new post: “I am my own best editor and critic.”

 

 
Please see my new post:

 

“I am my own best editor and critic.”

 

on my rogers-rhetoric site, at

 
I am my own best editor and critic.

 

 
It is of general and biographical interest, along with the focus on writing.

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    April 2020

“the Son of Man has no place where he may rest his head”

 

 
And at his descent from the mountain large crowds followed him. And look: A leper approached and bowed down to him, saying, “Lord, if you wish, you are able to cleanse me.” And stretching out a hand he touched him, saying, “I wish it; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed away. And Jesus says to him, “See to it that you tell no one, but go and show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

And on his entry into Capernaum a centurion approached him, imploring him And saying, “Lord, my servant has been laid low in my house, a paralytic, suffering terribly.” He says to him, “I shall come and heal him.” But in reply the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come in under my roof; but only declare it by a word and my servant will be healed. For I am also a man under authority, having soldiers under me, and to this one I say, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” And, hearing this, Jesus marveled and said to those following him, ”Amen, I tell you, I have found no one in Israel with such faith. Moreover, I tell you that many will come from East and West and will recline at table alongside Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of the heavens; But the sons of the Kingdom will be thrown out into the darkness outside; there will be weeping and grinding of teeth there.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; as you have had faith, so let it come to pass for you.” And in that hour the servant was healed.

And coming into Peter’s house Jesus saw Peter’s mother-in-law laid out and in a fever; And he touched her hand and the fever left her; and she arose and waited on him.

And when evening arrived they brought to him many who were possessed by demons; and he exorcized the spirits by word, and healed all those who were suffering; Thus was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “He took away our infirmities and bore away our maladies.”

But, seeing a crowd surrounding him, Jesus gave orders to depart, across to the far shore. And one scribe approached and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you may go.” And Jesus says to him, “The foxes have lairs and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place where he may rest his head.”

 
Matthew 8:1-20

 

 

The New Testament: A Translation, by David Bentley Hart

 

 

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“The Doctor Came to Save Lives. The Co-op Board Told Him to Get Lost.”

By Jim Dwyer

The New York Times

April 3, 2020

 

 

Dwyer

 

 

 

I live in upstate NY and my neighbors are shunning me because I allowed a couple from NYC to move into my vacant house. When a friend told me a little more than weeks ago that his daughter and her family in Brooklyn were looking for a place to go because her husband is immune-compromised, I offered my house. I had moved in with my elderly parents to help them out a month ago, so the house was available. I was happy to help. My neighbors, not so much. They have let me know they are furious with me that I have allowed this small family to “infect” the neighborhood and have told me I cannot allow my house to be used by “outsiders” without permission from the county health department. There is no such requirement. Nonetheless, I have been contacted by the health department and the police. In the meantime, the couple has been practicing social distancing just like everyone else and for 2 weeks they haven’t had contact with anyone. They haven’t even left the house except to take their small children for walks. As for my neighbors, it’s true that hard times highlight the flaws in people’s characters. They are not the people I thought they were.

 

— COMMENT by LibertyN

 

 

That crises bring out the best in humans is largely a myth. History has shown us, time and again, that it is only the very few who step forward for the collective good. The mass of us typically withdraw into ourselves when perceiving a life or death situation, scrambling to save our own lives, not infrequently at the peril of those close to us. That is what most of us do when confronted with the threat of catastrophic destruction. Heroic acts get the lion’s share of public attention, giving us the false impression that there are many who behave so generously. But they are, in fact, so few as to represent very much less than 1% of us. We rarely see ourselves as we are, but as we would like ourselves to be. We are most content when we applaud the very few who do the dirty and dangerous work for us, as if our cheering somehow compensates for our own cowardice. Those who daily put their lives on the line for the rest of us don’t need our applause. They need our intervention and collaboration. Sadly, as the crisis worsens — for it surely will — The fewer of us who will be inclined to venture out of our cocoons, but will in fact burrow even deeper.

–COMMENT by citizennotconsumer

 

This story manages to tell a lot more about the present situation and what’s actually happening than all the analysis and detail being provided about the coronavirus epidemic by the press. A crisis such as a pandemic brings out magnanimity and heroism. Along with callousness in individuals who only care about their own safety — and not a whit about others.

