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Read always methodically, not too much at a sitting, rather a little, with attention and examination, than much, with transient glances and thoughtless haste. Read rather ten times over the same excellent performance, the same particularly instructing, animating passage of the book adapted to your situation, than waste your time and your faculties in the perusal of productions scarcely rising to mediocrity, not to speak of worse.
Make, by continued reflection, what you read your own, and incorporate the newly-acquired perceptions and knowledge with what you already know and understand.
It should ever be remembered, that the foundation of our reading ought to be the knowledge of God and ourselves. By philosophizing upon our own nature, we shall be led to acknowledge an Existence to whom we owe our creation; and by reflecting on the rovings of the imagination, and the wanderings of the heart, we become sensible of the necessity of a Revelation to guide and direct us to happiness.
History will lead us by the hand from age to age, and shew us the events and revolutions which have never ceased to employ and agitate the world ; this will give us a constant opportunity of acknowledging and adoring a Providence which directs all according to its designs.
We shall see, in almost every passage of history, how empires and emperors have been instruments of justice or mercy in the hands of God, how he exalted, and how he depressed them; how be created, and how he destroyed them; being Himself always unchangeably the same.
We should not be too fond of any work, author, or sentiment, for fear of becoming a partisan; but when we prefer one writer to another, let it be because we find him more solid and truly excellent.
We ought to guard with great caution against prepossession and prejudice; but unfortunately, the more we study, the more we are likely to be infected by them.
We become interested in an author who has written
well, and insensibly we praise and admire all his opinions, though they are, perhaps, very often fantastical. We should guard against this misfortune, and be always more the friend of truth, than of Plato or Socrates.
Dr. Schomberg, writing to a lady, gives the followa ing advice on reading history, morality, and poetry:
“Whenever you undertake to read history, make a small abstract of the memorable events, and set down in what year they happened. If you entertain yourself with the life of a famous
person, do the same with respect to his most remarkable actions ; adding the year, and the place of his birth and death. You will find this method a great help to your memory, as it will lead you to remember what you do not write down, by a sort of chain that links the whole history together.
Books on morality deserve an exact reading. There are none in our language more useful and entertaining than the Spectator, Tatler, and Guardian. They are the standards of the English tongue; and, as such, they should be read over and over again : for, as we imperceptibly slide into the manners and habits of those persons with whom we most frequently converse; so, reading being, as it were, a silent conversation, we insensibly write and talk in the style of the authors whom we have most frequently read, and who have left the deepest impressions on our mind. Now, in order to retain what you read on the various subjects that fall under the head of morality, I would advise you to mark with a pencil whatever you find particularly worth remembering. If a passage should strike you, mark it in the margin; if an expression, draw a line under it; if a whole paper in the forementioned books, or any others which are written in the same loose and unconnected manner, make an asterisk over the first line. By these means you will select the most valuable parts ; which, by being distinguished from the rest, will, on repeated reading, sink deeper into your memory.
“The last article is poetry. To distinguish good poetry from bad, turn it out of verse into prose, and see whether the thought is natural, and the words are adapted to it; or whether they are not too big and sounding, or too low and mean, for the sense which they would convey: This rule will prevent you from being imposed on by bombast and fustian, which, with many, pass for sublime: smooth verses, that run off the ear with an easy cadence and harmonious turn, very often impose nonsense on the world, and are like your fine. dressed beaux, who pass for fine gentlemen. -Divest both o
their outward ornaments, and people are surprised they could have been so easily deluded.”
