We get out of Nature what we carry to her.--Katherine Hagar

Fools learn nothing from wise men, but wise men learn much from fools.


The non-observant man goes through the forest and sees no firewood.

--Russian Proverb

Some men will learn more in a country stage-ride than others i
a tour

of Europe.--Dr. Johnson

The world is full of thoughts, and you will find them strewed

everywhere in your path.--Elihu Burritt

All conscious life begins in observation. We say of a baby, "See how he

_notices!_" By this statement we really call attention to the fact

that the child is beginning to be interested in things separate from and

outside of himself. Up to this time he has _seen_ but not

_observed_, for to observe is to "see with attention"; to "notice

with care"; to see with the mind as well as with the eye. There are many

persons who see almost everything but observe almost nothing. They are

forever fluttering over the surface of things, but put forth no real

effort to secure and preserve the ideas they ought to gather from the

scenes through which they pass.

Every boy and girl in the land, possessing a good pair of eyes, has the

means for acquiring a vast store of knowledge. As the child, long

before he can talk, obtains a pretty good idea of the little world that

lies within his vision; so may all bright, active boys and girls

obtain, by correct habits of observation, a knowledge that will the

better fit them for the active duties of manhood and womanhood.

The active, observing eye is the sign of intelligence; while the vacant,

listless stare of indifference betokens an empty brain. The eyes are

placed in an elevated position that they may better observe all that

comes within their range. These highways to the soul should always stand

wide open, ready to carry inward all such impressions as will add to our


No object the eye ever beholds, no sound, however slight, caught by the

ear, or anything once passing the turnstile of any of the senses, is

ever again let go. The eye is a perpetual camera, imprinting upon the

sensitive mental plates, and packing away in the brain for future use,

every face, every plant and flower, every scene upon the street, in

fact, everything which comes within its range. It should, therefore, be

easy to discern that since mere seeing may create false impressions in

the mind, and that only by careful observation can we gather for future

use such impressions as are thoroughly reliable, we cannot well

overestimate the importance of its cultivation.

It is beyond question that childhood and early youth are the most

favorable periods for the cultivation of this faculty. Not only is the

mind then more free from care, and, therefore, more at leisure to

observe, but it is also more easy to interest one's self in the common

things, which, while they lie nearest to us, make up by far the greater

portion of our lives. Experience also proves that a person is not a good

observer at the age of twenty, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred he

will never become one. "The student," says Hugh Miller, "should learn to

make a right use of his eyes; the commonest things are worth looking at;

even the stones and weeds, and the most familiar animals. Then in early

manhood he is prepared to study men and things in a way to make success

easy and sure."

Houdin, the magician, spent a month in cultivating the observing powers

of his son. Together they walked rapidly past the window of a large toy

store. Then each would write down the things that he had seen. The boy

soon became so expert that one glance at a show window would enable him

to write down the names of forty different objects. The boy could easily

outdo his father.

The power of observation in the American Indian would put many an

educated white man to shame. Returning home, an Indian discovered that

his venison, which had been hanging up to dry, had been stolen. After

careful observation he started to track the thief through the woods.

Meeting a man on the route, he asked him if he had seen a little, old,

white man, with a short gun, and with a small bob-tailed dog. The man

told him he had met such a man, but was surprised to find that the

Indian had not even seen the one he described. He asked the Indian how

he could give such a minute description of a man whom he had never seen.

"I knew the thief was a little man," said the Indian, "because he rolled

up a stone to stand on in order to reach the venison; I knew he was an

old man by his short steps; I knew he was a white man by his turning out

his toes in walking, which an Indian never does; I knew he had a short

gun by the mark it left on the tree where he had stood it up; I knew the

dog was small by his tracks and short steps, and that he had a bob-tail

by the mark it left in the dust where he sat."

The poet Longfellow has also dwelt upon the power of observation in the

early training of Hiawatha. You will perhaps recall the lines:

"Then the little Hiawatha

Learned of every bird its language,

Learned their names and all their secrets,

How they built their nests in summer,

Where they hid themselves in winter,

Talked with them whene'er he met them,

Called them 'Hiawatha's Chickens.'"

