Tuesday, February 1, 2011


 [In commemoration of TWoDrJ now showing up as the first hit on the first page for the search “Sit fides penes authorem" -- rather ridiculously, ahead of Locke’s book itself --   we offer this.]

How high may our human understanding aspire?  In the published version of his great book, John Locke puts the matter delicately thus (Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690),§II. xxiii.12):

The infinite wise contriver of us… hath fitted our senses .. to the conveniences of life, and the business we have to do here. …But were our senses altered, and made much quicker and acuter, the appearance and outward scheme of things would have quite another face.

Too little known to scholars  is the following fact.  In the original manuscript (Bodleian MSS Series 194-A, v. B-17-3), the passage continues:

What might we not then see, that would put this earthly clay to shame?  And wherefor do we persist in staring, like a mooncalf, on but this?  We are in sooth of an imbecility so profound, it causeth the gobbet of meat to catch i’ the throat, the which leadeth the gullet to gag, and to make great emetic motions, which fain would spew forth all the pottage of our being, yet which, in fine, bring up but a drachm of bile… The motions of our understanding, confronted with the magnificence of ye spaces of ye honorable Banach, and  ye incomparable Hilbert, are like unto those of an humble woodchuck -- nay, a  turtle – nay, as the turds of a turtle – when, laboring groaning upwards through the clammy slime ….

-- but here the manuscript becomes illegible, washed out by tears.

No comments:

Post a Comment