–COMMENT by Roger W. Smith

 

 

— posted by Roger W.  Smith

   April 3, 2020

The Great Plague of London; excerpts from The Diary of Samuel Pepys

 

 

 

The Diary of Samuel Pepys - cover

 

 

 

 

 
from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Volume Two (Everyman’s Library)

 

 
May 24th, 1665. Up, and by 4 o’clock in the morning, and with W. Hewer, there till 12 without intermission putting some papers in order. Thence to the Coffee-house with Creed, where I have not been a great while, where all the newes is of the Dutch being gone out, and of the plague growing upon us in this towne; and of remedies against it: some saying one thing, some another.

 
June 10th, 1665. Lay long in bed, and then up and at the office all the morning. At noon dined at home, and then to the office busy all the afternoon. In the evening home to supper; and there, to my great trouble, hear that the plague is come into the City (though it hath these three or four weeks since its beginning been wholly out of the City); but where should it begin but in my good friend and neighbour’s, Dr. Burnett, in Fanchurch Street: which in both points troubles me mightily. To the office to finish my letters and then home to bed, being troubled at the sicknesse, and my head filled also with other business enough, and particularly how to put my things and estate in order, in case it should please God to call me away, which God dispose of to his glory!

 
June 29th, 1665. Up and by water to White Hall, where the Court full of waggons and people ready to go out of towne. … This end of the towne every day grows very bad of the plague. The Mortality Bill is come to 267; which is about ninety more than the last: and of these but four in the City, which is a great blessing to us.

 

 

July 1st, 1665. Called up betimes, though weary and sleepy, by appointment by Mr. Povy and Colonell Norwood to discourse about some payments of Tangier. They gone, I to the office and there sat all the morning. At noon dined at home, and then to the Duke of Albemarle’s, by appointment, to give him an account of some disorder in the Yarde at Portsmouth, by workmen’s going away of their owne accord, for lacke of money, to get work of hay-making, or any thing else to earne themselves bread.

Thence to Westminster, where I hear the sicknesse encreases greatly. … Thence by coach and late at the office, and so to bed. Sad at the newes that seven or eight houses in Bazing Hall street, are shut up of the plague.

 

 

August 22nd. 1665. I went away and walked to Greenwich, in my way seeing a coffin with a dead body therein, dead of the plague, lying in an open close belonging to Coome farme, which was carried out last night, and the parish have not appointed any body to bury it; but only set a watch there day and night, that nobody should go thither or come thence, which is a most cruel thing: this disease making us more cruel to one another than if we are doggs.

 

 

August 28th, 1665. Up, and being ready I out to Mr. Colvill, the goldsmith’s, having not for some days been in the streets; but now how few people I see, and those looking like people that had taken leave of the world. I there, and made even all accounts in the world between him and I, in a very good condition, and I would have done the like with Sir Robert Viner, but he is out of towne, the sicknesse being every where thereabouts. I to the Exchange, and I think there was not fifty people upon it, and but few more like to be as they told me, Sir G. Smith and others. Thus I think to take adieu to-day of the London streets. …

 

 

August 30th, 1665. Up betimes and to my business of settling my house and papers, and then abroad and met with Hadley, our clerke, who, upon my asking how the plague goes, he told me it encreases much, and much in our parish; for, says he, there died nine this week, though I have returned but six: which is a very ill practice, and makes me think it is so in other places; and therefore the plague much greater than people take it to be. Thence, as I intended, to Sir R. Viner’s, and there found not Mr. Lewes ready for me, so I went forth and walked towards Moorefields to see (God forbid my presumption!) whether I could see any dead corps going to the grave; but, as God would have it, did not. But, Lord! how every body’s looks, and discourse in the street is of death, and nothing else, and few people going up and down, that the towne is like a place distressed and forsaken.

 

 

August 31st, 1665. Up and, after putting several things in order to my removal, to Woolwich; the plague having a great encrease this week, beyond all expectation of almost 2,000, making the general Bill 7,000, odd 100; and the plague above 6,000. … Thus this month ends with great sadness upon the publick, through the greatness of the plague every where through the kingdom almost. Every day sadder and sadder news of its encrease. In the City died this week 7,496 and of them 6,102 of the plague. But it is feared that the true number of the dead, this week is near 10,000; partly from the poor that cannot be taken notice of, through the greatness of the number, and partly from the Quakers and others that will not have any bell ring for them. … As to myself I am very well, only in fear of the plague, and as much of an ague by being forced to go early and late to Woolwich, and my family to lie there continually.

