Much Learning

Scripture teaches us “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!” (Proverbs 16:16). I’ve been reading Don Quixote these past few weeks and it would seem that this famed and fabled knight-errant  was of a similar opinion. He adds though, that we study not for the sake of studying but he advises, “learning without virtue is like pearls on a dunghill”.

But there is a scene in this, what is considered to be the first modern novel, that paints a different picture of studying and learning which at times is, I admit, the impression I get of too much scholarly knowledge:

“I have another book which I call Supplement to Virgilius Polydorus. It treats of the invention of things and is a very scholarly work and one that cost me much study. In it I set forth in a pleasing style, with due proof and explanation, certain things of great moment that Polydorus neglected to mention. He forgot to tell us who was the first man in the world to have a cold in the head, or the first to take unctions for the French disease, all of which I bring out most accurately, citing the authority of more than twenty-five authors.  From this your Grace may see how well I have labored and may judge for yourself as to whether or not such a work should be useful to everyone.”

Sancho, who had been listening very attentively to what the cousin had to say, now put in his word. “Tell me, sir, and may God guide your hand well in the printing of your books, tell me if you can, seeing that you know everything, who was the first man that ever scratched his head? For my part, I believe it must have been Father Adam.”

“So it would have been,” replied the cousin, “seeing there is no doubt that Adam had a head with hair on it, and being the first man, he would have scratched it some time or other.”

“That is what I think,” said Sancho. “But tell me something else: who was the first tumbler in the world?”

“Really, brother,” said the cousin, “I cannot determine that just now, not until I have given it some study. I will look into it as soon as I go back to where I keep my books and will let you know the next time we see each other again; for this is not going to be the last time.”

“Then look here, sir,” said Sancho, “you needn’t go to the trouble, for I have hit upon the answer to my question. I can tell you that the first tumblr was Lucifer when they cast him out of Heaven and he came tumbling down into Hell.”

“Right you are, friend,” said the cousin.

“Sancho,” said Don Quixote, “that question and answer are not your own; you’ve heard them somewhere.”

“Hush, master,” replied Sancho. “Upon my word, if I started asking foolish questions and giving silly answers, I’d be at from now until tomorrow morning. When it comes to that, I don’t need any help from my neighbors.”

“You’ve spoken more wisely than you know, Sancho,” declared Don Quixote; “for there are some who wear themselves out in learning and verifying things which, after they have been mastered, are not worth a rap so far as mind or memory goes.”

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