The most noted men of every land and age have acquired their fame by

carrying into effect ideas suggested by or obtained from observation.

The head of a large commercial firm was once asked why he employed such

an ignorant man for a buyer. He replied: "It is true that our buyer

cannot spell correctly; but when anything comes within the range of his

eyes, he sees all that there is to be seen. He buys over a million

dollars' worth a year for us, and I cannot recall any instance when he

failed to notice a defect in any line of goods or any feature that would

be likely to render them unsalable." This man's highly developed power

of observation was certainly of great value.

Careful observers become accurate thinkers. These are the men that are

needed everywhere and by everybody. By observation the scholar gets more

out of his books, the traveler more enjoyment from the beauties of

nature, and the young person who is quick to read human character avoids

companions that would be likely to lead him into the ways of vice and

folly, and perhaps cause his life to become a total wreck.


In 1828 a wonderful book, "The Birds of America," by John James Audubon,

was issued. It is a good illustration of what has been accomplished by

beginning in one's youth to use the powers of observation. Audubon loved

and studied birds. Even in his infancy, lying under the orange trees on

his father's plantation in Louisiana, he listened to the mocking bird's

song, watching and observing every motion as it flitted from bough to

bough. When he was older he began to sketch every bird that he saw, and

soon showed so much talent that he was taken to France to be educated.

He entered cheerfully and earnestly upon his studies, and more than a

year was devoted to mathematics; but whenever it was possible he rambled

about the country, using his eyes and fingers, collecting more

specimens, and sketching with such assiduity that when he left France,

only seventeen years old, he had finished two hundred drawings of French

birds. At this period he tells us that "it was not the desire of fame

which prompted to this devotion; it was simply the enjoyment of nature."

A story is told of his lying on his back in the woods with some moss for

his pillow, and looking through a telescopic microscope day after day to

watch a pair of little birds while they made their nest. Their peculiar

grey plumage harmonized with the color of the bark of the tree, so that

it was impossible to see the birds except by the most careful

observation. After three weeks of such patient labor, he felt that he

had been amply rewarded for the toil and sacrifice by the results he had


His power of observation gave him great happiness, from the time he

rambled as a boy in the country in search of treasures of natural

history, till, in his old age, he rose with the sun and went straightway

to the woods near his home, enjoying still the beauties and wonders of

Nature. His strength of purpose and unwearied energy, combined with his

pure enthusiasm, made him successful in his work as a naturalist; but it

was all dependent on the habit formed in his boyhood,--this habit of

close and careful observation; and he not only had this habit of using

his eyes, but he looked at and studied things worth seeing, worth


This brief sketch of Audubon's boyhood shows the predominant traits of

his character,--his power of observation, the training of the eye and

hand, that made him in manhood "the most distinguished of American

ornithologists," with so much scientific ardor and perseverance that no

expedition seemed dangerous, or solitude inaccessible, when he was

engaged in his favorite study.

He has left behind him, as the result of his labors, his great book on

"The Birds of America," in ten volumes; and illustrated with four

hundred and forty-eight colored plates of over one thousand species of

birds, all drawn by his own hand, and each bird being represented in its

natural size; also a "Biography of American Birds," in five large

volumes, in which he describes their habits and customs. He was

associated with Dr. Bachman of Philadelphia, in the preparation of a

work on "The Quadrupeds of America," in six large volumes, the drawings

for which were made by his two sons; and, later on, published his

"Biography of American Quadrupeds," a work similar to the "Biography of

the Birds." He died at what is known as "Audubon Park," on the Hudson,

now within the limits of New York city, in 1851, at the age of seventy.

[Footnote: For fuller information concerning Audubon, consult "Life and

Adventures of John J. Audubon," by Robert Buchanan (New York,

1869); Griswold's "Prose Writers of America" (Philadelphia, 1847); Mrs.

Horace St. John's "Audubon the Naturalist" (New York, 1856); Rev. C. C.

Adams's "Journal of the Life and Labors of J. J. Audubon" (Boston,

1860), and "Audubon and his Journals," by M. R. Audubon (New York,