Monthly Archives: December 2017

dressing for dinner? (orchestral attire)

 

 

Something I have been thinking about off and on for a while is the following: Why do performers and orchestras in classical music concerts always have to be attired as if they were dressing for dinner in Downton Abbey?

It creates, in my mind, a stuffy atmosphere that is unnecessary.

Last night, December 28, 2017, I saw a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City that included performances by the New York String Orchestra of a Mozart piano concerto and Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 (“Scottish”).

 

 

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Note how the orchestra is attired. Neatly, but casually. (The sort of attire which, when I worked for a corporation, was called “business casual.”)

Why couldn’t performers in classical musical concerts dress this way — if not always — at least often, or usually? Especially, but not exclusively, for chamber music, say. (Actually, this kind of dress is more often seen in such performances.)

I’m not saying that everyone should be, or could be allowed to be, dressed scruffily (as was the case in classes when I was in college), or that a certain degree of uniformity in attire is not desirable.

But look at the performers in the above photos. They are neatly, in fact spiffily, attired. There is a certain uniformity. Their dress does not call attention to itself. I am not an authority on fashion, but there is something cheerful and “smart” about their attire. They look youthful. It creates what I would term a more relaxed and “open” feeling.

Am I right?

 

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A couple of amusing details.

Last night’s concert began with a brief orchestral piece by the contemporary American composer Gabriela Lena Frank. At its conclusion, a piano was wheeled onto the stage for the Mozart concerto, which featured the pianist Richard Goode. In the first photo, a female violinist — standing, front left — is shown. When the piano was wheeled out, she was sitting in her chair prior to the commencement of the next piece. Three men were wheeling the piano to the front center of the stage. They did not quite notice the violist, and she had to move her chair and shift her position, leaning back to get out of the way.

At a concert which I attended on Christmas Eve, December 24, one of the orchestra members, the continuo player, exited the stage after the first piece, a Vivaldi concerto. He walked to a door at the rear, stage right. He was unable to open it, despite trying several times. He finally gave up and walked back the other way and exited from another door stage left.

Not so stuffy, scripted, or predictable, the classical music world! At least not always.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 29, 2017

“I see Christ once more”

 

 

“I see Christ once more eating the bread of his last supper, in the midst of youths and old persons, ”

 

— Walt Whitman, “Salut au Monde!,” Leaves of Grass (1856 edition)

 

How — by what miracle of human inspiration and creativity — does the self-educated poet Walt Whitman make the old and familiar seem fresh and new, as if we were encountering and hearing about it anew, or perhaps for the first time?

(Hint: It’s because he created everything anew, relying on no preexisting models or poetic tropes.)

Such simplicity and, therefore, freshness.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2017

we are blessed (and so am I): racial diversity in New York

 

 

This past fall, I saw the film Ex Libris, directed by the documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman. It is a documentary film about the New York Public Library, both the library system itself and the vital role it plays in the life of the City.

The film includes scenes of library patrons participating in discussion groups. In one scene, a discussion group at the library’s main branch on Fifth Avenue is engaged in a lively exchange of views about Gabriel García Márquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera with respect to romantic love. There were several scenes of library patrons participating in similar meetings and discussion groups at branch libraries in Manhattan and in other boroughs such as the Bronx. Some were about books, some involved a presentation cum discussion on topics of current interest. Others concerned how to make the library more accessible or serve community needs better.

Something that struck me was that the racial/ethnic composition or makeup of the various local groups seen in the film was so diverse. Well, one might say, would you not expect this in a city such as New York? Everyone knows it is racially heterogeneous and always has been.

Yes, but.

I observed the same thing at a business presentation not long ago: a presentation by persons associated with an entrepreneurial company for attendees who had recently become involved as independent partners and persons interested in getting involved. It was a relatively small group and there was a lot of interaction among the attendees.

What I have observed is that in New York, people do not seem to notice or take account of racial differences. They just plain don’t matter.

