Monthly Archives: March 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.
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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

the dead-carts

I say they had dug several pits in another ground, when the distemper began to spread in our parish, and especially when the dead-carts began to go about, which was not, in our parish, till the beginning of August. Into these pits they had put perhaps fifty or sixty bodies each; then they made larger holes wherein they buried all that the cart brought in a week, which, by the middle to the end of August, came to from 200 to 400 a week; and they could not well dig them larger, because of the order of the magistrates confining them to leave no bodies within six feet of the surface; and the water coming on at about seventeen or eighteen feet, they could not well, I say, put more in one pit. But now, at the beginning of September, the plague raging in a dreadful manner, and the number of burials in our parish increasing to more than was ever buried in any parish about London of no larger extent, they ordered this dreadful gulf to be dug–for such it was, rather than a pit.
— Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (1722)

 

 

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“A refrigerated truck has been stationed outside to hold the bodies of the dead. Over the past 24 hours, New York City’s public hospital system said in a statement, 13 people at Elmhurst [Hospital Center] had died.”

 

— “One day, 13 deaths, and an overwhelmed city hospital.,” The New York Times, March 26, 2020

 

 

— Posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 26, 2020

Schubert

 

 

 

 

 

 

In some British film that I was watching with my wife last night, there was a scene with a young woman playing the piano: Beethoven, Chopin, and another piece.

“I know that piece,” I said to my wife. Then, after a moment or two of concentration, I said, “It’s Schubert. One of his impromptus.”

Here it is. I find Schubert very appropriate for these incredibly sad times.

Also posted above is Liszt’s piano transcription of a song from Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise (Winter’s Journey): namely, “Wasserflut” (“Flood”).

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 22, 2020

“crisis managers”

 

 

 

 

Second Avenue 3-15-2020

Second Avenue, Sunday, March 15, 2020

 

 

 

I can’t speak for most people, but I assume that my behavior in response to the Coronavirus epidemic is not that uncommon.

My initial instincts a week or two ago — my thoughts then — were, I can’t eliminate all possibility of illness, control all circumstances. I will try to observe the recommend actions (such as washing my hands more frequently) and precautions, but I’m not going to shut down, or alter my daily routine.

Since then, the fears and warnings have been mounting steadily at an accelerating pace. I am taking the warnings and recommendations seriously and am planning to stay at home for the most part. And many activities such as concerts and classes have been canceled anyway.

 

 

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On Thursday evening during the preceding week, before language classes were cancelled, I was seated on a bench in a hallway of the language school waiting for my class to begin. I was conversing with a fellow student.

I coughed once or twice.

Being very mindful of warnings regarding coughing in public places, I leaned over, turned away from my classmate, and covered my mouth.

“Are you ill?” an obnoxious woman seated across the hall with a friend said. When I didn’t answer right away, she repeated the question.

“I coughed,” I said. “That isn’t unusual. Are you trying to imply that I have an infection?”

 

 

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I can’t stay indoors all the time, and I wouldn’t recommend it for healthy people, virus notwithstanding.

Yesterday I went for a walk in Manhattan. A beautiful, mild, sunny day. Sun drenched sidewalks.

I was walking downtown on Second Avenue in the 30’s.

I seem to have an allergic condition where, at any time, including times when I am well and don’t have a cold, the air can cause me to cough. It’s usually cold air, the effects of which I often experience the minute I go outside, or sometimes dust indoors.

It was approximately 1 p.m. There were very few pedestrians, and there was no one near me.

A gust of wind hit me, and I coughed once. It was barely noticeable.

I continued walking. I thought I heard someone say, angrily, “Cover your mouth!”

I walked a few more steps, then turned and looked backwards. Was the remark meant for me?

Apparently — in fact — it was. The only other people on the block were a woman and man standing together a half a block away. They were conversing, not walking.

It was the woman who had told me to cover my mouth.

The average city block in Manhattan is slightly over 260 feet long. The couple was more than 100 feet away from me when I coughed. I was in the open air when I coughed. Not near anyone. Not coughing on anyone or in their face.
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Panics, disasters, and emergencies bring out all kinds of reactions and behaviors in people.

