The Essays of Montaigne/Book I/Chapter XXIV

Chapter XXIV. Of pedantry. Edit

I was often, when a boy, wonderfully concerned to see, in the Italian
farces, a pedant always brought in for the fool of the play, and that the
title of Magister was in no greater reverence amongst us: for being
delivered up to their tuition, what could I do less than be jealous of
their honour and reputation? I sought indeed to excuse them by the
natural incompatibility betwixt the vulgar sort and men of a finer
thread, both in judgment and knowledge, forasmuch as they go a quite
contrary way to one another: but in this, the thing I most stumbled at
was, that the finest gentlemen were those who most despised them; witness
our famous poet Du Bellay--

          "Mais je hay par sur tout un scavoir pedantesque."

          ["Of all things I hate pedantic learning."--Du Bellay]

And 'twas so in former times; for Plutarch says that Greek and Scholar
were terms of reproach and contempt amongst the Romans. But since, with
the better experience of age, I find they had very great reason so to do,
and that--

          "Magis magnos clericos non sunt magis magnos sapientes."

     ["The greatest clerks are not the wisest men." A proverb given in
     Rabelais' Gargantua, i. 39.]

But whence it should come to pass, that a mind enriched with the
knowledge of so many things should not become more quick and sprightly,
and that a gross and vulgar understanding should lodge within it, without
correcting and improving itself, all the discourses and judgments of the
greatest minds the world ever had, I am yet to seek. To admit so many
foreign conceptions, so great, and so high fancies, it is necessary (as a
young lady, one of the greatest princesses of the kingdom, said to me
once, speaking of a certain person) that a man's own brain must be
crowded and squeezed together into a less compass, to make room for the
others; I should be apt to conclude, that as plants are suffocated and
drowned with too much nourishment, and lamps with too much oil, so with
too much study and matter is the active part of the understanding which,
being embarrassed, and confounded with a great diversity of things, loses
the force and power to disengage itself, and by the pressure of this
weight, is bowed, subjected, and doubled up. But it is quite otherwise;
for our soul stretches and dilates itself proportionably as it fills; and
in the examples of elder times, we see, quite contrary, men very proper
for public business, great captains, and great statesmen very learned

And, as to the philosophers, a sort of men remote from all public
affairs, they have been sometimes also despised by the comic liberty of
their times; their opinions and manners making them appear, to men of
another sort, ridiculous. Would you make them judges of a lawsuit, of
the actions of men? they are ready to take it upon them, and straight
begin to examine if there be life, if there be motion, if man be any
other than an ox;--["If Montaigne has copied all this from Plato's
Theatetes, p.127, F. as it is plain by all which he has added
immediately after, that he has taken it from that dialogue, he has
grossly mistaken Plato's sentiment, who says here no more than this, that
the philosopher is so ignorant of what his neighbour does, that he scarce
knows whether he is a man, or some other animal:--Coste."]--what it is to
do and to suffer? what animals law and justice are? Do they speak of
the magistrates, or to him, 'tis with a rude, irreverent, and indecent
liberty. Do they hear their prince, or a king commended? they make no
more of him, than of a shepherd, goatherd, or neatherd: a lazy Coridon,
occupied in milking and shearing his herds and flocks, but more rudely
and harshly than the herd or shepherd himself. Do you repute any man the
greater for being lord of two thousand acres of land? they laugh at such
a pitiful pittance, as laying claim themselves to the whole world for
their possession. Do you boast of your nobility, as being descended from
seven rich successive ancestors? they look upon you with an eye of
contempt, as men who have not a right idea of the universal image of
nature, and that do not consider how many predecessors every one of us
has had, rich, poor, kings, slaves, Greeks, and barbarians; and though
you were the fiftieth descendant from Hercules, they look upon it as a
great vanity, so highly to value this, which is only a gift of fortune.
And 'twas so the vulgar sort contemned them, as men ignorant of the most
elementary and ordinary things; as presumptuous and insolent.

