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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/352

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

affords another argument in behalf of the fools. To be sure, the natural history of the angel species has been but imperfectly studied; yet here again our very ignorance helps us. Theoretically, we should all like to be angels; but, practically, we prefer to stay where we are. Besides, familiarity with angels might be exceedingly uncomfortable; especially if they should take it into the ghosts of their late heads to visit us in spook-fashion, with the accompaniments of blue-fire and winding-sheets. But to the point again. Education makes men cautious and calculating; careful of precedents; afraid of mistakes. Many a time the brilliant audacity of a daring ignoramus has achieved successes which would have been unattainable to orderly skill and training. Lord Timothy Dexter, that most inspired of idiots, sent a cargo of warming-pans to the West Indies. The natives took the bottoms for sugar-scoops and the perforated lids for strainers, and Dexter gained a fortune out of his ridiculous venture. Zachary Taylor, whipped by a Mexican army, was too bad a soldier to be conscious of his defeat, and kept on fighting. His adversaries, astonished at his perseverance, thought he must have hidden reserves, and incontinently ran away. Thus Taylor won the battle, as contemporaries say, "by sheer pluck and awkwardness." "Against stupidity the gods themselves fight powerless." Stupidity, therefore, by all the rules of logic, must be superior to sense, and truly deserves, over all competitors, the crown of laurel.

The advantages of ignorance may be further illustrated by a reference to the disadvantages of omniscience. Suppose one of us. could know everything, past, present, and future—how uncomfortable he would be! Looking backward into remote antiquity, he would behold his ancestral ape engaged in the undignified performance of catching fleas. Turning with disgust from the past, he would find in the present many things as humiliating. Misunderstandings, bickerings, hatreds, and slanders, unknown to ordinary men, would stand revealed before him. And from the coming time he would anticipate trouble and misfortune; he would see approaching evils far off in the dim distance; and not even the knowledge of attendant pleasures could quite unsadden him. To know everything would be to learn nothing—to have no hopes and no desires, since both would become equally futile. After the first excitement, one would harden into a mere automaton—an omniscient machine—with consciousness worthless, and volition a farce. Had Shakespeare been able to foresee his commentators, his greatest works would never have been written.

There are two sides to every question. Like the god Janus, all things are double-faced. Knowledge is not unalloyed good; neither is ignorance unadulterated evil. If ignorance were abolished, how many teachers would starve for want of occupation! Were all fools to become sensible, what would the knaves do for a living? The ignoramus, so long as he is ignorant of his ignorance, is comfortable and