S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
He has annexed a secret pleasure to the idea of anything that is new or uncommon, that he might encourage us in the pursuit after knowledge, and engage us to search into the wonders of his creation: for every new idea brings such a pleasure with it as rewards any pains we have taken in its acquisition, and consequently serves as a motive to put us upon fresh discoveries.
Acquaintance with God is not a speculative knowledge, built on abstracted reasonings about his nature and essence, such as philosophical minds often busy themselves in, without reaping from thence any advantage towards regulating their passions, but practical knowledge.
Knowledge will ever be a wandering and indigested thing if it be but a commixture of a few notions that are at hand and occur, and not excited from a sufficient number of instances, and those well collated.
The mistaking or misplacing of the last or farthest end of knowledge is the greatest error of all the rest: For men have entered into a desire of learning and knowledge, sometimes upon a natural curiosity, and inquisitive appetite; sometimes to entertain their minds with variety and delight; sometimes for ornament and reputation; and sometimes to enable them to obtain the victory of wit and contradiction; and most times for lucre and profession;but seldom sincerely to give a true account of their gift of reason, to the benefit and use of men: As if there were sought in knowledge, a couch whereupon to rest a searching and restless spirit; or a terrace for a wandering and variable mind to walk up and down with a fair prospect; or a tower of state for a proud mind to raise itself upon; or a fort or commanding ground for strife and contention; or a shop for profit or sale;and not a rich store-house for the glory of the Creator, and the relief of mans estate.
I would advise all in general, that they would take into serious consideration the true and genuine ends of knowledge; that they seek it not either for pleasure, or contention, or contempt of others, or for profit, or fame, or for honour and promotion, or such-like adulterate or inferior ends; but for merit and emolument of life, that they may regulate and perfect the same in charity.
Some men think that the gratification of curiosity is the end of knowledge; some, the love of fame; some, the pleasure of dispute; some, the necessity of supporting themselves by their knowledge: but the real use of all knowledge is thisthat we should dedicate that reason which was given us by God to the use and advantage of man.
Divers things we agree to be knowledge, which yet are so uneasy to be satisfactorily understood by our imperfect intellects, that let them be delivered in the clearest expressions, the notions themselves will yet appear obscure.
I make not, therefore, my head a grave, but a treasure, of knowledge; I intend no monopoly, but a community, in learning; I study not for my own sake only, but for theirs that study not for themselves. I envy no man that knows more than myself, but pity them that know less. I instruct no man as an exercise of my knowledge, or with an intent rather to nourish and keep it alive in mine own head than beget and propagate it in his; and in the midst of all my endeavours there is but one thought that dejects me,that my acquired parts must perish with myself, nor can be legacied among my honoured friends.
Facts are to the mind the same thing as food to the body. On the due digestion of facts depend the strength and wisdom of the one, just as vigour and health depend on the other. The wisest in council, the ablest in debate, and the most agreeable companion in the commerce of human life, is that man who has assimilated to his understanding the greatest number of facts.
Natural men desire to know God and some part of his will and law, not out of a sense of their practical excellency, but a natural thirst after knowledge: and if they have a delight, it is in the act of knowing, not in the object known, not in the duties that stream from that knowledge; they design the furnishing their understandings, not the quickening their affections,like idle boys that strike fire, not to warm themselves by the heat, but sport themselves with sparks; whereas a gracious soul accounts not only his meditation, or the operations of his soul about God and His will, to be sweet, but he hath a joy in the object of that meditation. Many have the knowledge of God, who have no delight in him or his will.
Many are fond of those sciences which may enrich their understandings and grate not upon their sensual delights. Many have an admirable dexterity in finding out philosophical reasons, mathematical demonstrations, or raising observations upon the records of history; and spend much time and many serious and affectionate thoughts in the study of them. In those they have not immediately to do with God, their beloved pleasures are not impaired; it is a satisfaction to self without the exercise of any hostility against it. But had those sciences been against self, as much as the law and will of God, they had long since been rooted out of the world. Why did the young man turn his back upon the law of Christ? because of his worldly self. Why did the Pharisees mock at the doctrine of our Saviour, and not at their own traditions? because of covetous self. Why did the Jews slight the person of our Saviour and put him to death, after the reading so many credentials of his being sent from heaven? because of ambitious self, that the Romans might not come and take away their kingdom.