At both the library sessions seen in the film and at the business meeting I attended, the ethnicity was varied: whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and other groups. And, it was not as if there was just a smattering of or token representation by one racial or ethnic group or another. All were amply represented. There had obviously been no conscious effort to achieve “diversity” in the makeup of the audience/participants. It had just resulted, naturally, that the groups were notably diverse. In both instances, one did not get the sense of any one group predominating in any sense, numerically or otherwise.

The discussions were spirited. Persons were engaged. At no time — I observed this both in the film I saw and as a participant/observer at the business meeting — does one ever get the sense of consciousness by anyone — meaning speakers or audience; the give and take of participants who had something to say or just looked on with interest; group discussions — of race, their race or anyone else’s, being a factor that was taken or that one was expected to take into account, or that actually was noticed (which is to say, by an impartial observer), from what I could observe. Race was not a factor in any shape or form. It was clearly not something that might affect the content of the discussion and how someone or their contributions were viewed. People were just plain friendly and respectful, period. No one looked to be guarded or on the defensive. Everyone seemed fully accepted and welcomed. A priori. As a matter of course. No one is unwelcome nor patronized or talked down to.

In New York City, race really doesn’t seem to matter — as a public thing, that is: in social interactions and events, business, or commerce. In other words, in daily life, which goes on as it should. This is a welcome and edifying thing. It energizes and gladdens me.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  December 2017

the wrong word?

 

 

“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner.”

 

— Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas

 

 

 

I have always have felt that “sinner” is the wrong word here and have mentioned this now and then to some English professors. No one ever responded. They didn’t care, apparently. Perhaps because they don’t teach Victorian lit, or don’t like A Christmas Carol. (Maybe they find it not worth deconstructing.) Who knows?

I queried family members about this over the past few days. We had the following exchange.

 

 

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Hi, everyone.

Regarding the above Dickens passage, I always have felt that “sinner” is the wrong word here. Any thoughts?

 

 

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My brother wrote back: “With what would you replace it?”

 

 

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I responded to my brother as follows:

 

 

Thanks for the email. To answer you as best I can:

 

Dickens wrote:

 

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change [by which slang term Dickens meant what we would nowadays call the Stock Exchange], for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. …

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain. …

Scrooge never painted out Old Marley’s name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the ware-house door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him.

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner. Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often came down handsomely, and Scrooge never did.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My dear Scrooge, how are you. When will you come to see me.” No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o’clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blindmen’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, “No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master! ”

But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call nuts to Scrooge.

 

A Christmas Carol, Stave I, “Marley’s Ghost”

 

What I think:

 

There is nothing in this passage to indicate that Scrooge was immoral, which is how “sinner” is commonly understood. The passage instead conveys, unmistakably, with no other inferences, that Scrooge was a cold fish devoid of human feeling.

We learn throughout the story that Scrooge is uncaring to persons such as his clark, Bob Cratchit; hard edged as a businessman; and feared by his creditors. He lacks the virtue of Christian charity or “fellow feeling,” but he does not appear to have vices normally associated with sinners.

 

I think better would be:

“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old ____”

 

miser?

skinflint?

misanthrope?

 

I think “misanthrope” would actually be the best choice.

 

 

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A conclusion (as I view it)

 

The following are my thoughts subsequent to the email exchange:

Michael Slater, Charles Dickens’s biographer, describes A Christmas Carol as being “written at white heat.” It was completed in six weeks.

Dickens often wrote hastily, and was always pressured by deadlines (as are most writers).

It has been said that James Joyce (as related by Samuel Beckett, and told in Richard Ellmann’s biography of Joyce) spent a whole day writing and endlessly rewriting a single sentence of Ulysses (not Molly Bloom’s soliloquy).

Dickens, in contrast to perfectionists like Joyce and Flaubert, wrote hastily, without obsessing over niceties of style. He is a great stylist in his own way, I would be inclined to say, but his genius is broader in scope. Another writer who resembles him on a certain level is Balzac, who churned out novel after novel with characters such as Père Goriot invented out of whole cloth who were idiosyncratic and memorable for that reason — yet entirely human (not abstractions or papier-mâché characters), but you can never forget them or put his books down. (They are eminently readable). Yet, Balzac was a careless writer and seemed not to care about style.

