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"I NO Sooner come into the Library, but I bolt the door to me, excluding Lust, Ambition, Avarice, and all such vices, whose nurse is Idleness, the mother of Ignorance and Melancholy. In the very lap of eternity, among so many divine souls, I take my seat with so lofty a spirit, and sweet content, that I pity all that know not this happiness."
[HEINSIUS, of Leyden, in D'Israeli's Curiosities of Literature.]
"Read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider."
[BACON's Essays-On Studies. Harpers' ed. p. 179.]
1. DEFINITION OF READING.
Reading, in its true sense and use, is study-sometimes a laborious, sometimes an entertaining perusal of books-but always the study of books.Reading," says Dr. Watts, "is that means or method of knowledge, whereby we acquaint ourselves with what other men have published to the world, in their writings."-Watts on the Improvement of the Mind, p. 38.
2. OBJECTS OF READING.
"The question recurs, What is the proper object of Reading? what the end to be kept in view, in the choice and perusal of books? One great end, doubtless, is Knowledge..... One object of reading, then, is to acquire knowledge. But we must bear in mind that knowledge, in itself, is not so much an end as a means, and that we are always to keep in view its ulterior uses and applications. .... Knowledge brings with it duties which are not to be neglected. It is a talent or trust; and to enable us to employ it aright, we should understand well the end for which God has given us capacities for acquiring it. On no subject are men more likely to err; and how grievous the error is, and in what ways it manifests itself. let Lord Bacon teach. 'But the greatest error,' says that great writer, of all the rest, is the mistaking or misplacing of the last or farthest end of knowledge; for men have entered into a desire of learning and knowledge, sometimes upon, &c.. . . . . seldom sincerely to give a true account of their gift of reason to the benefit and use of men, as if there were sought in knowledge a couch. &c., &c., and not a rich store-house for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man's estate.' Such, then, is the use of knowledge. It constitutes a rich store-house, whence we should draw materials for glorifying God, and improving man's estate. In other words knowledge is to be employed by us in doing good. ... . This remark leads us to notice another of the benefits to be derived from books, when judiciously selected and properly read. This is the improvement of our intellectual powers and moral sentiments. So, again, in regard to taste..... What is true of intellect and taste, is not less true of our moral sentiments. (Recapitulation.) Why should we read? Partly to procure immediate gratification, but principally,-1st, to acquire knowledge, both for its own sake, and for its uses: 2ndly, to improve the intellectual powers: 3dly, to refine taste: and 4thly, to strengthen the moral and religious sentiments. "-Professor Alonzo Potter, D. D. Advantages of Science, Harpers' Ed., pp. 14, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 31.
"In all our studies and pursuits of knowledge, let us remember that virtue and vice, sin and holiness, and the conformation of our hearts and lives to the duties of true religion and morality, are things of far more consequence than all the furniture of our understandings, and the richest treasures of mere speculative knowledge. Watts on the Mind, p. 69.
3. GENERAL ADVANTAGES OF READING.
"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. The advantages (of
reading) are such as these: 1. By reading, we acquaint ourselves, in a very extensive manner, with the affairs, actions, and thoughts of the living and the dead, in the most remote nations, and in most distant ages; and that with as much ease, as though they lived in our own age and nation. By reading we may learn something from all parts of mankind. 2. By reading, we learn not only the actions and the sentiments of distant nations and ages, but we transfer to ourselves the knowledge and improvements of the most learned men, the wisest and the best of mankind, when or wheresoever they lived. For though many books have been written by weak and injudicious persons, yet the most of those books, which have obtained great reputation in the world, are the products of great and wise men in their several ages and nations. ... 3. When we read good authors, we learn the best sentiments, even of those wise and learned men. For they studied hard, and committed to writing their maturest thoughts, and the result of their long study and experience... 4. It is another advantage of reading that we may review what we read, we may consult the page again and again, and meditate on it, at successive seasons, in our serenest and retired hours, having the book always at hand.”Watts, pp. 38, 41, 42.
