Isaac Watts, Of Books and Reading, cont.


isaac-watts-follies-iniquitiesXIII. What I have said hitherto on this subject, relating to books and reading, must be chiefly understood of that sort of books, and those hours of our reading and study, whereby we design to improve the intellectual Powers of the mind with natural, moral, or divine knowledge. As for those treatises which are written to direct or to enforce and persuade our practice, there is one thing further necessary; and that is, that when our consciences are convinced that these rules of prudence or duty belong to us, and require our conformity to them, we should then call ourselves to account, and inquire seriously whether we have put them in practice or no; we should dwell upon the arguments, and impress the motives and methods of persuasion upon our own hearts, till we feel the force and power of them inclining us to the practice of the things which are there recommended.

If folly or vice be represented in its open colours, or its secret disguises, let us search our hearts, and review our lives, and inquire how far we are criminal; nor should we ever think we have done with the treatise while we feel ourselves in sorrow for our past misconduct, and aspiring after a victory over those vices, or till we find a cure of those follies begun to be wrought upon our souls.

In all our studies and pursuits of knowledge, let us remember that virtue and vice, sin and holiness, and the conformation of our hearts and lives to the duties of true religion and morality, are things of far more consequence than all the furniture of our understanding, and the richest treasures of more speculative knowledge; and that because they have a more immediate and effectual influence upon our eternal felicity or eternal sorrow.

XIV. There is yet another sort of books, of which it is proper I should say something, while I am treating on this subject; and these are history, poesy, travels; books of diversion or amusement: among which we may reckon also little common pamphlets, newspapers, or such like: for many of these I confess once reading may be sufficient, where there is a tolerable good memory. Or when several persons are in company, and one reads to the rest such a sort of writing, once hearing may be sufficient, provided that every one be so attentive, and so free, as to make their occasional remarks on such lines or sentences, such periods or paragraphs, as in their opinion deserve it.

Now all those paragraphs or sentiments deserve a remark, which are new and uncommon, are noble and excellent for the matter of them, are strong and convincing for the argument contained in them, are beautiful and elegant for the language or the manner, or any way worthy of a second rehearsal; and at the request of any of the company let those para graphs be read over again.

Such parts also of these writings as may happen to be remarkably stupid or silly, false or mistaken, should become subjects of an occasional criticism, made by some of the company; and this may give occasion to the repetition of them, for the confirmation of the censure, for amusement or diversion.

Still let it be remembered, that where the historical narration is of considerable moment, where the poesy, oratory, &c. shine with some degrees of perfection and glory, a single reading is neither sufficient to satisfy a mind that has a true taste of this sort of writings; nor can we make the fullest and best improvement of them without proper reviews, and that in our retirement as well as in company.

Who is there that has any tasteĀ for polite writings that would be sufficiently satisfied with hearing the beautiful pages of Steele or Addison, the admirable descriptions of Virgil or Milton, or some of the finest poems of Pope, Young, or Dryden, once read over to them, and then lay them by for ever?

XV. Among these writings of the latter kind we may justly reckon short miscellaneous essays on all manner of subjects; such as the Occasional Papers, the Tatler, the Spectator, and some other books that have been compiled out of the weekly or daily products of the press, wherein are contained a great number of bright thoughts, ingenious remarks, and admirable observations, which have had a considerable share in furnishing the present age with knowledge and politeness.

I wish every paper among these writings could have been recommended both as innocent and useful. I wish every unseemly idea and wanton expression had been banished from amongst them, and every trifling page had been excluded from the company of the rest when they had been bound up in volumes: but it is not to be expected, in so imperfect a state, that every page or piece of such mixed public papers should be entirely blameless and laudable. Yet in the main it must be confessed, there is so much virtue, prudence, ingenuity, and goodness in them, especially in eight volumes of Spectators, there is such a reverence for things sacred, so many valuable remarks for our conduct in life, that they are not improper to lie in parlours, or summer- houses, or places of usual residence, to entertain our thoughts in any moments of leisure or vacant hours that occur.

There is such a discovery of the follies, iniquities, and fashionable vices of mankind contained in them, that we may learn much of the humours and madnesses of the age and the public world, in our own solitary retirement, without the danger of frequenting vicious company, or receiving the mortal infection.


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