mately connected with the latter, which it always presupposes, but nevertheless extends beyond it. A man possessed of a good judgment, must not only have been in the habit of discriminating his perceptions and ideas from each, so as to prevent confusion among them; but must also have been a nice observer of causes and effects, the characters and conduct of mankind, together with all those motives which usually influence their actions. Mr. Locke, with satisfactory clearness and justness of conception has explained, upon the principles of human nature, that ordinary maxim, that men who have the readiest wit have not generally the clearest judgment, or most profound reason. The solution which he offers for this common observation, is, that wit and judgment imply two opposite exercises of the mind.

Wit consists, for the most part, in tracing among objects unexpected similitudes or incongruities, by which agreeable pictures are framed to amuse the fancy; while judgment, on the other hand, performs the opposite function of discriminating objects with nicety from each other, so as not to be imposed upon by distant similitudes, or the appearance of correspondence. He, therefore, who takes great delight in pursuing those similitudes and contrasts, with which he can entertain and enrich his fancy, will not be likely to excel in making those distinctions and separations of his ideas, in which consists the exercise of his discernment and judgment. This explanation of Mr. Locke, is just and satisfactory. There is no one, indeed, who can greatly excel as a wit without some degree of judgment, nor is it probable that there is any one who is entitled to the reputation of a man of profound judgment, who does not in some degree possess a talent for tracing those unexpected resemblances and contrasts, which afford such lively entertainment to the mind. The character of the mind, however, will be determined by the general prevalence of the one tendency or the other; and so limited in their nature are the human faculties, that he

who strongly inclines to the indulgence of the one exercise of his mind, will scarcely ever be found greatly to excel in the other. This view of the subject may serve also to explain the observation of Mr. Burke, that the study of the law, at the same time that it tends to sharpen the intellectual powers, and render the judgment more acute, does not tend, in the same degree, to liberalize the mind, and enlarge its comprehension. This is certainly the case, and arises from the circumstance, that the science of jurisprudence, and the study of the law, consist almost solely in making nice distinctions, and separating from each other those ideas which seem to be nearly related; that the discernment and judgment are almost the only powers exerted in the prosecution of them; and of course, while those powers are vigorously exercised, and greatly whetted, the mind is not likely to be furnished with any of those intermediate ideas, that can conduct it through a series of conclusions in the other branches of science, or with those agreeable pictures and images, with which the poet and fine writer, entertain the imagination. Nothing, however, can contribute more effe ctually to give clearness, precision and accuracy to our conceptions, than the study of the law, or afford a better preparation for the successful prosecution of the more abstruse sciences, if the pleader can find time from his entangling occupations to turn his attention to them.

One of the most important acquisitions for those who wish to render themselves (listinguished for their attainments in science, their skill in the arts, or for a sound and deep insight into the affairs of mankind, is an early and patient habit of attention, to whatever subject at the time is presented to their consideration. The habit of close and intense thinking, which is almost always to be acquired by care and assiduity, although it is probable by some persons with greater, and by others with less difficulty, is the cause of those great distinctions which are found amongst men, rather than any mate.

rial differences in their natural endowments. Some persons, indeed, may be incapable of this nice and discriminating attention, from the original dullness and imperfection in their organs of perception, and faculties of thinking; but many more are rendered so by a culpable neglect and indifference as to the cultivation of their powers of discernment, or by that precipitate and hurried manner with which they review every object that presents itself to their consideration. Newton, when asked by what means it was, that he was enabled so far to surpass other men in his attainments and discoveries in science, replied, that he did not consider any thing which he had done, so much the result of any superiority in his natural parts, as of the habit of attention which he had contracted in early life. This is the grand secret by which he accomplished such wonders; and it is a secret, of the full importance of which it deeply concerns the student to be apprised. By means of this habit of close attention, early contracted and pertinaciously pursued, there are no limits to be set to the acquisitions which might be made, even by noderate talents and endowments. It is by this that the painter, the sculptor, the poet and fine writer, are able so far to extend the acquired perceptions of their “mental eye,” as to have the whole compass of nature with the minutest and nicest springs in its vast machinery, at a single glance unfolded to their view. If we narrowly examine the conduct and feelings of children when they are first beginning to learn, we shall find that their great difficulty consists in obtaining the power of fixing their attention; and when this habit is completely formed, the great work of their education, as far as it depends upon the assistance they can derive from instructors, is accomplished.

We should here have concluded our observations on the subject of attention, did we not feel it incumbent on us, according to our original plan, to undertake the refutation of some errors into which professor Stewart has fallen in his dissertation upon it. We think it would be difficult to find


any author more errors comprised in so short a compass, than there are in this dissertation, while, at the same time, those errors are recommended by an artifice of language and plausibility of argument and illustration, well calculated to impose upon the understandings of those who are slightly conversant with the science of the human mind, but have never taken the pains fully to investigate it. In the first place, the professor asserts, in his remarks upon attention, " that he does not recollect that the power of attention has been mentioned by any of the writers on pneumatology in their enumeration of the faculties of the mind." Is not this assertion somewhat singular for a writer, who, in this very essay, refers several times to the treatise of Mr, Locke? Now Mr. Locke, in treating of what he denominates the simple modes of thinking, says;* “ when the ideas that offer themselves are taken notice of by the mind, and, as it were, registered in the memory, it is attention.” Is not this to enumerate attention among the operations of the mind; and of course recognising in our constitution a power by which that operation is performed? It may not, indeed, have been as fully considered and examined as its importance deserves; for I am inclined to think that upon none of our powers, save reason itself, does our progress in all kinds of knowledge more materially depend. The habit of closely attend. ing to his nicest perceptions, and marking with the greatest accuracy all the qualities and shades of difference between the various objects he converses with, forms one of the greatest distinctions between the philosopher and the vulgar. He, who, from the earliest period of life, shall form a determination to obtain distinct and accurate ideas about every thing presented to his inspection, or contemplation, whether it be an important fact or anecdote recorded in history, an interesting sentiment or description in a fine writer, or a

* Book 2, chap. 19. Treatise upon Understanding.

masterly argument and train of reasoning, will be able to attain by gradual accumulations, an extent of information, a justness of conception and a depth of penetration, of which in the commencement he had no idea. But to proceed with our professor. Perhaps when he asserts that no writer upon pneumatology had enumerated attention among the powers of the mind, he does not mean the same kind of attention as that act or power alluded to by Mr. Locke. This would seem to be inferable from his own expressions. “Helvetius, indeed,” proceeds the professor, “in his very ingenious work, de L'esprit, (so he calls that mass of crudities) has entitled one of his chapters, De l'inegale capacitè d'attention; but what he considers under this article, is chiefly that capacity of patient inquiry, upon which philosophical genius seems in a great measure to depend. He has remarked with the writers already mentioned, that the impression which any thing makes on the memory depends much on the degree of attention we give it; but he has taken no notice of that effort which is absolutely essential to the lowest degree of memory. It is this effort that I propose to consider at present; not those different degrees of attention which imprint things more or less deeply on the mind; but that act or effort without which we have no recollection or memory whatever.” Here we perceive that the professor proposes to treat, not as others had done, of that power or act of the mind denominated attention, but we are led to expect that we shall find disclosed to us what we had before considered as one of the secrets of nature, that act or effort without which we have no recollection or memory whatever; or in other words, what is the least degree of attention which must be paid to any thing by the mind, before we shall be able to recollect it. Upon the first propounding of this subject of inquiry, they, who are accustomed to philosophical speculations, and are acquainted with the legitimate objects of investigation to the human mind, would be inclined shrewdly to suspect,

« ForrigeFortsett »