"Written records constitute the only authentic memorials of the past; and, since those records have been multiplied by printing, and spread over the world, they are truly imperishable. Nor only so; they are now the property of the whole race. Now almost all minds experience their enlightening and quickening influence. There is hardly an individual whose knowledge is not enlarged by the use of books; while, at the same time, multitudes are incited by them to add, by their own labors and discoveries, to the great sum of human attainments. Another advantage of the knowledge gained from books is, that . . . . . it is much of it arranged and systematized. Thus we are enabled to see the dependence and connection of different truths; and, what is more important, we learn to study principles and laws, instead of losing ourselves amid a multitude of incongruous facts. . . . . How important, then, that every one, who would cultivate in his own mind the true spirit of investigation, or who would acquire that power which results from knowledge, how important that he should become familiar with such books as illustrate the nature, and imbody the fruits of this system of inquiry. "--Potter: Advantages of Science, pp. 16, 17.
4. IMPORTANCE OF READING, TO THE BUSINESS MAN, THE MECHANIC AND THE MANUFACTURER.
"Let me invite your attention to the consideration of the probable beneficial effect of the diffusion of scientific knowledge, among those practically and habitually employed in the mechanic and manufacturing arts, and it is likely to operate upon the improvement and advancement of the arts and sciences themselves...... Perhaps there is no better definition of science, than that it is knowledge acquired by the thoughts and the experience of many, and so
methodically arranged, as to be comprehended by any one..... The theory of science, then, is the exposition of known facts, arranged in classes, and expressed in words. The advantages of experience and observation on a large scale, are by no means peculiar to mechanical ingenuity. ....... It is peculiarly true with regard to the chemistry of the arts.
In fact, the very foundation of modern chemistry, or, at least, of that branch of it termed pneumatic chemistry, was laid in a brewery. There had been no lack of ingenuity, no sparing of labor or expense, no flagging of zeal or curiosity among the old chemists. But the larger and more striking field of observation and combination afforded to Dr. Priestley, by the vats and gases of his neighbor, the brewer, opened a new world to inquiry. From the thick vapors of the brew-house, like one of the gigantic genii of oriental romance, arose that mighty science which has given to enlightened art a more than magical sway. ... It is wonderful how the elements of the most precious knowledge are spread around us; how to the curious and instructed observer every thing is full and rich with the means of benefiting the human race. The slightest accession to our knowledge of nature, or our command over it, is sure, ultimately, to connect itself with some other truth, or to unfold its own powers or relations, and thus to lead on to some practical benefit, which the boldest conjecture could never have anticipated. The ignorant and the idle, suffer all such opportunities to pass by them as the vagrant breeze. But such will surely not be the case with industrious men, prepared by general science to turn those occasions to the best account. .... I argue from experience. ... Take, for instance, the history of one of the most recent and precious gifts which chemistry has made to medicine. A few years ago, a soap manufacturer of Paris, M. Courtois, remarked that the residuum of his lye, when exhausted of the alkali, produced a corrosion of his copper boilers, which struck him as deserving special inquiry. He put it,' says Mr. Herschel, 'into the nands of a scientific chemist for analysis, and the result was, the discovery o. one of the most singular and important chemical elements, iodine. Curiosity was excited; the origin of the new substance was traced to the seaplants, from whose ashes the principal ingredient of soap is obtained, and ultimately to the sea-water itself. It was thence hunted through nature, discovered in salt mines and springs, and pursued into all bodies which have a marine origin; among the rest into sponge. A medical practitioner, (Dr. Coindet, a Swiss physician,) then called to mind a reputed remedy for the cure of one of the most grievous and unsightly disorders to which the human species is subject-the goitre... and which was said to have been originally cured by the ashes of burned sponge. Led by this indication, he tried the effect of iodine on that complaint, and the result established