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ingratitude of many of his countrymen. If our nation has ever beheld a humiliating spectacle, it was that of him, whose strength had been wasted and whose brow had been furrowed in the most generous and devoted service to his country, retiring from office amidst the gross and shameless calumnies of a portion of the press, and sinking into his grave, when the storm of abuse had scarcely subsided!
By what means, then, can this evil be remedied, which exists so universally among us? Surely, not by abridging the freedom of the press. For the very instant you do this, you declare that this government, which has been so often called an experiment, is a failure. You pronounce it dangerous to grant men the free and full expression of their opinions ; you cut off the last hope of the friends of freedom. A free press is a vital principle of a free government. We wish for no safeguards of public character, which can only be obtained by encroaching on the rights of our citizens. We wish for no law of political libels, to protect our public men. But one law of this nature has been made, since the formation of our government. We have had but one sedition law; and after the expiration of three years, for which time it was enacted, it sunk into the neglect and forgetfulness which it merited. It was passed at a time when men were alarmed by the terrible drama of the French revolution, which was attributed in great measure to the licentiousness of the press in that country, which had for several years been most virulent in its attacks upon the government. Probably no check on the freedom of the press would have averted that catastrophe, though it was then believed by many; but the voice of this nation has emphatically declared, that no restraint shall here be tolerated. It is not against the freedom of the press, but the abuse of that freedom, that we have been speaking. We wish for a press, independent and untrammeled. It would be vain to fetter it with legal restraints ; for like the strong man of old, when bound with withs and cords, it would break them as a hempen thread touched by the fire. Our only hope is that PUBLIC OPINION itself will at length correct the evil. The press may first become more scandalous and malignant than it now is; it may go on in its course of slander and falsehood, till the foul sin, gathering head,
“Shall break into corruption;"
but let it a little longer increase in abuse and shamelessness, and the time will come, when the disgust and reprehension of an insulted public, will force it to change its character. Low and scurrilous prints must be less patronized. Men of more candor must be encouraged, to take the management of the political press. When public character shall be respected, and its traducers meet with deserved rebuke; when the patriot shall be honored, and the demagogue despised by all; when virtue and integrity shall be rewarded, and dishonesty and intrigue gain nothing but degradation and scorn; when the noble, generous, and high-minded statesmen shall cease to be calumniated, and a grateful people shall guard his name from the
aspersions of malice at home, as well as abroad; then, and not till then, may we expect the bright and glorious dawn of a political Millennium,
BY JOHN BUTLER TALCOTT, WEST HARTFORD, CONN.
The ocean of truth is boundless. Even Newton, after all his discoveries, confessed that he resembled a mere child that had gathered a few only of the smoother pebbles on its shore. He longed to penetrate still farther into its recesses, and to bring to light more of its hidden treasures. But Newton was not indebted to the benign influences of his age, or to the favors of fortune, for his splendid discoveries. He was a man of thought, of deep and careful reflection. In his mind intellect predominated, and whenever he applied it to any subject, he became absorbed in contemplation, and seemed lost to all around him. He was not the first to observe the fall of an apple, and to inquire the cause, but he was the first to carry his thoughts forward, until he found that the same law which governed the apple extended to the whole universe. While ordinary men looked with mere admiration on the everchanging hues of the soap-bubble, reflection showed him that here was a key to the origin of all colors. If then such have been the results of thinking, it is certainly a habit of no ordinary importance, and we propose to consider a few of its many advantages.
The advantages of cultivating habits of thinking, may be considered as two-fold. First, they strengthen and invigorate both the intellect and the judgment; and, secondly, they enable one to derive greater benefit and enjoyment from every subject which he contemplates.
