Chapter VIII

Education as Distinguished from Learning

Although not the same kind, there is as much difference between education and learning, as there is between character and reputation.

Learning may be regarded as mental capital, in the way of accumulated facts. Education is the drawing out and development of the best that is in the heart, the head, and the hand.

The civilized world has a score of very learned men, to the one who may be said to be thoroughly educated. The learned man may be familiar with many languages, and sciences, and have all the facts of history and literature at his fingers' tip, and yet be as helpless as an infant and as impractical as a fool. An educated man, a man with his powers developed by training, may know no language but his mother tongue, may be ignorant as to literature and art, and yet be well...yes, even superbly educated.

The learned man's mind may be likened to a store house, or magazine, in which there are a thousand wonderful things, some of which he can make of use in the battle of life. He resembles the miser who fills his coffers with gold and keeps it out of circulation. Beyond the selfish joy of possession, his wealth is worthless, and its acquisition has unfitted him for the struggle. The educated man, to continue the illustration, may not be rich, but he knows how to use every cent he owns, and he places it where, under his energy, it will grow into dollars.

Far be it from us to underestimate the value of learning. Many of the world's greatest men have been learned, but without exception such men have also been educated. They have been trained to make their knowledge available for the benefit of themselves and their fellow men.

The athlete who develops his muscles to their greatest capacity of strength and flexibility, and this can only be done by observing strictly the laws of health, is physically an educated man. Every mechanic whose hands and brain have been trained to the expertness required by the master workman, is well-educated in his particular calling. The man who is an expert accountant, or a trained civil engineer, may know nothing of the higher mathematical principles, but he is better educated than the scholar who has only a theoretical knowledge of all the mathematics that have ever been published.

The educated man is the man who can do something, and the quality of his work marks the degree of his education. One might be learned in law in a phenomenal way, and yet, unless he was educated, trained to the practice, he would be beaten in the preparation of a case by a lawyer's clerk.

There are men who can write and talk learnedly on political economy and the laws of trade, and quote from memory all the statistics of the census library, and yet be immeasurably surpassed in practical business, by a young man whose college was the store, and whose university was the counting room.

booksIt should not be inferred from this that learning is not of the greatest value, or that the facts obtained from the proper books are to be ignored. The best investment a young man can make is in good books, the study of which broadens the mind, and the facts of which equip him the better for his life calling.

But books are not valuable only because of the available information they give; when they do not instruct, they elevate and refine.

"Books," said Hazlitt, "wind into the heart; the poet's verse slides into the current of our blood. We read them when young, we remember them when old. We read there of what has happened to others; we feel that it has happened to ourselves. They are to be had everywhere cheap and good. We breathe but the air of books. We owe everything to their authors, on this side barbarism."

A good book is often the best urn of a life, enshrining the best thoughts of which that life was capable; for the world of a man's life is, for the most part, but the world of his thoughts. Thus the best books are treasuries of good words and golden thoughts, which, remembered and cherished, become our abiding companions and comforters. "They are never alone," said Sir Philip Sidney, "that are accompanied by noble thoughts." The good and true thought may in time of temptation be as an angel of mercy, purifying and guarding the soul. It also enshrines the germs of action, for good words almost invariably inspire to good works.

Thus Sir Henry Lawrence prized above all other compositions Wordsworth's "Character of the Happy Warrior," which he endeavored to embody in his own life. It was ever before him as an exemplar. He thought of it continually, and often quoted it to others. His biographer says, "He tried to conform his own life and to assimilate his own character to it; and he succeeded, as all men succeed who are truly in earnest."

Books possess an essence of immortality. They are by far the most lasting products of human effort. Temples crumble into ruin; pictures and statues decay; but books survive. Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds, ages ago. What was then said and thought still speaks to us as vividly as ever from the printed page. The only effect of time has been to sift and winnow out the bad products; for nothing in literature can long survive but what is really good.

To the young man, "thirsting for learning and hungering for education," there are no books more helpful than the biographies of those whom it is well to imitate. Longfellow wisely says:

"Lives of great men all remind us,
   We can make our lives sublime,
 And departing leave behind us,
   Footprints on the sands of time--

 Footprints which perhaps another,
   Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
 A forlorn and ship-wrecked brother,
   Seeing, may take heart again."

At the head of all biographies stands the Great Biography...the Book of Books. And what is the Bible, the most sacred and impressive of all books...the educator of youth, the guide of manhood, and the consoler of age...but a series of biographies of great heroes and patriarchs, prophets, kings and judges, culminating in the greatest biography of all...the Life embodied in the New Testament? How much have the great examples there set forth done for mankind! How many have drawn from them their best strength, their highest wisdom, their best nurture and admonition! Truly does a great and deeply pious writer describe the Bible as a book whose words "live in the ear like a music that never can be forgotten--like the sound of church-bells which the convert hardly knows how he can forego. Its felicities often seem to be almost things rather than mere words. It is part of the national mind, and the anchor of national seriousness. The memory of the dead passes into it. The potent traditions of childhood are stereotyped in its verses. The power of all the griefs and trials of man is hidden beneath its words. It is the representative of his best moments; and all that has been about him of soft, and gentle, and pure, and penitent, and good, speaks to him forever out of his English Bible. It is his sacred thing, which doubt has never dimmed and controversy never soiled. In the length and breadth of the land there is not an individual with one spark of religiousness about him whose spiritual biography is not in his Saxon Bible."

