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LETTER XVII. To Mr. Anthony Gouverneur, at the Island of Curacao, a youth of about fifteen
BEFORE this, we hope you have safe arrived at Curacao, and are happily situated with your worthy brother there. I cannot but rejoice at the thought of these circumstances in your favour, and assure myself that by your dutiful behaviour, integrity and industry, you will endear yourself to your brother, who, if your life shall be preserved until you shall become of age; and if his life also shall be prolonged to that period, will have it in his power to be of great service to you in business, and who, I doubt not, if you shall be deserving of his esteem, will, with pleasure, do you every necessary kind office in his power: And from the goodness of your disposition, and the amiableness of your past conduct, I do not entertain the least doubt, but you will give satisfaction to Mr. Gouverneur and do honour to yourself
. But how successful soever you may be in these particulars, or in the concernments of the world, unless you shall be truly religious, your end must be miserable. Let me, therefore, with fervency, entreat you, to pay due attention to the "one thing needful." Consider where would be your profit, should you gain even the whole world, and at last lose your soul. Be diligent therefore in the practice of Christianity: Pray to God, frequently, at least three times each day, and with ardour. Revere the holy Sabbath, Read the sacred writings often, and often meditate on the things of the invisible world, and on death and judgment. Avoid idle, profane discourse; evil company, and the very appearance of iniquity. Dare to be sincerely pious, though this should expose you to the derision of some persons. Remember, none but the unworthy, can despise so praise-worthy a thing as the practice of religion; remember too, that the favour of God is to be
preferred before the favour of evil men; and that those who are "ashamed of Christ and his ways, of such he will be ashamed when he shall come to judge the world with his holy angels !" Oblige me with a letter by every opportunity, and I will answer your epistles, with cheerfulness. Adieu, My dear Anthony, and believe me to be,
Your sincere friend,
And very humble servant, Newtown, 26th Dec. 1783.
ON DRUNKENNESS. Oh that men should put an enemy into their mouths to steal away their brains.
SHAKSPEARE. All the crimes on the earth do not destroy so many of the Human Race, nor alienate so much Property as Drunkenness.
ON WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE.
WHERE shall wisdom be found ? and where is the place of understanding ?
Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living.
The depth saith, It is not in me: and the sea saith, It is not with me.
It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof.
It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire.
The gold and the crystal cannot equal it; and the exchange of it shall not be for jewels of fine gold.
No mention shall be made of corals, or of pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies.
Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.
Happy is the man that findeth wisdom. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand, riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
Let the enlargement of your knowledge be one constant view and design in life; since there is no time or place, no transaction, occurrence, or engagement, which excludes us from this method of improving the mind.
When we are in the house, or in the city, wherever we turn our eyes, we see the works of men; when we are in the country, we behold more of the works of God. The skies, the ground above and beneath us, and the animal and vegetable world round about us, may entertain our observations with ten thousand varieties.
From observation of the day and night, the hours and the flying minutes, learn a wise improvement of time; and be watchful to seize every opportunity to increase in knowledge.
From the vices and follies of others, observe what is hateful in them; consider how such a practice looks in another person, and remember, that it looks as ill or worse in yourself. From their virtues learn something worthy of your imitation.
From your natural powers, sensation, judgment, memory, hands, feet, &c. make this inference, that they were not given you for nothing, but for some useful employment for the good of your fellow creatures, your own best interest and final happiness. Thus from every appearance in nature, and from
every occurrence of life, you may derive natural, moral, and religious observations to entertain your minds, as well as rules of conduct in the affairs relating to this life, and that which is to come.
Let the circumstances and situations of life be what they will, a man should never neglect the improvement that is to be derived from observation. Let him travel into the East or West Indies, and fulfil the duties of the military or mercantile life there ; let him rove through the earth or the seas for his own humour as a traveller, or pursue his diversion in what part of the world he pleases as a gentleman; let prosperous or adverse fortune call him to the most distant part of the globe; still let him carry on his knowledge, and the improvement of his faculties by wise observations. By these means he may render himself some way useful to mankind.
But in making your observations on persons, take care not to indulge that busy curiosity, which is ever inquiring into private and domestic affairs, with an endless itch of learning the secret histories of families. Such curiosity begets suspicions, jealousies, and furnishes matter for the evil passions of the mind, and the impertinences of discourse.
Be not also too hasty to erect general theories from a few particular observations, appearances, or experiments. This is what the logicians call a false induction. A hasty determination of some universal principles, without a due survey of all the particular cases which may be included in them, is the way to lay a trap for our understandings in their investigation of any subject, and we shall often be taken captives by mistake and falsehood.
There are five eminent means or methods, whereby the mind is improved in knowledge; and these are, Observation, Reading, Instruction by lectures, Conversation, and Meditation; the last of which is in a more peculiar manner called study.