Who has not observed a striking difference between the man of diligent thought, and one who neglected this habit? The mind of the latter is comparatively weak and puerile. It has none of that activity and energy, none of that keen perception and nice discrimination, and none of that depth and power which we see and admire in the other. However richly such an one may have stored his mind with principles and facts; however lively may be his imagination, and easy his conversation, a brief acquaintance is sufficient to show that he is superficial, and has not carefully and diligently investigated his subjects. Though his opinions may be expressed with readiness, and, owing to the natural strength of his abilities, be just, yet how entirely at a loss is he, when called upon for his reasons! He has no richness of expression, and no originality ; but his ideas for the most part are commonplace and unimportant. He is not to himself a continual fountain of truth and knowledge. Memory is his dependence, and when that fails he has no other resource. His very knowledge, not being familiarized by reflection, is partially involved in mist and obscurity. In
short, vagueness, uncertainty, and feebleness, characterize all his ideas and expressions.
But it is in his judgment that we see the greatest weakness. What intelligent man thinks of placing implicit confidence in it? We cannot avoid the consciousness, that the sentiments which he advances have not been carefully pondered, but are either the mere momentary suggestions of his understanding, or a bare repetition of those expressed by others. Such men for the most part strictly have no opinions, but, relying on those of others, are unstable and liable to change sides on almost any question.
Strange as it may appear, the majority of men belong to this unthinking class. They go not to the pure fountains of thought, nor feast themselves on the creations of their own intellects. To them the spirit-world is locked, and to all its revelations both mind and heart are dead. What wonder then that mankind are so fickle in their opinions ? Why should we look with surprise upon the slow progress of knowledge ? Why be astonished at the long reign of error and superstition, and at the tardiness with which truth has been embraced, when presented ? Why, we say, wonder at all this, when we know that the majority of mankind live without thought and reflection ? Rather should we wonder, that among those who depend so much for their opinions on each other and the past, knowledge has reached its present state of advancement. The minds of this class of men may be compared to a sieve, which, while it retains the coarser and comparatively worthless parts, allows the finer and more spiritual to pass through and be lost. They are enriched with facts, but the conclusions to be deduced therefrom, and which constitute their essence, are unthought of forever.
With such an one let us now compare the man of close and diligent thought. His mind resembles a vast laboratory, in which every thing is resolved into its simplest element, and again employed in the production of new and more useful compounds. It is the very opposite of the other. Every faculty is kept in active, vigorous exercise, and every subject is analyzed and made familiar. The merits of each question are carefully examined, and every argument either for or against it, is discussed. The knowledge of such a man is accurate and certain. Ideas do float through his mind, like dim, undefined shadows, having no tangible form or appearance, but each is distinctly and fully developed. Nice discrimination and pure logic characterize all his reasonings. His mind is not burdened with a mass of mere isolated facts, but from these are deduced principles, which serve as foundations for all his opinions.
It is in the philosopher that we see the best example of the thinking man, and the most striking exhibition of the advantages of this habit. What ordinary men pass by as idle and insignificant, often gives rise in his mind to a multitude of inquiries, and leads the way to some important discovery. To him the world is a perennial fountain of thought and knowledge.
Such then are a few of the characteristic differences between the thinking and unthinking man, and from these we are able to judge of the influence of this habit on the mind. Thinking is to the mind, what exercise is to the body, bringing all its faculties into vigorous operation, and giving to each its full development and proportion. The intellect becomes stronger and stronger, and capable of grappling with, and mastering the most intricate subjects, while the mind of him who neg. lects this habit, loses its tension and becomes only more weak and inefficient.
It rarely happens, that men of the greatest depth of thought are the most ready and interesting speakers. While others, of whose intellectual powers and habits of reflection we have no very exalted idea, pour forth their words with fluency, they, on the contrary, are often seen to labor and hesitate, and to excite little interest or favor. Nor is this to be ascribed wholly to education. The very habit of thinking naturally renders them slow and cautious; unwilling to utter at random whatever presents itself to their minds, they feel constrained as they go along to examine the truth or falsity of their ideas, and their appropriateness to the subject before them, and though these processes succeed each other with almost inconceivable rapidity, time enough is consumed to give them a dull and uninteresting appearance. But were we to examine their respective speeches, how striking would be the difference! The argument of the one is clear and conclusive, and his words fall like the slow, but irresistible blows of the battle-axe, while the language of the other, though abounding perhaps in beautiful figures, like the light archery of the savage, is comparatively powerless. What we have said applies of course only to extemporaneous speaking. The writings of the one would be as much distinguished for clearness of thought, strength, and penetration, as those of the other for want of power and shallowness.