 

 

September 3rd, 1665. Up; and put on my coloured silk suit very fine, and my new periwigg, bought a good while since, but durst not wear, because the plague was in Westminster when I bought it; and it is a wonder what will be the fashion after the plague is done, as to periwiggs, for nobody will dare to buy any haire, for fear of the infection, that it had been cut off of the heads of people dead of the plague. … After dinner left them and I by water to Greenwich, where much ado to be suffered to come into the towne because of the sicknesse, for fear I should come from London, till I told them who I was. … Church being done, my Lord Bruncker, Sir J. Minnes, and I up to the Vestry at the desire of the justices of the Peace, Sir Theo. Biddulph and Sir W. Boreman and Alderman Hooker, in order to the doing something for the keeping of the plague from growing; but Lord! to consider the madness of the people of the town, who will (because they are forbid) come in crowds along with the dead corps to see them buried; but we agreed on some orders for the prevention thereof. Among other stories, one was very passionate, methought, of a complaint brought against a man in the towne for taking a child from London from an infected house. Alderman Hooker told us it was the child of a very able citizen in Gracious Street, a saddler, who had buried all the rest of his children of the plague, and himself and wife now being shut up and in despair of escaping, did desire only to save the life of this little child; and so prevailed to have it received stark-naked into the arms of a friend, who brought it (having put it into new fresh clothes) to Greenwich; where upon hearing the story, we did agree it should be permitted to be received and kept in the towne.

 

 

September 4th, 1665. [A]fter dinner to Greenwich, to Sir J. Minnes, where I found my Lord Bruncker, and having staid our hour for the justices by agreement, the time being past we to walk in the Park with Mr. Hammond and Turner, and there eat some fruit out of the King’s garden and walked in the Parke, and so back to Sir J. Minnes, and thence walked home, my Lord Bruncker giving me a very neat cane to walk with; but it troubled me to pass by Coome farme where about twenty-one people have died of the plague, and three or four days since I saw a dead corps in a coffin lie in the Close unburied, and a watch is constantly kept there night and day to keep the people in, the plague making us cruel, as doggs, one to another.

 
September 6th, 1665. … I looked into the street and saw fires burning in the street, as it is through the whole City, by the Lord Mayor’s order.* Thence by water to the Duke of Albemarle’s: all the way fires on each side of the Thames, and strange to see in broad daylight two or three burials upon the Bankeside, one at the very heels of another: doubtless all of the plague; and yet at least forty or fifty people going along with every one of them.

* Thinking that bad air was involved in the transmission of disease, the authorities ordered giant bonfires to be burned in the streets of London and house fires to be kept burning night and day, in the hope that the air would be cleansed.

 
September 7th, 1665. Up by 5 of the clock, mighty full of fear of an ague, but was obliged to go, and so by water, wrapping myself up warm, to the Tower, and there sent for the Weekely Bill, and find 8,252 dead in all, and of them 6,878 of the plague; which is a most dreadfull number, and shows reason to fear that the plague hath got that hold that it will yet continue among us.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   April 2020

“Sing on! you gray-brown bird”

 

 

 

 

 
“Sing on! you gray-brown bird”

movement eight from When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d: A Requiem for those we love

composed by Paul Hindemith.

text from Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name

Words and music fitting for our present time.

 

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 
Sing on, sing on you gray-brown bird,
Sing from the swamps, the recesses, pour your chant from the
bushes,
Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.

Sing on dearest brother, warble your reedy song,
Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.

O liquid and free and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul—O wondrous singer!
You only I hear—yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart,)
Yet the lilac with mastering odor holds me.

Now while I sat in the day and look’d forth,
In the close of the day with its light and the fields of spring, and
the farmers preparing their crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land with its lakes and
forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb’d winds and the
storms,)
Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the
voices of children and women,
The many-moving sea-tides, and I saw the ships how they
sail’d,
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy
with labor,
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with
its meals and minutia of daily usages,
And the streets how their throbbings throbb’d, and the cities pent
—lo, then and there,
Falling upon them all and among them all, enveloping me with the
rest,
Appear’d the cloud, appear’d the long black trail,
And I knew death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of
death.

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle as with companions, and as holding the
hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the
dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars and ghostly pines so still.

And the singer so shy to the rest receiv’d me,
The gray-brown bird I know receiv’d us comrades three,
And he sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.

From deep secluded recesses,
From the fragrant cedars and the ghostly pines so still,
Came the carol of the bird.

