Friday, January 20, 2017

The wit and wisdom of George Eliot

Despite my best intentions, I've never got around to rereading Middlemarch, and I haven't read anything else by George Eliot in a very long time.  But at last, years after a former roommate raved about it, I'm deep into Daniel Deronda, her brilliant last novel.  Besides a gripping story and vivid characters, she supplies, on virtually every page, deep insights into the human condition, as relevant as ever to our times.

Here's how she begins Chapter 21:

"It is a common sentence that Knowledge is power; but who hath duly considered or set forth the power of Ignorance?  Knowledge slowly builds up what Ignorance in an hour pulls down.  Knowledge, through patient and frugal centuries, enlarges discovery and makes record of it; Ignorance, wanting its day's dinner, lights a fire with the record, and gives a flavour to its one roast with the burnt souls of many generations.  Knowledge, instructing the sense, refining and multiplying needs, transforms itself into skill and makes life various with a new six days' work; comes Ignorance drunk on the seventh, with a firkin of oil and a match and an easy 'Let there not be'--and the many-coloured creation is shriveled up in blackness.  Of a truth, Knowledge is power, but it is a power reined by scruple, having a conscience of what must be and what may be; whereas Ignorance is a blind giant who, let him but wax unbound, would make it a sport to seize the pillars that hold up the long-wrought fabric of human good, and turn all the places of joy dark as a buried Babylon."

We must not let those about to run the show in our government this term "wax unbound."