Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Impatience of Study

The mental disease of the present generation, is impatience of study, contempt of the great masters of ancient wisdom, and a disposition to rely wholly upon unassisted genius and natural sagacity. The wits of these happy days have discovered a way to fame, which the dull caution of our laborious ancestors durst never attempt; they cut the knots of sophistry which it was formerly the business of years to untie, solve difficulties by sudden irradiations of intelligence, and comprehend long processes of argument by immediate intuition.

Men who have flattered themselves into this opinion of their own abilities, look down on all who waste their lives over books, as a race of inferior beings, condemned by nature to perpetual pupilage, and fruitlessly endeavouring to remedy their barrenness by incessant cultivation, or succour their feebleness by subsidiary strength. They presume that none would be more industrious than they, if they were not more sensible of deficiencies; and readily conclude, that he who places no confidence in his own powers, owes his modesty only to his weakness.

Samuel Johnson, Rambler #154


  1. Itinérante2:24 AM

    This really encouraged me! Thank you Brandon =)

  2. branemrys8:25 AM

    You're welcome!

    One thing I like about Johnson's argument is that elsewhere in the essay he talks about how it's only from this kind of study that you can get "unexpected flashes of instruction" (e.g., when one thing you are carefully reading happens to intersect with another, or with some problem you are having).

  3. Chris_Huff6:16 PM

    I have to say, I feel like I've slowly but surely arrived at the same line of thought as Johnson lays out here. I do remember in my younger years feeling that the really smart folks pretty much either "knew it" or didn't, but I've come to realize that a lot of the smarter folks I've been around spent a good deal of time laboriously slogging through book after book in a never-ending quest to learn something new. Further, I've learned just how many good ideas there are worth learning from the history of ideas, and that wisdom isn't just contained in modern textbooks.

    I do get the impression that the mindset he's attacking still exists today (and might be stronger than ever). Personally, though, I'm happy to have tossed it aside for good, and it makes the process of learning all the more fun and interesting.

    Great quote!

  4. branemrys9:29 PM

    As Johnson says, in the long run it's hard to get a better teacher than the fortuitous collision of ideas that comes from extensive reading.

  5. Enbrethiliel11:24 PM


    This perfectly sums up my experience of reading all that Plato with you! =D

  6. branemrys12:16 PM

    Plato's definitely a good one for it! I think it helps that he thinks on such a big scale that almost anything he writes is going to have some relevance to something else one might be reading.


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