Montaigne's Essays/Book I/Chapter XXIV
I have in my youth oftentimes beene vexed to see a Pedant brought in, in most of Italian comedies, for a vice or sport-maker, and the nicke- name of Magister to be of no better signification amongst us. For, my selfe being committed to their tuition, how could I chuse but he somewhat jealous of their reputation? In deed I sought to excuse them by reason of the naturall disproportion that is betweene the vulgar sort, and rare and excellent men, both in judgment and knowledge: forsomuch as they take a cleane contrarie course one from another. But when I considered the choysest men were they that most contemned them, I was far to seeke, and as it were lost my selfe: witnesse our good Bellay:
Mais je hay par sur tout un scavoir pedantesque.
A pedant knowledge, I Detest out of all cry.
Yet is this custome very ancient; for Plutarke saith, that Greeke and Scholer were amongst the Romans words of reproach and reputation. And coming afterwards to yeares of more discretion, I have found they had great reason, and that magis magnos clericos, non sunt magis magnas sapientes: 'The most great Clerkes are not the most wisest men.But whence it may proceed, that a minde rich in knowledge, and of so many things, becommeth thereby never livelier nor more quickesighted; and a grose-headed and vulgar spirit may without amendment containe the discourse and judgement of the most excellent wits the world ever produced, I still remaine doubtfull. To receive so many, so strange, yea and so great wits, it must needs follow (said once a Lady unto me, yea one of our chiefest Princesses, speaking of some body) that a man's owne wit, force, droops, and as it were diminishes it selfe, to make roome for others. I might say, that as plants are choked by over-much moisture, and lampe dammed with too much oyle, so are the actions of the mind over-whelmed by over-abundance of matter and studie: which occupied and intangled with so great a diversitie of things, loseth the meane to spread and cleare it selfe and that surcharge keepeth it low-drooping, and faint. But it is otherwise, for our mind stretch the more by how much more it is replenished. And in examples of former times, the contrary is seene, of sufficient men in the managin g of publike affaires, of great Captaines, and notable Counsellers in matters of estate, to have been therewithall excellently wise. And concerning Philosophers, retired from all publike negotiations, they have indeed sometimes been vilified by the comike libertie of their times, their opinions and demeanors yeelding them ridiculous. Will you make them Judges of the right of a processe, or of the actions of a man? They are readie for it. They enquire whether there be any life yet remaining, wheth er any motion. Whether man be any thing but an Oxe, what working or suffering is; what strange beasts law and justice are. Speake they of the Magistrate, or speake they unto him; they do it with an unreverent and uncivill libertie. Heare they a Prince or a King commended? Hee is but a shepherd to them, as idle as a Swaine busied about milking of his cattell, or shearing of his sheepe: but more rudely. Esteeme you any man for possessing two hundred acres of land? They scoffe at him, as men accustomed to embrace all the world as their possession. Do you boast of your Nobilitie, because you can blazon your descent of seven or eight rich Grandafthers? They will but little regard you, as men that conceive not the universall image of nature, and how many predecessors every one of us hath had, both rich and poore, Kings and groomes, Greekes and Barbarians. And were you lineally descended in the fiftieth degree from Hercules, they deeme it a vanitie to vaunt or allege this gift of fortune. So did the vulgar sort disdaine them as ignorant of the first and common things, and as presumptuous and insolent. But this Platonicall lustre is far from that which our men stand in need of. They were envied as being beyond the common sort, as despising publike actions, as having proposed unto themselves a particular and inimitable life, aiming and directed at certam high discourses, and from the common use; these are disdained as men beyond the ordinary fashion, as incapable of publike charges, as leading an unsociable life, and professing base and abject customes, after the vulgar kind. Odi homines ignavos opere, Philosophos sententia: (Pacuvius, Lips. i. 10) I hate men that are fooles in working, and Philosophers in speaking. As for those Philosophers, I say, that as they were great in knowledge, so were they greater in all action. And even as they report of that Syracusan Geometrician, who being taken from his bookish contemplation to shew some practice of his sk ill, for the defence of his countrie reared sodainly certaine terror-moving engines, and shewed effects farre exceeding all mens conceit, himselfe notwithstanding disdaining all this his handieworke, supposing he had thereby corrupted the dignitie of his art; his engines and manuall works being but the apprentiships, and trials of his skill in sport: So they, if at any time they have been put to the triall of any action, they have been seen to flie so high a pitch, and with so lofty a flight, that men might apparently see their minds and spirits were through the intelligence of things become wonderfully rich and great. But some perceiving the seat of politike government possessed by unworthy and incapable men, have