Tag Archives: William S. Dalzell

re “Dangerous Mystic: Meister Eckhart’s Path to the God Within”

 

 

The following are emails of mine to Joel F. Harrington, author of Dangerous Mystic: Meister Eckhart’s Path to the God Within (New York: Penguin Press, 2018), a book I recently read.

The second email contains my reflections on the book. Realizing that I am praising myself, I think the email shows an earnest attempt on my part to not only show appreciation for the book, but to learn as much as I can from it — in other words, it shows how a book should be read, how I customarily do read; that is, with close attention and a critical eye, and extracting every scrap of meaning and knowledge I can.

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

 

 

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

 

 

June 20, 2020

Dear Professor Harrington,

I was in the Strand Bookstore in New York City a year or two ago and asked if they had any books on Meister Eckhart.

The clerk said no.

I browsed the shelves in the religion section and found several, including your biography.

A long time ago, when I was new to New York, a coworker who became a lifelong friend [Bill Dalzell] introduced me to Meister Eckhart. My friend, a deep and earnest thinker, was not scholarly per se … he was interested in mysticism along with many other things in art, philosophy, and aesthetics that he introduced me, a recent college graduate, to.

I am an independent scholar and writer. I know good writing when I see it.

I have read only a few pages of your biography so far, but I can tell how well written it is and how worth reading.

I will be in touch with you again when I have finished.

Sincerely,

Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

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

 

August 19, 2020

Dear Professor Harrington,

This is a follow-up (as I had promised) to a previous email of mine two months ago about your biography of Meister Eckhart, which I finished a few weeks ago. I am finally getting around to writing you.

It is very well written, in my opinion, and combines impressive scholarship with readability. Although I am probably more acquainted with the Middle Ages and medieval thought than most readers, having majored in history and taken excellent courses in medieval history with professors Norman Cantor and Joshua Prawer at Brandeis University, I am no expert — and yet, I would say that you have done a very good job of getting your hands around the subtleties in Eckhart’s thought. They (the subtleties and nuances of his theology) require much effort at explanation, and yet, I believe you would concur, they also have to be intuited.

It is my belief that, in the best writing, the writer has done the homework, so to speak, for the reader. Your Eckhart biography, in my opinion, provides a much needed, synthesis for the reader familiar with but not deeply read in or that well acquainted with Eckhart or his writing.

I thought that Chapter 13 was a brilliant synthesis of writings about Eckhart and his influence over time, and in modern times, and, in general, the book does an admirable job of showing how views and interpretations of Eckhart have shaped and have been shaped by trends and fashions in religions and mysticism. You have shown how Eckhart continues to be influential — indeed, how his influence has grown, yet you avoid the trap of presentism: of trying to give him a “makeover” for later generations. You have made a strenuous effort to understand his writings, theology, and life in the context of and with reference to the actuality of his own life and times.

The analysis of Eckhart’s neologisms on pages 216-217 was very interesting and stimulating for this reader with a rudimentary (very limited) knowledge of German.

Among the many thoughts that occurred to me while reading the book were latter-day concepts such as transcendentalism; specifically, the idea that God is all around us. Are there any similarities to Eckhart here? Ralph Waldo Emerson talks of becoming nothing and seeing all. “I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part of God.”

On page 239, you speak of a “power … variously named by Eckhart as the divine light of the soul, the head of the soul, the husband of the soul, the guardian of the spirit, the light of the spirit, the imprint of divine nature, a citadel, a tiny drop of intellect, a twig, and, … a little spark.” And, on page 319, you write, “The divine spark within each person, the master teaches, is what links us to one another and to all creation. …” Is Eckhart’s divine light of the soul anything like the Quaker inner light?

I found the following passage on pages 92-93 to be very enlightening:

For the sake of his youthful and inexperienced audience, raised with conventional notions of piety, Eckhart made his point explicit: [God] is little concerned with our works, but only with our state of mind in all our works, that we love Him in all things. The prior’s apparent diminishment of conventional acts of piety should not be misunderstood; it was their perception as bargaining tools with God that he explicitly rejected, not their value as spiritual aids:

Many people think they are performing great works by outward things such as fasting, going barefoot, or other such things which are called penance. But the true and best penance is that whereby one improves greatly and in the highest degree …. This penance is truly a state of mind lifted into God away from all things, and in whatever works you find you can have it most, and have it from those works, do them the more freely; and then, if any outward work should hinder you, whether it be fasting, watching, reading, or whatever else, you can safely leave that alone without worrying about failing in any penance. …

Acts of penitence undertaken without this shift in attitude could in fact have a deleterious effect, drag[ging] down into ever greater sorrow and plung[ing] a man into such distress that he is ready to despair, and then the repentance remains painful and he gets no farther: nothing comes of this.

On page 218, you wrote:

Even with a new and colorful vocabulary, the master’s translation of scholastic thinking into the common idiom was not always successful. What, for instance, would a modestly educated listener have made of this attempt to describe the timeless melding of divine union?

You should wholly sink from your youness and dissolve into his Hisness and your “yours” and his “His” should become so completely one “mine” that with him you understand His uncreated self-identity and His nameless nothingness, …

Viewed in the context of Meister Eckhart’s general teaching and as words on the page, the passage appears somewhat comprehensible; heard in a sermon, the spoken concepts of “youness” and “Hisness” must have been baffling.”

I found the last sentence (“Viewed in the context …”) to be very perceptive, showing a real attempt to place oneself in the context of Eckhart’s place and times.

On page 11, you write:

The spectacular rise and fall of this prescient spiritual teacher carries important ramifications for the perennial debate over religious authority, even today. Church leaders’ concerns during Eckhart’s lifetime that simple people might misunderstand the master’s words and reject all religion may appear at first as mere self-justification for their own authoritarian agenda. Yet as the later Protestant Reformation and subsequent schisms have made clear, the appeal to individual conscience as the ultimate arbiter of spiritual truth invariably leads to ever more interpretations, ever more denominations, ever more religious conflicts.

