Слике страница

general knowledge of its constitution and the most interesting parts of its code of civil and criminal law; since without it they will be but poorly qualified to act their parts properly as freemen, either in a public or even in a private capacity. Not to mention that some hapless youth, now in vile confinement, might have been deterred from the transgressions which brought them thither, had they been seasonably and fully aware of the penalties that would be incurred by such transgressions.


Of a disputatious temper and habit.

Ir is a saying often quoted as Dr. Franklin's, that "by the collision of different sentiments, sparks of truth are struck out, and light is obtained." But it seems to have been current, though in another manner of phrase, before it came from the pen of the justly celebrated Doctor. In an Almanack dated one hundred and sixteen years back, I have met with the following homely, but pithy verse:

"But quill to quill, like flints on steel do smite,

Which kindle sparks, and those sparks give us light."* On the other hand, a writer possessed of masterly powers of reasoning, who flourished in the beginning of the last century, appears to have thought that, disputing, whether by means of the quill, or otherwise, is apt to produce a great deal less of light, than of heat and smoke.

Mr. Locke, in his Treatise of Education, observes, "If the use and end of right reasoning be to have right notions and a right judgment of things; to distinguish betwixt truth and falsehood, right and wrong, and to act accordingly, be careful not to let your son be bred up in the art and formality of disputing."-And, as a reason for that conclusion, he goes on to describe the wretched manner in which disputes were generally

* Daniel Leed's Almanack, published in New-York, 1704.

managed :-" Whether pertinent or impertinent, sense or nonsense, agreeing with or contrary to, what he had said before, it matters not: for this, in short, is the way and perfection of logical disputes, that the opponent never takes any answer, nor the respondent ever yields to any argument. This, neither of them must do, whatever becomes of truth or knowledge, unless he would pass for a poor baffled wretch, and lie under the disgrace of not being able to maintain whatever he has once affirmed, which is the great aim and glory of disputing."

Here we find a "collision of different sentiments," on the very question, whether disputing tends to advance correct knowledge or retard it.

Now, to do justice to both sides, it must, I think, be granted, that each is in the right, provided allowance be made for the opposite views in which the subject presents itself. Were disputing conducted as it ought, with sincere and paramount love of truth, and a benignity of temper, there might spring from it much good, without any considerable mixture of evil. But conducted, as most commonly it has been, with acrimonious feeling, and the fierceness and obstinacy of pugilists, rather than with the honest candor that is willing in all cases to yield to evidence; it too often serves but to exasperate and mislead: so that nothing is less desirable in youth, or less to be encouraged, than a disputatious or cavilling temper.

In certain memoirs of the life of Frederick the Great, it is related, that aspiring after the fame of a philosophical reasoner, he was much inclined to exercise his talents now and then in disputing with the learned men of his court. Accordingly he used, at his leisure, to send for the philosophers whom he kept in waiting, to reason with them; professing, mean while, that he laid by the monarch and put himself on equal footing, and encouraging them to be free and do their best. But if any one of them happened to invalidate his own arguments, or to get the better of him in any way, he instantly flew into a violent passion, and bestowed upon the offender the most scurrilous epithets. The memoirs further relate, that at one of his literary enter

tainments, when, in order to promote free conversation, he reminded the circle that there was no monarch present, the conversation chanced to turn upon the faults General cenof different governments and rulers. sures were passing from mouth to mouth with a kind of freedom which such hints were calculated, and apparently intended, to inspire. But Frederick presently put a stop to the topic, by exclaiming, "Hold your peace, gentlemen, be upon your guard, else the king will be among you."

This instance, while it speaks the imperious, insolent despot, is characteristical of our general nature. Of disputants, in all ages of the world, there have been but few that were scrupulous of using all the means in their optheir power, to baffle, bear down, and silence, ponents; but few, whose unfairness of manner and bitterness of temper have not furnished clear proof that they were more actuated by the proud desire of victory than by a sincere regard to truth; very few, who have shown themselves willing, in all cases, to give truth fair play. Men, that are naturally, or by custom, of a disputatious temper, seldom are so, for truth's sake. Generally, something else than the love of truth, has the strongest hold of their hearts.

