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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.
But in addition to the exercise and improvement of the reasoning powers, there are certain intellectual habits, which form a part of the mental discipline of the able writer, and are worthy of particular consideration. To these I now propose to direct the attention.
Habit of patient reflection necessary. He who writes for the instruction of others, seeking in this way to enlighten and influence his readers, offers to them the results of his own investigations and reflections. Unless then he be able to state new facts or to present new views of facts and opinions already known, he has no claim on the attention of other minds. Hence arises the necessity of habits of investigation and reflection. The good writer is a man of thought; he is accustomed to observe accurately the phenomena, both in the natural world and in the scenes of life which come under his notice, and to seek an explanation of them; and whatever statements or opinions he finds in the writings of others, or hears advanced by them, he is wont to examine them, to test the validity of the arguments brought forward in their support, and the objections which are made, or which rise up in his own mind.
The habits of thought here recommended, are not easily formed or generally possessed. The attention of most minds is so much engrossed with the objects and occurrences around them, that there is little inclination or ability to look in upon their own thoughts and trace out their connexions and relations. Even educated men are too ready to be satisfied with superficial views of subjects, and to shrink back from that intellectual effort, which a more thorough investigation requires. But there can be no doubt, that habits of research and reflection have 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 favourable 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 any mortal had ever communicated to his fellow men, he answered, by thinking.
A habit of patient reflection should especially be enjoined 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, 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. Where the opinions of others coincide with his own, he feels strengthened and supported. Where 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 to become the retailer of the opinions of other
These remarks are designed to answer the inquiry, how far we ought to read what others have written 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 to receive hints, which may be dwelt upon, and thus suggest new views and thoughts.
There can be no doubt, that the practice of most 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 thoughts and opinions. The injurious effect of this habit is seen in that want of originality and vigour of thought, which in maturer years characterizes the efforts of these servile minds.
Method. Another intellectual attainment essential to the success of the writer, is the power of methodically arranging his thoughts. It is well known, that the thoughts in their passage through the mind, are connected together by certain principles or laws of association; and these laws are different in different minds. In the mind of one man these associations are accidental. One thought introduces another, because it has happened to be joined with it, having before been brought to view in the same place, or at the same time. Another man thinks in a more philosophical manner, and looks at the causes and consequences of whatever passes under his observation. When his attention is turned to any subject, there is some leading inquiry in view, and the different trains of thought which pass through his mind, are seen in their bearing on this leading object. As a necessary result, he has clear and connected views of whatever subject he examines, and is prepared to place before the minds of others, the conclusions to which he has arrived, with the reasonings by which they are supported.
To attain this power of methodically arranging the thoughts, or, as it is sometimes termed, of looking a subject into shape, it is recommended to study with care the works of those, who are accustomed to think with order and precision. It may be of advantage to make a written analysis of such productions, stating in our own language the proposition, which it is the design of the writer to establish, and the different arguments which he has brought forward in its support. This exercise will be found advantageous, not only as it aids in forming a valuable intellectual habit, preparatory to the work of composition, but as it enables us to possess ourselves, in the best manner, of the opinions and reasonings of well disciplined minds.
It is also recommended for the attainment of method, to exercise the mind in the work of forming plans. The impression is too common, that all which is necessary for becoming a good writer, is to direct the attention to the manner of conveying the thoughts by language. But this is an erroneous impression. While it is the design. of Logic to aid in the investigation of truth, it is one purpose of Rhetoric, to give directions for exhibiting to the mind of others what is thus discovered. Hence the plan, or the right division of a composition and the arrangement of its several parts, becomes a prominent object of attention and study. The young writer, especially, should always be required to form and state his
plan, before writing; and, as here recommended, it will be found advantageous to make this a distinct exercise. In this way, habits of consecutive thinking will be formed, and a principle of order established in the mind, which is imparted to every subject of its contemplation.
Amplification. Another qualification of the good writer, which has its foundation in the thoughts, and is connected with the intellectual habits, is the power of enlarging upon the positions and opinions advanced. When any assertion has been made, whether it be a leading proposition, or a subordinate head or division, the writer is desirous, that what is thus advanced should be understood and received by his readers. He endeavours therefore to exhibit his proposition more fully, to support it by argument, and to enforce it upon the consideration and observance of others. His attempts to effect these objects constitute what is called amplification.
To state the various ways, in which writers enlarge upon the propositions which they advance, is impracticable. Ingenuity is continually in exercise, seeking to arrest the attention and awaken the interest of readers. There are however a few general principles, which may be stated, at the same time that some suggestions are made, as to the best ways of attaining and improving this power of amplification.
One leading object of amplification, is the more full exhibition of the meaning of what is asserted. This is effected in the following ways :*
1. By formal definitions of the words, or phrases, used in stating the proposition, or head of discourse. This is necessary, when the words or phrases used are new, or
It is recommended that the pupil be required to furnish examples of the different methods of amplification here stated.