Sunday, 22 June 2014


But let the wise be warned against too great readiness at explanation: it multiplies the sources of mistake, lengthening the sum for reckoners sure to go wrong.
George Eliot - Middlemarch

Whatever it is, there seem to be two oddities about wisdom.

Firstly, inspiring and insightful fragments of wisdom are often found in a single paragraph or even a single sentence. A patch of purple prose glowing with that inner radiance we recognise as beautiful sanity. Sometimes as with the Eliot quote above, it may take the form of a laconic truism, but for me it still counts as wisdom.

Secondly, one inspiring fragment is not usually followed by second, then a third. A gem of beautiful sanity tends to be a solitaire, the rest is elaboration.

Maybe gems of wisdom have to be set in base metal – necessary prose providing context, setting the scene. Example, elaboration, exploration, exhortation, none of which is strictly essential.

To my mind, books can be like this. An island of wisdom in an ocean of words which may be enjoyable enough to read, but don’t add much to that delicious core, that single paragraph of beautiful sanity. Those few vital words we savour, dwell on, weave into our personal philosophy.

Another aspect of wisdom is that by weaving it into our personal philosophy we may diffuse it to such an extent that the gem is lost from sight, at least in its original pristine form.

The first frisson of delight is muted, the pleasure of discovery lost, because wisdom has to be used. We mix, blend and refine it into our own words until all that remains is a footprint in the sand of our personal philosophy.

It's why we read.


Sackerson said...

Maybe the explosive effect of the match of wisdom depends on the previous accumulation of the gunpowder of experience.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - good point, I think it does. It can take a while too!