04 January 2016

“It is but a single step from the profound to the ridiculous.”

I found this line in Rav Hirsch a few months ago and was immensely pleased with it, finding it a clear expression of one of my biggest concerns in extra-curricular education; and I went round quoting it to anything that would stand still long enough.

And I would have kept citing it in the name of Rav Hirsch to every teacher, student, and doorpost, had it not shown up a couple of weeks ago in “an old School-boy's” memoirs of Dr. Arnold's influence at Rugby.


I could not get over the coincidence, and made a mental note to look up what common source Rav Hirsch and the “old School-boy” could possibly have been reading, and promptly forgot all about it...

...Until it showed up again last night in Edith Hamilton.


A guest kindly looked the quotation up for me and reported that the phrase first appeared in a late 18th century French philosophical work, and was subsequently publicized further by Thomas Paine and Napoleon, among others.

I'm going to guess that it was making the rounds of high society drawing-rooms by the mid-19th century. But it is tempting to sit here and speculate about what could have been on Rav Hirsch's reading list.

(...or not, unless the phrase itself is to serve as the single step it speaks of.)

I still like it.

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