the extraordinary fact, that this substance, taken as a medicine, acts with the utmost promptitude and energy on goitre, dissipating the largest and most inveterate in a short time, and acting (of course with occasional failures, like all other medicines,) as a specific or natural antagonist against that odious deformity.' Now consider what a map of human misery, for a long series of generations to come, has been relieved or removed by this discovery, arising from the single_circumstance of a Parisian soap manufacturer being an observing man, who understood the uses and nature of chemical analysis. Let us cross the channel to Great Britain, for some farther examples. The Telescope, in its earliest stages of invention had received all the improvement that could then be furnished by the genius of the great Galileo, the father of modern science, and by the superhuman philosophical sagacity of Sir Isaac Newton, as well as of their disciples and followers, the most learned and ingenious men of Europe, such as the English Hooke, the Dutch Huygens, and the German Euler.The product of these labors was admirable proof of the power of human invention; yet it was accompanied with imperfections, especially in the refract ing telescope, that seemed insuperable. The removal of this defect
was reserved for John Dollond, originally a silk weaver, and afterward an optician and instrument-maker, of London. Half a century after Newton's exper
iments, Dollond conceived the idea, that the refractive powers of different kinds of glass might be made to correct each other. In this he completely succeeded. Had he not been familiar with the science of Newton, Dollond would never have attempted this discovery; had he not also been a prac tical mechanic, it is hardly probable that he would have succeeded. The incidental mention of the ultimate advantages derived by the art of naviga tion from the labors of Dollond, suggests to my mind another illustration, and recalls the name of John Smeaton. He was by regular trade, a philosoph ical instrument-maker, but his active mind had taken a broad range of rational curiosity and employment, embracing almost every thing in science or art, that could throw light on mechanical contrivance. His inventions of this sort were very numerous and ingenious, but his solid fame rests chiefly upon the erection of the Eddystone lighthouse. There are few narratives of more intense interest or varied instruction than his own account of this great work....... The names and lives of our own distinguished benefactors of mankind-Franklin, and Rittenhouse, and Whitney, and Fulton, and Perkins -press upon my memory. . . . . . The history of Printing offers another tempting field of collateral illustration. . . . . . . I might tell of the Italian Aldus and his sons, of Henry Stephens, of Paris, and his learned family, of the Dutch Elgivirs, the English Bouyer, the Scotch Foulis and Duncan, and surely could not forget the noblest name of them all, our own Franklin...... I must also reluctantly refrain from detailing the studies, inventions and improvements of the potter, Josiah Wedgewood. .... But from among the names which
thus crowd upon me, let me adduce one more bright example. . . . . . . . It was about this season of the year, just seventy years ago, that the instrument-maker employed by the University of Glasgow, received from the professor of natural philosophy in that ancient seminary of learning, a broken model of the steam-engine, as then used, to be put in order for his lectures. An ordinary workman, after admiring the ingenuity of this imperfect machine, would have made the necessary repairs, sent it back to the lecture-room, and the world would have gone on as usual. But it had fallen into the hands of James Watt, a young mechanic, of singular and various inventive sagacity, and of most patient and persevering ingenuity, who, in addition to much miscellane ous information, and some mathematical acquirement, had been led by a liberal curiosity to master all that was then known of chemistry, and theoretical natural philosophy in its broadest sense. . Look around for yourselves
-on our rivers and lakes-on the manufactures of Europe and America, piled up in our shops-on the railroads which traverse, or are just about to traverse, our continent-on the wealth, the power, the rapid interchange of commerce and intelligence produced by the modern steam-engine, and then let me remind you, that all this is the fruit of the solitary labors and studies of a Glasgow work-shop; directed by an active, vigorous, daring, but most patient and persevering mind, which knew how to use well the knowledge that other wise or ingenious men had previously reasoned out or discovered..
