[C. H. Spurgeon Picture]


By C. H. Spurgeon

[GospelWeb.net Globe]

Chapter 24

Very Ignorant People

I HAVE heard tell of a man who did not know a capital "A" from a bull's foot, and I know a good many who certainly could not tell what capital "A" or small "a" either may mean; but some of these people are not the most ignorant in the world for all that. For instance, they know a cow's head from its tail, and one of the election gentlemen said lately that the candidate from London did not know that. They know that turnips do not grow on trees, and they can tell an overgrown radish from a beet root, and a rabbit from a hare; there are flame folk who play on pianos who hardly know as much as that. If they cannot read, they can plow, mow, reap, sow, and bring up seven children on ten shillings a week, and yet pay their way; and there's a sight of people who are much too ignorant to do that.

Ignorance of spelling books is very bad, but ignore hard work is worse. Wisdom does not always speak Latin. People laugh at smocks, and indeed they are about as ugly garments as could well be contrived, but some who wear them are not half such fools as people take them for. If no ignorant people ate bread but those who wear hobnail shoes, corn would be a fine deal cheaper. Wisdom in a poor man is like a diamond set in lead, for none but good judges can discover its value. Wisdom walls often in patched clothes, and then folks do not admire her. But I say, never mind the coat, give me the man: shells are nothing, the kernel is everything. You need not go to Pirbright to find ignoramuses; there are heaps of them near St. Paul's.

I would have everybody able to ready to read, write, and cipher (indeed, I don't think a man can know too much); but the knowing of these things is not education. There are millions reading and writing people who are as ignorant as neighbor Norton's calf, that did not know its own mother. That is as plain as the nose on your face, if you only think a little. To know how to read and write is like having tools to work, but if you don't use these tools, and your eyes, and your ears, too, you will be none the better off. Everybody should know what most concerns him and makes him most used. If cats can catch mice and hens lay eggs (they) know the things which most suits what they were made for.

It is little use for a horse to know how to fly; it will do well enough if it can trot. A man on a farm ought to learn all that belongs to farming, a blacksmith should study a horse's foot, a dairymaid should be well up on skimming the milk and making the butter, and a laborers wife should be a good scholar in the sciences of boiling and baking, washing and mending. John Ploughman ventures to say that those men and women who have not learn the duties of their callings are very ignorant people, even if they can tell the Greek name for a crocodile or write a poem on a black beetle. It is too often very true:

"Jack has been to school - To learn to be a fool."

When a man falls into the water, to know how to swim will be of more use to him than all his mathematics and yet how very few boys learn swimming! Girls are taught dancing and French when stitching and English would be a hundred per cent more use to them. When men have to earn their livings in these hard times, a good trade and industrious habits will serve their turn a world better than all the classics in Cambridge and Oxford; but who nowadays advocates practical training at our schools? Schoolmasters would go into fits if they were asked to teach poor people's boys to hoe potatoes and plant cauliflowers, and yet school boards would be doing a power of good if they did something of the sort. If you want a dog to be a pointer or a setter, you train him accordingly - why ever don't they do the same with men? It ought to be, "Every man for his business, and every man master of his business." Let Jack and Tom lean geography by all means, but don't forget to teach them how to black their own boots and put a button on their own trousers; and as for Jane and Sally, let them sing and play the music if they like, but not till they can darn a stocking and make a shirt.

When they mend up that Education Act, I hope they will put in a clause to teach children practical common sense home duties as well as the three R's. But there, what's the use of talking this way, for if children are to learn common sense, where are we to get the teachers? Very fee people have any of it to spare, and those who have are never likely to take to school keeping. Lots of girls learn nothing except the folderol which I think they call accomplishments. There's poor Gent with six girls and about fifty pounds a year to keep his family on, and yet not one of them can do a hand's turn, because their mother would go into fits lest Miss Sophia Elfrida should have chapped hands through washing the family linen, or lest Alexandria Theodora should spoil her complexion in picking a few gooseberries for a pudding.

It's enough to make a cat laugh to hear the poor things talk about fashion and etiquette when they are not half as well off as the haggler's daughters down the lane, who earn their living and are laying money by against the time when some young farmer will pick them up. Trust me, he who marries these hoity-toity young ladies will have as bad a bargain as if he married a wax doll. How the fat should be in the fire if Mrs. Gent heard me say it, but I do say it for all that - she and her girls are ignorant, very ignorant, because they do not know what would be of most service to them.

Every minnow nowadays calls itself a whale: every donkey thinks itself fit to be one of the Queen's horses; every candle reckons itself the sun. But when a man with his best coat on, a paper collar, a glass in his eyes, a brass chain on his waistcoat, a cane in his hand, and emptiness in his head fancies that people cannot see through his swaggers and brags, he must be ignorant, very ignorant, for he does not know himself. Dandies, dressed up to the top of the fashion, think themselves somebodies, but nobody else does. Dancing masters and tailors may rig up a fop, but they cannot make a nothing into a man. you may color a millstone as much as you like, but you cannot improve it into a cheese.

Round our part we have a lot of poets, at least a set of very ignorant people who think they are; and these folks bother me more than a little because I have written a book and, therefore, ought to listen to their rigmaroles. Nonsense is nonsense whether it rhymes or not, just as bad halfpennies are good for nothing whether they jingle or lie quiet. "Here John," said a man to me. "I want to read you some of my verses." "No, thank your said I, "I don't feel in a poetical frame of mind today." Mark you, I won't feel a bit more so tomorrow. What right has that fellow to shoot his rubbish at my door? I have enough of my own. I don't intend to have my ear stuffed up with cobblers wax or cobbled verses. I had a double dose the other morning from two of our great village poets, and I must confess it was rather better than most of the rhymes that I meet with in books. Chubbins said,

"It is a sin to steal a pin."

