Lacon "Man Is An Embodied Paradox"

"Man Is An Embodied Paradox"

Context: Colton, a product of Eton and Kings College, Cambridge, was known as an eccentric. Though given quarters at the university, he preferred lodgings over a marine store in London, which he furnished with books such as Defoe's History of the Devil, manuscripts, fishing rods, and, as one caller reported after visiting him to enjoy his sparkling conversations, two bottles of excellent wine. One of these manuscripts turned into Lacon, or Many Things in Few Words for Those who Think, a collection of aphorisms of an edifying kind, usually forcefully expressed. Many came from Bacon's Essays and from Material for Thinking (1803–1815) by William Burdon (1764–1818). But who could expect complete originality in such an undertaking? The book was so popular when it came out in 1820 that six editions had to be printed the first year, and the author was encouraged to produce Volume II in 1822. After losing his fortune through speculations in Spanish bonds, the Reverend Mr. Colton thought it wise to flee to America and later to Paris, but in 1827 he returned to England to claim his university privileges, only to find that a successor had been appointed. After another visit to America, he settled permanently in France, putting in his time gambling. One report tells of a winning of 25,000 louis in one session; however, usually his luck was bad, and the story went that he was being supported by "his aged mother." Suffering from a painful disease and afraid of surgery, he ran counter to one of the maxims in Lacon that "No one ever committed suicide from bodily anguish, though thousands have done so from mental anguish," by killing himself. In the first volume, Colton published 588 aphorisms, from No. 1, beginning with: "It is almost as difficult to make a man unlearn his errors as his knowledge," and ending with: "Time is the most undefinable yet paradoxical of things, the past is gone, the future is not come, and the present becomes the past, even while we attempt to define it." Number 408 was inspired, as a footnote declares, by a faker, Joanna Southcote, who set herself up as a fortuneteller and made a profitable living among the gullible of London, "the first metropolis of the world." The author cannot understand how she gained so many wealthy proselytes "in an era of general illumination." But he decides that no one except a philosopher can talk with sanity on the folly of mankind.

Man is an embodied paradox, a bundle of contradictions; and some set off against the marvellous things that he has done, we might fairly adduce the monstrous things that he has believed. The more gross the fraud, the more glibly will it go down, and the more greedily will it be swallowed, since folly will always find faith wherever impostors will find imprudence.