James Pycroft.

A course of English reading, adapted to every taste and capacity: with literary anecdotes. online

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Dr. Parr acknowledged " the forgery beat him."
Warton said of a prayer which was also among
the forgeries, though written off-hand by Ireland
whpn only seventeen years of age, that it surpassed
in sublimity any part ol'our Liturgy I

I can only allude to Chatterton, who imposed
on many literary persons by forging poems, and
ancient records and title-deeds, which he pre-^

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tended wca:^ found in St Mar j Bedcliffe Church
at Bristol H(»race Walpole, with the help of
Gray and Mason, detected the forgery ; but Wal-
pole's lettjer to Ghatterton proved he had beeu
deceivei Afterwards a line of Hudibras wa»
discovered among this ancient poetry; — still con*
sidering this deception waa practised at the age of
sixteen, and that the poetry is of a high order,
Dix's ** Life of Ghatterton" is a work of painM
interest Dr. Johnson said, in his peculiarly em-
phatic style, " It is wonderftd how the young
whelp could have done it"

Again, George Psalma.na.zar, bom 1679, in the
south of France, pretended to be a heathen native
of the island of Formosa, and invented a new lan-
guage, which he called the Formosan, and into
which ha had the boldness to translate the
" Ghurch Gatechism." This remained long un-
detected by the learned, while his " History of
Formosa" paased through two editions. His
" Auto-biography " is deserving of credit John-
son said, ** I scarcely ever sought the society of
any one, but of Psalmanazar the most I used to
find him in an ale-house in the city : latterly he
lived as a very good man, and died a sincere
Ghristian : — his * Auto-biography ' was a peni-
tential confessipn."

On the same topic of the strength and weakness

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of the ImsQkaa mjbd^ we may mention the contro*
versies about Homer, ** Epistles of Phalaris,'*
Ossian,, Junius, Chevalier D'Eon, Man with the
Ircm Maak, *^ Voyagea of Damberger," Eliza
Canning, Johannah Southcote, Mary Tophts of
Gfodahning, the CockJane Ghost, and Jug^ers'
Feats, as related by Eastern travell^Fs, K any
person entertains euriosity in these matters,
" Sketches of Imposture and Credulity," in the
" Family Library," and Sir Waker Scott's '' De-
moiiology and Witchcraft," will supply abundant

" But surely this is a strange selection." I do
not name these sul^jects to the exclusion of others,
but principally to diow that a youthful taste in-
dulged in its own caprices will involuntarily lead
to a kind of knowledge available in the season of
a maturer judgment. The preceding observations
will also show the advantage of always bearing in
mind one useful subject, which every hour of
reading and r^ection may contribute to illustrate.
Every mind has a host of wandering thoughts,
which unbidden come, and unregarded go, only
because they want a ready standard round which
to rally.

A subject like that of Abercrombie, " On the
Intellectual Powers and the Investigation of
Truth," would surely be a laudable employment

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for the talents of the greatest genius ; and would
not this course of reading, childish as it may seem,
supply facts too valuable to lose? How often
have some of these cases of deception been cited
by the avowed enemies of the Gospel ! Who can
say that he may not feel himself called upon to
give the same serious attention to the history of
these impostors, as Paley, in his " Evidences of
Christianity," has given to the impostor Mahomet^
and for the same purpose ?

Here, my friends, let me remind you that
from " Robinson Crusoe" I have wandered to the
" Evidences of Revealed Religion ; " and though I
did not see the point at which I should arrive, I
felt confident of eventually showing that, with
curiosity or inclination as your guide, your route
will afford you no less profit than interest, what-
ever be the point from which you please to start.
The ever-recurring questions, " Where is the use
of this?" or "the good of that?" may well be
met with the reply, that many things are eventually
usefiil, though not immediately convertible, and
that prudent housekeepers say, " Keep a thing
three years, and you'll find a use for it." But I
must be careful not to give up a commanding
position, because it is convenient to meet a feeble
enemy on lower grounds. Let us, therefore, re-
member that a well-stored mind to which, as.

