Wisdom is oftentimes nearer when we stoop than when we soar. ~William Wordsworth
That’s using the old melon.
Have you thought of using your head for more than a hat rack?
Are you brain dead?
Make a mental note…oh, I see you’re out of paper.
Don’t go to a mind reader; go to a palmist. I know you’ve got a palm.
Sometimes we do ourselves proud by showing off our mental acuity. Other times, to use a quote that’s been attributed to both Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln, it’s “better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”James Gillray has so much going on in this caricature. John Bull scratches head and says, “I have read many crabbed things in the course of my time – but this for an easy piece of Business is the toughest to understand I ever met with.” The angelic Pitt soothes, “…Trust your Fortunes care to me.” But upon reading the document troubling poor John Bull, sympathy immediately falls with him: “Tax upon Income a Plain Short and easy description of the Different Clauses in the Income Tax so as to Render it familiar to the Meanest Capacity. Clause 1st, Clause 2d…NB for a further explanation see Clause 701…NB this Clause will be better understood by reading clause 2053…NB this clause has no connection with clause 9075…see Clause 999.”
That does put a strain on the old melon.
Knowledge Box (noun)
Here there be etchings of Knowledge Box(es) to ponder.
Goodness! After seeing all of poor Sir Charles’s titles and suffixes, he puts me in mind of Shakespeare:
Then, happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
~History of Henry IV, Part II, Act III, Scene I
From the British Museum write-up of this caricature, the very picture of a man whose Knowledge Box is afire:
“Burke, as a lunatic, is seated on straw dressed only in breeches, but wearing a rosary and crucifix round his neck; Major Scott stands behind him, shaving his head. His right wrist and left ankle are chained to a staple in the floor, the chains being inscribed ‘The Censure of the Commons’ and ‘The Contempt of the Lords’. He clenches his fists and turns his head in profile to the right, towards a vision of Hastings, saying, “Ha! Miscreant! Plunderer! Murderer of Nundocomar! where wilt thou hide thy head now ?” Hastings walks in profile to the right, carrying a sack over his shoulder inscribed ‘£4000000’; he is about to enter the gate of ‘St James’s’ from which two hands emerge to receive him labelled (in reversed characters) ‘Welcome’. Clouds surround Hastings and the Palace, showing that this is a vision. In the background (left) is a gibbet from which hangs a figure rudely drawn, as if chalked on awall, representing ‘Nundocomar’. Beneath the design is etched in three columns:
Madness thou chaos of the brain;
What art, that pleasure giv’st and pain?
Tyranny of Fancy’s reign!
Mechanic Fancy! that can build
Vast labyrinths & mazes wild,
With rule disjointed, shapeless measure,
Fill’d with horror, filld with pleasure
Shapes of horror, that would even
Cast doubt of mercy upon Heaven!”
The caption reads: “Our great successes in the East & West Indies, conquest of Corsica; entertain no doubt you will chearfully [sic] grant the Supplies for carrying on this just & necessary War. –” He might have quoted Sun Tzu, as he wrote in The Art of War, “The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”
Or as Rear Admiral Grace Hopper said (albeit in 1986), “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”
Let’s all go forth and conquer with our Knowledge Boxes this week!
- Visit the Brain Candy Insults Collection if you’re feeling rather pettish.
- Slang term taken from 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
- Search the archives for Knowledge Box caricatures at The British Museum and National Portrait Gallery.