Category Archives: Charles Dickens

serendipity (or, should I say, the paranormal)

 

 

It usually is the case that if two people don’t get along, they can’t have a successful working relationship.

This applies to an instructor and a student.

If the thing being taught is something technical, you would think that if the instructor has the knowledge and expertise, personality wouldn’t matter.

It does for me. I have had experiences taking lessons (briefly) in swimming, tennis, and piano, all of which didn’t work out mostly because I could not establish rapport with the instructor.

 

 

 

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This was true of George Cohen of Newton, Massachusetts, a well known and very successful piano teacher.

My father, who became a professional pianist and himself a piano teacher, was a student of Mr. Cohen in his youth. My younger brother took lessons with Mr. Cohen for years and was one of his best students.

I myself decided that I wanted to try taking piano lessons for a second time when I was a junior in college. I had taken them briefly at age eleven with a very nice, attractive, and vivacious Japanese woman, Marsha Fukui, in Cambridge, Mass. We hit it off, but I lost interest in piano after a few months and stopped taking lessons.

I tried again in my late teens, when I was in college, with Mr. Cohen. I thought the fact that I was my father’s son and that my father must have been one of his best students would have meant something, also the fact that my younger brother was his student for a long time. This didn’t seem to matter to Mr. Cohen. Personal relationships were not of interest to him. One could say, why should they matter? You were there to learn how to play the piano. But in my case — from my perspective — such things are very important. I have to feel connected to the other person, have to be able to make conversation. If I don’t, I can’t get anywhere with them.

 

 

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But that’s not the key point of this post. I wish to share a couple of amazing, serendipitous things that happened to me. One involved my lessons with Mr. Cohen.

Mr. Cohen kept telling me that I needed to strengthen my fingers as an older piano student. He said that stiffness in the fingers (they are, apparently, much more limber in a grade schooler) was a problem that had to be overcome if I was ever going to make progress. He told me to take a book and put it over my hand when playing, as a finger muscle strengthening exercise. So, I took a book at random off the bookshelf in the living room of my home and used it when practicing. A while later, I happened to look at the book. The title was The Physiology of Piano Playing.

A totally coincidental occurrence. What were the odds that that would be the book I would use?

 

 

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The other anecdote involved, indirectly, my former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr.

From time to time during the course of our therapy sessions, Dr. Colp, who was a prolific writer and well known scholar, would ask me to do unpaid research for him. I remember once when he was writing an article updating some aspect of the psychiatric literature and he asked me to make an inventory of new publications in the field.

Dr. Colp’s fees were every low, well below professional norms. He made it clear to me personally and also in comments he made to interviewers that he was not in medicine for the money.

Perhaps he regarded “hiring” me to do research as a form of barter, with the research amounting to partial payment. But he only asked me to do it when he was stumped by something and absolutely could not find anything.

I told him that I was flattered to be asked. Yet, sometimes I was thinking, what will he ask me to find now? He always gave me the hardest things to look up.

Often, the research concerned, usually indirectly, Charles Darwin, Dr. Colp’s major research interest, about whom he wrote two books and many articles.

Dr. Colp was interested in learning everything he could about Darwin’s personal (as well as his scientific) life, including how he spent his leisure time and what his tastes in books (e.g., novels) and music were. He had found out that Darwin liked a popular song of the Victorian era, “Will He Come?,” composed by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame).

Could I find out where the lyrics came from?

It was known that the lyrics to the song were by Adelaide Procter. Adelaide Anne Procter (1825–1864) was a very popular poet of her day; she was the favorite poet of Queen Victoria. She burst on the literary scene as a teenager. She died of tuberculosis at age thirty-nine.

So, what poem of Procter’s were the lyrics to the song taken from? Dr. Colp, like me, was a stickler for details. He wanted to be exact.

I couldn’t find out what poem of Procter’s the lyrics came from. She published three books of poetry in her lifetime. There is no poem with the title “Will He Come?”

It seems that it would have made sense for me to consult her books, but they weren’t available to me. I cannot remember why I didn’t. This was pre-internet days. Somehow, I found out that Procter had known Charles Dickens, who admired her work, and that some of her earliest poems had been published in Household Words, a weekly magazine edited by Dickens. (I doubt that nowadays many people know that Dickens was an editor.)

