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Lincoln Phelps.

Lectures to young ladies, comprising outlines and applications of the different branches of female education, for the use of female schools, and private libraries online

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cessary for effort in the regions of composition. And be-
sides, we must acknowledge that genius is not a com-
mon gift ; I mean that fire which, unless it can have
vent, consumes the soul. And in this we see the good-
ness of our Creator ; for genius is of too fine, too exqui-
site a nature to bear the rude contact of worldly things ;
it droops and folds its wings when calamities assail ; even
the imaginary sufferings of a flower transplanted from its
own home, a rose plucked from its parent stem, or the
agonies of a poor worm or insect, are sufficient to call forth
its tender and plaintive waitings, how then can it look
upon human sufferings, poverty, oppression, injustice,
treachery, pain and death ? Indeed we often see that
mind which exhibits unequivocal marks of genius, earlv
fading away, as if the atmosphere of the world were too



256 COMPOSITION.

cold for its sensitive nature ; thus have Henry Kirk White
and Lucretia Davidson,* and many others gradually sunk
to an untimely grave, apparently through an excess of
sensibility.

But is there no remedy for this 1 Must the fairest and
best of human blossoms be given up to be chilled by the
frosts, and blighted by the mildews of an ungenial world T
Let a suitable and proper direction be given to sensibili-
ty, and it may be disciplined and chastened. Let educa-
tion be properly conducted, and then will reason and
judgment be brought to sustain and guide the trembling,
aspiring etherial spirit, which is ever shrinking from
real evils and refusing to look with steady eye upon the
obstacles in the pathway of life. But, supported by rea-
son and judgment, sensibility may learn to encounter
evils and to overcome difficulties ; especially does she need
the aid of religion to reconcile her to earthly sufferings,
in view of a happier future. I have spoken of sensibility,
because I believe it always belongs to true genius, and
to be the cause of those frequent failures in life which are
observable among those who are highly gifted ; but a prop-
er mode of education may do much towards chastening,
and giving it a right direction.

Lucretia Davidson, the lovely girl whose precocious
powers have been the admiration of many, probably fell a
victim to an extreme and morbid sensibility : many of you
are aware that several years since, she was a member of
this institution ; some of you may remember her personal-
ly. She had, in her childhood, been indulged in her fond-
ness for seclusion and solitary musings. Her educa-
tion, owing to peculiar circumstances, had not been sys-
tematically and thoroughly pursued. On her entering
the Seminary, she at once surprised us by the brilliancy
and pathos of her compositions, she evinced a most ex-
quisite sense of the beautiful in the productions of her
pencil ; always giving to whatever she attempted to copy,

* Miss Davidson died at about the age of seventeen ; a volume
of her posthumous works, entitled ' Amir Kahn, and other Poems/
has received much praise from critics. The British Reviewers
spoke of it as an extraordinary production, comparing her to their
favorite and lamented White.



COMPOSITION. 257

eertain peculiar and original touches which marked the
liveliness of her conceptions, and the power of her genius
to embody those conceptions. But from studies which
required calm and steady investigation, efforts of memo-
ry, judgment and consecutive thinking, her mind seem-
ed to shrink. She had no confidence in herself, and ap-
peared to regard with dismay any requisitions of this na-
ture. Even in geography, which was one of her studies,
she found a difficulty in preparing herself for recitations.
At the approach of an examination, she was agonized
with the fear of disgracing her class by her appearance ;
and in. order to calm her apprehensions, I had promised
to ask her very few questions. When it came her turn
to recite, instead of taking the subject next in order,
which would have been an explanation of the * geological
structure of the globe, 7 and which the poor trembling girl
had never felt an interest in knowing, I asked her to
give some account of the peculiarities of the torrid zone.
Miss Davidson's countenance brightened : she begun with
the sweetest tones of voice to describe the vegetable won-
ders of those regions, the spreading bananas, the lofty
bamboo trees, forests rendered impenetrable by the lux-
uriancy of vegetation, and blooming wilh perennial ver-
dure and beauty. She spoke of the mighty elephant, the
hippopotamus, rolling his enormous bulk along the rivers
of Africa, the fierce lions and tigers, poisonous reptiles
and ensnaring crocodiles, the great anaconda, wind-
ing his huge coils around his helpless victim ; nor did she
fail to describe that dreadful vampyre, which seeks the
traveller in his hour of sleep and gluts itself with his
blood. She then, with a new and kindling emotion, spoke
of the brilliant fire-flies which illuminate those regions
in the night as with a mass of liquid light, of the bound-
ing antelope, and of the beautiful gazelle, whose brilliant
and fascinating eyes are the admiration of the beholder.
So vivid in my mind is the recollection of her animated
and enthusiastic manner at that time, the bright flashing of
her dark eye, and the glow of her brilliant complexion,
that the conception appears like reality, and it seems as if
she now stood before me, the living image of youthful ge-
nius and sensibility. But the grave has for many years
22*



