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To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules is the humour of a scholar. They perfect nature, and are perfected by experience; for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need pruning by study; and studies themselves give directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience. Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their own use, which is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books; else distilled books are, like common distilled waters, flashy things.
Reading makes a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man; and therefore if a man write little, he had need of a great memory, if he confer little, he had need of a present wit, and if he read little, he had need of much cunning, to
seem to know what he does not.
Histories make men wise, poets witty, the mathematics subtle, natural philosophy deep, moral philosophy grave, logic and rhetoric able to contend. "Abeunt studia in mores."
Nay, there is no stand or impediment in the wit, but may be wrought out by fit studies, like as diseases of the body may have appropriate regimen ; bowling is good for the stone and reins, shooting for the lungs and breast, gentle walking for the stomach, riding for the head, and the like. So if a man's wit be wandering, let him study the mathematics, for in demonstrations, if his wit be called away ever so little, he must begin again; if he be not apt to distinguish or find differences, let him study the schoolmen, for they are Cymini sectores. If he be not apt at investigation, and to call upon one thing to prove and illustrate another, let him study the lawyer's cases; so every defect of the mind may have a special receipt.
"SINCE we cannot attain to greatness," says Montagne, "let us have our revenge by railing at it." This he spoke but in jest. I believe he desired it no more than I do, and had less reason; for he enjoyed so plentiful and honourable a fortune in a most excellent country, as allowed him all the real conveniences of it, separated and purged from the incommodities. If I were but in his condition, I should think it hard measure, without being convicted of any crime, to be sequestered from it and made one of the principal officers of state. But the reader may think that what I now say is of small authority, because I never was nor never shall be put to the trial; I can therefore only make my protestation,
If ever I more riches did desire
Than cleanliness and quiet do require;
I know very many men will despise and some pity me for this humour, as a poor spirited fellow; but I am content, and like Horace, thank God for being so.
"Dii bene fecerunt inopis me quodque pusilli
"Finxerunt animi." Sat. 1. iv, 17,
I confess I love littleness almost in all things; a little convenient estate, a little company, and a very little feast; and if I were ever to fall in love again (which is a great passion, and therefore I hope I have done with it) it would be, I think, with prettiness, rather than with majestical beauty.* I would neither wish that my mistress nor my fortune should be a bona roba; or as Homer uses to describe his beauties, like a daughter of great Jupiter for the stateliness and largeness of her person, but as Lucretius says.
Parvula, pumilio, Xapírav puía, tota merum sal. Luc. iv. 1155, Where there is one man of this, I believe there are a thousand of Senecio's mind, whose ridiculous affectation of grandeur Seneca the elder describes to this effect. Senecio was a man of a turbid and confused wit, who could not endure to speak any but mighty words and sentences, till this humour,
* There is a pretty epigram in the French which elegantly expresses this idea,
"Petit bien qui ne doit rien,
"Petit jardin, petite table,
"Petit minois, qui m'aime bien,
"Sunt pour mois des choses delectables.
grew at last into so notorious a habit, or rather disease, as became the sport of the whole town. He would have no servants but huge massive fellows, no plate nor household stuff, but thrice as big as the fashion. You may believe me, for I speak it without raillery, his extravagancy rose at last into such a madness that he would not put on a pair of shoes, each of which was not big enough for both his feet; he would eat nothing but what was great, nor touch any fruit but horse plumbs and pound pears: he kept a concubine, that was a very giantess, and made her walk too always in chiopins, till at last he got the surname of Senecio Grandio, which Messala said, was not his cognomen but his cognomentum.*
This is the character that Seneca gives of this hyperbolical fop, whom we consider with amazement, and yet there are very few who are not in some things, and to some degrees Grandios. Is any thing more common, than to see our ladies of quality wear such high shoes, as they cannot walk in without one to lead them; † and a gown as long again as their body, so that they cannot pass to the next room without a page or two to hold it up? I may safely say that all the ostentation of our grandees, is just like a train, of no use,
*Was not his surname but his nick-name.
+ This description is scarcely exaggerated. In the present time high heels are out of fashion; but the long trains recently worn, might still furnish a subject for satire. (1808.)