THE INSTRUCTED CONSCIENCE
Moral Judgments and a Virtuous Life.—The power to form moral judgments and the power to live
a virtuous life are not identical; but for persons whose living is not confined to a very narrow sphere the one is necessary to the other. Simple people may think duly about daily work and duties because their conscience is instructed by homely wisdom that has come down to them without their knowing it; but, if we mean to live in the wide world of thought and action, our first care must be to get, by slow degrees, the power of forming just opinions.
How are we to get such power? In the first place, we must observe and think for ourselves, not ‘cute’ and clever thoughts about our neighbours’ doings, discovering a low motive here, a sharp practice there: persons who allow themselves in this habit of mind lose the power of interpreting life by the aid of an illuminated conscience. But, if we observe with gentle, large, and humble thoughts, we shall find much to instruct and improve us in the life of every family. We shall see good in the action of statesmen, at home and abroad; wisdom in the attitudes of nations.
But most of us have little chance of seeing men and things on a wide scale, and our way to an instructed conscience is to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. We must read novels, history, poetry, and whatever falls under the head of literature, not for our own ‘culture.’ Some of us begin to dislike the word ‘culture,’ and the idea of a ‘cultivated’ person; any effort which has self as an end is poor and narrow. But there is a better reason for an intimacy with literature as extensive and profound as we can secure. Herein we shall find the reflections of wise men upon the art of living, whether put in the way of record, fable, or precept, and this is the chief art for us all to attain.
 The Vicar of Wakefield.
 Boswell’s Life of Johnson.