Men of learning who take to business discharge it with greater honesty than men of the world; because the former, in reading, have been used to find virtue extolled and vice stigmatized; while the latter have seen vice triumphant and virtue discountenanced.
Every artifice and profession endeavours to make the thing fit and to answer the end for which it is intended. Those that till the ground, or that break in horses, or train dogs, their business is to make the most of things, and drive them up to the top of their kind; and what other view has learning and education but to improve the faculties, and to set them the right way to work?
In the youth of a state, arms do flourish; in the middle age of a state, learning; and then both of them together for a time; in the declining age of a state, mechanical arts and merchandise. Learning hath its infancy, when it is but beginning, and almost childish; then its youth, when it is luxuriant and juvenile; then its strength of years, when it is solid and reduced; and, lastly, its old age, when it waxeth dry and exhaust.
For that conceit, that learning should undermine the reverence for laws and government, it is assuredly a mere depravation and calumny, without any shadow of truth. For to say that a blind custom of obedience should be a surer obligation than duty taught and understood, is to affirm that a blind man may tread surer by a guide, than a seeing man can by a light. And it is without all controversy, that learning doth make the minds of men gentle, amiable, and pliant to government; whereas ignorance makes them churlish, thwarting, and mutinous; and the evidence of time doth clear this assertion, considering that the most barbarous, rude, and unlearned times have been most subject to tumults, seditions, and changes.
And most of those that have dived into the depths of nature have been more studious of the qualities of the creatures, than of the excellency of the nature or the discovery of the mind of God in them; who regard only the rising and motions of the star, but follow not with the wise men its conduct to the King of the Jews. How often do we see men filled with an eager thirst for all other kind of knowledge, that cannot acquiesce in a twilight discovery, but are inquisitive into the causes and reasons of effects, yet are contented with a weak and languishing knowledge of God and his law, and are easily tired with the proposals of them! He now that nauseates the means whereby he may come to know and obey God has no intention to make the law of God his rule.
Wear your learning like your watch, in a private pocket; and do not pull it out and strike it, merely to show that you have one. If you are asked what oclock it is, tell it, but do not proclaim it hourly and unasked, like the watchman.
Lord Chesterfield: Letters to his Son, Feb. 22, 1748.
A pretender to learning is one that would make all 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 tricked 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 lain open at 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 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 sentences for companysome scatterings of Seneca and Tacituswhich are good upon all occasions. If he reads anything in the morning, it comes out 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 wonderfully capricious in giving judgment, and listens with a sour attention to what he understands not. He talks much of Scaliger, and Casaubon, 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 anything but learning, and learns all from talking. Three encounters with the same man 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 laughed at.
The time was when men would learn and study good things, not envy those that had them. Then men were had in price for learning; now letters only make men vile. He is upbraidingly called a poet, as if it were a contemptible nickname.
Lady Bacon was doubtless a lady of highly, cultivated mind after the fashion of her age. But we must not suffer ourselves to be deluded into the belief that she and her sisters were more accomplished women than many who are now living. On this subject there is, we think, much misapprehension. We have often heard men who wish, as almost all men of sense wish, that women should be highly educated, speak with rapture of the English ladies of the sixteenth century, and lament that they can find no modern damsels resembling those fair pupils of Ascham and Aylmer who compared over their embroidery the styles of Isocrates and Lysias, and who, while the horns were sounding and the dogs in full cry, sat in the lonely oriel, with eyes riveted to that immortal page which tells how meekly and bravely the first great martyr of intellectual liberty took the cup from his weeping gaoler. But surely these complaints have very little foundation. We would by no means disparage the ladies of the sixteenth century or their pursuits. But we conceive that those who extol them at the expense of the women of our time forget one very obvious and very important circumstance. In the time of Henry the Eighth and Edward the Sixth, a person who did not read Greek and Latin could read nothing, or next to nothing. The Italian was the only modern language which possessed anything that could be called a literature. All the valuable books then extant in all the vernacular dialects of Europe would hardly have filled a single shelf. England did not yet possess Shakspeares plays and the Fairy Queen, nor France Montaignes Essays, nor Spain Don Quixote. In looking round a well-furnished library, how many English or French books can we find which were extant when Lady Jane Grey and Queen Elizabeth received their education? Chaucer, Gower, Froissart, Comines, Rabelais, nearly complete the list. It was therefore absolutely necessary that a woman should be uneducated or classically educated. Indeed, without a knowledge of one of the ancient languages no person could then have any clear notion of what was passing in the political, the literary, or the religious world. The Latin was in the sixteenth century all and more than all that the French was in the eighteenth.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Lord Bacon, July, 1837.