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Herschel says, ** a thousand questions are con-
tinually arising, a thousand subjects of inquiry
presenting themselves, which keep his faculties in
constant exercise, and his thoughts perpetually on
the wing, so that lassitude is excluded from life,
and that craving after artificial excitement and
dissipation of mind, which leads so many into
frivolous, unworthy, and destructive pursuits, is
altogether eradicated from the bosom ;'* — in such
a mind, there is a tise, indeed : there must there-
fore be some good in whatever reading conduces to
form it This argument, I say, asserting not the
sordid' money reckoning of the hireling but the
enlarged estimation of the Christian, who values
literature as it lessens the temptations of earth,
and slopes the path of heaven ; this is the true and
impregnable groimd of defence against the sneers
of the friends of so-called utility and expediency ;
still, as we exult in foiling insignificant cavillers,
not only on our grounds but on their own, I would
ask them, if they would have seen t?ie use of New-
ton's pondering over a falling apple ; and yet it
raised his thoughts to the laws which govern the
revolution of the planets in their orbits. Would
they not have joined in the ridicule of smng-
swcmgs^ which did not prevent Robert Hooke
from reviving the proposal of the pendulum as a
standard of measufe since so admirably wrought

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into practice, as Herschel remarks, by the genius
pnd perseverance of Captain Kater ? Would they
not have joined in the laugh at Boyle in his expe*
riments on the pressure and elasticity of air, and
asked Watt, as I before mentioned, the use of
playing with the kettle, and yet all can see the
good of the steam engine ? Then think of blowing
soap bubbles, by which the phenomena of colours
has been studied ; to say nothing of where could
be the good of playing with whirligigs, the simple
means by which, a few years since, a society of
philosophers were investigating certain principles
of optics, as exemplified in the clever toy called
the Magic Disk. A scientific friend (an F. R* S.),
a short time since, intent on geological discovery,
sat down one sultry day, with a hammer, to break
stones by the roadnside. A fellow-labourer, em-
ployed by the parish, looked on with amazement,
till he saw some fossils selected from the heap, and
then said, ** Then, Sir, I suppose they give you
something for them?" "No,** said my friend,
** they don't" " Then, what can be the good of
them ? " This poor fellow was quite as enlightened
as many intellectual paupers, who, when their
money is as low as their wit, may break stones

So far I have supposed that a juvenile taste has
led my reader through a course of study, w;hich in

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a note-book, of the kind I shall presently recom-
mend him to keep, would stand thus ; —


Read " Robinson Crusoe/' which suggested
^^ History of the Plague," and "Defoe's Life,"
by Scott, in which was quoted Defoe's " Preface
to Drelincourt," concerning which I consulted
Nichols' " Literary Anecdotes."

Mem. — To be read, Nichols, again and again,
at ftiture periods.

This specimen of literary imposition suggested
reading the life of Chatterton ; also Psahnanazar's^
Irdand's, and Lauder's forgeries.

The credulity of the wisest men was a topic
which made me curious to read ** Sketches of Cre-
dulity and Imposture," as containing an outline of
all notable iastances, to which I find, so many
allusions ; and also Scott's ** Demonology," which
I was told gave a common-sense explanation of
supernatural appearances.

Query. — Was Dr. Johnson superstitious ?

Menu — To read more about the doctor.


Learned the extent to which fiction may re-
semble truth — the fallibility of human judgment
— that men of the greatest genius are not above

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the prejudices of their day. The nature of evi-
dence — the many causes which hinder the investi-
gation of truth. To read ahout fallacies, human -
understanding, laws of evidence, blunders and
pretensions of critics, with a view to illustrate
these topics ; to attend to the historical accounts
of all popular deceptions, criminal trials, &c.

These memoranda are recommended as aids to
reflection, and to teach how to digest all the
knowledge we acquire. *^ Heaping up informa-
tion," says the author of Woman's Mission, *^ how-
ever valuable of itself, requires the principle of
combination to make it useful. Stones and bricks
are valuable things, very valuable ; but they are
not beautifiil or useful till the hand of the archi-
tect has given them a form, and the cement of the
bricklayer knit them together."