But this Platonic picture is far different from that these pedants are
presented by. Those were envied for raising themselves above the common
sort, for despising the ordinary actions and offices of life, for having
assumed a particular and inimitable way of living, and for using a
certain method of high-flight and obsolete language, quite different from
the ordinary way of speaking: but these are contemned as being as much
below the usual form, as incapable of public employment, as leading a
life and conforming themselves to the mean and vile manners of the

          "Odi ignava opera, philosopha sententia."

     ["I hate men who jabber about philosophy, but do nothing."
     --Pacuvius, ap Gellium, xiii. 8.]

For what concerns the philosophers, as I have said, if they were in
science, they were yet much greater in action. And, as it is said of the
geometrician of Syracuse,--[Archimedes.]--who having been disturbed from
his contemplation, to put some of his skill in practice for the defence
of his country, that he suddenly set on foot dreadful and prodigious
engines, that wrought effects beyond all human expectation; himself,
notwithstanding, disdaining all his handiwork, and thinking in this he
had played the mere mechanic, and violated the dignity of his art, of
which these performances of his he accounted but trivial experiments and
playthings so they, whenever they have been put upon the proof of action,
have been seen to fly to so high a pitch, as made it very well appear,
their souls were marvellously elevated, and enriched by the knowledge of
things. But some of them, seeing the reins of government in the hands of
incapable men, have avoided all management of political affairs; and he
who demanded of Crates, how long it was necessary to philosophise,
received this answer: "Till our armies are no more commanded by fools."
--[Diogenes Laertius, vi. 92.]--Heraclitus resigned the royalty to his
brother; and, to the Ephesians, who reproached him that he spent his time
in playing with children before the temple: "Is it not better," said he,
"to do so, than to sit at the helm of affairs in your company?" Others
having their imagination advanced above the world and fortune, have
looked upon the tribunals of justice, and even the thrones of kings, as
paltry and contemptible; insomuch, that Empedocles refused the royalty
that the Agrigentines offered to him. Thales, once inveighing in
discourse against the pains and care men put themselves to to become
rich, was answered by one in the company, that he did like the fox, who
found fault with what he could not obtain. Whereupon, he had a mind, for
the jest's sake, to show them to the contrary; and having, for this
occasion, made a muster of all his wits, wholly to employ them in the
service of profit and gain, he set a traffic on foot, which in one year
brought him in so great riches, that the most experienced in that trade
could hardly in their whole lives, with all their industry, have raked so
much together.--[Diogenes Laertius, Life of Thales, i. 26; Cicero, De
Divin., i. 49.]--That which Aristotle reports of some who called both
him and Anaxagoras, and others of their profession, wise but not prudent,
in not applying their study to more profitable things--though I do not
well digest this verbal distinction--that will not, however, serve to
excuse my pedants, for to see the low and necessitous fortune wherewith
they are content, we have rather reason to pronounce that they are
neither wise nor prudent.

But letting this first reason alone, I think it better to say, that this
evil proceeds from their applying themselves the wrong way to the study
of the sciences; and that, after the manner we are instructed, it is no
wonder if neither the scholars nor the masters become, though more
learned, ever the wiser, or more able. In plain truth, the cares and
expense our parents are at in our education, point at nothing, but to
furnish our heads with knowledge; but not a word of judgment and virtue.
Cry out, of one that passes by, to the people: "O, what a learned man!"
and of another, "O, what a good man!"--[Translated from Seneca, Ep.,
88.]--they will not fail to turn their eyes, and address their respect
to the former. There should then be a third crier, "O, the blockheads!"
Men are apt presently to inquire, does such a one understand Greek or
Latin? Is he a poet? or does he write in prose? But whether he be
grown better or more discreet, which are qualities of principal concern,
these are never thought of. We should rather examine, who is better
learned, than who is more learned.

