More Learning Now Than in Antiquity

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson:

“‘How false (said he,) is all this, to say that in ancient times learning was not a disgrace to a Peer as it is now. In ancient times a Peer was as ignorant as any one else. He would have been angry to have it thought he could write his name. Men in ancient times dared to stand forth with a degree of ignorance with which nobody would dare now to stand forth. I am always angry when I hear ancient times praised at the expence of modern times. There is now a great deal more learning in the world than there was formerly; for it is universally diffused. You have, perhaps, no man who knows as much Greek and Latin as Bentley; no man who knows as much mathematicks as Newton: but you have many more men who know Greek and Latin, and who know mathematicks.'”

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One response

  1. I wonder how late you could say “ancient times” and mean “my grandparents’ day?” Richard Bentley and Isaac Newton both flourished circa 1700, I think that illiterate peers were starting to stand out at Elizabeth I’s court.

    Sadly, there is no shortage of people daring to stand forth in ignorance today 😦

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