Let us now take, from the list assigned to the
first class of readers, a second book, that we may
see how the same method and principle of combir
ning and digesting applies to other amusing sub-
jects. Consider the " Travels" of Captain Basil
Hall. His third series gives a brief but clear out-
line of the History of India, from the year 1497,
in which the Portuguese discovered the route by
the Cape ; the formation of the East India Com-
pany ; war with the French ; the Black Hole of



Calcutta ; Lord Clive ; Hyder Ali ; Warren Has-
tings ; an interesting account of the system on
which British India is governed ; Tippoo Saih ;
Comwallis ; Wellesley ; writers and cadets ; a
most interesting account of Bombay and the
wonders of Elephanta (Series ii. vol. iii.), and
Ceylon; the stupendous labour of making Can-
delay Lake ; the voluntary tortures of the super-
stitious Sunnyasses; how widow burning was
abolished ; the immense tanks ; the " big Indian"
Shrivanabalagol^ a statue seventy feet high, cut
out of a hill of granite; descriptions of canoes,
and inventions, strange habits, and customs of a
variety of nations. The Captain's ^^ Travels"
in America are written in the same style, equally
combining amusement with instruction* After
reading these interesting volumes, and following
the course which I should suppose your inclina* '
tion would suggest, your note-book would bear,
as I judge from my own, the following : —


Read Basil Hall's ^* Travels;" mention of Warren
Hastings ; suggested to read a few pages of Miller's
** George III.," about the impeachment of Hastings;
Burke's ** Speeches," recommended on the same
subject, and Nabob of Arcott — read both. To see
more of the meaning of ^^ Charta" and "Company,"

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H. W. promised me that five minutes' reading in
my Cyclopaedia would inform me; also that I
might find the same by the index to Blaekstone's
"Commentaries;" found much more in Black-
stone; also "India" in Cyclopaedia, and had a
general view of the whole subject. Must observe
DanielPs Indian drawings as very near reality.
H. W. says the Museum, at the India House in
Leadenhall Street, and the Naval and Military
Museum, near Whitehall, must be visited. Rev.
W. Ward's book on the " Literature and Customs
of the Hindoos," recommended ; also Sir W. Jones's
"Letters" — picked out a great deal from both;,
also from Robertson's " Ancient India," showing
what was known to the ancients about India,
and about Phoenicians : advised to read Ezekiel,
c. xxviii. ; very curious — about andent commerce
and navigation — Tarshish, Ophir, Elath, and
Eziongeber, Palmyra, Arabians^ Genoese, and Ve-


Feel more confidence, as well as curiosity, about
India. Can converse with and draw out my Indian
friends to advantage. Know more about the in-
genuity and power of man. Must compare pyra-
mids, railways, and Indian tanks. Did not know
there was so much curious knowledge in O. T.

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Begin to observe the natural productions, customs,
&c. of tlif Book of Job. Read some of the " Scrip-
ture Herbalist" about the plants and trees; also
looked into " Natural History of the Bible : " sur-
prised at finding so many curious things which
never struck me before. Herschel's proof (Nat.
Phil. p. 61.) of the insignificance of the labour
which raised the great pyramid, compared with
the weekly expense of steam power in our foun-


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1 SHOULD now consider that I had given my class
of readers their fiill share of attention, were it not
that, profiting by the example of Molifere, who used
to judge of the probable success of his comedies
by the degree they excited the risible faculties
of his old housekeeper, I read these pages to one
of the yoimg friends for whose use they aire de-
signed, and was told, " that it is not so easy to
find the answers to the various questions which we
should like to ask in reading travels ; for too many
authors assume that what is familiar to themselves
is familiar to their readers.''

This remark leads me to speak of the use of
Cyclopaedias, Gazetteers, Biographical Dictionaries,
and other books of reference.

