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body, but the strength of the giant will not avail him in rearing a stately edifice, unless his strength be combined with skill, and no better can the giant mind rear its structure without the guidance of skill, acquired either from instruction or practice. And where can this skill be better acquired than in the study of those sciences, which require patient and careful research for hidden principles, or furnish instances of close and long continued trains of argumentation. Hence the fondness for metaphysical and moral investigations and for the exact sciences, which is ever felt by those, who have excelled as sound reasoners. And the student, who in the course of his education is called to search for truth in the labyrinth of metaphysical and moral reasonings, and to toil in the wearisome study of the long and intricate solutions of mathematical principles, is acquiring that discipline of the mind, which fits him to distinguish himself as an able writer.
From these general remarks on what is essential to the good writer, I proceed to some observations on the selection and treatment of a particular subject. It is a direction of Horace,
Sumite materiam vestris, qui scribitis, æquam
Viribus.* The meaning of this maxim evidently is, that we should not attempt to write on subjects which are beyond the reach of our intellect, and to the treatment of which, from our habits of thought, we are not fitted. Rightly to understand and discuss some subjects, requires a previous knowledge and powers of reasoning, which are not
* Examine well, ye writers, weigh with care, What suits your genius ; what your strength can bcar.
commonly possessed ; and when these essential prerequisites do not exist, our labor must be in vain.
The expression of Horace, as thus explained, should not discourage the scholar in his efforts to excel. The student, with his relaxed and enfeebled system, could not expect to vie with the hardy laborer in a trial of strength. But let him leave his study- let him inure himself to toil, and he may gradually acquire an equal hardiness of constitution, and strength of muscle. Neither should the scholar in the greenness of his powers, attempt those feats, which he only can perform who is accustomed to strong mental exertion. Let him go on from strength to strength, exercise his powers, and inure himself to toil, and by and by he will heave the stone, at which, in a more immature period, he would have tugged in vain.
Consistently with these remarks, the attention of young writers is usually directed in their first attempts to subjects of an ethical nature. On topics of this class, almost every one has some floating thoughts. But should the attempt be made to pursue a scientific investigation, or to furnish a political disquisition, the maxim of Horace, and the dictate of good sense, would alike be violated.
Having then selected a subject to the treatment of which his powers are adequate, the next business of the writer is to dwell upon his subject with persevering reflection. And here let him remember the important injunction, Never attempt to write on any subject, until you fully understand it. The reason of this rule may be simply stated. We write to convey knowledge to oth
But the attempt must be vain and absurd, if we do not understand what we wish to convey.
A habit of patient reflection should be enjoined, es
pecially upon the young writer. Let him remember, that his danger is from a slight and superficial acquaintance with his subject, and not enter too hastily on its * treatment. He sits down to reflect, and finds that he has some floating thoughts on what he intends to discuss. This is not enough. He must direct his thoughts to some definite object, and find out all that may be made useful in exhibiting and enforcing his opinions. Neither let him be discouraged, if difficulties offer themselves, and first efforts are vain. Often is it the “case, that in the course of such investigations and patient examination of a subject, new views and valuable thoughts will present themselves. We make new discoveries. Our minds become filled with the subject, and our thoughts flow forth in order and abundance.
It is by thus carefully and patiently reflecting on his subject, that the writer prepares himself to read with advantage what has been written by others. Having his own views and opinions, which are the result of patient thought and thorough examination, he is enabled to make comparisons between the opinions he has formed and those of other men. Wherein the opinions of others coincide with his own, he feels strengthened and supportedWherein they differ, he is led to a more careful examination, and thus the danger of falling into error himself, and of leading others astray, is diminished. Often, also, in reading the productions of others, some new views will be brought before the mind, or some aid derived for illustrating and enforcing what is designed to be communicated. In this way too the writer is less liable to be biassed by the authority of a name, and become the retailer of the opinions of other men. These remarks are designed to answer the in-. quiry, how far we ought to read what others have writ
ten on a subject before attempting to write ourselves. We should read, not so much with the design of furnishing our minds with ideas, as to test the value of our own thoughts, and receive hints which may
be dwelt upon, and thus suggest new views and thoughts.
There can be no doubt, that the practice of mosi young writers is contrary to what is here recommended. Immediately upon selecting a subject on which to write, they read what others have written, and thus, instead of trusting to the resources of their own minds, they look to books for their thoughts and opinions. The injurious effect of this habit is seen in the want of origiality and vigor of thought, which in later periods, characterises the efforts of these servile minds.
The persevering thought, that has now been enjoined, has done more towards enlightening and improving men, than all the brilliant sallies and sudden efforts of genius, It is indeed this ability to think, joined with a favorable constitution of mind, which gives its possessor a claim to the name of genius. It is said, that when the great Newton was asked, how he was enabled to make the greatest discoveries that a mortal has ever communicated to his fellow men ; he answered, by thinking.
When by patient reflection on a subject many and valuable thoughts have been acquired, the attention should next be directed to their arrangement. A good method, or the right arrangement of the thoughts, is of vital importance to the successful communication of them to others,
The first direction for tbe attainment of a good method, or the right arrangement of the thoughts, is, to fix definitely in the mind the precise object in view. The writer should ask himself, What do I wish to establish? What is the point at which I aim ? and when this is
seen, it never should be lost sight of. The necessity of this direction will at once be perceived. Unless the writer have some object, at which he aims, as the goal he would reach, he will ever be liable to go astray, lose himself and his readers. In this way also, he learns what importance to attach to every thought that is introduced, and determines from its bearing on the principal object of his discourse, the value of every part, and how long it should be dwelt upon.
Having fixed definitely in the mind the precise object of discussion, the next part of the work of arrangement is to mark the outlines of the discourse, or in other words, to determine the grand divisions. : In making this division, as has been already intimated, particular regard should be had to the object in view, and it should be evident, that the division has been made in that manner, which may best aid the design of the writer. The division also should be natural, such as obviously suggests itself to the mind of the reader, and may be easily remembered. There should also be a distinctness of the parts; one part should not include another, but each should have its proper place and be of importance in that place, and all the parts well fitted together and united, should present a whole.
Let us suppose in illustration of these remarks, that it is proposed to write an essay on Filial duties. As the object of the essay, the writer designs to shew, that children should render to their parents obedience and love. His division is as follows; Children should render obedience and love to their parents,
1. Because they are under obligations to their parents for benefits received from them.
2. Because in this way they secure their own happiness.