258 COMPOSITION.

shrouded her form, once so interesting. We may not ima-
gine the process which is going on in that dreadful labora-
tory, where the elements which compose the human body
are separated and set free to enter into other combina-
tions ; we will rather say with the poet,

' Not to the grave my soul,

Not to the grave descend to contemplate

The form that once was dear ! '

it is better to think of the spirit as disencumbered of its
load of clay, and an inhabitant of a purer world.

I have introduced the character of this young lady to
show you the great importance of early mental discipline ;
for, lovely as genius and sensibility may be, in order to be
useful, in order to be fitted for life, they must be sustained
by the other mental powers. We see the evils of suffering
any one department of mind to usurp unlimited power over
the other. If one could not be a fine writer, without be-
coming unfit for the duties of life ; if talents were necessari-
ly connected with eccentricities, I would at once warn all
my sex from attempting to acquire these dangerous gifts;
but I trust it is unnecessary for me to point out the ma-
ny ladies who at this time hold an important standing in
the literary world, and are yet among the most active
supporters of social and religious institutions, who are
equally distinguished for domestic virtues as for high
mental endowments.

But we are yet to go back to the first attempts of the
pupil in the art of composition ; this it is necessary to
do for the benefit of the younger members of the institu-
tion, and of some others to whom the idea of writing
compositions is new and appalling.

Those who are studying languages, will derive great
assistance in composition from the habit of translating.
It appears to me that this advantage has not been suf-
ficiently estimated " were it indeed the only one, I should
think it a sufficient compensation for the labor which is
necessary in acquiring a language. If you take a fine
passage of a Latin or French author, and attempt to trans-
late it, the mind, gradually seizing upon the ideas, seems
to adopt them as its own ; and feeling itself elevated by
this new acquisition, becomes capable of greater efforts.



COMPOSITION.

In translating, particular attention should be paid to
the exact import of words ; thus, the word sentiment which
in English is applied to opinions, is in French restricted
to the feelings of the heart, it being derived from the verb
sentir, to feel. The French would not then speak of po-
litical sentiments, but political opinions; they would speak
of a sentiment of gratitude or love : when you reflect on
the origin of the word sentiment, you will perceive that
there is a propriety in making this distinction between
this word and opinion, which is derived from a Latin verb
signifying to believe. To those of you whose under-
standing and observation have not furnished you with a
stock of ideas for composition, translation may be recom-
mended as a substitute, until you shall have acquired the
confidence and ability to compose.

I am aware that of all your exercises, many of you find
original composition the most difficult ; indeed it is not
strange you do so : when you write, you can only express
by written characters the thoughts which you have gain-
ed by reflection and observation. If you have reflected
or observed but little, your stock of intellectual wealth
must be small ; and who can impart to others that which
they do not possess? It may be said, then, why should
we be required to write compositions before we are capa-
ble of writing well 1 I answer, that if you have but a
small capital to begin with, your stores will increase by
use ; but permit me to caution you as to a choice of sub-
jects ; for beginners in composition, often choose such as
would require a philosopher to investigate.

