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To give solidity and permanence to the inspirations of genius two things are especially necessary. First, that the idea to be communicated should be powerfully apprehended by the speaker or writer ; and next, that he should employ words and phrases which might convey it in all its truth to the mind of another. The man who entertains such conceptions, will not unfrequently want the steadiness of nerve which is required for their adequate transmission. Suitable words will not always wait upon his thoughts. Language is in reality a vast labyrinth, a scene like the Hercinian Forest of old, which, we are told, could not be traversed in less than sixty days. If we do not possess the clue, we shall infallibly perish in the attempt, and our thoughts and our memory will expire with us.
The sentences of this man, when he speaks, or when he writes, will be full of perplexity and confusion. They will be endless, and never arrive at their proper termination. They will include parenthesis on parenthesis. We perceive the person who delivers them, to be perpetually labouring after a meaning, but never reaching it. He is like one flung over into the sea, unprovided with the skill that should enable him to contend with the tumultuous element. He flounders about in pitiable helplessness, without the chance of extricating himself by all his efforts. He is lost in unintelligible embarrassment. It is a delightful and a ravishing sight, to observe another man come after him, and
tell, without complexity, and in the simplicity of self-possession, unconscious that there was any difficulty, all that his predecessor had fruitlessly exerted himself to unfold.
There are a multitude of causes that will produce a miscarriage of this sort, where the richest soil, impregnated with the choicest seeds of learning and observation, shall entirely fail to present us with such a crop as might rationally have been anticipated. Many such men waste their lives in indolence and irresolution. They attempt many things, sketch out plans, which, if properly filled up, might illustrate the literature of a nation, and extend the empire of the human mind, but which yet they desert as soon as begun, affording us the promise of a beautiful day, that, ere it is noon, is enveloped in darkest tempests and the clouds of midnight. They skim away from one flower in the parterre of literature to another, like the bee, without, like the bee, gathering sweetness from each, to increase the public stock, and enrich the magazine of thought. The cause of this phenomenon is an unsteadiness, ever seduced by the newness of appearances, and never settling with firmness and determination upon what had been chosen.
Others there are that are turned aside from the career they might have accomplished, by a visionary and impracticable fastidiousness. They can find nothing that possesses all the requisites that should fix their choice, nothing so good that should authorise them to present it to public observation, and enable them to offer it to their contemporaries as something that we should “not willingly let die.” They begin often; but nothing they produce appears to them such as that they should say of it, “Let this stand." Or they never begin, none of their thoughts being judged by them to be altogether such as to merit the being preserved. They have a microscopic eye, and discern faults unworthy to be tolerated, in that in which the critic himself might perceive nothing but beauty.
These phenomena have introduced a maxim which is current with inaný, that the men who write nothing, and bequeath no record of themselves to posterity, are not unfrequently of larger calibre, and more gigantic standard of soul, than such as have inscribed their names upon the columns of the temple of Fame. And certain it is, that there are extraordinary instances which appear in some degree to countenance this assertion. Many men are remembered as authors, who seem to have owed the permanence of their reputation rather to fortune than merit. They were daring, and stepped into a niche that was left in the gallery of art or of science, where others of higher qualifications, but of unconquerable modesty, held back. At the same time persons, whose destiny caused them to live among the élite of an age, have seen reason to confess that they have heard such talk, such glorious and unpremeditated discourse, from men whose thoughts melted away with the breath that uttered them, as the wisest of their vaunted contemporary authors would in vain have sought to rival.
The maxim however, notwithstanding these appearances, may safely be pronounced to be a fallacious one. It has been received in various quarters with the greater indulgence, inasmuch as the human mind is prone
many cases to give a more welcome reception to seeming truths, that present us at the first blush the appearance of falshood.
It must however be recollected that the human mind consists in the first instance merely of faculties prepared to be applied to certain purposes, and susceptible of improvement. It cannot therefore happen, that the man, who has chosen a subject towards which to direct the energy of his faculties, who has sought on all sides for the materials that should enable him to do that subject justice, who has employed upon it his contemplations by day, and his ineditations during the watches of the night, should not by such exercise greatly invigorate his powers. In this sense there was much truth in the observation of the author who said, “I did not write upon the subject you mention because I understood it; but I understood it afterward, because I had written upon it.”
The man who merely wanders through the fields of knowledge in search of its gayest flowers and of whatever will afford him the most enviable amuse
in a in his memory
ment, will necessarily return home at night with a very slender collection. He that shall apply himself with self-denial and an unshrinking resolution to the improvement of his mind, will unquestionably be found more fortunate in the end. He is not deterred by the gulphs that yawn beneath his feet, or the mountains that may oppose themselves to his progress.
He knows that the adventurer of timid mind, and that is infirm of purpose, will never make himself master of those points which it would be most honourable to him to subdue. But he who undertakes to commit to writing the result of his researches, and to communicate his discoveries to mankind, is the genuine hero. Till he enters on this task, every thing is laid
up certain confusion. He thinks he possesses a thing whole; but, when he brings it to the test, he is surprised to find how much he was deceived. He that would digest his thoughts and his principles into a regular system, is compelled in the first place to regard them in all their clearness and perspicuity, and in the next place to select the fittest words by which they may be communicated to others. It is through the instrumentality of words that we are taught to think accurately and severely for ourselves; they are part and parcel of all our propositions and theories. It is therefore in this
that a preceptor, by undertaking to enlighten the mind of his pupil, enlightens his own. He becomes twice the man in the sequel, that he was when he entered