I have not
yet touched upon the influence of knowledge, upon the operative and producing classes themselves, in improving the character, raising the thoughts, awakening sleeping talent, and thus qualifying this great and valuable body, for the able, just, right, wise and honorable discharge of all the duties of men, of citizens, of freemen, of patriots. This is alone, and in itself, a theme full of interest -full of excitement... Such were Saratoga's victors, such the brave men whose blood earned our liberties. Foremost among them was the blacksmith of Rhode Island, Nathaniel Greene; he whom Hamilton, while he honored Washington as 'the first man of the country,' did not hesitate to style the first soldier of the Revolution....... There also was the book-binder, Knox, and from among the mechanics of New York, came forth our Willet, the bravest of the brave.' Abroad, our interests were watched over, and our national dignity represented, by the printer, Franklin. . . . . . . . . Foremost in our councils at home, and enrolled among the immortal names of the committee of five, who prepared and reported the Declaration of Independence, was
the shoemaker, Roger Sherman, a man self-educated and self-raised. Here were other names like these which I cannot now pause to recapitulate. ... Still I cannot forbear from paying a passing tribute to the memory of a townsman and a friend. . . . . . . The courage, seamanship, and ability of Commodore Chauncey, would have been exerted in vain, had they not been seconded by the skill, the enterprise, the science, the power of combination, and the ready and inexhaustible resources of his ship-builder, Henry Eckford. The ardor for improvement, the thirst for knowledge, manifested by the mechanics of this and others of our cities, are gratifying indeed.. But they derive a tenfold interest and value from the greater results which they foretell, and the more glorious future they appear to usher in." Gulian C. Verplanck's Discourse before the Mechanics Institute of New York, Nov. 27, 1833-passim.
5. CHOICE OF Books.
"The world is full of books; but there are multitudes which are so ill-written, that they were never worthy any man's reading; and there are thousands more which may be good in their kind, but are worth nothing, when the month, or year, or occasion is past, for which they were written. Others may be valuable in themselves for some special purpose, or in some peculiar science, but are not fit to be perused by any but those who are engaged in that particular science or business.. It is of vast advantage or improvement of knowledge and saving time, for a young man to have the most proper books for his reading recommended by a judicious friend. . . . . . . There is yet another sort of books, (in addition to books of science and complete treatises on subjects, which are first recommended,) of which it is proper I should say something while I am treating on this subject; and these are history, poesy, travels, books of diversion or amusement; among which we may reckon also, little common pamphlets, newspapers, or such like. For many of these, I confess, once reading may be sufficient, where there is a tolerably good memory..
Still let it be remembered, that where the historical narrative is of considerable moment, where the poesy, oratory, &c., shine with some degrees of perfection and glory, a single reading is neither sufficient to satisfy a mind, that has a true taste for this sort of writing; nor can we make the fullest and best improvement of them, without proper reviews, and that in our retirement as well as in company. Among these writings of the latter kind, we may justly reckon short miscellaneous essays on all manner of subjects; such as the Occasional Papers, the Tattlers, the Spectators, and some other books, that have been compiled out of the weekly or daily products of the press. . . . Among other books, which are proper and requisite, in order to improve our knowledge in general, or our acquaintance with any particular science, it is necessary that we should be furnished with vocabularies and dictionaries of several sorts, namely, of common words, idioms, and phrases, in order to explain their sense; of technical words, or the terms of art, to show their use in arts and sciences; of names of men, countries, towns, rivers, &c., which are called historical and geographical dictionaries, &c. These are to be consulted and used upon every ... If such books are not at hand, you must supply the want of them, as well as you can, by consulting such as can inform you." Watts on the Mind, pp. 59, 69, 71, 72.
"A wise and good man was accustomed, in his devotion, to thank God for books. He did well; good books, rightly used, are among our greatest blessings. Books introduce us to the noblest minds of our race, and permit us to commune intimately with them, even at those privileged hours, when they obtain their brightest visions of truth, and pour forth their loftiest or most touching eloquence. It must be remembered, however, that all books are not good books, and that even good books may be so read, as to fail of their appropriate ends. Milton has said, that 'a wise man can sooner gather gold out of