Good and bad. The best and the worst. Selfish and altruistic. Noble and petty.

Some persons exhibit increased concern and thoughtfulness for others and their welfare. Others use them as an occasion to exhibit traits of officiousness and pettiness which they feel a license to exhibit.

Such as taking out their anxieties and fears and obsessive tendencies on others who have nothing to do with them and no actual or conceivable relationship to any actual emergency.

They are taking their anxiety out on others and therefore increasing the level of everyone else’s anxiety.

 

 

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The truth of the situation with these minders, these obnoxious persons, is that they see a crisis situation as an opportunity, almost an incentive, to pick on other people who didn’t create the situation and who have no more to do with it than they do.

There is no way to tell who one encounters in public might be infected. But let’s pick on anyone whom we don’t take to, or about whom something or other might give us the opportunity to show that we are on the lookout for infected persons. Got to keep our streets and classes disease free!

Shows we are on the watch.

We went for a walk in public despite the warnings. While we’re out, we’ll police the streets. Can’t have too few “hall monitors” watching the sidewalks for Coronavirus transmitters. We’re civic minded. No telling who might deserve a scolding.

 

 

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A crisis brings out the magnanimous and the petty.

Some people are inherently mean.

A crisis gives them an incentive and what they regard as license to take out their mean impulses on the pretense that it’s for the common good. They view themselves as benefactors when it’s actually the opposite. Read, malefactor(s). They are doing harm.

Dissatisfaction with themselves and present conditions becomes disapproval of others.
— Roger W. Smith

   March 16, 2020

 

 

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addendum:

 

I recommend as reading at this time an unforgettable and totally engrossing book: A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe.

 

 

cover - A Journal of the Plague Year

 

“The Editor believes the thing to be a just History of Fact; neither is there any Appearance of Fiction in it” … “some are so bold as to think my book of travels a mere fiction out of mine own brain”

 

 

 

THE PREFACE.

 

IF ever the Story of any private Man’s Adventures in the World were worth making Publick, and were acceptable when Publish’d, the Editor of this Account thinks this will be so.

The Wonders of this man’s Life exceed all that (he thinks) is to be found extant: the Life of one Man being scarce capable of a greater Variety.

The Story is told with Modesty, with Seriousness. and with a religious Application of Events to the Uses to which wise Men always apply them (viz.) to the Instruction of others by this Example, and to justify and honour the Wisdom of Providence in all the Variety of our Circumstances. let them happen how they will.

The Editor believes the thing to be a just History of Fact; neither is there any Appearance of Fiction in it: And however thinks, because all such things are dispatch’d, that the Improvement of it, as well to the Diversion, as to the Instruction of the Reader, will be the same: and as such, he thinks, without farther Compliment to the World. he does them a great Service in the Publication. [italics added]

 
— Daniel Defoe, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719)

 

 

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THE PUBLISHER TO THE READER.

 
The author of these Travels, Mr. Lemuel Gulliver, is my ancient and intimate friend; there is likewise some relation between us on the mother’s side.  About three years ago, Mr. Gulliver growing weary of the concourse of curious people coming to him at his house in Redriff, made a small purchase of land, with a convenient house, near Newark, in Nottinghamshire, his native country; where he now lives retired, yet in good esteem among his neighbours.

Although Mr. Gulliver was born in Nottinghamshire, where his father dwelt, yet I have heard him say his family came from Oxfordshire; to confirm which, I have observed in the churchyard at Banbury in that county, several tombs and monuments of the Gullivers.

Before he quitted Redriff, he left the custody of the following papers in my hands, with the liberty to dispose of them as I should think fit.  I have carefully perused them three times.  The style is very plain and simple; and the only fault I find is, that the author, after the manner of travellers, is a little too circumstantial.  There is an air of truth apparent through the whole; and indeed the author was so distinguished for his veracity, that it became a sort of proverb among his neighbours at Redriff, when any one affirmed a thing, to say, it was as true as if Mr. Gulliver had spoken it.