Pleasure is a shadow, wealth is vanity, and power a pageant; but knowledge is ecstatic in enjoyment, perennial in frame, unlimited in space, and infinite in duration. In the performance of its sacred offices, it fears no dangerspares no expenselooks in the volcanodives into the oceanperforates the earthwings its flight into the skiesenriches the globeexplores sea and landcontemplates the distantexamines the minutecomprehends the greatascends to the sublimeno place too remote for its graspno heavens too exalted for its reach.
Knowledge indeed is as necessary as light, and in this coming age most fairly promises to be as common as water, and as free as air. But as it has been wisely ordained that light should have no colour, water no taste, and air no odour, so knowledge also should be equally pure, and without admixture. If it comes to us through the medium of prejudice, it will be discoloured; through the channels of custom, it will be adulterated; through the gothic walls of the college, or of the cloister, it will smell of the lamp.
In the pursuit of knowledge, follow it wherever it is to be found; like fern, it is the produce of all climates, and like coin, its circulation is not restricted to any particular class. We are ignorant in youth from idleness, and we continue so in mankind from pride: for pride is less ashamed of being ignorant than of being instructed, and she looks too high to find that which very often lies beneath her . Mr. Locke was asked how he had contrived to accumulate a mine of knowledge so rich, yet so extensive and so deep: he replied that he attributed what little he knew, to the not being ashamed to ask for information; and to the rule he had laid down, of conversing with all descriptions of men on those topics chiefly that formed their own peculiar professions or pursuits.
It was a usual observation of Boyle the English chemist, that, if every artist would but discover what new observations occurred to him in the exercise of his trade, philosophy would thence gain innumerable improvements. It may be observed with still greater justice, that, if the useful knowledge of every country, howsoever barbarous, was gleaned by a judicious observer, the advantages would be inestimable.
Oliver Goldsmith: Essays, No. XVIII., and in Citizen of the World, Letter No. CVIII.
As the power of acquiring knowledge is to be ascribed to reason, so the attainment of it mightily strengthens and improves it, and thereby enables it to enrich itself with further acquisitions. Knowledge in general expands the mind, exalts the faculties, refines the taste of pleasure, and opens numerous sources of intellectual enjoyment. By means of it we become less dependent for satisfaction upon the sensitive appetites, the gross pleasures of sense are more easily despised, and we are made to feel the superiority of the spiritual to the material part of our nature. Instead of being continually solicited by the influence and irritation of sensible objects, the mind can retire within herself and expatiate in the cool and quiet walks of contemplation.
Robert Hall: Advantage of Knowledge to the Lower Classes.
Those who admire and love knowledge for its own sake ought to wish to see its elements made accessible to all, were it only that they may be the more thoroughly examined into, and more effectually developed in their consequences, and receive that ductility and plastic quality which the pressure of the minds of all descriptions, constantly moulding them to their purpose, can only bestow.
Forasmuch as all knowledge beginneth from experience, therefore also new experience is the beginning of new knowledge, and the increase of experience the beginning of the increase of knowledge. Whatsoever, therefore, happeneth new to a man, giveth him matter of hope of knowing somewhat that he knew not before. And this hope and expectation of future knowledge from anything that happeneth new and strange is that passion which we commonly call admiration; and the same considered as appetite is called curiosity, which is appetite of knowledge.
Knowledge imparteth in the minds of all men, whereby both general principles for directing of human actions are comprehended, and conclusions derived from them, upon which conclusions groweth, in particularity, the choice of good and evil.
