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USELESS LEARNING-PRECEPTS—THEIR SUGGESTIVE
INFLUENCE—LANDMARKS OF WISDOM.
HE history of men's follies,” says Fontenelle, “makes no small part of our learning, and, unhappily for us, much of our knowledge terminates here."
The chief object of education is to
prepare us for some useful and important vocation of active life. Aside from this, learning is not worthy of its name ; for that which is not available is worthless ; even science itself is useless unless subservient to human progress, and under the direction of human
What man of good sense cares a straw for the senseless prattle about the claims of one of the heathen gods over another,—whether Jupiter was born upon Mount Ida ; whether Venus was lovely, or Minerva wise; whether Psyche was the daughter of a king, or of Sol and Constancy?
Whether the " Medea ” of Sophocles or Ovid's - Metamorphoses" best illustrates the doctrine of space and infinity? Of what use is a labyrinth of philosophical absurdities, miscalled science, to win man's end and aim in the great BATTLE OF LIFE? Will they make him happy ; or teach him his duty to his God, himself, or his neighbour ? Will they teach him to curb his desires or regulate his conduct? Will they give him a clear idea of the works of nature, and the wonders that are every day passing before his sight? Can they be productive of good? or will they ensure him the philosopher's two great blessings of life—a sound body and a pure mind ;-a state of FELICITY IN ITS HIGHEST ATTAINMENT !
If we wish to benefit ourselves or the community in which we live, let us study things that are essential to life ; let us acquire that knowledge upon which the grand pillars of society rest for its peace and happiness. Knowledge of this kind is always in demand, is always available, and it is by means of it that so many self-taught men attain the highest intellectual greatness, and win the esteem and admiration of the world.
It is good
excel in music; it is 'well to excel as a linguist. To excel in any art or science is praiseworthy; but let the foundation be the morality and wisdom taught by a Socrates and a Seneca—the guides of the illustrious men of subsequent ages, who bequeathed to us the valuable lessons--that from practising the wisdom of bygone times they overcame obstacles in life that otherwise would have been insurmountable ; that from a lowly condition they rose to influence and affluence; and that by furthering science and art, they promoted civilization, and thus became great by working out the general welfare of mankind.
From communion with the arts flow the graces, the affections, the charities of life; and as beneficent nature ever blesses the individual who contributes to the advancement and welfare of his species, so from the same source is derived our purest, most exquisite, and most enduring happiness !
PRECEPTS taught these men that to live well was to live for others. By precepts the understanding is nourished and augmented. Precepts lead us to the observance of our duties, and the virtues of PRUDENCE and JUSTICE are inspired by them. Those men stored up precepts and examples to regulate their own lives. In a word, precepts and examples taught them the great secret of Life
THE TIIREE RULES OF LIFE.
TO LIVE BY RULE.
An “ Essay to Do Good" influenced the mind of the modern philosopher Franklin, and helped to regulate the life of that great man, who, as he expresses himself, cherished life that he might benefit mankind.
“ From the bosom of poverty and obscurity,” he says, “in which I first breathed and spent my earliest years, I have raised myself to a state of opulence, and to some degree of celebrity in the world.” Salutary as the perusal of that great man's life has been to youth, not less so was the influence of the early precepts that the father impressed upon the mind of the young Benjamin.
" At an early age,” says he, “my father, from a circumstance apparently trifling to us, convinced his sons that nothing which was not strictly honest could be useful, and illustrated true greatness in honesty, justice, prudence, and good conduct of life; that without these all our efforts would be futile a labour in vain that would end in disappointment."
Descartes, having doubted, and being vexed at his own waverings, deemed it necessary to frame for himself
THREE RULES OF LIFE.
“First. As it is a long time ago that I was assailed by doubts concerning the opinions in which I had blindly acquiesced and adopted, I am determined to keep the laws and manners of my country-to follow the opinion of the moderate and sober, and avail myself of principles which regulate life and are accepted by every sensible man; for, having begun to suspect the opinions I had formerly adopted, and to examine their foundations, I thought it would be most prudent of me to follow for the time the example of enlightened men ; and though it may happen that there may be found in Persia or in China as many en. lightened men as with us, notwithstanding I thought it prudent
THE THREE RULES OF LIFE.
to be governed by the opinions of men in whose society I am to live. Moreover, in order to ascertain what they prefer and approve, I determined to look more to their ACTIONS than WORDS, not only because I thought that men rarely say just what they feel, but more so because many are quite incapable of giving any account of their actions ; because to distinguish the good from the bad and to acquiesce in it, is the result of two very different exertions of intellect, and we often find in men the one without the other. Of all the opinions generally received I always gave my preference to that which is more moderate, because it proves to be easier in practice, and in the most cases the best. I consider every extremity to be an error, because if, on following the middle way, I happen to blunder, it would always be a consolation to me, that I will find myself gone astray not so much from the right way on following that middle way, as when running to extremes. Placing myself in the middle, I resolved, however, for myself, the right of changing my opinion; not that I would be inclined to condemn the laws, which bind every one down to his promise and oblige him to fulfil his engagements; but as I never saw anything in the world unchangeable, I could not preclude myself the liberty of changing, especially as I cherished the hope that my opinions will always improve, not get deteriorated. It appears to me very unreasonable to abide by the old and worse opinion, only because I happened formerly to acquiesce in it, and to consider it my duty to act according to an opinion which ceased to be true, or which I could approve no more, only because I happened to have approved it formerly.
“Secondly.—I determined to prosecute my aim with perseverance, without hesitating and procrastination; those I have set my mind to for certain reasons, as well as those that I undertook for doubtful or no reasons at all, imitating the prudence of a man in a thick forest, when the last trace of a footpath has disappeared, who never goes to and fro, but proceeds all the time in one direction, which he tcok to for a very
THE THREE RULES OF LIFE.
slight, perhaps for no motive at all, and then never leaves it; for thus, though he may not reach the place he wished to come at, he is nevertheless sure of extricating himself out of the mazes in which he was wandering. And as it is impossible to postpone everything in our life, therefore, being at a loss to know immediately what would be the best, I determined to prosecute my way to the goal which appears to be the best. Having no stronger motive for one thing rather than another, we must make nevertheless a choice and abide by it, not considering it as doubtful as far as the immediate practice is at issue, but as sure and certain; because the motive why we have preferred one thing among many others is indubitable. This rule of conduct has spared me a great many anxieties and painful wavering, that is commonly the plague of weak minds, who are prone to abandon a thing which they considered at first as beyond any
doubt. “Third rule.—I laid it down as a rule never to be transgressed -to vanquish myself rather than to struggle with my destinyto change my own will rather than the established order of the world. I endeavoured to impress upon my mind the conviction that we have solely unbounded mastery over our thoughts, so that if, after the greatest exertions we are unable of áttaining our wishes, we must lay it down among impossibilities. It was in my opinion sufficient to check and avert my desires from things unattainable, and thus to forward my happiness. For our will naturally aspires to things acknowledged by our reason as possible to attain. If we are schooled to consider the external world as lying equally out of our power, the blighted hopes and frustrated wishes and claims will as little affect us as that we are not sovereigns of China or Mexico. So bending our will to necessity, we will not be sorry that our body is not so indestructible as the diamond, that we have got no wings as birds ; we will suffer the pains of a disease with more patience, and when shut up in a prison, we will not sigh for liberty. I don't deny that to look at all things in such a light it requires: