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Vids ta želf-Culture.
The organization of each being is the exponent of its destiny. To know the peculiar organization of any being is therefore to know the end for which it is designed—the purpose which it is intended to subserve in the economy of creation. Happiness—within the limits of its capacity—is the concomitant of all actions that accord with the nature, and tend to accomplish the destiny of each specific being. To be organized for the fulfilment of a certain destiny is to be endowed with faculties fitted, at least to the furtherance, if not wholly to the realization of that destiny. Each organized being must possess certain inherent primitive tendencies capable of spontaneous and unreasoning activity. These tendencies must be common to the whole species of being, however variously proportioned they may manifest themselves in the separate individuals which compose it. The proportion and quality of these impulsive original tendencies are the initial elements of individual character, and the primary component forces which co-operate in the production of the destiny of each being. So long as any being remains under the dominion of these impulses, it is uncultured. Whenever it is brought under the influence of other agencies, by which these impulses lose their determining power, education begins. Education signifies the leading forth of the energies and faculties of any being, so as most perfectly to develop its powers, in other words, so as most certainly to evolve its destiny.
Let us apply these general principles to the particular topic now before us.
Man is an educable being. Like other animals he is endowed with instincts; but he is neither wholly nor chiefly under the conservatorship of these. They are the elements out of which his intellectual activity efforesces,—the primitive excitants of his intellectual and moral nature. In the early period of existence, instincts not only initiate but control all human action; when, however, the soul becomes self-directive, capable of thought and choice, a conscious and voluntary agent, their empire wanes and their dominion ceases— the era of culture has arrived. The primary processes of culture, however, are not the results of the will of the individual, they are rather the effects of pre-disposing tendencies. It is not till man's nature has been, intentionally, brought into relation with the appearances of the external world, and is subjected to the action of the impressions which they produce, that culture begins. Passive receptivity, chance excitation, unregulated eduction is not education. The alphabet of sensation must be learned prior to our being able to interpret the knowledge which it contains.
“ The stuff
neither is the outer universe a book from which much knowledge may be read until the intellect of man confers meaning and significance upon its changes. We account each
human being, however he may have been circumstanced hitherto, as capable of self-culture so soon as he is possessed of the Will to learn.
Self-culture signifies the voluntary and self-directed forth-growth and training of the entire capacities of our nature, so as fully—or, at least, to the fullest extent possible in the circumstances of the individual—to enable each one to fulfil the given destiny of his race, as well as the special individual destiny which organic power and the circumstances which surround him necessitate.
It is an old and true adage, that “Wherever there's a will there's a way." We are desirous of pointing out not only a way of self-culture, but, so far as we know, the best way of training all the energies of mind to the production of great and good ends. For this purpose, we shall direct attention to “ the means of Self-Culture” in the following order -I. Internal; II. External.
In the former division we shall present to notice such remarks as seem to us calculated to lead to the improvement of the mind in its general capacities, to increase its power, regulate its impulses, and control its activities; in the latter division we shall review the various instrumentalities which may be employed in exciting the desire for knowledge, or in administering gratification to the mind zealously ardent in his efforts after true, lasting, and beneficiul culture.
INTERNAL MEANS OF SELF-CULTURE.
“ To mend the world's a vast design,
Such, however, is not our aim. We merely wish to urge to self-amendment. This is a most momentous duty, upon the right performance of which depends the whole future—whether of weal or woe- of our existence. Our personal pleasures; our capacity to fulfil our social duties; our ability to add zest to the joy of friendship; our power to exert, for great good purposes, the energies of mind or body which God has granted us; our aptitude for becoming intelligent and well-informed; and our fitness for faithfully and honourably serving the Eternal, are all contingent upon the tendency impressed upon the voluntary exercises in which our minds engage. True development and right and fitting training are only possible as the results and sequents of accurate knowledge. Instruction without culture is worse than useless. It makes the memory a lumber-house of fragmentary oddments, and leaves the mind as unthinking as before. To think aright,—to scrutinize facts, examine appearances, sift opinions, criticise beliefs, appreciate evidence, detect sophistry, discriminate between truth and falsehood, and perceive that all the phenomena of creation are but the shadows of great truths-ought to be the great aim of every
human soul. It is true that the external world is continually changing, that it is perpetually altering the pictures it presents, and shifting the scenes which are traced on the mind; but though phenomena thus appear, like the ever-varying figures of a kaleidoscope, to enter into almost innumerable combinations with a swiftness which seems to elude observation, we know that amid these mutations constancy is visible, and that many of their recurrences are calculable. These things, however, are only revealed to the thoughtful to those who, in the secret places of the intellect, have erected observatories, and engage themselves in
constant and careful investigations. To train ourselves to the attainment of this keen inquisitiveness of mind, this intense curiosity and those habits of accurate perception and reasoning, constitutes Self-Culture—of which the chief elements will be found considered in the subsequent paragraphs.
Ist. Self-conscious intellectual activity.—If we permit the phenomena of Nature to fit and change and vary like the shadows of the stars in the upheaved sea, or the ephemeræ which dance in the beams of the summer's sun, and make their impressions lightly on the organs
of sense, it is impossible that our knowledge can be accurate or our information correct. If, by the strenuous efforts of attention, we do not minutely observe the many almost imperceptible--and to the careless spectator, the wholly imperceptible-touches which distinguish objects from each other, carefully remember and frequently con them, we have no right to anticipate that our acquaintance with Nature can be valuable or enduring. Still less, if we are negligent in watching the processes of the thinking faculty, and the capacities with which we are endowed, can we hope to know the aptitudes of our mind, or the deficiencies under which we labour. Neither nature nor mind reveal their choice secrets to the unthinking or the careless —to the inactive or the incurious. A consciously active state of mind, anxious to obtain information from every source-nature, books, conversation, reflection, &c.—is therefore a chief element in intellectual progress, and an indispensable requisite of whosoever would engage in the arduous but well remunerated labour of selfculture. Our business here is not to expatiate, but to direct; not to write showily, but to supply such hints and directions as may, if adopted and followed, produce beneficial effects on the mind of the student; hence, we shall not dwell upon the present topic, but proceed to indicate another means of self-culture.
2nd. A clear well-defined purpose. Power and activity are valueless without a purpose or presiding, directing and controlling intention. To have one great leading, ever-recurring aim determined upon, and made the habit of the soul--to make every thought and every duty accept a definite position and relation to this settled centre-point, are the chief means of securing the just and proper improvement of life. It is impossible to legislate regarding the performance of duty—it is absolutely impossible to apply any system of beneficial discipline to the mind until we have fixed upon the purpose to be effected and the object to be attained.
“ That makes a man in tune still in himself."
Aimlessness necessarily results in the acquirement of desultory habits—the misapplication of energy-the misdirection of effort, and the contracting of a readiness for bungling and trifling. To the man whose life is governed by a definite purpose distraction cannot bring inconvenience, neither can he ever misspend his strength on vain and profitless pursuits, or devote his talents to the accomplishment of unworthy ends. The possession of a settled, pre-determined and distinct design to be pursued as the chief end of life, secures concentration of thought and action, consistency in opinion, and persistency in progress. Though his station permits not the allotment of certain regularly recurring periods for study—though his condition precludes continuous and undeviating steadiness in the pursuit of knowledge—though, apparently, few sources of information may be open to his search, yet will he who is truly conscious of the necessity of self-culture, and
earnestly engaged in its accomplishment, be distinguished for the appropriate judiciousness of his selection and employment of those means which lie within his reach, and the excellence of the plans he adopts for improving the opportunities afforded him. Listless inactivity will not rob him of one half of life, nor will mistaken but inconstant industry waste the chief part of the other. Purpose is the very soul of system, and system perseveringly and intelligently employed is the prime element in success. What are dreams, longings, aspirations, yearnings, and plans, if accompanied by indecision? What good fruits ever proceed from aimless exertions? High powers stimulated into noble fervour by lofty ambition and intensely bright imaginative projects execute wonders; but if the worm of indecision preys upon the fruit, it will wither suddenly, like Jonah's gourd “which came up in a night, and perished in a night.” The “all-controlling, all-subduing will,” “ the fixed purpose that sways and bends all circumstances to its uses, as the wind bends the reeds and rushes beneath it,” is the greatest defect of the young men of our age, and yet true self-culture is impossible without it. Resolve, then, to devote your energies, capacities, and opportunities to the effectuation of some noble purpose-to the fulfilment of some design commensurate with human power and destiny; toil manfully and untiringly for its accomplishment; subordinate all minor impulses and pursuits to that; habituate yourselves to intense and earnest adherence to the scheme of life determined upon, and you will deserve and attain
Fail to do so, and though genius shed its richest graces round you, your life will be a gigantic failure.
