« PreviousContinue »
firmness in danger, energy of language and sentiments, a cool yet decisive judgment; on all such occasions he will find himself thrown into the shade, and when his own safety is involved, will be glad to follow in the train of some less accomplished, but more experienced leader.
They who are conversant in the private history of men of genius, must have observed with surprise, that not an inconsiderable proportion of those who were distinguished by their superiority in the higher qualities of mind, have yet been unusually deficient in good sense. If we endeavour, however, to analyze this useful faculty, according to Pope, “ Although no science, fairly worth the seven,” our wonder will in a great measure cease. That intuitive sense of propriety in which good sense chiefly consists, is the result of natural quickness of apprehension, combined with much experience crowded into a little space, by an observation perpetually on the watch to dissect little incidents apparently not worth examining. In the former of these qualifications, the man of letters is generally abundantly provided, but he is seldom willing to bestow the time and attention re. quisite to collect the materials of judgment. Those minute forms of business and ceremony, which the customs of society render necessary to be known and practised, either escape his notice, or, if observed, appear beneath his regard. Hence, in the ordinary intercourse of life, he is perpetually liable to small mistakes and blunders, which place him in an awkward and inferior point of view, and are sometimes attended with more serious consequences.
It may perhaps have an invidious appearance to insist farther on the peculiar imperfections to which li. terary men are liable, but I cannot help adding, that there is often a defect in that very department in which they might be supposed to excel, in their scientific
knowledge, that renders it comparatively of little real utility to its possessor, or to others. Their information is not sufficiently minute or particular ; they are versed in the general principles of things, but they are not exercised in applying them to practical purposes; and thus they lose both the benefit that would accrue to themselves from their knowledge, and the credit it would give them with those around them. It is too much the characteristic of the general scholar, that he never has his knowledge ready to produce on sudden emergencies; satisfied with obtaining the principles of any process, he refers to the book in which it is found for the detail and manipulation, in case he should ever have occasion to apply it to practice. Books, however, are too unwieldy an apparatus for a man to carry about with him ; and it will frequently happen that, before the requisite information can be obtained, the occasion is lost. The mind of such a person is merely an index to his library, and is nearly as useless by itself as the table of contents torn out of a book.
From an impression of these facts, men of the world have set it down as a maxim, that nothing is more adverse to a man's success in life than a taste for literature. Were this really the case, it would indeed be matter of regret to every ingenuous mind. That the most exquisite pleasures of which the mind of man is susceptible, should be incompatible with the proper discharge of his active duties ; that studies, which enlarge his understanding, and refine his affections, should render him less capable of sustaining his part in the social intercourse of his species, would argue a degree of depravity in society, or an inconsistency in the constitution of human nature, more than our experience of either will authorise us to allow If we examine, however, the grounds of this opinion, as stated by those who entertain it, we will uniformly find it to be the result of narrow and confined experience, not the dictate of those liberal views which fix upon general principles, and have the human constitution for their basis. To those who observe the close analogy that exists betwixt all the different occupations in which the mind of man can be engaged, it will appear that the study of literature, when it produces its proper effect, is not only no barrier, but, on the contrary, a powerful assistant to the attainment of what every man desires,-authority and influence, and an honourable station in society. It must be admitted, that nothing improves the human mind so much as exercise. Even when its habitual exertions are confined to one direction, the beneficial influence of labour extends to all its powers, and its general capacity is found to be increased. But, in fact, the operations of the mind in the pursuit of scientific truth, and in the conduct of actual affairs, are pretty nearly the same. The same powers of memory, judgment, and imagination, are employed in the one case as in the other; and the methodical arrangement of ideas, the habits of analyzing complex objects, and of tracing various effects to their respective causes, which the man of cultivated mind is accustomed to exert in his literary studies, would be equally useful and properly applied to the pursuits of active life. In affirming, however, that literature might be rendered conducive to the usefulness and respectability of its votaries in society, it is understood that they consider it as of subordinate value, and not as the most important business of life, and that, with superior faculties, they bestow on their affairs the same degree of industry and attention as other men. Till they can bring themselves to this resolution, men of letters will never attain their due weight and influence in society. In fact, ill success in the world is not confined to literary men, but is common to them with all who, from the love of pleasure, or any other species of dissi
pation, neglect solid happiness for transient amusement. The objection which would probably have the greatest weight with many against reducing these ideas into practice, is the abridgment which a more active life would necessarily occasion of those intellectual enjoyments, which all who know them prefer to every other kind of pleasure. In this respect, however, as well as in point of literary progress, the difference, on trial, would be found much less considerable than might at first be imagined. We never take up a book with so keen an appetite, or taste its beauties with such an exquisite relish, as after a day passed in useful and moderate industry. It is well known also, to all who are accustomed to mental labour, that the faculties of the mind are at no time so vigorous and alert as when the attention is concentrated by our being somewhat straitened in point of time. Unlimited leisure, especially in men of letters, is apt to induce a listless indolence, and a spirit of procrastination, which not only destroy enjoyment, but dissolve the elastic vigour of the mind, and incapacitate it for any thing honourable and useful, by rendering it incapable of labour and perseverance. But though the peculiar enjoyments of literary men would be to a certain extent diminished, those sources of satisfaction, which they have in common with the rest of mankind, would be increased in a much higher proportion. After all the eloquent encomiums that have been written on the pleasures of philosophical retirement, and the exquisite sensations of a refined taste, it must be confessed that the great materials of happiness are the same to all human beings, and are equally within the reach of all who know how to estimate their value, and build the superstructure. Successful industry, domestic neatness and comfort, the affection of a few, the esteem and respect of the many; from these sources is derived the mass of human enjoyments.
To these sources literature forms a most valuable supplement; but I am convinced, that the experience of the majority of its votaries will declare, that when it is pursued as the chief business of life, the sum of its enjoyments is below the ordinary standard of human happiness.
ON DEFORMITY. Of moral disquisitions, the most useful probably are those which, leaving out of view the considerations common to the species, exclusively address themselves to particular classes of readers. In this way of writing, what is lost by the limitation of the subject is abundantly compensated by the additional interest excited in those whom it concerns ; for, in proportion as we recede from abstraction and approach to individuality, we touch the feelings of self more nearly, and hence awaken a more animated attention. The circumstances which afford a basis for the classifications of the moralist are infinitely diversified, and admit of all gradations of descent, from the broadest generality to the most subtle minuteness. Among such as hold an important rank may be reckoned those defects of conformation which destroy the symmetry of the person, and render it an object of surprise and disgust to the beholder. Deformity, as a circumstance of considerable importance in the state of the individual, must exert a specific influence over his mind, and will, therefore, in the majority of instances, produce a certain distinctive character, which is very perceptible to an accurate observer. It was evidently the opinion of Lord Verulam, though he has expressed himself with reserve and tenderness, that this character is by no means that of benevolence; and certainly, on a general view, the charge seems not entirely destitute of foundation. By making the case our own for a moment, we may form a tolerably correct idea of the