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On the Advantages of Conversation.
losophical week which I lately enjoyed at as there is no part, perhaps, of social life which affords more real satisfaction than those hours which one paffes in rational and unreserved conversation. The free communication of sentiments amongst a set of ingenuous and speculative friends, such as those you gave me the opportunity of meeting, throws the mind into the most advantageous exercise, and shews the strength or weakness of its opinions, with greater force of conviction than any other method we can employ.
That “it is not good for man to be alone,” is true in more views of our species than one; and society gives strength to our reason, as well as polish to our
The soul, when left entirely to her own solitary contemplations, is insensibly drawn by a sort of constitutional bias, which generally leads her opinions to the side of her inclinations. Hence it is that the contracts those peculiarities of reasoning, and little habits of thinking, which so often confirm her in the most fantastical errors. But nothing is more likely to recover the mind from this false bent, than the counterwarmth of impartial debate.
Conversation opens our views, and gives our faculties a more vigorous play; it puts us upon turning our notions on every fide, and holds them up to a light that discovers those latent flaws, which would probably have lain concealed in the gloom of unagitated abstraction. Accordingly, one may remark, that most of those wild doctrines, which have been let loose upon the world, have generally owed their birth to persons whose circumstances or difpositions have given them the fewest opportunities of canvassing their respective systems in the way of free and friendly debate. Had the authors of many an ex
travagant hypothesis discussed their principles in private circles, ere they had given vent to them in public, the observation of Varro had never, perhaps, been made, (or never, at least, with so much justice) that “there i is no opinion so absurd, but has some philosopher or or other to produce in its support."
The Hill of Science ; a Vision.
N that season of the year when the serenity of the
sky, the various fruits which cover the ground, the discoloured foliage of the trees, and all the sweet but fading graces of inspiring autumn, open the mind to benevolence, and dispose it for contemplation, I was wandering, in a beautiful and romantic country, till curiosity began to give way to weariness; and I fat me down on the fragment of a rock overgrown with moss, where the ruftling of the falling leaves, the dathing of waters, and the hum of the distant city, soothed my mind into the most perfect tranquillity, and sleep insensibly stole upon me, as I was indulging the agreeti able reveries which the objects around me naturally inspired.
I immediately found myself in a vast extended plain, in the middle of which arise à mountain higher than I had before any conception of. It was covered with a multitude of people, chiefly youth; many of whom pressed forwards with the liveliest expression of ardour in their-countenance, though the way was in many places steep and difficult. I observed, that those who had but just begun to climb the hill thought themselves not far from the top; but, as they proceeded, new hills were continually rising to their view, and the summit of the highest they could before discern seemed but the foot of another, till the mountain at length appeared to lose itself in the clouds. As I was gazing on these things with astonishment, my good genius suddenly appeared: The mountain before thee, said he, is the Hill of Science. On the top is the Temple of Truth, whose head is above the clouds, and a veil of pure light covers her face. Observe the progress of her votaries; Le silent and attentive.
I saw that the only regular approach to the mountain was by a gate, called the Gate of Languages. It wa
kept by a woman of a pensive and thoughtful appearance, whose lips were continually moving, as though she repeated something to herself.
Her name Memory. On entering this first inclosure, I was stunned with a confused murmur of jarring voices, and dissonant sounds; which increased upon me to such a degree, that I was utterly confounded, and could compare the noise to nothing but the confusion of tongues at Babel. The road was also rough and stony; and rendered more difficult by heaps of rubbish continually tumbling down from the higher parts of the mountain ; and broken ruins of ancient buildings, which the trayellers were obliged to climb over at every step; infomuch that many, disgusted with fo rough a beginning, turned back, and attempted the mountain no more : While others, having conquered this difficulty, had not fpirits to ascend further, and fitting down on fome rubbish, harangued the multitude below with the greatest marks of importance and self-complacency.
About half-way up the hill, I observed on each side of the path a thick forest covered with continual fogy, and cut out into labyrinths, cross alleys, and serpentine walks, entangled with thorns and briars. This was called the Wood of Error; and I heard the voices of many who were lost
up and down in it, calling to one another, and endeavouring in vain to extricate themselves. The trees in many places shot their boughs over the path, and a thick mift often rested on it; yet never so much, but that it was discernible by the light which beamed from the countenance of Truth.
In the pleasantest part of the mountain were placed the Bowers of the Muses, whose office it was to cheer the spirits of the travellers, and encourage their fainting steps with songs from their divine harps.
After I had observed these things, I turned my eye towards the multitudes who were climbing the steep ascent, and observed amongst them a youth of a lively look, a piercing eye, and something fiery and irregular in all his motions. His name was Genius. He darted
like an eagle up the mountain, and left his companions gazing after him with envy and admiration; but his progress was unequal, and interrupted by a thousand caprices. When Pleasure warbled in the valley, he mingled in her train. When Pride beckoned towards the precipice, he ventured to the tottering edge. He delighted in devious and untried paths; and made so many exeursions from the road, that his feebler companions often outstripped him. I observed that the Muses beheld him with partiality; but Truth often frowned, and turned aside her face. While Genius was thus wasting his strength in eccentric flights, I saw a person of a very different appearance, named Application. He crept along with a flow and unremitting pace, his eyes fixed on the top of the mountain, patiently removing every stone that obstructed his way, till he law most of those below him who had at first derided his flow and toilsome progress. Indeed there were few who ascended the hill with equal and uninterrupted steadiness; for, beside the difficulties of the way, they were continually folicited to turn aside by a numerous crowd of Appetites, Passions and Pleasures, whose importunity, when they had once complied with, they became 'less and less able to resist; and though they often returned to the path, the asperities of the road were more severely felt, the hill appeared more steep and rugged, the fruits, which were wholesome and refreshing, feemed harsh and ill-tafted, their fight grew dim, and their feet tript at every little obstruction.
I saw, with some surprize, that the Muses, whore business was to cheer and encourage those who were toiling up the ascent, would often fing in the Bowers of Pleasure, and accompany those who were carried away at the call of the Passions ; they acco
companied them, however, but a little way, and always forsook them when they lost fight of the hill. The tyrants then doubled their chains upon the unhappy captives, and led them away, without resistance, to the cells of Ignorance, or the mansions of Mifery. Amongst the