3rd. The acquisition of habits of persevering industry and studious attentiveness. There is, inherent in human nature, a tendency to repeat those bodily or mental acts which circumstances necessitate or volition originates. This tendency is the initiative element of Habit. The close and regular connexion which exists between thoughts and their resulting actions establishes a species of associative activity, so that trains of thinking and acting, which by frequent and regular repetition become familiar, gradually acquire the power of spontaneous origination. Activity, which is at first instinctive, becomes, as life develops, intellectual and voluntary, and consequently, self-determining; but the propension of human nature to form habits continually operates towards the withdrawal of our thoughts and actions from the especial control of conscious volition, and endeavours to subject them to the law of mechanical or organic recurrence. That which is habitual acquires a resemblance to what is natural, and habit becomes an intellectualized instinct.
The importance of properly directing this structural or organic proneness it is scarcely possible to overestimate. Mankind,” says Paley, “act more from habit than reflection; "* and Locke asserts that, “ the difference observable in men's understandings and parts does not arise so much from their natural faculties as from their acquired habits.”+ If these sayings be true—and who can doubt them?---can it be unimportant how those series of similar acts referable to a common origin, and operating to the accomplishment of the same end, which men call habits are encouraged or restrained ? Surely it ought to be the serious desire and earnest endeavour of each one to harmonize his habits with the general destiny of the race, and to determine upon a course of life which shall admit of being subordinated to the effectuation of that destiny, and thus make
* Paley's “ Moral and Political Philosophy," Book I. chap. 7.
“ All his affects, his spirits and his powers,
In their confluctions, all to run one way!" If purpose is necessary as the regulative agency of life, habits are no less needful as the instruments or means by which the design of life may be effectually accomplished. Habit stands opposed to desultoriness; and desultoriness is inimical to the successful consummation of any object. The best habits originate from the best purpose; and a good purpose once thoroughly considered and resolved upon requires persevering industry. “ It is impossible to have things done without doing them,” and it is impossible to do things at all—or at least to do them well—without regularly recurring and persistent exertion. “The man of methodical industry and honourable pursuits . organizes the hours, and gives them a soul; and to that, the very essence of which is to fleet, and to have been, he communicates an imperishable and a spiritual nature."* Nor is studious attentiveness less necessary than persevering industry. To acquire the habit of fixing the undivided atteption for a lengthened period on a given topic, thought, or purpose, is evidently the most certain way of being enabled to contemplate aright the elements of which it consists, and the relations by which it is connected with other objects of intellectual perception. Indeed, it is as impossible to be industrious without attention as it is to bring to a successful issue any purpose without perseverance. Let us then adopt, and zealously labour, for the acquisition of such habits as accord with the purpose of our life, and reject those which are opposed thereto. Habits are the self-created laws under which the person who forms them determines to live. Let not our own legislation enfetter us gallingly; let us make wise. laws to effect a good, well-defined purpose; and all else will prosper.
“ This clue once found unravels all the rest." 4th. The mastery over the associations of thought. The laws which regulate the associations of ideas are now pretty clearly understood. The general fact has been thus expressed by Dr. Watts,—“One idea, which is familiar to the mind, connected with others which are new or strange, will bring these new ideas into easy remembrance.”f Sir William Hamilton has more formally enounced the general law of associativeness, in these terms,—“ Thoughts which have, at any time, recent or remote, stood to each other in the relation of coexistence or immediate consecution, do, when severally reproduced, tend to reproduce each
The four subordinate laws of association are generally understood and described by the following symbol-words— Resemblance, Contrast, Concomitancy, and Consecutiveness.Ş Each of these influences affects the association of ideas in a different degree; but it is of great importance to bring these under the dominion of volition, and thus acquire the command of our trains of thought—" the power of mastering the mind.” To permit our ideas to follow each other in aimless confusion, or purposeless sequence, is to make ourselves the slaves of reverie and the sport of dreams—is to licence anarchy and mutinous insubordination. When thought is suffered to gad abroad and occupy itself with frivolities—the merely
* Coleridge “ On Method," p. 24. + “Improvement of the Mind." # Sir William Hamilton's “ Reid," p. 897. & See“ The Art of Reasoning," chap. xx.