History itself is best studied in biography. Indeed, history is biography...collective humanity as influenced and governed by individual men. "What is all history," says Emerson, "but the work of ideas, a record of the incomparable energy which his infinite aspirations infuse into man? In its pages it is always persons we see more than principles. Historical events are interesting to us mainly in connection with the feelings, the sufferings, and interests of those by whom they are accomplished. In history we are surrounded by men long dead, but whose speech and whose deeds survive. We almost catch the sound of their voices; and what they did constitutes the interest of history. We never feel personally interested in masses of men; but we feel and sympathize with the individual actors, whose biographies afford the finest and most real touches in all great historical dramas."

Sir Walter ScottAs in portraiture, so in biography--there must be light and shade. The portrait-painter does not pose his sitter so as to bring out his deformities; nor does the biographer give undue prominence to the defects of the character he portrays. Not many men are so outspoken as Cromwell was when he sat to Cooper for his miniature: "Paint me as I am," said he, "wart and all." Yet, if we would have a faithful likeness of faces and characters, they must be painted as they are. "Biography," said Sir Walter Scott, "the most interesting of every species of composition, loses all its interest with me when the shades and lights of the principal characters are not accurately and faithfully detailed. I can no more sympathize with a mere eulogist than I can with a ranting hero on the stage."

It is to be regretted that in this day the country is flooded with cheap, trashy fiction, the general tendency of which is not only not educational, but is positively destructive. The desire to read this stuff is as demoralizing as the opium habit.

There are works of fiction, cheap and available, too, whose influence is elevating, and some knowledge of which is essential to the young man who is using his spare hours for the purpose of self-education.

There is no room for doubt that the surpassing interest which fiction, whether in poetry or prose, possesses for most minds arises mainly from the biographic element which it contains. Homer's "Iliad "owes its marvelous popularity to the genius which its author displayed in the portrayal of heroic character. Yet he does not so much describe his personages in detail as make them develop themselves by their actions. "There are in Homer," said Dr. Johnson, "such characters of heroes and combination of qualities of heroes, that the united powers of mankind ever since have not produced any but what are to be found there."

Robinson CrusoeThe genius of Shakespeare, also, was displayed in the powerful delineation of character, and the dramatic evolution of human passions. His personages seem to be and breathing before us. So, too, with Cervantes, whose Sancho Panza, though homely and vulgar, is intensely human. The characters in Le Sage's "Gil Bias," in Goldsmith's "Vicar of Wakefield," and in Scott's marvelous muster-roll, seem to us almost as real as persons whom we have actually known; and De Foe's greatest works are but so many biographies, painted in minute detail, with reality so apparently stamped upon every page that it is difficult to believe his Robinson Crusoe and Colonel Jack to have been fictitious persons instead of real ones.

Then we have a fine American literature, which should be read after the history of the country is mastered, the stories of Cooper are fresh and invigorating, and those of Hawthorne are life studies and prose poems. Holmes, Lowell, Emerson, Bayard Taylor, and scores of other American writers, whose pens have added lustre to the country, will well repay the reader.

Good books are among the best of companions; and, by elevating the thoughts and aspirations, they act as preservatives against low associations. "A natural turn for reading and intellectual pursuits," says Thomas Hood, "probably preserved me from the moral ship-wreck so apt to befall those who are deprived in early life of their parental pilotage. My books kept me from the ring, the dogpit, the tavern, the saloon. The closet associate of Pope and Addison, the mind accustomed to the noble though silent discourse of Shakespeare and Milton, will hardly seek or put up with low company and slaves."

It has been truly said that the best books are those which most resemble good actions. They are purifying, elevating, and sustaining; they enlarge and liberalize the mind; they preserve it against vulgar worldliness; they tend to produce high-minded cheerfulness and equanimity of character; they fashion, and shape, and humanize the mind. In the Northern universities, the schools in which the ancient classics are studied are appropriately styled "The Humanity Classes."

Erasmus, the great scholar, was even of opinion that books were the necessaries of life, and clothes the luxuries; and he frequently postponed buying the latter until he had supplied himself with the former. His greatest favorites were the writings of Cicero, which he says he always felt himself the better for reading. "I can never," he says, "read the works of Cicero on 'Old Age,' or 'Friendship,' or his 'Tusculan Disputations,' without fervently pressing them to my lips, without being penetrated with veneration for a mind little short of inspired by God himself."

It is unnecessary to speak of the enormous moral influence which books have exercised upon the general civilization of mankind, from the Bible downward. They contain the treasured knowledge of the human race. They are the record of all labors, achievements, speculations, successes, and failures, in science, philosophy, religion, and morals. They have been the greatest motive-powers in all times. "From the Gospel to the Contrat Social," says De Bonald, "it is books that have made revolutions." Indeed, a great book is often a greater thing than a great battle. Even works of fiction have occasionally exercised immense power on society.

Bear in mind that it is not all we eat that nourishes, but what we digest. The learned man is a glutton as to books, but the educated man knows that, no matter how much is read, benefit is only derived from the thoughts that develop our own thoughts and strengthen our own minds.

A Review of "How to Get On in Life"

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Chapter IX - The Value of Experience


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