We just mentioned India ; East India Com-
pany; Clive; Hastings; ComwalKs; Wellesley;
writers; cadets. On each of these heads you
may consult the " Penny Cyclopaedia," which ex-

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eels all others in the variety of its subjects. You
can rea4 each article, more or less attentively,
according to the degree of interest which casual
notices of those topics in books or conversation
have excited. When you have read them all,
cast your eye again over the article on India, and
you will feel that the several parts of your newly-
acquired knowledge have a propensity to **fall
in," as the drill sergeants say, and find their
proper places in the main line which this sketch
of Indian history has marked out* And probably
allusions to Tippoo Saib, Hyder Ali, Brahmins,
Buddhism, Caste, and other su1>jects, will lead
you to read the separate, articles upon these topics
also, and I will venture to promise you will rise
fipom your studies with feelings of considerable
satisfaction. Having once mustered courage to
plunge into the ocean of learning, if you cannot
swim at first, you will acquire a sense of your own
buoyancy, and more easily resolve to try again.
When the splashing and floundering is over for the
first time, you will feel some confidence in society,
and listen to catch a hint from the greater ad->
vancements of others. Many a boy would never
have learned to swim had it not been for some
companions who tempted him just to try one dip.
Many a man would have gone through a whole
life subject to that creeping sense of inferiorityi

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which is the every-day punishment of ignorance;
had not some reading companions led him to take
the first step, which carried him so much farther
than he expected, that he was emboldened to try
9. second, and at length to join the busy throng,
in which powers imknown, because imtried, made
him firm and foremost With this beginning in
Indian history, take another Cyclopaedia, the
^ Britannica," or " Metropolitana," and look out
for the same articles. Then look for India in a
Grazetteer, and the names of men in a Biographical
Dictionary ; to the end of these articles are usually
added the names of authors from whom more in-
formation may be derived. By this method you
may soon make an extensive collection of facts*
I say of facts f for sound, mature, well-digested
knowledge is not the growth of a day : facts to the
mind are like food to the body; digestion and
strength depend on the constitution,' mental or
physical After reading long histories, or lives
of distinguished characters, most yoimg readers
find that they rise with a knowledge more con-
fused than accurate, and that even certain plans
and obvious questions, such as the age at which
certain men attained celebrity ; at what times par-
ticular changes happened ; what circumstances led
to certain events, and other things of interest,
escape observation, from the many pages among

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which the required information is interspersed.
These the compendious articles of a Cyclopaedia,
or Biographical Dictionary, are peculiarly suited
to supply; to prevent wandering thoughts, and
losing the thread of the subject, I find it useful to
read a short outline before I commence a life in
two or three volumes. Also, for the most part, I
keep books of reference at hand, and turn at once
to the name of any unknown person introduced.

Again, magazines and reviews often contain
concise accounts of campaigns, political questions,
and the present policy and interests . of different na«
tions. Some allowance may be made for the polir
tical bias of reviewers, stiU they are as likely to
be fair in their opinions, and accurate in their facts,
as other authors. Nor must we forget, that, with
the exception of novels, magazines are now nearly
the only channel by which an author can publish his
opinions with the least prospect of remuneration ;
and therefore it is not too much to say, that a
store of facts, and series of reflections, which would
have made a plausible appearance in two volumes
octavo, are often cut down to the length of a
single essay in the " Edinburgh" or " Quarterly,"
and gain no little vigour from the pruning. The
chief value of the magazines is, that they give us
the benefit of early information. Bacon says, that
"reading makes the full man, and conversation

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the ready man;" and Johnson says of conversa-'
tion, that it supplies only scraps, and that we
mnst read books to learn a whole subject : then
Bacon goes on to say, that "writing makes the
exact man." The digesting and arrangement of
knowledge are two points which should never be
lost sight of by the literary adviser : so, while I
would urge the advice of Bacon to the letter, and
encourage the more practised student with the old
maxim, nulla dies sine lined (no day without a line),
I would further observe, that the use of a short
compendium will tend to that habit of exactness
which writing more fully promotes.

