Percy Bysshe Shelley Frets About Information Overload ... in 1821
We have more moral, political, and historical wisdom than we know how to reduce into practice; we have more scientific and economical knowledge than can be accommodated to the just distribution of the produce which it multiplies. The poetry in these systems of thought is concealed by the accumulation of facts and calculating processes. There is no want of knowledge respecting what is wisest and best in morals, government, and political economy, or at least, what is wiser and better than what men now practise and endure. But we let I dare not wait upon I would, like the poor cat in the adage. We want the creative faculty to imagine that which we know; we want the generous impulse to act that which we imagine; we want the poetry of life; our calculations have outrun conception; we have eaten more than we can digest. The cultivation of those sciences which have enlarged the limits of the empire of man over the external world, has, for want of the poetical faculty, proportionally circumscribed those of the internal world; and man, having enslaved the elements, remains himself a slave.
The Defence's first passage was pointed out by LM Sacasas, he of Frailest Thing fame. And it's a nice reminder of the continuity, and the reassuring banality, of our current intellectual situation. We might feel overwhelmed, occasionally or often, by all the stuff that is out there -- by the trove of global knowledge so vast that it would seem to defy comprehensibility, let alone comprehension. In all that, however, we are in good company with humans of prior generations. As early as 1550, the Italian writer Anton Francesco Doniwas complaining that there were "so many books that we do not even have time to read the titles." The 17th century's Comenius referred to granditas librorum -- the "vast quantity of books" -- and Basnage to the "flood." Gesner, writing not too long after the printing press was invented, bemoaned the "confused and irritating multitude of books."