« PredošláPokračovať »
thinking, and to carry away almost nothing, when we have finished.
The book does not deserve even to be read, which does not impose on us the duty of frequent pauses, much reflecting and inward debate, or require that we should often go back, compare one observation and statement with another, and does not call upon us to combine and knit together the disjecta membra.
It is an observation which has often been repeated, that, when we come to read an excellent author a second and a third time, we find in him a multitude of things, that we did not in the slightest degree perceive in a first reading. A careful first reading would have a tendency in a considerable degree to anticipate this following crop.
Nothing is more certain than that a schoolboy gathers much of his most valuable instruction when his lesson is not absolutely before him. In the same sense the more mature student will receive most important benefit, when he shuts his book, and goes forth in the field, and ruminates on what he has read. It is with the intellectual, as with the corporeal eye: we must retire to a certain distance from the object we would examine, before we can truly take in the whole. We must view it in every direction, “survey it,” as Sterne says, “transversely, then foreright, then this way, and then that, in all its possible directions and foreshortenings';" and thus only can it be expected that we should adequately comprehend it.
* Tristram Shandy, Vol. IV, Chap. ii.
But the thing it was principally in my purpose to say is, that it is one of the great desiderata of human life, not to accomplish our purposes in the briefest time, to consider “life as short, and art as long,” and therefore to master our ends in the smallest number of days or of years, but rather to consider it as an ample field that is spread before us, and to examine how it is to be filled with pleasure, with advantage, and with usefulness. Life is like a lordly garden, which it calls forth all the skill of the artist to adorn with exhaustless variety and beauty; or like a spacious park or pleasure-ground, all of whose inequalities are to be embellished, and whose various capacities of fertilisation, sublimity or grace, are to be turned to account, so that we may wander in it for ever, and never be wearied.
We shall perhaps understand this best, if we take up the subject on a limited scale, and, before we consider life in its assigned period of seventy years, first confine our attention to the space of a single day. And we will consider that day, not as it relates to the man who earns his subsistence by the labour of his hands, or to him who is immersed in the endless details of commerce. But we will take the case of the man, the whole of whose day is to be disposed of at his own discretion.
The attention of the curious observer has often been called to the tediousness of existence, how our
time hangs upon our hands, and in how high estimation the art is held, of giving wings to our hours, and making them pass rapidly and cheerfully away. And moralists of a cynical disposition have poured forth many a sorrowful ditty upon the inconsistency of man, who complains of the shortness of life, at the same time that he is put to the greatest straits how to give an agreeable and pleasant occupation to its separate portions. “Let us hear no more," say these moralists, " of the transitoriness of human existence, from men to whom life is a burthen, and who are willing to assign a reward to him that shall suggest to them an occupation or an amusement untried before."
But this inconsistency, if it merits the name, is not an affair of artificial and supersubtle refinement, but is based in the fundamental principles of our nature. It is unavoidable that, when we have reached the close of any great epoch of our existence, and still more when we have arrived at its final term, we should regret its transitory nature, and lament that we have made no more effectual use of it. And yet the periods and portions of the stream of time, as they pass by us, will often be felt by us as insufferably slow in their progress, and we would give no inconsiderable sum to procure that the present section of our lives might come to an end, and that we might turn over a new leaf in the volume of existence.
I have heard various men profess that they never
knew the minutes that hung upon their hands, and were totally unacquainted with what, borrowing a term from the French language, we call ennui. I own I have listened to these persons with a certain degree of incredulity, always excepting such as earn their subsistence by constant labour, or as, being placed in a situation of active engagement, have not the leisure to feel apathy and disgust.
But we are talking here of that numerous class of human beings, who are their own masters, and spend every hour of the day at the choice of their discretion. To these we may add the persons
who are partially so, and who, having occupied three or four hours of every day in discharge of some function necessarily imposed on them, at the striking of a given hour go out of school, and employ themselves in a certain industry or sport purely of their own election.
To go back then to the consideration of the single day of a man, all of whose hours are at his disposal to spend them well or ill, at the bidding of his own judgment, or the impulse of his own caprice.
We will suppose that, when he rises from his bed, he has sixteen hours before him, to be employed in whatever mode his will shall decide. I bar the case of travelling, or any of those schemes for passing the day, which by their very nature take the election out of his hands, and fill up his time with a perpetual motion, the nature of which is ascertained from the beginning.
With such a man then it is in the first place indispensibly necessary, that he should have various successive occupations. There is no one study or intellectual enquiry to which a man can apply sixteen hours consecutively, unless in some extraordinary instances which can occur but seldom in the course of a life. And even then the attention will from time to time relax, and the freshness of mental zeal and activity give way, though perhaps, after the lapse of a few minutes, they may be revived and brought into action again.
In the ordinary series of human existence it is desirable that, in the course of the same day, a man should have various successive occupations. I myself for the most part read in one language at one part of the day, and in another at another. I am then in the best health and tone of spirits, when I employ two or three hours, and no more, in the act of writing and composition. There must also in the sixteen hours be a time for meals. There should be a time for fresh air and bodily exercise. It is in the nature of man, that we should spend a part of every day in the society of our fellows, either at public spectacles and places of concourse, or in the familiar interchange of conversation with one, two, or more persons with whom we can give ourselves up to unrestrained communication. All human 'life, as I have said, every day of our existence, consists of term and vacation; and the perfection of practical wisdom is to interpose these one with another, so