Monday, December 06, 2010


Abstain from Learned Ostentation

Lord Chesterfield, Letters to His Son, XXX (Bath, February 22, O.S. 1748):
There is another species of learned men who, though less dogmatical and supercilious, are not less impertinent. These are the communicative and shining pedants who adorn their conversation, even with women, by happy quotations of Greek and Latin, and who have contracted such a familiarity with the Greek and Roman authors, that they call them by certain names or epithets denoting intimacy. As old Homer; that sly rogue Horace; Maro, instead of Virgil; and Naso, instead of Ovid. These are often imitated by coxcombs, who have no learning at all; but who have got some names and some scraps of ancient authors by heart, which they improperly and impertinently retail in all companies, in hopes of passing for scholars. If, therefore, you would avoid the accusation of pedantry, on one hand, or the suspicion of ignorance, on the other, abstain from learned ostentation. Speak the language of the company you are in; speak it purely, and unlarded with any other. Never seem wiser, nor more learned, than the people you are with. 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 o'clock it is, tell it; but do not proclaim it hourly and unasked, like the watchman.

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