Montaigne speaks of “an abecedarian ignorance that precedes
knowledge, and a doctoral ignorance that comes after it.” The
one is the ignorance of those who, not knowing their ABC’s,
cannot read at all. The other is the ignorance of those who have
misread many books. They are, as Pope rightly calls them,
bookful of blockheads, ignorantly read. There have always been
literate ignoramuses who have read too widely and not well. The
Greeks had a name for such mixture of learning and folly, which
might be applied to the bookish but poorly read of all ages.
They are all sophomores.
Being well read too often means the quantity, too seldom the
quality, of reading. It was not only the pessimistic and
misanthropic Schopenhauer who inveighed against too much
reading, because he found that, for the most part, men read
passively and glutted themselves with toxic overdoses of
unassimilated information. Bacon and Hobbes made the same point.
Hobbes said: “If I read as many books as most men, I should be
as dull-witted as they.” Bacon distinguished between “books to
be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be digested.”
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