Sunday, 8 October 2000

From "Essays on Several Subjects"

By Sir Thomas Blount.

LEARNING does but serve to fill us full of Artificial Errors. That which we so much admire under the name of LEARNING, is only the knowing the fancies of particular Men, Deliri veteris Meditontes somnia vana, in effect but like Gossipping Women telling one another their Dreams. The Romans were so far from esteeming Learning, as an essential part of Wisdom, that with them the word Scholar was seldom us'd but by way of reproach. A Learned Man may not improperly be compared to Aesop's Crow, deckt with the Feathers that he had stoln from other Birds. He maketh (indeed) a great shew in the World, but he may thank others who are at the charge of it.

In a word, There is not a simpler Animal, and a more superfluous Member of a State, than a meer Scholar; He is---Telluris inutile Pondus. And were I to give a description of a Pedant newly arrived from the University, I could not do it more to the life, than in the words of Horace;

Cùm septem Studiis annos dedit, insenuitque
Libris & curis, Statuâ taciturnius exit,
Plerumque & Populum risu quatit---

No wonder then, that the Italians, in their Farces, always bring in a Pedant for the Fool of the Play. That Learning is no way serviceable to the life of Man, even daily experience sufficiently shews; for how many are there in the World, of high and low condition, that live pleasantly and happily, who never trouble themselves with Learning· Neither is it serviceable to Things Natural, which an ignorant Sot may as well perform, as he that is vested with the greatest Learning; Nature is a sufficient Mistress for that.

[...]

But whatsoever Charms, these the more Gross, and Earthly part of Mankind, may think there is in such a Lazy, Slavish Subjection, yet to Men of more refined Intellectuals, and whose Veins run with a Nobler sort of Blood, all that the World can give without Liberty hath no tast. It must be confess'd, That in the two last Reigns, this Precious Jewel of Liberty hath been little valued; Nothing hath been sold so Cheap by unthinking Men; But alas that doth no more lessen the real value of it, than the ignorance of the Foolish Indians, did that of their Gold, which at first they Exchang'd for the most inconsiderable Bawbles. 'Tis the happiness of our Constitution, That King and People are both Bounded; And Curst be the Man, who shall go about to remove either of these Land-Marks: The Crown hath Prerogative enough to protect our Liberties; And the People have so much Liberty as is necessary to make them useful to the Crown: So that the King's Prerogative, and the Subjects Liberty, do naturally tend to the preserving of one another. It was the Observation of that Learned Attorney General, Sir Francis Bacon, That whilst the Prerogative runs within its Ancient and Proper Banks, the main Channel thereof is so much the Stronger, for Over-flows evermore hurt the River.

[...]

'Tis observed of the Camel, that it lies quietly down till it hath its full Load, and then riseth up, but the English Mobile is a kind of Beast, which riseth up soonest when it is over-loaden; And therefore (to conclude this Point) as an English Monarch may (so long as he observes the Laws) be the happiest Prince in the World; So if he will turn Phaeton, and drive furiously, he will in the end find himself a King not of Men, but of Devils.

[...]

To conclude then, It is not a Man's cloistering himself up in his Study, nor his continual Poring upon Books, that makes him a Wise Man: No; this property is to be acquired only by Meditation and Converse. For Reading may very properly be compared to Eating, and Meditating to Digesting; as therefore to one huor Eating, we allow many hours for Digesting; So to one hours Reading we should assign a sufficient time for Meditating, and Digesting what we have read. Or else, as the one by breeding ill humours, and obstructing the passages, impairs the Health of the Body; So will the other be of no less prejudice to the understanding, by occasioning Diseases to the mind.

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