And the charm of the carol rapt me,
As I held as if by their hands my comrades in the night,
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.

 
*****************************************************

 
“I will try to remain calm. I will try to concentrate my attention on the sound of the wind and the buzzing of the bees outside my window, the scent of the hoya blossom, … and the sight of the cherry trees in bloom.” — Ella Rutledge, March 30, 2020

 

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

   April 2020

“This pamphlet is published to prove what nobody will deny.”

 

 

This pamphlet is published to prove what nobody will deny, that we shall be less happy if we were conquered by the French. The intention of the author is undoubtedly good, but his labour is superfluous at a time when all ranks of people are unanimously zealous and active against our enemies; and when indeed there is no great danger of invasions while we have the sea covered with our ships, and maintain fifty thousand men in arms on our coasts.

 

— Samuel Johnson, review of An Impartial Account of the Invasion under William Duke of Normandy, and the consequences of it, with proper Remarks (1756), by Charles Parkin, A. M. Rector of Oxburgh in Norfolk. IN Johnson on Demand: Reviews, Prefaces, and Ghost-Writings, edited by O M Brack, Jr., and Robert DeMaria, Jr. (The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume XX; Yale University Press, 2019), pp. 347-348
— posted by Roger W. Smith

    March 2020

 

 

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addendum:

 

 

A reader of this post commented: “I don’t understand the purpose of this post. Can you explain?”

I should have made this more clear.

Samuel Johnson died in 1784. James Boswell’s Life of Johnson was published in 1791. Because of Boswell — primarily because of him — Johnson has been known mostly for his conversation, not his writings.

The late Donald Greene wrote about Boswell’s Life: “I can think of no other book that … has deterred so many intelligent people from making a firsthand acquaintance with the work of a very great writer and thinker.” A contemporary writer, Stephen Miller, in a 1999 essay wrote: “I know many people who have read — or dipped into — Bowell’s Life but have not read a word of Johnson.”

Therefore, I am trying to get Johnson’s writings in front of persons with a taste for good writing.

Boswell did a great service in preserving so much of Johnson’s conversation. He also wrote one of the great, if not the greatest, biographies of all time. Yet, his Johnson is often a caricature of himself. The supposedly reactionary thinker brilliant in conversation and unsurpassable in repartee known for his ability to get the best of his interlocutor on any conceivable subject.

Johnson was witty and quotable; he had a penetrating intellect. But one gets to know him a lot better from his various and voluminous output as a writer. And, he could be the opposite of mean-spirited. His kindly offices throughout his life to many persons and the help and encouragement he gave to writers, often ones younger and less well known than him, were not negligible and are apparent to serious students of his life and writings.
*****************************************************

 

 

This brief excerpt, passage, to me illustrates what Johnson could do so well: express points cogently and forcefully with (in this case) the minimum of words required. In just two sentences, Johnson shows why the book under review is not worth reading. Most writers — including myself probably — would struggle to make the same point. I might find myself, if I were the reviewer, writing something like: This book is based upon a flawed premise. Yes, a book has to have point of view, but the author is arguing a point that was already made, and he really has nothing new to say. Many historical works have already gone over the same ground.

And so on.

One can see this facility in Johnson’s conversation. He could get to the point — to the essence of the argument — and unsnarl it much faster than his interlocutors and listeners. While they were still mulling over it, he already had seized upon the essence.

 

 

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My high school English teacher, Robert Tighe, was once asked by a student how long should a paper be? As long as required to cover the subject, Mr. Tighe replied. No more and no less.

J. H. Plumb and Jason Goodwin on Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year”

 

 

 

 

 

 

back cover - Signet Journal of the Plague Year

 

 

 

 

cover, Modern Library Journal of the Plague Year

 

 

 

Defoe wrote fast, reluctant to make revisions, in a plain English stripped of classical allusions, dosed with a strong draft of the Bible–a language brisk, direct, and powerful, as every reader will discover. Backed by careful research, his unfussy prose triumphantly carries off the mild literary fraud of A Journal, which at one level is the most striking historical document to come out of the plague. But it is really a novel, reveling in Defoe’s infallible ear for the cadences of real speech, and his revolutionary desire and ability to set them down.

