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Full text of "The Note Books Of Samuel Butler"

204         Unprofessional Sermons

too little can go to the British Museum, or to the Working
Men's College, and learn more; but when a thing is once
well learnt it is even harder to unlearn it than it was to learn
it. Would it be possible to unlearn the art of speech or the arts
of reading and writing even if we wished to do so ? Wisdom
and knowledge are, like a bad reputation, more easily won than
lost; we got on fairly well without knowing that the earth
went round the sun ; we thought the sun went round the
earth until we found it made us uncomfortable to think
so any longer, then we altered our opinion ; it was not very
easy to alter it, but it was easier than it would be to alter it
back again. Vestigia nulla rctrorsum ; the earth itself does
not pursue its course more steadily than mind does when it
has once committed itself, and if we could see the movements of
the stars in slow time we should probably find that there was
much more throb and tremor in detail than we can take note of.

How, I wonder, will it be if in our pursuit of knowledge
we stumble upon some awkward fact as disturbing for the
human race as an enquiry into the state of his own finances
may sometimes prove to the individual ? The pursuit of
knowledge can never be anything but a leap in the dark, and
a leap in the dark is a very uncomfortable thing. I have
sometimes thought that if the human race ever loses its
ascendancy it will not be through plague, famine or cata-
clysm, but by getting to know some little microbe, as it
were, of knowledge which shall get into its system and breed
there till it makes an end of us.* It is well, therefore, that
there should be a substratum of mankind who cannot by
any inducement be persuaded to know anything whatever
at all, and who are resolutely determined to know nothing
among us but what the parson tells them, and not to be too
sure even about that.

Whence then cometh wisdom and where is the place of
understanding ? How does Job solve his problem ?

" Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom: and to
depart from evil is understanding."

The answer is all very well as far as it goes, but it only
amounts to saying that wisdom is wisdom. We know no
better what the fear of the Lord is than what wisdom is,

* Cf. "Imaginary Worlds/' p. 233 post.