What about Dickens? He outranks Balzac in genius and stature. But, he could occasionally be careless.

Which is a comforting thought for other writers, no?

I think I’m right. “Sinner’ was the wrong word here, and it rings false.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2017

A Slap in the Face? Or, Reverse Racism?

 

 

See:

‘A Slap in the Face’: Pick of White Man to Lead Council Draws Fire

by Jeffery C. Mays And J. David Goodman

The New York Times

December 22, 2017

 

“For months, black political leaders watched the bare-knuckled, back-room race to lead the New York City Council with a mix of hope and trepidation. Five of the eight candidates were black or Hispanic — offering the prospect of a first black speaker — but two of the most prominent front-runners were white men.

“In the end, one of those white men, Councilman Corey Johnson of Manhattan, emerged victorious. Now black leaders are railing against a process that produced another white face atop the government of a majority-minority city that already has white men in the roles of mayor, comptroller, three of five district attorney’s offices and at the heads of various city agencies.”

… ‘This is a slap in the face,’ said Rev. Jacques Andre DeGraff, associate pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem. ‘People feel offended.’ ”

 

 

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“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

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my thoughts:

 

How far we have come since the idealism of those days. Or, should I say, how sad that the political dialogue when it comes to race has reached such depths.

Why should be being white be an impediment to being a viable candidate?

“[B]lack leaders are railing against a process that produced another white face atop the government of a majority-minority city. …,” the article states. What if I stated the opinion that there should be more whites in leadership positions for some reason or other? Think I wouldn’t be labeled a white supremacist?

And, what do “white” and “black” mean anyway? See my previous post

 

“this isn’t racism?”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/09/03/this-isnt-racism/

 

Has the possibility that they themselves might be engaging in reverse racism ever occurred to the black leaders quoted in this article. Has the mere THOUGHT ever crossed their minds, troubled them, or caused them to do some self-examination?

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  December 23, 2017; reposted December 26

 

 

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addendum:

 

a comment by my friend Ella Rutledge (posted on Facebook):

“I differ with you on this, Roger. How can Dr. King’s dream come true if positive action is not taken, sacrifices made? Reverse racism? So what? At least white guys then get to know what racism feels like.”

musical (and non-musical) musings

 

 

On Christmas Eve, December 24, 2017, I attended a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York which included a performance of Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante in E-flat Major, K. 364.

A sinfonia concertante (also called symphonie concertante) is an orchestral work, normally in several movements, in which there are parts of solo instruments, generally two or more, contrasting a group of soloists with the full orchestra.

Prior to attending the concert, I received an email from my brother. He wrote, “The second movement [of the Sinfonia concertante], with the soloists playing off against each other with marvelous lyricism and wit, is one of the most beautiful compositions I’ve ever heard.”

So true.

While listening to Mozart, and during the concert in general, several thoughts crossed my mind.

 

 

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I don’t quite know how to express this thought. But, as is well known, there is something ethereal, otherworldly, about Mozart’s music. This is almost a truism.

It encourages, stimulates deep concentration. It seems to take one into another realm of contemplation. This reflects where it was coming from, the “musical subconscious” of a genius.

I know these may be platitudes. But, I was thinking about when this happens. When you are listening not just to notes, or admiring specifically the musical structure or form, but are in a realm of pure aesthetic delight and feel like you’re entering into another’s consciousness, which is to say, sort of like being ushered into a new sphere for the privileged (that is, us listeners). And, that the composer is “speaking” from his subconscious, or supra-consciousness, to yours. A sort of mystical fusion?

I don’t quite know why, but I was reminded — when listening to the second movement of the Sinfonia concertante — of Mozart’s Maurerische Trauermusik (Masonic Funeral Music; K. 477; K. 479a), in which the listener has the same experience.

