Some Samples of the Essay Introduction - …

It would be grossly unjust to Mr. Lewis to accuse him of any thing approaching to this; but we could have wished that his work could have been more decidedly cited as an example of the opposite quality. We desiderate in it somewhat more of what becomes all men, but, most of all, a young man, to whom the struggles of life are only in their commencement, and whose spirit cannot yet have been wounded, or his temper embittered by hostile collision with the world, but which, in young men more especially, is apt to be wanting—a slowness to condemn. A man must now learn, by experience, what once came almost by nature to those who had any faculty of seeing; to look upon all things with a benevolent, but upon great men and their works with a reverential spirit, rather to seek in them for what may learn from than for opportunities of shewing what they might have learned from him; to give such men the benefit of every possibility of their having spoken with a rational meaning; not easily or hastily to persuade himself that men like Plato, and Locke, and Rousseau, and Bentham, gave themselves a world of trouble in running after something which they thought was a reality, but which he Mr. A. B. can clearly see to be an unsubstantial phantom; to exhaust every other hypothesis, before supposing himself wiser than they; and even then to examine, with good will and without prejudice, if their error do not contain some germ of truth; and if any conclusion, such as a philosopher can adopt, may even yet be built upon the foundation on which they, it may be, have reared nothing but an edifice of sand.

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The characteristic of provincialism, in society and literature, is imitation: provincials dare not be themselves; they dare do nothing for which they have not, or think they have not, a warrant from the metropolis. In regard to society, this remark is too hacknied to need illustration. It is equally true in respect to literature. In the one, as in the other, the provinces take their tone from the capital. It rarely happens that a book has any success in the provinces, unless a reputation acquired in the capital has preceded its arrival. But, in regard to literature, Boston and New York are as much provincial cities as Norwich or Liverpool, and much more so than Edinburgh (which indeed is a kind of literary and social metropolis in itself, and partakes but partially of the provincial character). There been a Franklin, and there has been a Burns: there will always be persons of extraordinary genius, or extraordinary energy, capable of making their way against one kind of obstacle as against another. But, of the illustrious men of letters in France and England, though a majority have been provincials by birth, nearly all have spent their best years in the capital, and their works have been written in and for London and Paris. The courage which has made them dare trust to their own inspirations, either in thought or in language, as well as the modesty which has saved them from (what stops the progress of most aspirants in a very early stage) the misfortune of being too easily pleased with their own performances—have been learned in the literary metropolis of the nation, and in contact with the direct influence of its leading minds.


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If, however, the mischievous operation of the absence of free discussion, when the received opinions are true, were confined to leaving men ignorant of the grounds of those opinions, it might be thought that this, if an intellectual, is no moral evil, and does not affect the worth of the opinions, regarded in their influence on the character. The fact, however, is, that not only the grounds of the opinion are forgotten in the absence of discussion, but too often the meaning of the opinion itself. The words which convey it, cease to suggest ideas, or suggest only a small portion of those they were originally employed to communicate. Instead of a vivid conception and a living belief, there remain only a few phrases retained by rote; or, if any part, the shell and husk only of the meaning is retained, the finer essence being lost. The great chapter in human history which this fact occupies and fills, cannot be too earnestly studied and meditated on.