Page images

judge of your own improvement, when you shall find that many of your younger collections are either weak and trifling: or if they are just and proper, yet they are grown now so faniiliar to you, that you will thereby see your own advancement in knowledge. And in the next place, what remarks you find there worthy of your riper observations, you may note them with a marginal star*, instead of transcribing them, as being worthy of your second year's review, when the others are neglected.

To shorten something of this labour, if the books which you read are your own, mark with a pen, or pencil the most considerable things in them which you desire to remember. Thus you may read that book the second time over with half the trouble, by your eye running over the paragraphs which your pencil has noted. It is but a very weak objection against this practice to say, shall spoil my book; for I persuade myself, that you did not buy it as a bookseller, to sell it again for gain, but as a scholar to improve your mind by it; and if the mind be improved, your advantage is abundant, though your book yields less money to your executors.

Direction III. As you proceed both in learning and in life, make a wise observation what are the ideas, what the discourses and the parts of knowledge that have been more or less useful to yourself or others. In our younger years, while we are furnishing our minds with a treasure of ideas, our experience is but small, and our judgment weak; it is therefore impossible at that age to determine aright concerning the real advantage and usefulness of many things we learn. But

* Note, this advice of writing, marking, and reviewing your marks refer chiefly to those occasional notions you meet with, either in reading or in conversation ; but when you are directly and professedly pursuing any subject of knowledge in a good system in your younger years, the system itself is your conimon place book, and must be entirely reviewed. The same may be said concerning any treatise which closely, succinctly, and ac. curately handles any particular theme.

when age and experience bave matured your judgment, then you will gradually drop the more useless part of your younger furniture, and be more solicitous to retain that which is more necessary for your welfare in this life, or a better. Hereby you will come to make the same complaint that almost every learned mau has done, after long experience in study, and in the study of human life and religion: alas! how many hours, and days, and months, have I lost in pursuing some parts of learning, and in reading some authors, which have turned to no other account, but to inform me, that they were not worthy my labour and pursuit! happy the man who has a wise tutor to conduct him through all the sciences in the first years of his study: and who has a prudent friend always at hand to point out to him, from experience, how much of every science is worth his pursuit! and happy the student that is so wise as to follow such advice!

Direction IV. Learn to acquire a government over your ideas and your thoughts, that they may come when they are called, and depart when they are bidden. There are some thoughts that rise and intrude upon us, while we shun them; there are others that fly from us, when we would hold and fix them.

If the ideas which you would willingly make the matter of your present meditations are ready to fly from you, you must be obstinate in the pursuit of them by an habit of fixed meditation ; you must keep your soul to the

work, when it is ready to start at every moment, unless you will abandon yourself to be a slave to every wild' imagination. It is a common, but it is an unhappy and a shameful thing, that every trifle that comes across the seuses or fancy should divert us, that a buzzing fly should teaze our spirits, and scatter our best ideas: but we must learn to be deaf and regardless of other things, besides that which we make the present subject of our meditation: and in order to help a wandering and fickle humour, it is useful to have a book or paper in our hands, which has some proper hints of the subject



that we design to pursue. We must be resolute and laborious, and sometimes conflict with ourselves if we would be wise and learned.

Yet I would not be too severe in this rule: it must be confessed that there are seasons when the mind, or rather the brain, is overtired or jaded with study or thinking; or upon some other accounts animal nature may be languid or cloudy, and unfit to assist the spirit in meditation; at such seasons (provided that they return not too often) it is better sometimes to yield to the present indisposition; for if nature entirely resist, nothing can be done to the purpose, at least in that subject or science. Then you may think it proper to give yourself up to some hours of Jeisure and recreation, or useful idleness; or if not, then turn your thoughts to some other alluring subject, and pore no longer upon the first, till some brighter or more favourable moments arise. A stu. dent shall do more in one hour, when all things concur to invite him to his special study, than in four hours, at a dull and improper season.

I would also give the same advice, if some vain or worthless, or foolish idea will crowd itself into your thoughts; and if you find that all your labour and wrestling cannot defend yourself from it, then divert the importunity of that which offend you by turning your thoughts at some entertaining subject, that may amuse a little and draw you off from the troublesome and imposing guest; and many a time also in such a case, when the impertinent and intruding ideas would divert from present duty, devotion and prayer have been very siiccessful iö overcome such obstinate troublers of the peace and profit of the soul.

If thie natural genius and temper be too volatile, fickle and wandering, such persons ought in a more especial manner to apply themselves to mathematical learning, and to begin their studies with arithmetic. and geometry; wherein new truths, continually arising to the mind out of the plainest and easiest priuciples, will allure the thoughts with incredible pleasure in the pursuit: this will give the student such a delightful taste of reasoning, as will fix his at. tention to the single subject which he pursues, and by degrees will cure the habitual levity of his spirit: but let him not induige and pursue these so far, as to negleet the prime sudies of his desigued profession.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

A GREAT part of what has been already written is designed to lay a foundation for those rules which may guide and regulate our conceptions of things; this is our 'main business and design in the first part of logic. Now if we can but direct our thoughts to a just and happy manner in forming our ideas of things, the other operations of the mind will not so easily be perverted; because most of our errors in judgment, and the weakness, fallacy, and mistake of our argųmentation, proceed from the darkness, confusion, defect, or some other irregularity in our conceptions. The rules to assist and direct our conceptions are these : 1. Conceive of things clearly and distinctly in their

own natures. 2. Conceive of things completely in all their parts. 3. Conceive of tbings comprehensively in all their

properties and relations, 4. Conceive of things extensively in all their kinds. 5. Conceive of things orderly, or in a proper

met hou.

Sect. I.--Of gaining clear and distinct Ideas. The first rule is this, seek after a clear and distinct conception of things as they are in their own nature, and do not content yourselves with obscure and confused ideas, where clearer are to be attained.

There are some things indeed whereof distinct ideas are scarce attainable, they seem to surpass the capacity of the understanding in our present state;

such are the notions of eternal, immense, infinite, whether this ipfiuity be applied to number, as an infinite multitade; to quantity, as infinite length, breadth; to powers and perfections, as strength, wisa" dom, or goodness infinite, &c. Though mathematicians in their way demonstrate several things in the doctrine of infinites, yet there are still some insolvable difficulties that attend the ideas of infinity, when it is applied to mind or body; and while it is in reality but an idea ever growing, we cannot have so clear and distinct a conception of it as to secure us from mistakes in some of our reasonings about it.

There are many other things that belong to the material world, wherein the sharpest philosophers have not yet arrived at clear and distinct ideas, such as the particular shape, situation, contexture, motion of the small particles of minerals, metals, plants, &c. whereby their very natures and essences are distinguished from each other. Nor have we either senses or instrument sufficiently nice and accurate to find them out. There are other things in the world of spirits wherein our ideas are very dark and confused, such as their union with animal nature, the way of their action on material beings, and their converse with each other. And though it is a laudable ambition to search what may be known of these matters, yet it is a vast hindrance to the enrichment of our understandings, if we spend too much of our time and pains among infinites and unsearchables, and those things for the investigation whereof we are not furnished with proper faculties in the present state. It is therefore of great service to the true improvement of the mind, to distinguish well between knowables and unknowables.

As far as things are knowable by us, it is of excellent use to accustom ourselves to clear and distinct ideas. Now among many other occasions of the darkness and mistakes of our minds, there are these two things which most remarkably bring confusion into our ideas.

1. That from our infancy we have had the ideas of things so far connected with the ideas of words, that

« PreviousContinue »