I was also thinking about how and when this can or does occur also with literature. Suddenly, you are not just reading sentences, following a plot, etc. You are in synch with the author’s subconscious, which is to say that his genius has transported you to a new level as a reader. This happened to me when reading Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. It’s not just a good yarn or a book about whaling — it’s a book about the mystical qualities of the sea, nature, cetology, and what underlies them; the wonder and terror of the physical world conjoined with the deep truths that can be found; human existence and the ironies of daily life. Melville was writing at such a deep level — he was truly inspired. His genius is what strikes you and unmans one, so to speak. The same thing is true of other literary works of genius such as Paradise Lost and Tolstoy’s novels.

 

 

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Thought number 2 of your faithful correspondent. This occurred to me mostly while listening to other pieces on the program.

It’s okay if the mind wanders during a concert. If fact, it’s by no means a bad thing if it does. Great art stimulates the mind. (Another truism.) To appreciate, enjoy, and savor it. But also, to think deeply, energetically. Even if the work doesn’t seem to be ABOUT anything.

For instance, in my post

 

“Mozart, Alexander L. Lipson, and Russian 1 with Professor Gribble”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/11/18/mozart-alexander-l-lipson-and-russian-1-with-professor-gribble/

 

I explained how at a concert I attended in November, listening to one of Mozart’s greatest quartets led me by a train of associations to think about Pushkin and, by the same “inner logic,” about a Russian course I once took.

What I find happening is that my mind wanders sort of back and forth, from the music being performed to all sorts of thoughts and musings inspired by it. These range from thoughts about the music itself (including the sort of thoughts that might be classified under the rubric “music appreciation”) to thoughts somewhat related to the music (such as listening to a requiem and musing about death) to thoughts that suddenly arise having little or nothing to do with the music. However, this is tricky. Music from classical to popular comes laden with associations. A piece may evoke a train of thoughts or memories that only you can explain, arising perhaps because the music reminds you of when you first heard the piece, of similar music you have heard, of other works by the same composer, and so forth. It’s kind of like what happens with dreams: seemingly bizarre associations, but one can often relate them to “facts” buried within one’s subconscious and known only to oneself.

I find that I come home from a concert mentally refreshed and stimulated, with the stimulation producing creativity and earnest thinking.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2017

 

 

 

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Addendum:

 

Mozart, Sinfonia concertante in E-flat major, K. 364; 2nd movement, Andante

 

 

 

Mozart, Maurerische Trauermusik (Masonic Funeral Music) in C minor, K. 477 (K. 479a)

 

 

The Masonic Funeral Music is an orchestral work that was composed by Mozart in 1785 in his capacity as a member of the Freemasons. It was performed during a Masonic funeral service held on in memory of two of Mozart’s Masonic brethren.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haydn, symphony No. 6 in D major (“Le matin”)

 

 

 

 

This splendid symphony starts out — in the first movement, which is marked “Adagio – Allegro” — so quietly you can barely hear it.

The reason: the sun is rising! (Which is why the symphony is nicknamed “Le matin.”)

The music increases in volume as the sun “rises.”

I was intrigued to learn from a biography of Haydn which I read a long time ago that he grew up in rather humble circumstances and that he must have known and appreciated nature from boyhood.

I don’t think Haydn — great and prolific as he was, as admired as he was and is by his contemporaries and by music historians and connoisseurs — gets enough credit or attention nowadays. He practically invented the symphony and the string quartet. In his later years, he wrote splendid masses and oratorios, having been inspired by the example of Handel.

 

 

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Also posted here is “In vollem Glanze steiget jetzt die Sonne strahlend auf” (In splendor bright is rising now the sun) from Haydn’s monumental oratorio Die Schöpfung (The Creation). This section starts out with the same musical depiction of the sun rising in splendor.

 

 

 

 

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See also my posts of three of Haydn’s masses at:

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/21/haydn-mass-in-time-of-war/

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/21/haydn-schopfungsmesse-creation-mass/

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/02/03/haydn-theresienmesse-mass-in-b-flat-major/

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2017

 

a Christmas thought (and wish)

 

 

“I should be glad to hear … people’s estimate of the comparative danger of a ‘little learning’ and a vast amount of ignorance; I should be glad to know which is considered the most prolific parent of misery and crime. I should be glad to assist them in their calculations by carrying them into certain gaols and nightly refuges I know of, where my own heart dies within me, when I see thousands of immortal creatures condemned … by years of this wicked axiom.”

