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Nature commonly lodges her treasures and jewels in rocky ground. If the matter is knotty, and the sense lies deep, the mind must stop and buckle to it, and stick upon it with labor, and thought, and close contemplation, and not leave it until it has mastered the difficulty and got possession of truth. But here care must be taken to avoid the other extreme; a man must not stick at every nicety, and expect mysteries of science in every trivial question or scruple that he may raise. He that will stand to pick up and examine every pebble that comes in his way, is as unlikely to return enriched and laden with jewels, as the other, that travelled at full speed.
- Truths are not the better nor the worse for their obviousaess or difficulty; but their value is to be measured by their usefulness and tendency. Insignificant observations should not take up any of our minutes; and those that enlarge our view, and give light towards further and useful discoveries, should not be neglected, though they stop our course and spend some of our time in a fixed attention.
There is another haste, that does often, and will, mislead the mind, if it be left to itself and its own conduct. The understanding is naturally forward, not only to learn its knowledge by variety, (which makes it skip over one to get speedily to another part of knowledge,) but also eager to enlarge its views by running too fast into general observations and conclusions, without a due examination of particulars enough whereon to found those general axioms. This seems to enlarge its stock, but it is of fancies, not realities. Theories, built upon such narrow foundations, stand but weakly, and if they fall not themselves, are at least with difficulty supported against the assaults of opposition. And thus men, being too hasty to erect to themselves general notions and ill-grounded theories, find themselves deceived in their stock of knowledge, when they come to examine their hastily-assumed maxims themselves, or to have them attacked by others.
General observations, drawn from particulars, are the
jewels of knowledge, comprehending great store in a little room; but they are therefore to be made with the greater care and caution, lest, if we take the counterfeit for true, our loss and shame will be the greater, when our stock comes to a severe scrutiny. One or two particulars may suggest hints of inquiry, and they do well who take those hints; but to turn them into conclusions, and immediately adopt them as general rules, would be assuming propositions for truths without sufficient warrant.
This is to make the head a magazine of materials, which can hardly be called knowledge, or at least it is but like a collection of lumber not reduced to use or order; and he that makes every thing an observation, has the same useless plenty, and much more falsehood mixed with it. The extremes on both sides are to be avoided; and he will be able to give the best account of his studies, who keeps his understanding in the right mean between them.
John Locke, an illustrious philosopher, was born 1632. He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, where he took regularly his degrees in arts. Having chosen the profession of medicine, he made considerable progress in the necessary studies; but finding the delicacy of his constitution an obstacle to successful practice, he abandoned the design, and turned his attention to the study of politics and of civil and ecclesiastical history. The delicate state of his health induced him to visit France, where he resided several years, first at Montpellier, and afterwards at Paris, where he had an opportunity cultivating an acquaintance with the most eminent French literary men of the day. In 1690, he published his most celebrated work, "An Essay concerning the Human Understanding - a work which has contributed much to rectify prejudice, to undermine established errors, and to diffuse just modes of thinking. In the mental and moral world, which scarcely admits of any thing which can be called discovery, the correction of the intellectual habits is, probably, the greatest service which can be rendered to science. In this respect, the merit of Locke is unrivalled. His writings have diffused a disposition to reject whatever is obscure, fantastic, or hypothetical, in speculation; to reduce verbal disputes to their proper level; to abandon problems which admit of no solution; to distrust whatever cannot be clearly expressed; to render theory the simple expression of facts; and to prefer those studies which most directly contribute to human happiness. As a writer, it must be conceded that his style is somewhat faulty: in some cases, the choice of his words, and frequently the construction of his sentences, are not such as the laws of perspicuity will justify, or the principles of criticism will sanction.
11 Pleasures of Hope.
Ar summer's eve, when heaven's aërial bow
What potent spirit guides the raptured eye
Or, if she holds an image to the view,
'Tis nature pictured too severely true.
Eternal Hope! when yonder spheres sublime Pealed their first notes to sound the march of time, Thy joyous youth began but not to fade. When all the sister planets have decayed, When, wrapt in fire, the realms of ether glow, And Heaven's last thunder shakes the world below,Thou, undismayed, shalt o'er the ruins smile, And light thy torch at Nature's funeral pile.
12. Importance of Scientific Knowledge to the Manufacturer and Practical Mechanic.
SEVERAL years ago, in conversing with a very ingenious and well-informed friend, now deceased, I was much struck by a transient observation of his. "In spite," said he, "of man's boasted intellect, he is as much indebted for his present state in civilized life to the hand as to the head. Suppose," proceeded he, "that the human arm had terminated in a hoof or a claw, instead of a hand, what would have been the present state of society, and how far would mere intellect have carried us?"
I do not know whether this idea was original with my friend or not, although I have never since heard it or met with it in books; and, as he did not follow it out any farther, I cannot say what were the particular consequences he meant to infer from it. Let us for a moment take up the supposition, and follow it out for ourselves. Let us suppose that all the other original, as well as secondary causes, which have operated upon the human race to bring civilized society to its present state of art, power, knowledge, refinement, and wide-spread comfort and luxury, to have remained as nearly as possible the same.
Let us imagine the reason of man to have been as powerful, his curiosity as active, his talent, courage, energy, enterprise, equal, nay, if you will, superior, to that which he now possesses and exerts. But, in place of his hand, that exquisite and wonderful piece of mechanism, so beautiful in its contrivance, so perfect in its construction, so infinite in its uses, obeying the mind's impulse with an accuracy and rapidity which the mind itself cannot comprehend or follow, in place of that hand he had the paw of a wild beast. Under such circumstances, unquestionably, some form of society, of government, and of social order might exist. The hu man mind might slowly observe and compare many of the truths of reason and the laws of nature
The first principles of mathematics, depending, as they do, upon pure reason, might possibly have been discovered, and the science of numbers, and figure, and measure developed in theory by individuals, to no inconsiderable extent. In a race of men so formed, there might have been poets and orators, whose fancy or eloquence might have rivalled or resembled those of the great names of the world's early history. There might, and there doubtless would, have been the frequent exertion of brute valor; and there probably would have been sometimes added that application of mind to courage, which makes of the soldier a hero, a leader, a conqueror. But here the force of mere mind, in such a world as ours, must have stopped. Without the mechanical assistance of the hand, most of the discoveries and improvements of each generation must have died with them, and left no preparatory stock of knowledge to the next, for the want of the art of writing. But this, however great it may seem in itself, is but the most inconsiderable of the privations to which man would be subject. Man," said Franklin, "is a tool-making animal;" and without the hand where would be the tools of agriculture- the plough, the spade, and the wagon? where the builder's skill, and the houses which now shelter happy families, in place of the cave and the forest? where the boat, the sail, the ship, which connect nations together, and make the wealth and the wisdom of each portion of our race in some degree the property of all? As we proceed in this analysis, we may thus trace back the comfort, the happiness, the safety, the splendor, nay, the very virtues, of social and civilized life to the industry of the hand.
Still, all this is the fruit of the labor of the hand, guided by intelligence. It is the toil of the hand, directed by experience, strengthened by knowledge gained by past experiment, by the observation of nature, and by the application of reason to that experience and observation. This it is that constitutes that enlightened labor to which society owes its elevation and its happiness. This it was that