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Several persons have likewise found by experience, that the reading over what is to be got by heart two or three times in the evening before we go to sleep, is of great service; though a reason cannot easily be given for it, unless it is, that the traces, which are then printed in the brain, not being interrupted or broken off by the multiplicity of objects which interpose in the day time, sink deeper, and make a stronger impression, by means of the silence and tranquillity of the night.
Verses are more easily to be retained than prose, especially when the boys are able to discern their numbers and measures; but prose is most proper to exercise and strengthen the memory, as it is less easily learned, has more liberty, and is not tied down to regular and uniform measures.
- We are still more sure of this advantage from single sentences, which have no connection with one another; such as the Proverbs of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus. It is of great use to subdue the memory, by exercising it with the utmost difficulties, that we may have it ready to serve our purpose upon every occasion. I am apt to think, that the getting without book select passages of the Greek authors, and especially the poets, is too much neglected. The instance of a young gentleman who could repeat Homer by heart, before he left school, shows us on one hand how much the study of the Greek tongue was then had in honour; and on the other, very highly recommends the practice I am here advising.,
We ought to be far from considering the time as lost, which is spent in improving the memory; perhaps there is no time of our youth that is bet. ter employed.
There is a memory for words, and another for things. The first consists in faithfully repeating word for word what has been got by heart. The other consists, not in retaining the words, but the substance, meaning, and chain of what has been read or heard, as of a story, a speech at the bar, or a sermon; and this kind of memory is no less advantageous than the other, which is preparatory and introductive to it, and of far more general use.
It is of consequence also to exercise boys in this sort of memory, by making them give an account of what they have heard or read. They must begin with what is most easy, as fables, and short stories; and if they omit any material circumstance, it must be observed to them. When any harangue of an historian, any book of a poet, or any speech of an orator has been explained to them, nothing can be of greater service than to make them recollect it, and give the contents, first in general, and then more minutely, by rehearsing exactly the order and division of the discourse, the different parts of it, and the proofs of each part. The same may be said of any instruction or sermon, at which they have been present. Nothing is more usual than to hear persons of understanding, who have a taste for reading, complain, that they cannot retain any thing they read, and that though they are very desirous of it, and take all the pains they can, almost all they have read
escapes them, without leaving any thing behind it, but a confused and general idea.
It must be owned that some memories are so unfaithful, and, if I may be allowed the expression, so open on all sides, as to let every thing confided to them run through. But this defect may often proceed from negligence. Their end in reading is only to satisfy the present curiosity, without any consideration of the future. They endeavour rather to read much, than to advantage. They run fast on, and are continually desirous of new objects. And it is by no means wonderful, that those objects, multiplied ad infinitum, upon which they scarcely allow themselves time to look, should make but a slight impression, and be effaced in a moment, without leaving any traces behind them. To remedy this inconvenience, they should not read so fast, often repeat the same thing, and give an account of it to themselves; and by this exercise, though troublesome and disagreeable enough at first, they would arrive, if not at the perfect remembrance of all they read, at least at the power of retaiping the greatest and most essential part of it. If they would but comply with this method for a little while, · they would soon be brought to own, that not retaining a great deal of what they read, was not so much owing to the unfaithfulness of their memory, as to their own indolence.
ON COMPOSITION. WHEN pupils are capable of producing something of themselves, they should be put upon composing in their mother tongue, and made to begin with what is most easy, and best suited to their capacities, as fables and stories. They should likewise be early accustomed to the epistolary style, as it is of universal use to all ages and conditions; and yet few we see succeed in it, though its principal oruament is a plain and natural air, which one should think was extremely easy. And here we must not omit the different address which is required to be paid to the different rank and quality of the persons to whom we write, which is what they may easily be taught, even by a person who has had no great experience in that way him. self.
To these first compositions should succeed common places, descriptions, little dissertations, short speeches, and other matters of a like nature, And these should always be taken from some good author, which should then be read to them, and laid before them as a pattern. . But one of the most useful exercises for youth, which takes in both translation and composition, is to lay before them certain select passages of Greek or Latin authors, not to be barely translated, where the translator is confined to the thoughts of his author, but to be turned in their own way, by allowing them the liberty of adding or retrenching whatever they shall think fit. For instance, the life of Agricola, by Tacitus, his sonin-law, is one of the most excellent remains
we have of antiquity, for the liveliness of the expression, the beauty of the thoughts and the nobleness of the sentiments; and I question whether any other piece whatsoever is capable of forming a wise magistrate, a governor of a province, or a great statesman. And to this I would gladly join Tully's admirable letter to his brother Quintus. I have usually put good scholars, when they have passed through their rhetoric, upon writing the life of Agricola, in their mother tongue at their leisure hours, and pressed them to introduce into it all the beauties of the original, but to make them their own, by giving them a proper turn, and endeavour if they could to improve upon Tacitus. And I have seen some of them succeed in so surprising a manner, that I am persuaded, the greatest masters of our language would have been well pleased with their performances.
METHOD OF IMPROVING OUR STYLE. As the faculty of writing prose has been of great service to me in the course of my life, and principally contributed to my advancement, I shall relate by what means, situated as I was, I ac. quired the small skill I may possess in that way.
An odd volume of the Spectator fell into my hands. This was a publication I had never seen. I bought the volume, and read it again and again. I was enchanted with it, thought the style excellent, and wished it were in my power to imitate it. With this view I selected some of the papers,