Observation is the notice that we take in all occurrences in human life, whether they be sensual or intellectual; whether relating to persons or things, to ourselves or to others. It is this that furnishes us even from our infancy with a rich variety of our ideas, propositions, words, and phrases. It is by this we know that fire will burn, that the sun gives light, that a horse eats grass, that an acorn produces an oak, that man is a being capable of reasoning and discourse, that our bodies die and are carried to the grave, and that one generation succeeds another. All those things which we see, which we hear or feel, which we perceive by sense or consciousness, or which we know in a direct manner with scarcely any exercise of our reflecting faculties, or our reasoning powers, may be included under the general name of observation.
Reading is the means whereby we acquaint ourselves with what other men have published to the world in their compositions. These arts of reading and writing, are of infinite advantage; for by them we are made partakers of the sentiments, observations, reasonings, and improvements of all the learned world, in the most remote nations, and in former ages, almost from the beginning of mankind.
Public or Private Lectures, are such verbal instructions as aro given by a teacher, while the learners attend in silence. We learn in this manner religion from the pulpit ; philosophy or theology from the professor's chair; and mathematics by a teacher shewing us various theorems or problems, that is, speculations or practices, by demonstration and operation with all the instruments of art necessary to those operations.
Conversation is another method of improving our minds, wherein, by mutual discourse and inquiry, we learn the sentiments of others, as well as communicate our sentiments to others in the
Sometimes indeed the advantage is only on one side; as when a teacher and a learner meet and discourse together; but frequently the profit is mutual. Under the head of conversation we rank disputations of various kinds.
Meditation, or Study, includes those exercises of the mind whereby we render all the former methods useful for our increase in true knowledge and wisdom. It is by meditation we confirm our remembrance of things, of our own experience, and of the observations we make. It is by meditation that we draw various inferences, and establish in our minds general principles of knowledge. It is by meditation that we fix in our memory whatever we learn, and form our own judgment of the truth or falsehood, the strength or weakness, of what others speak or write. It is meditation or study, that draws out long chains of argument, and searches and finds deep and difficult truths, which before lay concealed in darkness.
Each of these five methods has its peculiar advantages, by which it materially assists the others; and its peculiar defects, which have need to be supplied by the assistance of the rest.
Skill in the sciences is indeed the business and profession but of a small part of mankind; but there are many others placed in such an exalted rank in the world, as allows them much leisure and large opportunities to cultivate their reason, and to beautify and enrich their minds with various knowledge. Even the lower orders of men have particular callings in life wherein they ought to acquire a just degree of skill, and this is not to be done well without thinking and reasoning about them.
The common duties and benefits of society, which belong to every man living, as we are social creatures, and even our native and necessary relations to a family, a neighbourhood, or government, oblige all persons whatsoever to use their reasoning powers upon a thousand occasions; every hour of life calls for some regular exercise of our judgment to time and things, persons and actions : without a prudent and discreet determination in matters before us, we shall be plunged into perpetual errors in our conduct.
Now that which should always be practised, must at some time be learnt.
Besides, every son and daughter of Adam has a most important concern in the affairs of a life to come, and therefore it is a matter of the highest moment for every one to understand, to judge, and to reason aright about the things of religion. It is vain for any to say we have no leisure or time for it. The daily intervals of time, and vacancies from necessary labour, together with one day in seven in the Christian world, allows sufficient time for this, if men would but apply themselves to it with half so much zeal and diligence as they do to the trifles and amusements of this life, and it would turn to infinitely better account.
Thus it appears to be the necessary duty and the interest of every person living, to improve his understanding, to inform his judgment, to treasure up useful knowledge, and to acquire the skill of good reasoning, as far as his station, capacity, and circumştances, furnish him with proper means for it. Our mistakes in judgment may plunge us into much folly and guilt in practice. By acting without thought or reason, we dishonour the God that made us reasonable creatures, we often become injurious to our neighbour, kindred, or friends, and we bring sin and misery upon ourselves : for we are accountable to God, our judge, for every part of our irregular and mistaken conduet
, where he hath given us sufficient advantages to guard against those mistakes.*
ANECDOTE OF BOURDALOUE. THE reputation for eloquence, which this celebrated preacher very early acquired, reaching the ears of Louis XIV. his majesty sent for him to preach the Advent sermon in 1670, which he did with such success, that he was retained, for many years after, as a preacher at court. He was called the king of preachers, and the preacher to kings; and Louis himself, said, he would rather hear the repetitions of Bourdaloue than the novelties of another. With a collected air, Bourdaloue had little action; he kept his eyes generally half-closed, and penetrated the hearts of the people by the sound of a voice uniform and solemn. On one occasion, he turned the peculiarity of his external aspect, to a very memorable advantage. After depicting in soul-awakening terms a sinner of the first magnitude, he suddenly opened his eyes, and casting them full on the king, who sat opposite to him, he added in a voice of thunder, “Thou art the man.” The effect was magical-confounding: When he bad finished his discourse he immediately went, and threw himself at the feet of his sovereign : “Sire (said he,) behold your
feet one who is the most devoted of your servants: but punish him not, that in the pulpit he can own no other master but the King of kings."--Thornton's Anecdotes.
* For farther information upon this important subject, the young reader is referred to Watts on the Improvement of the Mind, (from which work the above is extracted) a book which ought to be carefully perused by all young persons, partitularly by those who enjoy the advantages of a regular education. --BAXTER.