withdrawne themselves from it. And hee who demanded of Crates, how long men should Philosophize, received this answer, Untill such time as they who have the conduct of our Armies be no longer blockish asses. Heraclitus resigned the royaltie unto his brother. And to the Ephesians, who reproved him for spending his time in playing with children before the temple: he answered And is it not better to doe so, than to governe the publike affaires in your companie? Others having their imagination placed yond fortune and the world, found the seat of justice, and the thrones of Kings, to be but base and vile. And Empedocles refused the royaltie which the Agrigentines offered him. Thales sometimes accusing the carke and care men tooke about good busbandry, and how to grow rich; some replied unto him, that he did as the Fox, because he could not attaine unto it himselfe; which hearing, by way of sport he would needs shew by experience how he could at his pleasure become both thriftie and rich; and bending his wits to gaine and profit, erected a traffike, which within one yeare brought him such riches as the skilfullest in trade of thriving could hardly in all their life devise how to get the like. That which Aristotle reporteth of some who called both him and Anaxagoras, and such like men, wise and not prudent, because they cared not for things more profitable: besides, I doe not verie well digest this nice difference of words that serveth my find-fault people for no excuse: and to see the base and needie fortune wherewith they are content, we might rather have just cause to pronounce them neither wise nor prudent. I quit this first reason, and thinke it better to say, that this evill proceedeth from the bad course they take to follow sciences; and that respecting the manner we are instructed in them, it is no wonder if neither Schollers nor Masters, howbeit they may prove more learned become no whit more sufficient. Verily the daily care and continuall charges of our fathers aymeth at nothing so much as to store our heads with knowledge and-learning; as for judgement and virtue, that is never spoken of. If a man passe by, crie out to our people: Oh what a wise man goeth yonder! And of another: Oh what a good man is yonder! he will not faile to cast his eyes and respect toward the former. A third crier were needfull, to say, Oh what blocke-heads are those! We are ever readie to aske, Hath he any skill in the Greeke and Latine tongue? can he write well? doth hee write in prose or verse? But whether hee be growne better or wiser, which should be the chiefest of his drift, that is never spoken of. We should rather enquire who is better wise than who is more wise. We labour, and toyle, and plod to fill the memorie, and leave both understanding and conscience emptie. Even as birds flutter and skip from field to field to pecke up corne, or any graine, and without tasting the same, carrie it in their bils, therewith to feed their little ones; so doe our pedants gleane and picke learning from bookes, and never lodge it further than their lips, only to degorge and cast it to the wind. It is strange how fitly sottishnesse takes bold of mine example. Is not that which I doe in the greatest part of this composition, all one and selfe same thing? I am ever heere and there picking and culling, from this and that booke, the sentences that please me, not to keepe them (for I have no store-house to reserve them in) but to transport them into this: where, to say truth, they are no more mine than in their first place: we are (in mine opinion) never wise, but by present learning, not by that which is past, and as little by that which is to come. But which is worse, their Schollers and their little ones are never a whit the more fed or better nourished: but passeth from hand to hand, to this end only, thereby to make a glorious shew, therewith to entertaine others, and with its help to frame some quaint stories, or prettie tales, as of a light and counterfeit coyne unprofitable for any use or imployment, but to reckon and cast accompts. Apud alios loqui didicerunt, non ipsi secum. Non est loq uendum, sed gubernandum: (SEN. Epist. cviii.) They have learned to speake with others, not with themselves: speaking is not so requisite as government. Nature, to shew that nothing is savage in whatsoever she produceth, causeth oftentimes, even in rudest and most unarted nations, productions of spirits to arise, that confront and wrestle with the most artist productions. As concerning my discourse, is not the Gaskonie proverbe, drawne from a bagpipe, prettie and quaint? Bouha prou houha, mas a remuda lous dits qu'em: You may blow long enough, but if once you stirre your fingers, you may go seeke Wee can talke and prate, Cicero saith thus, These are Platoes customes, These are the verie words of Aristotle; but what say we our selves? what doe we? what judge we? A Peroquet would say as much. This fashion puts me in mind of that rich Romane, who to his exceeding great charge had beene verie industrious to finde out the most sufficient men in all sciences, which he continually kept about him, that if at any time occasion should bee moved amongst his friends to speake of any matter pertaining to Schollership, they might supplie his place, and be readie to assist him: some with discourse, some with a verse of Homer, othersome with a sentence, each one according to his skill or profession; who perswaded himselfe that all such learning was