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dustry and application. The great business of study is, to form a mind, adapted and adequate to all times and all occasions; to which all nature is then laid open, and which may be said to possess the key of her inexhaustible riches.
Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distribution
of the Prizes, December 10. 1784.
OFTEN A LOVE OF IDLENESS. - · PITTORI IMPROVVISATORI APT TO BE CARELESS AND INCORRECT; SELDOM ORIGINAL AND STRIKING.
- THIS PROCEBDS FROM THEIR NOT STUDYING THE WORKS OF
GENTLEMEN, In consequence of the situation in which I have the honour to be placed in this Academy, it has often happened, that I have been consulted by the young Students who intend to spend some years in Italy, concerning the method of regulating their studies. I am, as I ought to be, solicitously desirous to communicate the entire result of my experience and observation; and though my openness and facility in giving my opinions might make some amends for whatever was defective in them, yet I fear my answers have not often given satisfaction. Indeed I have never been sure, that I understood perfectly what they meant, and was not without some suspicion that they had not themselves very distinct ideas of the object of their inquiry.
If the information required was, by what means the path that leads to excellence could be discovered ; if they wished to know whom they were to take for their guides; what to adhere to, and what to avoid ; where they were to bait, and where they were to take up their rest ; what was to be tasted only, and what should be their diet; such general directions are certainly proper for a Student to ask, and for me, to the best of my capacity, to give; but these rules have been already given; they have, in reality, been the subject of almost all my Discourses from this place. But I am rather inclined to think, that by method of study, it was meant, (as several do mean,) that the times and the seasons should be prescribed, and the order settled, in which everything was to be done : that it might be useful to point out to what degree of excellence one part of the Art was to be carried, before the Student proceeded to the next ; how long he was to continue to draw from the ancient statues, when to begin to compose, and when to apply to the study of colouring.
Such a detail of instruction might be extended with a great deal of plausible and ostentatious amplification. But it would at best be useless. Our studies will be for ever, in a very great degree, under the direction of chance; like travellers, we must take what we get, and when we can get it ; whether it is or is not administered to us in the most commodious manner, in the most proper place, or at the exact minute when we would wish to have it.
Treatises on education, and method of study, have always appeared to me to have one general fault. They proceed upon a false supposition of life; as if we possessed not only a power over events and circumstances, but had a greater power over ourselves than I believe any of us will be found to possess.
Instead of supposing ourselves to be perfect patterns of wisdom and virtue, it seems to me more reasonable to treat ourselves (as I am sure we must now and then treat others) like humoursome children, whose fancies are often to be indulged, in order to keep them in
good humour with themselves and their pursuits. It is necessary to use some artifice of this kind in all processes which by their very nature are long, tedious, and complex, in order to prevent our taking that aversion to our studies, which the continual shackles of methodical restraint are sure to produce.
I would rather wish a student, as soon as he goes abroad, to employ himself upon whatever he has been incited to by any immediate impulse, than to go sluggishly about a prescribed task ; whatever he does in such a state of mind, little advantage accrues from it, as nothing sinks deep enough to leave any lasting impression ; and it is impossible that any thing should be well understood, or well done, that is taken into a reluctant understanding, and executed with a servile hand.
It is desirable, and indeed is necessary to intellectual health, that the mind should be recreated and refreshed with a variety in our studies ; that in the irksomeness of uniform pursuit we should be relieved, and, if I may so say, deceived, as much as possible. Besides, the minds of men are so very differently constituted, that it is impossible to find one method which shall be suitable to all. It is of no use to prescribe to those who have no talents; and those who have talents will find methods for themselves— methods dictated to them by their own particular dispositions, and by the experience of their own particular necessities.
However, I would not be understood to extend this doctrine to the younger students. The first part of the life of a student, like that of other school-boys, must necessarily be a life of restraint. The grammar, the rudiments, however unpalatable, must at all events be mastered. After a habit is acquired of drawing correctly from the model (whatever it may be) which he has before him, the rest, I think, may be safely left to chance ; always supposing that the student is employed, and that his studies are directed to the proper object.
A passion for his art, and an eager desire to excel, will more than supply the place of method. By leaving a student to himself, he may possibly indeed be led to undertake matters above his strength : but the trial will at least have this advantage, it will discover to himself his own deficiencies ; and this discovery alone, is a very considerable acquisition. One inconvenience, I acknowledge, may attend bold and arduous attempts; frequent failure may discourage. This evil, however, is not more pernicious than the slow proficiency which is the natural consequence of too easy
tasks. Whatever advantages method may have in dispatch of business, (and there it certainly has many,) I have but little confidence of its efficacy in acquiring excellence, in any art whatever. Indeed, I have always strongly suspected, that this love of method, on which some persons appear to place so great dependence, is, in reality, at the bottom, a love of idleness, a want of sufficient energy to put themselves into immediate action : it is a sort of an apology to themselves for doing nothing. I have known artists who may truly be said to have spent their whole lives, or at least the most precious part of their lives, in planning methods of study, without ever beginning; resolving, however, to put it all in practice at some time or other,—when a certain period arrives,—when proper conveniences are procured,-or when they remove to a certain place better calculated for study. It is not uncommon for such persons to go abroad with the most honest and sincere resolution of studying hard, when they shall