In 1757 Ben Franklin was in England where he rented rooms from Mrs. Margaret Stevenson. Mrs. Stevenson, a widow, had a young daughter, Mary, who was intelligent and inquisitive. She immediately took to Franklin who became a father figure for the young girl and they enjoyed many science experiments together. When Franklin returned to America, they continued corresponding. In one letter he wrote to Mary he was encouraging her to continue her studies, but not at the sacrifice of character. Knowledge has it merits, but without a destination it serves no purpose. He wrote,
There is, however, a prudent Moderation to be used in Studies of this kind. The Knowledge of Nature may be ornamental, and it may be useful, but if to attain an Eminence in that, we neglect the Knowledge of Practice and essential Duties, we deserve Reprehension. For there is no Rank in Natural Knowledge of equal Dignity and Importance with that of being a good Parent, a good Child, a good Husband, or Wife, a good Neighbor or Friend, a good Subject or Citizen, that is, in short, a good Christian. Nicholas Gimcrack, therefore, who neglected the Care of his Family, to pursue Butterflies, was a just Object of Ridicule, and we must give him up as fair Game to the Satyrist. 1
I had not heard of this Sir Nicholas Gimcrack before so I looked him up. After a little research I came across an example that delivers a great word picture as to what kind of person this Gimcrack was. In the below dialogue, picture this Nicholas Gimcrack lying on his stomach on a table. In his mouth is a long piece of string which he is holding in his teeth. The other end of the string several feet away, is tied around the belly of a frog in a bowl of water, on the floor. The frog is swimming, or attempting to swim away, from Gimcrack. Gimcrack is watching and mimicking the movements of the frog with his arms and legs flailing off the table. The purpose of this exercise is to learn how to swim, from a swimming master, the frog. In walk two naive admirers of Sir Gimcrack who ask him about his method of learning how to swim.
Longvil: Have you ever tried in the water, sir?
Sir Nicholas: No, sir, but I swim most exquisitely on land.
Bruce: Do you intend to practice in the water, sir?
Sir Nicholas: Never, sir. I hate the water. I never come upon the water, sir.
Longvil: Then there will be no use of swimming.
Sir Nicholas: I content myself with the speculative part of swimming; I care not for the practice. I seldom bring anything to use; ‘tis not my way. Knowledge is my ultimate end.
So as everyone considers what they are thankful for today, be thankful for the example of Sir Nicholas. What do you do with what you know?
1. Bennett, William J. Our Sacred Honor. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. Print.