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ESSAY V.

OF AN EARLY TASTE FOR READING.

The first indications of genius disclose themselves at a very early period. A sagacious observer of the varieties of intellect, will frequently be able to pronounce with some confidence upon a child of tender years, that he exhibits marks of future eminence in eloquence, invention or judgment.

The embryon feed that contains in it the promise of talent, if not born with a man, ordinarily takes its station in him at no great distance from the period of birth. The mind is then, but rarely afterwards, in a state to receive and to fofter it.

The talents of the mind, like the herbs of the ground, seem to diftribute themselves at random. The winds disperse from one spot to another the invisible germs; they take root in many cases without a planter ; and grow up without care or observation. It would be truly worthy of regret, if chance,

so

so to speak, could do that, which all the sagacity of man was unable to effect *; if the distribution of the noblest ornament of our nature, could be subjected to no rules, and reduced to no lyftem. He that would extend in this respect the

province of education, must proceed, like the improvers of other sciences, by experiment and observation. He must watch the progress of the dawning mind, and discover what it is that gives it its first determination.

The lower of feed cannot foretel which feed shall fall useless to the ground, destined to wither and to perish, and which shall take root, and display the most exuberant fertility. As among the seeds of the earth, fo among the perceptions of the human mind, some are reserved, as it were, for instant and entire oblivion, and fome, undying and immortal, assume an importance never to be superseded. For the first we ought not to torment ourselves with an irrational anxiety; the last cannot obtain from us an attention superior to their worth.

* This suggestion is by no means inconsistent with the remark in Essay III. that the production of genius perhaps never was the work of the preceptor. What never yet hás been accomplished, may hereafter be accomplished.

There

There is perhaps nothing that has a greater tendency to decide favourably or unfavourably respecting a man's future intellect, than the question whether or not he be imprefled with an early taste for reading.

Books are the depofitary of every thing that is most honourable to man. Literature, taken in all its bearings, forms the grand line of demarcation between the human and the animal kingdoms. He that loves reading, has every thing within his reach. He has but to desire; and he may possess himself of every species of wisdom to judge, and power to perform.

The chief point of difference between the man of talent and the man without, consists in the different ways in which their minds are employed during the same interval. They are obliged, let us suppose, to walk from TempleBar to Hyde-Park-Corner. The dull man goes straight forward; he has so many furlongs to traverse. He observes if he meets any of his acquaintance; he enquires respecting their health and their family. He glances perhaps the shops as he paffes; he admires the fashion of a buckle, and the metal of a tea-urn. If he experience any flights of fancy, they are of a short extent; of the same nature as the flights of a forest-bird, clipped of his wings,

and

and condemned to pass the rest of his life in a farm-yard. On the other hand the man of talent gives full scope to his imagination. He laughs and cries. Unindebted to the suggestions of surrounding objects, his whole foul is employed. He enters into nice calculations ; he digests sagacious reasonings. In imagination he declaims or describes, impressed with the deepest fympathy, or elevated to the loftiest rapture. He makes a thousand new and admirable combinations. He passes through a thousand imaginary feenes, trics his courage, talks his ingenuity, and thus becomes gradually prepared to meet almost any of the many-coloured events of human life. He consults by the aid of me-. mory the books he has read, and projects otherş. for the future instruction and delight of mankind. If he observe the passengers, he reads. their countenances, conjectures their past biftory, and forms a fuperficial notion of their wisdom or folly, their virtue or vice, their fatiffaction or misery. If he observe the scenes that occur, it is with the eye of a connoisseur or an artist. Every object is capable of suggesting: to him a volume of reflections. The time of these two persons in one respect resembles ; it has brought them both to Hyde-Park-Corner.. In almost every other respect it is diffimilar,

What

What is it that tends to generate these very opposite habits of mind ?

Probably nothing has contributed more than an early taste for reading. Books gratify and excite our curiosity in innumerable ways. They force us to reflect. They hurry us from point to point. They present direct ideas of various kinds, and they suggest indirect ones. In a well-written book we are presented with the maturest reflections, or the happiest flights, of a mind of uncommon excellence. It is impossible that we can be much accustomed to such companions, without attaining some resemblance of them. When I read Thomson, I become Thomson ; when I read Milton, I become Mil. ton. I find myself a sort of intellectual camelion, assuming the colour of the substances on which I rest. He that revels in a well-chosen library, has innumerable dishes, and all of admirable flavour. His taste is rendered so acute, as easily to distinguish the nicest shades of difference. His mind becomes ductile, susceptible to every impression, and gaining new refinement from them all. His varieties of thinking baffle calculation, and his powers, whether; of reason or fancy, become eminently vigorous. - Much seems to depend in this case. upon

the period at which the taste for reading has com

D

menced

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