This outlandish word was coined by Walpole, who also built a mansion with secret passageways and sliding panels. The term is a splendid trap-door to spring on unwary intellectuals, although the esoteric charm has been spoiled a bit through the use of the word in national advertising. Very well, I’ll admit that I never heard of it either until I saw that ad.
In fact, I’m not out of the passageway yet. I know that serendipity is the fortunate capacity of finding things one wasn’t looking for. The advertisement stressed the debt science owes to serendipity. I have also discovered that Walpole was referring to the legendary exploits of the Three Princes of Serendip, who possessed this quality.
But just there serendipity takes over. I have accumulated a modest collection of Buddhist legends, Hindu fables, and European folk-tales for which I was not looking, but not even one Prince of Serendip (alleged to be Ceylon) can I find. It was a surprise to find Bonnie Prince Charlie hidden in Mother Goose, and to learn the political implications of Old Mother Hubbard, but I have yet to uncover a lead in the Serendip affair.
Perhaps a learned reader knows the answer, having come upon it by accident while investigating agriculture in Ceylon, or haunted houses in England.
Any information will be gratefully received. Serendipity must have a place of honor in our vocabulary. I suspect that for every instance of serendipity in the laboratory there must be a score in the history of the church. Recall the serendipititious experience of Saul who set out to find his father’s asses, and found a crown instead. David once marched forth to punish an ingrate and discovered a charming wife. Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus had the most dramatic ...1
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