“In a strange city when we have no map…”

The Oratorian Blessed John Henry Newman evokes the difficulty of orientating oneself amidst novel surroundings, glimpsed only fragmentarily:

Who has not felt the irritation of mind and impatience created by a deep, rich country, visited for the first time, with winding lanes, and high hedges, and green steeps, and tangled woods, and everything smiling indeed, but in a maze. The same feeling comes upon us in a strange city, when we have no map of its streets. Hence you hear of practised travelers, when they first come into a place, mounting some high hill or church tower, by way of reconnoitering its neighbourhood. In like manner, you must be above your knowledge, not under it, or it will oppress you; and the more you have of it, the greater will be the load … (The Idea of a University, VI, 7)

Newman is articulating a challenge any student will recognize, a problem at once intellectual and affective. What the student must acquire, Newman advises, is a connected view of the terrain, an encompassing perspective. Only by “mounting some high hill or church tower” can one achieve a vantage point “above knowledge, not under it” and thereby begin to bring together what was initially disparate and apparently unrelated.