Michael Hunter and Edward B. Davis (eds), The Works of Robert Boyle, Vol. 13: Unpublished writings, 1645–c.1670
To Converse wel with our Selves is a1 thing not les Important then Neglected. For Certinly we ouht to be as much concern'd in the Knowledg of our selves, as we ar in it's object: & he wil hardly deserve the Esteem of a Wise-man, that must always travel out of himself for a Companion; & want Company whensoever he is without it. Tho, we see most men, (even of those2 we mistake for Wise) tho so curius & inquisitive in all other things that nothing can scape their Knowledg, yet be ignorant of themselves. Like many of our inquisitive Busy-bodys that have all their Neibors Bisnes at their Finger's Ends, but ar (meer) Strangers to their own. Now the Practice of this Self-conversation wil we regulate by these (4) (ensuing) Directions.
1. The first shal be, To improve to the best advantage all spare times of Entertaining our Selves. There ar a thousand little Intervals of Leisure, which give us an Opportunity of Meditation; & which because they ar usually short, & have not certin Dates, either of Beginning or Continuance3, most men, as thinking them not long enuf to perfect any thing in neglect to lay hold of: tho to any that wil but take the Pains to try, it will appeare; that all these Intervals ‹being› sum'd up, their frequency will make them amount to a very large Portion of our Life/ Time/ & that to improve them will be4 vastly more advantagius then is commonly imagin'd. And sure those that consider that the hihest Mountain is but an accumulation of Atomes, & the Ocean ‹itself› but a Confluence of Drops: wil not5 judg these snatches of Leisure so inconsiderable. But the thing that occasions their contemning, is, that men think them too short to go thorogh with any thing in: but that Difficulty miht be easily removed by fitting the Subject of one's Thouhts to the Mesure & other Circumstances of the permitted time. I use to employ these Interludes of Leisure either in making occasional Meditations or ‹short› Ejaculations; or in Resolving upon somthing to be don, or in Observing & reflecting upon som late6 remarkable thing; ‹lest it shud scape› or in ‹my memory›7 framing Models or Ideas of som future Study or Treatise; or lastly in repeating8 or calling to mind som half-forgotten thing; which is my Employment ‹only› when my Dulnes or troublednes of thouhts unfits me for any other.
2. The second shal be By9 a diligent Scrutiny & Observation to take an Exact Survey of your Self & your Condition;10 as, Your V[irtue]s & Abilitys, pg 127Relations, Imperfections, & the like. without which, not knoing your Companion, you wil reape the les Deliht & Profit from his Convers. Delphos was never so oraculous as when it adviz'd us to kno our selves. For Self knoldg, besides the hih advantages it afford[s] us in order to Policy is no les /fol. 291v/ Necessary to a Good man then Anatomy to a Fisitian or the Knoledg of his Cannon to a Gunner: for as a Shoomaker wil never fit exactly that foot whereof he knos not the Measure & Dimensions: no more can a Man fit that Mind with Precepts, whose Nature he ignores: & certinly to ‹presume to› give Lawes to a People of whose Condition & Inclinations he is utterly ignorant, is not les ridiculous in a Legislator, then to think to regulate a Mind to which one is a Stranger, is to a Man.*
3. The Third is, To observe much & bring what thou observest hom to thy self by Application; To examin thy own Actions frequently & seriously; & to do nothing of any importance, whereof thou canst not give thy self (at least) a Probable Reason: ‹the riht Practice of› which last advice wud afford11 Benefits, whose greatnes› wud puzzle hyperbolys ‹themselves› to express.†
4. The Fourth12 shal be, To retreat oftentimes within thy self, & there entertain thy selfe with Delihtful & Profitable Meditations; but so that by an Rational Method they be directed to the Thing they aim at.‡13
To make a man put a Bridle upon his Thouhts, & seek Company in ‹the› being Alone, is a Thing I confesse at first of no little Difficulty to many;§ but a short Apprentice-ship wil make us fiht a14 ravishing Deliht in the Prosecution & Discovery of hidden Truth, & (in case of Weariness of that) in letting the thouhts walk aboad & expatiate themselves over15 the ‹whole› Variety of things; (provided they16 be neither Idle/ foolish nor sinful) & at last confess, that our Thouhts can hardly find out a more17 Pleasant & advantagious Employment then the Contemplation & Entert[ainment]s / conve[rsation]/ of themselves. But then these Thouhts must be moulded in a Method that must18 give them the fittest shapes to reach the Ends they ar Design'd to. How fruitfull ar our Thoughts ‹when aplyd to any particular Subject› may easily appeare by those Plays & Romances, of our Modern Witts, that build so admirable Superstructions upon so sliht foundations: /subjects/ & how useles/ vain/ or hurtful they ar without a Method, may appear, as wel by the same Examples, as the Strang Extravangancy of those Castles in the Aire, men built when they lay no restraint upon their thouhts; like rich19 soyles, that if left uncultivated, shoot out all in Stems & Blades, & not at al in Eares. pg 128This true Method of Thouhts is not yet to be found amongst all those needles Volumes with which our Paper-dawbers/20 botters/ inkwasters/ have clogd the Pres, tho I shud think far more useful then they. I made an Essay upon it; but expect a ful Discourse from an excellent Divine who is no les vers't in the Practice than skild in the Theory of so21 admirable an Art.a To the Publication of these Discourses I shall refer the Reader: & conclude this with telling him, that since men's thouhts ‹dispose of›22 their Actions, those that wil allow of no Method in Thouhts, are like the Flatterers/ favorites/ of Tyrants that wud have them that give the Law to all others, admit of none/ be it without it/ themselves.
* This Converse is so much the more considerable, because we are very often alone; & must make use of our own Company in our Greatest extreamitys.
‡ If the Company of a Bosom frend be so Delihtfull, how much more must that be of a man's self.