By the advice of several worthy persons, to whom, with the author’s permission, I communicated these papers, I now venture to send them into the world, hoping they may be, at least for some time, a better entertainment to our young noblemen, than the common scribbles of politics and party.

This volume would have been at least twice as large, if I had not made bold to strike out innumerable passages relating to the winds and tides, as well as to the variations and bearings in the several voyages, together with the minute descriptions of the management of the ship in storms, in the style of sailors; likewise the account of longitudes and latitudes; wherein I have reason to apprehend, that Mr. Gulliver may be a little dissatisfied.  But I was resolved to fit the work as much as possible to the general capacity of readers.  However, if my own ignorance in sea affairs shall have led me to commit some mistakes, I alone am answerable for them.  And if any traveller hath a curiosity to see the whole work at large, as it came from the hands of the author, I will be ready to gratify him.

As for any further particulars relating to the author, the reader will receive satisfaction from the first pages of the book.

 

RICHARD SYMPSON.

 

 

 
A LETTER FROM CAPTAIN GULLIVER TO HIS COUSIN SYMPSON.

Written in the Year 1727.

 

I hope you will be ready to own publicly, whenever you shall be called to it, that by your great and frequent urgency you prevailed on me to publish a very loose and uncorrect account of my travels, with directions to hire some young gentleman of either university to put them in order, and correct the style, as my cousin Dampier did, by my advice, in his book called “A Voyage round the world.”  But I do not remember I gave you power to consent that any thing should be omitted, and much less that any thing should be inserted; therefore, as to the latter, I do here renounce every thing of that kind; particularly a paragraph about her majesty Queen Anne, of most pious and glorious memory; although I did reverence and esteem her more than any of human species.  But you, or your interpolator, ought to have considered, that it was not my inclination, so was it not decent to praise any animal of our composition before my master Houyhnhnm: And besides, the fact was altogether false; for to my knowledge, being in England during some part of her majesty’s reign, she did govern by a chief minister; nay even by two successively, the first whereof was the lord of Godolphin, and the second the lord of Oxford; so that you have made me say the thing that was not.  Likewise in the account of the academy of projectors, and several passages of my discourse to my master Houyhnhnm, you have either omitted some material circumstances, or minced or changed them in such a manner, that I do hardly know my own work.  When I formerly hinted to you something of this in a letter, you were pleased to answer that you were afraid of giving offence; that people in power were very watchful over the press, and apt not only to interpret, but to punish every thing which looked like an innuendo (as I think you call it).  But, pray how could that which I spoke so many years ago, and at about five thousand leagues distance, in another reign, be applied to any of the Yahoos, who now are said to govern the herd; especially at a time when I little thought, or feared, the unhappiness of living under them?  Have not I the most reason to complain, when I see these very Yahoos carried by Houyhnhnms in a vehicle, as if they were brutes, and those the rational creatures?  And indeed to avoid so monstrous and detestable a sight was one principal motive of my retirement hither.

Thus much I thought proper to tell you in relation to yourself, and to the trust I reposed in you.

I do, in the next place, complain of my own great want of judgment, in being prevailed upon by the entreaties and false reasoning of you and some others, very much against my own opinion, to suffer my travels to be published.  Pray bring to your mind how often I desired you to consider, when you insisted on the motive of public good, that the Yahoos were a species of animals utterly incapable of amendment by precept or example: and so it has proved; for, instead of seeing a full stop put to all abuses and corruptions, at least in this little island, as I had reason to expect; behold, after above six months warning, I cannot learn that my book has produced one single effect according to my intentions.  I desired you would let me know, by a letter, when party and faction were extinguished; judges learned and upright; pleaders honest and modest, with some tincture of common sense, and Smithfield blazing with pyramids of law books; the young nobility’s education entirely changed; the physicians banished; the female Yahoos abounding in virtue, honour, truth, and good sense; courts and levees of great ministers thoroughly weeded and swept; wit, merit, and learning rewarded; all disgracers of the press in prose and verse condemned to eat nothing but their own cotton, and quench their thirst with their own ink.  These, and a thousand other reformations, I firmly counted upon by your encouragement; as indeed they were plainly deducible from the precepts delivered in my book.  And it must be owned, that seven months were a sufficient time to correct every vice and folly to which Yahoos are subject, if their natures had been capable of the least disposition to virtue or wisdom.  Yet, so far have you been from answering my expectation in any of your letters; that on the contrary you are loading our carrier every week with libels, and keys, and reflections, and memoirs, and second parts; wherein I see myself accused of reflecting upon great state folk; of degrading human nature (for so they have still the confidence to style it), and of abusing the female sex.  I find likewise that the writers of those bundles are not agreed among themselves; for some of them will not allow me to be the author of my own travels; and others make me author of books to which I am wholly a stranger.

I find likewise that your printer has been so careless as to confound the times, and mistake the dates, of my several voyages and returns; neither assigning the true year, nor the true month, nor day of the month: and I hear the original manuscript is all destroyed since the publication of my book; neither have I any copy left: however, I have sent you some corrections, which you may insert, if ever there should be a second edition: and yet I cannot stand to them; but shall leave that matter to my judicious and candid readers to adjust it as they please.

I hear some of our sea Yahoos find fault with my sea-language, as not proper in many parts, nor now in use.  I cannot help it.  In my first voyages, while I was young, I was instructed by the oldest mariners, and learned to speak as they did.  But I have since found that the sea Yahoos are apt, like the land ones, to become new-fangled in their words, which the latter change every year; insomuch, as I remember upon each return to my own country their old dialect was so altered, that I could hardly understand the new.  And I observe, when any Yahoo comes from London out of curiosity to visit me at my house, we neither of us are able to deliver our conceptions in a manner intelligible to the other.

If the censure of the Yahoos could any way affect me, I should have great reason to complain, that some of them are so bold as to think my book of travels a mere fiction out of mine own brain, and have gone so far as to drop hints, that the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos have no more existence than the inhabitants of Utopia. [italics added]

Indeed I must confess, that as to the people of Lilliput, Brobdingrag (for so the word should have been spelt, and not erroneously Brobdingnag), and Laputa, I have never yet heard of any Yahoo so presumptuous as to dispute their being, or the facts I have related concerning them; because the truth immediately strikes every reader with conviction.  And is there less probability in my account of the Houyhnhnms or Yahoos, when it is manifest as to the latter, there are so many thousands even in this country, who only differ from their brother brutes in Houyhnhnmland, because they use a sort of jabber, and do not go naked?  I wrote for their amendment, and not their approbation.  The united praise of the whole race would be of less consequence to me, than the neighing of those two degenerate Houyhnhnms I keep in my stable; because from these, degenerate as they are, I still improve in some virtues without any mixture of vice.

Do these miserable animals presume to think, that I am so degenerated as to defend my veracity?  Yahoo as I am, it is well known through all Houyhnhnmland, that, by the instructions and example of my illustrious master, I was able in the compass of two years (although I confess with the utmost difficulty) to remove that infernal habit of lying, shuffling, deceiving, and equivocating, so deeply rooted in the very souls of all my species; especially the Europeans.

I have other complaints to make upon this vexatious occasion; but I forbear troubling myself or you any further.  I must freely confess, that since my last return, some corruptions of my Yahoo nature have revived in me by conversing with a few of your species, and particularly those of my own family, by an unavoidable necessity; else I should never have attempted so absurd a project as that of reforming the Yahoo race in this kingdom: But I have now done with all such visionary schemes for ever.

April 2, 1727

 

 

— Jonathan Swift, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships (1726)

 

 

 

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For some unaccountable reason, the Preface to Robinson Crusoe is rarely printed in current editions of the book.

 

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2020

“the four things that no human being can endure” (a question to answer which was torturing me)

 

 

 

Roger W. Smith email to Sherwood Waldron, MD, February 20, 2017

Dear Dr. Waldron,

I am a writer living in Queens, NYC.

I hope this query is not a nuisance.

