thought too much implicated in the same trains and habits; and above all, that the familiarity of words and ideas be passed off, which, whilst it lasts, renders the perception of faults almost impossible. To me it appears, that this principle was very well known to the classic ages of literature. The nonum prematur in annum was not merely for the purpose of frequent revisions, for which surely a much less time would have been sufficient, but to allow such space also and distance between them, as that they might be made with the best effect. It is also of consequence to view a subject in different states of spirits, different moods of temper, and different dispositions of thought. That can hardly be wrong which pleases under all these varieties of inind or situation; that may be very much so which pleases only in one. For instance, an inflated diction, fantastic or extravagant bold conceits, violent or daring expressions, may gratify a mind heated or elated with its subject, which, when the animal spirits were subsided and the enthusiasm gone, would appear intolerable even to the same person.
If it be asked what use may be expected from these directions, I answer, that neither these nor any other rules will of themselves form a good writer, either for the pulpit or for any thing else, but they will do that where the great essentials of genius and knowledge are present; they will prevent these inestimable qualities being thrown away, as they sometimes are, either upon crude and negligent, or upon offensive, hurtful, extravagant, or injudicious productions.
able even asked what usther these nor any he pulpit or
AMUSEMENTS SUITABLE TO THE CLERGY.
I have repeatedly said from this place, that if there be any principal objection to the life of a clergyman, in regard to the sources of personal satisfaction, it is this ; that it does not supply sufficient engagements to the time and thoughts of an active mind. I am ready to allow, that it is in the power only of a few to fill up every day with study; with studies solely of a theological kind, it is still less so. I do not, however, by granting this, mean to admit that it is not necessary to employ a solid portion of our time in the proper studies of our calling. On the contrary, I contend, and ever shall contend, that without a due mixture of religious reading and researches with our other employments of mind, be what they will, and of professional studies strictly and properly so called, the character of a clergyman can neither be respectable nor sufficiently useful. When I state the want, or rather defect, of engagement, as forming the principal inconvenience in the life of a clergyman, I must be understood to speak of our profession in its general nature, under which view it may be said, that if this difficulty were removed from it, we should not have much to repine at in other lines of life ; for the safety which it affords, compared with the great risk and frequent miscarriages of secular employments, and of almost all attempts to raise fortunes, compensates in a great measure for the mediocrity, or perhaps something less than mediocrity, with which most of us, both in our views and possessions, must be content. What clergyman recollects the disappointments and distresses, the changes and failures, which the disturbed state of commerce hath lately brought upon those who are engaged in it, without seeing reason to be satisfied with, might I not say thankful for, the security and repose, the exemption from dread and anxiety, if not from actual losses and privations, by which so many have suffered ?
In a clergyman's, however, in common with all other situations, a succession of agreeable engagements is necessary to the passing of life with satisfaction ; and since the profession does not of its own accord supply these, or supply them to all, SUITABLE
with sufficient copiousness and variety, and since it is of great consequence to the character of a clergyman, not only that his duties be properly performed, but that his occupations be innocent and liberal, I think it may be useful to suggest to him some pursuits and employments which will fill up his leisure with credit and advantage.
Amongst the principal of these, I should recommend, in the first place, each and every branch of natural history. The cultivation of this study has not only all the advantage of inviting to exercise and action, of carrying us abroad into the fields and into the country, of always finding something for us to do, and something to observe, of ministering objects of notice and attention to our walks and to our rides, to the most solitary retirement, or the most sequestered situation ; it has not only this advantage, but it has a much greater ; it is connected with the most immediate object of our profession. Natural history is the basis of natural religion; and to learn the principles of natural religion is to prepare the understanding for the reception of that which is revealed. In every view, therefore, it is a subject of commendation. As a mere amusement, it is of all others the most ingenuous; the best suited, and the most relative, to the profession of a clergyman. As a study, it is capable of producing the most beneficial effects upon the frame and disposition of the mind which entertains it.
entertains it. Of the several branches of natural history I can only so far take notice as they are adapted to our particular situation or local opportunities. Botany is an extremely important and entertaining part of the science of nature; and there is no situation in the world'more favorable to the prosecution of this study, than those which many clergymen enjoy in this diocese. All mountainous regions, and none more so than ours, supply a variety of plants which are little known where the face of the country is less broken and diversified. Botanists come from a great distance to visit our mountains, and think themselves repaid for the expense and trouble of a long journey, by the opportunity of climbing amongst them for a week or a few days; yet for obtaining a knowledge of the vegetable productions of a country, for the searching out of rare plants, for the acquainting ourselves with their seasons, growth, their appearance in different states, the soil, aspect and climate which they delight in, together with their other properties or singularities, what are the few weeks, or perhaps few days of a stranger's visit, to the opportunities of a clergyman residing the year round upon the spot, and exercising his observation in every season ?