Thursday, November 13, 2014

Isaac, the Autodidact

Autodidacts - people who have been partially or wholly self-taught.  Auto didacticism is self-education or self-directed learning.

Anton's Classical Dictionary 
In my Commencement Address to the MHS class of 2014, I told the graduating students, "Learning doesn't stop when you leave school, and if each of us isn't learning something new every day, we just aren't trying."  (See "School & Community Then & Now," 5-21-2014 in the blog archives.)

Isaac was an autodidact.  Although he was still attending school at the age of 17, a rather long period of schooling in the mid-1800s, he continued to study independently for the rest of his life.  His library was extensive and wide ranging.  (See "Isaac's Library," 2-2-2012 in the blog archives.)  Occasionally he read fiction, but the primary focus of his book collection was educational.  As I explained in earlier blogs, I purchased several of the titles in his library, choosing older editions near the publication dates of books he would have purchased.  (See "Bibliomaniac or Collector?" 7-17-2014 in the blog archives.)  

Sample pages from Anthon's Classical Dictionary 
I thought it would be interesting to share some of the books he chose to purchase.  The ones I will include in this blog were not light reading, but they do explain why his neighbors on the prairie came to Isaac to have him draft contracts and other documents and also trusted his ideas shared in various community and county organizations of which he was a member.  He was a genuine scholar on the prairie.

The book pictured above, by Charles Anthon, is an example of the reading Isaac chose for himself.  Its title, the Classical Dictionary, containing an account of The Principal Proper Names mentioned in Ancient Authors and intended to elucidate all the important points connected with the geography, history, biology, mythology, and fine arts of the Greek and Romans, together with An Account of Coins, Weights, and Measures, With Tabular Values of the Same, is enough to indicate the serious content of this 3" thick, 1,451 page reference.  The author was professor of Greek & Latin languages at Columbia College in New York when the book was published in 1847.  The text is closely printed in small font--not a book for the casual reader!

Sample pages from Fiske's Classical Antiquities 
Isaac's interest in classical literature is also apparent from his purchase of Classical Antiquities by N. W. Fiske, a professor at Amherst College.  This book includes classical geography and topography, classical chronology, Greek & Roman Mythology, Greek Antiquities, and Roman Antiquities.  Included are 32 plates, such as the illustration from the pages shown at right, which include maps, landscapes, ships, helmets, and tools, among other images.  First published in 1843, the book I bought is the 4th edition, published in 1869, an edition which Isaac might have owned.

Cooper's Justinian
Further proof of Isaac's self-education about the ancients is the presence of a scholarly volume of ancient Roman law, The Institutes of Justinian, with notes, by Thomas Cooper, professor of chemistry at Carlisle College, published in 1852.  The book I purchased is an original printing from 1852, bound in leather.  The text includes the original Latin alongside the English translation.

Not only history but also languages were of interest to Isaac, and his journal records books he bought to teach himself modern languages.

Missouri's Columbia College professor, Ahoo Tabatabai, born in Iran, explained that in Farsi their are two words for "student."  The translation for the word used to identify students K-12 is "knowledge learner;" however, once an individual enters college, the word for student becomes "knowledge seeker."  What a wonderful distinction between our youth, when we must acquire information to enable us to understand our world, and our later maturity, when we must begin using that information to reason and expand our knowledge. It is clear that Isaac Werner was a knowledge seeker long after his formal education ended--a serious autodidact!

(Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.) 


Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

My friend Linda wrote: "My dad was an autodidact. He only went to school through seventh grade but he continued his self education all of his 84 years. He had a table next to his chair that was covered with reference books. He read every word of the daily newspaper and countless nonfiction books. He was one of the wisest and best educated people I have ever known.

The Blog Fodder said...

Very interesting post. Those were heavy duty books he read. You are so right - we never stop learning. Even just by being for many years. A 5 year old said to me, after I showed her how to approach a strange dog in a friendly manner, "How come you know everything?". I said, "Honey, only because I have been alive 5 decades longer than you".

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Dear Blog Fodder, I agree that simply being alive teaches us many things, but not everything some learn would be classified as an education, I fear! As for you, I'm aware you do some "heavy duty" reading yourself!!