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Ignorance Is Bliss

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 1, 2018

Ignorance is bliss, or so some would have you believe. For those who offer this up as sage advice, it is usually because they feel the other person is more comfortable not knowing facts than knowing them. In other words, what you do not know, cannot hurt you.

The expression was very popular in the entertainment industry over the years.

Punk rockers, The Ramones included a song with this title on their “Brain Drain” CD in 1989. Hip hop recording artist Kendrick Lamar included a song with this title on his “Overly Dedicated” CD in 2010.  The BBC had a comedy quiz on radio from 1946 through to 1950 titled, “Ignorance Is Bliss” and in 2009, “House” had an episode with that title.

If you aren’t aware of the phrase’s history, perhaps it’s because ignorance is bliss in some instances. Or perhaps not.

The Jefferson County Post edition of 19 August 2013 published an article by the Editor in the Stranger Than Fiction column. The history of surgeries and medical procedures was the main theme, beginning with an introduction that spoke of doctors being far more responsible for President James Garfield’s death in 1881 than the assassin who fired a bullet and injured him. The title of the column was “Ignorance Is Bliss.”

In 1911, the phrase was used in Volume 12 of “The Post Office Clerk” in an article by New Yorker, C.P. Franciscus in his article “The Fallacy Of A Proverb.” The author saw fit to add an extra note directed specifically at the indifferent and apathetic members of the United National Association of Post Office Clerks in the hopes that it the article would “create a DOUBT of the correctness of theory and the stability of your attitude.”

This applies to all for notwithstanding our protestations of innocence, we know more than once. Remorse has tormented us and Conscience has compelled a plea of guilty — and usually we urge in extenuation our ignorance. Thus we see the fallacy of the oft quoted proverb “If ignorance is bliss ’tis folly to be wise.” Before quoting it again try to realize how utterly ridiculous and incompatible such sentiments are with truth. Ignorance is the handmaid of poverty, the companion of sloth, the paramour of disease, and the forerunner of dissolution and death. It is the weapon of the tyrant, the despot, the demagogue, and trickster. It has enslaved millions and still holds in bonds of serfdom countless thousands.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: Christopher C.P. Franciscus was a clerk of the New York Post Office as well as the president of the United National Association of Post Office Clerks. He was elected to the position in 1918.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: The United National Association of Post Office Clerks was organized in 1899, and was created by merging the United National Association of Post Office Clerks with the National Association of Post Office Clerks.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 3: The United National Association of Post Office Clerks was incorporated under the laws of Maryland on 25 January 1900 and its first president was Joseph P. Healy of New York City. The first national convention was held in Atlantic City, NJ from September 3 through 6, 1900 and saw 72 delegates representing 50 branches attend. The estimated membership at the time was 4,000 members.

In an 1850 edition of the Punch, or The London Charivari magazine, the question “Where is bliss to be found?” was asked and answered.

The poet who told us that “ignorance is bliss” was certainly right as far as pantomime bliss is concerned, for it would be much better to be ignorant of such bliss altogether. A walk through the “Halls of Happiness” after the curtain goes down, when clown is being released from the top of the pole, upon which his popularity has placed him, and the other heroes and heroines of the night descend from their uncomfortable elevation into the arms of the carpenters, while the fireman extinguishes the sparks still remaining with his heavy highlows, and prepares his hose for the night — such a ramble behind the scenes would afford sad proof of the emptiness of all theatrical felicity.

Even English writer and social critic Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) weighed in on the subject of ignorance being bliss. In Chapter VIII of “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club” where readers learned how Mr. Winkle shot at the pigeon and killed the crow, then shot at the crow and wounded the pigeon, and all manner of other interesting things, the expression is found.

They drew near the house. The ladies were at the garden-gate, waiting for their arrival and their breakfast. The spinster aunt appears; she smiled, and beckoned them to walk quicker. ‘Twas evident she knew not of the disaster. Poor thing! There are times when ignorance is bliss, indeed.

However, it was English poet, classical scholar, and Pembroke College professor, Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771) who wrote “Ode On A Distance Prospect Of Eton College” in 1742 that was published by English bookseller, poet, and playwright Robert Dodsley (13 February 1704 – 23 September 1764) in 1747 that say the first publication of the expression where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.

In the end, ignorance isn’t really bliss unless not being in the know is somehow better.  All that being said, ignorance is bliss dates back to 1742 thanks to Thomas Gray and all those who came after him.


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