Why Study When There's Pleasure To Be Had?

"Thus you see, sir, these people [the Turks] are not so unpolished as we [English] represent them. 'Tis true their magnificence is of a different taste from ours, and perhaps of a better. I am almost of opinion they have a right notion of life; while they consume it in music, gardens, wine and delicate eating, while we are tormenting our brains with some scheme of politics or studying some science to which we can never attain, or if we do, cannot persuade people to set that value upon it we do ourselves.

"'Tis certain what we fell [sic] and see is properly (if anything is properly) our won, but the good of fame, the folly of praise, hardly purchased, and when obtained, poor recompense for loss of time and health! We die, or grow old and decrepit before we can reap the fruit of our labours. Considering what short lived, weak animals men are, is there any study so beneficial as the study of present pleasure?

"I dare not pursue this then; perhaps I have already said too much, but I depend upon the true knowledge you have of my heart. I don't expect from you the insipid railleries I should suffer from another in answer to this letter. You know how to divide the idea of pleasure from that of vice, and they are only mingled in the heads of fools--but I allow you to laugh at me for the sensual declaration that I had rather be a rich effendi with all his ignorance than Sir Isaac Newton with all his knowledge."

--Lady Mary Wortley Montagu to the Abbé Antonio Conti, Pera, Constantinople, 19 May 1718 (The Turkish Embassy Letters, ed. Malcolm Jack [London: Virago Press, 1994], Letter XLIX, p. 142).


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