his owne, because it was contained in his servants minds. As they doe whose sufficiencie is placed in their sumptuous libraries. I know some, whom if I aske what he knoweth, hee will require a booke to demonstrate the same, and durst not dare to tell me that his posteriors are scabious, except he turne over his Lexicon to see what posteriors and scabious is. Wee take the opinions and knowledge of others into our protection, and that is all; I tell you they must be enfeoffed in us, and made our owne. Wee may verie well be compared unto him, who having need of fire, should goe fetch some at his neighbours chimney, where finding a good fire, should there stay to warme himselfe, forgetting to carrie some home. What availes it us to have our bellies full of meat, if it be not digested? If it bee not transchanged in us? except it nourish, augment, and strengthen us. We may imagine that Lucullus, whom learning made and framed so great a captaine without experience, would have taken it after our manner? We relie so much upon other mens armes, that we disanull our owne strength. Will I arme my selfe against the fear of death? it is at Seneca's cost: will I draw comfort either for my selfe, or any other? I borrow the same of Cicero. I would have taken it in my selfe, had I been exercised unto it: I love not this relative and begd-for sufficiencie. Suppose we may be learned by other mens learning. Sure I am we can never be wise but by our owne wisdome.
Μισω σοφιστην, οστις ουχ αυτω σοφος. --Proverb. Iamb.
That wise man I cannot abide, That for himselfe cannot provide.
Ex quo Ennius: Nequidquam sapere sapientem, qui ipso ibi prodesse non quiret.Whereupon saith Ennius: That wise man is vainly wise, who could not profit himselfe.
----- si cupidus, si Vanus, et Euganea quantumvis vilior agna. Juven. Sat. viii. 14.
If covetous, if vaine (not wise) Than any lambe more base, more nice.
Non enim paranda nobis solum, sed fruenda sapientia est: (Cic. Finib. i.p.). For wee must not only purchase wisdome, but enjoy and employ the same. Dionysius scoffeth at those Gramarians, who ploddingly labour to know the miseries of Ulysses, and are ignorant of their owne; mocketh those musitians that so attentively tune their instruments, and never accord their manners; derideth those orators that study to speake of justice, and never put it in execution. Except our mind be the better, unless our judgement be the sounder, I had rather my scholler had imployed his time in playing at tennis; I am sure his bodie would be the nimbler. See but one of these our universitie men or bookish schollers returne from schole, after he hath there spent ten or twelve years under a pedants charge: who is so inapt for any matter? who so unfit for any companie? who so to seeke if he come into the world? all the advantage you discover in him is that his Latine and Greeke have made him more sottish, more stupid, and more presumptuous, than before he went from home. Whereas he should return with a mind full-fraught, he returnes with a wind-puft conceit: instead of plum-feeding the same, he has only spunged it up with vanitie. These masters, as Plato speaketh of sophisters (their cosin Germanes) of all men, are those that promise to be most profitable unto men, and alone, amongst all, that not only amend not what is committed to their charge as doth a carpenter or a mason, but empaire and destroy the same, and yet they must full dearely be paied. If the law which Protagoras proposed to his disciples, were followed, which was, that either they should a pay him according to his word, or sweare in the temple how much they esteemed the profit they had received by his discipline, and accordingly satisfy him for his paines, my pedagogues would be aground, especially if they would stand to the oath of my experience. My vulgar Perigordian-speech, doth verie pleasantly terme such selfe-conceited wizards, letter ferits, as if they would say letter-strucked men, to whom (as the common saying is) letters have given a blow with a mallet. Verily for the most part they seeme to be distracted even from common sense. Note but the plaine husbandman, or the unwilie shoemaker, and you see them simply and naturally plod on their course, speaking only of what they know, and no further; whereas these letter-puft pedants, because they would faine raise themselves aloft, and with their litterall doctrine which floteth up and downe the superficies of their braine, arme themselves beyond other men, they uncessantly intricate and entangle themselves: they utter loftie words, and speake golden sentences, but so that another man doth place, fit, and applie them. They are acquainted with Galen, but know not the disease. They will stuffe your head with lawes, when God wot they have not yet conceived the ground of the case. They knowe the theorike of all things, but you must seeke who shall put it in practice. I have seene a friend of mine, in mine owne house, who by way of sport talking with one of these pedanticall gulls, counterfeited a kind of fustian tongue, and spake a certaine gibrish, without rime or reason, sans head or foot, a hotch-potch of divers things, but that he did often enterlace it with inke-pot termes, incident to their disputations, to ammuse the bookish sot for a whole day long with debating and contending; ever thinking he answered the objections made unto him; yet was he a man of letters and reputation, a graduate, and wore a goodly formall long gowne.
