Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

learning. It must be done, if done, by the strain upon our own sinews; by the wrenching of our own muscles; by the 'blood of toil from our own feet'; by the indomitable resolution of our own wills. Without this effort on our parts, all the means of instruction which this, and all other ages have devised, are vain, worse than vain; they are wasted, thrown away, and might as well be heaped upon a dead

man or a statue.

All this, thus stated, is very plain, and will be readily admitted. And yet there is nothing, in point of fact, more frequently forgotten. There is a vague notion, as has been justly remarked, widely prevalent, that schools, and ampler seminaries, are able, by a power inherent in themselves, to fill the mind with learning; or that it is to be received inertly, like the influences of the atmosphere, by a mere residence at the places of instruction. But this is a sad mistake. Something, in this way, doubtless, may be effected. Something may be thus insensibly imbibed. A young person cannot pass his time, for years, in scenes like these, without catching something from the inspiration of the place. Intercourse, conversation, sympathy with his companions, will, without much voluntary effort on his part, convey some information, and mould, in some degree, the habits of his mind. But this, admitting it in its full extent, amounts to but very little. It is, moreover, too vague to be of any practical value. The truth, after all, is, that the most elaborate and manifold apparatus of instruction can impart nothing of importance to the passive and inert mind. It is almost as unavailing as the warmth and light of the sun, and all the sweet influences of the heavens, shed upon the desert sands. The schoolmaster,' we are told by one, who, be it observed, is himself a prodigy of self-education, 'the schoolmaster is abroad.' The word has been caught up by the nations as prophetical of mighty changes. But the schoolmaster is abroad to little purpose, unless his pupils stand ready in their places to receive him with open and active minds, and to labor with him for their own benefit. And it would be a happier auspice still, for the great cause of human improvement, if it could be said, that men were bent on becoming, each in his several station, their own instructers. If all the means of education which are scattered over the world, and if all the philosophers and teachers of ancient and modern times, were to be collected together,

and made to bring their combined efforts to bear upon an individual; all they could do would be to afford the opportunity of improvement. They could not give him a single valuable thought independently of his own exertion. All that could be accomplished must still be done within the little compass of his own mind; and they could not approach this, by a hair's breadth nearer, than access was made for them by his own coöperation. Nothing short of a miracle can teach a man any thing independently of this. All that he learns is effected by self-discipline, and self-discipline is the mind's own work. We all are, under God, intellectually, the makers of ourselves.

Our remarks, thus far, have had reference to intellectual improvement. But the spirit of them, with equal force, applies to moral and religious improvement. Virtue, religion, as well as knowledge, must also be, mainly, the mind's own work. Here, as in the former case, something may be insensibly imbibed from the circumstances in which we are placed; from the conversation and example of those around us; from the tone of the society in which we live; from prevailing opinions, manners, habits. But all this is of a negative character. It restrains, rather than aids. It serves rather to withhold us from gross vice, than to help us on to elevated virtue. It may correct the outward deportment, but takes little cognizance of principles and motives. It may prevent the outright and palpable developement of the sin, but blights not the swelling germ of iniquity in the heart. It may spread a decorum and decency over the surface of the character, but does little to alter, and still less to purify, and advance, and carry into effect the essential principles of virtue.

A similar remark, it is obvious, may be made of the external means of moral and religious improvement. These, like all the processes of direct instruction, in the education of the mind, are useless without the earnest coöperation of the individual. You can no more make him a Christian by sending him to church, than you can make him a scholar by sending him to school. The usual means of religious improvement, public religious instruction, public worship, the solemn and tender rites of our religion, seasons of abstraction from ordinary cares for self-intercourse, and for communion of the soul with God, are valuable, most valuable; valuable very



far beyond the common estimate that is made of them; so valuable that they are the principal head-springs of public morals, and possess a preventive and sanative influence over public sentiment, which is more effective in preserving good order, good institutions, civil rights, and private welfare, than any other influences which are brought to bear upon the community. But how and why are they thus valuable? Simply and only as means and aids of personal exertion; simply and only by being brought into contact with the minds and hearts of men. Unless this is done, nothing is done. Our religious meetings, and services, and rites are vain; nay, worse than vain. They are a mockery. Worse, even, than this; — they are a perversion of those overtures of mercy, and those means of improvement, which a gracious God has vouchsafed, to raise us from a mere earthly life and make us partakers of a divine nature. What is prayer to him who does not pray? What is religious instruction to the vain, the frivolous, the indifferent, the preoccupied and foreclosed mind? What is the keeping of holy time to him, who, while he is ostensibly present at places of social worship, has yet left his thoughts and affections behind, to hold companionship with his business or his pleasures? Alas! nothing. It is but as the vain oblations, the pageantry, and sacrifices of a darker age, without the excuse of ignorance to be pleaded in palliation. It is obvious, that all the means of religious instruction must be unavailing and profitless to him, who will not coöperate in them, and with them, for his own benefit. Religious improvement, then, is essentially and necessarily the mind's own work. And it is as true, that, under God, and by the aids of that Good Spirit, which are ever vouchsafed,-how gracious and glorious is this truth! which are ever vouchsafed in exact proportion to our endeavours to obtain them, we are morally, as intellectually, the makers of ourselves.

