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made short summaries of the sense of each period, and put them for a few days aside. I then, without looking at the book, endeavoured to restore the essays to their due form, and to express each thought at length, as it was in the original, employing the most appropriate words that occurred to my mind. I afterwards compared my Spectator with the original; I perceived some faults, which I corrected: but I found that I wanted a fund of words, if I may so express myself, and a facility of recollecting and employing them, which I thought I should by that time have acquired had I continued to make verses. The continued need of words of the same meaning, but of different lengths for the measure, or of different sounds for the rhyme, would have obliged me to seek for a variety of synonymes, and have rendered me master of them. From this belief, I took some of the tales of the Spectator and turned them into verse, and, after a time, when I had sufficiently forgotten them, I again converted them into prose.
Sometimes also I mingled all my summaries together; and, a few weeks after, endeavoured to arrange them in the best order, before I attempted to form the periods, and complete the essays. This I did with a view of acquiring method in the arrangement of my thoughts. On comparing afterwards my performance with the original, many faults were apparent which I corrected; but I had sometimes the satisfaction to think, that, in certain particulars of little importance, I had been fortunate enough to improve the order of
thought or the style, and this encouraged me to hope that I should succeed, in time, in writing decently in the English language, which was one of the greatest objects of my ambition.
ON THINKING. If one would rate any particular merit according to its true valuation, it may be necessary, perhaps, to consider how far it can be justly claimed by mankind in general. I am sure, at least, when I read the very uncommon sentiments of your last letter, I found their judicious author rise in my esteem, by reflecting that there is not a more singular character in the world, than that of a thinking man. It is not merely having a succession of ideas, which lightly skim over the mind, that can with any propriety be styled by that denomination. It is observing them separately and distinctly, and ranging them under their respective classes; it is calmly and steadily viewing our opinions on every side, and resolutely tracing them through all their consequences and connections, that constitutes the man of reflection, and distinguishes reason from fancy. Providence, indeed, does not seem to have formed any very considerable number of our species for an extensive exercise of this higher faculty; as the thoughts of the far greater part of mankind are necessarily restrained within the ordinary purposes of animal life. But even if we look up to those who move in much superior orbits, and who have opportunities to improve, as well as leisure to exercise their understandings; we shall find, that thinking is one of the least exerted privileges of cultivated humanity.
It is, indeed, an operation of the mind which meets with many obstructions to check its just and free direction; but there are two principles, which prevail more or less in the constitutions of most men, that particularly contributes to keep this faculty of the soul unemployed : I mean, pride and indolence. To descend to truth through the tedious progression of well-examined deductions, is considered as a reproach to the quickness of understanding; as it is much too laborious a method for any but those who are possessed of a vigorous and resolute activity of mind. For this reason, the greater part of our species generally choose either to seize upon their conclusions at once, or to take them by rebound from others, as best suiting with their vanity or their laziness. Accordingly, Mr. Locke observes, that there are not so many errours and wrong opinions in the world as is generally imagined. Not that he thinks mankind are by any means uniform in embracing truth; but because the majority of them, he maintains, have no thought or opinion at all about those doctrines concerning which they raise the greatest clamour. Like the common soldiers in an army, they follow where their leaders direct, without knowing, or even enquiring, into the cause for which they so warmly contend. : This will account for the slow steps by which truth has advanced in the world, on one side; and for those absurd systems which, at different periods, have had an universal currency on the other. For there is a strange disposition in human nature, either blindly to tread the same paths that have been traversed by others, or to strike out into the most devious extravagancies: the greater part of the world will, either totally renounce their reason, or reason only from the wild suggestions of an heated imagination.
From the same source may be derived those divisions and animesities which break the union both of public and private societies, and turn the peace and harmony of human intercourse into dissonance and contention. For while men judge and act by such measures as have not been proved by the standard of dispassionate reason, they must equally be mistaken in their estimates both of their own conduct and that of others.
If we turn our view from active to contemplative life, we may have occasion perhaps to remark, that thinking is no less uncommon in the literary than the civil world. The number of those writers who can with any justice of expression be termed thinking authors, would not form a very copious library, though one were to take in all of that kind, which both ancient and modern times have produced. Necessarily, I imagine, must one exclude from a collection of this sort, all critics, commentators, translators, and, in short, all that numerous under-tribe in the commonwealth of literature, that owe their existence merely to the thoughts of others. I should reject for the same reason, such compilers as Valerius Maximus and Aulus Gellius : though it must be owned, indeed, their works have acqnired an accidental value, as they preserve to us several curious traces of antiquity, which time would otherwise have entirely worn out. Those teeming genuises likewise, who have propagated the fruits of their studies, through a long series of tracts, would have little pretence, I believe, to be admitted as writers of reflection. For this reason I cannot regret the loss of those incredible number of compositions which some of the ancients are said to have produced:
Quale fuit Cassi rapido ferventius ampi
Thus Epicurus, we are told, left behind him three hundred volumes of his own works, wherein he had not inserted a single quotation; and we have it upon the authority of Varro's own words, that he himself composed four hundred and ninety books. Seneca assures us, that Didymus, the grammarian, wrote no less than four thousand; but Origen, it seems, was yet more prolific, and extended his performances even to six thousand treatises. It is obvious to imagine, with what sort of materials the productions of such expeditious workmen were wrought up: sound thought and well-matured reflections could have no share, we may be sure, in these hasty performances. Thus are books multiplied, whilst authors are scarce; and so much easier is it to write than to