Perilous, in this respect, is the moral condition of that class of men, whose professional business of disputing, and whose fame and renown depend upon success in gaining their causes, just or unjust

"An indiscriminate defence of right and wrong, contracts the understanding, while it corrupts the heart." This short sentence of the celebrated Junius, is deserving of the serious attention of young men of ingenuous dispositions, who have recently entered, or are about entering, upon the profession of the law. One, accustomed to argue indiscriminately for and against truth and right, and whose main road to distinction lies in his talent "to make the worse appear the better reason," needs, of all men, to keep a careful watch over his moral frame.

Theological disputes, are of a nature that would seem to secure them from the aberrations incidental to those of worldly men. The theologian stands upon hal

lowed ground. Truth, Divine Truth, is his pole-star. The inspired volume is his directory; of which he must not wittingly misconstrue any part for the sake of gaining his argument, nor even though he might gain by it the whole world. His case is similar to that of the Persian judges, who were made to interpret the laws of the realm with ropes about their necks, as indicative of the punishment that awaited them if found guilty of any wilful misinterpretation. And besides, as truth must be his sole aim, so his manner of defending it must be consonant to the spirit of Him who was "meek and lowly in heart"-who, "when he was reviled, reviled not again." Wherefore, in that sacred department, if any where, it might be expected that disputes would be conducted with the utmost fairness, and with exemplary benignity of temper. Would it were always so!

"The man who, in controversy, pays a strict regard to truth and candor, gives clear evidence of the excellence of his understanding and the uprightness of his heart; whereas sophistry and quibble, rancorous invective and scurrilous abuse, warrant a suspicion of the advocate, however righteous be his cause."


Of Procrastination.

THE nation from which we derive our language has been distinguished, above perhaps all others, for steady persevering industry: and several English old sayings, or proverbs, correspond with this prominent feature of national character. One of these ancient sayings of English origin, is, "Never to put off till to-morrow what may be done to-day." On the contrary, sluggishness and procrastination, are national attributes of the Spaniards, who, though acting with great spirit and vigor whenever roused to action, continue slothful and dilatory at all other times. Nor is it a little remarkable, that there is a Spanish proverb directly of opposite

[ocr errors]

meaning to the English one just now mentioned. Laborde, in his View of Spain, affirms it to be a Spanish proverbial maxim, "That one should never do to-day what may be put off till to-morrow.”

Whether it be owing to nature, or to education and habit, or from whatever cause it may spring, there is, in this goodly country, a prevailing disposition to follow the last of these two opposite maxims; though we all are ready to admit the reasonableness of its contrast. No infatuation is more deplorable, nor yet more general, the whole christianized world over, than the vain hope that leads us to put off from day to day the great work which must be done, or ourselves be forever undone. But I now am to speak, not of the common and most deplorable infatuation which relates to the concerns of immortality, but of that which concerns our temporal interests. Of the fatal error of the former, the Holy Volume and the Pulpit give solemn warning;-of some of the mischiefs of the latter, it is mine to treat in this short essay.

Few things are more ruinous, even to our secular affairs, than customary procrastination. It confuses and blights every kind of worldly business; for business not attended to in the proper time and season, is either not done at all, or done with more labor and difficulty, and to less purpose.

The accounts

Some men are in the practice of letting their accounts lie unsettled for several years together. It is no matter forsooth; they are near neighbors and close friends, and can come to a reckoning at any time. At length a settlement between them commences. of each, however honest, are swelled beyond the expectation of the other. On both sides, several items are vanished from the remembrance of him who is charged with them. A warm dispute ensues; perhaps an arbitration; peradventure an expensive lawsuit ; and these close friends are severed forever.

Some men neglect to make their Wills, though they know their estates would be inherited contrary to their own minds and to the rule of equity, if they should chance to die intestate. Knowing this, and sincerely wishing that right may be done to their heirs, they are

« ПретходнаНастави »