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.

--Sydney Smith

It has cost many a man life or fortune for not knowing what he thought

he was sure of.--J. Staples White

The des
re 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

great satisfaction.

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.


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

varied career.

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).]