We only labour to stuff the memory, and leave the conscience and the
understanding unfurnished and void. Like birds who fly abroad to forage
for grain, and bring it home in the beak, without tasting it themselves,
to feed their young; so our pedants go picking knowledge here and there,
out of books, and hold it at the tongue's end, only to spit it out and
distribute it abroad. And here I cannot but smile to think how I have
paid myself in showing the foppery of this kind of learning, who myself
am so manifest an example; for, do I not the same thing throughout almost
this whole composition? I go here and there, culling out of several
books the sentences that best please me, not to keep them (for I have no
memory to retain them in), but to transplant them into this; where, to
say the truth, they are no more mine than in their first places. We are,
I conceive, knowing only in present knowledge, and not at all in what is
past, or more than is that which is to come. But the worst on't is,
their scholars and pupils are no better nourished by this kind of
inspiration; and it makes no deeper impression upon them, but passes from
hand to hand, only to make a show to be tolerable company, and to tell
pretty stories, like a counterfeit coin in counters, of no other use or
value, but to reckon with, or to set up at cards:

          "Apud alios loqui didicerunt non ipsi secum."

     ["They have learned to speak from others, not from themselves."
     --Cicero, Tusc. Quaes, v. 36.]

               "Non est loquendum, sed gubernandum."

     ["Speaking is not so necessary as governing."--Seneca, Ep., 108.]

Nature, to shew that there is nothing barbarous where she has the sole
conduct, oftentimes, in nations where art has the least to do, causes
productions of wit, such as may rival the greatest effect of art
whatever. In relation to what I am now speaking of, the Gascon proverb,
derived from a cornpipe, is very quaint and subtle:

          "Bouha prou bouha, mas a remuda lous dits quem."

     ["You may blow till your eyes start out; but if once you offer to
     stir your fingers, it is all over."]

We can say, Cicero says thus; these were the manners of Plato; these are
the very words of Aristotle: but what do we say ourselves? What do we
judge? A parrot would say as much as that.

And this puts me in mind of that rich gentleman of Rome,--[Calvisius
Sabinus. Seneca, Ep., 27.]--who had been solicitous, with very great
expense, to procure men that were excellent in all sorts of science, whom
he had always attending his person, to the end, that when amongst his
friends any occasion fell out of speaking of any subject whatsoever, they
might supply his place, and be ready to prompt him, one with a sentence
of Seneca, another with a verse of Homer, and so forth, every one
according to his talent; and he fancied this knowledge to be his own,
because it was in the heads of those who lived upon his bounty; as they
also do, whose learning consists in having noble libraries. I know one,
who, when I question him what he knows, he presently calls for a book to
shew me, and dares not venture to tell me so much, as that he has piles
in his posteriors, till first he has consulted his dictionary, what piles
and what posteriors are.

We take other men's knowledge and opinions upon trust; which is an idle
and superficial learning. We must make it our own. We are in this very
like him, who having need of fire, went to a neighbour's house to fetch
it, and finding a very good one there, sat down to warm himself without
remembering to carry any with him home.--[Plutarch, How a Man should
Listen.]--What good does it do us to have the stomach full of meat, if
it do not digest, if it be not incorporated with us, if it does not
nourish and support us? Can we imagine that Lucullus, whom letters,
without any manner of experience, made so great a captain, learned to be
so after this perfunctory manner?--[Cicero, Acad., ii. I.]--We suffer
ourselves to lean and rely so strongly upon the arm of another, that we
destroy our own strength and vigour. Would I fortify myself against the
fear of death, it must be at the expense of Seneca: would I extract
consolation for myself or my friend, I borrow it from Cicero. I might
have found it in myself, had I been trained to make use of my own reason.
I do not like this relative and mendicant understanding; for though we
could become learned by other men's learning, a man can never be wise but
by his own wisdom:

     ["I hate the wise man, who in his own concern is not wise."
     --Euripides, ap. Cicero, Ep. Fam., xiii. 15.]

