Lacon "The Greatest Fool May Ask More Than The Wisest Man Can Answer"

"The Greatest Fool May Ask More Than The Wisest Man Can Answer"

Context: An English clergyman, sportsman, and wine merchant, educated at Eton and Kings College, Cambridge, Colton occupied his spare time by collecting two volumes of aphorisms. He had previously published what was called a "sermon," under the title Plain and Authentic Narrative of the Sampford Ghost (1810). He had also embarked on a work that he called Hypocrisy: a Satire in Three Books (1812), of which only one volume appeared. In 1820, Colton completed the first volume of Lacon, or Many Things in Few Words addressed to Those who Think, named from the trait of brevity of Laconian Sparta, that gave the word "laconic" to the English language. The book enjoyed such a sale that the first year saw six editions, and so, in 1822, volume II came out. The Reverend Mr. Colton was a man of many talents, but despite his early inclination toward the Church, few of his gifts fitted him to become a member of the clergy. Though unconnected with the army, he liked to appear in military attire. Hoping to better his estate, he frequently gambled, once winning as much as 25,000 louis at a session in the Palais Royal, only to go bankrupt through speculation in Spanish bonds. He was forced to flee to America to escape his creditors. Later he returned to France where, unwilling to submit to a surgical operation for a cancer, he committed suicide. Stating his ambition "to combine profundity with perspicacity, wit with judgment, solidity with vivacity, truth with novelty, and all of them with liberality," he collected 578 paragraphs, the result of his reading and reflection. He said that by addressing his work to "those who think" he could increase the number of purchasers, "since every individual flatters himself that he is one of that number." The success of the book, not only in England where it first appeared, but in the United States where the first of many editions appeared in 1824, proved him right. Most of the maxims, Colton declared, are founded on two simple truths; that men are the same and that the passions are the powerful and disturbing forces, the greater or the less prevalence of which gives individuality to character. Some of the maxims are only a few lines long; others occupy several pages of the small book in which they were printed. For instance, here are two examples. The first is a thought that has certainly entered the minds of many students at examination time.

Examinations are formidable, even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer.
It is better to have recourse to a quack, if he can cure our disorder, although he cannot explain it, than to a physician, if he can explain our disease, but cannot cure it. In a certain consultation of physicians in a kingdom, they all differed about the nature of an intermittent, and all of them were ready to define the disorder. The patient was a king. At length an empiric, who had been called in, thus interposed: Gentlemen, you all seem to differ about the nature of an intermittent, permit me to explain it: an intermittent, gentlemen, is a disorder which I can cure, and which you cannot.