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But it must always be founded on comparisons and conclusions strictly made, and can never be correctly extended beyond actual knowledge; for reasoning by analogy is only to substitute conjecture for fact, or an imperfect for a perfect degree of knowledge.
The most general ideas are the result of minute inspection; and ought always to proceed from a careful examination of particulars; for the great superiority of modern philosophy is that it teaches us to be certain of facts before we draw conclusions. To understand any subject, we must study that subject. It is said that a knowledge of mathematics is a great help to reasoning. But a knowledge of mathematics can merely enable us to reason on mathematics; for it is not true that he who reasons well on one subject will reason well on another, unless he be equally acquainted with it. Reason is but another name for knowledge; and knowledge of subject is derived only from an actual comparison of parts. By comparing one part of a subject with another, we understand that subject; and by comparing one subject with another, we adjust the whole. The mind must rise from le s to more, from the small to the great, from the particular to the general. Yet, after it has attained a knowledge of the few principles or causes which actuate nature, it often returns to a more close examination of individual subjects, and forms to itself those little rules which may be distinguished by the name of maxims.* Even in the most minute and trifling affairs, we are on the watch for conclusions to regu late future conduct,
Hence, all ability is nothing more than a knowledge of general facts, or clear ideas of agreement or disagreement; although the extent to which distinct ideas are carried, is very different in different men.
This difference, or the various degrees in which the power of generalizing or abstracting may be possessed, the following Chapter is intended to shew.
* Some, indeed, think that the understanding here suffers a decay, and is destroyed by small reasonings.
The greatness of minds known by the extent of objects which they can embrace; or by their capability of tracing one cause, or arranging one set of facts.
THE natural talents of the mind can be ascertained only by its attainments; but, as intellectual energy must bear a relation to external objects, the distinct nature of their dif ference becomes an equally determinate criterion of the capability of the mind.
The perfect equality, so far as they demand attention, of all single objects or qualities forms an infallible basis for judging of the force of the intellect, and reduces the theory of genius to a clear principle. It is not to be said that one single, or simple idea is greater or more difficult of conception than another, but that one person has accumulated a greater or smaller number of ideas than another. Where there are ideas, there is genius, and all difference of genius consists merely in difference of extent or range of ideas.*
Nothing can, indeed, be more erroneous than to imagine that the difficulty of directing the operations of things increases in strict conformity with their magnitude or moral importance. There appears no greater policy nor stretch of mind necessary to the administration and economy of national than of domestic concerns; as it has been proved that, with only a change of terms, the same language, or combination of ideas, will apply to both. We have also seen it, oftener than once, exemplified, that a kingdom may be conquered with a smaller portion of good conduct and perseverance than an ordinary fortune can be acquired; and that a great general may be outdone, in sagacity, artifice, and stratagem, by a common pick-pocket.
* The term genius, as used emphatically for great genius, is a very indefinite mode of expression. Every person is, strictly speaking a man of genius, although there are different degrees of genius.
For, examples of this, see Campbell's Lexiphanes.
Every thing is difficult merely as it is complex; that mind only is greatest, which can contain the greatest nuinber of ideas, whose comprehension extends farthest, or whose grasp can embrace the most numerous and various set of objects.
As the mind overlooks the particular, and seizes the great and genera, of nature, it possesses genius; and as it is capable of multiplying its ideas of relation, and encreasing its sphere of analogy, it possesses wisdom. For, as there can be no judging without comparison, that comparison is best which is farthest extended, that reasoning most convincing which unites the greatest variety of objects in one view, and that conclusion most to be depended on which rests on the widest basis. All our opinions are formed upon greater or smaller theories, or more or less extended views of facts. Correctness of decision is, therefore, uniformly proportionate to the scope of the mind.
To infer either the presence or absence of great talents, from an individual exertion, is but to form a conjecture with regard to the intellectual powers. Judgment is never constituted, nor distinction ascertained, but by a chain of thought and train of ideas. For, as the importance of one thing de pends merely upon its relation to another, to comprehend any subject clearly, we must see beyond it, and have a view of its bearings with respect to other things.
