Isaac Watts, More on Improving the Mind Through Observation



…in giving a few directions. concerning this method of improvement, I shall not so narrowly confine myself to the first mere impression of objects on the mind by observation, but include also some hints which relate to the first most easy and obvious reflections, or reasonings which arise from them.

LET the enlargement of your knowledge be one constant view and design in life, since there is no time or place, no transactions, occurrences, or engagement in life, which exclude us from this method of improving the mind.

When we are alone, even in darkness and silence, we may converse with our own hearts, observe the working of our own spirits, and reflect upon the inward motions of our own passions in some of the latest occurrences in life; we may acquaint ourselves with the powers and properties, the tendencies and inclinations, both of body and spirit, and gain a more intimate knowledge of ourselves. When we are in company, we may discover something more of human nature, of human passions and follies, and of human affairs, vices, and virtues, by conversing with mankind, and observing their conduct. Nor is there any thing more valuable than the knowledge of ourselves, and the knowledge of men, except it be the knowledge of God who made us, and our relation to him as our Governor.

When we are in the house or the city, wheresoever we turn our eyes, we see the works of men ; when we are abroad in the country, we behold more of the works of God. The skies and the ground above and beneath us, and the animal and vegetable world round about us, may entertain our observation with ten thousand varieties. Endeavour, therefore, to derive some instruction or improvement of the mind from every thing which you see or hear, from every thing which occurs in human life, from every thing within you or without you.


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Fetch down some knowledge from the clouds, the stars, the sun, the moon, and the revolutions of all the planets : dig and draw up some valuable meditations from the depths of the earth, and search them through the vast oceans of water : extract some intellectual improvements from the minerals and metals, from the wonders of nature among the vegetables and herbs, trees and flowers. Learn some lessons from the birds, and the beasts, and the meanest insect. Read the wisdom of God, and his admirable contrivance in them all. Read his almighty power, his rich and various goodness, in all the works of his hands.

From the day and the night, the hours and the flying minutes, learn a wise improvement of time, and be watchful to seize every opportunity to increase in knowledge. From the vicissitudes and revolutions of nations and families, and from the various occurrences of the world, learn the instability of mortal affairs, the uncertainty of life, the certainty of death. From a coffin and a funeral, learn to meditate upon your own departure. From the vices and follies of others, observe what is hateful in them ; consider how such a practice looks in another person, and remember that it looks as ill or worse in yourself. From the virtues of others, learn something worthy of your imitation. From the deformity, the distress, or calamity of others, derive lessons of thankfulness to God, and hymns of grateful praise to your Creator, Governor, and Benefactor, who has formed you in a better mould, and guarded you from those evils. Learn also the sacred lesson of contentment in your own estate, and compassion to your neighbour under his miseries.

From your natural powers, sensations, judgement, memory, hands, feet, &x. make this inference, that they were not given you for nothing, but for some useful employment to the honour of your Maker, and for the good of your fellow- creatures, as well as for your own best interest and final happiness. From the sorrows, the pains, the sicknesses, and sufferings that attend you, learn the evil of sin, and the imperfection of your present state. From your own sins and follies, learn the patience of God toward you, and the practice of humility toward God and man.

Thus, from every appearance in nature, and from every occurrence of life, you may derive natural, moral, and religious observations to entertain your minds, as well as rules of conduct in the affairs relating to this life, and that which is to come.

II. In order to furnish the mind with a rich variety of ideas, the laudable curiosity of young people should be…. tbc


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