Whence Ennius:

     "Nequidquam sapere sapientem, qui ipse sibi prodesse non quiret."

     ["That wise man knows nothing, who cannot profit himself by his
     wisdom."--Cicero, De Offic., iii. 15.]

                              "Si cupidus, si
               Vanus, et Euganea quantumvis mollior agna."

     ["If he be grasping, or a boaster, and something softer than an
     Euganean lamb."--Juvenal, Sat., viii. 14.]

     "Non enim paranda nobis solum, sed fruenda sapientia est."

     ["For wisdom is not only to be acquired, but to be utilised."
     --Cicero, De Finib., i. I.]

Dionysius--[It was not Dionysius, but Diogenes the cynic. Diogenes
Laertius, vi. 27.]--laughed at the grammarians, who set themselves to
inquire into the miseries of Ulysses, and were ignorant of their own;
at musicians, who were so exact in tuning their instruments, and never
tuned their manners; at orators, who made it a study to declare what is
justice, but never took care to do it. If the mind be not better
disposed, if the judgment be no better settled, I had much rather my
scholar had spent his time at tennis, for, at least, his body would by
that means be in better exercise and breath. Do but observe him when he
comes back from school, after fifteen or sixteen years that he has been
there; there is nothing so unfit for employment; all you shall find he
has got, is, that his Latin and Greek have only made him a greater
coxcomb than when he went from home. He should bring back his soul
replete with good literature, and he brings it only swelled and puffed up
with vain and empty shreds and patches of learning; and has really
nothing more in him than he had before.--[Plato's Dialogues: Protagoras.]

These pedants of ours, as Plato says of the Sophists, their
cousin-germans, are, of all men, they who most pretend to be useful to
mankind, and who alone, of all men, not only do not better and improve
that which is committed to them, as a carpenter or a mason would do, but
make them much worse, and make us pay them for making them worse, to
boot. If the rule which Protagoras proposed to his pupils were followed
--either that they should give him his own demand, or make affidavit upon
oath in the temple how much they valued the profit they had received
under his tuition, and satisfy him accordingly--my pedagogues would find
themselves sorely gravelled, if they were to be judged by the affidavits
of my experience. My Perigordin patois very pleasantly calls these
pretenders to learning, 'lettre-ferits', as a man should say,
letter-marked--men on whom letters have been stamped by the blow of a
mallet. And, in truth, for the most part, they appear to be deprived even
of common sense; for you see the husbandman and the cobbler go simply and
fairly about their business, speaking only of what they know and
understand; whereas these fellows, to make parade and to get opinion,
mustering this ridiculous knowledge of theirs, that floats on the
superficies of the brain, are perpetually perplexing, and entangling
themselves in their own nonsense. They speak fine words sometimes, 'tis
true, but let somebody that is wiser apply them. They are wonderfully
well acquainted with Galen, but not at all with the disease of the
patient; they have already deafened you with a long ribble-row of laws,
but understand nothing of the case in hand; they have the theory of all
things, let who will put it in practice.

I have sat by, when a friend of mine, in my own house, for sport-sake,
has with one of these fellows counterfeited a jargon of Galimatias,
patched up of phrases without head or tail, saving that he interlarded
here and there some terms that had relation to their dispute, and held
the coxcomb in play a whole afternoon together, who all the while thought
he had answered pertinently and learnedly to all his objections; and yet
this was a man of letters, and reputation, and a fine gentleman of the
long robe:

         "Vos, O patricius sanguis, quos vivere par est
          Occipiti caeco, posticae occurrite sannae."

     ["O you, of patrician blood, to whom it is permitted to live
     with(out) eyes in the back of your head, beware of grimaces at you
     from behind."--Persius, Sat., i. 61.]

