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· Of Studies, Oregon Style ·

Pacific Northwesterners are lucky folks, having hereabouts the largest new-used bookstore in the world to wander in. It is called Powell's, known in Portland as "The City of Books." Powell's occupies an entire city block, and with 1,000,000+ books in nine rooms on four floors, "once you visit," as they say, "you won't want to leave."

This happened to a portion of my philosophy class recently. A wise administrator gave my class permission to do a short field trip there, and a good choice it was, for as we left I heard my students agree: "Best field trip ever." That is maybe heartening news today with so many plugged into their I-Pods, for books are in some ways, still, "equally technological."

Jack Goody once famously said "Literacy is the technology of intellect" — a wise judgment partly stemming from the old Baconian saw that "Reading maketh a full man." You may perhaps recall Francis Bacon's essay

Of Studies

STUDIES serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use for delight is in privateness and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse; and for ability, is in the judgment and disposition of business.  · Of Studies, Oregon Style · For expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one; but the general counsels, and the plots and marshalling of affairs, come best from those that are learned. To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar. They perfect nature, and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need pruning, by study; and studies themselves do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience. Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not. Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtile; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend. Abeunt studia in mores [Studies pass into and influence manners]. Nay, there is no stand or impediment in the wit but may be wrought out by fit studies; like as diseases of the body may have appropriate exercises. Bowling is good for the stone and reins; shooting for the lungs and breast; gentle walking for the stomach; riding for the head; and the like. So if a man's wit be wandering, let him study the mathematics; for in demonstrations, if his wit be called away never so little, he must begin again. If his wit be not apt to distinguish or find differences, let him study the Schoolmen; for they are cymini sectores [splitters of hairs]. If he be not apt to beat over matters, and to call up one thing to prove and illustrate another, let him study the lawyers' cases. So every defect of the mind may have a special receipt.

Happily, as we left I noticed no real defect of mind in my own students. For over a meal later in another Portland landmark — The Old Spaghetti Factory — I overheard a pair debating the fate of World Federation Wrestling under Vince McMahon. Though I was about to mention Roland Barthes' great essay on professional wrestling, in Mythologies, I desisted, with some apt Baconian principles perhaps partly in view. Sometimes heated participation in the ring does beat cold theory in print.

Besides, I'd induced one of them to buy a book to supplement his favored music major, Frank Conroy's Body and Soul. For the human arts are, all — don't you think? — really of a piece.


Posted by TW on October 12, 2006 03:05 PM

you haven't given much about his style.

Posted by A.SUGAPRIYA on October 14, 2006 12:55 AM

Indeed I haven't, quite purposefully.

Students are open to suggestion sometimes (and sometimes not).

If you care to bring home some stylish Bacon, I suggest George Williamson's The Senecan Amble: A Study in Prose Form from Bacon to Collier (1951).

Posted by Styles on October 15, 2006 12:09 PM

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