Practical Essays eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 299 pages of information about Practical Essays.


[Footnote 15:  RECTORIAL ADDRESS, to the Students of Aberdeen University, 15th November, 1882.]

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Of hackneyed subjects, a foremost place may be assigned to the Art of Study.  Allied to the theory and practice of Education generally, it has still a field of its own, although not very precisely marked out.  It relates more to self-education than to instruction under masters; it supposes the voluntary choice of the individual rather than the constraint of an outward discipline.  Consequently, the time for its application is when the pupil is emancipated from the prescription and control of the scholastic curriculum.

There is another idea closely associated with our notion of study—­namely, learning from books.  We may stretch the word, without culpable licence, to comprise the observation of facts of all kinds, but it more naturally suggests the resort to book lore for the knowledge that we are in quest of.  There is a considerable propriety in restricting it to this meaning; or, at all events, in treating the art of becoming wise through reading, as different from the arts of observing facts at first hand.  In short, study should not be made co-extensive with knowledge getting, but with book learning.  In thus narrowing the field, we have the obvious advantage of cultivating it more carefully, and the unobvious, but very real, advantage of dealing with one homogeneous subject.

In the current phrase, “studying under some one,” there is a more express reference to being taught by a master, as in listening to lectures.  There is, however, the implication that the learner is applying his own mind to the special field, and, at the same time, is not neglecting the other sources of knowledge, such as books.  The master is looked upon rather as a guide to enquiry, than as the sole fountain of the information sought.

Thus, then, the mental exercise that we now call “study” began when books began; when knowledge was reduced to language and laid out systematically in verbal compositions.  A certain form of it existed in the days when language was as yet oral merely; when there might be long compositions existing only in the memory of experts, and communicable by speech alone.  But study then was a very simple affair:  it would consist mainly in attentive listening to recitation, so as to store up in the memory what was thus communicated.  The art, if any, would attach equally to the reciter and to the listener; the duty of the one would be to accommodate his lessons in time, quantity, and mode of delivery to the retentive capacity of the other; who, in his turn, would be required to con and recapitulate what he had been told, until he made it his own, whatever it might be worth.


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