Note: A Lecture delivered at the Mechanics’ Institute, Odiham, 1857.
Ladies and gentlemen, we may of course think of anything which we choose in a gravel-pit, as we may anywhere else. Thought is free: at least so we fancy.
But the most right sort of thought, after all, is thought about what lies nearest us; not always, but surely once in a way, that we may understand something of everyday objects. And therefore it may be well worth our while to go once into a gravel-pit, and think about it, till we have learnt what a gravel-pit is.
Learnt what a gravel-pit is? Everybody knows.
If it be so, everybody knows more than I know. We all know a gravel-pit when we see one; but we do not all know what we see. I do not know. I know a little; a few scraps of fact about these pits round here, though about no others. Were I to go into a pit a hundred miles, even fifty miles off, I could tell you nothing certain about it; perhaps might make a dozen mistakes. But what I know, with tolerable certainty, about the pits round here, I wish to tell you to-night.
But why? You do not need, one in ten of you, to know anything about gravel, unless you be highway surveyor, or have a garden-walk to make; and then someone will easily tell you where the best gravel is to be got, at so much a load.
Very true; but you come here to-night to instruct yourselves; that is, to learn, if you can, something more about the world you live in; something more about God who made the world.
And you come here to educate yourselves; to educe and bring out your own powers of perceiving, judging, reasoning; to improve yourselves in the art of all arts, which is, the art of learning. That is mental education.
Now if a gravel-pit will teach you a little about these things, you will surely call it a rich gravel-pit. If it helps you to wisdom, which is worth more than gold; which is the only way to get gold wisely, and spend it wisely; then we will call our pit no more a gravel-pit, but a wisdom-pit, a mine of wisdom.
Let us go out, then, in fancy (for it is too cold to go out in person) to Hook Common, scramble down into the first gravel-pit we come to, and see what we can see.
The first thing we see is a quantity of stones, more or less rounded, lying in gravel and poor clay.
Well–what do those stones tell us?
These stones, as I told you when I addressed you last, are ancient and venerable worthies. They have seen a great deal in their time. They have had a great deal of knocking about, and have stood it manfully. They have stood the knocking about of three worlds already; and have done their duty therein; and they are ready (if you choose to mend the road with them) to stand the knocking about of this fourth world, and being most excellent gravel, to do their duty in this world likewise; which is more, I fear, than either you or I can say for ourselves.
Yes. Standing there in the gravel-pit, I see three old worlds, in each of which these stones played their part; and this world of man for the fourth, and the best of all–for man if not for the stones. I speak sober truth. Let me explain it step by step.
You know the chalk-hills to the south; and the sands of Crooksbury and the Hind Head beyond them. There is one world.
You know the clays and sands of Hook and Newnham, Dogmersfield and Shapley Heath, and all the country to the north as far as Reading. There is a second world.