I am trying to find the answer to a question that has been torturing me.

I was seeing a therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr., in Manhattan over a long period of time. Dr. Colp passed away in 2008.

I tend to remember practically everything Dr. Colp said, word for word. That was the value his words and observations had for me.

But, I can’t quite remember one thing he told me. We were talking about my experience of loneliness, and how I had managed to overcome it.

Dr. Colp said to me, quoting some well known psychoanalyst or writer (I think it was a psychoanalyst), that there were four (?) things that no one — no human being — can stand or endure: loneliness, anxiety (?), and _________.

I can’t recall the source of the quote. I doubt it was Freud, because I would have remembered it if this were the case. It was probably someone more recent whose works Dr. Colp was acquainted with.

I have Googled the quote to no avail. I thought it might have been Alfred Adler, Erich Fromm, or Harry Stack Sullivan.

It could have been Abraham Maslow, but I don’t recall that Dr. Colp mentioned him. It seems I would have remembered, since I knew of Maslow, who taught at Brandeis University when I was a student there. Maslow said similar things.

It could have been Erik Erikson. But, again, it seems that I would have remembered.

Others who come to mind:

Bruno Bettelheim

Rollo May

Schopenhauer

Karl Menninger

It could have been the psychotherapist Irvin D. Yalom, who wrote about “ultimate existential concerns,” namely death freedom isolation, and meaninglessness.

Would you have any idea where the quote might have come from, or how I might go about researching or inquiring about it?

 

 

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Sherwood Waldron MD email to Roger W. Smith, February 20, 2017

Sorry, I don’t recognize the quote.

 

 

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Roger W. Smith email to Sherwood Waldron MD,  January 31, 2020

Dear Dr. Waldron,

I do not expect you to reply to this email unless you wish to.

However, since you were kind enough to reply to me (almost three years ago), I now know (through my persistence) where the passage Dr. Colp was referring to came from.

It is in the works of Irvin D. Yalom, reprinted in The Yalom Reader (Basic Books, 1998), pp. 172-173. What I recalled was that there were four ultimate concerns that Dr. Colp spoke of: they are (Yalom’s four concerns) existential conditions faced by all persons that if not faced inspire dread. One of the four existential concerns is isolation (which I recalled as aloneness, which is the same thing. but I wasted a lot of time Googling using the wrong words).

I am certain that Dr. Colp was familiar with Dr. Yalom’s works — given that he often purchased books from this publisher and that he and Dr. Yalom published, at least once, articles in the same issue of the same journal, Free Associations: Psychoanalysis and Culture, Media, Groups, Politics.

 

Sincerely,

Roger W. Smith

 
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THE ULTIMATE CONCERNS OF HUMAN LIFE

 

Existential therapy is a dynamic approach to therapy which focuses on concerns that are rooted in the individual’s existence.

 

[T]he primary concerns are deeply buried, encrusted with layer upon layer of repression, denial, displacements, and symbolization.”

The existential position emphasizes a conflict that flows from the individual’s confrontation with the givens of existence.

 

 

This book deals with four ultimate concerns: death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness. The individual’s confrontation with each of these facts of life constitutes the content of the existential dynamic conflict.

Death The most obvious, the most easily apprehended ultimate concern is death. We exist now, but one day we shall cease to be. Death will come, and there is no escape from it. It is a terrible truth, and we respond to it with mortal terror. “Everything,” in Spinoza’s words, “endeavors to persist in its own being”;’ and a core existential conflict is the tension between the awareness of the inevitability of death and the wish to continue to be.

Freedom Another ultimate concern, a far less accessible one, is freedom. Ordinarily we think of freedom as an unequivocally positive concept. Throughout recorded history has not the human being yearned and striven for freedom? Yet freedom viewed from the perspective of ultimate ground is riveted to dread. In its existential sense “freedom” refers to the absence of external structure. Contrary to everyday experience, the human being does not enter (and leave) a well-structured universe that has an inherent design. Rather, the individual is entirely responsible for–that is, is the author of–his or her own world, life design, choices, and actions. “Freedom,” in this sense, has a terrifying implication: it means that beneath us there is no ground-nothing, a void, an abyss. A key existential dynamic, then, is the clash between our confrontation with groundlessness and our wish for ground and structure.

