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predecessors, and such a declaration has been lately made, nothing but a degree of arrogance unpardonable in the greatest human understanding, can hinder him from perceiving that he is raising prejudices against his own performance; for with what hopes of success can he attempt that in which greater abilities have hitherto miscarried ? or with what peculiar force does he suppose himself invigorated, that difficulties hitherto invincible should give way before him?
Of those whom Providence has qualified to make any additions to human knowledge, the number is extremely small; and what can be added by each single mind, even of this fuperior class, is
very the greatest part of mankind must owe all their knows ledge, and all must owe far the larger part of it, to the information of others. To understand the works of celebrated authors, to comprehend their systems, and retain their reasonings, is a task more than equal to common intellects; and he is by no means to be accounted useless or idle, who has stored his mind with acquired knowledge, and can detail it occasionally to others who have less leisure or weaker abilities.
Persius has justly observed, that knowledge is nothing to him who is not known by others to possess it: to the scholar himself it is nothing with respect either to honour or advantage, for the world cannot reward those qualities which are concealed from it; with respect to others it is nothing, because it affords no help to ignorance or error.
It is with justice, therefore, that in an accomplished character, Horace unites just sentiments with
the power of expressing them; and he that has once accumulated learning, is next to consider, how he shall most widely diffuse and most agreeably im
A ready man is made by conversation. He that buries himself among his manuscripts befprent," as Pope expresses it, “ with learned duft," and wears out his days and nights in perpetual research and solitary meditation, is too apt to lose in his elocution what he adds to his wisdom; and when he comes into the world, to appear overloaded with his own notions, like a man armed with weapons which he cannot wield. He has no facility of inculcating his fpeculations, of adapting himself to the various degrees of intellect which the accidents of conversation will present; but will talk to most unintelligibly, and to all unpleasantly,
I was once present at the lectures of a profound philosopher, a man really skilled in the science which he profeffed, who having occasion to explain the terms opacum and pellucidum, told us, after some hesitation, that opacum was, as one might say, opake, and that pellucidum fignified pellucid,
Such was the dexterity with which this learned reader facilitated to his auditors the intricacies of science; and so true is it, that a man may know what he cannot teach.
Boerhaave complains, that the writers who have treated of chemistry before him, are useless to the greater part of students, because they pre-suppose their readers to have such degrees of skill as are not often to be found. Into the same error are all men apt to fall, who have familiarized any subject to themselves in folitude: they discourse, as if they thought every other man had been employed in the fame inquiries; and expect that short hints and obscure illusions will produce in others, the same train of ideas which they excite in themselves.
Nor is this the only inconvenience which the man of study suffers from a recluse life. When he meets with an opinion that pleases him, he catches it up with eagerness; looks only after such arguments as tend to his confirmation; or spares himself the trouble of discussion, and adopts it with very little proof; indulges it long without fufpicion, and in time unites it to the general body of his knowledge, and treasures it up among incontestible truths : but when he comes into the world among men who, arguing upon diflimilar principles, have been led to different conclusions, and being placed in various situations, view the same object on many sides ; he finds his darling position attacked, and himself in ng condition to defend it: having thought always in one train, he is in the state of a man who having fenced always with the same master, is perplexed and amazed by a new posture of his antagonist; he is entangled in unexpected difficulties, he is harrassed by sudden objections, he is unprovided with solutions or replies, his surprize impedes his natural powers of reasoning, his thoughts are scattered and confounded, and he gratifies the pride of airy petulance with an easy victory.
It is difficult to imagine, with what obstinacy truths which one mind perceives almost by intuition, will be rejected by another; and how many artifices must be practised, to procure admission for
the most evident propositions into understandings frighted by their novelty, or hardened against them by accidental prejudice; it can scarcely be conceived, how frequently, in these extemporaneous controversies, the dull will be fubtle, and the acute absurd; how often stupidity will elude the force of argument, by involving itself in its own gloom; and mistaken ingenuity will weave artful fallacies, which reason can scarcely find means to disentangle.
In these encounters the learning of the recluse usually fails him: nothing but long habit and frequent experiments can confer the power of changing a position into various forms, presenting it in different points of view, connecting it with known and granted truths, fortifying it with intelligible arguments, and illustrating it by apt fimilitudes; and he, therefore, that has collected his knowledge in folitude, must learn its application by mixing with man kind.
But while the various opportunities of conversation invite us to try every mode of argument, and every art of recommending our sentiments, we are frequently betrayed to the use of such as are not in themselves strictly defensible: a man heated in talk, and eager of victory, takes advantage of the miltakes or ignorance of his adversary, lays hold of concessions to which he knows he has no right, and urges proofs likely to prevail on his opponent, though he knows himself that they have no force : thus the severity of reason is relaxed, many topics are accumulated, but without just arrangement or distinction; we learn to satisfy ourselves with such ratiocination as silences others; and feldom recal to a close examination, that discourse which has gratified our vanity with victory and applause.
Some caution, therefore, must be used left copiousness and facility be made less valuable by inaccuracy and confusion.
To fix the thoughts by writing, and subject them to frequent examinations and reviews, is the best method of enabling the mind to detect its own fophisms, and keep it on guard against the fallacies which it practises on others : in conversation we naturally diffuse our thoughts, and in writing we contract them; method is the excellence of writing, and unconstraint the grace of conversation.
To read, write, and converse in due proportions, is, therefore, the business of a man of letters. For all these there is not often equal opportunity; excellence, therefore, is not often attainable ; and most men fail in one or other of the ends proposed, and are full without readiness, or ready without exactness. Some deficiency must be forgiven all, because all are men; and more must be allowed to pass uncensured in the greater part of the world, because none can confer upon himself abilities, and few have the choice of fituations proper for the improvement of those which nature has bestowed : it is however, reasonable, to have perfection in our eye ; that we may always advance towards it, though we know it never can be reached.