To Thomas B. Wait

    New York City        11 July 1790

    My friend—

    I have just finished reading the second volume of Emilius;1 and about thirty pages in the third—It is four years since I read these books before—much too long a time! This Treatise on education, together with the dissertation on the inequality of mankind,2 ought to be attentively read once in two years. Readers, in general, are too apt to hurry from one book to another, before they have fully reduced the ideas and sentiments of the first to their own—To do this is to read understandingly, and to good purpose—But to read an ingenious book, & then lay it aside, is like a cursory, external view of a very complex machine. Some books cannot be read too much. Among such I place Hartley, & Helvetius on man3—Emilius—Eloisa,4 and some of [Joseph] Priestleys works—

    Three years ago I come to a Resolution to read Hartley once a year—And within two years I have extended this determination to Helvetius—

    It is not unusual to hear people say one may read too much—and if they were to read less they might gain more information—This is not true, if they read as they ought to—that is fully comprehend, and reduce to their own sentiments, all they read—As well may it be said a man may travel to much to make travling usefull—whereas the man who knows how to improve from Travel cannot see too much so long as there remains any city or country he has not examined—

    Some countries are less productive of objects for usefull reflection than others; but there are none altogether barren—so it is with books; and tho it is prudent, from the shortness of Life, to select the best, yet those of inferior merit may sometimes be run over—for in the progress of knowledge and improvements the retrograde steps of ignorance and barbarism stupidity must be noted

    I fancy there are very few Gentlemen who will subscribe to my catalogue of Books—but having read them all more than once; and, on this subject, thinking myself a competent Judge, (thro vanity, if you please), I shall persevere in my opinion and resolution.5 Having passed the common point of union, in sentiment with the bulk of people, in general we are constantly diverging from each other—and the angle of diversity is already so extended, that it is hardly to be expected I shall meet with many of them again in this world—In the next we may—For all things tend to light, knowledge and universal Happiness—what an animating—what a glorious prospect is this! while education and Government, which are only different names for the same thing, or different parts of the same instrument, will effectually bring about this desirable period—

    In plain Language, I say, I want to see you—I ought first to have said I wish to hear from you—because I may expect this before the other—And it is, I verily beleive, two full months since I had that pleasure, If I except Mrs. [Sarah Savage] Thatchers writing me, about ten or twelve days since, that you had that day or the day before dined with her—

    From your friend, &c

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    FC, TFP