The narrator’s own voice is a masterpiece of understated realism, adapting its very structure to reflect uncertainty, shock, and the faltering linkages of memory. Bills of mortality, baldly punctuating the text, tell their story … a woman’s shriek of “Oh! Death, Death, Death!” From the woeful cries of a neighborhood prophet, from the voice of an honest waterman or an old soldier, from the report of an apprentice collecting his master’s money from a victim of the plague, Defoe has distilled the clamor of terror. …

London has a face–“strangely alter’d.” … After Cromwell’s death, [it was] functioning as a city should: people had come there to earn a living, after all. The plague puts everything into reverse: the Thames is thick with ships–but not in trade, merely floating prisons, where people seek to escape the contagion. Commerce is still; grass grows in the busiest streets; money is dunked in a bucket of vinegar; friendships are interrupted; whatever makes city life profitable or pleasurable is now life-threatening. When the primal currents of commerce and affection have become conduits for disease, when sickening families are shut up in their houses, when the slightest contact is a source of dread, everyone is returned to the profound isolation–of despair, fear, death—that Defoe suspected to be our natural inheritance.

Defoe knew … the uses of adversity. The plague drives some to madness, some to wickedness; but the multitude make sacrifices for their families, struggle to survive, and take steps to preserve themselves and their loved ones when they can. … The city is a work of man, a maze of human connections. The court may escape, thankless, to Oxford, the wealthy pour down the Whitechapel Road to East Anglia and safety; but the real city people, to whom London is a universe, must dodge the pestilence that stalks them “like an armed Man.” They have lived in these streets, and now they die among them, but in the streets they have picked up, too, a kind of ineradicable toughness.

 

— Jason Goodwin, Introduction, A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe (Modern Library, 2001)

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    March 2020

“all that could conceal their distempers did it, … to prevent authority shutting up their houses; the poor common people, shut up their shops, finding indeed no trade”

 

 

Mayor Bill de Blasio warned at a news conference on Friday that officials would decide this weekend whether to impose a $500 fine on those flouting social-distancing rules during the coronavirus outbreak by gathering in large groups at parks and ignoring police orders to disperse.

The vast majority of New Yorkers have been respecting the rules, the mayor said, but officials have observed some violations.

Mr. de Blasio also said that a small number of houses of worship were continuing to hold religious services and that they risked fines or having their buildings permanently closed if the police caught them in congregations this weekend.

 

— “N.Y.P.D. may impose fines on people at parks and houses of worship.; As the weather gets warmer, New Yorkers may be itching to hang out together in New York City’s parks.” The New York Times, May 28 2020

 

 

 

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But those were trifling things to what followed immediately after; for now the weather set in hot, and from the first week in June the infection spread in a dreadful manner, and the bills rose high; the articles of the fever, spotted-fever, and teeth began to swell; for all that could conceal their distempers did it, to prevent their neighbours shunning and refusing to converse with them, and also to prevent authority shutting up their houses; which, though it was not yet practised, yet was threatened, and people were extremely terrified at the thoughts of it. …

I now began to consider seriously with myself concerning my own case, and how I should dispose of myself; that is to say, whether I should resolve to stay in London or shut up my house and flee, as many of my neighbours did. … I had two important things before me: the one was the carrying on my business and shop, which was considerable, and in which was embarked all my effects in the world; and the other was the preservation of my life in so dismal a calamity as I saw apparently was coming upon the whole city, and which, however great it was, my fears perhaps, as well as other people’s, represented to be much greater than it could be. …

… the very Court, which was then gay and luxurious, put on a face of just concern for the public danger. All the plays and interludes which … had been set up, and began to increase among us, were forbid to act; the gaming-tables, public dancing-rooms, and music-houses, which multiplied and began to debauch the manners of the people, were shut up and suppressed; and the jack-puddings, merry-andrews, puppet-shows, rope-dancers, and such-like doings, which had bewitched the poor common people, shut up their shops, finding indeed no trade; for the minds of the people were agitated with other things, and a kind of sadness and horror at these things sat upon the countenances even of the common people. Death was before their eyes, and everybody began to think of their graves, not of mirth and diversions.

About June the Lord Mayor of London and the Court of Aldermen, as I have said, began more particularly to concern themselves for the regulation of the city.

The justices of Peace for Middlesex, by direction of the Secretary of State, had begun to shut up houses in the parishes of St Giles-in-the-Fields, St Martin, St Clement Danes, &c., and it was with good success; for in several streets where the plague broke out, upon strict guarding the houses that were infected, and taking care to bury those that died immediately after they were known to be dead, the plague ceased in those streets. …

 

— Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (1722)

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 28, 2020