Besides cyclopaBdias, gazetteers, biographical
dictionaries, and magazines, there are many other
works fiimished like the magazines with indices,
and readily available as books of reference. I
have already mentioned Blackstone's " Commen-
taries," which, though I cannot speak of it as a
work of general interest to the young, contains, as
a glance at its index will show, many things to
solve questions which arise in the study of history.
Again, biographies are good books of reference —
about the Reformation, the lives of Luther, Ejqox,
Calvin ; about the Methodists, Southey's " Life
of Wesley;" about the slavery question, " The
Life of Wilberforce ;" about military matters, the
lives of Marlborough, Sir T. Picton, Wellington,

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Napoleon; about naval affairs, Rodney, Earl St.
Vincent, Nelson — severally contain much inform-
ation, to which an inde;^ or table of contents will
direct You have only to inquire what celebrated
men are connected with the matter in question, or
were contemporaneous with given events, and you
will generally find that their biographies contain
their opinions, together with such explanation or
history of the subject as is requisite to make those
opinions understood. Of all biographies none is
so valuable as a book of reference as Boswell'a
" Life of Johnson." During the middle of the
last century, nearly every conspicuous character,
or memorable incident of that and of many preced-
ing ages, passed successively in review before the
severe judgment of him, who was confessedly one
of the wisest of men, and has been faithfully re-
corded by a biographer, of whom a writer in the
" Quarterly" has truly said, " It is scarcely more
practicable to find another Boswell than another

As to finding out allusions, avoiding confusion,
and solving other difficulties incidental to study, I
have now said enough* But all methods must
give place to those to which each person is
prompted by a sense of his own deficiencies.
Read with all courage and confidence; though
you wander from your path for a time, you will

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94 COURSE or English reading.

have the more pleasure in finding your way at
last If you cannot remember all you read, you
will remember the sources of information for
another day. The next thing to knowing the
contents of a book, is knowing the use of it.

One of my young friends again asks, " Does
all my learning go for nothing? I have read
many books, but know none accurately ; still I
feel a degree of confidence when their contents are
the subjects of conversation." Certainly not for
nothing : this confidence is worth something; you
have gained at least the habit of reading : if you
stop where you are, knowledge without accuracy is
like an estate encumbered with debt and subject
to deductions. But it is fan- to hope, on striking
a balance, something will remain ; or, even if bank-
rupt quite, it is well to have, as they say in the
mercantile world, a good copnection and habits of
business ; in other words, a general acquaintance
with authors, and all the stores they can severally
supply, and also habits of application to begin
again with greater advantage. So I would console
my very many young friends who are in this pre-
dicament with the assurance, that they have pro-
bably made a useful survey for fature operations,
and worn down so many rough edges, that, in re-
tracing their former steps, they will have more
time to look out for objects of interest, and fewer
obstacles to daunt their energies.

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WK5^!^»* " ^


I shall now proceed to treat separately of all
the principal divisions of knowledge, such as His-
tory, Poetry, Philosophy, Theology, with remarks
on English composition, study of languages, the
formation of habits, and other topics of interest.
Complete essays on these comprehensive subjects
are not to be expected from one who addresses
himself to the young and inexperienced student,
and whose chief ambition is to be usefiil. The
maxim of the poet is only fair : —

" In every work regard the writer's end,
Since none can compass more than they intend.**

CHAP. n.


The first glance at the following pages might
lead my readers to think I intended to imitate
Dufresnoy, who, after laying down a course of
historical study, mildly added, " the time required
is ten years." But I stipulate, readers, for no
length of labour ; I only request that you will em-
ploy your usual hours of reading, few or many,
with tile method here proposed, and on such sub-
jects as suit the peculiar bent of your inclination.
Thus in one year you may achieve more than

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nineteen out of twenty of your neighbours achieve
in ten ; for at least that proportion of the commu-
nity read without any system or definite object in
view, but carry on a desultory campaign like that
of the Greeks around Troy, who, as Thucydides
says, were foraging when they ought to have been
fighting, or there would have been no ten years'
siege, ^^ Divide and conquer," is a maxim in one
sense wise, in another foolish. Victory depends
on dividing and choosing one point of attack, but
on concentrating all our powers upon it j there-
fore the following chapters contain many subjects,
and each subject several divisions, that every
reader may select according to his taste. On each
division, works are reconunended requiring dif-
ferent degrees of industry and talent, to suit every

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Online LibraryJames PycroftA course of English reading, adapted to every taste and capacity: with literary anecdotes. → online text (page 6 of 21)