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for future use. To make these acquisitions, is not the work of a month, nor of a year. He who would gain much knowledge, must possess habits of diligence and attention. He must be always and every where a learner. Especially must he seek after a knowledge of facts, and distinct views of received opinions on important subjects. He will be mindful, that the extent of his knowledge will depend more on his manner of reading, than on the amount read, and on his attention to the facts which fall under his observation, than on the number of these facts.
Discipline of mind essential to the good writer. In saying that the discipline of the mind is essential to the good writer, particular reference is had to the reasoning powers. In other words, the good writer must have sound sense. He must be able to examine subjects, and pursue a connected train of thought with power and core rectness. That this is essential, may be inferred from the rank, which is held by the understanding among the different faculties of the mind. A man may have invention, memory and imagination, but if he cannot reason accurately and with power, he will not interest and inform his readers, and thus acquire the reputation of a good writer. It is also well known, that many of the faults of style arise from indistinctness in the thoughts, and an inability to discern their relations to each other. Both these causes of defects in writing are removed by the discipline of the mind.
The improvement of the reasoning powers, is the appropriate object of the study of the sciences. The ability to reason justly and ably must be acquired by practice. There may be physical strength of mind as of body, but the strength of the giant will not avail him in rearing a stately edifice, unless his strength be combined with skill; and neither can the giant mind rear its structure without the guidance of
skill, acquired both by instruction and practice. And how can this skill be better acquired, than by the study of those sciences, which require patient and careful research for hidden principles, or furnish-instances of close and long-continued trains of argumentation ? Hence the fondness for metaphysical and moral investigations, and for the exact sciences, which is ever felt by those who excel as sound
And the student, who in the course of his education is called to search for truth in the labyrinth of metaphysical and moral reasonings, and to toil in the wearisome study of the long and intricate solutions of mathematical principles, is acquiring that discipline of the mind, which fits him to distinguish himself as an able writer.
But in addition to the exercise and improvement of the reasoning powers, there ire certain intellectual habits, which form a part of the mental discipline of the able writer, and are worthy of particular consideration. To these I now propose to direct the attention.
Habit of patient reflection necessary.
He who writes for the instruction of others, seeking in this way to enlighten and influence his readers, offers to them the results of his own investigations and reflections. Unless then he is able to state new facts or to present new views of facts and opinions already known, he has no claim on the attention of other minds. Hence arises the necessity of habits of investigation and reflection. The good writer is a man of thought; he is accustomed to observe accurately the phenomena, both in the natural world and in the scenes of life, which come under his notice, and to seek an explanation of them; and whatever statements or opinions he finds in the writings of others, or hears advanced by them, he is wont to examine them, to test the validity of the
arguments brought forward in their support, and the objections which are made, or which rise up in his own mind.
The habits of thought here recommended, are not easily formed or generally possessed. The attention of most minds is so much engrossed with the objects and occurrences around them, that there is little inclination or ability to look
their own thoughts and trace out their connexions and relations. Even educated men are too ready to be satisfied with superficial views of subjects, and to shrink back from that intellectual effort, which a more thorough investigation requires. But there can be no doubt, that habits of research and reflection have done more towards enlightening and improving men, than all the brilliant sallies and sudden efforts of genius. It is indeed this ability to think, joined with a favorable constitution of mind, which gives its possessor a claim to the name of genius. It is said, that when the great Newton was asked, how he was enabled to make the greatest discoveries that any mortal had ever communicated to his fellow men, he answered, by thinking:
A habit of patient reflection should especially be enjoined upon the young writer. Let him remember, that his danger is from a slight and superficial acquaintance with his subject, and not enter too hastily on its treatment. He sits down to reflect, and finds that he has some floating thoughts on what he intends to discuss. This is not enough. He must direct his thoughts to some definite object, and find out all that may be made useful in exhibiting and enforcing his opinions. Neither let him be discouraged, if difficulties offer themselves and first efforts are vain. Often, in the course of such investigations and patient examination of a subject, new views and valuable thoughts will present theniselves. We make new discoveries. Our minds become filled with the subject, and our thoughts flow forth in order and abundance.
It is by thus carefully and patiently reflecting on his subject, that the writer prepares himself to read with advantage what has been written by others. Having his own views and opinions, which are the result of patient thought and thorough examination, he is enabled to make comparisons between the opinions he has formed and those of other men. Wherein the opinions of others coincide with his own, he seels strengthened and supported. Wherein they differ, he is led to a more careful examination ; and thus the danger of falling into error himself, and of leading others astray, is diminished. Often also, in reading the productions of others, some new views will be brought before the mind, or some aid derived for illustrating and enforcing what is designed to be communicated. In this way, too, the writer is less liable to be biased by the authority of a name, and to become the retailer of the opinions of other men. These remarks are designed to answer the inquiry, how far we ought to read what others have written on a subject, before attempting to write ourselves. We should read, not so much with the design of furnishing our minds with ideas, as to test the value of our own thoughts, and receive hints, which may be dwelt upon and thus suggest new views and thoughts.
There can be no doubt, that the practice of most young writers is contrary to what is here recommended. Immediately upon selecting a subject on which to write, they read what others have written, and thus instead of trusting to the resources of their own minds, they look to books for thoughts and opinions. The injurious effect of this habit is seen in that want of originality and vigor of thought, which in later periods of life characterizes the efforts of these servile minds.
Another intellectual attainment essential to the success of the writer, is the power of methodically arranging his thoughts. It is well known, that the thoughts in their passage through the mind, are connected together by certain principles or laws of association; and these laws are different in different minds. In the mind of one man these associations are accidental. One thought introduces another, because it has happened to be joined with it, having before been brought to view in the same place, or at the same time. Another man thinks in a more philosophical manner, and looks at the causes and consequences of whatever passes under his observation. When his attention is turned to any subject, there is some leading inquiry in view, and the different trains of thought which pass through his mind, are seen in their bearing on this leading object. As a necessary result, he has clear and connected views of whatever subject he examines, and is prepared to place before the minds of others, the conclusions to which he has arrived, with the reasonings by which they are supported.
To attain this power of methodically arranging the thoughts, or as it is sometimes termed, of looking a subject into shape, it is recommended to study with care the works of those, who are accustomed to think with order and precision. It may be of advantage, often to make a written analysis of such productions, stating in our own language the proposition, which is the design of the writer to establish, and the different arguments which he has brought forward in its support. This exercise will be found advantageous, not only as it aids in forming a valuable intellectual habit, preparatory to the work of composition, but as it enables us to possess ourselves, in the best manner, of the opinions and reasonings of well disciplined minds.