"If we consider them like materials, for so they may be considered likewise, employed to raise the fabric of our intellectual system, they will appear like mud, and straw, and lath, materials fit to erect some frail, and homely cottage, but not of substance, nor value sufficient for the construction of those enormous piles, from whose lofty towers philosophers would persuade us that they discover all nature subject to their inspection, that they pry into the source of all being, and into the inmost recesses of all wisdom."

— St John, Henry, styled first Viscount Bolingbroke (1678–1751)


Place of Publication
London
Date
1754
Metaphor
"If we consider them like materials, for so they may be considered likewise, employed to raise the fabric of our intellectual system, they will appear like mud, and straw, and lath, materials fit to erect some frail, and homely cottage, but not of substance, nor value sufficient for the construction of those enormous piles, from whose lofty towers philosophers would persuade us that they discover all nature subject to their inspection, that they pry into the source of all being, and into the inmost recesses of all wisdom."
Metaphor in Context
Thus it will appear when we contemplate our understanding in the first steps towards knowledge, that corporeal, animal sense, which some philosophers hold in great contempt, and which does not deserve much esteem, communicates to us our first ideas, sets the mind first to work, and becomes, in conjunction with internal sense, by which we perceive what passes within, as by the other what passes without us, the foundation of all our knowledge. This is so evidently true, that even those ideas* about which our reason is employed in the most abstract meditations, may be traced back to this original by a very easy analyse. Since these simple ideas therefore are the foundations of human knowledge, this knowledge can neither be extended wider, nor elevated higher than in a certain proportion to them. If we consider these ideas like foundations, they are extremely narrow, and shallow, neither reaching to many things, nor laid deep in the nature of any. If we consider them like materials, for so they may be considered likewise, employed to raise the fabric of our intellectual system, they will appear like mud, and straw, and lath, materials fit to erect some frail, and homely cottage, but not of substance, nor value sufficient for the construction of those enormous piles, from whose lofty towers philosophers would persuade us that they discover all nature subject to their inspection, that they pry into the source of all being, and into the inmost recesses of all wisdom. But it fares with them, as it did with the builders in the plains of Senaar, they fall into a confusion of languages, and neither understand one another, nor are understood by the rest of mankind.
(Essay I, §2; vol. iii, pp. 365-6)
Provenance
Reading
Citation
At least 5 entries in ESTC (1754, 1777, 1793).

See "Letters or Essays Addressed to Alexander Pope, Esq." in the third volume of David Mallet's The Works of the Late Right Honorable Henry St. John, Lord Viscount Bolingbroke, 5 vols. (London : [s.n.], Printed in the Year 1754). <Link to ESTC><Link to ESTC>

Text from the third volume of The Works of the Late Right Honorable Henry St. John, Lord Viscount Bolingbroke, 5 vols. (Dublin: Printed by P. Byrne: 1793). <Link to Google Books>

Reading also in the 1967 reprint of The Works of Lord Bolingbroke, 4 vols. (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1844).
Date of Entry
03/14/2014

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.