Saturday, September 27, 2014


Pretend to Care

Sydney Smith (1771-1845), Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy (London: Printed for Private Distribution, [1849]), pp. 278-279:
Beside the shame of inferiority, and the love of reputation, curiosity is a passion very favourable to the love of study; and a passion very susceptible of increase by cultivation. Sound travels so many feet in a second; and light travels so many feet in a second. Nothing more probable: but you do not care how light and sound travel. Very likely: but make yourself care; get up, shake yourself well, pretend to care, make believe to care, and very soon you will care, and care so much, that you will sit for hours thinking about light and sound, and be extremely angry with any one who interrupts you in your pursuits; and tolerate no other conversation but about light and sound; and catch yourself plaguing everybody to death who approaches you, with the discussion of these subjects. I am sure that a man ought to read as he would grasp a nettle:—do it lightly, and you get molested; grasp it with all your strength, and you feel none of its asperities. There is nothing so horrible as languid study; when you sit looking at the clock, wishing the time was over, or that somebody would call on you and put you out of your misery. The only way to read with any efficacy, is to read so heartily, that dinnertime comes two hours before you expected it. To sit with your Livy before you, and hear the geese cackling that saved the capitol; and to see with your own eyes the Carthaginian sutlers gathering up the rings of the Roman knights after the battle of Cannae, and heaping them into bushels; and to be so intimately present at the actions you are reading of, that when anybody knocks at the door, it will take you two or three seconds to determine whether you are in your own study, or in the plains of Lombardy, looking at Hannibal's weather-beaten face, and admiring the splendour of his single eye;—this is the only kind of study which is not tiresome; and almost the only kind which is not useless: this is the knowledge which gets into the system, and which a man carries about and uses like his limbs, without perceiving that is it extraneous, weighty, or inconvenient.

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