 

— Charles Dickens, address to the Manchester Athenaeum, October 5, 1843

 

 

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The film ends with an idealistic vision of a day: “when … prison bars wrought in the fires of intolerance -” will no longer prevail. Prisoners in striped uniforms in a long corridor shake their fists up toward a prison wall. “Instead of prison walls — Bloom flowery fields.” Brilliant light descends from above toward the exterior of a prison. The prisoners who are gesturing toward the wall suddenly move through it – the prison walls disappear. The exterior of the prison dissolves into an open country scene with a flowering field in the foreground, and mountains in the background.

— plot synopsis of closing scene, Act II of Intolerance (1916), a silent film directed by D. W. Griffith.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 23, 2017

writers: walkers

 

 

In a previous post of mine

 

“on walking (and exercise)”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/09/26/on-walking-and-exercise/

 

I wrote that “walking, as is well known, is conducive to thinking and creativity, which is why so many writers and intellectuals have always been walkers.”

Por favor, read on!

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

 

 

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CHARLES DICKENS

 

Dickens was a man of abundant, restless energy. His chief exercise was walking, and his “daily constitutionals,” as he referred to his long walks, could extend as far as twenty to thirty miles each day. He once wrote, “My only comfort is, in Motion,” and told John Forster that “if I couldn’t walk fast and far, I should just explode and perish.” — gallery text, “Charles Dickens and the Spirit of Christmas,” exhibit at The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, November 2017

 

 

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HENRY DAVID THOREAU

 

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least–and it is commonly more than that-–sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. … When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them–as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon–I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.

“Walking” (The Atlantic Monthly, June 1862)

 

 

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WALT WHITMAN

 

“Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?”

“Song of the Open Road” (1856)

 

I too walked the streets of Manhattan Island, and
bathed in the waters around it,
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within
me,
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they
came upon me,
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my
bed, they came upon me.

“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (1860)

 

My joys in the open air—my walks through the Mannahatta

“To My Soul” (1860)

 

I continually enjoy these streets, planned on such a generous scale, stretching far, without stop or turn, giving the eye vistas. I feel freer, larger in them. Not the squeezed limits of Boston, New-York, or even Philadelphia; but royal plenty and nature’s own bounty—American, prairie-like. It is worth writing a book about, this point alone. I often find it silently, curiously making up to me the absence of the ocean tumult of humanity I always enjoyed in New-York. Here, too, is largeness, in another more impalpable form; and I never walk Washington, day or night, without feeling its satisfaction.

In my walks I never cease finding new effects and pictures, and I believe it would continue so if I went rambling around here for fifty years.

Walt Whitman, Letter from Washington, New York Times, October 4, 1863

 

GIVE me the splendid silent sun, with all his beams full-
dazzling; ….
Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers,
where I can walk undisturb’d; …
While yet incessantly asking, still I adhere to my city;
Day upon day, and year upon year, O city, walking
your streets, …
Give me faces and streets! give me these phantoms incessant and endless along the trottoirs! …
Give me such shows! give me the streets of Manhattan!
Give me Broadway, with the soldiers marching—give
me the sound of the trumpets and drums! …
Give me the shores and the wharves heavy-fringed
with the black ships! …
People, endless, streaming, with strong voices, passions,
pageants;
Manhattan streets, with their powerful throbs, with the
beating drums, ….
Manhattan crowds with their turbulent musical chorus
—with varied chorus and light of the sparkling
eyes;
Manhattan faces and eyes forever for me.

“Give Me The Splendid Silent Sun” (1865)

 

NIGHT on the prairies;
The supper is over—the fire on the ground burns
low;
The wearied emigrants sleep, wrapt in their blankets;
I walk by myself—I stand and look at the stars,
which I think now I never realized before.