Vos o patritius sanguis quos vivere par est Ooccipiti cæco, posticæ occurrite sannæ Pers. Sat. 1. 61.
You noble blouds, who with a noddle blind Should live, meet with the mocke that's made behind.
Whosoever shall narrowly looke into this kind of people, which far and wide hath spred it selfe, he shall find (as I have done) that for the most part they neither understand themselves nor others, and that their memorie is many times sufficiently full fraught, but their judgment ever hollow and emptie: except their natural inclination have of it selfe otherwise fashioned them. As I have seene Adrianus Turnebus who having never professed any thing but studie and letters, wherein he was, in mine opinion, the worthiest man that lived these thousand yeares, and who notwithstanding had no pedanticall thing about him but the wearing of his gowne, and some externall fashions that could not well be reduced, and incivilized to the courtiers cut; things of no consequence. And I naturally hate our people, that will more hardly endure a long robe uncuriously worne, than a crosse skittish mind: and that observe what leg, or reverence he makes, note his garbe or demeanor, view his boots or his hat, and marke what manner of man he is. For his inward parts, I deeme him to have been one of the most unspotted and truly honest minds that ever was. I have sundry times of purpose urged him to speak of matters furthest from his study, wherein he was so cleare-sighted, and could with so quicke an apprehension conceive, and with so sound a judgment distjnguish them, that he seemed never to have professed or studied other facultie than warre and matters of state. Such spirits, such natures may be termed worthy, goodly, and solid.
----- queis arte benigna Et meliore luto finxit præcordia Titan. Juven. Sat. xiv. 34.
Whose bowels heavens-bright-Sunne composed Of better mold, art wel disposed.
That maintaine themselves against any bad institution. Now it sufficeth not that our institution marre us not, it must change us to the better. There are some of our parliaments and courts, who when they are to admit of any officers , doe only examine them of their learning; others, that by presenting them the judgment of some law cases, endevour to sound their understanding. Me thinks the latter keep the better style: And albeit these two parts are necessarie, and both ought to concur in one, yet truly should that of learning be lesse prized than judgement, this may well be without the other, and not the other without this. For as the Greeke verse saith.
Ως ουδεν η μαθησις, ην μη νους παρη. Gnom. Græc. χ. et φ. ult.
Learning nought worth doth lie, Be not discretion by.
