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The young female who has had but scanty means of direct assistance in literary pursuits, may encourage herself, first, by reflecting
that her time has not been uselessly squandered; but that while employed in earning a livelihood, or in assisting her mother in the care of younger
children, and in other domestic concerns, she has acquired an aptitude in these important, though humble matters, which is in itself very valuable, and of which many young ladies, who have had vastly superior advantages of a literary kind, are lamentably deficient. Another encouragement to self-improvement arises from the fact, that improvement may be gained from the commonest objects which are every day passing before our eyes, if we do but exercise the faculty of observation. It is worth inquiring concerning the simplest thing we take in our hands, what it is made of, whence the materials are obtained, and how they are put together. Of the commonest thing we have to do, it is worth while to inquire what is the best way of doing it, and why one way is better than another. A girl who accustoms herself to make these inquiries, must necessarily be accumulating a fund of knowledge and improvement; and just in proportion as we cultivate a habit of acquiring useful knowledge, we shall become indifferent to those impertinent trifles which would corrupt the mind.
The writer knew a person who firmly believed that cedar branches grew with black lead in the middle, and who, probably, could not have told whether the hairs of the scrubbing-brush grew on the back of an animal, or at the roots of a plant, or were dug out of the earth; and yet this person could tell every bit of news that was stirring, in which she had no concern, and could remember all the fine bonnets that were seen at church, and all the foolish things that were said and done at a village dance a year ago.
How much better and more respectable would she have been, if she had but exercised her observation, attention, and memory, on things worth her notice! Will my young friend who reads these lines endeavour to improve herself by the habit of setting herself to observe and inquire into the nature and uses of the various objects by which she is surrounded? She will sometimes, perhaps, have an opportunity of asking a question of some intelligent friend, who will feel pleased to encourage the attempts of a modest and diligent inquirer, and perhaps open to her sources of knowledge of which she is little aware. By observing the works of man, she will learn how much may be acquired by attention, diligence, and perseverance; she will be more and more conscious of her own ignorance and deficiencies; but at the same time she will be stimulated and encouraged in her efforts to improve ; and by contemplating and inquiring into the works of God, she will be led to devout and grateful admiration. She will be astonished at the displays of the Divine wisdom, power, and goodness, by which she is surrounded, especially that so much should be done for the support and comfort of such a sinful creature as man; and if she feel rightly, she will be led to inquire further after God her Maker ; how she may approach Him with acceptance.
With humble joy she will learn that that there is a way of hope and pardon for the guilty; and with gratitude she will receive the "faithful saying," as “ worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” even the chief. Let it not be thought too much to connect results of such vast importance with the exercise of attention and observation; for while these faculties are not exerted in common things, there is in general an astonishing degree of stupidity and unconcern about the greatest. The young person who has no thirst for knowledge in common things, is almost invariably, in regard to spiritual things, stupid and insensible like the very
brutes. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass the place of his master's crib ; but such persons do not know nor consider the things that belong to their everlasting peace, and they are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
Another source of encouragement to young persons, whose advantages have been hitherto scanty, is, the possibility, by diligence and determination, of even now making considerable attainments. No one will pretend to say that it is not easier to acquire knowledge if the means of instruction are afforded in early childhood; but no person need sit down in despair, while instances are on record of persons determined to read the Scriptures for themselves, acquiring the very rudiments of learning even in their grey hairs, surmounting all their difficulties, and accomplishing their object. The writer remembers two old men, each upwards of seventy, before they knew a single letter, and who sat beside their
grand-children at the Sunday-school, and there learned to read the New Testament. One of these underwent a painful operation, from which he recovered, and while lying on his bed of suffering, entreated the Sunday-school teacher to come and hear his lessons, saying, that he was so old he could not afford to lose the time. That learned and laborious commentator on the Holy Scriptures, the Rev. Thomas Scott, was so determined and diligent a student, that though at twenty-six years of age he did not know a single letter of Hebrew, by close application, in the course of twenty weeks he read through one hundred and nineteen of the Psalms, and twenty-three chapters of Genesis. Many pleasing instances might be given of persons who, convinced of the value of learning, and lamenting their early deficiencies, have diligently and successfully set themselves to acquire it, and by their own unaided industry and perseverance, have outstripped others who had every advantage of tutors, books, and leisure.
" Whatever man has done, man may do ;' and no person, at whatever period of life, need sit down in desponding ignorance, who is sincerely desirous of obtaining knowledge.
A few simple hints may be useful to the young female who wishes to attempt the work of selfimprovement.
1. Bestow your pains upon something really worth acquiring, something that is valuable and important in itself, and that is likely to be useful to you. Some people value their acquirements by the labour and expense of acquiring them; but this is a very mistaken way of calculating. I have
in my possession a specimen of minute engraving. Within the size of a silver penny are contained upwards of seven thousand letters ; the artist spent several years in producing it, and worked himself blind ; and not more than thirty impressions were taken, which in the opinion of many persons would greatly enhance its value. But of what use is it? It cannot be read without the help of a very powerful magnifying glass; and then the words are no more instructive than if they had been printed in letters the usual size in a book,
It is far less gratifying to me curiosity, than it is grievous as a specimen of illdirected ingenuity and useless toil.
Before we enter on any laborious pursuit, we should inquire whether the object to be attained is worth the labour to be bestowed. This inquiry is especially important to those who attempt the acquisition of knowledge late in life. There is so much to be acquired that is really valuable and important, and so much time has already passed in ignorance, that they, of all people, have no time to bestow on laborious trifling.
2. Endeavour, or rather determine, to fix your attention on one object. Do one thing at a time. It is impossible to do any one thing well, if, while professedly employed on it, the mind is suffered to roam after twenty other objects. The boy who runs after the butterfly from flower to flower, may keep his book in his hand, but he will never learn his lesson.
If the object of pursuit is worth anything, it is worth all the attention you can bestow upon it for the time required to obtain it. Besides, it will in reality be acquired