Whosoever shall narrowly pry into and thoroughly sift this sort of
people, wherewith the world is so pestered, will, as I have done, find,
that for the most part, they neither understand others, nor themselves;
and that their memories are full enough, but the judgment totally void
and empty; some excepted, whose own nature has of itself formed them into
better fashion. As I have observed, for example, in Adrian Turnebus, who
having never made other profession than that of mere learning only, and
in that, in my opinion, he was the greatest man that has been these
thousand years, had nothing at all in him of the pedant, but the wearing
of his gown, and a little exterior fashion, that could not be civilised
to courtier ways, which in themselves are nothing. I hate our people,
who can worse endure an ill-contrived robe than an ill-contrived mind,
and take their measure by the leg a man makes, by his behaviour, and so
much as the very fashion of his boots, what kind of man he is. For
within there was not a more polished soul upon earth. I have often
purposely put him upon arguments quite wide of his profession, wherein I
found he had so clear an insight, so quick an apprehension, so solid a
judgment, that a man would have thought he had never practised any other
thing but arms, and been all his life employed in affairs of State.
These are great and vigorous natures,

                         "Queis arte benigna
          Et meliore luto finxit praecordia Titan."

     ["Whom benign Titan (Prometheus) has framed of better clay."
     --Juvenal, xiv. 34.]

that can keep themselves upright in despite of a pedantic education. But
it is not enough that our education does not spoil us; it must, moreover,
alter us for the better.

Some of our Parliaments, when they are to admit officers, examine only
their learning; to which some of the others also add the trial of
understanding, by asking their judgment of some case in law; of these the
latter, methinks, proceed with the better method; for although both are
necessary, and that it is very requisite they should be defective in
neither, yet, in truth, knowledge is not so absolutely necessary as
judgment; the last may make shift without the other, but the other never
without this. For as the Greek verse says--

     ["To what use serves learning, if understanding be away."
     --Apud Stobaeus, tit. iii., p. 37 (1609).]

Would to God that, for the good of our judicature, these societies were
as well furnished with understanding and conscience as they are with

               "Non vita, sed scolae discimus."

     ["We do not study for life, but only for the school."
     --Seneca, Ep., 106.]

We are not to tie learning to the soul, but to work and incorporate them
together: not to tincture it only, but to give it a thorough and perfect
dye; which, if it will not take colour, and meliorate its imperfect
state, it were without question better to let it alone. 'Tis a dangerous
weapon, that will hinder and wound its master, if put into an awkward and
unskilful hand:

               "Ut fuerit melius non didicisse."

          ["So that it were better not to have learned."
          --Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., ii. 4.]

And this, peradventure, is the reason why neither we nor theology require
much learning in women; and that Francis, Duke of Brittany, son of John V.,
one talking with him about his marriage with Isabella the daughter of
Scotland, and adding that she was homely bred, and without any manner of
learning, made answer, that he liked her the better, and that a woman was
wise enough, if she could distinguish her husband's shirt from his
doublet. So that it is no so great wonder, as they make of it, that our
ancestors had letters in no greater esteem, and that even to this day
they are but rarely met with in the principal councils of princes; and if
the end and design of acquiring riches, which is the only thing we
propose to ourselves, by the means of law, physic, pedantry, and even
divinity itself, did not uphold and keep them in credit, you would, with
doubt, see them in as pitiful a condition as ever. And what loss would
this be, if they neither instruct us to think well nor to do well?

          "Postquam docti prodierunt, boni desunt."

     [Seneca, Ep., 95. "Since the 'savans' have made their appearance
     among us, the good people have become eclipsed."
     --Rousseau, Discours sur les Lettres.]

