Three Wise Men

The other day I remarked to a colleague that because I’m teaching English, History, Science, and Math, I feel like a polymath, or at least the 6th grade version of one. Look on my adequate integration of knowledge and understanding, ye Mighty, and despair!

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A while back I read a biography of Paul McCartney. The author recounted how, in some social interaction or other, Paul had tried to imitate “the polymath Jonathan Miller.” I figured this was some British thing and forgot about it until later the author again mentioned him trying to imitate Miller. So I looked him up. Dude was indeed a polymath. As his obit states, “he was a medical doctor, with a special interest in neurology; he occasionally left the theater to practice medicine.”

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The only thing I knew about John Ruskin was that he was a critic. (Well, I’m also acquainted with a certain anecdote, but propriety forbids recording it here.) So I picked up John Ruskin: An Idiosyncratic Dictionary, in which I learned that the town of Sheffield had asked him to contribute items from his own collection to their new museum. Note the grace with which he handled the request:

My ‘museum’ may perhaps be nothing but a two-windowed garret, but it will have in it nothing but what deserves respect in art and admiration in nature. A great museum in the present state of the public mind is simply an exhibition of the possible modes of doing wrong in art, and an accumulation of uselessly multiplied ugliness in misunderstood nature. Our own museum at Oxford is full of distorted skulls, and your Sheffield ironwork department will necessarily contain the most barbarous abortions that human rudeness has ever produced with human fingers.