Improvement Of Time

I TRUST that you are now hard at work. I can figure you with your Herodotus before you, your Scapula on one side, and your maps on the other, setting-to in good earnest. You have, I am sure, fully determined to make the most of your time. The time which you must necessarily pass in Oxford, in order to take your bachelor’s degree, is but little after all.

Your whole actual residence, during the three years, will probably not much exceed a year and a half. Certainly, of this modicum of time you cannot afford to waste any portion.

Make a point of devoting it to real study, to real strenuous exertion. You owe this to yourself—to your own credit and character ; you owe it to your parents, who have probably put themselves to some pecuniary inconvenience, in order to give you the advantage of an Oxford education ; you owe it to God, to whom you are responsible for the employment of your time, as well as for the proper use of your other talents. Fix in your mind and memory the lesson taught you by the sun-dial in the Quadrangle at All Souls—” Pereunt et imputantur ;” or that of another similar monitor—” Ab hoc momento pendet aeternitas.” Take time for exercise ; take time for relaxation ; but make steady reading your object and your business. Do not be so weak, or so unmanly, or so vain, as to be ashamed of being known to read. You went to Oxford on purpose to study ; why should you be ashamed of keeping that purpose in view ?

In the choice of your studies, be guided implicitly by the advice of your tutor. Very likely you may not see the use of some branches of science, or of reading some particular books. But do not fancy that in such matters you are wiser than older men, who have maturely considered these things again and again. If you mean to be your own guide and your own teacher, you had better have staid away from Oxford altogether. It is one great advantage of academical education, that a definite course of reading is marked out for you. When a young man,-indeed, when any man, —is left entirely to his own choice, he is apt to be distracted by the many different branches of study, the many different books, which present themselves, and to fall into a habit of desultory reading, productive of little lasting benefit. You are saved from this distraction and perplexity, throwing upon other shoulders the trouble and responsibility of making a proper choice.

I believe almost every tutor now in Oxford, will direct his pupils to devote a certain portion of their time to the highest of all studies the study of religion. Some knowledge of religion is absolutely indispensable, in order to pass your examination for your degree. But independently of all academical objects, you cannot help feeling satisfied that time so employed, is employed well and wisely. Such study, with the blessing of God upon it, will be beneficial to you through the whole of your future existence, both in this world and the next.

Among the many advantages of an university education, must be reckoned the opportunity of attending public lectures, such lectures especially, as are illustrated, by an expensive philosophical apparatus, or by the inspection of actual specimens.

The experiments conducted by means of such apparatus, and the handing round of specimens, are not only absolutely essential, oftentimes, to the comprehension of the science to which they belong, but contribute powerfully to fix it in the memory. If you can spare the time from your severer studies, and if your tutor does not disapprove, I should strongly advise you to attend in succession the lectures on natural philosophy, on chemistry,—on mineralogy, and on geology. Some acquaintance with these sciences, is in itself so interesting and useful, and is now so general, that you ought not, I think, to miss your present opportunity of acquiring it: so favourable an opportunity you will hardly meet with again.

Much may be done by a judicious distribution of your time. When you have made such a distribution, keep to it steadily. Be peremptory with yourself in adhering to it, and be peremptory in preventing others from encroaching upon it, from encroaching upon it, at least, unnecessarily. I suppose that, upon the average, you may get four or five hours steady reading before dinner, and three or four after. This will leave you abundant time for exercise, for relaxation, and for society. Certainly it will not spare you any for mere lounging ; either for lounging yourself, or being lounged upon by others. If you cannot avoid the latter by any other means, you will be reduced to the alternative of shutting your door, or, if that term is still in use, of sporting oak against them. If they reproach you, set them, as their punishment, to read the paper in the Idler on the robbery of time.

Either of your time, or of your money, waste as little as possible upon newspapers. I admit, that of all periods of history, the time in which we actually live is, to us, the most interesting. I admit that, both with a view to your, taking part in the conversation of general society, as well as upon other accounts, some knowledge of passing events is desirable, or even necessary. For such purposes, a rapid glance at the newspaper, or even what is picked up by hearsay, will, generally speaking, be sufficient. While reading for your degree, however, you really cannot spare time to read the newspapers Take sufficient time for relaxation; but let your relaxations, as far as you can, be intellectual and improving.

Oxford now presents opportunities, both of acquiring some knowledge of natural history, and of cultivating a taste in the fine arts, which it by no means possessed when I was an undergraduate. For these we are principally indebted to those two admirable brothers who have so long devoted their time, their money, their distinguished talents, and their various attainments, in the first place, to plans of beneficence, and in the next, to the advancement of science and the cultivation of taste. It is to them that we owe the enlargement, the arrangement, and in fact the greater part of the contents, of the Museum, which now contains a very interesting collection of specimens, particularly in British ornithology. To them we are indebted for the excellent casts (in the Ratcliffe Library) from the most perfect specimens of sculpture, and for the beautiful models (in the Picture Gallery) of the most celebrated remains of ancient architecture. The Picture Gallery itself contains many paintings, which, if not of any great excellence as works of art, yet are well deserving of attention on very many accounts ; and the copies from the Cartoons, especially if you can be assisted with a few hints from Richardson or Sir Joshua Reynolds, are most interesting objects of study and contemplation. I am surprised that the young men in Oxford make so little use of these advantages.

Many of them seem hardly to be aware of their existence. Among other modes of relaxation, not unconnected with intellectual improvement, I should advise you to make yourself a little acquainted with our early English architecture. If you can buy or borrow either Bentham’s Essay on Gothic Architecture, or Milner’s accurate and elegant Treatise on the Ecclesiastical Architecture of England during the middle ages, you will need no other assistance, excepting, indeed, a friend disposed to go along with you in this pursuit. Oxford and its immediate neighbourhood will furnish you with many interesting specimens from the Saxon and Norman, in the cathedral, St. Peter’s in the East, and Iffley church, down to the utter depravation of the art, or rather the total change of style, in the time of Henry the Eighth.

These interesting pursuits, however, I mention, as you must follow them, if you follow them at all, merely by the by. They must not be suffered to interfere with your severer studies. When engaged in those studies, give them your whole undivided attention. Whatsoever your hand, or your head, findeth to do, do it with all your night.

The habits of study and of intellectual improvement, which you acquire at Oxford, you should carry with you into the vacation. During the vacation, you may, perhaps, take more time for society—the society especially of your own immediate family and more for relaxation ; but still do not waste your time ; still consider yourself as responsible for the right employment of it. Make sure of the ground which you gained during the term, by going over by yourself, what you then read with your tutor. Improve your acquaintance with the standard writers of our own country, and acquire some knowledge of modern history. In short, make the most of your leisure. Read Bishop Horne’s sermon on redeeming the time, and the papers in the Spectator and the Rambler to which he refers. Read, and learn by heart, what is said on the loss of time in the second of Young’s Night


” Part with it as with money, sparing pay No moment but in purchase of its worth.”

But my letter grows long, and (you will say) tedious.

I remain,

My dear Nephew,

Your affectionate Uncle.