THE LOYE OF KNOWLEDGE.
From: The True Citizen How To Become One
(Category: The Youth
Knowledge is the eye of the soul.--T. Watson
Common sense is knowledge of common things.--M. C. Peters
It is noble to seek truth, and it is beautiful to find it.
It has cost many a man life or fortune for not knowing what he thought
he was sure of.--J. Staples White
The desire of knowledge, like the thirst of riches, increases ever with
the acquisition of it.--Sterne
It has been well said that "Nothing is so costly as ignorance. You sow
the wrong seed, you plant the wrong field, you build with the wrong
timber, you buy the wrong ticket, you take the wrong train, you settle
in the wrong locality, or you take the wrong medicine--and no money can
make good your mistake."
The knowledge attained by any man appears to be a poor thing to boast
of, since there is no condition or situation in which he may be placed
without feeling or perceiving that there is something or other which he
knows little or nothing about. A man can scarcely open his eyes or turn
his head without being able to convince himself of this truth. And yet,
without a fair working knowledge of the ordinary affairs of life, every
man is, in some respects, as helpless as a child. Indeed there is no
kind of knowledge which, in the hands of the diligent and skillful, may
not be turned to good account. Honey exudes from all flowers, the bitter
not excepted, but the bee knows how to extract it, and, by this
knowledge, succeeds in providing for all its needs.
Learning is like a river. At its first rising the river is small and
easily viewed, but as it flows onward it increases in breadth and depth,
being fed by a thousand smaller streams flowing into it on either side,
until at length it pours its mighty torrent into the ocean. So learning,
which seems so small to us at the beginning, is ever increasing in its
range and scope, until even the greatest minds are unable to comprehend
it as a whole.
Sir Isaac Newton felt this when, after his sublime discoveries in
science had been accomplished, he said, "I do not know what I may appear
to the world; but to myself I seem only like a boy playing upon the
seashore, and diverting myself by now and then finding a choice pebble,
or a prettier shell than ordinary; while the great ocean of truth lies
all undiscovered before me."
Strabo was entitled to be called a profound geographer eighteen hundred
years ago, but a geographer who had never heard of America would now be
laughed at by boys and girls of ten years of age. What would now be
thought of the greatest chemist or geologist of 1776? The truth is that,
in every science, mankind is constantly advancing. Every generation has
its front and its rear rank; but the rear rank of the later generation
stands upon the ground which was occupied by the front rank of its
It is important that our knowledge should be as full and complete as we
can make it. Partial knowledge nearly always leads us into error. A
traveler, as he passed through a large and thick wood, saw a part of a
huge oak which appeared misshapen, and almost seemed to spoil the
scenery. "If," said he, "I was the owner of this forest, I would cut
down that tree." But when he had ascended the hill, and taken a full
view of the forest, this same tree appeared the most beautiful part of
the landscape. "How erroneously," said he, "I have judged while I saw
only a part!" The full view, the harmony and proportion of things, are
all necessary to clear up our judgment.
Walter A. Wood, whose keen business ability made him a wealthy man, and
sent him to congress as a representative from the great state of New
York, is reported to have said, "I would give fifty thousand dollars for
a college education." When he came to measure his ability with that of
men who had had greater opportunities in an educational line, he
realized his loss. Chauncey M. Depew is also reported as having said, "I
never saw a self-made man in my life who did not firmly believe that he
had been handicapped, no matter how great his success, by deficiency in
education, and who was not determined to give his children the
advantages of which he felt, not only in business, but in intercourse
with his fellow-men, so great a need."
There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom and understanding;
but without the first the rest cannot be gained, any more than you can
have a harvest of wheat without seed and skill of cultivation.
Understanding is the right use of facts; facts make knowledge;
knowledge is the root of wisdom. Many men know a great deal, but are not
wise or capable; many others know less, but are able to use what they
have learned. Wisdom is the ripe fruit of knowledge; knowledge is the
beginning of character.
The love of knowledge has been characteristic of most great men. They
not only loved knowledge but they were willing to work hard to attain
it. As examples of this: Gibbon was in his study every morning, winter
and summer, at six o'clock. Milton is said to have stuck to the study of
his books with the regularity of a paid bookkeeper. Raphael, the great
artist, lived only to the age of thirty-seven, yet so diligent was his
pursuit of knowledge, that he carried his art to such a degree of
perfection that it became the model for his successors. When a man like
one of these wins success, people say "he is a genius." But the real
reason for success, was, as you may see, that the love of knowledge led
to the effort to obtain it.