All other knowledge is hurtful to him who has not the science of

But the reason I glanced upon but now, may it not also hence proceed,
that, our studies in France having almost no other aim but profit, except
as to those who, by nature born to offices and employments rather of
glory than gain, addict themselves to letters, if at all, only for so
short a time (being taken from their studies before they can come to have
any taste of them, to a profession that has nothing to do with books),
there ordinarily remain no others to apply themselves wholly to learning,
but people of mean condition, who in that only seek the means to live;
and by such people, whose souls are, both by nature and by domestic
education and example, of the basest alloy the fruits of knowledge are
immaturely gathered and ill digested, and delivered to their recipients
quite another thing. For it is not for knowledge to enlighten a soul
that is dark of itself, nor to make a blind man see. Her business is not
to find a man's eyes, but to guide, govern, and direct them, provided he
have sound feet and straight legs to go upon. Knowledge is an excellent
drug, but no drug has virtue enough to preserve itself from corruption
and decay, if the vessel be tainted and impure wherein it is put to keep.
Such a one may have a sight clear enough who looks asquint, and
consequently sees what is good, but does not follow it, and sees
knowledge, but makes no use of it. Plato's principal institution in his
Republic is to fit his citizens with employments suitable to their
nature. Nature can do all, and does all. Cripples are very unfit for
exercises of the body, and lame souls for exercises of the mind.
Degenerate and vulgar souls are unworthy of philosophy. If we see a
shoemaker with his shoes out at the toes, we say, 'tis no wonder; for,
commonly, none go worse shod than they. In like manner, experience often
presents us a physician worse physicked, a divine less reformed, and
(constantly) a scholar of less sufficiency, than other people.

Old Aristo of Chios had reason to say that philosophers did their
auditors harm, forasmuch as most of the souls of those that heard them
were not capable of deriving benefit from instruction, which, if not
applied to good, would certainly be applied to ill:

     ["They proceeded effeminate debauchees from the school of
     Aristippus, cynics from that of Zeno."
     --Cicero, De Natura Deor., iii., 31.]

In that excellent institution that Xenophon attributes to the Persians,
we find that they taught their children virtue, as other nations do
letters. Plato tells us that the eldest son in their royal succession
was thus brought up; after his birth he was delivered, not to women, but
to eunuchs of the greatest authority about their kings for their virtue,
whose charge it was to keep his body healthful and in good plight; and
after he came to seven years of age, to teach him to ride and to go
a-hunting. When he arrived at fourteen he was transferred into the hands
of four, the wisest, the most just, the most temperate, and most valiant
of the nation; of whom the first was to instruct him in religion, the
second to be always upright and sincere, the third to conquer his
appetites and desires, and the fourth to despise all danger.

It is a thing worthy of very great consideration, that in that excellent,
and, in truth, for its perfection, prodigious form of civil regimen set
down by Lycurgus, though so solicitous of the education of children,
as a thing of the greatest concern, and even in the very seat of the
Muses, he should make so little mention of learning; as if that generous
youth, disdaining all other subjection but that of virtue, ought to be
supplied, instead of tutors to read to them arts and sciences, with such
masters as should only instruct them in valour, prudence, and justice;
an example that Plato has followed in his laws. The manner of their
discipline was to propound to them questions in judgment upon men and
their actions; and if they commended or condemned this or that person or
fact, they were to give a reason for so doing; by which means they at
once sharpened their understanding, and learned what was right.
Astyages, in Xenophon, asks Cyrus to give an account of his last lesson;
and thus it was, "A great boy in our school, having a little short
cassock, by force took a longer from another that was not so tall as he,
and gave him his own in exchange: whereupon I, being appointed judge of
the controversy, gave judgment, that I thought it best each should keep
the coat he had, for that they both of them were better fitted with that
of one another than with their own: upon which my master told me, I had
done ill, in that I had only considered the fitness of the garments,
whereas I ought to have considered the justice of the thing, which
required that no one should have anything forcibly taken from him that is
his own." And Cyrus adds that he was whipped for his pains, as we are in
our villages for forgetting the first aorist of------.

