Who loves not Knowledge? Who shall rail
Against her beauty? May she mix
With men and prosper! Who shall fix
Her pillars? Let her work prevail.
But on her forehead sits a fire:
She sets her forward countenance
And leaps into the future chance,
Submitting all things to desire.
Half-grown as yet, a child, and vain—
She cannot fight the fear of death.
What is she, cut from love and faith,
But some wild Pallas from the brain
Of Demons? fiery-hot to burst
All barriers in her onward race
For power. Let her know her place;
She is the second, not the first.
A higher hand must make her mild,
If all be not in vain; and guide
Her footsteps, moving side by side
With wisdom, like the younger child:
For she is earthly of the mind,
But Wisdom heavenly of the soul.
O, friend, who camest to thy goal
So early, leaving me behind,
I would the great world grew like thee,
Who grewest not alone in power
And knowledge, but by year and hour
In reverence and in charity.
The contrast between knowledge and wisdom is traditional in Christian culture, but has particular significance in a time when human knowledge is expanding rapidly, as it did in the Victorian era. A proper pride in human achievement might topple wisdom from its traditional perch. Tennyson’s insistence that knowledge must occupy second place rather than first, is eloquently managed. “Knowledge puffs up but live builds up” is the way St Paul puts it, which significantly degrades knowledge, whereas Tennyson’s “ she (knowledge) is earthly of the mind, but wisdom heavenly of the soul” gives a proper place to knowledge but elevates wisdom above it. That power and knowledge should be matched by reverence and charity might be the motto of a Victorian school or university.
My late daughter considered that human knowledge, based on a false distinction between humans and animals, would destroy the planet.