I went to the New York Public Library and put in a call slip for several issues of Household Words from the 1850’s. A big fat volume with a faded green cover was handed over to me. It was comprised of several issues of the magazine that had been bound together into a single volume. The pages were old and showed their age.

I placed the big, weighty book on a table in front of me and opened it carefully, not wanting to damage it. I opened it at random to a page somewhere in the middle.

On that very page was THE poem. Miss Procter’s poem. Published under the title “Hush!”

The exact same words, verbatim, as the lyrics in the Arthur Sullivan song.

How had it happened that I had requested the right volume of the magazine, and then, amazingly, opened to the very page on which there was not only a poem by Proctor, but the very poem I was looking for?

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 2017

 

 

 

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Hush!
“I CAN scarcely hear,” she murmured,
“For my heart beats loud and fast,
But surely, in the far, far distance,
I can hear a sound at last.”
“It is only the reapers singing,
As they carry home their sheaves,
And the evening breeze has risen,
And rustles the dying leaves.”

“Listen! there are voices talking.”
Calmly still she strove to speak,
Yet her voice grew faint and trembling,
And the red flushed in her cheek.
“It is only the children playing
Below, now their work is done,
And they laugh that their eyes are dazzled
By the rays of the setting sun.”

Fainter grew her voice, and weaker
As with anxious eyes she cried,
“Down the avenue of chestnuts,
I can hear a horseman ride.”
“It was only the deer that were feeding
In a herd on the clover grass,
They were startled, and fled to the thicket,
As they saw the reapers pass.”

Now the night arose in silence,
Birds lay in their leafy nest,
And the deer couched in the forest,
And the children were at rest:
There was only a sound of weeping
From watchers around a bed,
But Rest to the weary spirit,
Peace to the quiet Dead!

 

Adelaide Procter

now the graveyards?

 

 

 

[T]he crowd approached; they were bawling and hissing round a dingy hearse and dingy mourning coach, in which mourning coach there was only one mourner, dressed in the dingy trappings that were considered essential to the dignity of the position. The position appeared by no means to please him, however, with an increasing rabble surrounding the coach, deriding him, making grimaces at him, and incessantly groaning and calling out: “Yah! Spies! Tst! Yaha! Spies!” with many compliments too numerous and forcible to repeat.

…. “What is it, brother? What’s it about?”

“_I_ don’t know,” said the man. “Spies! Yaha! Tst! Spies!”

He asked another man. “Who is it?”

“_I_ don’t know,” returned the man, clapping his hands to his mouth nevertheless, and vociferating in a surprising heat and with the greatest ardour, “Spies! Yaha! Tst, tst! Spi–ies!”

… “Was he a spy?” asked Mr. Cruncher.

“Old Bailey spy,” returned his informant. “Yaha! Tst! Yah! Old Bailey Spi–i–ies!”

“Why, to be sure!” exclaimed Jerry, recalling the Trial at which he had assisted. “I’ve seen him. Dead, is he?”

“Dead as mutton,” returned the other, “and can’t be too dead. Have ’em out, there! Spies! Pull ’em out, there! Spies!”

The idea was so acceptable in the prevalent absence of any idea, that the crowd caught it up with eagerness, and loudly repeating the suggestion to have ’em out, and to pull ’em out, mobbed the two vehicles so closely that they came to a stop. On the crowd’s opening the coach doors, the one mourner scuffled out by himself and was in their hands for a moment; but he was so alert, and made such good use of his time, that in another moment he was scouring away up a bye-street, after shedding his cloak, hat, long hatband, white pocket-handkerchief, and other symbolical tears.

These, the people tore to pieces and scattered far and wide with great enjoyment, while the tradesmen hurriedly shut up their shops; for a crowd in those times stopped at nothing, and was a monster much dreaded.

They had already got the length of opening the hearse to take the coffin out, when some brighter genius proposed instead, its being escorted to its destination amidst general rejoicing. Practical suggestions being much needed, this suggestion, too, was received with acclamation, and the coach was immediately filled with eight inside and a dozen out, while as many people got on the roof of the hearse as could by any exercise of ingenuity stick upon it. Among the first of these volunteers was Jerry Cruncher himself, who modestly concealed his spiky head from the observation of Tellson’s, in the further corner of the mourning coach.