I could relate to this passage in terms of my own thoughts, experience, and religious upbringing. I was raised a Protestant. I have attained a deep appreciation of Roman Catholicism as well through experiences with Catholics from childhood; my wife and sons are Catholic. Having a knowledge of various Protestant denominations and having had relatives and ancestors belonging to different ones (and having studied history), I have often thought to myself, once the cat was let out of the bag and Protestantism emerged, there was no end to the splintering among different denominations — often over matters of church policy or governance and both large and small doctrinal issues.

On page 209, there is a quote from Eckhart:

[T]here is not one of you who is so coarse-grained, so feeble of understanding, or so remote but he may find this joy within himself, in truth, as it is, with joy and understanding, before you leave this church today, indeed before I have finished preaching: he can find this as truly within him, live it, and possess it, as that God is God and I am a man.

These are, in my opinion, truly remarkable words; and, I am sure you would agree, quite remarkable for a thirteenth or fourteenth century preacher.

On page 220 you wrote: “As always, Eckhart was aggressive in his interpretations of scriptural passages, convinced that any reading conveying an essential truth was a valid reading. This exegetical approach, common among contemporary scholars, gave him considerable thematic flexibility.” I liked the way you put this: “thematic flexibility.”

On page 221 you wrote:

… indisputably Meister Eckhart’s favorite authority–other than Augustine–was Meister Eckhart. Dozens of times he prefaced a remark with I have also said before (and it is a certain and true saying), or sometimes I have said, as I said the day before yesterday in my last sermon, or I said in Paris. Only a preacher of such an elevated scholarly status could get away with such frequent self-invocation. Yet in Eckhart’s defense, his strategy was as much to establish an ongoing dialogue with his individual listeners as to proclaim his own superior knowledge-building on his own authority but also drawing each person in the room into a more intimate relationship. ‘I’ appears several hundred times in Eckhart’s surviving vernacular sermons, but almost always in the explicit or implicit sense of a conversation. Often that dialogue is with the listener, created by Eckhart’s rhetorical use of you. You often ask, for instance, how you ought to live. Now pay close attention. Describing the utter stillness preceding a personal experience of God, Eckhart anticipated his listener’s question: But sir, you ask, where is the silence, and where is the place where the Word is spoken? Again and again, he answered his own questions–not unlike in a scholastic summa–but with the justification that I was once asked, I was recently asked, people say, or similar formulations.

“Sense of a conversation,” Indeed. This is a subtle and rewarding analysis, in my opinion, from which the reader gains insight.

On page 230, I liked your wording in the phrase “his [Eckhart’s] intellectually challenging­-some might say impenetrable–way of speaking.

Pages 230-231 contain the following passage:

Not that Meister Eckhart was the first preacher of his day to discuss ways into God. In his own sermons he identified two widely acknowledged methods, which he contrasted with his own “third way.” One [way] is to seek God in all creatures with manifold activity and ardent longing. The most famous recent advocate of this via positiva was St. Bonaventure, like Eckhart a learned theologian and admirer of St. Augustine as well as a mendicant administrator. Bonaventure, though, was a Franciscan who embraced the affective piety of his order’s founder, in which one began by loving the created world and other humans and progressed to loving the Creator Himself. In his Soul’s Journey to God, Bonaventure described–in Latin and chiefly for his fellow Franciscans–six successive levels of illumination, beginning with the apprehension and perception of beauty in nature and fellow humans by the physical senses, followed by intellectual and spiritual contemplation up the ladder of creation, and culminating in an encounter with the divine source of all. This approach appealed to many Christians of the day and was expanded upon in such instructional works as David of Augsburg’s Seven Stages of Prayer and Rudolf of Biberach’s Seven Roads of Eternity. Dante Alighieri was its most famous contemporary proponent and his Divine Comedy the most enduring dramatization of the pathway to God through ever-expanding love.

While never impugning Bonaventure or any of his fellow Franciscans by name, Meister Eckhart rejected seeking God through the external world and senses. The Creator was in all things, he agreed, but He could not be directly encountered in this way. Human will, as he had argued against the Franciscan Gonsalvo in Paris, too readily attached itself to images and intermediaries, preventing genuine access to the divine. Even poverty, the supreme virtue of the Franciscans, could become an idol. Preaching on the feast of St. Francis, Eckhart directly challenged his rival mendicants on this score, arguing, I used sometimes to say (and it is quite true) that whoever truly loves poverty is so desirous of it that he grudges anyone having less than he has. And so it is with all things, whether it is purity, or justice, or whatever virtue he loves, he wants to have to the highest degree. Rather than look to the created world, He who would see God must be blind. Rather than seeking God’s voice in the conversation of men, anyone who wishes to hear God speaking must become deaf and inattentive to others.

This is an example of the many passages in the book that are instructive both on “historical grounds” and as providing intellectual fodder/stimulus and insight to the reader in the here and now.

On page 249, you write: “The spiritual perfection resulting from the divine birth in the soul, according to Eckhart, was not a rejection of human nature but a fulfillment of its true potential.” This sentence seems to hit the mark and to contain a “germinal” insight.

On pages 252-253, the analysis of the Mary and Martha story and how Eckhart interpreted it at various times is fascinating — somewhat difficult to get one’s hands around. I am not sure what I myself would say if asked what I thought.

Page 254:

Love itself has become an irresistible force. The just person no longer has any attachments whatsoever, but rather loves all of creation equally and indiscriminately, in conformance with his or her divine nature. You must love all men equally, respect and regard them equally, and whatever happens to another, whether good or bad, must be the same as if it happened to you.

Words to be taken to heart.

