Upon perusal, here and there, we find these Lectures worthy of their high repute; so unusual is the union of candor with energy; of a widely-ranging and fair sight with vivacity. And the noble heart of the writer lends the charm of private intercourse to acquaintance with his book.
Looking from our point of view, we find many opinions, so far was we have read, from which we dissent, and views on matters of general concern which we esteem, (let it be said at the risk of being esteemed presumptuous,) singularly short-sighted. But the mind is wholly in earnest, no less generous, of high attainment and of that sort that, constantly pressing onward in its own way, can tolerate other men in theirs. And this tolerance is not merely affectionate, but intellectual—discerning. It is amazing how rare such tolerance is—so rare that we are inclined to award to a man who possesses but this one claim, the honors of greatness. Yet Dr. Arnold was not great; but he combined a generous soul with a mind at once ardent and patient.
Of the maxims which guided him in his studies, the following may serve as a sample:
“Some appear to be unable to conceive of belief or unbelief except as having some ulterior object;” “we believe this, because we love it; we disbelieve it, because we wish it to be disproved.” “There is, however, in minds more healthfully constituted, a belief and disbelief grounded solely upon the evidence of the case, arising neither out of partiality nor out of prejudice against the supposed conclusions which may result from its truth or falsehood.”
“Keep your view of men and things extensive, and depend upon it a mixed knowledge is not a superficial one;—as far as it goes, the views that it gives are true—but he who reads deeply in one class of writers only, gets views which are almost sure to be perverted, and which are not only narrow but false. Adjust your proposed amount of reading to your time and inclination—this is perfectly free to every man, but whether that amount be large or small, let it be varied in its kind, and widely varied. If I have a confident opinion on any one point connected with the improvement of the human mind, it is on this.”
“It is a very hard thing to read at once passionately and critically, [Dr. A. though a Professor and Schoolmaster, had not forgotten the noble meanings and uses of Passion,] by no means cold, captious, sneering, or scoffing; to admire greatness and goodness with an intense love and veneration, yet to judge all things; to be the slave neither of names nor of parties, and to sacrifice even the most beautiful associations for the sake of truth. I would say, as a good general rule, never read the works of any ordinary man, except on scientific matters or when they contain simple matters of fact. Even on simple matters of fact, silly and ignorant men, however honest, and industrious on their particular subject, require to be read with constant watchfulness and suspicion; whereas great men are always instructive, even amidst much of error on particular points. In general, however, I hold it to be certain, that the truth is to be found in the great men, and the error in the little ones.”
If we had not heard of Dr. Arnold as being practically a successful teacher, we must infer it from these Lectures, where the lively sympathies of youth are combined with the firmer grasp and steadier gaze of manhood. He was admirably fitted either to stimulate or check, as the case might require, the mind of the pupil. The book is such an one as is much required in this country to furnish suggestions as to the study of history; the methods proposed are simple and searching, the standard both as to learning and judgment high, the aims of universal interest.*
“Introductory Lectures on Modern History . . .” New-York Daily Tribune, 28 August 1845, p. 1.