King Alfred the Great said some truly mighty words about education and the pursuit of wisdom some 1100 years ago. It’s from the preface he wrote to St. Gregory’s Pastoralis, and for many years I kept the choice quotations taped to my office door.
In a spate of cosmic irony the laws of our modern Land of Safety required that I take it down so as not to obscure the door’s Door-ness in the event of fire. Great Alfred defend us! I now preserve the immortal words here, with a link to the full preface here.
Consider what punishments would come upon us on account of this world, if we neither loved it (wisdom) ourselves nor suffered other men to obtain it: we should love the name only of Christian, and very few of the virtues.
When I considered all this I remembered also how I saw, before it had been all ravaged and burnt, how the churches throughout the whole of England stood filled with treasures and books, and there was also a great multitude of God’s servants, but they had very little knowledge of the books, for they could not understand anything of them, because they were not written in their own language. As if they had said: “Our forefathers, who formerly held these places, loved wisdom, and through it they obtained wealth and bequeathed it to us. In this we can still see their tracks, but we cannot follow them, and therefore we have lost both the wealth and the wisdom, because we would not incline our hearts after their example.”
When I remembered all this, I wondered extremely that the good and wise men who were formerly all over England, and had perfectly learnt all the books, did not wish to translate them into their own language. But again I soon answered myself and said: “They did not think that men would ever be so careless, and that learning would so decay; through that desire they abstained from it, and they wished that the wisdom in this land might increase with our knowledge of languages.”
What’s Wrong With The World, 1100 years later. As another great king once said, “The days have gone down in the west, behind the hills, in shadow.” How did it come to this?
These are words that make teaching exciting.