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more who think with greater accuracy and reason,- with more correctness,-have not the art of expressing their ideas with perspicuity; they are unable to do justice to themselves, or to afford profit or pleasure to their hearers.
Nothing has a greater tendency than oral discussion to generate acuteness, and habits of discrimination. In the course of debate, matter is brought forward that was not anticipated; objections are started to which an immediate answer must be found; new proofs and illustrations must be sought in the very moment in which they are wanted; the sophistry of an opponent must be detected as soon as uttered, and the impresşion it has made destroyed. The acuteness displayed at the bar is well known; and, as lawyers are not a distinct species, but taken from the great mass of mankind, the cause of it must be sought in the habits of their profession.
Oral discussion is calculated to repress dogmatism and intolerance, and to promote moderation and candour. A man who is accustomed to cherish in silence his favourite opinions, or to propound them only to admiring and acquiescing fol. lowers, becomes convinced of the absolute rectitude of his own judgment. Avoiding all opportunity of measuring the calibre of his mind with others, he never doubts of its amaz. ing capacity; persuaded that its deductions are unerring as the “balance of the sanctuary,” he views all who differ from him with a mixture of pity, contempt, and aversion. No one can entertain an opinion adverse to his own without some defect, either in his head or his heart; folly, or obstinacy, alone can account for it; he must either be actuated by some very bad motive, or be greatly deficient in common sense. Let such a man habituate himself to the practice of discussion, and a very beneficial change will be operated upon his mind; he will find, perhaps, that some arguments which he thought perfectly irresistible may be very easily refuted; that some opinions which he had hastily adopted and pertinaciously maintained, are, when brought to the touchstone of discussion, totally untenable; that other men not only have as great a right to think as himself, but are as capable of exercising it; he now, for the first time, begins to suspect his own infallibility; doubt leads to enquiry, and enquiry to truth. He discovers, too, that very intelligent, as well as very amiable and good men, hold opposing opinions, even on important subjects; and he begins to think that the crime of coming to ą different conclusion from himself is scarcely of so malignant a nature as he used to suppose it: he will now allow, that one man may prefer Cæsar, and another Hannibal ; one may affirm that Grecian literature excelled the Roman, and another deny, it, without either of them meriting incarceration or
banishment !--Diseussion will also show him that, in many
instances, when their views are correctly and fairly explained, men do not differ so much as they appear to do, and if its only good effect was to make men better understand each other, and thus to put an end to the irritations and bickerings arising from misapprehension, this alone would be sufficient to entitle it to the approbation of mankind.
Neither should we omit to notice the opportunity afforded for the practice of public speaking. There are few who have not occasion, at some period, to deliver their sentiments in a public manner. We may refer to the frequency of public meetings upon almost every subject of human interest. "Perhaps at no other period since the times of the ancient Republics of Greece and Rome, has there been, until now, so general a call for the exercise of some skill, at least in the art of public speaking. Men do not now content themselves with merely writing in the seclusion of their closets; they come forth to promulgate their sentiments in person, amongst those whom they wish to influence or direct. Meetings are consequently assembled almost daily, to consider and to promote the various objects of political and social welfare,--the happiness, the freedom, and the improvement of the human race.
To these high purposes it does not, indeed, belong to every one to aspire; yet there are minor objects which it is our common interest to effect, and which are accomplished in a readier and a better way, by that energy of exertion, by that skill and power, which such societies are calculated to produce, and which they are so well fitted to exercise and mature.
Many other advantages result from this practice, which must here be unnoticed. It would, however, be improper to omit observing, that it strengthens the memory by exercising it, and communicates a free and graceful elocution; and that, while it tends to inspire the diffident with a proper degree of confidence, and to divest them of that distressing embarrassment which mars all their powers, it is equally efficacious in checking presumption and subduing arrogance.
It is no small advantage that such societies afford the opportunity, and the means, of associating together persons of congenial and intellectual taste, of similar habits and pursuits; and who, by different paths, have been individually seeking to attain the same object.
We e are generally accustomed to look back, with peculiar interest to the days passed in the school and the college: the companion of those periods of life, when matured into the friend, is surrounded with the most agreeable associations, and " distance lends enchantment to the view."
In long-established societies we may anticipate a kindred
feeling; and, though here we cannot enter the lists with those simple and delightful relaxations which constituted the neverforgotten pleasures of youth, we have all those associations which are suited to a more advanced age, to a loftier flight of intellect; and we enjoy a variety of pursuit, that, in its ample extent, may interest every one, from the profound speculations of philosophy to the elegancies of literature; and from the stores of history and the severities of reason, to the bright visions of fancy and imagination.
Amongst the personal and immediate benefits which we may enumerate, are the important and interesting subjects of REFLECTION, which arise out of the principles, the sentiments, and ideas, developed in the lectures and essays, or elicited in the discussions of the Society.
