Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
A Pretender to Learning
By John Earle (1601?1665)
IS one that would make others more fools than himself; for though he know nothing, he would not have the world know so much. He conceits nothing in learning but the opinion, which he seeks to purchase without it, though he might with less labour cure his ignorance, than hide it. He is indeed a kind of scholar-mountebank, and his art, our delusion. He is trickt out in all the accoutrements of learning, and at the first encounter none passes better. He is oftener in his study, than at his book, and you cannot pleasure him better, than to deprehend him. Yet he hears you not till the third knock, and then comes out very angry, as interrupted. You find him in his slippers, and a pen in his ear, in which formality he was asleep. His table is spread wide with some classic folio, which is as constant to it as the carpet, and hath laid open in the same page this half year. His candle is always a longer sitter up than himself, and the boast of his window at midnight. He walks much alone in the posture of meditation, and has a book still before his face in the fields. His pocket is seldom without a Greek Testament, or Hebrew Bible, which he opens only in the church, and that when some stander by looks over. He has his sentences for company, some scatterings of Seneca and Tacitus, which are good upon all occasions. If he read any thing in the morning, it comes up all at dinner: and as long as that lasts, the discourse is his. He is a great plagiary of tavern-wit: and comes to sermons only that he may talk of Austin. His parcels are the mere scrapings from company, yet he complains at parting what time he has lost. He is wondrously capricious to seem a judgment, and listens with a sour attention to what he understands not. He talks much of Scaliger and Causabon and the Jesuits, and prefers some unheard-of Dutch name before them all. He has verses to bring in upon these and these hints, and it shall go hard but he will wind in his opportunity. He is critical in a language he cannot construe, and speaks seldom under Arminius in divinity. His business and retirement and caller away is his study, and he protests no delight to it comparable. He is a great nomenclator of authors, which he has read in general in the catalogue, and in particular in the title, and goes seldom so far as the dedication. He never talks of any thing but learning, and learns all from talking. Three encounters with the same men pump him, and then he only puts in, or gravely says nothing. He has taken pains to be an ass, though not to be a scholar, and is at length discovered and laught at.