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Dr. Rush to a young physician, who spoke of the time when he finished his studies : “When you finished your studies! Why, you must be a happy man to have finished so young. I do not expect to finish mine as long as I live.” Life is but one great school, and we are all pupils, differing in growth and progress, but all subjects of discipline, all invested with the proud privilege of acquiring knowledge, as long as the mind retains its powers.
But while the value of knowledge renders a taste for reading so important, the choice of books is equally
Books produce the same effect on the mind, that diet does on the body. They may either impart no salutary nutriment, or convey that which is pernicious. Miscellaneous reading has become so fashionable, and its materials so multifarious, that it is difficult to know how to select, or where to fix a limit.
Works of imagination usually predominate in the libraries of young ladies. To condemn them in a mass, as has been sometimes done, is hardly just. Some of them are the productions of the finest minds, and abound with the purest sentiments. Yet, discrimination, with regard to them, is exceedingly important, and such discrimination as a novice cannot exercise. The young should therefore ask guidance of an experienced and cultivated mind, and devote to this class of reading, only a moderate portion of time, as to a recreation.
History has ever been warmly commended to the attention of the young. It imparts knowledge of human nature, and supplies lofty subjects for contemplation. It should be read with constant reference to geography and chronology. · A fine writer has called
these “the eyes of history." They are are also the grappling irons by which it adheres to memory. As some historians are deficient in dates, or not lucid in their arrangement, a table of chronology, and an atlas, ancient and modern, should be the inseparable companions of all books of history, which are to be studied with profit. It is a good practice to fix in the memory some important eras—the subversion of an empire, for instance and then ascertain what events were taking place in all other nations, at the same period of time. A few of these parallels, running through the History of the World, will collect rich clusters of knowledge, and arrange them in the conservatory of the mind.
History is replete with moral lessons. The instability of human power, the tyranny of man over his brother, and the painful truth that the great are not always the good, mark almost every feature of its annals.
Read History with candor and independence of mind. The opinions of the historian should be examined, and the gilding stripped from false glory. The admiration so profusely bestowed on warriors and conquerors, should be analyzed.
And if conquerors are discovered to have wrought more evil than good, to have polluted the fountains of peace and liberty; and to have wantonly shed blood and caused misery for their own aggrandizement, let the sentence upon their deeds be given in equity.
Next in intellectual interest to History, and superior to it in its influence upon the heart, is the study of Biography. Through this familiar intercourse with the wise and good, we forget the difference of rank, and the distance upon earth's surface that divided us.
We almost listen to their voices, and number them among our household friends. We see the methods by which they became distinguished, the labors by which their eminence was purchased, the piety that rendered them beloved, and our desire of imitation is awakened. As by our chosen associates, the character is modified, so the heart exhibits some transcript of the models kept most constantly in its view.
The poets will naturally be favorites, in the library of an educated young lady. They refine sensibility, and convey instruction. They are the friends of nature and knowledge, and quicken in the heart a taste for both.
Your course of reading should also comprise the annals of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Perhaps human genius has never displayed itself more gloriously than in these departments. To throw life into inanimate canvass—to make dull marble breathe-indicate as ch of creative power as may be deputed to man.
The efforts of the Grecian chisel have been the world's admiration for two thousand years. And though the colors of that pencil have faded, the names of those painters still survive in the freshness of immortality.
Mental Philosophy claims a high rank among the studies of youth. It promotes self knowledge, one of the direct avenues to wisdom. If the map of man be interesting; though darkened with crimes, and stained with blood, how much more, the peaceful map of the mind, that “mind which is the standard of the man."
I am persuaded that you would find Logic a subject of sufficient interest to enter into your course of reading. The art of thinking, so important to all who
have the power of thought, is possibly too little studied by our sex. A science, which, according to the concise definition of Watts, “teaches to use reason well, in inquiries after truth,” is an important aid in the acquisition of all other sciences.
Ethics and sacred literature will undoubtedly occupy a prominent place in your system. These embrace a wide range, and comprehend some of the most gifted minds of which our world can boast.
Books for perusal on the Sabbath, should ever partake of the character of that consecrated day. The command, to rescue a seventh part of our time from the vanities of life, and select such topics of meditation and discourse as serve to prepare for a higher and purer state of existence, is indeed a great privilege. Let the Scriptures form a part of the study of every day.
All systematic reading should be with a fixed purpose to remember and to profit. Cultivate the retentive power, by daily and persevering exef ise. If any one complains that she has a weak memory, it is her own fault.
She does not take due pains to give it strength. Does she forget the period for meals, the season for
repose ? Does she forget the appointed hour for the evening party, or to furnish herself with a fitting dress in which to appear there? Does she forget the plot of the last romance, or the notes of a fashionable piece of music? Yet some of these involve detail, and require application. Why, then, might not the same mind contain a few historical facts, with their correlative dates ? Frankly, because it does not feel the same interest, nor put forth the same effort.
I am inclined to think memory capable of indefinite
improvement, by a judicious and persevering regimen. Read, therefore, what you desire to remember, with concentrated and undivided attention. Close the book, and reflect. Undigested food throws the whole frame into a ferment. Were we as well acquainted with our intellectual as with our physical structure, we should see undigested knowledge producing equal disorder in the mind.
To strengthen the memory, the best course is not to commit page after page verbatim, but to give the
, substance of the author, correctly and clearly, in your own language. Thus the understanding and memory are exercised at the same time, and the prosperity of the mind is not so much advanced, by the undue prominence of any one faculty; as by the true balance and vigorous action of all. Memory and understanding are also fast friends, and the light which one gains will be reflected upon the other.
. Use judgment in selecting from the mass of what you read, the parts which it will be useful or desirable to remember. Separate and arrange them, and give them in charge to memory. Tell her it is her duty to keep them, and to bring them forth when you require. She has the capacities of a faithful servant, and possibly the dispositions of an idle one. But you have the power of enforcing obedience, and of overcoming her infirmities.
To facilitate the management of memory, it is well to keep in view that her office is threefold. Her first effort is to receive knowledge; her second, to retain it; her last, to bring it forth, when it is needed. The first act is solitary, the silence of fixed attention. The