For example, let us suppose a young Miss, unaccus-
tomed to confine her thoughts, for any length of time,
to any given subject, writing a composition on Grat-
itude. She has a vague idea that gratitude is some-
thing praise-worthy, and begins by saying, ' that it is a
virtue that all should possess.' When she has proceeded
so far, she does not well know what more to say ; but
the composition'imust be written ; and so she proceeds
to say that * every one ought to be grateful, and
when they see people in distress, they ought to relieve
their wants: thus she goes from gratitude to benevo*



260 COMPOSITION.

lence, and, confounding the two virtues, destroys all dis-
tinctions of terms and ideas.

It is very important that in your attempts at writing
you confine yourselves to subjects with which you are in
some degree familiar. No matter how common, or tri-
vial may be the theme ; the object is to acquire a habit
of expressing your ideas in writing, with clearness and
simplicity. For example, give a description of your own
dwelling house, state its length, width, and mode of con-
struction, the materials of which it is composed ; and
a little reflection, with some previous learning, would
suggest to you the improvements which have been made
in the building of houses and other kinds of architecture.
You might describe your own room, with its furniture,
&>c. ; or, looking out upon the prospect before you, deline-
ate in words the various objects before you. Any pro-
duction of nature or art, might furnish you with ideas.
For instance, suppose you should write about an apple
you may think this a very insignificant subject but
nothing that God has made is insignificant ; nor is the
power of describing the most common object to be des-
pised. Well, now begin to think what you could find to
say about an apple : you all know to which of the king-
doms of nature it belongs ; you know that it is a fruit,
originating from a flower of a certain kind the kind of
flower might be described, the usual height of the tree
on which it grows, the climate most favorable to the
growth of this tree, the various culinary uses of the apple,
the evil purposes to which the ingenuity of man has per-
verted it, &c. I have yet touched upon few of the sub-
jects which your theme might suggest, and yet much
might be said upon each one of the abovementioned
heads. A fly, a bee, or a butterfly, might afford subjects
for your pen. I do not mean that you are in your de-
scriptions of an apple or an insect, to write as a botanist
or geologist would do, but that you express in simple
language your own observations upon these, or any other
objects. I have said your own observations ; you will
please to notice this, for without observation you cannot
write on any subject, except it be merely to repeat like
the parrot, what you hear from others. But by attempt-



COMPOSITION. 261

ing to describe common objects you will see the need of
observation and attention with respect to common things,
and that learning is not confined to the knowledge which
is contained in books.

By using your knowledge, however small the stock at
first may be, you will continue to add to your intellectu-
al stores ; the idea of wanting to know something that
you may communicate in your composition, will induce
you to pay attention -to objects around you, to hear the
remarks of wiser people, and to recollect what you read
in books. But do not allow yourselves to borrow from
others. On reading a very spirited or profound compo-
sition from a young lady of limited talents and opportu-
nities, a teacher immediately believes that it is borrowed,
even should it chance that she has not before seen the
same thing. This is not only stealing, but defrauding
yourselves. If you begin with compositions, above your
own capacities, you must continue them, or the deception
will at once appear to your companions, as well as teach-
ers. But I should very unwillingly believe that any pu-
pil can be so lost to honorable sentiments as to wish to
gain reputation for talents she does not possess, or so
unjust to herself as to prevent her own improvement in
the attempt to seem to be, what she is not.

You have heard some things that may be said upon
an apple. Look around you, and you see innumerable
objects in the productions of nature and art; all of these
have peculiarities of their own, which may be describ-
ed|even with no other knowledge of them, than you may
gain by your sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell, in-
numerable comparisons between these objects will also
naturally suggest themselves to your minds ; as you ac-
quire more knowledge, you will think of many relations
existing between them which you now do not observe.
The subject of geology, on which -you all have the advan-
tage of hearing lectures, will serve to lead even the
youngest of you to reflect on the many things which may
be said even of stones. You have perhaps thought that
all were alike, but you now find that there is diversity
of character among rocks, as well as people. The rocks
are not morally or intellectually different from each oth-



262 COMPOSITION.

er, since they are destitute of intelligence, and even of
life, which plants possess but rocks and stones are phy-
sically different, that is, their external appearance is va-
rious, and their chemical composition different.

