S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
This is the more necessary, because there seems to be a general combination among the pedants to extol one anothers labours and cry up one anothers parts; while men of sense, either through that modesty which is natural to them, or the scorn they have for such trifling commendations, enjoy their stock of knowledge, like a hidden treasure, with satisfaction and silence. Pedantry indeed in learning is like hypocrisy in religion, a form of knowledge without the power of it; that attracts the eyes of the common people; breaks out in noise and show; and finds its reward not from any inward pleasure that attends it, but from the praises and approbation which it receives from men.
Of all the species of pedants which I have mentioned, the book pedant is much the most supportable; he has at least an exercised understanding, a head which is full, though confused, so that a man who converses with him may often receive from him hints of things that are worth knowing, and what he may possibly turn to his own advantage, though they are of little use to the owner. The worst kind of pedants among learned men are such as are naturally endued with a very small share of common sense, and have read a great number of books without taste or distinction.
The truth of it is, learning, like travelling, and all other methods of improvement, as it finishes good sense, so it makes a silly man ten thousand times more insufferable, by supplying variety of matter to his impertinence, and giving him an opportunity of abounding in absurdities.
Others, to show their learning, or often from the prejudices of a school education, where they hear of nothing else, are always talking of the ancients as something more than men, and of the moderns as something less. They are never without a classic or two in their pockets; they stick to the old good sense; they read none of the modern trash; and will show you plainly that no improvement has been made in any one art or science these last seventeen hundred years. I would by no means have you disown your acquaintance with the ancients; but still less would I have you brag of an exclusive intimacy with them. Speak of the moderns without contempt, and of the ancients without idolatry; judge them all by their merits, but not by their ages; and if you happen to have an Elzevir classic in your pocket, neither show it nor mention it.
Lord Chesterfield: Letters to his Son, Feb. 22, 1748.
Folly disgusts us less by her ignorance than pedantry by her learning; since she mistakes the nonage of things for their virility; and her creed is, that darkness is increased by the accession of light; that the world grows younger by age; and that knowledge and experience are diminished by a constant and uninterrupted accumulation.
There are some persons whose erudition so much outweighs their observation, and have read so much, but reflected so little, that they will not hazard the most familiar truism, or commonplace allegation, without bolstering up their ricketty judgments in the swaddling bands of antiquity, their doting nurse and preceptress. Thus, they will not be satisfied to say that content is a blessing, that time is a treasure, or that self-knowledge is to be desired, without quoting Aristotle, Thales, or Cleobulus; and yet these very men, if they met another walking in noon-day by the smoky light of a lanthorn, would be the first to stop and ridicule such conduct, but the last to recognize in his folly their own.
We can say, Cicero says thus; that these were the manners of Plato: but what do we say ourselves that is our own? What do we do? What do we judge? A parrot would say as much as that. And this kind of talking puts me in mind of that rich gentleman of Rome, who had been sollicitous, with very great expense, to procure men that were excellent in all sorts of science, which he had always attending his person, to the end that when amongst his friends any occasion fell out of speaking of any subject whatsoever, they might supply his place, and be ready to prompt him, one with a sentence of Seneca, another with a verse of Homer, and so forth, every one according to his talent; and he fancied this knowledge to be his own, because in the heads of those who lived upon his bounty. As they do also whose learning consists in having noble libraries. I know one who, when I question him about his reading, he presently calls for a book to show me, and dare not venture to tell me so much; which is an idle and superficial learning: we must make it our own.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xxiv.
The pedant is so obvious to ridicule, that it would be to be one to offer to explain him. He is a gentleman so well known, that there is none but those of his own class who do not laugh at and avoid him. Pedantry proceeds from much reading and little understanding. A pedant among men of learning and sense is like an ignorant servant giving an account of a polite conversation. You may find he has brought with him more than could have entered into his head without being there, but still that he is not a bit wiser than if he had not been there at all.