“ In the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom :" no single mind was ever free from occasional error. We have here the benefit of many opinions; yet mere unexamined opinions may be but the weed, not the useful and salutary plant. The fire of truth is extracted by the collision of opposite minds, or it is raised up from that profundity in which it is fabled to repose by the repeated exertions of its united votaries. In the statements and opinions which we hear delivered by our lecturers, our writers, and speakers, we have the means of constant and varied reflection; and, in the subjects that are selected and announced for future attention, we are invited to the exercise of the speculative and inventive powers.
It is obvious that in the present condition of society, a considerable part of the knowledge which is acquired by the residents in extensive cities, must be chiefly obtained through the medium of these literary and scientific Institutions. The education of the school is only elementary; it lays the foun. dation, but the superstructure must be raised by other means. Universities are within the reach only of a few, and for the rest of mankind there is no sufficient means of affording scope for the exercise of their faculties, except in the Institutions we are recommending.
One of the principal benefits resulting from these Societies, is the appropriate preparation they afford for almost every species of public business. In the discussions so often held upon the comparative advantages of public and private education, one of the main arguments in favour of the former, is, that for those destined to active business, or to any kind of public life, the emulation excited, the example held forth, and the contentions and struggles amidst a numerous esta. blishment, like a world in miniature, are admirably adapted to prepare the temper, the habits, and the mind, for a wider display in the bustling scenes of society. If we subscribe to
the truth of this position, we may claim for these Institutions a similar advantage. Here much of the interest of our meetings depends on the investigation of those difficult and
questionable topics which excite animated discussion. We live only amidst diversity of opinion; we owe our vitality to that investigating and searching spirit which subjects every proposition to the scrutiny of criticism, to the tests of experience, and the rules of logic.
The efficient members of such Institutions will, in the business of life, possess infinite advantages over their fellows, who, endowed with minds of perhaps equal dimensions, havé neglected to cultivate them with the same care: for these latter, wisdom has lifted up her voice in vain; they have chosen their portion in indolence, and they have their reward in vacuity. By a kind of moral suicide, they have cut themselves off from all communion with whatever can enlarge or ennoble the mind, and they must not repine at seeing themselves distanced in the race of honourable distinction, by many whose natural abilities are inferior to their own. He who is willing thus to prepare for himself the bitter draught of disappointment,—who is content to be ignorant, rather than submit to the labour of becoming learned,-has nothing to do with such Institutions; but to him who can appreciate the blessings of knowledge, and would enjoy them,—to him who would improve the advantages of a liberal education, or supply the defects of an imperfect one,-to him who would cultivate the reason with which God has endowed him, and advance himself in the scale of moral being, literary institutions, by rendering the treasures of learning easily accessible, afford opportunities of mental improvement which could be enjoyed by few in an equal degree without them. The composition of original essays and papers may be
presumed to be in several ways beneficial. By this an opportunity is afforded to the young and the diffident, of trying their powers in the difficult task of literary composition. It can scarcely be doubted that many individuals, endowed at least with a respectable portion of literary talent,- that many who could have contributed something either to inform or amuse mankind,-have descended to their graves unconscious of the powers they possessed; no fortunate event occurred to rouse the dormant fire within them, and it gradually wasted with the lamp of life, unobserved, either by themselves or others.
"Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."
Few are inclined to undertake the labour of literary composition gratuitously ; few will write, when there is little prospect that their productions will ever be read: without some motive to propel them to active exertion, the greater part even of those who are captivated with the charms of knowledge, will degenerate into mere literary loungers; they will at best become but indices to the thoughts of others-walking dictionaries of ancient and modern learning. These institutions, then, afford precisely the stimulus required: they call upon a man to search into the stores of his own mindto bring into action all his resources; they take him out of leading-strings, and urge him to rely upon himself; they afford him a field for intellectual exercise, and invite him to ascertain and develope the powers of his mind: the young and unpractised writer may, under their influence, train himself to the successful use of the weapons of his art; the modest and retiring may dismiss from his mind the torments of apprehension ; convinced that prejudice and malignity are not arrayed against him, he will submit with confidence the result of his labours to the liberal and friendly criticism of his literary associates : the seeds of talent, thus cherished, may probably take root, grow, flourish, and ultimately bear fruit, which shall confer an equal degree of honour upon the individual himself, and upon the institution which was the foster-mother of his genius.
No one, it is presumed, however great his zeal for the various branches of natural philosophy, will contend that morals, and general literature, are subjects of inferior interest and importance. It is somewhere observed, that " we are mathematicians only occasionally, and by chance-moralists perpetually, and by necessity.” Although all the branches of knowledge will richly repay the attention of the inquisitive student, it may be safely affirmed, without disrespect to any of them, that the science of morals stands first in utility, and in dignity; it is that most essential to the well-being of mankind; it is that (to use the words of Johnson)" by which the concatenation of society is preserved;" it is that, which, like the poet's eye, glancing “ from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven," connects us with purer worlds, and happier scenes af existence. The beneficial effects of elegant literature, in purifying and elevating the mind, are too apparent to require proofs ; and it will not be too much to say, that, religion excepted, nothing besides has contributed so largely to the sum of human happiness. It is surely, then, not less desirable to collect the floating particles of information connected with these important and delightful pursuits, than those which regard objects of more distant interest and less evident