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AN INTRODUCTORY ESSAY,
REV. DAVID YOUNG,
PRINTED FOR WILLIAM COLLINS;
WILLIAM WHYTE & CO. AND WILLIAM OLIPHANT, EDINBURGH;
IT is the sentiment of Pope, in his celebrated ethical poem, that "the proper study of mankind is man." We scarcely alter this sentiment by saying, that the proper study of every individual man is himself; and although no advantage were to be derived from this department of research, we might expect to see him drawn to it by an irrepressible curiosity. Whatever be the origin of our being, or the end for which it was given us, it must be obvious to every one, that the phenomena which it exhibits are pre-eminently interesting. The mechanism of our bodies, so complicated in its parts, and yet so exact in its adaptations, is confessedly a specimen of exquisite skill; our capacities of thought and rational activity, so restless and versatile, and powerfully discursive, exalt us above the loftiest of nature's material productions, and loudly proclaim us the first of its wonders; while the singular conjunction of mind with matter, of which our being consists, invests us with a mysterious grandeur, which is fitted to arrest the dullest intellect, and awaken the most intense inquiry. And when we
add to these things, the consideration, that this is the solitary instance among the creatures of earth, in which the subject and the student are one and the same; that man is the only being, here below, who is capable of examining and knowing himself; that the singular assemblage of constituent properties, to which we have adverted, so opposite in its elements, but so admirably assorted and harmonized, is not separate from him, but his very self, the seat of his living consciousness, and strictly identical with all that he is, it seems necessary to infer, that this branch of knowledge must take precedence of every other, or, at the very least, that other knowledge will be valued only in as far as it tends to reveal its secrets, or unfold its physical and social relations.
Thus much might be expected from mere curiosity; but if we pass from these things to yet graver matters, if we consider that this wonderful existence, which we so fondly call ourselves, is, in all its parts, the workmanship of God; that its elevation, on the scale of being, has raised it up to responsibilities, which renders it strictly accountable to him for all its voluntary operations; that it is destined to continue for ever amidst felicities the most refined, or sufferings the most painful, according to the moral condition in which it enters the future state-that the present life is the crisis of its destiny, where the felicities of the future are to be lost or won, and that to meet this crisis, in such a way as to secure these felicities, the knowledge of ourselves and our moral relations, is absolutely indispensable-if we consider these things, and take so much as a general survey of their character and importance, they raise
the expectation inconceivably higher, and seem as if they would constrain us to conclude, if man be reasonable at all, that, whatever other topics of research may occasionally attract him, yet the history of his own being, and circumstances, and prospects, is sure, in every instance, to be thoroughly explored.
Such is the verdict of theory, as founded in reason and enlightened self-love; but fact, alas! deplorably belies it. The phenomena of our nature are sedulously studied, as topics of rational amusement, or as ministering to the advancement of mere science, whether physical or ethical, or from the sordid desire of turning the many, to the supposed advantage of the few, whose deeper secular sagacity, or daring in sensual wickedness, may have given them the ascendency. In this latter respect, especially, our nature is eagerly studied, and extensively known. Its powers and competencies, in body or in mind, are industriously scanned, and correctly estimated ; its likings and aversions are carefully ascertained, and even its foibles, and weak points, are marked and appreciated, all for the purpose of making it subservient to an ever-working and multiform selfishness. Such is the kind of acquaintance with man, which is actively cultivated, and highly extolled, by the votaries of worldly wisdom: and were this the study of which we speak, our task would be easily accomplished, for all that is talent or enterprise in the busy world around us, is already in vigorous pursuit of it. So far from leading man, however, to a just and rational acquaintance with himself, it does the very reverse, it averts his attention from the proper subject; for the habit of looking outward makes him