The officiating undertakers made some protest against these changes in the ceremonies; but, the river being alarmingly near, and several voices remarking on the efficacy of cold immersion in bringing refractory members of the profession to reason, the protest was faint and brief. … Thus, with beer-drinking, pipe-smoking, song-roaring, and infinite caricaturing of woe, the disorderly procession went its way, recruiting at every step, and all the shops shutting up before it. Its destination was the old church of Saint Pancras, far off in the fields. It got there in course of time; insisted on pouring into the burial-ground; finally, accomplished the interment of the deceased Roger Cly in its own way, and highly to its own satisfaction.

 

— Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities; Book the Second–The Golden Thread; Chapter XIV, The Honest Tradesman

 

 

 

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There was an article in The New York Times this morning that caught my eye:

“Battle Over Confederate Monuments Moves to “the Cemeteries.” by Julie Bosman, The New York Times, September 21, 2017

 

 

The following are some excerpts from the article.

One by one, Confederate monuments are coming down from their perches in front of courthouses, in public squares, along city boulevards.

Now opponents to the memorials are looking through cemetery gates for more.

Local officials and residents, outraged by the violence in Charlottesville, Va., last month and determined to clear their cities of markers that glorify the Confederacy, are pushing for the removal of Confederate monuments that have adorned the graves of soldiers for decades.

In the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, a six-foot granite monument with a bronze plaque dating to 1925 was covered with a tarp and whisked away in the middle of the night after activists called for its removal and spray-painted the word “No” on its back.

The mayor of West Palm Beach, Fla., ordered a Confederate memorial taken out of a city-operated cemetery in August. In Columbus, Ohio, vandals recently decapitated a statue of a Confederate soldier in a cemetery, leaving city officials scrambling to respond.

Days after the protests in Charlottesville, Paul Soglin, the mayor of Madison, directed that a plaque honoring the Confederacy inside Forest Hill Cemetery, a city-owned property near the University of Wisconsin campus, be removed. ….

The calls to remove the monument in Madison, and other monuments like it, have given rise to questions of the place of Confederate memorials and cemeteries in daily life: Is a monument in a cemetery really on public display? Though most people rarely enter cemeteries, are their contents — statues, monuments and plaques — subject to scrutiny by people in the community? While a Confederate statue in a busy town square honors the dead, does a monument in a tranquil, little-trafficked cemetery have the same effect? … [How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?]

The monument targeted for removal, boxy and carved from a smooth gray granite, is engraved with the names of dozens of soldiers, mostly men who were imprisoned and died at nearby Camp Randall during the Civil War. It stands prominently in front of the men’s graves, their names chiseled on their headstones in simple block letters — C. A. Hollingsworth, H. Faulks and L. Galloway among them — alongside their regimens and home states, frequently Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi. (Those who favor removing the monument say they have no intention of altering the gravestones.)

Three separate city council committees intend to study the memorial, which was installed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy around 1931 and also honors a local woman who regularly tended the graves, and make recommendations on what to do with it — whether to alter the structure, remove it entirely or append more information to it to give visitors greater context.

 

 

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I wrote the following in email to my wife this morning, commenting upon the Times article.

 

What’s next?

There is a word (or words) for what’s going on:

collective insanity;

mass hysteria.

To get a feeling for this type of mass hysteria, one should read Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities.” Think it’s likely to be read by the self appointed “minders” of public monuments?

I doubt it.

You don’t desecrate grave memorials and plaques.

We thought the Taliban idol smashers were bad. But, then, the comparison would be lost on the PC zealots.

I thought the defacing of gravestones by hooligans and sometimes by hate mongers (e.g., desecration of Jewish cemeteries by anti-Semites) was supposed to be a crime. There have been several articles about this in the Times, for example, reporting on recent vandalism at Jewish Cemeteries in Missouri and Philadelphia.

How about letting the dead and departed — all the dead and departed — rest in peace?

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   September 2017

 

 

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Addendum:

 

“The four arrested youths — a 15-year-old, two 16-year-olds and a 17-year-old — were charged on Wednesday with juvenile delinquency. If charged as adults, they could have faced charges of desecration of venerated objects, conspiracy to commit desecration and criminal mischief.” — “4 Youths Arrested in Vandalism at Jewish Cemetery in New Jersey.’ The New York Times, January 11, 2008

 

 

The punishment is supposed to fit the crime. But, when the “crime” is destroying Confederate symbols in the burial plot of someone’s ancestors, a crime is no longer a crime, it seems. — Roger W. Smith