Existential Isolation A third ultimate concern is isolation-not in­terpersonal isolation with its attendant loneliness, or intrapersonal isolation (isolation from parts of oneself), but a fundamental isolation–an isolation both from creatures and from world–which cuts beneath other isolation. No matter how close each of us becomes to another, there remains a final, unbridgeable gap; each of us enters existence alone and must depart from it alone. The existential conflict is thus the tension between our awareness of our absolute isolation and our wish for contact, for protection, our wish to be part of a larger whole.

Meaninglessness A fourth ultimate concern, or given, of existence is meaninglessness. If we must die, if we constitute our own world, if each is ultimately alone in an indifferent universe, then what meaning does life have? Why do we live? How shall we live? If there is no preor­dained design for us, then each of us must construct our own meanings in life. Yet can a meaning of one’s own creation be sturdy enough to bear one’s life? This existential dynamic conflict stems from the dilemma of a meaning-seeking creature who is thrown into a universe that has no meaning.

 

— from Irving D. Yalom, “The Four Ultimate Concerns,” Essential Therapy; The Introduction; reprinted in The Yalom Reader (Basic Books, 1998), pp. 169-173

 

 

 

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Persistence, doggedness pay off in research.

I never give up.

My wife often says, “You can find ANYTHING.”

My former therapist, Dr. Colp, an independent scholar, used to ask me to do research for him pro bono. I used to wonder, was it his way of sort of exacting payment in kind to make up for his very low fees? Sometimes the research was very tedious. But, I told him that I was flattered to be asked.

The questions he asked me to research were never easy ones. They were minuscule things which he couldn’t find the answer to. Such as who wrote a certain poem that Charles Darwin knew of because he liked a song  composed by Sir Arthur Sullivan in which the lyrics of the poem had been set to music? It was some Victorian poet. I found the answer to that one (Adelaide Procter).

And, who was the author of a bestselling women’s novel that Darwin liked? I never did find the answer. The novel (entitled The Fair Carew) was published anonymously, and it appears that even to this day the author’s identity has never been discovered. (Doctor Colp read the novel in a library in London during a visit there.)

 

 

— posted by Roger W Smith

   March 2020

Beethoven/Goethe, “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last night, I heard Beethoven’s short piece Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage), Op. 112. performed at Carnegie Hall. It is a setting of two poems by Goethe.

The words enchanted me.

Beethoven, as in the Pastorale Symphony — and also in the Choral Fantasy and Ode To Joy — could write outstanding music (as, say, Stravinsky really couldn’t in this respect, despite the supposed primal quality of The Rite of Spring) that captures the elemental human expression of nature and human emotions.

Goethe’s beautiful words follow.

 

 

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Meerestille

Tiefe Stille herrscht im Wasser,
Ohne Regung ruht das Meer,
Und bekümmert sieht der Schiffer
Glatte Fläche ringsumher.
Keine Luft von keiner Seite!
Todesstille fürchterlich!
In der ungeheuern Weite
Reget keine Welle sich.

 

Glückliche Fahrt

Die Nebel zerreißen,
Der Himmel ist helle,
Und Äolus löset
Das ängstliche Band.
Es säuseln die Winde,
Es rührt sich der Schiffer.
Geschwinde! Geschwinde!
Es teilt sich die Welle,
Es naht sich die Ferne;
Schon seh ich das Land!

 

 

Calm Sea

Deep stillness rules the water
The sea lies motionless,
And sadly, the sailor observes
The smooth surfaces all around.
No air from any side!
Deathly, terrible stillness!
In the immense distances
not a single wave stirs.

Prosperous Voyage

The fog is torn,
The sky is bright,
And Aeolus releases
The fearful bindings.
The winds whisper,
The sailor begins to move.
Quickly, quickly!
The waves part,
The distance approaches;
Already, I see the land!

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 6, 2019