And then Padley topped it up by adding,

"It is a greater to steal a tater."

Now, there's rhyme and reason for you, as the sexton said when he wrote three lines for the poor man's tombstone:

"Here I lie, Killed by a sky-rocket in my eye."

When tradesmen put their earnings into companies and expect to see it again, or when they lend money at outrageous interest and think to make their fortunes by it, they must be ignorant, very ignorant . They might as well hang a wooden kettle over the fire to boil the water for tea or sow beans in river and look for a fine crop.

When men believe in lawyers and money lenders, borrow money to speculate, and think themselves lucky fellows, they are shamefully ignorant. The very gander on the common would not make such a stupid of himself, for he knows when anyone tries to pluck him, and won't lose his feathers and then pride himself in the operation.

The man who spends his money with the bartender, and thinks that the landlord's bows and "How do ye do, my good fellow." Mean respect, is a perfect natural: for with them it is:

If you have money, take a seat; If you have none, take to your feet.

The fox admires the cheese; if it were not for that he would not care a rap for the raven. The bait is not put into the trap to feed the mouse, but to catch him. We don't light a fire for the herring's comfort, but to roast him for our own eating. Men do not keep taverns for the local laborers' good; if they do, they certainly miss their aim. Why, then, should people drink "for the good of the house"? If I spend money for the good of the house, let it be my own and not the landlord's. It's a bad well into which you must put water; and the beer hall is a bad friend, because it takes your all and leaves you nothing but headaches. He who calls "friends" those who let him sit and drink by the hour, is ignorant, very ignorant. Why, red lions, tigers, eagles, and vultures are all creatures of prey, ant none but fools put themselves within the power of their jaws talons.

He who believes that either Whigs or Tories will let us off with light taxes must have been born on the day after the last of March; and he who imagines that county boards and local districts will ever be free from corruption must have been educated in an idiot asylum. He who believes in promises made at elections has long ears and may try to eat thistles. Mr. Plausible has been around asking all the working men for their votes, and he will do all sorts of good things for them. Will he? Yes, the day after tomorrow a little later than never. Poor men who expect the "friends of the working man" to do anything for them must be ignorant, very ignorant. When they get their seats, of course they cannot stand up for their principles except when it is to their own interest to do so.

To lend umbrellas and look to have them sent home, to do a man a good turn and expect another from him when you want it, to dream; of stopping some women's tongues, to try to please everybody, to hope to hear gossips speak well of you, or to reckon upon getting the truth of a story from common report are all evidences of great ignorance. Those who know the world best trust it least: those who trust it at all are not wise. You might as well trust a horse's heel or a dog's tooth! Trusting to others ruins many. He who leaves his business to bailiffs and servants and believes that it will be well met must be ignorant, very ignorant. The mouse knows when the cat is out of the house, and servants know when the master is away. No sooner is the eye of the master gone than the hand of the workman slackens; at least, it is so nine times out of ten. "I'll go myself," and "I'll see to it," are two good servants on a farm. Those who lie in bed and bolster themselves up with the notion that their trade will carry on itself are ignorant, very ignorant.

Those that drink and live riotously, and wonder why their faces are so blotchy and their pockets so bare, would quit wondering if they had two grains of wisdom. Those who go to the tavern for happiness climb a tree to find filth We might put all their wit in an eggshell, or they would never be such dupes as to hunt after comfort where it is no more to be fond than a cow in at crow's nest. But, alas good- for-nothings are common as mice in a hay stack. I only wish we could pack them off to Lubber-land, where they have half-a-crown a day for sleeping. If someone could let those fellows see the sure result of ill-living, perhaps they might reform. Still I done know, for they do see it and yet go on all the same, like a moth that bums its winged in the flame but dashes into the candle again. Certainly for loitering lushes to expect to thrive by keeping their hands in their pockets or their noses in pewter pots proves them to bee ignorant, very ignorant.

When I see a young lady with a flower garden on her roof and a dressmaker's shop on her body, tossing her head about as though she thought everybody was charmed with her must be ignorant, very ignorant. Sensible men don't marry a wardrobe or a bonnet; they want a woman of sense, and women of that kind always dress sensibly, not gaudily.

To my mind, those who sneer at religion and set themselves up to be too knowing to believe in the Bible are shallow fellows. They generally use big words and bluster a great deal, but if they fancy they can overturn the faith of thinking people who have tried and proved the power of the grace of God, they must be ignorant, very ignorant. He who looks at the sunrise and the sunset mind does not see the footprints of God must be inwardly more blind than a mole, and only fit to live underground. God seems to talk to me in every primrose and daisy, to smile upon me from every star, to whisper to me in every breath of morning air, and to call aloud to me in every storm.

It is strange that so many educated gentlemen see God nowhere, while John the plowman feels Him everywhere. John has no wish to change places, for the sense of God's presence is his comfort and joy. They say that man is the god of the dog: those men must be worse than dogs who will not listen to the voice of God, for a dog obeys its master's whistle. They call themselves "philosophers," don't they? Their proper name is fools, for the fool hath said in his heart, "There is no God." The sheep know when rain is coming, the swallows foresee the winter, and even the pigs, they say, can see the wind; how much worse than a brute must he be who lives-where God is everywhere present and yet sees him not! Thus it is very clear that a man may be; a great hand at learning and yet be ignorant, very ignorant.

Back To Chapter 23 "John Ploughman's Talks"

Back To Index For "John Ploughman's Talks"