When you walk or ride out, you can always meet with
something animate or inanimate that may serve for the
subject of a composition. When you see a person in af-
fliction, or behold some one debased by intoxication, or ta-
king the name of God in vain, emotions of various kinds
will be awakened, and under the influence of these you
might be led to write with facility. When you see a good
person relieving distress, you will sympathize with the feel-
ings of those who receive this kindness, and thus you may,
from your own observation and reflection, comprehend
the nature and obligations of gratitude. Yet still you
may not be able to investigate this emotion ; for in order
to do this, you would need to be acquainted with the
operations of the mind, and to explore the recesses of the
human heart, and the relations of cause and effect.

Although in some of the foregoing remarks I have
more particularly addressed myself to the younger pupils,
and those to whom the exercise of writing composition is
new, I would say to all, be careful of going out of your own
depth ; study to understand the nature of your own minds,
and occupy yourselves with subjects which you most rea-
dily and fully comprehend write as if you had something
to say, riot as if you attempted to say something because
you must write. If your minds are properly disciplined to
habits of reflection, you must, with all that you are now
studying, hearing and seeing, have something to say re-
specting your own observations, reflections, sentiments
and opinions. It is well for advanced pupils, to write
frequently on the subjects which they are engaged in
studying.

A pupil in astronomy having beheld the heavens,
traced the path of the constellations, contemplated the
planets and the fixed stars, as they are arranged in their
beautiful order, may surely find enough to say of such
observations she might, as genius or inclination prompt*
ed, state in precise and scientific language the various
celestial phenomena 2 or with an imagination kindjing at



COMPOSITION. 263

such scenes rise to a style of sublimity. Or if a Christian,
and impressed with the thoughts of the Divine Power
which created and upholds this wonderful universe, she
would naturally be led to pour forth the devout expressions
of a pious heart. Mechanical philosophy, optics, botany,
chemistry, and all physical subjects, should lead the
mind of the student to the observation of nature, and
such observations will furnish matter for composition.

History and geography are fruitful in subjects for the
exercise of the pen. Rhetoric and criticism are intend-
ed chiefly to teach you to arrange your thoughts with
clearness and elegance, and to avoid errors which might
offend the ear of taste, and rules of composition. Moral
philosophy, leading the mind to reflect upon the recipro-
cal duties of mankind, and their common obligations
to their Maker, cannot fail to suggest new trains of
thought.

And when the empire of the human mind is first un-
folded, as it were, upon a map before you, and the many
devious windings of thought traced to their mysterious
sources ; when you are first led to perceive that the mind
possesses the power of looking inwardly upon its own ope-
rations, how many new and interesting ideas spring into
existence ! Copy these in their own native freshness
and vividness of coloring, and the transcript cannot fail
of being delightful to others.

The first impressions which the various branches of
literature and science make upon the mind, have a char-
acter of originality and enthusiasm, which cannot after-
wards be caught these evanescent emotions should
then be secured by copies made when they are fresh
and new.

I have not recommended the attempt to write stories
from the imagination ; this may be well occasionally, but
it has the bad effect of bringing the mind too much un-
der the dominion of fancy. It is better for young ladies
to occupy themselves with realities, than to stray too
much into the dangerous regions of imagination. Besides,
the practice of writing tales has a tendency to form a
tinselled kind of style, not to be compared in dignity or
propriety with a simple and plain manner of telling truth.



264 LOGIC.

Indeed it is to be hoped that as the various departments
of human knowledge become more filled with facts, and
these facts are arranged according to the rules of science,
ample scope will be found for the exercise of the human
faculties ; and although we desire not to see the province
of fiction deserted, yet we would see a higher rank
awarded to those who search for and discover truth, who
assist and perfect nature, than to the fabricators of those
gossamer tales which receive all their coloring from the
varying and illusive hue of fancy, and which have
no higher aim than the amusement of hours, which are
already too short and too few for the great objects of hu-
man existence.