I thought the discussion of Stoic apathy on page 255 was excellent:

In some ways, the just person’s state of equanimity is reminiscent of Stoic apathy–the complete eradication of all emotions from the inner self, rob­bing pain and misfortune of their ability to distress us. But Eckhart did not seek to eliminate a powerful emotion such as empathy so much as to universalize it. For the just man, love was an overwhelming and unifying force. Certainly the self-knowledge advocated by Stoics had helped prepare him for the divine birth, but it was the divine essence that now filled him that overcame all suffering. The serenity he displayed might look like that of the accomplished Stoic on the surface, but it sprang from the certainty of unity with all fellow humans, not willful separation from them.

On page 302, you write:

The modern rediscovery of Meister Eckhart began chiefly as a response to Enlightenment rationalism. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, many German intellectuals sought a new philosophy that would approach the great truths of human existence with a combination of reason and feeling, or sensibility. … A mystical quest for life’s fulfillment was still possible in the modem world, Novalis averred, but first one had to overcome the legacy of the Enlightenment, which had “branded as heretical all imagination and feeling, placed man with difficulty at the top of the order of natural being, and turned the infinite creative music of the universe into the monotonous clattering of a gigantic mill.”

The “monotonous clattering of a gigantic mill”: what a great metaphor. (I realize it is Novalis’s, not yours.)

Page 320:

Eckhart’s third valuable insight for current spiritual seekers of all varieties involves the consequences of what he calls human divinization. In essence, Eckhart cracked the active/contemplative conundrum of Christianity for laypeople long before Protestant or other modern attempts. Going deep within oneself and reaching out to the world in service were two sides of the same coin for him, not an either/or choice. Without a profound appreciation of what he called the divine unity of existence, good works easily lend themselves to a transactional, commercial way of thinking about salvation. Without participation in the world, the supposedly enlightened person risks slipping into solipsistic selfishness-a state Eckhart compares to a tree that never bears fruit. The just person who has truly experienced the divine birth, the direct intuitive encounter with the unity of existence, does not withdraw from society, free from any obligation toward other human beings. Instead, experiencing God means becoming one with God and thus acting as God does–by which Eckhart means living an active life of love and service with­out a why, or any thought of justification or compensation. Acts of personal kindness or contributions to social justice are not means to spiritual enlight­enment or salvation but natural effects of the inward experience preached by Meister Eckhart (and many other religious figures). Again, the master describes a holistic approach to the good life, where the perceived divisions between the self and the world, between the individual person and others, dissolve.

In my humble opinion, this paragraph exhibits an ability on the author’s (your) part to explicate, go deeper, make things clear; draw out implications. That’s what a reader wants, but does not often get, in scholarly works/exegeses.

The torments you describe medieval religious women undergoing on page 202. were incredible. I can’t think of a better word — what I mean is that they give one a feeling for the strangeness if not weirdness of the times, the intense piety and practices that seem so strange if not disturbing:

…. extreme practices and dramatic successes inspired both wonder and individualistic competition. Most accounts of famous religious women accordingly emphasized that the awe-inspiring feats described should not be attempted by readers. A century earlier, for instance, Christina of Saint-Trond (aka Christina the Astonishing; 1150-1224) had become famous for whirling like a Sufi dervish when in divine ecstasy, then climbing (some witnesses said levitating) up to church rafters, roofs, and nearby trees. The theologian Jacques de Vitry described how the holy woman tried to replicate the torments of the damned in hell by putting herself in ovens, plunging into boiling water (and suffering no visible injuries), having herself lashed to mill wheels and hanged on the gallows, or lying in open graves. In Eckhart’s day, the Premonstratensian nun Christina of Hane died at the age of twenty-three after subjecting her sexual organs to such extreme tortures that even her pious biographer blanched. Another contemporary, Christina of Stommeln (1242-1312), allegedly suffered many years of diabolical torment in response to her own acts of self-mortification, ranging from being physically tom apart at night by demons (and reassembled in the morning by angels) to dodging the flying excrement thrown at her and her visitors by the same evil spirits. …

On page 312, you wrote: “Appropriation of this latest nature is an inherent risk to every public thinker, although Eckhart seems to have endured more than his fair share of diverse interpretations and applications over the years.

I was wondering, was “latest” a typo? Was latent intended?

On page 288, there is the following sentence: “There is no apparent order to the excerpts, which to the contrary often repeat or return to earlier subjects in the list.” Shouldn’t it be on the contrary?

 

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

 

 

August 21, 2020

 

Dear Roger (if I may),

Thank you for your very thoughtful (and thorough!) reading, and for all of your generous words.  I can’t tell you how much it means to this author to hear from such a careful and perceptive reader.  Like you, I find Eckhart occasionally perplexing but still a genuine and honest seeker.  I am so grateful that you found my book useful in that respect.  And thank you for taking the time to write such a wonderful reflection.

Yours sincerely,

Joel F. Harrington
Centennial Professor of History
Vanderbilt University

an island … a city surrounded by WATER II (update of a previous post)

 

 
There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs–commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.

Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?–Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster–tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?

But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in. And there they stand–miles of them–leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets and avenues–north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither? … There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries–stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water. … Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.

 

— Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; Chapter 1 (“Looming’s”)

 

 

 

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

 

 

I love skylines, love dense clouds. New York City has wonderful skylines. You can’t really see them from Manhattan, but you can from the waterside and from the outer boroughs, which have lower buildings.

It is wonderful that Manhattan is an island bounded by water: the ocean (New York Harbor), the East River, the Hudson River, the Harlem River.

One thing this does is prevent urban sprawl and the development of a megalopolis ending nowhere.

It also gives the city an almost enchanted quality or aspect. It leads to dreamy speculation and reflection, as Herman Melville noted.

My departed friend Bill Dalzell alerted me to this special aspect of New York City some fifty years ago.

