On One Study Alone

‘Apart from what is technical, method is only the reduplication of common sense, and is best acquired by observing its use by the ablest men and in every variety of intellectual employment. Bentham acknowledged that he learned less from his own profession than from writers like Linnaeus and Cullen; and Brougham advised the student of law to begin with Dante. Liebig described his Organic Chemistry as an application of ideas found in Mills’ Logic, and a distinguished physician, not to be named lest he should overhear me, read three books to enlarge his medical mind; and they were Gibbon, Grote and Mill. He goes on to say, “An educated man cannot become so on one study alone, but must be brought under the influence of natural, civil, and moral modes of thought.”‘

Lord Acton, ‘Inaugural Lecture on the Study of History, Cambridge, June 1895’, Lectures on Modern History. 

‘The word amateur owes its evil reputation to the arts. An artist must be prepared to be a master or nothing, and must dedicate his life to his art, for the arts, of their very nature, demand perfection. In scholarship, on the other hand, a man can only be a master in one  particular field, namely as a specialist, and in some field he should be a specialist. But if he is not to forfeit his capacity as for taking a general view, he should be an amateur in as many points as possible, privately at any rate, for the increase of his own knowledge and the enrichment of his possible standpoints. Otherwise he will remain ignorant in any field lying outside of his own speciality, and perhaps, as a man, a barbarian. But the amateur, because he loves things, may, in the course of his life, find points at which to dig deep.’

Jacob Burckhardt, Reflections on History.


One thought on “On One Study Alone

  1. Interesting that historians are making these comments. I doubt that you’ll find many making them now as they become specialists in increasingly narrow fields.


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