Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XXX.: Of Education. Part II. - The Independent Whig, vol. 1 (7th ed. 1743)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Number XXX.: Of Education. Part II. - Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, vol. 1 (7th ed. 1743) 
The Independent Whig: or, a Defence of Primitive Christianity, And of Our Ecclesiastical Establishment, against The Exorbitant Claims and Encroachments of Fanatical and Disaffected Clergymen. The Seventh Edition, with Additions and Amendments (London: J. Peele, 1743). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Independent Whig, 4 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain. It was scanned and originally put online by Google for non-commercial, educational purposes. We have retained the Google watermark as requested but have added tables of contents, pagination, and other educational aids where appropriate.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Wednesday, August 10. 1720.
NOT all the Cruelty of Tyrants, the Subtilty and Craft of Priests, or the Malice of Devils, have ever invented or brought a greater Plague or Mischief upon Mankind, than false Learning. We may be upon our Guard against all other Calamities; but here the Enemy is within us, and admitted at all times to the innermost Recesses of our Souls; where he acts the Part of a treacherous Friend, betrays us under the Pretence of serving us, and administers Poison in Cups of seeming Nectar and Ambrosia: We are gradually deprived of our Senses, whilst we think we are improving them; become Fools by Industry, and great Application; like Tantalus, are starved with an imaginary Banquet at our Mouths; and, in the midst of an appearing Profusion of Knowledge, want common Sense; and, what is yet worse, are insensible of our Distemper, and consequently are incapable of a Remedy.
Our Minds, as well as Bodies, are easily distorted, and put out of their natural Frame; Absurdity and Nonsense is to be learned, and good natural Faculties may be improved into foolish ones, or none at all. A Man, like a Vessel, is capable of holding only a certain Quantity, which, when it is full of one Liquor, is incapable of receiving another; and even when the first is drawn out, it generally leaves a Tincture behind it. The Mind, when rightly set out, usefully employed, and upon proper Objects, will improve, and every Day strengthen; but when conversant only with Visions, Phantoms and Whimsies, will assimilate with the Company which it keeps, and thus by degrees loses its distinguishing Faculty.
A proper Exercise, and a natural Use of the Limbs, give Health and Vigour, as well as Gracefulness, and becoming Motion; whereas Grimace, and absurd Posture, are Qualifications only for Jack-Puddings and Merry-Andrews. One who has been long taught by an ill Master, is farther from a good Dancer, than another who has never begun, because he must unlearn all his ill Habits, to be in the Circumstance of him who has not learned at all; as a Man, who gets out of his Road, is farther from his Journey’s End, than if he had staid at home; and commonly must return thither again, to find out his right Way.
Whoever spends his Time in reading foolish Books, and in studying useless or false Speculations, will grow the greater Coxcomb, the greater Progress he makes: He is learning backwards, and undermining and destroying the first Sparks of Knowledge, and in time will be fortified and impregnable against common Sense. A great Philosopher tells us, that Ignorance is a middle State between Knowledge and false Learning; that is to say, one who is wholly untaught and unimproved, is as much above a learned Man, in the common Acceptation of the Word, as a Man well educated does exceed another who has had no Education at all: The Capacity of the first is intire, and susceptible of Information; whereas in the other, all the Avenues and Passages to Wisdom are destroyed or locked up, and he is so puzzled, perplexed, and confounded in a Maze of improved Nonsense and Absurdity, that he never can get through it, or out of it. The Acquisitions in such Learning have been aptly compared to the Fluttering and Rumbling of a Swallow falling down a Chimney, who, when he is at bottom, flies about, and hurries backwards and forwards to every Window, and every Corner of the Room, to make his Escape; but never thinks of the Way by which he came in, and so becomes an easy Prey to the first Enemy which assaults him.
Whoever is conversant with Scholastics, and has any Understanding of his own, (if such a Correspondence can possibly be) must readily assent to this Truth. It is even grown a Proverb in the learned Language, that Merus Scholasticus est merus Asinus: What an Appearance do these Reverend Drones, and accomplished Dunces, make amongst Mankind! How are they exceeded in Conversation, agreeable Address, and useful Knowledge, by the youngest Gentlemen, by Soldiers and Merchants, and often by Mechanics and Tradesmen, who can only write and cast Accompts! Nothing but the Solemnity of their Habits, and the austere Gravity of their Phiz, Mien, and Behaviour, hinders them from being the Jest and Contempt of Women and Boys. It is said, that Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, once took a Conceit to invite all the deep Chins about the Town to a magnificent Entertainment spread upon a long Table; and he made himself amends, by sitting at the Upper end, and enjoying the Visto. Indeed I cannot deny, but I have sometimes had such a sort of ill-natured Pleasure, in imagining that I saw some of the Governors of the Two Universities (with others of their Betters, who shall be nameless) uncased of their reverential Robes, and dressed up with Hats and Feathers, Sword-knots, and laced Coats, and in that Equipage marching in solemn Guise, like a Call of Sergeants from Temple-Bar to Westminster.
They give us, in some degree, the same Figure, when they shew themselves in the World abroad: Like Snails, they carry their Houses about them, and bring Pedantry, Conceit, sour Humour, Bigotry, magisterial Grimace, and ill Manners, into all Conversations where they mix; and indeed are seldom fit for any polite Conversation whatsoever. They have neither the Temper of Christians, the Reason of Philosophers, or the Affability of Gentlemen, and therefore are justly despised by them all. Frier John, as I remember, asks of Panurge or Pantagruel, in Rabelais, What is the Reason that the Houshold Priest is used worse than any one else in the Family? And, I think, he answers; Because he neither ploughs the Ground like the laborious Ox, nor carries Burdens like the useful Horse, nor keeps the Door like the faithful Dog; but, like the Monkey, runs about every-where fouling the House, chattering and making a Noise, biting Peoples Fingers, and doing nothing but Mischief; and so every body has a Stroke at him, and gives him a Knock as he passes by.
The Writings of many of these solemn Gentlemen are of the same Kind, and carry the same tragical and grim Aspect. They would be Dictators in Faith and Science, and so their Books are full of the Spirit of Pedantry, false Zeal, and Illbreeding; and, under the Appearance and Affectation of Learning, contain only Paradoxes, Uncertainty, harsh Severity, or aukward Buffoonry. Any one who is the least acquainted with these dogmatical Zealots, these punning Inquisitors, must own that I have done Justice to their Characters, and the Merit which runs thro’ them; unless in some Instances, mostly about this great Town, where an uncommon natural Genius, Liberty of Mind, generous Birth, or a free Conversation, has got the better of a constrained and corrupt Education.
I thank God, such as have of late Years had the Honour of being admitted to great Dignities, and been brought into the Legislature or Royal Councils, are of the latter Sort: But what Figure have others formerly made in the Senate-house, or Council-board? How much below young Noblemen, who had never been at the Universities, or had just forgot what they had learned there, and rubbed or filed off College Rust by polite Conversation? In one, you might have observed an Easiness of Address, Softness of Speech, and Freedom of Thought; in the other, Starchness of Behaviour, Sourness of Looks, and starved Conceits, urged with fierce and impetuous Rage. A late noble and great Genius of our Age and Country compares them to those Grotesque Figures, and Dragon Faces, which are often seen in the Frontispiece, and upon the Corner Stones of old Buildings: They seem placed there as the Defenders and Supporters of the Edifice; but with all their Grimace, are as harmless to People without, as they are useless to the Building within.