The Devil’s Dictionary (13)

I like to think that I am rational, although having read Ambrose Bierce’s definition in his The Devil’s Dictionary, first published in book form in 1906, I may have to reconsider. He calls it “devoid of all delusions save those of observation, experience, and reflection”. To reason is “to weigh probabilities in the scales of desire” and as a noun reason is “the propensitate of prejudice”, while someone who is reasonable is “accessible to the infection of our own opinions”.

Here in Britain we have had some experience of the referendum. Perhaps we should have taken some notice of Bierce who defined one as “a law for submission of proposed legislation to a popular vote to learn the nonsensus of public opinion”. The outcome may cause a period of reflection, “an action of the mind whereby we obtain a clearer view of our relation to things of yesterday and are able to avoid the perils that we shall not again encounter”, and will provide a reporter, “a writer who guesses his way to the truth and dispels it with a torrent of words” much to chew over.

Religion may not offer salvation, “a daughter of Hope and Fear explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable”. There may not even be comfort to be had in a reliquary, “a receptacle for such sacred objects as pieces of the true cross, short ribs of the saints, the ears of Balaam’s ass, the lung of the cock that called Peter to repentance, and so forth. Reliquaries are commonly of metal, and provided with a lock to prevent the contents from coming out and performing miracles at unseasonable times”.

Perhaps all that is left is repentance, “the faithful follower and attendant of Punishment” or reparation,satisfaction that is made for a wrong and deducted from the satisfaction felt in committing it”.

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