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MUTUAL IMPROVEMENT SOCIETY., The Colonist, Volume V, Issue 474, 9 May 1862
MUTUAL IMPROVEMENT SOCIETY.
The following was delivered in the infant School Room, Nelson, on Monday, April 28th, to a large audience ; D. Rough, Ksq., in the chair.
An Addrkss to the Nelson Young Men's Mutual Improvement Society, in compliance with the request of their Chairman, Mr. D. Rough, by Edward Blackmore, M.D.
I propose to offer you some thoughts and observations which may assist you in accomplishing- the design ot your association. Its designation clearly defines your object, and the means which you have instituted for its aceoinplWiinent, namely, lectures, essays, discussions, and reading classes, appear to me to bo admirably adapted to your purpose. To a person oi a reflective mmd, of years suflieient to have given him some experience of human lift*, and of man, his capabilities, his doings, and his errors, and of the means which expel ience has proved to be conducive to the advancement of our race, in their individual and social character, towards that measure of perfection and happiness which our beneficent Creator has made possible in this fallen world,—to such a reflective person this institution and the progress of your society, and of the kindred society—the Young Men's Christian Association—are objects of high interest: for the constitution and objects of both these societies are founded on the revealed fact that' man is (lie similitude of God,' —an immortal being endued with a rational nature, that is to say, an intellectual and moral nature, —a nature possessing faculties related to terrestrial and sensible and temporal objects, and to objects celestial, invisible (except to the eye of faith), and eternal, —a nature, moreover, that is capable ot unlimited progression in knowledge and in moral goodness, and in the spiritual power of the soul, until it attains to a state of glory and perfection not inferior to that which is enjoyed by the angelic spirits of heaven,—and, what is more, a nature that is to be conformed to the image of the Son of God !
Your purport and design, as an association, is to obtain and secure for each of its members that measure of mental improvement that is derivable from the free and friendly intercommunion of various minds, each of which possesses a mental character and a store of knowledge peculiar to itself. Such a mutual communication of knowledge, and the calm expression of criticising judgments on the lectures and essays submitted to the attention of tho Society, must, from the principles of our nature—those particularly of emulation, of the desire of approbation, and of the love of excellence—and from the sentiments of social sympathy and benevolence, strongly tend to developo and to augment the intellectual powers of each member, and to complete the mental stores of each by the addition of that which every other member
Let me direct your attention for a few minutes to the importance of the social principle in its relation to the cultivation of the mind The young man, the private student, who has not had the advantange of a complete school education, sensible of the evils of ignorance, and thirsting for knowledge, and possessing no other means than books, and these possibly not wisely selected, for satisfying his desire of instruction, is in peril of forming false notions or limited views of nature and of man ; and if he have not the advantage of mental intercourse with persons of riper ago and larger scientific acquirements than his own, he will be likely to entertain an exaggerated opinion of his own mental powers, and possibly of becoming vainglorious, egotistic, and absurdly confident of the absolute truth of hi* own opinions.
He may indeed, by tho strenuous exertion of vigorous intellectual powers, become, in the vu'gar opinion, a learned man ; a great linguist; a ' library in breeches' that is to say, a capacious repository of other men's opinions and sayings and doings; nevertheless he is not an that account a man of wisdom, which—to use the words of my reverend friend, the late learned Dr. Adam Clarke, the celebrated author of tho commentary on the Bible, —'excels learning by a semidiameter of tho vhole vortex of nature !' Nor is lie. in the highest sense of the term, even an educated man: for communion vith superior minds is the real educator of man. This communion is the best nurse and evolver of the wondrous powers with which it has pleased the Creator to endow His sole counterpart in this lower world—that animal, spiritual, immortal being named man.
The light in the mind of the solitary student seems to me not unlike the light of smoking embers, a light that displays the ember itself to the sentient beings near it, but fails to enlighten their path ; it is the light of a dimly burning body that never kindles to a flame. The wisdom and the critical judgment of the mere private student may be said to resemble, in its luminousneos and power, the moonlight of the natural world, and the gravitating force of a flake of snow !
As, when other burning bodies are placed in contact with the smoking ember, iU heat rises and it kindles to a fUme, and the whole substance becomes a source of light and heat to all surrounding bodies ; — so, when intelligent minds come iir.o contact and free inter-comnumion with similar other minds, or occasions such as the discussional meetings of your society, the interchange of thought and feeling evolves a brilliancy of reason and of sentiment that gives to both parties equal surprise and delight, and enables them to return to the labors of common lile with enlarged powers. The emulation which is fostered by the system of the public schools and universities of our fatherland, and by the various royal and private societies in Great Britain and Ireland, stimulates each member to strive in amicable rivalry to excel his fellow members in the acquisition and communication of literary and scientific knowledge; and thus each is enriched with the combined intellectual wealth of a)l. Such associate labors for the advancement of civil society are the distinguishing glory of modern times. It is by the wise composition of the intellectual forces of superior minds that modern civilization has attained to its present grandeur and beauty. Associations for literary, philosophical, sanitary, industrial, political, and religious objects, in short conjoined labors for every object of human enterprise and ambition constitute the fashion of the day : and the results are magnificent indeed ! And let us hope that a large development of genius and mental power, and moial goodness will be the result of the efforts of tins society and of the other societies in Nelson of a kindred nature—the Young Men's Christian Association and the Institute. Can we doubt there is latent talent and genius among us ?
" Full many a gem of purest ray serene, The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear ; Full many a flower born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air." Be ambitious, young men of Nelson, to be explorers of your moral mines, and yourselves and your fellowcitizens will lie enriched with precious minerals of a far higher order than chrome or copper!
Your professed object in associating yourselves is the mutual improvement of your minds. Now, mutual improvement requires, and, indeed, pre-supposes, selfimprovement, self- culture. The conversation of uneducated, unimproved minds, can never form an educated, an accomplished mind; the converse, the familiar talk, of brutish minds tends only to increase the brutishness of each. A wise man may indeed acquire a deeper impression of the value of improvement in mind and morals, and manners, from observing the characteristics of the vulgar and uneducated.
What then arc we to understand by the culture and discipline of the mind ?
The very word culture suggests the analogy between the soil, the waste land of this earth, and its cultivation, and the natural mind and its cultivation. Man has to cultivate, to dress, to till the ground, that ho may obtain tho food necessary for the sustenance of animal lite, and, by the exchange of a portion of the produce of his labor, acquire a portion of the wealth of others, and tho products of foreign lands. Now, it appears to me that tho analogy between the industrial work of the farmer upon his farm and of the human being upon his mind is very suggestive of impoiUnt instruction ; there is a great similarity in the respective position of these two parties in regard to tho necessity of industrial labor for effecting the improvement of the property of each of them,
What then has the ar/ru-u!turist to perform ? He has to improve his land, to manure it, to plant, to sow, and reap it, tint ho may fill his barns with the precious fruits of his, skilful' labor-. Or, to take another analogy: let us suppose that you are a gardener; how do you manage your garden plot, the piece of ground inclosed for the cultivation of herba and fruits and flowers ? You dig it, you turn up the earth; you clear it of weeds, and of vermin and other noxious animals: you let it remain exposed for a time to celestial influences, —the air, and winds, and rain of heaven. You sow seed in it; you watch for the young shoots of the germinating seed to ascertain that it has not been destroyed by the fowls or the slugs and other destructive creatures; you water the young plants; you prune the young trees and shrub.}; you train their branches in the direction you think proper: and what more remains to be done that the enjoyment ot the fiuit of your labors may be assured to you ? Is there not something more than all this biennial labor? Yea: t.o Leg the Lord of Nature to give you the lv.-eessary rain and sunshine, and ' fruitful'seasons, filling your heart with food and gladness.' Lot me give you another simile, —another comparison for the illustration and impression of this subject. Let it he supposed that you purpose to breed animals: how do you treat the young animal, in order to preserve it in health and make it grow? You feed it wil.li proper food, y^u protect it from hurtful agents, yon allow it freedom of exercise. Treat, manage, and cultivate your minds, my young friends, as you would treat your young nninuls, and manage your gardens, and those minds will grow nnfo perfection ! Wholesome knowledge is the food for the mind ; ignorance and the corrupting influence of evil companions are its death-darting foes ; sloth, laziness, sluggardliness, will cramp its energies and stop its growth. Allow me to recommend you to ' learn by heart' that instructive moral song of a celebrated poet and theologian of the last century, Dr. Isaac Watts, entitled ' The Sluggard.' The Doctor's description of the sluggard's restless turnings of himself from side to side on his bed, his sitting with folded hands after lie gets up, or sauntering in his walks, or trifling when he stands still ; his garden overgrown with the wild briar, the thorn, and the thistle ; his clothes turning to rags ; his money wasting till he is reduced to starve or beg : his neglect of all care of his bible and of his mind; his talk only of his dreams, and of eating and drinking; while he is most, abhorrent of thinking:—this fine 'moral painting exhibits to us the picture of a ruined wan. that fills us with honor! Have we any sluggards in N Teison ?
After this preliminary dissertation, I proceed to the main theme of my address, and will endeavor to give you some aid in your pursuit of mental improvement.
Jly first remark with this purpose h—Lot your very soul be profoundly penetrated with a sharp conviction of the necessity of mental improvement; that is, of securing the advancement of your minds from bad to good—from good to better—from better to best. Does not every day bring under your observation t,he evils of popular ignorance and ot vulgar errors ? It is a divine saying, " That the soul be without knowledge is not good." We arc taught the same lesson also by the phenomena of the natural world—a limb that is never used ceases to grow ; it wastes, and becomes palsied. Exactly so it is with the human mind, from the- nature of the organic laws assigned to it by its Creator. The necessity, the vast importance of early mental culture arises from the solemn fact that the present lifetime is our only seed-time for the life beyond the grave, that is "to last for ever. Whatever be our mental character in this life, such will it be for ever. The mental tastes and habits of thought and affection formed in this world accompany the human spirit into the eternal world ; the entrance into that world makes no change in the constitution of the human mind, nor in its moral and intellectual character, or in its personal qualities; its present powers remain—perception, memory, the affections of the soul, and the conscience, are all invulnerable to the dart of death. It has been believed by some philosophers that the very thoughts of the mind, as well as its capabilities, are imperishable, are permanent in the spiritual substance; and is there not reason for tiiis belief, in the fact that man is, in his spiritual nature, the image of that Divine Being " who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever?'1 Matter itself, or that thing of whose primary elements, according to credible scientific researches, all visible terrestrial things are composed, appears to be absolutely indestructible— at least by any forces known to human observation or experience. The Almighty One, indeed, who gave to matter a beginningcan also destroy whatever He has made; but as far as is known from natural science and from the Ilovealed Word, it is the will of the Creator that his work it its essential subsistence shall continue for ever: what is vulgarly named destruction in the natural world is nothing more than a change of form, and of the manner in which the primary elements are compounded. The singular phenomena of the drowning Hate also, as uniformly reported by intelligent persons, of whom 1 may name a former Governor of New Zealand, Captain Fitzroy, and Dr. Adam Clarke, who were to all appearance dead when taken out of the water, and revived by human art, tend to show at_ least this, that the conscious action of the human spirit in remembering past thoughts, and the scenes of external objects, and events, is not necessarily dependent on the normal condition of the animal-life-func-tions, namely, respiration, and the circulation of the blood. In the last moments of consciousness in the state of drowning the whole n( the phenomena of the nnst history of the individuals are said to have rushed across the mind witli the rapidity and luiainousness of the lightning. Whatever may be the real import of this physiological phenomenon, wo have abundant evidence that the identity of every human soul in everlasting in the age that has no end; and the happiness or the misery of each one, and the comparative position of each will be proportioned to the use he had made of the talents, and (lie opportunities of improvement possessed in this life.
My second rcina;k is,—Admit and hold fast a firm, n lively peisimsion of the possibility of your vastly improving your minds in the season of youth, by assiduous Bell-culture, believe that each of you, voting men, can do very much in promoting his own self-improve-ment; the youngest, of you, whom I suppose to be in your teens, is not too young to be occupied in this work. The seven years named the teens are the most precious of all years for this work: they are in comparison the best seedtime for the whole of after life; they are the spring-time of human life, and if this season be lost, the summer and autumn and winter of your mental life will be a scene of barrenness and dismal desolation. It is the formative period of the permanent personal qualites of the mind; the mental tastes, and habits, and the stores of knowledge acquired in this period will abide in all the succeeding years oj life; what you are, in yourselves, during these years, that you will be in adult life and in old age; it is the period when the memory is in the height of its power—curiosity, inquisitiveness is exceedingly active ; the higher powers of the understanding are beginning to unfold themselves ; the youth ceases to be a creature of mere sense, and of impulsive passions, and of undiscriminating imitativeness ; he is becoming a being of intellect, and reflection, and of judgment; the mind is now extraordinarily active, sensitive, susceptible of impression and mouldings, and these impressions cannot be easily or soon effaced ; the bonks read by the youth in his "teens, the companions with whom he associates, the places, the facts, the events that come before his views, have a magic power in forming the fashion of the mind's working, and in accumulating the capital, the funded wealth of his soul. Biography teaches us that the eggs, the seedlings, the early rudiments of some of the grandest productions of the intellectual grandees in the republic of philosophy and of science, were formed before their authors were out of their teens 1
« The boy is father to the man.- the essential features of the mental, character of the man are the photographic likeness of his character when a youth. Young men of Nelson ! allow an old man to say to you : • Learn to respect, to reverence the natural dignity ot the human mind in its youth; to appreciate aiight the wondrous powers of your own individual minds; and to know your solemn responsibility to tho Father of your spirits and your most Just Judge, for the use you make of those powers in these precious seven years of your life. The harvest you will reap in manhood, and especially in old age, is the natural product of the seed sown in early life: tho reminiscences of old ago are the reflections of the thoughts ninl actions of youthful ago. I do not mean to say that a momentous moral change is not possible in adult life, and even in advanced old age, but I do maintain the statement that the character of the mind as to its specific pnwers, its natural or ucquiied tastes and distastes, the whole fashion of its nntural workings, is the same in every after period of of life as it was in youth. Whatever harvest of mental riches, whatever ripened and gathered stores of thoughts and feelings, of dispositions and energies, whatever stores of natural or moral science you desire to possess in the season of mature age, the seed-corn for tho harvest must be sown in youth. Persons whose desire of self-improvement has been first felt in advanced life, have confessed in sadness the great difficulty they have felt Jn acquiring knowledge,
Youths arc really men of a smaller stature. Revere, nc^. then, youthful age, its vast consequence, ;uvl iti solemn responsibilities. ' Man is the maker of immortal fates': I must 1 eject the dogma, if it be nieint in its absoluta sense, that ' man is the creature of circumstances)' every human being, man and boy, i-< in some degree, and that not a low degree, the forin-:i- of his own mental character and of his enduring fortune.
Self-culture, the improvement of the mind of every human being, excepting only that of the born idiot, is not a dream. It is possible to all men who aic not physically diseased! it has its foundation in the august design of the Creator when He formed us m?n. You can, if you will, adorn your mental house with useful and ornamental furniture; you can sweep away whatever lieap.i of rubbish and tilth have been accumulating in it; you can illumine its various chambers; you can make your mind a palace into which the messenger-spirits of heaven nv-iy delight to enter and dwell. Every natural mind has a power of self-inspec-tion and a power of rousing his spirit from a dormant state into a waking state ; from a passive state into a dynamic state, that is, a powerful sate; you can direct your strong, eiger, earnest attention to whatever objects you please to observe, to think on, or to reflect on, to examine, and to criticise; you can turn your mind's eye on itself; you can perceive the thoughts that arise before your consciousness as clearly as you can see the sun when he shines in a cloudless sky ; and by that wonderful power of self wilt, that power of comma-id over the movements of your minds, you can shape and lahion your modes of thinking, you can regulate the succession of your thoughts, you can, in other words, think consecutively and logically, or loosely and inconsequentially, at pleasure j you can loosen the reins of your volitionpower and allow your mind to disport itself with thoughts that follow one the other in casual succession,—thoughts that resemble in their course the fantastic, winding, meandering dances of the summer evening gnats, or the coursings of the butterfly, or the gossamer when driven by every