"Not all the volumes on thy shelf, / Are worth that single volume, Self."

— Cotton, Nathaniel, the elder (1705-1788)

Place of Publication
Printed for R. Dodsley and M. Cooper
1752, 1791
"Not all the volumes on thy shelf, / Are worth that single volume, Self."
Metaphor in Context
And shall a man arraign the skies,
Because man lives, and mourns, and dies?
Impatient reptile! Reason cry'd;
Arraign thy passion and thy pride.
Retire, and commune with thy heart,
Ask, whence thou cam'st, and what thou art.
Explore thy body and thy mind,
Thy station too, why here assign'd.
The search shall teach thee life to prize,
And make thee grateful, good, and wise.
Why do you roam to foreign climes,
To study nations, modes, and times;
A science often dearly bought,
And often what avails you nought?
Go, man, and act a wiser part,
Study the science of your heart.
This home philosophy, you know,
Was priz'd some thousand years ago.*
Then why abroad a frequent guest?
Why such a stranger to your breast?
Why turn so many volumes o'er,
Till Dodsley can supply no more?
Not all the volumes on thy shelf,
Are worth that single volume, Self.

For who this sacred book declines,
Howe'er in other arts he shines;
Tho' smit with Pindar's noble rage,
Or vers'd in Tully's manly page;
Tho' deeply read in Plato's school;
With all his knowledge is a fool.

* KNOW THYSELF--a celebrated saying of Chilo, one of the seven wise men of Greece.
(pp. 124-5 in 1752 ed.)
Searching in HDIS (Poetry)
20 entries in ESTC (1752, 1753, 1755, 1760, 1767, 1771, 1776, 1781, 1782, 1786, 1787, 1790, 1794, 1798).

Text from Various Pieces in Verse and Prose, 2 vols. (London: J. Dodsley, 1791). <Link to Google Books>

Text confirmed in Nathaniel Cotton, Visions in Verse, for the Entertainment and Instruction of Younger Minds, 3rd ed. rev. (London: R. Dodsley and M. Cooper, 1752). <Link to EECO>

See also Visions in Verse: For the Entertainment and Instruction of Younger Minds. A New Edition. (London: J. Dodsley, 1790). <Link to Google Books>

The revised and enlarged 3rd edition adds a new, ninth vision: "Death. Vision the Last"
Date of Entry

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