Historical Miscellany #38 – An Essay on Blockheads [1802]

Gillray Blockheads

(Image: “Punch Cures the Gout” by James Gillray)

(The following essay we copy with much approbation from the New York Evening Post)

A blockhead is neither an ideot, nor madman. He is one who goes on through the broad road of life with the rest of mankind carrying a load of follies at his back, which he knows not how to get rid of when he is tired, and under which he is constantly stumbling.

There are various kinds of blockheads which may thus be distinguished; the good natured blockhead, the stupid blockhead, the silly blockhead, the old blockhead, the credulous blockhead, the ignorant blockhead, and the learned blockhead.

The lover who bears the contempt of a scornful mistress without a murmur, may be ranked along the good-natured blockheads: but should he be so lost in speculations on his passion not to take a hint of kindness in a soft moment, then, he may justly be called a stupid blockhead. The farmer who goes out smoking his pipe, talking with his neighbours, and shaking hands with the parson when he should be at work, may also be placed among the good natured blockheads; but should the parson’s horse be eating his cabbage, his barn ready to tumble down for want of a prop, or his daughter about to run off with a stranger all this time, every one would call him a stupid blockhead.

He is also a good-natured blockhead, who bears the butt of the company at dinner, joins in the joke against himself, and then swallows the wine with satisfaction. But he who stands with the spy-glass to his eye on the battery all day watching what ship is coming up, while his wife is taking private lessons of dancing masters, music masters, and masters of various other arts and sciences, must certainly be a stupid blockhead.

A fellow who does nothing but pare his nails, consult his watch, take a view of the atmosphere from his window, or go to church only to shew himself, may justly be reckoned a silly blockhead. The man who at the age of fourscore fills up an arm chair in the room, and tires his hearers with his long stories, may be called an old blockhead; and he who can listen to his long stories, and believe them, must be a credulous blockhead.

The man who takes up a newspaper only to find the day of the month, blames the printer for putting such hard words in it, and talks of politics without knowing in what quarter of the world he is placed or remembering where he was born, is an ignorant, aye, and an impudent blockhead. He is also an ignorant blockhead, who prescribes physic to one who has lost his money, drinks to the company in a glass of water, or mistakes the bank for the city hotel. But the most ignorant blockhead of all is he, who, becoming suddenly rich shows you into his new library, and talks ostentatiously of such authors as Virgil or Homer, when perhaps, for all he knows of the matter, the one might have been a parson, and the other a doctor.

The last kind of blockheads, and generally the greatest, are the learned blockheads. Mr Thickhead is a learned blockhead: he has renounced the study of music for that of the logarithms, and has got a fine estate, and a fine wife, merely by his great reputation as a mathematician. He has a great many mathematical oddities: if he walks it is always in a straight line; if he sits, it is in the form of a triangle; and if he stands, it is in no other posture than that of a perpendicular. In short, Mr Thickhead does everything with so much mathematical exactness, that he is generally esteemed a very learned man; yet the reader without the help of mathematical demonstration will be apt to consider Mr Thickhead a mathematical blockhead.

Mr Mammoth is also esteemed not only a mathematical, but a philosophical, and political blockhead. He has been admitted an honorary member not only among the societies of philosophical and political blockheads in Europe, but has also been made head of the blockheads in America. He admits no man in his service but a blockhead, trusts no man but a blockhead, invites none to his table but blockheads, and in short has so many blockheads about him, that it is a difficult thing for a wise or well-disposed man to get through the crowd; and if a wise, or clever fellow happens to come into his house, and takes a seat with the rest, he immediately gets up in a great passion, drives him out without ceremony, and puts a blockhead in his place.

Thus gentle reader! have I given you all I can think of at present about blockheads and let him who the cap fits, put it on.

IRONICUS.

[Source]

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