An extract from Satire Upon the Abuse of Human Learning dealing with many issues with which we struggle today.
For the more languages a man can speak,
His talent has but sprung the greater leak ;
And for the industry he 'as spent upon 't,
Must full as much some other way discount.
The Hebrew, Chaldee, and the Syriac,
Do, like their letters, set men's reason back,
And turn their wits that strive to understand it,
(Like those that write the characters) left-handed :
Yet he that is but able to express
No sense at all in several languages,
Will pass for learneder than he that 's known
To speak the strongest reason in his own.
These are the modern arts of education,
With all the learned of mankind in fashion,
But practis'd only with the rod and whip,
As ridings-schools inculcate horsemanship ;
Or Romish penitents let out their skins,
To bear the penalties of others' sins.
When letters, at the first, were meant for play,
And only us'd to pass the time away,
When th' ancient Greeks and Romans had no name
To express a school and playhouse, but the same,
And in their languages so long agone,
To study or be idle was all one ;
For nothing 1 more preserves men in their wits,
Than giving of them leave to play by fits,
In dreams to sport, and ramble with all fancies,
And waking, little less extravagances,
The rest and recreation of tir'd thought,
When 'tis run down with care and overwrought,
Of which whoever does not freely take
His constant share, is never broad awake,
And when he wants an equal competence
Of both recruits, abates as much of sense.
Nor is their education worse design'd
Than Nature (in her province) proves unkind :
The greatest inclinations with the least
Capacities are fatally possest,
Condemn'd to drudge, and labour, and take pains,
Without an equal competence of brains ;
While those she has indulg'd in soul and body.
Are most averse to industry and study,
And th' activ'st fancies share as loose alloys,
For want of equal weight to counterpoise.
But when those great conveniences meet,
Of equal judgment, industry, and wit,
The one but strives the other to divert,
While Fate and Custom in the feud take part,
And scholars by prepost'rous over-doing,
And under-judging, all their projects ruin :
Who, though the understanding of mankind
Within so strait a compass is confin'd,
Disdain the limits Nature sets to bound
The wit of man, and vainly rove beyond.
The bravest soldiers scorn, until they 're got
Close to the enemy, to make a shot ;
Yet great philosophers delight to stretch
Their talents most at things beyond their reach,
And proudly think t' unriddle ev'ry cause
That Nature uses, by their own bye-laws ;
When 'tis not only' impertinent, but rude,
Where she denies admission, to intrude ;
And all their industry is but to err,
Unless they have free quarantine from her ;
Whence 'tis the world the less has understood,
By striving to know more than 'tis allow'd.