[ocr errors]

We have thus attempted to show, that all the means of instruction are of little value without the coöperation of the individual who is the subject of them. It is still more clear, in the next place, that all advances in literature, all discoveries in science, all inventions in the arts, in one word, all that is at any time original in human knowledge, must be referred to this self-work of the human mind. If it be plain that we can enrich ourselves with the thoughts of others, only when our

own faculties are awake and active, it is much more plain that, to originate any thing, we must depend on our own resources. This is involved in the very idea of originality. It implies that we are something more than recipients of the thoughts of others; that we are the originators, the creators, so to speak, of new thoughts, or new combinations of old thoughts; that we strike out new trains of inquiry, and that we add to the vast stores of knowledge a new and hitherto undiscovered treasure of valuable truth. This must, obviously, be the self-work of the mind. Whence come those wonderful inventions in the operative arts, which seem to render matter instinct with life, and motion, and mind; which extend the field of exertion; quicken industry; do the work of myriads of hands; make the elements the servants of our wills, and put the material universe at our disposal? Whence, but from the patient, often baffled, but constantly renewed and finally triumphant perseverance of a few insulated, selfworking minds? Whence, again, come those models of perfection in the arts of imitation and design, which embody in wood and stone the creations of the poet's dream, and fill the air around with beauty'? Is it not from the solitary labor of a few individuals, who give themselves up,

'the world well lost,' — in unbroken, in passionate devotion, to their chosen work. Whence, again, come those discoveries in science, which enable us to look with new admiration on the works of God, and have identified the stupendous and before mysterious operations of nature, with the simplest movements of things around us? The leader and the prince of scientific research has told us;-it is from patient labor of the mind. Whence, again, come those maxims of wisdom, those golden sayings, those luminous views of important subjects, which the condition of the age requires, which mould and fashion it, and give it its distinctive character? Or whence, in fine, come 'those thoughts that breathe, those words that burn,' which have an immortality on earth; which are handed down from age to age as things held consecrate? They are furnished by those gifted sages, and scholars, and poets, whose souls are touched with diviner impulses, who devote their highest powers to retired thought and earnest contemplation, and over whose solitary labors God's better inspiration has passed. Thus it is, that the mind, excited to self-action, self-discipline, self-improvement, assumes a more

clear, bright, apprehensive, and creative state; sees every thing under new relations; catches at the most trifling hints and suggestions as the embryo principles of grand discoveries; and connects the most common and apparently accidental circumstances, with all but miraculous manifestations of important truth.

We have but one suggestion more to make on this part of the subject. Not only must the mind lend its own free coöperation to render instruction effectual; not only must it act in and of itself to produce new results; but further, if it will so act, none may place a limit to its progress and improvement. Nothing is more profoundly true, than that 'to him who hath,' that is, to him who well uses what he hath, more shall be given.' This is universally true. The seed, duly planted, yields a thousand fold. a thousand fold. Wealth, wisely used, produces greater wealth. Influence multiplies itself. And this is especially true of the intellect. Knowledge, in every department of human inquiry, is the germ of indefinite knowledge. Every thought is connected with every other thought, every discovery with every other discovery. All that we gain, therefore, gives us facilities of gaining more. The further we advance, the easier will further advance be made. Meanwhile, the intellect is strengthened by every proper use of it; every degree of progress gives new ability for higher attainments; and every single faculty is more and more strengthened by the harmonious and energetic developement of all the rest. Thus while any degree of knowledge, regarded merely as an acquisition, opens a wider and a wider field of view, the mind also at the same time, by the very act of making the acquisition, is strengthened and prepared for new conquests. None then may place a limit to intellectual progress. None may say to that intellect which acts up regularly and resolutely to the full extent of its powers, Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.' There are, in all our minds, capacities, which are unknown and unsuspected even by ourselves. They are sometimes dimly revealed to our view, and the glimpse opens to us, as it were, a new internal being. Most persons, we suppose, who have observed the operations of their own minds, may call to remembrance certain periods, occurring, it may be, they scarcely know how or why, when the perceptions of the mind are peculiarly keen; its relish for beauty more than ordinarily strong

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »