Page images

We are

ardor and a swifter progress, and moving with a diviner energy for ever and for ever!

Su h is a brief and imperfect glance at the various departments of self-cultivation. It should commence with self-knowledge, self-rule and self-formation; and by it we should seek to improve and perfect ourselves as physical, intellectual, social, moral and religious beings. In all these self-cultivation is possible; for in all these we have capacity for growth; and in all it is demanded by our nature, that we may be useful and happy here, and worthy of our high destiny both here and hereafter, that we may meet the high obligations which God has placed upon us, fully to rise to which, demands the highest possible perfection of our being.

III. Some of the MEANS of self-cultivationsome of the aids to progress in it. Here the field is well nigh endless. A brief glance is all that will be attempted.

1. We must feel that all of which we have spoken, and even more than this, is possible. Impossibility is the death of effort. But when a prize is before us, the possibility that it may be ours, should rouse us to the greater effort to grasp it. to feel then of self-cultivation, that it is not a dream, but that it has its foundation in our own natures; that others have made vast progress in it, and that we may do the same. We are not to permit our minds, like the caged-up eagle, to pine away and starve by being confined to that which is just about us and already ours; but we are to feel as a reality, that we may make progress to the

very end of our being; that we may for ever be growing in the high and inspiring consciousness of constant self-improvement. Faith in our own powers, and in the possibility of their growth—faith in the power of effort-faith in God's assistance, that he will ever help us if we help ourselves this faith, living in the atmosphere of truth, and ever catching glimpses of a distant and divine perfection, will give wings to the soul, on which she may rise for ever. We are to feel, then, as a first principle, that there is no limit to the range of our growth-no goal to the progress of the immortal spirit with

2. We are also to feel that self-cultivation is important. We are to feel that our dignity and usefulness, and influence and happiness, that our all is involved in it; that without it we are nothing; that with it we may be every thing. Well hath the philosopher remarked of man, that “ if he neglecteth himself, SECOND SERIES, VOL. V. NO. I.


in us.

if he forgetteth the mighty spirit and the godlike soul within him, he stoopeth himself from the converse of angels, to the insects of a day, and the brutes that perish." And applicable to all is the remark made by the poet respecting woman, that when in her he thought he had found

The fulness of that holy light,
That makes earth beautiful and bright,

he has

turned and wept to find Beneath it all a trifling mind.

it. “Resolution," says another, "is omnipotent." And if we will but solemnly determine to make the most and the best of all our powers and capacities, and if to this end, with Wilberforce, we will but “ seize and improve even the shortest intervals of possible action and effort," we shall find that there is no limit to our advancement. Without this resolute and earnest purpose, the best aids and means are of little worth ; but with it, even the weakest are mighty. Without it, we shall accomplish nothing; with it, every thing. A man who is deeply in earnest, acts upon the motto of the pick-axe on the old seal: “Either I will find a way, or I will make one.” He has somewhat the spirit of Buonaparte, who, when told on the eve of battle that circumstances were against him, replied: "Circumstances! I make or control circumstances, not bow to them.” In self-cultivation, as in every thing else, to think we are able is almost to be so; to resolve to attain is often attainment. Everywhere are the means of progress, if we have but the spirit, the fixed purpose to use them. And if, like the old philosopher, we will but take as our motto: Higher --for ever higher," we may rise by them all. He that resolves upon any great end, by that very resolution has scaled the chief barrier to it; and so he who seizes the grand idea of self-cultivation, and solemnly resolves upon it, will find that idea, that resolution, burning like living fire within him, and ever putting him upon his own improvement. He will find it removing difficulties, searching out or making means, giving courage for despondency, and strength for weakness; and, like the star in the east to the wise men of old, guiding him nearer and still nearer to the sum of all perfection. If we are but fixed and resolute-bent on self-improvement, we shall find means enough to it on every side, and at every moment; and even obstacles

3. We must resolve upon

and opposition will but make us like the fabled “spectre ships, which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind.”