Man was formed with an understanding for the obtainment of knowledge; and happy is he who is employed in the pursuit of it. Ignorance is in its nature unprofitable; but every kind of knowledge may be turned to use. Diligence is generally rewarded with the discovery of that which it seeks after; sometimes of that which is more valuable.
Human learning, with the blessing of God upon it, introduces us to divine wisdom; and while we study the works of nature the God of nature will manifest himself to us; since, to a well-tutored mind, The heavens, without a miracle, declare his glory, and the firmament showeth his handy-work.
The desire of knowledge, though often animated by extrinsic and adventitious motives, seems on many occasions to operate without subordination to any other principle: we are eager to see and hear, without intention of referring our observations to a farther end: we climb a mountain for a prospect of the plain; we run to the strand in a storm, that we may contemplate the agitation of the water; we range from city to city, though we profess neither architecture nor fortification; we cross seas only to view nature in nakedness, or magnificence in ruins; we are equally allured by novelty of every kind, by a desert or a palace, a cataract or a cavern, by everything rude and everything polished, everything great and everything little; we do not see a thicket but with some temptation to enter it, nor remark an insect flying before us but with an inclination to pursue it.
There is so much infelicity in the world, that scarce any man has leisure from his own distresses to estimate the comparative happiness of others. Knowledge is certainly one of the means of pleasure, as is confessed by the natural desire which every mind feels of increasing its ideas. Ignorance is mere privation, by which nothing can be produced: it is a vacuity in which the soul sits motionless and torpid for want of attraction; and, without knowing why, we always rejoice when we learn, and grieve when we forget. I am therefore inclined to conclude, that if nothing counteracts the natural consequence of learning, we grow more happy as our minds take a wider range.
The knowledge we acquire in this world I am apt to think extends not beyond the limits of this life. The beatific vision of the other life needs not the help of this dim twilight; but, be that as it will, I am sure the principal end why we are to get knowledge here, is to make use of it for the benefit of ourselves and others in this world; but if by gaining it we destroy our health, we labour for a thing that will be useless in our hands; and if by harassing our bodies (though with a design to render ourselves more useful) we deprive ourselves of the abilities and opportunities of doing that good we might have done with a meaner talent, which God thought sufficient for us, by having denied us the strength to improve it to that pitch which men of stronger constitutions can attain to, we rob God of so much service, and our neighbour of all that help which in a state of health, with moderate knowledge, we might have been able to perform. He that sinks his vessel by overloading it, though it be with gold and silver and precious stones, will give his owner but an ill account of his voyage.
Outward objects, that are extrinsical to the mind; and its own operations, proceeding from powers intrinsical, and proper to itself, which, when reflected on by itself, become also objects of its contemplation, are the original of all knowledge.
God, having endowed man with faculties of knowing, was no more obliged to implant those innate notions in his mind, than that, having given him reason, hands, and material, he should build him bridges.
The contempt of all other knowledge, as if it were nothing in comparison of law or physic, of astrology or chemistry, coops the understanding up within narrow bounds, and hinders it from looking abroad into other provinces of the intellectual world.
So much as we ourselves comprehend of truth and reason, so much we possess of real and true knowledge. The floating of other mens opinions in our brains makes us not one jot the more knowing though they happen to be true: what in them was science is in us but opiniatrety.
If there be a sober and a wise man, what difference will there be between his knowledge and that of the most extravagant fancy in the world? If there be any difference between them, the advantage will be on the warm-headed mans side, as having the more ideas, and the more lively.