I love the curve of the bay at the bottom of Manhattan Island. Such a beautiful harbor.

Today, I walked along the water’s edge from 14th Street to the Battery. Such a wonderful stiff breeze off the river. Such a wonderful walk at a time of despair,

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    May 4, 2020

 

 

 

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

 

 

photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

New York Harbor 11-42 a.m. 10-7-2019

 

 

 

New York Harbor 11-11 a.m. 5-29-2018

 

 

New York Harbor 4-54 p.m. 5-4-2020

 

 

 

New York Harbor 3-28 p.m. 3-17-2020

 

 

 

Hudson River 2-52 p.m. 5-4-2020

 

 

211925055274824

“Faith Healing”; “Indian Culture”; review of “Mayor” by Edward I. Koch (three journalism school papers by Roger W. Smith)

 

 

Faith Healing

 

Indian Culture

 

review of ‘Mayor’

 

 

I wrote these three papers in 1986-1987 for courses in the Graduate School of Journalism at New York University. The topics, which I chose, were “Faith Healing” and “Indian Culture,” for an introductory reporting course; and a review of Mayor Edward I. Koch’s book Mayor, for a course in city reporting. It should be noted that the second paper was on American Indian culture; the term Native American did not seem to be widely used then.

In any profession or avocation where skill is required, no instruction or practice is ever wasted. This was true of these assignments. And, they were interesting ones.

 

 

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

 

 

A few additional comments.

I had some vague acquaintance with spiritual or faith healing as something that had become popular, but no prior experience of it as a participant or observer. My friend Bill Dalzell, who was interested in charismatic religion, had told me about father Ralph DiOrio, the healing priest, whose home base was in Massachusetts. My friend Bill believed in the psychic or mystical as they apply to the real world and to the body. I believe that he attended one of Father DiOrio’s healing masses.

The healing mass that I attended was on a Friday evening in Bayonne, New Jersey. I called ahead to ask if I could attend the service in a reportorial capacity. I was told that I was welcome to. But, on that evening, at the mass, the priest seemed almost angry that I was there; he was not willing to be interviewed.

The parishioner whom I interviewed for my story, Sal, was a truly nice guy. He was very willing to talk, eager to tell his story. He was with his wife, who let Sal do the talking.

Sal said we should talk in a pew in the back, which we did, he speaking very softly, quietly, presumably because he didn’t want to disturb the service.

In my Monday morning therapy session, I told my therapist, Dr. Colp, all about the healing mass. Dr. Colp, the man of reason and science–he was a non-practicing Jew — was very interested. He did not scoff at what Sal (as I told him) had to say. He said there was reason to believe that what Sal had to say about healing masses having resulted in the remission of his cancer might be valid. This was consistent with Dr. Colp’s envisioning a day when “more is learned about the mind-body interaction,” as he put it in his book To Be an Invalid: The Illness of Charles Darwin.

 

 

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

 

 

The only interview I conducted in person for my story about American Indian culture was with Yvonne Beemer, a Cherokee Indian about my age who lived in New York City. The rest of my interviewing was done by phone.

I never had met a Native American person before.

I did meet one other Native American person by chance once, shortly thereafter, at a wake. He was a Mohawk who worked in high steel with one of my wife’s relatives, who was a rigger. His first name was Joe, and his coworkers–this was in the 1950s when such things would not have been thought (which they now would be) derogatory or insulting–called him Indian Joe.

My wife made a point of introducing us. Joe (whose last name I was not told) was very receptive to conversation. I was getting into it and was eager to talk with him, but an officious busybody relative of the deceased who was at the wake interrupted us about something stupid and ruined the conversation. (I had read Joseph Mitchell’s New Yorker article “The Mohawks in High Steel” and all or part of Edmund Wilson’s Apologies to the Iroquois.)

I also read (mostly skimmed), with great interest (with regard to the parts of the book I read), a book which I purchased at the Museum of Natural History: Lewis Henry Morgan’s magnificent and groundbreaking study League of the Iroquois. I believe that all this reading came after I wrote the journalism school paper.

The major influence on me, what stimulated my interest in American Indian culture (especially Iroquois culture), was the works of Francis Parkman, which I read in their entirety in the mid-1980s before attending journalism school–particularly Parkman’s The Jesuits in North America, which was a fully engrossing and stark narrative: what the Jesuits experienced, suffered, and went through in Canada. The nobility and ultimately tragic futility of their endeavor seems to be mostly unappreciated and largely forgotten.

 

 

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

 

 

I enjoyed Mayor Koch’s book. And I liked the mayor. For his feisty personality and as a quintessential New Yorker, though I didn’t necessarily or always agree with his politics.

Some fifteen or twenty years ago, I was walking at midday during lunch hour on a gravel path in Bryant Park, right behind the New York Public Library. Oddly at that hour, there was no one else on the pathway; the park was quiet.

A man was walking in the opposite direction, towards me. Our paths crossed. It was Mayor Koch. He was retired then.

We made eye contact, with Mayor Koch looking at me, for a moment, inquisitively or intently. I felt certain that he knew that I knew who he was.

We were not that close distance-wise (something — as a factor in human interaction — that the anthropologist Edwin T. Hall brilliantly studied in his book The Hidden Dimension), but we were close enough, as I have said, to make eye contact, and Koch gave me a friendly and inquisitive look as if he found or conceived of me to be an interesting person. I should have said, “hello, Mr. Mayor.”

 

 

— Roger W Smith

   February 2020

 

 

 

Scan (2)

frontispiece, Francis Parkman, “The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century”; France and England in North America, Volume Two (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1910)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

good riddance to urban renewal

 

 

 

 

IMG_3427 (3).JPG

former residence of Jane Jacobs, 555 Hudson Street, New York, NY; photo by Roger W.  Smith

 

 

The following is an email of mime from today to Lizabeth Cohen, a professor of American Studies at Harvard University.

