Page images


III. Not sufficient Reflection. It is the neglect to spare time for reflection that constitutes the third of the errors which were mentioned as being common among readers. It is the most common of them allthe great epidemic of the reading world, and the principal cause of a vast deal of reading being done to little or no useful purpose.

Among the peculiar doctrines of the Hindoo Mythology, it was taught, as we are told by the most bookful of Laureates, that prayers, penances, and sacrifices possess an inherent and actual value, not at all depending upon the disposition or motives of him who performs them. They are considered as drafts upon heaven, for which the gods are not at liberty to refuse payment. A somewhat similar superstition appears to prevail very generally in relation to the efficacy of reading as a means of improving the understanding. It seems to be thought that the process of reading, in whatever manner conducted, has a necessary and specific power to confer wisdom; that if


a certain length of time be daily and yearly consumed among books, the result must inevitably be a proportionate increase in knowledge; and that if a certain number of volumes be read, whatever wisdom they contain must, as a thing of course, be transferred to the mind of the reader. All that is necessary, according to the common notion, to put one in possession of knowledge and mental ability, is to be a diligent student; and all that is required to constitute him a diligent student, is that he be an industrious and persevering reader.

Such is the prevalent doctrine. Very little thought is required to perceive its absurdity.

In order to derive any real advantage from reading, it is necessary in the first place, that we should distinctly comprehend what is asserted or denied in each proposition that we read.

This is the easiest part of the labour; but it is not always performed or even thought of, by great readers, many of whom read in the same manner as Milton's daughters read Homer and Euripides. And when it is performed, it is not all that is necessary.

It is not sufficient to know barely what opinions or doctrines are stated in the books. This may be called historic knowledge, and is of but very small value. We must, in addition, inquire whether or not these opinions are correct and true. And to do this,

[ocr errors]

we must understand and follow the train of the author's reasonings, observe the strength and closeness of their connexion, and ascertain upon what they are founded. In short, we must think. We must meditate and reflect, interrogate our own minds, and admit no conclusions without comprehending their reason and evidence.*

To read in this manner is, I know, slow and dif. ficult process. It cannot be done without a good deal of labour, especially in the first years of your study, or when you are commencing the investigation of any new subject. But be of good courage, and persevere; your labour will be amply rewarded. What you find at first so difficult, will, after a time become easy, as it becomes habitual; and when you have formed the habit of reading with thought and meditation, you have obtained the golden key to all the treasures that lie hid in books. When you have read in this manner—"read, marked, learned and inwardly digested,”—the few best books on any subject, you can afterwards read any other on the same subject with ease and rapidity; for you will generally

* Prima cura sit, ut rem penitus intelligas, dein subinde tecum verses et repetas; et in hoc cicurandus est animus, ut dictum est, ut quoties opus est, cogitationi possit insistere. Nam si cui mens est adeo silvestris ut in hoc cicurari non possit, haudquaquam est idonea literis.-ERASMUS, Ars Notoria.

[ocr errors]

find but little in them to detain youbut little that is new, or with which you are not already sufficiently acquainted.*

The first, and the principal difficulty in the art of studying is to command the attention, and to keep the mind fixed on the subject before it. How hard it is to do this, you will observe if you notice the child who is taking his first painful lessons in literature; or the much older pupil, who is for the first time endeavouring to learn something from books. You will

* Southey's mode of reading may furnish the advanced student a useful suggestion:-“He was as rapid a reader as could be conceived, having the power of perceiving by a glance down the page whether it contained anything which he was likely to make use of. A slip of paper lay on his desk, and was used as a marker ; and with a slightly pencilled S he would note down the passage, put a reference on the paper, with some brief note of the subject, which he would transfer to his note-book, and in the course of a few hours he had classified and arranged everything in the work which it was likely he would ever want. The quickness with which this was done was very remarkable. I have often known him receive a parcel of books one afternoon, and the next have found his mark throughout perhaps two or three different volumes; yet, if a work took his attention particularly, he was not rapid in its perusal; and on some authors, such as the old divines, he fed, as he expressed it, slowly, and carefully, dwelling on the page, and taking in its contents deeply and deliberately-like an epicure with his wine, “Searching its subtle flavour.'” --Southey's Life and Correspondence.


find that the attention of each of them is contiuually flying off from the task. To restrain and confine it, almost by force if necessary, is indispensable to success in study. The intellect can do nothing towards the investigation of one subject when it has wandered away to another of a different nature.

If, when you have your medical books open before you, and appear to be buried in their perusal, your thoughts are in reality engaged with other topics; if you are occupied with the memory or the anticipation of pleasures and amusements; if you are brooding over the various cares and troubles of life; if you are thinking of the Civil War, with “its glory and its havoc,” with its “deeds of the war-like, counsels of the wise;" or if, as perhaps with many of you is more frequently the case, you are musing

. On Rosaline's bright eyes,

On her high forehead, and her scarlet lip,” if your thoughts are engrossed by any of these topics, or by any other topic than the one which you profess to be studying, you will make but small progress in your study; you will close your books with no more knowledge of their contents than when you opened them; you will receive no more addition to your professional information from the works of Lænnec, Louis, or Watson, than you might gain from

« PreviousContinue »