Useful knowledge is the knowledge of what is of benefit to ourselves and
to others; and that is the most important which is the most useful. It
is the belief of those who have spent their lives in the search for it,
that knowledge is better than riches, and that its possession brings
more comfort to the owner. To be acquainted with the great deeds enacted
in past ages; to find out how some nations have grown powerful while
others have fallen; or to learn something about the great mysteries of
nature, brings with it to the diligent searcher many hours of pleasure.
Also the experience of man teaches that the exercise of the mind brings
Even in seemingly little things the same holds true. There is a fountain
in London that is opened by a concealed spring. One day the Bishop of
London wanted to drink, but no one could tell him how to open it. At
last a little dirty bootblack stepped up and touched the spring and the
water gushed out. He knew more than the bishop about that one thing, and
so was able to render the great man a real service.
The power of intellectual knowledge, without the power of moral
principle, can only tend to evil. It has been said that education would
empty our jails; but the greatest criminals, whether of scientific
poisoning, or of fraud and forgery, are well educated. It has been
asserted lately that "there is a race between scientific detection and
prevention, on the one hand, and scientific roguery on the other."
Character is the criterion of knowledge. Not what a man has, but what he
is, is the question, after all. The quality of soul is more than the
quantity of information. Personal, spiritual substance is the final
result. Have that, and your intellectual furnishings and attainments
will turn naturally to the loftiest uses. Add obedience to knowledge,
and your education will be worth all that it has cost.
ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT.
We may further illustrate this topic by a brief glance at the life of
Alexander Von Humboldt. His brother, Wilhelm, acquired a distinguished
name; but the greater renown fell to the younger, who was born at
Berlin, Germany, September 14, 1769,--his full name being Friedrich
Heinrich Alexander Von Humboldt. In circumstances of life, his lot was
easy; his father had the means to educate him well. No very striking
outward event occurred in his youth. Tutors prepared him for college;
his own aim was not at once seized. "Until I reached the age of
sixteen," he says, "I showed little inclination for scientific
pursuits. I was of a restless disposition, and wished to be a soldier."
But another current was flowing in his mind. "From my earliest youth I
had an intense desire to travel in those distant lands which have been
but rarely visited by Europeans." And again he says: "The study of maps
and the perusal of books of travel exercised a secret fascination over
me." These early tastes blended at last with a serious purpose, and
became "the incentive to scientific labor, or to undertakings of vast
To show that Humboldt was not a mere fact-gatherer, we select one
incident out of many in his early life. When about twenty-one years of
age, he made an extended journey with George Forster over the continent.
Forster wrote the following after they had visited the cathedral at
Cologne. After describing the glories of the structure he adds: "My
attention was arrested by a yet more engrossing object: before me stood
a man of lively imagination and refined taste, riveted with admiration
to the spot. Oh, it was glorious to see, in his rapt contemplation, the
grandeur of the temple repeated as it were by reflection!" In this scene
we behold the actual process of knowledge being changed into true
learning and ideas; it was always so with Humboldt in his long and
Humboldt studied hard, held official positions, and matured. His mother
died in 1796. To her this son owed much, for the father had died when
Alexander was only ten years old, and she watched his education with
fidelity. She saw the bent of the "little apothecary,"--as Alexander was
called because of his passion for collecting and labeling shells,
plants, and insects,--and guided it. Her death set Humboldt free to go
afar in travels. In June, 1799, he started on a five years' absence, in
which time he climbed Teneriffe and the Cordilleras, explored the
Orinoco, visited the United States, and gathered a mass of knowledge
which afterward won him lasting fame. Often he was in peril, often
baffled, often put to dreary discomforts by savage tribes; but through
all ran his unconquerable purpose.
In his scientific work he often took great risks in order to ascertain
facts, as all earnest investigators do. In testing a new lamp for
miners, he crept into a "crosscut" of the mine, lamp in hand, and
continued there so long and persistently that two men rushed in and drew
him out by the feet, the gases having overcome him.
We have not space to give details of his splendid career. Humboldt shone
with greater light from year to year. Honors were lavished upon him. His
works aided science, his life was a constant inspiration. He lived to be
ninety years old, dying in 1859,--possessing to the last, a strong
memory, and a tireless love of research.
[Footnote: On Humboldt, consult Haym's "Biography of Humboldt" (London,
1856); Bruhn's "Biography of Humboldt" (Leipsic, 1872, translated by
the Misses Lassell); Klenke's "Alexander Von Humboldt" (1859);
"Humboldt's Correspondence with Goethe" (London, 1876).]
Next: THE FIRST TRANSITION PERIOD.
Previous: THE LOVE OF THE BEAUTIFUL.