 

 

Dear Professor Cohen,

I read the review in The New York Times Book Review of your Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age. As I said to my wife, it looks like an excellent and very informative book.

I appreciate what was said about it by the reviewer: that it is an even-handed treatment of Logue.

If I may, I would like to share a few thoughts, memories, etc. with you.

I grew up in Cambridge. We lived on Mellen Street near Harvard Square. My parents moved us to the suburb of Canton on the South Shore in my adolescent years, which was in the late 1950s.

In the 1960s, I recall seeing articles in the papers about Logue all the time. As the reviewer notes that your book notes, Logue was revered and received almost unvarying praise. At that age, being the son of liberal, educated parents, I thought that slum clearance was, unquestionably, desirable.

I was an avid Red Soc fan, I regularly read the sports pages in the Boston Herald. I read many articles stating that it was high time Boston had a new park. It was regarded as not even worth or needing proof that Fenway Park was too small (mainly in terms of seating capacity), old, and shabby. The endless refrain was, when are we going to get our new stadium?

No one remembers this, and Friendly Fenway is regarded by one and all as a jewel of a ballpark. A landmark that will never be torn down.

I moved to New York City for good in my young adulthood. After some adjustment, I grew to love it. I made a good friend who was a nonconformist and lived an alternative lifestyle. He was cultured and articulate but lived very modestly in a walkup apartment with a bathroom in the hall on East Fifth Street between Avenues A and B. He helped me to appreciate Manhattan and to begin to think differently. He was prescient. He said to me, at a time when urban renewal and slum clearance were in the air: “I live in a slum and I like it.” He pointed out that PEOPLE were living in these buildings. (And could afford them.)

I am attaching a photo I took on one of my walks recently of Jane Jacobs’s former residence on Hudson Street in Manhattan. I became familiar with her writings in my adult years after moving to Manhattan. I think she is an example of someone whose plain writing and lifestyle, and lack of academic credentials, may make it likely that she gets less recognition than she deserves (which is not to say that her importance and genius are not acknowledged; and I think she was actually a genius). In my opinion, she is up there with some of the great thinkers and writers who very simply take a fresh look at prevailing opinions and wisdom, go back to square one — or “first principles” — and, in plain language, without overtheorizing — looking with their own eyes — get us to see the world anew. It’s sort of like an Emperor’s New Clothes phenomenon.

How did she manage to defeat Robert Moses? At the outset, I am sure it would have been regarded as quixotic to try. If Moses had rammed an expressway through the Village and Soho, it would have ruined Manhattan — is the word rape too strong?

Jane Jacobs did not like Lincoln Center. I don’t like it either. I recall when I was in high school and Jacqueline Kennedy and others on television were providing a virtual tour of our “wonderful” new arts center, Lincoln Center. I assumed it must have been so, and who cared about the gritty (then) West Side neighborhood where Jets and Sharks did battle? I hate to go to Lincoln Center now. Aside from the concert halls, which I find dark and unwelcoming, the whole center is a horrible place to hang out in, should anyone care to. The buildings are ugly.

Usually, the plaza with its fountain is pretty much deserted, and it’s unwelcoming, as is the Center. The surrounding neighbored now has no life; there are a few rip off restaurants across the street. The few blocks behind the Center (between it and the river) are deadly, or better said, dead.

I go back to Boston occasionally. I was too young to remember Scollay Square before Government Center was built (though people often mentioned it). The Government Center complex has a Lincoln Center-like feel, and I found it very unpleasant and unenjoyable to walk or spend time in or around it.

 

 

Sincerely,

Roger W. Smith, Maspeth, Queens, NY

 

 

— posted by  Roger W. Smith

    November 17, 2019

“You are the politest person I ever met.”

 

 

Those were the words of my late friend Bill Dalzell, spoken some fifty years ago not long after we had become friends. We met in New York City, where I had recently moved.

I remember many conversations I have had during the entire course of my life more or less verbatim. Not every word, of course, but many important, significant remarks I do remember verbatim.

“You are the politest person I ever met,” he said to me.

I recently wrote, in a eulogy for Bill I wrote last year for posting on this blog, that “He [was] …. in many respects totally unconventional. Was a nonconformist. Yet he was one of the kindest, politest, most civil persons you could hope to meet. He was a true gentleman.”

In writing this, I was not (at that moment) thinking of what Bill said about me.

 

 

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

 

At the risk being called a purveyor of racial stereotypes, I think it is worth considering that Bill and I both came from similar ethnic/cultural backgrounds: English, Scotch. The civility and good manners of English people struck me on a couple of trips to England. Teaching true courtesy was something important to my parents when I was growing up. For example, the importance of saying please and thank you. Not just words, but showing gratitude and appreciation. Not making importunate or arrogant requests or demands.

Or, to give another example, politeness to strangers and people of all ages, older and younger. And, when greeted by someone you passed on the street, always returning the greeting. I still can’t comprehend why in New York some people don’t bother to do this or neglect to do so intentionally. In the New England of my childhood, one would invariably respond with a “Good morning. How are you today?”

I have close relatives who were brought up the same way. They have either forgotten these principles or can’t see them when manifested in others. They certainly don’t appreciate them.

I have news for them. I haven’t changed. They have. They have become mean, churlish, and uncharitable.

They can’t credit me as Bill once did. They say, incredibly, that I am an inconsiderate, self-centered, boorish person. What we seem to have in this case is an example of psychological projection, where people vent their own frustrations and failings by finding fault with others. They enjoy making me into a sort of Donald Trump caricature and, having built up this false picture in their minds — and, in their view, having “validated” it by sharing stories among themselves in which I am always doing something boorish or offensive (they delight in telling one another such “horror stories”) — they feel validated. It’s a perfect example of people trying to elevate themselves by denigrating others, using stereotypes that have no basis in reality.

