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Wordsworth and Coleridge were friends with the British essayist and writer William Hazlitt (1788–1830). In the year 1822, he wrote the article “On the Ignorance of the Learned.” Hazlitt persuasively makes the claim that formal education breeds ignorance and animosity. He thinks that book learning cannot replace experience.
One must actively participate in life, not merely read about it, in order to truly learn. This specific article shows that Hazlitt was a little ahead of his time in terms of reasoning when it came to formal education and in-depth practical experience.
The role of learning
The Hebrew, Chaldee, and Syriac do, like their letters, “put men’s reason back, and divert their wits that attempt to understand it,” according to Samuel Butler. “Yet he who is just able to express No Sense at All in various languages, Will pass for learned than he who is known To articulate the strongest reason in his own,” the proverb says.
Authors and readers are the people who, among all others, have the fewest ideas. It is preferable to be unable to read or write than to have no other means of expression. A couch potato has neither the ability nor the will to pay attention to what is happening around him or in his own head.
One may say that somebody carries their understanding around in their pocket or leaves it at home on their library shelves. Books are more frequently used as blinds to block away the powerful light and moving landscape of nature from weak eyes and lazy dispositions than as “spectacles” to view it through. Too often, learning serves as a counterbalance to common sense and a charade of real knowledge.
The educated are not always the smartest people
The educated are merely literary slobs. When placed upon creative compositions, their heads turn and they become disoriented. The practise of getting our thoughts from outside sources “destroys the tone of the stomach” just as a course of dram drinking does. The saying “guys who shine in school don’t make the greatest figures when they grow up” is an old one.
Boys are expected to learn subjects at school that don’t involve the use of their highest or most beneficial mental faculties.A child with a weak constitution and a dull mind who can only recall what is pointed out to him is called an idler. He lacks the ability to discern between things and the spirit to enjoy life on his own.
There is a certain level of idiocy that keeps kids from ever attaining these meagre academic honours or learning the typical lessons. What is considered dumb is a lack of enthusiasm in the dull and meaningless activities of academic study. The most impressive abilities are both above and below this tedium. Our most brilliant men haven’t always been known for their academic or professional accomplishments.
The Importance of Learning
Learning is the acquisition of information that is not generally known to the public and that we can only obtain through secondary sources such as books or other man-made sources. It involves looking through their eyes, listening through their ears, and basing our beliefs on their perceptions. The most educated man is most knowledgeable about things that are the furthest from everyday life and direct observation.
The erudite guy takes great satisfaction in his familiarity with names and dates rather than people or things. He is capable of delivering a pretentious speech on all the major historical figures. He is fluent in the majority of existing languages and all of the extinct ones. But he is unable to write or speak his own language correctly.
The second Greek scholar of his time was Richard Porson (1759–1808), whose combination of talent and knowledge made the difference between him and the first more obvious and perceptible. His success in fusing knowledge and talent proved that he was an exception to the rule. The knowledgeable pedant only has knowledge of books insofar as they are composed of other books, which are then composed of yet more books, and so forth.
He is capable of translating a word into ten different languages, but he has no idea what it means in any of them. He has little knowledge of Michael Angelo’s imposing features or the works of Titian, Domenichino, Poussin, Guido, or the Caracci.
The inability to understand nature or art
He is unable to understand the language of nature or art (which is another kind of nature). He may have Claude’s Enchanted Castle or a print of Rubins’ Watering Place hanging in his chambers for months without ever noticing them.
A professor who is well-versed in all the arts and sciences cannot reduce any of them to practise. He has no knowledge of any liberal or mechanical art, profession, trade, or game of chance. Learning is not a skill for surgery, farming, construction, or working with wood or iron.
When a guy has cerebral palsy from birth, he is unable to run, walk, or swim, and he views any others who can practise any of these mental or physical skills as vulgar and mechanical. However, it takes a lot of time and experience, powers that were designed for them, and a mindset that is especially devoted to them to know almost any of them perfectly.
Because they make their living by their labour or expertise, common folks can still use their limbs. They are aware of both their own affairs and the personalities of others they must interact with. They possess the wit to convey disdain and the eloquence to convey their sentiments. Their spoken language is used in a natural way, unencumbered by massive irony.
The city or the country
People in towns are sadly lacking in understanding character since they only perceive it as a bust and not as a whole. If you take a stagecoach from London to Oxford, you’ll hear more positive things than if you spend a year hanging around with Oxford undergraduates.
People in the country are aware of everything that has happened to a guy, can identify his virtues and vices based on his appearance, and can explain a contradiction in his behaviour by a breed cross that occurred fifty years ago. In either the city or the country, the learned are ignorant of the situation.
The workers in this vineyard appear to be using conventional wisdom and preconceived beliefs to undermine all sense of common sense and the distinctions between good and evil. They build mountains of hypotheses on top of one other, making it impossible to get the simple truth about any issue.
The importance of creativity in uncovering the real and helpful
How little human understanding has been focused on uncovering the real and helpful! How much creativity has been wasted in the name of certain beliefs and institutions. What actual advantages do we gain from Laud or Whitgift’s writings? Or have they not “gone to the tomb of all the Capulets” already?
Men of business and the world who argue from what they see and know, rather than spinning webs of distinctions about how things should be, are the most reasonable people you will ever meet in society. Because they have fewer pretensions and are less involved in theories, women frequently possess more of what is referred to as good sense than men.
Shakespeare had a clearly uneducated mind, as evidenced by the variety of his viewpoints and the freshness of his imagination. Shakespeare was not used to writing topics at school that argued for or against virtue. Shakespeare is a good place to start if you want to understand the power of human brilliance.
Hazlitt makes a strong case—often exaggerating his points—that formal education breeds idiocy and ignorance. Can we wonder at the languor and lassitude that is thus caused by a life of educated ignorance and sloth, as he puts it?
He maintains that experience cannot be replaced by learning from books. Learning is the acquisition of information that is not generally known to the public and that we can only obtain through secondary sources such as books or other man-made sources.