Friday Fable. Abstemius’ “Wax and Brick.”*

Posted by jlubans on January 02, 2015

Caption: Illustration by J. J. Grandville from the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine, published between 1668-1694.

“There was a Question started once about Wax and Brick, why the one should be so brittle, and liable to be broken with every Knock, and the other bear up against all Injuries and Weathers, so durable and firm. The Wax philosophiz'd upon the Matter, and finding out at last, that it was Burning made the Brick so hard, cast itself into the Fire, upon an Opinion that Heat would harden the Wax too; but that which Consolidated the one, Dissolv'd the other.”

“’Tis a Folly to try Conclusions, without understanding the Nature of the Matter in Question.”

The wax candle illustrates the mistakes we make when we leap to answers - conclusions - rather than stop and define what the problem – question - really is. Coming up with a solution is easy once you have successfully defined the problem.
H. L. Mencken is credited with this insight:
“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
A personal example, I was in a two-person canoe (me in the bow and my friend in the stern) and we were in swift white water. Coming up were a series of boulders, large enough to damage boats and boaters.
We angled around one or two and then - our skills far from Olympic - the water pushed us sideways toward another boulder. Both of us leaned AWAY from the oncoming rock - natural and intuitive, but wrong. Leaning away, tips the boat into the rushing water. Leaning towards the rock, as instructed, would tilt the side of the canoe out of the water and we'd be able to use our paddles to steer around the rock. Instead, the water rushed over the lowered gunwale - sinking the canoe and making us about as navigable as a brick underwater. In a few seconds the force of the rushing water "wrapped" our underwater canoe around the rock - immobilizing it - and we had to be rescued.

*Source: Abstemius' Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange.

For more information about Abstemius, our fabulist, see the notes attached to this past Friday Fable.

And, at Gutenberg, you can read an 1841 translation by Elizur Wright of La Fontaine’s version of the Wax and Brick fable.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014
« Prev itemNext item »


No comments yet. You can be the first!

Leave comment