Beware of the narrow minded, petty people who think and judge like this; who can’t see or appreciate people as individuals; who have no respect or appreciation for a person’s intrinsic qualities, for their true nature; and who instead try to tar and feather them by ascribing to the object of their hatred and scorn behaviors and opinions that they have made up.

 

 

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

 

I am still the same polite, considerate person that I was fifty years ago. It’s unlikely that a person would change in such a fundamental matter of character.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith
  June 2019

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Addendum:

 

My eulogy for Bill Dalzell

 

“William Sage Dalzell (1929-2018)”

is posted on this site at

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/03/13/william-sage-dalzell-1929-2018/

It’s gone.

 

It’s gone.

They’re gone.

The past. Our lived history. Past times. The particulars. What made them unique.

This past, our past, dies with people. As they pass away. Dies as well as the people themselves.

An era. A generation. Gone irretrievably.

 

 

 

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

 

 

My friend Bill Dalzell.

I think of him often. Of New York as he knew it.

When the City was affordable, actually cheap. When it was hospitable to artists, writers, and editors; to independent types who loved culture, the arts, and the life of the mind and who didn’t want the buttoned down life.

The New York of art film houses, the Automat, McSorley’s Old Ale House, and the Blarney Stones; of the Metropolitan Museum of Art when admission was free; of the New York Public Library when it was open 365 days a year. When First Avenue bars held Sunday afternoon poetry readings.

When the subway fare was a dime, a glass of beer was twenty cents, and flats in the Lower East Side rented in the 30 to 50 dollar a month range.

Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr., my therapist.

He practiced when psychiatrists did talk therapy and were intellectuals rather than pill pushers; when (as was the case with me) they charged 30 dollars for a session scheduled for 50 minutes that usually lasted an hour; when a writer such as Dr. Colp used a Royal manual typewriter; when a Sunday afternoon or holiday recreation for him and many Manhattanites, such as myself, involved seeing a foreign film.

 

 

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

 

 

This melancholy, mournful train of thoughts occurred to me today when for some reason or other I thought of Bill, when something reminded me of him.

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 22, 2019

New York sunlight (and New York joys)

 

 

 

“The grass that grows by absorbing the life-giving energy of the sun becomes [in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass] a metaphor of ‘the ceaseless springing forth of life from death.’” — David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman: A Cultural Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), pg. 240

 

 

 

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

 

 

My longtime friend Bill Dalzell, who for many years lived in New York City, introduced me to so many things when I first came to New York in the late 1960’s.

Among other things, Bill introduced me to cinema and art. We made several trips together to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bill, a New York transplant from a suburb of Pittsburgh, where he grew up, was — like many having adopted New York City as their home, including myself — an enthusiast of all New York had to offer. He knew all the inexpensive, interesting things to see and do in the City.

Bill used to say: “Would you care to hear me sing the praises of New York?” He used to marvel at the fact that so many people of all races and nationalities lived cheek by jowl in harmony. At the richness of culture. At the convenience of things such as getting around. At how much the City had to offer at what were then modest prices.

Admission to the Metropolitan Museum of Art was free. The main branch of the New York Public Library was open 365 days a year. The subway and bus fares were 20 cents. So was the Staten Island ferry, one of the fun, vivifying, and inexpensive things he enjoyed doing. (We would get off on the Staten Island side, walk around a bit, have a cup of coffee, and take the ferry back to Manhattan.) A meal of wholesome, plain food at the Automat (where Bill used to love to sit and drink coffee while lost in thought) could be had for less than a dollar. A glass of beer in a bar was 20 cents, and usually every third beer was on the house. Films cost less than two dollars. Rents were cheap. Bill paid twenty-nine dollars a month for a one-bedroom apartment on East 5th Street.

 

 

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

 

 

Bill introduced me to the paintings of Edward Hopper, one of his favorite painters. (Hopper’s paintings are, for the most part, exhibited in New York museums.) Bill and I, at his suggestion, made a one-day excursion to Nyack, NY to view Hopper’s birthplace.

During our museum trips, he pointed out how Hopper made use of light.

“The light is different in America,” Bill would say. (He had traveled practically everywhere in the world on a limited budget.) By “different,” Bill meant brighter. More brilliant. Yes. Brilliant light. An observation which I do believe to be true. I have observed and thought about this often.

I have come over the years to be myself fascinated by light. Early morning light, daylight, late afternoon light. The light hitting the grass. Different shades of light and degrees of brightness. Summer light. Autumn light. Winter light.

While I would and could never aspire to be an artist — I have no innate talent and only a limited appreciation of the visual arts — I have been taking photographs in the City in parks, on the shorelines, and of houses and streets on my walks, I have posted below some photographs of mine in which an appreciation of sunlight as viewed from ground level is expressed in the photo. I am fascinated by the quality of sunlight in different seasons and at different times of the day.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   July 2018

 

 

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

 

 

Addendum:

 

Some relevant information about Edward Hopper.

Most of Hopper’s figure paintings focus on the subtle interaction of human beings with their environment-–carried out with solo figures, couples, or groups. His primary emotional themes are solitude, loneliness, regret, boredom, and resignation. He expresses the emotions in various environments, including the office, in public places, in apartments, on the road, or on vacation. … In many Hopper paintings, the interaction is minimal.

The effective use of light and shadow to create mood is central to Hopper’s methods. Bright sunlight (as an emblem of insight or revelation), and the shadows it casts, also play symbolically powerful roles in Hopper paintings such as Early Sunday Morning (1930), Summertime (1943), Seven A.M. (1948), and Sun in an Empty Room (1963).

Hopper always said that his favorite thing was “painting sunlight on the side of a house.”