A word too might be said of the influence of thinking on the imagination. A reflecting disposition, or a habit of closely confining the mind to particular subjects, might at the first thought seem directly opposed to a rich and glowing imagination. But a little consideration will show, that the two mental habits are not necessarily at variance, but that in the same individual both may exist in the highest perfection. Of the truth of this position, Bacon was a remarkable example. With strong intellectual and meditative powers, he possessed a bold and fertile imagination; and his writings, even on the most abstruse subjects, abound with the beautiful images and apt comparisons, which seemed to be always floating before him. The imagination of such a man never becomes wild and extravagant, carrying its possessor beyond the limits of common sense and reason, but being under strict control, and guided by a correct judgment, serves to enrich and adorn every object of contemplation. The highest flights of the imagination are not when the mind is abandoned to itself, but when its whole energies are brought to bear in deep and fervent thought upon some interesting subject. It is from a want of reflection, that some poets become so visionary. They depend on the imagination to create, rather than to illustrate and beautify their ideas. In Milton we behold reflection and imagination united in perfect harmony and proportion. The
one presented him with materials upon which to build his poem, while the other gave it a beauty and grandeur, unrivaled in any other human production. The habit of thinking, therefore, instead of cramping the imagination, and thereby rendering men dull and prosy, serves but to augment its power, and to confine it within the limits of sober reason.
We might speak of the increased dignity, which habits of independent thinking give to an individual, but we hasten to the second part of our subject, namely, the greater benefit and enjoyment which they enable one to derive from every subject of contemplation, and we propose to illustrate this by reference to the student, the reader, and the observer of Nature.
But first, we wish to examine briefly a maxim of the ancient sceptics, “ that to doubt is the beginning of wisdom.” By so doing, we shall be better able to judge how far the habit of thinking for oneself should be carried. The apparent absurdity of this maxim disappears, in a great degree, as we contemplate it. The thinking man will receive every thing with a degree of distrust, nor will his mind be satisfied with any thing that falls far short of direct evidence. The authority of great names will be insufficient to secure his belief, in matters at variance with the dictates of his reason. The opinions of others will not be taken upon trust, through fear of rejecting truth or embracing error. But when proper evidence has been presented, and the truth becomes apparent to his mind, he will no longer withhold his assent, but freely and fully embrace it. Nor in order that he may obtain this evidence, is it necessary to go through with all those processes of analysis and reasoning, by which the truth was originally discovered. A few facts clearly presented will completely satisfy the unprejudiced inquirer; and thus, truths, which it required years of reflection and labor to develop, may be grasped in a moment. But in the sense in which the authors of the maxim appear to have understood it, nothing could be more foolish. To believe nothing which does not admit of entire demonstration, would require the rejection of many a most momentous doctrine, and he, who on all subjects demands such a degree of evidence to convince his understanding, errs equally with him who believes on trust, regardless of all reason. Here, as in all other things, there is a golden mean, and he who disregards it, must be deemed either a thoughtless, unreflecting man, or a sceptic. But men of this latter class are extremely rare. The great body of mankind are too much absorbed in business, or too indolent and careless, to think for themselves, and are consequently dependent on others for the greater part of their ideas. But give us thinking, reflecting men, and for one who would disbelieve truth, a thousand would embrace it, and search out arguments to support it.
Of all men the student preeminently ought to cultivate habits of close and diligent thinking. The object of study is two-fold ; to discipline the mind, and to store it with useful information. But he who neglects to think and reflect, fails in a great measure of the former of these objects. The mere act of committing things to memory, and of crowding the mind with facts, has little tendency to expand and invig