An ingenious writer makes the following judicious observations :
Many people lose a great deal of time by reading; for they read absurd romances, where characters that never existed, are insipidly displayed, and sentiments that were never felt, are pompously described ; and such sort of idle, frivolous stuff,—that nourishes and improves the mind just as much as whipp'd-cream would the body. Adhere to the best established books in every language; the celebrated poets, historians, orators, and philosophers. By these means, to use a city metaphor, you will make fifty per cent. of that time, of whích others do not make above three or four, or probably nothing at all.-Lay down a method for your reading; and allot to it a certain share of your time. Let it be in a consistent and consecutive course, and not in that desultory manner, in which many people read scraps of different authors, upon different subjects-Never read history without having maps, and a chronological book of tables, lying by you, and constantly recurred to; without which, history is a confused heap of facts.-At your spare moments, take up a good book of rational amusement, and detached pieces; as Horace, Boileau, La Bruyere, &c. This will be so much time saved, and by no means ill employed."
Sound learning is a preservative from all kinds of superstition and fanaticism. It cherishes and extends the light of truth, which that brood of darkness cannot endure, and which often frights it back into the obscurity from whence it sprung. It promotes clear reasoning, nice investigation, sagacious doubt, modest and dispassionate inquiry into the causes, the views, the combination of things. It arms us against the illusion of the senses, of the imagination, of the feelings, against the fallacious charms of the extraordinary, the wonderful, the mysterious; against the imposing vizor of peculiar pensiveness, mystical and occult science, beneath which ignorance and fanaticism so often lurk. Wherever real learning and solid science lose their respect and influence, superstition is sure to rise upon their ruins, with all its lamentable and disastrous attendants, ignorance, timidity, fanaticism, intolerance, the spirit of domination, persecu
tion, spreading terror, and thraldom, and misery of various kinds, throughout the country. Curiosity never totally forsakes the human mind. If a man cannot employ it in regular, rational reasoning, he endeavours to gratify it by concerts and reveries, by excursions beyond the “ visible diurnal sphere,” into the land of apparitions; and scenes of devastation in futurity, are objects of the first magnitude with him. If, in his flights into that world unknown, he has not for his guide an enlightened and well-trained understanding, but trusts only to obscure sensations, he is liable to deviate into every insidious by-way, every indirect and crooked road that offers; he encounters the hazard of becoming the puppet of every sly deceiver, or every disciple of imposture. But who can think on all the mischievous and pestilent effects of superstition and fanaticism, and not ascribe great praise to erudition, which is always counteracting them, and setting bounds to their dominion ?
What pleasure History supplies,
To trace the years that long have fled,
Her ample page
History displays before us the rise and fall of empires, the progress of liberty and laws, and the various changes and revolutions that have taken place in society.
Mr. Hụme very justly observes, that the advantages found in the study of History seem to be of three kinds; as it amuses the fancy, as it improves the un
derstanding, and as it strengthens virtue. In reality, what can be more agreeable entertainment to the mind, than to be transported into the remotest ages of the world, and to observe human society, in its infancy, making the first faint efforts towards the arts and sciences ? To see the policy of government and the civility of conversation refining by degrees, and every thing which is ornamental to human life advancing towards its perfection ? To remark the rise, progress, declension, and final extinction, of the most flourishing empires; the virtues which contributed to their greatness, and the vices which drew on their ruin? in short, to see all the human race, from the beginning of time, pass, as it were, in review before us; appearing in their true colours, without any of those disguises, which, during their life-time, so much perplexed the judgment of the beholders? What spectacles can be imagined so magnificent, so various, so interesting? What amusement, either of the senses or imagination, can be compared with it? Shall those trifling pastimes, which engross so much of our time, be preferred as more satisfactory, and more fit to engage our attention ?
How perverse must that taste be, which is capable of so wrong a choice of pleasures !
But History is a most pleasing part of knowledge, as well as an agreeable amusement; and a great part of what we call erudition, and value so highly, is nothing but an acquaintance with historical facts. History is not only a valuable part of knowledge, but opens the door to many other parts, and affords materials to most of the sciences. And, indeed, if we consider the shortness of human life, and our limited knowledge even of what passes in our time, we must be sensible, that we should be for ever children in understanding, were it not for this invention, which extends our experience to all past ages, and to the most distant nations; making them contribute as much to our improvement in wisdom, as if they had actually lain under our observation. A man acquainted with History may, in some respects, be said to have lived