Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/374

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either by suggesting problems that appear to demand pure thinking alone for their solution, or by imbuing the mind with an ambitious tone, in which the ordinary events of e very-day experience are looked upon as unworthy of notice. In the latter case it must be acting mischievously; in the former case it may be mischievous, though it is not always so. If a problem is really of a purely abstract character, it is inevitable that external observation should be lulled during the investigation of it. Newton was in many respects an inobservant, absent-minded man; but without that inobservance he could not have been the master of abstract thought that he was, or have made the discoveries that have been so powerfully beneficial to the human race. But there are many problems which have an appearance of being abstract, and soluble by pure thought alone, in which this is by no means really the case. Questions of ethics, of political economy, of art, are of this nature; they have a delusive appearance of abstraction from the actual world in which we live; and many an inquirer has gone round and round in them in a profitless circle, without being aware that the element needed to render him successful was not brain-power at all, but experience of men and things. The danger, however, that the faculties of observation may be blunted by an excess of abstract thought is not very great in the popular education of the present day. But the danger that they may be blunted by mistaken ambition is a real one. The clever and educated poor will at times despise the common incidents of daily life, in comparison with that larger sphere to which books give them an introduction in imagination, though not in reality. Housekeepers find that servants neglect the pots and pans and dishes, can not find anything when it is wanted, can not see cobwebs in the corners or dust upon the shelves and tables, while their attention is devoted to the pleasures of literature in some, very often questionable, form. Farmers, we have been told, complain of the degeneracy of plowboys from the same cause. True, farmers are a complaining race, and their misfortunes of late years may have made them more querulous than usual; but their testimony should not be quite disregarded. Some considerable application of the maxim that people should do their duty in their own station will be found to give no unneeded help to the observant faculties at a time of large general progress, when hopes and ideas are apt to be extensive and vague.

But it is not enough that education should refrain from hindering the faculties of observation; it ought, if it is sound, actually to promote and enlarge those faculties. How this may be done is a problem not without difficulty. While the fault of inobservance is simple and single in its nature, the virtue of ready observation is complex, relating to many different spheres; he who possesses it in one sphere may lack it in another. When Thales, looking at the stars, tumbled into a well that lay before his feet, he was partly very inobservant,