Some men, of whom I wish to speak with great respect, are haunted, as it seems to me, with an unreasonable fear of what they call superficial knowledge. Knowledge, they say, which really deserves the name is a great blessing to mankind, the ally of virtue, the harbinger of freedom. But such knowledge must be profound. A crowd of people who have a smattering of mathematics, a smattering of astronomy, a smattering of chemistry, who have read a little poetry and a little history, is dangerous to the commonwealth. Such half-knowledge is worse than ignorance. And then the authority of Pope is vouched: Drink deep, or taste not; shallow draughts intoxicate: drink largely; and that will sober you. I must confess that the danger which alarms these gentlemen never seemed to me very serious: and my reason is this: that I never could prevail on any person who pronounced superficial knowledge a curse and profound knowledge a blessing to tell me what was his standard of profundity. The argument proceeds on the supposition that there is some line between profound and superficial knowledge similar to that which separates truth from falsehood. I know of no such line. When we talk of men of deep science, do we mean that they have got to the bottom or near the bottom of science? Do we mean that they know all that is capable of being known? Do we mean even that they know in their own especial department all that the smatterers of the next generation will know? Why, if we compare the little truth that we know with the infinite mass of truth which we do not know, we are all shallow together; and the greatest philosophers that ever lived would be the first to confess their shallowness. If we could call up the first of human beings, if we could call up Newton, and ask him whether, even in those sciences in which he had no rival, he considered himself as profoundly knowing, he would have told us that he was but a smatterer like ourselves, and that the difference between his knowledge and ours vanished when compared with the quantity of truth still undiscovered, just as the distance between a person at the foot of Ben Lomond and at the top of Ben Lomond vanishes when compared with the distance of the fixed stars.
Lord Macaulay: The Literature of Britain, Nov. 4, 1846.
It is evident, then, that those who are afraid of superficial knowledge do not mean by superficial knowledge knowledge which is superficial when compared with the whole quantity of truth capable of being known. For in that sense all human knowledge is, and always has been, and always will be, superficial. What, then, is the standard? Is it the same two years together in any country? Is it the same at the same moment in any two countries? Is it not notorious that the profundity of one age is the shallowness of the next? that the profundity of one nation is the shallowness of a neighbouring nation? Ramohun Roy passed among Hindoos for a man of profound Western learning; but he would have been but a very superficial member of this Institute. Strabo was justly entitled to be called a profound geographer eighteen hundred years ago. But a teacher of geography who had never heard of America would now be laughed at by the girls of a boarding-school. What would now be thought of the greatest chemist of 1746, or of the greatest geologist of 1746? The truth is that in all experimental science mankind is, of necessity, constantly advancing. Every generation, of course, has its front rank and its rear rank; but the rear rank of a later generation occupies the ground which was occupied by the front rank of a former generation.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: The Literature of Britain, Nov. 4, 1846.
It is not for knowledge to enlighten a soul that is dark of itself; nor to make a blind man to see. Her business is not to find a man eyes, but to guide, govern, and direct his steps, provided he have sound feet and straight legs to go upon. Knowledge is an excellent drug, but no drug has virtue enough to preserve itself from corruption and decay if the vessel be tainted and impure wherein it is put to keep. Such a one may have a sight clear and good enough, who looks asquint, and consequently sees what is good, but does not follow it, and sees knowledge, but makes no use of it.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xxiv.
The knowledge of what is good and what is evil, what ought and what ought not to be done, is a thing too large to be compassed, and too hard to be mastered, without brains and study, parts and contemplation.
Tis the property of all true knowledge, especially spiritual, to enlarge the soul by filling it; to enlarge it without swelling it; to make it more capable, and more earnest to know, the more it knows.
Acquaint yourselves with things ancient and modern, natural, civil, and religious, domestic and national, things of your own and foreign countries, and, above all, be well acquainted with God and yourselves; learn animal nature and the workings of your own spirits.
If the mind apply itself first to easier subjects, and things near akin to what is already known; and then advance to the more remote and knotty parts of knowledge by slow degrees, it will be able, in this manner, to cope with great difficulties, and prevail over them with amazing and happy success.
It is far from being true, in the progress of knowledge, that after every failure we must recommence from the beginning. Every failure is a step to success; every detection of what is false directs us towards what is true; every trial exhausts some tempting form of error. Not only so; but scarcely any attempt is entirely a failure; scarcely any theory, the result of steady thought, is altogether false; no tempting form of error is without some latent charm derived from truth.