Besprent with Learned Dust

Samuel Johnson, The Adventurer No. 85:

“Persius has justly observed, that knowledge is nothing to him who is not known by others to possess it: to the scholar himself it is nothing with respect either to honour or advantage, for the world cannot reward those qualities which are concealed from it; with respect to others it is nothing, because it affords no help to ignorance or errour.

It is with justice, therefore, that in an accomplished character, Horace unites just sentiments with the power of expressing them; and he that has once accumulated learning, is next to consider, how he shall most widely diffuse and most agreeably impart it.

A ready man is made by conversation. He that buries himself among his manuscripts, ‘besprent,’ as Pope expresses it, ‘with learned dust,’ and wears out his days and nights in perpetual research and solitary meditation, is too apt to lose in his elocution what he adds to his wisdom; and when he comes into the world, to appear overloaded with his own notions, like a man armed with weapons which he cannot wield. He has no facility of inculcating his speculations, of adapting himself to the various degrees of intellect which the accidents of conversation will present; but will talk to most unintelligibly, and to all unpleasantly.

I was once present at the lectures of a profound philosopher, a man really skilled in the science which he professed, who having occasion to explain the terms opacum and pellucidum, told us, after some hesitation, that opacum was, as one might say, opake, and that pellucidum signified pellucid. Such was the dexterity with which this learned reader facilitated to his auditors the intricacies of science; and so true is it, that a man may know what he cannot teach.”

Persius, 1.25-26

“O, our silly ways! Is knowledge worthless,
unless someone else knows that you know it?”

o mores, usque adeone
scire tuum nihil est nisi te scire hoc sciat alter?

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