Whereto serveth learning, if understanding be not joined to it? Oh would to God, that for the good of our justice, the societies of lawyers were as well stored with judgement, discretion and conscience, as they are with learning and wit. Non vitæ, sed scholæ discimus: (SEN. Epist. cvi. f.) We learne not for our life, but for the schoole. It is not enough to joyne learning and knowledge to the minde, it should be incorporated into it: it must not be inckled, but dyed with it; and if it change not and better her estate (which is imperfect) it were much better to leave it. It is a dangerous sword, and which hindreth and offendeth her master, if it be in a weake hand, and which hath not the skill to manage the same: Vt fuerit melius non didicisse: So as it were better that we had not learned. It is peradventure the cause that neither we nor divinitie require much learning in women; and that Francis Duke of Britannie, sonne to John the fifth, when be was spoken unto for a marriage betweene him and Isabel a daughter of Scotland; and some told him she was but meanly brought up and without any instruction of learning, answered, hee loved her the better for it, and that a woman was wise enough if she could but make a difference betweene the shirt and dublet of her husbands. It is also no such wonder (as some say) that our auncesters did never make any great accompt of letters, and that even at this day (except it be by chaunce) they are not often found in our kings and princes chiefest councels and consultations: And if the end to grow rich by them which now adaies is altogether proposed unto us by the studie of law, of Phisicke, of Pedantisme, and of Divinitie, did not keep them in credit, without doubt you should see them as beggarly and needy, and as much vilified as ever they were. And what hurt I pray you since they neither teach us to think well nor-doe well? Postquam docti prodierunt, boni desunt.(Sen. Epist. xcv.) Since men became learned, good men failed Each other science is prejudiciall unto him that hath not the science of goodnesse. But may not the reason I whilom sought for, also proceed thence? That our studie in France, having as it were no other aime but profit, but those lesse whom nature hath produced to more generous offices, than lucrative, giving themselves unto learning, or so briefly (before they have apprehended any liking of them, retired unto a profession that hath no communitie with bookes) there are then none left, altogether to engage themselves to studie and Bookes, but the meaner kind of people, and such as are borne to base fortune, and who by learning and letters seek some meane to live and enrich themselves.The minds of which people being both by naturall inclination, by example, and familiar institution, of the basest stampe doe falsly reap the fruit of learning. For it is not in her power to give light unto the mind, that hath none, nor to make a blind man to see. The mysterie of it is not to affoord him sight, but to direct it for him, to addresse his goings, alwaies provided he have feet of his owne, and good, strait, and capable legs. Knowledge is an excellent drug, but no drug is sufficiently strong to preserve it selfe without alteration or corruption, according to the fault of the vessell that contained it. Some man hath a cleare sight, that is not right-sighted, and by consequence seeth what good is, and doth not follow it; and seeketh knowledge, but makes no use of it. The chiefest ordinance of Plato in his Commonwealth is to give unto his Citizens their charge according to their nature. Nature can doe all, and doth all. The crookt backt, or deformed, are unfit for any exercise of the bodie, and crooked and mis-shapen minds unproper for exercises of the minde. The bastard and vulgar sort are unworthy of Philosophie. When we see a man ill shod, if he chance to be a Shoomaker, wee say it is no wonder, for commonly none goes worse shod than they. Even so it seemes that experience doth often shew us, a Physitian lesse healthy, a Divine lesse reformed, and most commonly a Wiseman lesse sufficient than another. Aristo Chius had heretofore reason to say that Philosophers did much hurt their auditors, forasmuch as the greatest number of minds are not apt to profit by such instructions which, if they take not a good, they will follow a bad course: ασωτους ex Aristippi, acerbos ex Zenonis Schola exire (Cic. Deor. iii.). They proceed licentious out of the Schoole of Aristippus, but bitter out of the Schoole of Zeno. In that excellent institution which Zenophon giveth the Persians, wee find, that as other nations teach their children Letters, so they taught theirs vertue. Plato said the eldest borne sonne, in their royall succession, was thus taught. "As soone as he was borne, he was delivered, not to women, but to such Eunuchs as by reason of their vertue were in chiefest authoritie about the King. Their speciall charge was first to shapen his limmes and bodie, goodly and healthy; and at seven yeares of age they instructed and inured him to sit on horsebacke, and to ride a hunting: when he came to the age of fourteene, they delivered him into the ha nds of foure men, that is to say, the wisest, the justest, the most temperate and the most valiant of all the nation. The first taught him religion; the second, to be ever upright and true; the third, to become Master of his owne desires; and fourth, to feare nothing." It is a thing worthy great consideration, that in that excellent, and as I may terme it, matchlesse policie of Lycurgus, and in truth, by reason of her perfection, monstrous, yet notwithstanding, so carefull for the education of children, as of her principall charge, and even in the Muses bosome and resting-place, there is so little mention made of learning: as if that generous youth disdaining all other yokes but of vertue, ought only to be furnished, in liew of tutors of learning, with masters of valour, of justice, of wisdome, and of temperance. An example which Plato hath imitated in his Lawes. The manner of their discipline was, to propound questions unto them, teaching the judgement of men and of their actions: and if by way of reason or discourse they condemned or praised either this man or that deed, they must be told the truth and best: by which meanes at once they sharpened their wits, and learned the right. Astiages in Zenophon calleth Cyrus to an accompt of his last lesson. It is (saith he) that a great lad in our Schools, having a little coat, gave it to one of his fellowes, that was of lesser stature than himselfe, and tooke his coat from him, which was too big for him: our Master having made me judge of that difference, I judged that things must be left in the state they were in, and that both seemed to be better fitted as they were; whereupon he showed me I had done ill; because I had only considered the comelinesse where I should chiefly have respected justice, which required that none should be forced in any thing which properly belonged to him, and said he was whipt for it, as we are in our countrie-townes, when we have forgotten the first preterperfect tense or Aoriste of greekzzz. My Regent might long enough make me a prolixe and cunning Oration in genere demonstrativo, in the oratorie kind of praise or dispraise, before ever hee should perswade me his Schoole is worth that. They have gone about to make the way shorter: and since Sciences (even when they are right taken) can teach us nothing but wisdome, honestie, integritie, and resolution; they have at first sight attempted to put their children to the proper of effects, and instruct them, not by heare-say, but by assay of action, lively modelling and framing them not only by precepts and words, but principally by examples and works, that it might not be a Science in their mind, but rather his complexion and habitude; not to purchase, but a naturall inheritance.