changing breeze that blows; you can by the wondrous power of the will over the memory, recal the impressions, the scenes, the events, the actions of years long past, and thus live over again the days gone by : and by watching the present phenomena of your consciousness, that is, the appearance of the present mental affections and movements of the soul, y< v can learn its various capacities of reflection and compaiHjn and judgment, and its peculiar susceptibility of the influence of external things: in a word you can, each of you, learn to know yourself, and from perceiving what you are in your mental properties and faculties you can foresee what you m-iy become by sedulous self-culture; and by reflecting on youv ment.il workings in past hours, which the memory has retiinod, and comparing them with the workings of the present hours, you may perceive the signs of progression in the mind's powers and acquirements—of growth in its spiritual stature.: and from this you will acquire the idea, the belief, that to this possible progressiveness and positive progression no bounds can be set. Every human being is endowed by his Divine Creator with a power of advancing ever more and more towards the perfection of the infinite mind ! Now, it is by cultivating this power, and the habit of looking in to one's self, that we learn the work that is to to be done in self-culture. None of you will controvert the truth of this remark ; nevertheless, is it not true that not many persons do not penetrate into the depths of their own nature ? Most persons are fond of contemplating themselves in theglass and are familiar enough with their own faces: but their mmdi, the man within, as Dr. Adam Smith styles it, is a stranger to them; and therefore it is that they do not make self-culture, that is, the unfolding of their mental powers—the adorning of their capacious spirits with thoughts of beauty and of truth their grand aim in life. An eminent American writer has said that ' multitudes live and die as truly strangers to themselves as they are to the countries of which they have heard nothing more than the name.'
The possessing the power of acting on our minds, the self-determining power, the power of determining the particular application of our mental faculties, is that specitic endowment which makes man a creature responsible to his Creator for the quality of his thoughts and words and actions ; while it is a glorious distinction of human nature it is an endowment that involves a fearful responsibility. If we had not the power of awakening the spirit to an active state, a power-state, and of controlling the operation of our passions, and of bringing before our minds the objects and influences that tend to coui'orm them to the image of the All-perfect Creator—the power of concentrating the attention on the manifestations of the Divine character and the Divine will in the works of nature and in the revealed Word, we should not really be accountable beings; we should be no other than the fowls of heaven or the fishes of the sea. Impotent as man is, in comparison with superhuman orders of beings, he can, if he chooses, fix his mental eye on the perfections of the All perfect; and beholding the beauty and sublimity of that Divine mind, he in impelled, by the constitution of human nature, to admire, and to desire at least to be' like Him. If I feel that I am in the night-gloom of ignorance, I know also that I can open my intellectual eye and watch for the- appearing of the day-star of the moral firmament, and such watching will surely be rewarded in one's inner heart with the shining of that spiritual sun ' which shines more and more unto the perfect day.'
Look at the marvellous results of tha energetic application of the human intellect, and the human hand in matters of this material world :—not less in their grandeur, and even more precious in their value, aro the results of the wise application of this mental selfforming power in ultimately perfecting the immortal spirit in the likeness of its Creator. Yet alas! this wondrous power is in many minds absolutely unused, dormant, not even Buspected to exist!
Let me lepcat what cannot be too strongly impressed on your minds : It is the energetic use of these three great powers, the self-discerning, self-govern-ing, self-forming powers, that is tli9 basis of all selfimprovement; and HeliVimproveiiicnt is the foundation of ' mutual improvement.' If we desire to attain to knowledge and wisdom, we must endeavor to discover the character and extent of our own abilities and capacities, and then resolutely, umntermittiugly, apply ourselves, 'one and all' to the acquisition of that knowledge which bents our several intellectual and moral necessities, and our particular place and vocation in civil life. We must bring before the mind's eye,—that is, the mind's perceptive faculty,— the objects that are fitted to advance us in intellectual power and wealth and in moral beauty; we muse ward off the force of all counteracting agents,—all corrupting books, companions, and scenes;—we must keep ourselves far from the assembly of the scomers of wisdom, of the sceptics of truth, of the lovers of base and vitiating pleasures ; whatever is inimictl to the health and growth of the living spirit, the soul, the mind, must be cast far away: and besides all this, we must ' exercise ourselves ' unto wisdom and virtue and godliness.
[Note. —Candor requires me to say that this edition of my address contains, as my auditors will perceive, some amplification of the remarks read and spoken extempore at the meeting on Monday evening.— E.B.] (To be continued.)
MUTUAL IMPROVEMENT SOCIETY., The Colonist, Volume V, Issue 474, 9 May 1862
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