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No. 379 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 379
Thursday, May 15, 1712. Budgell.

‘Scire tuum nihil est nisi te scire hoc sciat alter.’


I have often wondered at that ill-natur’d Position which has been sometimes maintained in the Schools, and is comprizd in an old Latin Verse, namely, that A Man’s Knowledge is worth nothing, if he communicates what he knows to any one besides. [1] There is certainly no more sensible Pleasure to a good-natur’d Man, than if he can by any means gratify or inform the Mind of another. I might add, that this Virtue naturally carries its own reward along with it, since it is almost impossible it should be exercised without the Improvement of the Person who practices it. The reading of Books, and the daily Occurrences of Life, are continually furnishing us with Matter for Thought and Reflection. It is extremely natural for us to desire to see such our Thoughts put into the Dress of Words, without which indeed we can scarce have a clear and distinct Idea of them our selves: When they are thus clothed in Expressions, nothing so truly shews us whether they are just or false, as those Effects which they produce in the Minds of others.

I am apt to flatter my self, that in the Course of these my Speculations, I have treated of several Subjects, and laid down many such Rules for the Conduct of a Man’s Life, which my Readers were either wholly ignorant of before, or which at least those few who were acquainted with them, looked upon as so many Secrets they have found out for the Conduct of themselves, but were resolved never to have made publick.

I am the more confirmed in this Opinion from my having received several Letters, wherein I am censur’d for having prostituted Learning to the Embraces of the Vulgar, and made her, as one of my Correspondents phrases it, a common Strumpet: I am charged by another with laying open the Arcana, or Secrets of Prudence, to the Eyes of every Reader.

The narrow Spirit which appears in the Letters of these my Correspondents is the less surprizing, as it has shewn itself in all Ages: There is still extant an Epistle written by Alexander the Great to his Tutor Aristotle, upon that Philosopher’s publishing some part of his Writings; in which the Prince complains of his having made known to all the World, those Secrets in Learning which he had before communicated to him in private Lectures; concluding, That he had rather excel the rest of Mankind in Knowledge than in Power. [2]

Luisa de Padilla, a Lady of great Learning, and Countess of Aranda, was in like manner angry with the famous Gratian, [3] upon his publishing his Treatise of the Discrete; wherein she fancied that he had laid open those Maxims to common Readers, which ought only to have been reserved for the Knowledge of the Great.

These Objections are thought by many of so much weight, that they often defend the above-mentiond Authors, by affirming they have affected such an Obscurity in their Style and Manner of Writing, that tho every one may read their Works, there will be but very few who can comprehend their Meaning.

Persius, the Latin Satirist, affected Obscurity for another Reason; with which however Mr. Cowley is so offended, that writing to one of his Friends, You, says he, tell me, that you do not know whether Persius be a good Poet or no, because you cannot understand him; for which very Reason I affirm that he is not so.

However, this Art of writing unintelligibly has been very much improved, and follow’d by several of the Moderns, who observing the general Inclination of Mankind to dive into a Secret, and the Reputation many have acquired by concealing their Meaning under obscure Terms and Phrases, resolve, that they may be still more abstruse, to write without any Meaning at all. This Art, as it is at present practised by many eminent Authors, consists in throwing so many Words at a venture into different Periods, and leaving the curious Reader to find out the Meaning of them.