Saturday, April 16, 2016



Robert South (1634-1716), Discourses on Various Subjects and Occasions (Boston: Bowles and Dearborn, 1827), pp. 325-326 (from a sermon on Ecclesiastes 1.18: "For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow"):
But study, it is a weariness without exercise, a laborious sitting still, that wracks the inward, and destroys the outward man; that sacrifices health to conceit, and clothes the soul with the spoils of the body; and, like a stronger blast of lightning, not only meets the sword, but also consumes the scabbard.

Nature allows men a great freedom, and never gave an appetite but to be an instrument of enjoyment; nor made a desire, but in order to the pleasure of its satisfaction. But he that will increase knowledge, must be content not to enjoy; and not only to cut off the extravagancies of luxury, but also to deny the lawful demands of convenience, to forswear delight, and look upon pleasure as his mortal enemy.

He must call that study, that is indeed confinement; he must converse with solitude, walk, eat, and sleep thinking, read volumes, devour the choicest authors, and (like Pharaoh's kine) after he has devoured all, look lean and meagre. He must be willing to be weak, sickly, and consumptive; even to forget when he is an hungry, and to digest nothing but what he reads.

He must read much, and perhaps meet with little; turn over much trash for one grain of truth; study antiquity till he feels the effects of it; and, like the cock in the fable, seek pearls in a dunghill, and perhaps rise to it as early. This is,
Esse quod Arcesilas aerumnosique Solones:
To be always wearing a meditating countenance, to ruminate, mutter, and talk to a man's self, for want of better company; in short, to do all those things, which in other men are counted madness, but in a scholar pass for his profession.
Id., p. 327:
The first effect of the increase of knowledge, is an increase of the desire of knowledge. It is the covetousness of the understanding, the dropsy of the soul, that drinks itself a-thirst, and grows hungry with surfeit and satisfaction; it is the only thing in which reason itself is irrational.

Now, an endless desire does of necessity vex and torment the person that has it. For misery and vexation is properly nothing else but an eager appetite not satisfied.

He that is always a getting, is always looking upon himself as in want. And he that is perpetually desiring to know, is perpetually thinking of himself as ignorant; namely, in respect of those things that he desires to know.

In fine, happiness is fruition; but there is no fruition where there is a constant desire. For enjoyment swallows up desire, and that which fulfils the expectation also ends it.

But while desire is active, and the mind is still a craving and reaching at somewhat, it supposes our happiness to be at a distance; for no man reaches after what he has already.

The bottomless appetite of knowledge will not be satisfied, and then we know that sorrow is the certain result, and inseparable companion of dissatisfaction.
Id., p. 328:
The second unhappy effect of knowledge is, that it rewards its followers with the miseries of poverty, and clothes them with rags. Reading of books consumes the body, and buying of them, the estate.
Id., p. 329:
The third fatal effect of knowledge is, that it makes the person who has it the butt of envy, the mark of obloquy and contention. Whoever sees another more knowing than himself, he presently thinks him a reproach to his understanding: and although he himself will not undergo the labour of knowledge, yet he will not allow another the fame.

Hence come all the jars between learned men, the invectives and bitter books, the wars of critics, and the controversies of the schools, all managed with such keenness and virulence, throwing dirt, and disgorging daggers at one another's reputation; for no other injury in the world, but because the adverse party is thought to know more.


To trample, and to be trampled upon; to write, and to be writ against, is the lot and effect of learning, as it lies under the malign aspect of a constant emulation.

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