29 December, 2019
Let’s begin with the word ‘silly’. Which today means, I suppose, just one level below ‘stupid’. Its origin is the Old English ‘gesaelig’, which then meant ‘blessed’. In German today it still has this meaning of ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’. When Coleridge wrote of ‘the silly buckets on the deck’ in ‘The Ancient Mariner’, he was using ‘silly’ in that sense. The buckets were ‘silly’ or ‘blessed’ because they collected the rainwater when the crew were dying of thirst.
I could do with a few buckets on the terrace now. It looks as though it will rain and in Mallorca we save every drop of water that we can.
So, over the years a ‘silly person’ changed from being blessed to one who was apparently not as bright as his fellows.
Yet those who are innocent of cunning and cleverness and all it leads to probably have happier lives than most of us.
They are ‘God’s fools’. In one of his Saturday radio broadcasts in the 70s Gerald Priestland praised the lack of hypocrisy in the TV series MASH. This was set in a field hospital in the Korean war. Some of you will remember it. For Priestland, its honesty made it ‘the most religious show on the air’, and he was the Religious Affairs Correspondent of the BBC. He continues, ‘Constantly the hypocrites are put down, while the honest sinners work out their salvation. The Catholic chaplain and above all Corporal Radar O’Reilly insinuate a holy simplicity that is profoundly Christian. They are ‘God’s fools’.
In Mallorca, the word ‘beneit’ has had a similar journey. Originally it meant ‘blessed’ but today to call someone here ‘beneit’ is to say that he is not quite so clever as everyone else. He is not versed in the ways of the world. But as those ways are so often self-centred and greedy, the ‘beneit’, who knows nothing of them, is better off in the end.
Alexander Pope wrote:
‘Where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise.’
It is sensible advice though I suppose the really wise people will always choose to do things that make them happy. Still let’s not quibble about Pope’s line. It’s useful and so let it stand. Stet.
So, let us raise our glasses to the ‘beneits’ of this world. To those who are innocent of all cunning and selfish aims. They are probably happier than the rest of us.