Page images

are generally more necessary and peculiar to a certain class or body of men, than to mankind at large; whether otherwise they be distinguished for diversity and extent, or for solidity and method, bę they of the historical or philosophical species, and of more or less general utility, Every one that addicts himself to any one class or kind of such knowledge and science, devotes the greater part of his time and faculties to it, and thus distinguishes himself abovę others, bears and deserves the name of a man of learning. And, for rightly appreciating the value of this learning, we 'must previously make several remarks.

The first and most important is this: the value that learning has is no otherwise, for the greatest part, due to it, than as being a means to higher aims, and not as an ultimate object itself; and this it has in common with the generality of the other privileges and advantages that relate to human happiness. Particular kinds of knowledge, certain branches of learning, have, indeed, in themselves, a value, an intrinsic and lasting value; but thefe are few in number. Under this head we may, perhaps, reckon most of our mathematical and astronomica! knowledge, several of the deeper philofophịcal studies, a part of our religious notions; whatever is eternal, unalterable, and everlastingly useful truth all propositions and ideas that are of account in heaven as well as upon earth, among superior beings as well as among mankind; and though we may not possess a great many such propofitions and ideas, yet are we not totally destitute of them, and they indisputably compose the most precious part of our knowledge. All that falls under this denomination besides has no value whatever, as an end, but only as means. It is only fo far desirable, and is only so far deferving of our esteem, of our attention and our application, as it exercises the faculties of our mind, procures ourselves and others innocent and elevated pleasures, guides us in the track of truth and facili. tates the knowledge of it, diffuses activity among mankind, improves their outward welfare, provides for their accommodation, promotes their security, and helps them in the prosecution of their business, or procures them any other adventitious benefit. Hereto belong the generality of historical, most of the mechanical and philological sciences, and the greatest part of the learning of the theologian, the phyfician, and the lawyer. They are only means, no more than implements, by which we may forward and attain certain good purposes in our present state; and which, when these ends are once ob tained, lose absolutely all their value, and become useless, like old scaffoldings. That man, however, would think foolishly, who should suppose we might despise and reject them, while they are necessary to the prosecution of the building we are carrying on, before the structure be completely finished.

Hence spontaneously arises a second rule, of fervice to us in forming a right judgment of learning,


and the several branches of it. It is this : the greater service and general utility it is of, the greater is likewise its value. Studies, absolutely unprofitable, when considered at least as means to farther views, are, indeed, no part at all of learning ; many parts of it, however, are unworthy of the painful and indefatigable industry, the great application of time and abilities that are bestowed upon them. Many debase and weaken the mind of a man, instead of elevating and strengthening it; and benumb and contract his heart, instead of enlarging it, and quickening it to great and generous sentiments. Many lead off such as employ themselves in them from the design of their creation, from their proper perfe&ion, rather than facilitate them in the prosecution of it. Such learned attainments and occupations arę, indeed, of but trifling value; often of much less value than the attainments and occupations of the artificer or the labourer; and he that makes them his principal employment has no right to complain, if he be neither more respected, nor more happy, than so many others of the unlearned, who trifle away their time like him, and dissipate their powers. No, he alone deserves to be so, and that in a high degree, whose learning is, in any observable way, beneficial and generally useful ; who can give an account to himself, and to others, of what he has done and performed for the advantage of his fellow-creatures ; who effectually has kindled more light, and called forth more activity, in him



self and about himn; who has learnt to think and to live better himself; and has likewise, mediately or immediately, been the occafion that others think more justly, and live more prudently or happily.

A third circumstance, which falls under confideration in our researches into the real value of learning, especially in regard to particular perfons, is this : the more modesty and true wisdom it has to accompany and guide it, so much the greater is its value. If learning allow room to pride, it soon de. generates into arrogance and tyranny; not unfrequently prevents its pofsefsor from making greater progress in knowledge and science; often renders it unserviceable to others, or of but little ,use; and how very much must this detract from its worth! Still less value has the learning which has no morally good influence on the mind and temper of the learned man; which allows him to think as meanly, and to act as perversely and foolishly, and as flavishly to follow the calls of his lusts and passions, as the ignorant and the unlearned; and in proportion as it procures but little real and durable advantage to himself, so much must this defect diminish its utility in regard of others, and weaken its influence on human happiness. No, then alone does learning display herself in her native dignity, in her full fplendor, and fuffer none to doubt of her high value, when she

appears in the company of modesty and wisdom; when she is not blind to her own infirmities and failings, and is not afhamed of her


limitations; when she readily communicates herself to others; when she rather informs in the spirit of meekness, than decides in a haughty imperious tone; when she exerts herself in generous sentiments, in a beneficent and active zeal in the cause of truth, of virtue, of liberty, of human happiness, and by an eminently wife, manly, virtuous behaviour, worthy of the enlightened man.

This once premised, let us more closely examine wherein the real value of learning consists, and on what grounds it merits our respect.

Erudition is, first, mental perfection, and promotes mental perfection; and, if this be a real and covetable privilege of mankind, then must erudition be fo too. The man of learning, who deserves that name, knows more of truth, fees farther into the principles and connections of truths, goes more surely to work in the investigation of them, and is therefore less liable to be imposed upon by appear. ance. His acuter fight takes in more objects, his trained

eye explores much farther; he thinks more perspicuously, more profoundly, more justly, than the generality of mankind can do; and who but must confess this to be a perfection, a prerogative? Allow that he fometimes misses of his mark; allow that he is liable to false conclusions and errors ; let the whole amount of the highly useful truths he has made out, clearly explained, or first discovered, be, comparatively, never so small;' yet he has been all that time exércising his mental powers, learning


« PreviousContinue »