Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/139

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JUNE, 1872


IT is related of a learned judge, that he once praised a retiring witness in the following words: "You are entitled to great credit, sir. You must have taken infinite pains with yourself. No man could naturally be so stupid."

We cite this well-worn anecdote because it contains, probably, the earliest public recognition of the principle which the title of our article is intended to convey. Existing in all ages of the world, in all conditions of life, and described by a copious vocabulary in every language, stupidity is something which it has never been possible to ignore or to forget. The fact of its all-pervading presence, its vitality in the most different climates and scenes, has tended to convince mankind of the necessity of an evil which they have never failed to perceive; and which has served, from time immemorial, as a subject for the lamentation of the wise, and a basis for the calculations of the designing. The lessons of proverbial wisdom, the results of hasty generalization, and the daily experiences of life, all point out, or seem to point out, that stupidity is inseparable from the existence of the human race; and that it must appear, not in every individual, but in many individuals of every community. It follows that the persons in whom the phenomenon is most conspicuously manifested are regarded with something of the compassion which attaches to physical infirmity; and enjoy, in a certain degree, the power of blundering, with the privilege of being exempt from punishment.

We have long entertained a conviction that this passive acquiescence in stupidity, as an ultimate fact of human nature, and this confident expectation of its unmitigated recurrence in each succeeding generation, are founded upon errors of considerable practical importance. By directing attention to causes that are remote, they induce