Although critics and viewers interpret meaning and mood in his cityscapes, Hopper insisted “I was more interested in the sunlight on the buildings and on the figures than any symbolism.” As if to prove the point, his late painting Sun in an Empty Room (1963) is a pure study of sunlight.

 

“Edward Hopper,” Wikipedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Hopper

 

It should be noted that the American landscape painter Winslow Homer did similar things with sunlight in his remarkable paintings.

 

 

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

 

 

photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

1 - Woodside, Queens

Woodside, Queens

 

 

2 - Murray Hill

Murray Hill

 

 

3- Madison Square Park

Madison Square Park

 

 

Madison Square Park 2-23 p.m. 7-27-2018

Madison Square Park

 

 

4 - Central Park

Central Park

 

 

Central Park 11-44 a.m. 11-6-2019.jpg

Central Park

 

 

Central Park 12-38 p.m. 8-5-2018.JPG

Central Park

 

 

5 - Riverside Park

Riverside Park

 

 

6 - Inwood Hill Park

Inwood Hill Park

 

 

7 - Inwood Hill Park

Inwood Hill Park

 

 

 

Isham Park 4-43 p.m. 8-9-2018.JPG

Isham Park, Indwood

 

 

All of these photos were taken in New York City.

 

 

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

 

 

Posted here below are some famous paintings of Edward Hopper that show his preoccupation with light and his mastery of representing it visually.

 

 

1-hopper-early-sunday2 - Cape Cod3 - stoop, summertime4- Cape Cod evening5- seven am6 - house by sea

 

 

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

 

Edward Hopper’s birthplace

 

 

Hopper's birthplace.jpg

Edward Hopper birthplace, Nyack, NY

when a man is tired of New York …

 

 

“I suggested a doubt, that if I were to reside in London, the exquisite zest with which I relished it in occasional visits might go off, and I might grow tired of it. JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’ ”

— James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

 

 

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

 

Does repetition imply, mean, or equate to: Boredom? Weariness? Dullness?

By which I mean repeated experiences under known circumstances, such as what one experiences when one lives somewhere for a long time, or a lifetime.

Some people think that variety is the sine qua non. (“Been there, done that.”) They are constantly seeking excitement in new venues.

This is not necessarily, or not always, wrong.

But consider the following reflections of mine, based upon my own experience in New York City, where I have lived for nearly fifty years.

 

 

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

 

I have my favorite haunts: the New York Public Library (the research library) at 42nd and Fifth; Central Park; the Staten Island Ferry; the Strand Bookstore; Grand Central Station; Carnegie Hall. I discovered these places — and also discovered how much I liked them over time — through word of mouth though my own peregrinations and repeated visits.

I know the best routes to walk. Just which ones produce the most pleasant “jaunting experience.” Which Manhattan avenue to take, for example, depending upon my mood and other circumstances. The best ways to get from Queens or Brooklyn to Manhattan by foot, with the most pleasant (and, conversely, least pleasant) avenues, neighborhoods, or bridges to walk on or through.

I know who are the most helpful reference librarians at the New York Public Library. I know that the main reading room is the place for me and have a favorite place to sit there. I know which entrance is best to use and where the elevators are.

I know the best items to choose on the menu at one of my and my wife’s favorite restaurants (which, of course, reflects my own preferences).

I know how often and at what times Staten Island ferries run.

I have other favorite places and establishments. Continually going to them works for me, and it will work for you.

 

 

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

 

I first met my lifelong friend Bill Dalzell, who recently passed away, in the late 1960’s when I was employed in Manhattan. I was new to the City, and it was one of my first jobs.

Bill, like most Manhattanites, had been born and raised elsewhere. He had come to New York City in the 1950’s, at around the same age as I was when we met.

Bill absolutely loved New York. (He did, at a later age, move elsewhere.) He was always singing its praises.

The things that appealed to him about the City also appealed to me. The sense of freedom — no one watching you and (possibly) expressing disapproval of your activities; the fact that you could live alone or be alone — that it would not be considered abnormal* and you could find plenty of things to do alone and keep you interested even if you had no one else to do them with; the walkable streets; the awesome cultural resources (films, theaters, museums, and libraries).

Bill had his favorite haunts: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Thalia and Elgin movie houses, the Staten Island ferry, the automat. Years later, having lived in New York almost continuously since then, I have my own favorite places and things to do.

Bill loved to go to The Metropolitan Museum of Art on weekends. Admission was free back then. Upon arrival, he would go to the cafeteria and sit there for a couple of hours with a cup of coffee, in contemplation. Then he would visit his favorite exhibits. He said that the museum seemed like a cathedral to him and that going there was his equivalent of going to church.

He exulted over the fact that the New York Public Library’s main branch was open (then) 365 days a year, even on Christmas Day!

 

 

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

 

Inner peace. Contemplation. That’s what you experience when you are comfortable somewhere (such as the Met Museum cafeteria or some other place, such as a park bench or an automat), as was the case with Bill musing over his cup of coffee; when you feel you belong. Being comfortable with the externals, from repeated experience, you can relax and not worry about them. And, in New York one often gets this feeling: that you belong there as much as anyone else. Besides a feeling of belonging, the comfort comes from knowing what to expect. And being able to anticipate pleasure, which is almost a given.

What is it about such places that makes one want to return again and again?

One thing I would assert is that it’s an automatic thing — sort of like (to use a buzzword) being on autopilot. Once you start going someplace a lot, you feel, naturally, at home there. You know how to get the most out of it. You know just what things about it you like best and how to savor and enjoy to the fullest those things.

Let’s say it’s the library. You will have your favorite divisions and rooms (in a large library like the main branch of the New York Public). You may know of certain staffers who are particularly helpful. You may like certain places to sit or even certain corridors and stairwells to use.

