Saturday, March 18, 2017


Our Ignorance

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 141 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
No wonder that we are ignorant of what has happened in past ages, or of what is happening now in distant countries and remote cities. For if you note it well, you will perceive that we have no true knowledge even of the present, and of what goes on from day to day in our own town. Nay, often between the palace and the marketplace there lies so dense a mist or is built a wall so thick that no eye can penetrate it; so that the people know as much of what their rulers are doing, or their reasons for doing it, as they know of what is being done in China. And for this reason the world is readily filled with empty and idle beliefs.

Non vi maravigliate che non si sappino le cose delle età passate, non quelle che si fanno nelle provincie o luoghi lontani; perché se considerate bene, non s'ha vera notizia delle presenti, non di quelle che giornalmente si fanno in una medesima città; e spesso tra il palazzo e la piazza è una nebbia sì folta, o uno muro sì grosso, che non vi penetrando l'occhio degli uomini, tanto sa el popolo di quello che fa chi governa, o della ragione per che lo fa, quanto delle cose che fanno in India; e però si empie facilmente el mondo di opinione erronee e vane.
Related post: Difficulty of Ascertaining Historical Truth.

Thanks to the reader who sent me the following via email:
Guicciardini's claim "that we have no true knowledge even of the present, and of what goes on from day to day in our own town" reminded me of an anecdote given by Orwell — I have no idea where he got it — in his column 'As I please' in the London Tribune, 4 Feb. 1944:
When Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower of London, he occupied himself with writing a history of the world. He had finished the first volume and was at work on the second when there was a scuffle between some workmen beneath the window of his cell, and one of the men was killed. In spite of diligent enquiries, and in spite of the fact that he had actually seen the thing happen, Sir Walter was never able to discover what the quarrel was about; whereupon, so it is said — and if the story is not true it certainly ought to be — he burned what he had written and abandoned his project.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?