The Inquiring Mind | Newberry

The Inquiring Mind

Hunting through history for an event to celebrate this week, I find that Tuesday is the 224th anniversary of the death of a tax collector at the hands of the Revolutionary French government. The man’s name was Antoine Lavoisier, and a few do-gooders tried to prevent his execution by pointing out that he was also a scientist of great accomplishment, a man who would one day be known as the Father of Modern Chemistry.

The government apparently replied “France needs no more scientists”, and lopped off his head.

We will pause for a moment for anyone who wants to mutter “Father of that textbook I struggled through in tenth grade? He had it coming.” Then we will move on to ponder the fate of the researcher.

People who have aspirations in what are considered impractical research are always the first to go when national priorities are discussed. The apathetic response I have had from every federal agency I have asked about a stipend for bloggers demonstrates that. That Lavoisier had done a great deal of work finding out why and how fire burns mattered nothing to the people who made rules and budgets. Fire burned: knowing anything more than that was unnecessary, and spending time trying to learn more than that was a waste. Yes, he had done some service to the government by collecting taxes, but he did this for the wrong government, as it turned out, and the fact that he liked to play with matches in his spare time was not held in his favor.

I have observed this on the part of Book Fair customers. People who are busy assembling every picture book on the British royal family sneer at the folks who want a particular translation of Plato’s Republic. People who buy books on how to insulate a house look askance at those who seek the latest research on chipmunk behavior. Anything not of immediate use is inessential knowledge, and REAL people don’t go out and buy such things.

So I feel the pain of the compilers of this wonderful two-volume bibliography which came in to the Book Fair last week. It is a work that I did not know was crying out to be written, but now that I have seen it, I wish there was a paperback edition I could take home and browse through. I can think of no immediate good this would do me, but that’s the point I was making, isn’t it? I am sorrowfully aware that a majority of people passing through the Book fair in July might not see any use in it, either. But to those with intellectual curiosity, as the ancients might have said, aha! (I suppose they would have said Eureka. That’s about the extent of my classical Greek knowledge, but you see I did eventually get around to finding a use for it.)

The book is nothing less than a bibliography of every known book or article which tells who really discovered America: the Phoenicians, the Japanese, the Koreans, the ancient Egyptians, the Lost Tribes of Israel, and so forth. I see articles about Greek coins found in Mayan pyramids, Tibetan texts describing ancient California…someone went to a LOT of work to pull all this material together and list it so that YOU wouldn’t have the same trouble. The authors suffered ridicule from other historians as they collected the work of those who strove to prove that Christopher Columbus didn’t even qualify as America’s one millionth customer.

I hope that you, bleary-eyed blogreader, will NOT be one of those people who pass this book by in July, muttering “What use is THAT?” The exercise of the intellect deserves a little respect (and perhaps purchase.)

Oh, and for those of you who were going to demand why, if the book supplies such a long-felt want, I’m not providing it to the Newberry for the use of researchers, it already HAS a copy. If that doesn’t tell you this is a book of quality, what else could? (Mind you, they have a book of my blogs, too.)

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