4. We are to go to it by degrees with patient and persevering effort. Many, when circumstances have turned their attention to self-improvement, and while the glowing picture is before them, often make excellent and sometimes prodigious resolutions. But because they do not, as by a leap, at once become perfect, they are soon ready to give up the effort in despair. For such, for all, it were well to reinember, that self-cultivation is a matter of slow progress, of patient and persevering effort, and that in little things, from day to day and from hour to hour. It is the fixed law of the universe, that little things are ever the elements—the parts of the great. The grass does not spring up full grown. It rises by an increase so noiseless and gentle, as not to disturb an angel's ear, and not to be seen by an angel's eye. The rain does not fall in masses, but in drops, or even in the breath-like moisture of the fine mist, as if the world were one vast condenser and God had breathed upon it. The planets do not leap from end to end of their orbits; but in their ever onward progress, inch by inch, and line by line it is that they circle the heavens. And so with self-improvement. It is not a thing of fits and impulses and explosions, but of constant watchfulness, and patient and unwearied effort, and of gradual and ceaseless advancement. There is no royal road to it,—no vaulting to it by a leap. Like the wealth of the miser it must be heaped up piece by piece; and then at length, like the wealth of the miser, it may almost be without limit. Like the coral reefs of the ocean, it must grow by small but constant additions; and then it will finally be like those reefs, admirable in all its parts, and rivalling the very mountains in size. Here is the secret of what are technically, and we had almost said nonsensically known as self-made men : -as if they had made themselves without means or opportunity ; when the truth is, every one of them, will be found on investigation to have improved all his time, to have made the most of every opportunity, to have been making effort, and of course making progress at every passing moment. “Never to have an idle moment," was the motto of one of this character, and probably of most like him.

5. We should reverence our own nature. We should remember that we were made for every thing that is high, or noble, or excellent. We are to feel that our rational and immortal

nature is worth more than all the material universe, and that we may make it worth far more than it now is. We are to feel that we are men, and that God's image is upon us; and we are to cultivate ourselves, because we are men, and because that image is upon us- --because we are for ever to exist, and because we may rise higher and shine brighter for ever.

6. We should seek the intercourse of superior minds. Not that we should depend on those ; for our own activity and effort are essential to our progress. But we should rouse, and inform, and stimulate our own minds by frequent contact and intercourse with those whose minds are superior to our own. Many such we may find in the walks of every-day life, in the lectureroom, or the social circle. But especially may we have communion with the great, and the wise, and the good of every age, in books, where their voices echo to us down through the stillness of time. Here it is that we may hold converse with the mightiest minds of the past--with Milton, “ in his glorious old age, when his thoughts, like the ravens of the prophet, brought him heavenly food;" and Shakspeare, with his lofty imaginings, and his deep knowledge of the human heart; and Bacon, with his profound and far-reaching thought,“ like the old Greek poets, half sage and half seer;" and Cowper, with his sweet and tender instructions. And far more, here it is that the prophets, and apostles, and the Redeemer himself are our companions; giving us their most precious thoughts-pouring their very souls into ours—making us the daily associates of the noblest, and wisest, and best, that earth has ever seen. By the habit of well-directed reading we may shut out the present bustling world; and, as by a touch of the resurrection, may wake up from our book-shelves the dead of every age, and gather them to our companionship and instruction. And this habit, if we will but cherish it, will ever be to us, not only a strong safeguard from folly and vice, and a source of the highest enjoyment, but the sure means of self-improvement. Nothing can supply the place of books. The wealth of the Indies should not tempt us to be without them. We should seek, then, not always those that the wise recommend, because they have found them good, but those that best waken and rivet our attention and interest; those that best unfold ourselves, and lead us to think, and rouse us to the consciousness of our own powers.


Self-culture no more demands the sacrifice of our judgment, than of our individuality. We are not to feel as if we were all to be cast into the same mould, and conformed to the same likeness; as if perfection could be the same to all. Each is to develope himself and perfect himself as he is, not as the initator of others. And to do this, each must think for himself, and judge for himself, in all his readings. Otherwise, whatever the extent of his information, his character will be spiritless and tame, as if he were but a fragment of the mass, rather than an individual man. We should commune with thinkers, not to adopt all that they may say because they say it, but that we may learn to be thinkers too. In all our reading, we should cherish the art which is one of the highest attainments of self-cultivation—that of uniting that childlike docility which thankfully welcomes light from every human being who can give it, with the independent and manly rejection of every opinion which does not commend itself to our own deliberate judgment. Ever should we strengthen our reason by that of others, but never should we blindly bow to them, however high their talents or reputation. Ever should we be true-sacredly and firmly true to our own convictions; and then shall we be conscious of “a spiritual force, and independence and progress unknown to the vulgar, whether in high or low life, who march as they are drilled to the step of their times.”

7. We must in all things and ever be intent upon it. We are not to feel, as we are too prone to do, that self-improvement is a thing of books and studies merely, but rather as something to be prosecuted everywhere; as if life, in its every aspect, and in its every contact with us, were the intended means to it, Every condition—every position and employment of life is, as already remarked, full of the means of progress, if we will but seize and use them. Our business, our reading, our social intercourse, our minglings with our fellow-men, our political relations and duties, our joys and sorrows, the aspects of nature, the movements of Providence, and the means of grace,

all bear to us the elements and means of self-development and growth, And as the digestive system lays hold on every variety of food, and makes life out of it, so of all these things will the true spirit of self-cultivation lay hold, and use them as its food, and make out of them mental and social and moral life. It is said of Sir Walter Scott, that he never met with any one-even the

« PreviousContinue »