To this purpose, when Agesilaus was demanded what his opinion was, children should learne: he answered, What they should doe being men. It is no marvell, if such an institution have produced so admirable effects. Some say, that in other Cities of Greece they went to seeke for Rhetoricians, for Painters, and for Musicians; whereas in Lacedemon, they sought for Law-givers, for Magistrates, and Generals of armies: In Athens men learn'd to say well, but here, to doe well: there to resolve a sophisticall argument, and to confound the imposture and amphibologie of words, captiously enterlaced together; here to shake off the allurements of voluptuousnesse, and with an undaunted courage to contemne the threats of fortune, and reject the menaces of death: those busied and laboured themselves about idle words, these after martiall things: there the tongue was ever in continuall exercise of speaking, here the minde is an uncessant practice of well-doing. And therefore was it not Strange, if Antipater requiring fiftie of their children for hostages, they answered cleane contrarie to that we would doe, that they would rather deliver him twice so many men; so much did they value and esteeme the losse of their countries education. When Agesilaus inviteth Xenophon to send his children to Sparta, there to be brought up; it is not because they should learne Rhetorike or Logike, but, as himselfe saith, to the end they may learne the worthiest and best science that may bee, to wit the knowledge how to obey and the skill how to commmand. It is a sport to see Socrates, after his blunt manner, to mocke Hippias, who reporteth unto him what great summes of money he had gained, especially in certain little Cities and small townes of Sicily, by keeping schoole, and teaching letters, and that at Sparta he could not get a shilling. That they were but idiots and foolish people, who can neither measure nor esteeme nor make no accompt of Grammer, or of Rythmes and who only ammuse themselves to know the succession of Kings, the establishing and declination of estates, and such like trash of flim-flam tales. Which done, Socrates forcing him particularly to allow the excellencie of their forme of publike government, the happinesse and vertue of their private life, remits unto him to guesse the conclusion of the unprofitablenesse of his arts.. Examples teach us both in this martiall policie, and in all such like, that the studie of sciences donth more weaken and effeminate mens minds than corroborate and adapt them to warre. The mightiest, yea the best setled estate, that is now in the world, is that of the Turkes, a nation equally instructed to the esteem e of armes, and disesteeme of letters. I find Rome to have beene most valiant when it was least learned. The most warlike nations of our daies are the rudest and most ignorant. The Scithians, the Parthians and Tamburlane, serve to verifie my saying. When the Gothes over-ran and ravaged Greece; that which saved all their Libraries from the fire was, that one among them scattered this opinion, that such trash of bookes and papers must be untoucht and whole for their enemies, as the only meane and proper instrument to divert them from all militarie exercises, and ammuse them to idle, secure, and sedentarie occupations. When our King Charles the eight, in a manner without unsheathing his sword, saw himselfe absolute Lord of the whole Kingdome of Naples, and of a great part of Thuscanie, the Princes and Lords of his traine ascribed this sodaine and unhoped for victorie, and facilitie of so noble and prodigious a conquest, only to this, that most of the Princes and nobilitie of Italie ammused themselves rather to become ingenious and wise by learning, than vigorous and warriers by militarie exercises.