Isaac Watts on Improving the Mind Via Lectures

living instructorfrom Improvement of the mind, by Isaac Watts, D.D. Ed. by Stephen

Previously, we read Isaac Watts’ discourse on improving the mind by reading.  Here he explains how listening to oral teaching may improve the mind:

III. The advantage of verbal instructions by public or private lectures are these:

1. There is something more sprightly, more delightful and entertaining in the living discourse of a wise, learned, and well-qualified teacher, than there is in the silent and sedentary practice of reading. The very turn of voice, the good pronunciation, and the polite and alluring manner which some teachers have attained, will engage the attention, keep the soul fixed, and convey and insinuate into the mind the ideas of things in a more lively and forcible way, than the mere reading of books in the silence and retirement of the closet.

2. A tutor or instructor, when he paraphrases and explains other authors, can mark out the precise point of difficulty or controversy, and unfold it. He can show you which paragraphs are of greatest importance, and which are of less moment. He can teach his hearers what authors, or what parts of an author, are best worth reading on any particular subject, and thus save his disciples much time and pains, by shortening the labours of their closet and private studies. He can show you what were the doctrines of the ancients, in a compendium which perhaps would cost much labour and the perusal of many- books to attain. He can inform you what new doctrines or sentiments are arising in the world before they come to be public ; as well as acquaint you with his own private thoughts, and his own experiments and observations, which never were, and perhaps never will be, published to the world, and yet may be very valuable and useful.

3. A living instructor can convey to our senses those notions with which he would furnish our minds, when he teaches us natural philosophy, or most parts of mathematical learning. He can make the experiments before our eyes. He can describe figures and diagrams, point to the lines and angles, and make out the demonstration in a more intelligible manner by sensible means, which cannot so well be done by mere reading, even though we should have the same figures lying in a book before our eyes. A living teacher, therefore, is a most necessary help in these studies.

I might add also, that even where the subject of discourse is moral, logical, or rhetorical, etc., and which does not directly come under the notice of our senses, a tutor may explain his ideas by such familiar examples, and
plain or simple similitudes, as seldom find place in books
and writings.

4. When an instructor in his lectures delivers any matter of difficulty, or expresses himself in such a manner as seems obscure, so that you do not take up his ideas clearly or fully, you have opportunity, at least when the lecture is finished, or at other proper seasons, to inquire how such a sentence should be understood, or how such a difficulty may be explained and removed.

If there be permission given to free converse with the tutor, either in the midst of the lecture, or rather at the end of it, concerning any doubts or difficulties that occur to the hearer, this brings it very near to conversation or discourse.


Next, improving the mind through conversation


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