He could not see it. He said he was engaged on an essay upon the famous quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus of St Vincent de Lerins. This was the more provoking because he showed himself able to do better things if he had liked.

I was then at work upon my burlesque, `The Impatient Griselda,' and was sometimes at my wits' end for a piece of business or a situation; he gave me many suggestions, all of which were marked by excellent good sense. Nevertheless, I could not prevail with him to put philosophy on one side, and was obliged to leave him to himself.

For a long time, as I have said, his choice of subjects continued to be such as I could not approve. He was continually studying scientific and metaphysical writers, in the hope of either finding or making for himself a philosopher's stone in the shape of a system which should go on all fours under all circumstances, instead of being liable to be upset at every touch and turn, as every system yet promulgated has turned out to be.

He kept to the pursuit of this will-o'-the-wisp so long that I gave up hope, and set him down as another fly that had been caught, as it were, by a piece of paper daubed over with some sticky stuff that had not even the merit of being sweet, but to my surprise he at last declared that he was satisfied, and had found what he wanted.

I supposed that he had only hit upon some new `Lo, here!' when to my relief, he told me that he had concluded that no system which should go perfectly upon all fours was possible, inasmuch as no one could get behind Bishop Berkeley, and therefore no absolutely incontrovertible first premise could ever be laid. Having found this he was just as well pleased as if he had found the most perfect system imaginable. All he wanted, he said, was to know which way it was to be - that is to say, whether a system was possible or not, and if possible then what the system was to be. Having found out that no system based on absolute certainty was possible he was contented.

I had only a very vague idea who Bishop Berkeley was, but was thankful to him for having defended us from an incontrovertible first premise. I am afraid I said a few words implying that after a great deal of trouble he had arrived at the conclusion which sensible people reach without bothering their brains so much.

He said: `Yes, but I was not born sensible. A child of ordinary powers learns to walk at a year or two old without knowing much about it; failing ordinary powers he had better learn laboriously than never learn at all. I am sorry I was not stronger, but to do as I did was my only chance.'

He looked so meek that I was vexed with myself for having said what I had, more especially when I remembered his bringing-up, which had doubtless done much to impair his power of taking a common- sense view of things. He continued:

`I see it all now. The people like Towneley are the only ones who know anything that is worth knowing, and like that of course I can never be. But to make Towneleys possible there must be hewers of wood and drawers of water - men in fact through whom conscious knowledge must pass before it can reach those who can apply it gracefully and instinctively as the Towneleys can. I am a hewer of wood, but if I accept the position frankly and do not set up to be a Towneley, it does not matter.'

He still, therefore, stuck to science instead of turning to literature proper as I hoped he would have done, but he confined himself henceforth to inquiries on specific subjects concerning which an increase of our knowledge - as he said was possible. Having in fact, after infinite vexation of spirit, arrived at a conclusion which cut at the roots of all knowledge, he settled contentedly down to the pursuit of knowledge, and has pursued it ever since in spite of occasional excursions into the regions of literature proper.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.