The invention of printing has done more to change the content of the average man’s mind than anything else. That content is one of the most curious and terrifying phenomena of the modern age. We know too much and too little. We all have a mass of information and opinions on world-wide topics, from Hitler’s schizophrenia to Mussolini’s daughter, from the rise of Kemal Pasha to the proper breeding of turkeys. And yet we really know very little on these subjects. What’s in our minds resembles what’s in the town gossip’s, widened to cover the world. It is as if we were looking at a remote landscape through a field glass that brings just enough details to justify all sorts of exciting speculations. We are all suffering from a surfeit of undigested information, and all floating blissfully on the surface of imaginary, and rather undependable, borrowed opinions. Nobody knows anything any more. The more I read the more ignorant I become. The choice today before any educated man is between unread innocence and well-read ignorance.

— Lin Yutang, “500th Anniversary of Printing,” With Love and Irony


Grant me, indulgent heaven, a rural seat,
Rather contemptible than great;
Where, though I taste life’s sweets, still I may be
Athirst for immortality.
I would have business, but exempt from strife;
A private, but an active, life;
A conscience bold, and punctual to his charge,;
My stock of health, or patience, large.
Some books I’d have, and some acquaintance too,
But very good, and very few.
Then (if one mortal two such grants may crave)
From silent life I’d steal into my grave.

— Nahum Tate, “The Choice”