Poetry is a species of composition which none should
attempt except those who are strongly prompted by genius.
True poetical talent is rare, and can never be forced in-
to existence : when it is possessed, it should be regarded
as a precious gift from the Creator of mind, and en-
listed in the service of virtue and piety.



LECTURE XXI.

Logic. Moral Philosophy. Intellectual Philosophy.

THE study of Logic should precede that of Intellectual
Philosophy. As it is now taught, this science differs
much from the logic of Aristotle and the ancient schools ;
with them it was a tissue of subtleties and absurdities ; it
taught to support both truth and error, furnishing arms
alike to both. Amid the multiplicity of rules for the
guidance of reason, reason herself seemed wholly to be
lost sight of. It was like loading a warrior with armor,
until crushed and buried beneath its weight. The ancient
prejudices with respect to modes of reasoning, for a long
time kept every science in a state of obscurity ; for on
the free exercise of the reasoning power in man, depends
every degree of improvement in scientific research ; in-



LOGIC. 265

deed there can be no research when reason is fettered.
Thus in attempting to foster and improve reason, she be-
came bewildered and exhausted. As an illustration of
the absurdities of the mode of reasoning encouraged by the
logic of the schools, the following story has been related.
' The son of an unlettered farmer, who had been sent to
college for his education, returned to his father's house,
puffed up with pride and expecting to astonish and em-
barrass every one with the wonderful extent of his knowl-
edge, and the sophistry which he had learned. Sitting
one day at the breakfast table with his honest parents,
the young pedant observing that there were but two
eggs. " I can prove to you/' says he, " that here are
three eggs ; here are one, two ; now, father, will you not
allow that one and two make three ? " The father could
not refute the argument, although it contradicted the evi-
dence of his senses ; but, taking one of the eggs himself,
and giving the other to his wife, said, " As for you, my son,,
you may take the third, as a reward for your learning." '
The proper object of logic is to teach the operations
of our minds, the method of reasoning and arrange-
ment which is conformable to those laws, and to dis-
tinguish truth from error. So far then from being an
artificial science, logic ought to be a deduction from ob-
servations made upon" the nature and operations of the
mind. It has been remarked that God did not make
man, and leave Aristotle to complete this work, by giving
him, as the ancients seemed to believe, the power of rea-
soning. So blindly was the system of Aristotle followed,
that, during the dark ages, in some parts of Europe, it
was made a crime punishable with death, for a person to
advance any opinion contrary to the doctrines of that
philosopher. The art of reasoning, or the true logic, must
have been coeval with the dawning of the human under-
standing. When Adam gave names to the beasts of the
field, the fowls of the air, and the fish of the sea, he ex-
ercised the power of reasoning with as much propriety as
any follower of Aristotle could have done, and probably
with far less embarrassment. The latter would, in the
first place, have needed to establish syllogistically the
fact, that a beast was not a fowl, and that a fowl was not
23



266 LOGIC.

a fish. He would have thought it necessary to decide
whether there was, in reality, any such thing as classes of
beings, such as we now call dogs, cats, horses, &,c ; or
whether putting certain beings in a class together, and
giving them one common name, such as dog, &-c. does
not give them that relation to each other, which the mind
considers as belonging to individuals of the same class.

The ancient Realist would have gravely decided that
we must look into our minds for an image which should
be the representative of any one genus, and must com-
pare the real animal with the idea; thus the idea or image
of a dog in our minds should be the standard to which all
real animals which were to be included under the genus
dog, must be found conformable. Plato and Aristotle
were Realists. The Nominalist would have said that it
was of no consequence what animals were called dogs,
what were called cats, &,c. for by giving to any particu-
lar number the same general name, we should learn to
associate them in our own minds ; thus, when the word
dog was called, we should think of other beings of the
same name, although this resemblance in name was in
fact the only relationship which the mind acknowledged
between them.

It does not appear that Adam was troubled with any
of these logical subtleties, with respect to naming the an-
imals. Endowed by his Creator with the power of per-
ceiving resemblances, and probably having received also


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Online LibraryLincoln PhelpsLectures to young ladies, comprising outlines and applications of the different branches of female education, for the use of female schools, and private libraries → online text (page 23 of 27)