Delaford is a nice place I can tell you; exactly what I call a nice, old-fashioned place, full of comforts, quite shut in with great garden-walls that are covered with fruit-trees, and such a mulberry-tree in the corner. Then there is a dovecote, some delightful fish-ponds, and a very pretty canal, and everything, in short, that one could wish for; and moreover it’s close to the church and only a quarter of a mile from the turnpike road.
—Sense and Sensibility
It was at Cambridge, England, I met him–a fine, intelligent clergyman he was, too.
“He’s not a ‘Varsity man,” said my new acquaintance, speaking of Doctor Joseph Parker, the world’s greatest preacher. “If he were, he wouldn’t do all these preposterous things, you know.”
“He’s a little like Henry Irving,” I ventured apologetically.
“True, and what absurd mannerisms–did you ever see the like! Yes, one’s from Yorkshire and the other’s from Cornwall, and both are Philistines.”
He laughed at his little joke and so did I, for I always try to be polite.
So I went my way, and as I strolled it came to me that my clerical friend was right–a university course might have taken all the individuality out of these strong men and made of their genius a purely neutral decoction. And when I thought further and considered how much learning has done to banish wisdom, it was a satisfaction to remember that Shakespeare at Oxford did nothing beyond making the acquaintance of an inn-keeper’s wife.
It hardly seems possible that a Harvard degree would have made a stronger man of Abraham Lincoln; or that Edison, whose brain has wrought greater changes than that of any other man of the century, was the loser by not being versed in physics as taught at Yale.
The Law of Compensation never rests, and the men who are taught too much from books are not taught by Deity. Most education in the past has failed to awaken in its subject a degree of intellectual consciousness. It is the education that the Jesuits served out to the Indian. It made him peaceable, but took all dignity out of him. From a noble red man he descended into a dirty Injun, who signed away his heritage for rum.
The world’s plan of education has mostly been priestly–we have striven to inculcate trust and reverence. We have cited authorities and quoted precedents and given examples: it was a matter of memory; while all the time the whole spiritual acreage was left untilled.
A race educated in this way never advances, save as it is jolted out of its notions by men with either a sublime ignorance of, or an indifference to, what has been done and said. These men are always called barbarians by their contemporaries: they are jeered and hooted. They supply much mirth by their eccentricities. After they are dead the world sometimes canonizes them and carves on their tombs the word “Savior.”
Do I then plead the cause of ignorance? Well, yes, rather so. A little ignorance is not a dangerous thing. A man who reads too much–who accumulates too many facts-gets his mind filled to the point of saturation; matters then crystallize and his head becomes a solid thing that refuses to let anything either in or out. In his soul there is no guest-chamber. His only hope for progress lies in another incarnation.
And so a certain ignorance seems a necessary equipment for the doing of a great work. To live in a big city and know what others are doing and saying; to meet the learned and powerful, and hear their sermons and lectures; to view the unending shelves of vast libraries is to be discouraged at the start. And thus we find that genius is essentially rural–a country product. Salons, soirees, theaters, concerts, lectures, libraries, produce a fine mediocrity that smiles at the right time and bows when ‘t is proper, but it is well to bear in mind that George Eliot, Elizabeth Barrett, Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen were all country girls, with little companionship, nourished on picked-up classics, having a healthy ignorance of what the world was saying and doing.