     [Cotton's version of this story commences differently, and includes
     a passage which is not in any of the editions of the original before

     "Mandane, in Xenophon, asking Cyrus how he would do to learn
     justice, and the other virtues amongst the Medes, having left all
     his masters behind him in Persia? He made answer, that he had
     learned those things long since; that his master had often made him
     a judge of the differences amongst his schoolfellows, and had one
     day whipped him for giving a wrong sentence."--W.C.H.]

My pedant must make me a very learned oration, 'in genere demonstrativo',
before he can persuade me that his school is like unto that. They knew
how to go the readiest way to work; and seeing that science, when most
rightly applied and best understood, can do no more but teach us
prudence, moral honesty, and resolution, they thought fit, at first hand,
to initiate their children with the knowledge of effects, and to instruct
them, not by hearsay and rote, but by the experiment of action, in lively
forming and moulding them; not only by words and precepts, but chiefly by
works and examples; to the end it might not be a knowledge in the mind
only, but its complexion and habit: not an acquisition, but a natural
possession. One asking to this purpose, Agesilaus, what he thought most
proper for boys to learn? "What they ought to do when they come to be
men," said he.--[Plutarch, Apothegms of the Lacedamonians. Rousseau
adopts the expression in his Diswuys sur tes Lettres.]--It is no wonder,
if such an institution produced so admirable effects.

They used to go, it is said, to the other cities of Greece, to inquire
out rhetoricians, painters, and musicians; but to Lacedaemon for
legislators, magistrates, and generals of armies; at Athens they learned
to speak well: here to do well; there to disengage themselves from a
sophistical argument, and to unravel the imposture of captious
syllogisms; here to evade the baits and allurements of pleasure, and with
a noble courage and resolution to conquer the menaces of fortune and
death; those cudgelled their brains about words, these made it their
business to inquire into things; there was an eternal babble of the
tongue, here a continual exercise of the soul. And therefore it is
nothing strange if, when Antipater demanded of them fifty children for
hostages, they made answer, quite contrary to what we should do, that
they would rather give him twice as many full-grown men, so much did they
value the loss of their country's education. When Agesilaus courted
Xenophon to send his children to Sparta to be bred, "it is not," said he,
"there to learn logic or rhetoric, but to be instructed in the noblest of
all sciences, namely, the science to obey and to command."--[Plutarch,
Life of Agesilaus, c. 7.]

It is very pleasant to see Socrates, after his manner, rallying Hippias,
--[Plato's Dialogues: Hippias Major.]--who recounts to him what a world
of money he has got, especially in certain little villages of Sicily, by
teaching school, and that he made never a penny at Sparta: "What a
sottish and stupid people," said Socrates, "are they, without sense or
understanding, that make no account either of grammar or poetry, and only
busy themselves in studying the genealogies and successions of their
kings, the foundations, rises, and declensions of states, and such tales
of a tub!" After which, having made Hippias from one step to another
acknowledge the excellency of their form of public administration, and
the felicity and virtue of their private life, he leaves him to guess at
the conclusion he makes of the inutilities of his pedantic arts.

Examples have demonstrated to us that in military affairs, and all others
of the like active nature, the study of sciences more softens and
untempers the courages of men than it in any way fortifies and excites
them. The most potent empire that at this day appears to be in the whole
world is that of the Turks, a people equally inured to the estimation of
arms and the contempt of letters. I find Rome was more valiant before
she grew so learned. The most warlike nations at this time in being are
the most rude and ignorant: the Scythians, the Parthians, Tamerlane,
serve for sufficient proof of this. When the Goths overran Greece, the
only thing that preserved all the libraries from the fire was, that some
one possessed them with an opinion that they were to leave this kind of
furniture entire to the enemy, as being most proper to divert them from
the exercise of arms, and to fix them to a lazy and sedentary life.
When our King Charles VIII., almost without striking a blow, saw himself
possessed of the kingdom of Naples and a considerable part of Tuscany,
the nobles about him attributed this unexpected facility of conquest to
this, that the princes and nobles of Italy, more studied to render
themselves ingenious and learned, than vigorous and warlike.