Leaves of Grass (1867)

 

My little dog is stretched out on the rug at full length, snoozing. He hardly lets me go a step without being close at my heels—follows me in my slow walks, & stops or turns just as I do.

letter from Whitman to his friend Pete Doyle, 26–27 March, 1874

 

SKIRTING the river road, (my languid forenoon walk, my rest,)

“The Dalliance of the Eagles” (1880)

 

I came down yesterday amid sousing rain & cloudy weather—but this forenoon it is sunshiny & delightful—I have just returned from a two hours ramble in the old woods—wintry & bare, & yet lots of holly & laurel—& I only wish I could send you some cedary branches thick with the china-blue little plums, so pretty amid the green tufts— … We had a flurry of snow last evening, & it looks wintry enough to-day, but the sun is out, & I take my walks in the woods.

letter from Whitman to Herbert Gilchrist, 30–31 December 1881

 

Thy windows rich, and huge hotels—thy side-walks wide;
Thou of the endless sliding, mincing, shuffling feet!
Thou, like the parti-colored world itself—like infinite, teeming,
mocking life!
Thou visor’d, vast, unspeakable show and lesson!

“Broadway” (1888)

 

Sunday, October 21, 1888.

7.20 evening. W. lying on the bed, dressed, I entered very quietly: stood there without a word. He had been dozing. Started up. “Come in! Come in!” After we had shaken hands he described his day: “… he [Whitman] asked: “And you—what have you done with the day?” I had been far in the country on a long walk. I said something about “the joy of going on and on and not getting tired.” This aroused him. “I can fully realize that joy—that untranslatable joy: I have known its meaning to the full. In the old days, long ago, I was fond of taking interminable walks—going on and on, as you say, without a stop or the thought of a stop. It was at that time, in Washington, that I got to know Peter Doyle—a Rebel, a car-driver, a soldier: have you met him here? seen him? talked with him? Ah yes! we would walk together for miles and miles, never sated. Often we would go on for some time without a word, then talk—Pete a rod ahead or I a rod ahead. Washington was then the grandest of all the cities for such strolls. In order to maintain the centrality, identity, authority, of the city, a whole chain of forts, barracks, was put about it and roads leading out to them. It was therefore owing to these facts that our walks were made easy. Oh! the long, long walks, way into the nights!—in the after hours—sometimes lasting till two or three in the morning! The air, the stars, the moon, the water—what a fullness of inspiration they imparted!—what exhilaration! And there were the detours, too—wanderings off into the country out of the beaten path: I remember one place in Maryland in particular to which we would go. How splendid, above all, was the moon—the full moon, the half moon: and then the wonder, the delight, of the silences.” He half sat up in bed as he spoke. “It was a great, a precious, a memorable, experience. To get the ensemble of Leaves of Grass you have got to include such things as these—the walks, Pete’s friendship: yes, such things: they are absolutely necessary to the completion of the story.”

Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume 2

 

Tuesday, November 20, 1888.

W. had another letter for me. He picked it up from the accustomed place on the table. “It’s from Rossetti,” he said: ” I’ve been reading it over: William Rossetti: full of wise beautiful things—overflowing with genial winsome good will: you ‘ll feel its treasurable quality.” I sat there and read. He said: “Read it aloud: I can easily enjoy it again.” When I got to the passage describing the walks W. interrupted me: “Oh! that’s so fine—so fine, fine, fine: he brings back my own walks to me: the walks alone: the walks with Pete [Doyle, Whitman’s friend]: the blessed past undying days: they make me hungry, tied up as I am now and for good in a room …

Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume 3

 

AH, whispering, something again, unseen,
Where late this heated day thou enterest at my window, door,
Thou, laving, tempering all, cool-freshing, gently vitalizing
Me, old, alone, sick, weak-down, melted-worn with sweat;
Thou, nestling, folding close and firm yet soft, companion better than
talk, book, art,
(Thou hast, O Nature! elements! utterance to my heart beyond the
rest—and this is of them,)
So sweet thy primitive taste to breathe within—thy soothing fingers on
my face and hands,
Thou, messenger-magical strange bringer to body and spirit of me,
(Distances balk’d—occult medicines penetrating me from head to foot.)
I feel the sky, the prairies vast—I feel the mighty northern lakes,
I feel the ocean and the forest—somehow I feel the globe itself swift-
swimming in space;
Thou blown from lips so loved, now gone—haply from endless store,
God sent,
(For thou art spiritual, Godly, most of all known to my sense,)
Minister to speak to me, here and now, what word has never told, and
cannot tell,
Art thou not universal concrete’s distillation? Law’s, all Astronomy’s
last refinement?
Hast thou no soul? Can I not know, identify thee?

