Housekeeping: Ignorance, Madam, Pure Ignorance

Last year I had the singular pleasure of visiting the house in London where Samuel Johnson composed his Dictionary. Having studied the man’s work for nearly thirty years, I found it almost overwhelming to finally be at the spot where Johnson ascended to literary immortality. It was more than a little humbling; I cannot in any way imagine that people will come to Powell two hundred and fifty years from now to see the Natuzzi recliner where I wrote my Malaysia article.

Yet I share more than a few qualities with Britain’s premier lexicographer: general size and bulk, myopia, irritability, a hopeless love of classical antiquity, and a preference for long, deliberately paced sentences composed in labyrinthine fashion. Oh, and ignorance. Did I mention ignorance? From Boswell’s Life Of Johnson:

A few of his definitions must be admitted to be erroneous. Thus, Windward and Leeward, though directly of opposite meaning, are defined identically the same way; as to which inconsiderable specks it is enough to observe, that his Preface announces that he was aware there might be many such in so immense a work; nor was he at all disconcerted when an instance was pointed out to him. A lady once asked him how he came to define Pastern the KNEE of a horse: instead of making an elaborate defence, as she expected, he at once answered, ‘Ignorance, madam, pure ignorance.’ His definition of Network* has been often quoted with sportive malignity, as obscuring a thing in itself very plain. But to these frivolous censures no other answer is necessary than that with which we are furnished by his own Preface.

I was alerted to my own ignorance this morning by a reader email concerning yesterday’s Jordan Peterson article.

Justin writes,

Channel 4 News isn’t from the BBC, it’s made by ITN and airs on Channel 4. Important for two reasons:
First, Newman makes comments about the BBC pay issue; and
Second, Channel 4 News is seen by many in the UK in the same vein that Theodore Dalrymple sees The Guardian for print news, viz. once you allow / correct for an inherent left bias, the last serious news in the UK.
Nothing that “Auntie” puts out as mainstream TV news broadcasting (its Today Programme and PM are considered quality radio news) comes close to Channel 4 News for its breadth, depth and nuance of coverage.

He’s obviously right and I should have been aware of this. I will readily confess that my Anglophilia has limits. I know the differences between every tailor on the Row but I have no idea about traditional English food like “bangers and mash”. I could tell you about every major racetrack in the UK but I don’t know anything about the television stations. I was in London three times last year and each time I had dinner at the same Pizza Hut.

Ignorance can be a powerful thing; it can let you focus on what’s genuinely important at a particular time. It can be deadly at time. It can also be merely embarrassing, as is the case here. Thanks to Justin for the heads-up — and I hope that my readers will never tire of correcting my ignorance, stubborn though it may occasionally be.

14 Replies to “Housekeeping: Ignorance, Madam, Pure Ignorance”

  1. David Florida

    “I cannot in any way imagine that people will come to Powell two hundred and fifty years from now…”
    Depends on how good the beer, food, and museum are, dinnit?

  2. Ronnie Schreiber

    Riffing off of the reaction to Mr. Trump’s supposed “shithole” comment, cultures are not identical nor equal. While the English and Italians both know how to cut a man’s suit, there are a lot more Italian restaurants in London than English restaurants in Rome. Has anyone used the words English and cuisine in the same sentence? Even fish & chips are an import: “In 1860, the first fish and chip shop was opened in London by Joseph Malin who sold “fish fried in the Jewish fashion””

    • stingray65

      Heaven is where the police are Brits, the cooks are French, the engineers are German, the lovers are Italian, and the administration is Swiss. Hell is where the cooks are British, the police are German, the engineers are French, the lovers are Swiss, and the administration is Italian. I have to say that I do enjoy some good English fish and chips as pub food, although it is increasingly difficult to find a traditional English pub these days.

      • Ronnie Schreiber

        According to the author of Save The Delis, it’s getting hard to find a good kosher delicatessen in Brooklyn.

  3. yamahog

    Humbling indeed. IIRC, you posted a picture of his house to instagram and in that moment, I decided to keep it open. So much of the modern world is ‘junk food’ – lease special BMWs, social media likes, recreational drugs, hook ups, churches that focus on singing and dancing, putting up a “all are welcome here” sign in your vegan cafe or million dollar neighborhood.

    But Dr. Johnson touches on something more meaningful – and a reference you made to him in one of your TTAC was what got me to find this site. And seeing him show up on instagram illustrated that platforms are junkfood to the extent that someone selects for junkfood. I can go to walmart and get produce or get circus animal cookies. The junk food in my cabinet reflects my choices, not the choices of walmart.

    It’s somewhat off tangent but there’s probably no better place to thank you for keeping the spirit of this great man alive. Thank you.

  4. Sean

    “I was in London three times last year and each time I had dinner at the same Pizza Hut.”

    Good god man! That’s truly awful.

    • One Leg at a Time

      That would truly be awful in Rome, or Barcelona, or Dubai, or even Bangkok – in London, not so much…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.