23 August 2009

"What need we more of learning?" (1618)

"Now for learning, what your neede is thereof I know not, but with us, this is all we goe to schoole for: to read common Prayers at Church and set downe common prices at Markets; write a Letter and make a Bond; set downe the day of our Births, our Marriage Day, and make our Wills when we are sicke for the disposing of our goods when we are dead. These are the chiefe matters that we meddle with, and we find enough to trouble our heads withal. For if the fathers knowe their owne children, wives their owne husbands from other men, maydens keep their by-your-leaves from subtle batchelors, Farmers know their cattle by the heads, and Sheepheards know their sheepe by the brand, what more learning have we need of but that experience will teach us without booke? We can learne to plough and harrow, sow and reape, plant and prune, thrash and fanne, winnow and grinde, brue and bake, and all without booke; and these are our chiefe businesses in the Country, except we be Jury men to hang a theefe, or speake truth in a man’s right, which conscience & experience will teach us with a little learning. Then what should we study for, except it were to talke with the man in the Moone about the course of the Starres? No, Astronomy is too high a reach for our reason: we will rather sit under a shady tree in the Sunne to take the benefit of the cold ayre, then lye and stare upon the Starres to mark their walke in the heavens, while we loose our wits in the cloudes. And yet we reverence learning as well in the Parson of our parish as our Schoolmaster, but chiefely in our Justices of peace, for under God and the King they beare great sway in the Country. But for great learning in great matters and in great places we leave it to great men. If we live within the compasse of the Law, serve God and obey our King—and as good Subjects ought to doe, in our duties and our prayers dayly remember him—what need we more of learning?"

Written by Nicholas Breton; found at Lapham's Quarterly.

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