“To The Sunset Breeze” (1890)

 

Friday, February 14, 1890

On B[uckwalter]. expressing his pleasure that W. got out of doors, W. said: “I got out yesterday—today it has not been possible. Yesterday’s jaunt—and it was quite a jaunt—was a fine one. The sky, the river, the sun—they are my curatives.”

Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden , Volume 6

 

Who was not proud of his songs, but of the measureless ocean of
love within him, and freely pour’d it forth,
Who often walk’d lonesome walks thinking of his dear friends, his
lovers, …
wandering hand in hand, they twain
apart from other men,
Who oft as he saunter’d the streets curv’d with his arm the shoulder of his friend, while the arm of his friend rested upon
him also.

“Recorders Ages Hence” (1891)

 

 

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— Roger W. Smith

   originally posted November 2017; updated December 2017

 

 

addendum:

Note that Charles Dickens is said to frequently have taken long walks that could extend to twenty to thirty miles a day, and that Henry David Thoreau wrote: “I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that” walking. I wonder if Dickens really did thirty miles that often.

My record for a single day was two separate walks (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) of a combined total length of twenty-four miles. I try to take one very long walk once a week. This walk is usually about twelve miles, though sometimes I do around fifteen or sixteen miles.

However, it is noted in The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford that Dickens went to work in a blacking factory at age twelve to support his family, which was in financial straits and that, after working all day, he would walk home every night, a distance of five miles.

 

— Roger W. Smith

the effervescent (sometimes typographically challenged) pedant

 

 

I am blessed to come from a family that is very verbal, that delights in oral and written exchanges and expression and in word play. It seems as if they always put things just right, and often they amuse or provide a pleasant surprise with verbal ingenuity.

When I was in college, my brother and his wife gave me a book as a Christmas gift: Samuel Eliot Morison’s The Oxford History of the American People. On the flyleaf, my brother wrote an inscription: “To the effervescent pedant / With love”

I thought of this because of an email exchange I had with my brother this morning.

In the email to my brother, I quoted from my post

 

“her” instead of “him”; Ms.; and what else?

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/12/20/her-instead-of-him-ms-and-what-else/

 

as follows: “The PC types are all for conversation (of the wilderness and the natural environment). Why do they want to tear asunder our language? Like nature, it should be conserved, which does mean embalmed or ossified.”

 

and, in the email, said:

See any problem with this?

The PC crowd does tend to be loquacious.

 

 

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My brother responded as follows:

Cute typo.

Reminds me when you confused “martial relations” with “marital relations,” an apt malaprop that sent Mom into gales of laughter — loving laughter because in part she was enjoying your early advanced vocabulary.

 

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I wrote back:

All very true, Pete.

Aptly described.

Your memory is impressive.

I had forgotten how I used to get “martial” and “marital” mixed up.

Sometimes, I would make words up, which amused Mom … I used to say, “It’s just the INTRACITIES of life.”

Once I wrote Mom a letter using several big words I had just learned. I said that if she had no objection, I would DESCANT upon a few things. (To descant means to talk tediously or at length.)

She wrote back a letter beginning with, “So, cant me no descants.” She loved word play.

 

 

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This was brilliant usage by my mother. The intransitive verb cant (the meaning of which I did not know) is defined thusly:

1: to talk or beg in a whining or singsong manner

2: to speak in cant or jargon

3: to talk hypocritically

I’m trying to remember in which work of literature I first encountered the word descant.  I usually don’t forget such things.

It will come to me.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 22, 2017