The extent of the mind can, therefore, be justly obtained, and its excellence or deficiency rendered distinctly apparent, only by theory. In endeavouring to grasp a connected system, the mind is exerted to the limit of its ability; it measures its capacity by the difficulties of nature, and shews accurately its magnitude according to that standard. In tracing causes and arranging facts it is, at once, employed in very variety of operation; and comprehension is best discovered by the plan, and acuteness by the execution of syste matic performances.
The conception of connection and distinction is, in reality, but an act of the same talent inversely applied. As judgment is always produced by comparison, acuteness, whe
ther it be displayed in the union or separation of qualities or objects, is equally the criterion of an enlarged mind. Every original idea, whether it appear in the discovery of truth or the detection of error, every production independent of rules and effort beyond education, displays superiority of intellect, as it shews that we look farther than others. Little minds find employment within a very narrow circle, and are easily governed by the authority of celebrated names, established doctrines, and prevailing maxims. But independence of opinion, originality of thinking, and freedom of remark, denote the mind which is not to be fettered by common rules, and infallibly indicate a genius advanced beyond ordinary bounds.
Comprehension and acuteness produce, and elucidate each other. Comprehension creates acuteness, and acuteness discovers comprehension.* The extended mind must always be wise, and the wise mind extended. The vividness of a strong mind sometimes displays itself in concentrated penetration, and at other times in wide contemplation; but as acuteness discovers genius, only as it is relative to enlarged reflection, to judge of it by the former instead of the latter, is to prefer the knowledge of a remote to that of a proximate cause.
Genius is, in every case, to be measured by comprehension, in whatever manner that comprehension may be displayed. But as what is just only can be good, and as what is
Acuteness must not, however, be confounded with minuteness. A powerful mind is not minute. It is only strong differences or agreements, which it remarks; and it is a great mistake to think that these are obvions. For how often do we meet with persons who consider things the same when they are quite different; or different, when they are identical! How often, also, do we see persons change the subject in the course of a dispute, or allow it to be changed, without perceiving the change! Minuteness, indeed, often operates in opposition to acuteness. By taking too little into view, it may induce a person to imagine things to be different, while they are the same; or to be the same, while they are different. But the difference between acuteness and minuteness has bee beautifully marked by Locke. According to him, the former consists in distinction; and the latter, in division.
true only wise, to produce novelty without excellence, is merely to multiply error and vary absurdity.
Discovery has, indeed, always the appearance of paradox, because it proceeds from a degree of reflection which is inconsistent with familiar ideas on account of its extent. But eccentricity and extravagance are not, therefore, to be considered the criterion of genius; for unless paradox enlighten, as well as astonish, and impress conviction while it creates surprise, it must be considered as indicating unnatural com-' bination more than magnitude of comprehension. The invention of a visionary hypothesis must rank far below the discovery and delineation of a real canse of nature, and serves merely to illustrate the weakness of the mind which gave birth to it. If, therefore, in arrangement, the talents of men are most eminently distinguished and displayed, their deficiency is, in the same mode of exertion, not less conspicuous. Innumerable theories have been given to the world which have done honour to the species, while others have been produced, by the folly and caprice of men, of such whimsical construction as might have led us to imagine that they were intended to reflect disgrace upon human nature, and to render mankind ridiculous. Yet, to invent any system, which displays consistency, and includes analogy, however false, discovers a strength of mind superior to that which is incapable of conceiving any connected chain of ideas, although inferior to that which constructs an extensive theory according to the laws of nature and the principles of reason. The complicated vortices of Descartes, evince no small degree of ingenuity; but still they must rank far below the simple gravitation of Newton.
Those, however, who so unfortunately chuse their pursuits, exhibit to disadvantage, talents, which, had they been employed according to their extent, would have appeared greater than they really were. For we often imagine, that those who produce perfection in one pursuit will produce perfection in another, and that those who shine in narration will shine in theory.† But a person may be able to do every little
• See note Chap. XVI.
+ Voltaire is a respectable historian, but a very superficial philosopher.