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I turned about to address myself to the Genius again, but I found that he had left me; I then turned again to the vision which I had been so long contemplating: but, instead of the rolling tide, the arched bridge, and the happy islands, I saw nothing but the long hollow valley of Bagdad, with oxen, sheep, and camels, grazing upon the sides of it.
A man who has been brought up among books, and is able to talk of nothing else, is a very indifferent companion, and what we call a pedant. But, methinks, we should enlarge the title, and give it to every one that does not know how to think out of his profession and particular way of life.
What is a greater pedant than a mere man of the town? Bar him the playhouses, or a catalogue of the reigning beauties, and you strike him dumb. How many a pretty gentleman's knowledge lies all within the verge
of the Court! He will tell you the names of the principal favourites, repeat the shrewd sayings of a man of quality, whisper some scandal; or, if the sphere of his observations is a little larger than ordinary, will perhaps enter into all the incidents, turns, and revolutions in a game of ombre. When he has gone thus far, he has shown you the whole circle of his accomplishments, his parts are drained, and he is disabled from any farther conversation. What are these but rank pedants ? And yet these are the men who value themselves most on their exemption from the pedantry of colleges.
I might here mention the military pedant, who always talks in a camp, and is storming towns, making lodgments, and fighting battles from one end of the year to the other. Everything he speaks smells of gunpowder : if you take away his artillery from him, he has not a word to say for himself. I might likewise mention the law pedant, that is perpetually putting
cases, repeating the transactions of Westminster Hall, i wrangling with you upon the most indifferent circum
stances of life, and not to be convinced of the distance of a place, or of the most trivial point in conversation, but by dint of argument. The state pedant is wrapt up in news, and lost in politics. If you mention either of the kings of Spain or Poland, he talks very notably: but if you go out of the gazette, you drop him. In short, a mere courtier, a mere soldier, a mere scholar, a mere anything, is an insipid pedantic character, and equally ridiculous.
Of all the species of pedants which I have mentioned, the book pedant is much the most supportable; he has, at least, an exercised understanding, and a head which is full, though confused ; so that a man who converses with him may often receive from him hints of things that are worth knowing, and what he may possibly turn to his own advantage, though they are of little use to the owner. The worst kind of pedants among learned men are such as are naturally endued with a very small share of common sense, and have read a great number of books without taste or distinction.
The truth of it is, learning, like travelling, and all
other methods of improvement, as it furnishes good sense, so it makes a silly man ten thousand times more insufferable, by supplying variety of matter to his impertinence, and giving him an opportunity of abounding in absurdities.
Shallow pedants cry up one another much more than men of solid and useful learning. To read the titles they give an editor, or collator of a manuscript, you would take him for the glory of the commonwealth of letters and the wonder of his age, when perhaps upon examination you would find that he has only rectified a Greek particle, or laid out a whole sentence in proper commas.
They are obliged, indeed, to be thus lavish of their praises, that they may keep one another in countenance, and it is no wonder if a great deal of knowledge, which is not capable of making a man wise, has à natural tendency to make him vain and arrogant.
POPE ALEXANDER POPE. Born 1688; Died 1744. Owing to the fact of his father being a Roman Catholic, as
well as on account of his own weak health, Pope was educated at home. His literary career began at the age of sixteen, when he published the Pastorals, and was continued till his death by a constant succession of poems, of which the Rape of the Lock, the Essay on Man, the Moral Epistles, and his great translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey, aro the most famous. They are all characterised by the same rapid, penetrating, and yet luminous thought, by style at once terse and ile, and by gracefulness of versitication that is unequalled.
FROM THE ESSAY ON MAN. AWAKE, my
St. John! leave all meaner things To low ambition, and the pride of kings. Let us (since life can little more supply Than just to look about us, and to die) Expatiate free o'er all this scene of man; A mighty maze! but not without a plan; A wild, where weeds and flow'rs promiscuous shoot; Or garden, tempting with forbidden fruit. Together let us beat this ample field, Try what the open, what the covert yield; The latent tracts, the giddy heights, explore Of all who blindly creep, or sightless soar; Eye nature's walks, shoot folly as it flies, And catch the manners living as they rise ;
Laugh where we must, be candid where we can; But vindicate the ways of God to man.
Say first, of God above, or man below, What can we reason, but from what we know? Of man, what see we but his station here, From which to reason, or to which refer? Thro' worlds unnumbered tho' the God be known, 'Tis ours to trace Him only in our own. He, who thro' vast immensity can pierce, See worlds on worlds compose one universe, Observe how system into system runs, What other planets circle other suns, What vary'd being peoples every star, May tell why Heav'n has made us as we are.. But of this frame the bearings, and the ties, The strong connections, nice dependencies, Gradations just, has thy pervading soul Look'd thro'? or can a part contain the whole ?
Is the great chain, that draws all to agree,
Of systems possible, if ’tis confest