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Rant #358
(published November 29, 2007)
The Search for Wisdom
by Comenius
a found essay from within



Then I heard in the square the blare of a trumpet, and turning back I perceived a rider on horseback, calling the philosophers together. When a crowd of them gathered about him from all sides, he began to harangue them in five languages about the imperfections of the liberal arts and of philosophy generally. He announced that certain famous men, impelled by God, had ascertained and corrected all such imperfections, and restored the wisdom of mankind to the same degree of perfection which it had had in paradise before the Fall. To make gold, he said, is the least among hundreds of their accomplishments: for all nature stands naked and uncovered before them and they are able to transfer at pleasure the form of any creature to another. They know the languages of all nations, and are aware of all that is taking place everywhere in the world, including the New World, and are able to discourse among themselves even though they be thousands of miles apart. They also possess the [philosophers'] stone, with which they are able to heal perfectly all kinds of diseases, and to impart long life. Thus, for example, their president, Hugo Alverda, had attained the age of five hundred and sixty-two years, and his colleagues not much less. And although they have kept themselves hidden for so many hundreds of years, during which time seven of them devoted themselves to the improvement of philosophy, they have now, at last, brought it all to perfection. Moreover, knowing that the reformation of the whole world is about to begin, they wish no longer to keep themselves in hiding, but announce quickly their willingness to share their priceless secrets with anyone whom they should recognize as being worthy. If any such makes himself known to them, be he of whatever language or nationality, they will learn of it, and no one will be left without a kindly answer. However, if any unworthy person should apply from motives of avarice or idle curiosity, such a person will not be able to learn anything about them.


Having finished his speech, the herald disappeared; looking about me at the learned, I saw them well-nigh terrified by the news. Gradually they began to put their heads together and to express their judgement about the matter, some in whispers, others aloud. Joining a group here and there, I listened: some were exceedingly glad, hardly knowing how to contain themselves for joy. They pitied their ancestors whose age had afforded them nothing comparable, and considered themselves blessed to be so freely offered a perfect philosophy: to know everything infallibly, to possess everything in abundance, and to live several hundred years without sickness or grey hairs—all to be had by anyone desiring it! They kept on repeating: "Happy, thrice happy, is our age!" Hearing thees words, I myself began to rejoice, indulging in the hope of sharing, God willing, the blessings upon which the others were counting. But I saw others buried in deep thought, greatly perplexed what to think of the news. They wished it were true, but the matter appeared to them dubious and surpassing human reason. Others openly rejected it, declaring it to be a fraud and a deceit. "If these men have lived for so many centuries, " they said, "why have they not revealed themselves sooner? If they are so sure of their cause, why do they not step out freely into the light, instead of squeaking like bats out of some obscure nook? Philosophy is well enough established and needs no reformation; should we allow it to be snatched out of our hands, we shall be left without any." Others even heaped terrible scoffing and abuse upon them, denouncing them as diviners, sorcerers, and demons incarnate.

3 FRATERNITATEM AMBIENTES**. In short, the whole square was filled with clamor, and almost all burned with the desire to reach the fraternity. Therefore, not a few of them wrote their supplications, some secretly, others openly, and sent them off, full of joy in anticipation of being received into the fraternity. But I perceived that after the supplications had gone to every conceivable nook, all were returned unanswered. Then their joyful hope was turned into grief: besides, they had to endure jeers of the sceptics. Some wrote another petition, and then a second, a third or even more, begging and imploring, in the name of all the Muses and in the most affecting manner, that the fraternity decline not a mind a thirst for knowledge. Some, impatient of delay, personally undertook the journey from one end of the world to the other, but lamented their misfortune in not being able to find those happy folk. Some ascribed the reason for their failure to their own unworthiness, others to the ill-will of the fraternity. Consequently, some fell into despair, while others tortured themselves by persisting in their endeavo to discover ever new ways of ascertaining the group's whereabouts, until I myself grew weary of waiting for the final outcome.

4 CONTINUATIO Then a trumpet blared again: when many ran out to find out what the sound imported, I joined them also. I saw a m an setting up a booth, inviting the bystanders to examine and to buy his most wonderful mysteries; he claimed to have taken them from the treasures of the new philosophy, and assured all desirous of the secert wisdom would find satisfaction therein. Then many rejoiced that the holy Brotherhood of the Rose had openly and liberally shared its treasures and approaching, bought the wares. All articles put up for sale were enclosed in painted boxes, bearing attractive inscriptions such as: Good Guide to the Large and the Small Cosmos; A Harmony of the Two Worlds; The Christian Cabala; The Case of Nature; The Castle of Primordial Matter; The Divine Magic; The General Tri-Trinity; The Triumphal Pyramid; Hallelujah; and so forth. But the buyers were forbidden to open the boxes. For the efficacy of the secret wisdom was said to be so powerful that it operated by penetration, and would evaporate if the box were opened. Nevertheless, some of the more inquisitive could not refrain from opening their boxes and found them entirely empty! Thereupon, they showed them to others, who also opened their boxes and likewise found nothing. Then they raised a cry of "Fraud! Fraud!" and assaulted the dealer with fury. He attempted to pacify them by saying that the most secret part of the mystery consisted in the fact that these things were invisible to all save the sons of science; and since barely one out of a thousand possessed the proper qualifications, he, the dealer, was not to blame for it.

5 EVENTUS FAMAE. The buyers for the greatest part were pacified thereby; in the meantime the dealer packed up his wares, while the spectators dispersed in very different humors, one here, another there. But whether or not anyone had discovered the new mysteries, I have hitherto been unable to learn. This only I know that thereafter everything quieted down and those who had been formerly running and rushing about the most, were found sitting in obscure corners with their mouths shut. Either they had been (as some thought) admitted to the mysteries upon an oath that theyleep them secret; or (as it appeared to me observing them from under my glasses) were ashamed of their blasted hopes and misspent effort. Thus everything passed and quieted down as clouds disperse after a rainless storm. I said to my companions: "Are all these things, then, an utter failure? Oh, my disappointed hopes! Hearing such boastful promises, I expected to find a profitable pasture for my mind." My interpreter answered: "Who knows but it might yet materialize? Perhaps they know their hour when and to whom to reveal themselves." "Should I wait for such an event, when I have not seen a single instance of success among so many thousands of men more learned than I am? I do not care to gape any longer: let us go away," I said.

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