Critical Analysis of Essay In Praise of Ignorance

Elaborately written in a dignified style. In praise of Ignorance by Hilaire Belloc is an elegant essay on a trivial subject. As the little of the essay suggests, the author has written in praise of Ignorance. Since Ignorance refers to lack of knowledge and praise means to speak highly of something or to eulogize anything, the little of the essay from this angle is paradoxical. The author here follows the tradition of Erasmus who in his book Moria Ecomium published in 1500 draw a very satirical picture of old-fashioned ideas of christian monks of his time. As Erasmus praises the old fashioned ideas of the christian even when they were folly so Hilaire Belloc praises here the lack of ignorance.

A prolific essayist and poet, British author Hilaire Belloc is remembered for his powers of observation and his ability to make the characters and scene live by the use of proper words. He follows the method of an impressionist, recording his personal reaction to the appearance of things and picking out Significant details.

Hilaire Belloc was a practical man of affairs rather than a literary man, and we have in his writings the imagination and the spiritual insight which stamp the literary genius. His high position as an essayist and a writer of travelogues in England and abroad is unchallenged. His historical studies are brilliant pieces of writing his idea is to reconstruct the scenes of the past in vivid patches of life-light. He is described as a literary artist painting in details on a canvas where the main outlines are already drawn.

Belloc wrote on myriad subjects, from warfare to poetry to the many current topic of his day. He has been called one of the Big four of Edwardian letters along with H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw and G.K. Chesterton. Like Milton, Hilaire Belloc makes a zealous search for a grave epic subject. While invoking the Muse, Belloc observes “Remark the scope and amplitude of the affair” has a notable distinction of its own. Otherwise it is an impersonal style-the model of nameless-grace and ease of conventional freedom and carefree rapture.

Belloc was born in La Celle-Saint-Cloud France to a French father and an English mother. He was educated at Oxford and attained the status of one of the finest writers of English prose during the early years of the twentieth century.

Belloc was closely associated with Chesterton and shared a deep love for tradition and the quick eye to pinpoint and expose the evils of modern society. His friendship with Chesterton was so deep that Shaw coined the term Chester bellock for their partnership.

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Hilaire Belloc was more seriously devoted to journalism than Charles Lamb and Max Beerbohm. Asked once why he wrote so much he responded. “Because my children are howling for pearls and caviar”. Belloc observed that “The first job of letters is to get a canon” that is to identify those works which a writer looks upon as exemplary of the best of prose and verse. His style of writing as he himself claim is clear and concise.

Hilaire Belloc professed that he took the inspiration of writing a little book in praise of ignorance from Erasums who had written a book in praise of folly four hundred years ago. Belloc paradoxically says that he does not have that much wit and freedom which Erasums and other thinkers of Renaissance had to record his feelings freely and candidly. But he believes that he can write a little article in praise of ignorance but God welling. The way Belloc looks towards God’s help for the completion of the task in hand is suggestive of the little essay being mock heroic or mock epic pretensions.

Belloc points out than a person may be learned and may have varied acquaintance with men, muck, money and writing ability; but he can not deal with each and every subject competently as every man however talented has his limitations Belloc holds that it is a great thing to possess a true knowledge of one’s own ignorance. In a sense you must have knowledge to know the names of things which you do not know. One should have knowledge of things in pairs, as for instance-Metabolism and Eutychianism, Isostatics and the Greater Lymphatics, chronology and Entomology. We must make a list of names of countries, towns, persons of which we know nothing at all. Similarly, we do not have authentic knowledge of theologies and Genologies too. Our knowledge of British and Spanish history is too poor. There is hardly a man who knows the history of the Bible from the root.

According to Belloc, the root cause of this deplorable state of knowledge is the modern system of education. Therefore, it has justly been criticized by the wisest and the best of mankind. Even the layman is against the modern examination system which only help develop a sense of ignorance in the examinees. The author is himself puzzled about it even if he has written answers to a hundred examination papers in his time. As an examinee the writer has been surrounded by dozens of other examinees who failed to answer the questions asked in the examinations.

The author says that a knowledge of one’s ignorance is the beginning of learning. But there are professional habitual examinees who take examinations unphilosophically without speculation of their ignorance. The author calls them strong-hearted and sane.

The author refers to the case of a young student of Divinity who knew the answers to three questions out of six asked. He gave negative answers to the question and failed miserably. The examination was conducted by the University of Oxford to test the qualifications for Holy Orders.

The author mostly concentrate on preliminaries in all his writing. He regrets it saying that he has very little time left for the main problem. The author says that he has not yet approached that chief spiritual attribute of ignorance which is its power to flood the mind with happiness. Ignorance is very draught of beatitude, All the mystery and marvel of a wide champaign depend on our ignorance of the nasty people by which it is inhabited. All our loves, our hero-worships, all our dreams of coming peace and all our visions of fortune are the fruits of ignorance.

According to the author it is vain to be an idealist in this ugly, and sordid world where it is folly to be wise and it is blissful to be ignorant. The author opens that his happiness and his deep ignorance as those who pretend to know all come to grief. In consideration to all this the author is thankful to the God for his ignorance.



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