Leo Tolstoy
· The Circle of Reading
Translated by Dmitry Fadeyev

January 9

Knowledge is only knowledge when it is acquired through the effort of one’s thought, not via memorization.


It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know. I do not get nearer by a hair’s breadth to any natural object so long as I presume that I have an introduction to it from some learned man. To conceive of it with a total apprehension I must for the thousandth time approach it as something totally strange.

— Thoreau


A constant inflow of other people’s thoughts must necessarily hold back and drown out one’s own, and, unless one’s power of thought is resilient enough to withstand this unnatural flow, over a long period of time this flow can even completely enfeeble it. That is one reason why constant reading and studying disturbs the mind, but another reason is that the system of our own thoughts and knowledge loses its integrity and unbroken connectedness if we interrupt it so often to make space for a completely different train of thought. To scatter one’s thoughts in order to make space for those of the books is, in my opinion, the same thing as to sell one’s own land in order to see the lands of others—a thing for which Shakespeare reproached the tourists of his time.

It is even harmful to read about a subject before spending some time contemplating it on one’s own. Because, together with the new material, another person’s perspective on it, another person’s judgement about it, sneaks into one’s mind, and what makes this all the more probable is that, due to laziness and indifference, it is natural for a human being to try to relieve himself of the effort of having to think by accepting and following ready thoughts. If this habit takes root, then thoughts will take a typical course like streams flowing into ditches, and it will become twice as difficult to find an original thought of one’s own. This is what makes independent thought so rare in learned people.

— Schopenhauer


Knowledge is like current coin. A man may have some right to be proud of possessing it, if he has worked for the gold of it, and assayed it, and stamped it, so that it may be received of all men as true; or earned it fairly, being already assayed: but if he has done none of these things, but only had it thrown in his face by a passer-by, what cause has he to be proud?

— John Ruskin


It is less harmful for the human mind to learn nothing at all than to learn too early and too much.


The merit of the greatest thinkers consists precisely in that they had expressed, independently from the books and traditions that existed before them, what they themselves thought, and not the ideas of their contemporaries or the people that lived before them.

In just the same way every one of us must watch for and catch those bright thoughts which, from time to time, ignite and kindle in our consciousness like sparks. Such inner moments of enlightenment are much more meaningful for us than the study and contemplation of a whole constellation of poets and sages.

— Emerson


Thought only moves life when it has been obtained by your own mind, or at least when it answers a question that has arisen in your soul. The thought of another person, accepted by your mind and memory, has no effect on life and can coexist with deeds that are contrary to it.

Read less, study less, think more. Learn from teachers and from books only the things you need and want to know about.