Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
A Scholar’s Defence
By John Selden (1584–1654)
From the Preface to The History of Tithes

NEITHER at all wish I that this of mine should gain any strength of truth from my name alone, but from those authorities which I have designed and brought, both for elder, late and present times, out of such both printed and manuscript Annals, Histories, Councils, Chartularies, Laws, Lawyers, and Records only as were to be used in the most accurate way of search that might furnish for the subject. Yet also I have not neglected the able judgments of such of the learned of later time, as give light to former ages. But I so preferred the choicest and most able, that I have wholly abstained from any mention or use here of those many ignorants that (while they write) rather instruct us in their own wants of ability, than direct to anything that may satisfy. If through ignorance I have omitted anything in the History or the Review that deserved place in them, who ever shall admonish me of it shall have a most willing acknowledgment of his learning and courtesy. But all the bad titles that are ever due to abuse of the holiest obtestation be always my companions, if I have purposely omitted any good authority of ancient or late time, that I saw necessary, or could think might give further or other light to any position or part of it! For I sought only Truth; and was never so far engaged in this or aught else as to torture my brains or venture my credit to make or create premisses for a chosen conclusion, that I rather would than could prove. My premisses made what conclusions or conjectures I have, and were not bred by them. And although both of them here not a little sometimes vary from what is vulgarly received, yet that happened not at all from any desire to differ from common opinion, but from another course of disquisition than is commonly used: that is, by examination of the truth of those suppositions which patient idleness too easily takes for clear and granted. For the old sceptics that never would profess that they had found a truth, showed yet the best way to search for any, when they doubted as well of what those of the dogmatical sects too credulously received for infallible principles, as they did of the newest conclusions. They were indeed questionless too nice, and deceived themselves with the nimbleness of their own sophisms, that permitted no kind of established truth. But plainly, he that avoids their disputing levity, yet, being able, takes to himself their liberty of enquiry, is in the only way that in all kinds of studies leads and lies open even to the sanctuary of truth; while others, that are servile to common opinion and vulgar suppositions, can rarely hope to be admitted nearer than into the base court of her temple, which too speciously often counterfeits her inmost sanctuary. And to this purpose also is that of Quintilian, most worthy of memory, Optimus est in discendo, patronus incredulus. 1
Note 1. Optimus est in discendo, etc. = the best at learning is the patron who takes not everything on trust. [back]

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