The great productions of Athenian and Roman genius are indeed still what they were. But, though their positive value is unchanged, their relative value, when compared with the whole mass of mental wealth possessed by mankind, has been constantly falling. They were the intellectual all of our ancestors. They are but a part of our treasures. Over what tragedy could Lady Jane Grey have wept, over what comedy could she have smiled, if the ancient dramatists had not been in her library? A modern reader may make shift without dipus and Medea, while he possesses Othello and Hamlet. If he knows nothing of Pyrgopolynices and Thraso, he is familiar with Bobadil, and Bessus, and Pistol, and Parolles. If he cannot enjoy the delicious irony of Plato, he may find some compensation in that of Pascal. If he is shut out from Nephelococcygia, he may take refuge in Liliput. We are guilty, we hope, of no irreverence towards those great nations to which the human race owes art, science, taste, civil and intellectual freedom, when we say that the stock bequeathed by them to us has been so carefully improved that the accumulated interest now exceeds the principal. We believe that the books which have been written in the languages of western Europe during the last two hundred and fifty yearstranslations from the ancient languages of course includedare of greater value than all the books which at the beginning of that period were extant in the world. With the modern languages of Europe English women are at least as well acquainted as English men. When, therefore, we compare the acquirements of Lady Jane Grey with those of an accomplished young woman of our own time, we have no hesitation in awarding the superiority to the latter. We hope that our readers will pardon this digression. It is long; but it can hardly be called unseasonable, if it tends to convince them that they are mistaken in thinking that the great-great-grandmothers of their great-great-grandmothers were superior women to their sisters and wives.
The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith, makes up the highest perfection. But because our understanding cannot in this body found itself but on sensible things, nor arrive so clearly to the knowledge of God and things invisible, as by orderly conning over the visible and inferior creature, the same method is necessarily to be followed in all discreet teaching.
Tis a thing worthy of very great consideration that, in that excellent and, in truth, for its perfection, prodigious form and civil regiment set down by Lycurgus, though sollicitous of the education of children, as a thing of the greatest concern, and even in the very seat of the muses, he should make so little mention of learning: as if their generous youth, disdaining all other subjection but that of vertue only, ought to be supplyd, instead of tutors to read to them arts and sciences, with such masters as should only instruct them in valour, prudence, and justice. An example that Plato has followed in his laws; the manner of whose discipline was to propound to them questions upon the judgment of men, and of their actions: and if they commended or condemned this or that person, or fact, they were to give a reason for so doing: by which means they at once sharpend their understanding, and became skillful in the laws.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xxiv.
Learning is, in truth, a very great and a very considerable quality; and such as despise it sufficiently discover their own want of understanding: but yet I do not prize it at the excessive rate some others do; as Herillus the philosopher for one, who therein places the sovereign good, and maintained that it was only in her to render us wise and contented, which I do not believe: no more than I do what others have said, that learning is the mother of all vertue, and that all vice proceeds from ignorance, which, if it be true, is subject to a very long interpretation.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. lxix.
He that knoweth not that which he ought to know, is a brute beast among men; he that knoweth no more than he hath need of, is a man amongst brute beasts; and he that knoweth all that may be known, is as a god amongst men.
The pride of learning and the abuse of learning are fatal evils, and without the possession of it, no doubt the man of devoted piety, with merely the vernacular Scriptures in his hand, may be even eminently useful; but there are higher and more extensive spheres of service which he is clearly not qualified to occupy. Learning, when employed not for ostentation, but for use; not to set up human wisdom in opposition to divine revelation, but humbly, patiently, and laboriously to trace out, to exhibit, to assert, and to defend the revealed truth of God, and to apply it to all the varied purposes for which it was made known; is of the highest value. And let every younger student remember that he knows not to what scene of service he is destined; let it be his humble aim, depending upon, and seeking constantly, the divine blessing, to become as well qualified as possible for that station, be it what it may, to which it may please God to call him. And, in this view, let him duly consider the indefatigable labour, the diligent study, and the patient zeal of those great and good men [the Swiss Reformers], who, devoted to learning as they ever were, yet did not pursue it for its own sake (or for the earthly distinctions it might gain for them), or lose themselves in a contemplative life, but denied themselves, and studied, and prayed without ceasing, in order that they might act with wisdom and success to the glory of God and the highest good of their fellow-men. Therefore is their memory blessed.