Say it’s the Oyster Bar Restaurant in Grand Central Station. You know which entrees you like the most and which of the available draft beers, and what they cost. You have your favorite waiters. You know where and in which room you like to be seated, and whether at a table or a counter (and then, which counter? there are more than one). You know which point of entry from the labyrinthine Grand Central Station is most convenient.

In Central Park, there are certain walkways and paths I like to take.

I know which points along the Brooklyn Bridge I like the best (the boardwalk, for example); the best ways to approach it as a pedestrian walking in Manhattan; the most fun things to do (talk with people or just observe them having a good time, which one can enjoy vicariously; take pictures; sit on a bench on the boardwalk, etc.).

The Strand Bookstore? I know where I want to browse. I know when it is open. I know how the books are arranged and in what sections.

The New York City subways? (I didn’t mention them before.) I know the best routes which involve the least hassle, the stations and lines to avoid and those that I prefer.

So, FAMILIARITY is a big factor.

As is REPETITION.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2018

 

 

* Regarding the delicious sense of anonymity associated with living in New York — of being part of a crowd but not singled out — an experience I once had when living elsewhere seems relevant. I worked for about a year and a half at a psychiatric hospital in Stamford, Connecticut, a city not far from New York. One spring day, when walking home from work, I stopped in a park that was on my route. I sat there for a while — I think it was on a park bench — in contemplation. It was a leisurely walk home. The park was not crowded, as a New York City park usually would be, but it was not empty by any means.

A couple of days later, the head nurse on my ward said to me, “I saw you in the park the other day.” The park was about a half mile from the hospital and she had probably passed it on the way home. I could tell that her remark amounted to mild “disapproval.” She felt it was odd to see me sitting by myself in a park. If I had been with a friend or coworker, she would not have had thought anything unusual.

“After the Supper and Talk”

 

 

This poem made me think of my recently departed friend Bill Dalzell, and of our talks during his last months.

 

 

AFTER THE SUPPER AND TALK.

After the supper and talk—after the day is done,
As a friend from friends his final withdrawal prolonging,
Good-bye and Good-bye with emotional lips repeating,
(So hard for his hand to release those hands—no more will they
meet,
No more for communion of sorrow and joy, of old and young,
A far-stretching journey awaits him, to return no more,)
Shunning, postponing severance—seeking to ward off the last
word ever so little,
E’en at the exit-door turning—charges superfluous calling back—
e’en as he descends the steps,
Something to eke out a minute additional—shadows of nightfall
deepening,
Farewells, messages lessening—dimmer the forthgoer’s visage
and form,
Soon to be lost for aye in the darkness—loth, O so loth to depart!

 

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

 

 

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

 

 

Having finalized the arrangement of Leaves of Grass, Whitman published a supplemental volume of prose and poetry with the autumnal title November Boughs. Many of its sixty-four lyrics and what Whitman labeled its “poemets” … were added as an “Annex” to the 1888 edition as “Sands at Seventy.” These verses reported his cheerful bearing as he faced physical deterioration—solemn-sweet announcements of his readiness for death, and cheerful expressions of farewell. … In the prose preface “A Backward Glance O’er Travel’d Roads” (1888), Whitman wrote: “In the free evening of my day I give you reader the foregoing garrulous talk, thoughts, reminiscences,” and suggested that, alive or dead, he would ever aspire to talk to the living reader. That sentiment is beautifully developed in the bittersweet vers de société masterpiece ”After the Supper and Talk.” Against the onrush of the ultimate night the poem shows the Whitman figure striving to the very end to preserve his voice—the same “garrulous talk” he had referred to in the introduction to “A Backward Glance”—the “talk” that embodies his life force and his spiritual selfhood. He feels that his words alone will perpetuate him in the mortal sphere. Standing at the “exit-door” of life but loath to leave for the unknown, he clings compulsively to the warmth of human hands, to the music of human voices, and to the sound of his own voice. Although he hopes that his poetic voice will endure into the future, he wishes to prolong his mortal vocal powers as long as he can. In order to achieve dramatic distance, and perhaps to cushion the shock of his impending death, the poet employs a rhetorical device that is rarely found in his poems. He refers to himself in the third person and pictures himself observing from a distance the vanishing figure of the mortal Whitman. His reluctance to depart from the House of Life is expressed in a series of death-related metaphors. And as a master of participials, Whitman constructs a verse that (except for three lines contained within parentheses) forms an uncompleted statement, so that his departure, as he might have wished, seems to be postponed indefinitely.

 

— Harold Aspiz, So Long! Walt Whitman’s Poetry of Death

 

 

posted by Roger W. Smith, March 2018

William Sage Dalzell (1929-2018)

 

 

‘William Sage Dalzell (1929-2018)’

 

 

 

Bill Dalzell was one of the first people I got to know after moving to New York City. I will never forget his kindness to me. My friendship with Bill was a long and enduring one.

If you got to know Bill well, as I did — if you were privileged to know him — you will probably know the following things about him, and, if you do, will know that they are all true.

He never cared about externals. Dressed simply. Lived by intuition. He followed politics closely but was fundamentally an apolitical person.

He believed absolutely in the spiritual, in mysticism, and in bona fide psychics such as Edgar Cayce and the medium Grace Cooke, author of the White Eagle books. He was interested in the writings of mystics such as Meister Eckhart — in the case of Eckhart, in the concept of detachment or disinterestedness: renouncing self-interest to attain spiritual enlightenment.

He believed without any doubt that there was an afterlife on “the other side.”

He was skeptical of much of what is considered orthodoxy — he used to say, “Science marches backward.” A paradox with an element of truth in it.

He absolutely did not believe in medicine or doctors. He had no bank account, as far as I knew.

He had an interesting mind, in many respects totally unconventional. Was a nonconformist. Yet he was one of the kindest, politest, most civil persons you could hope to meet. He was a true gentleman. He had a warm, mellifluous voice with an inflection, which he never lost, that bespoke his Pennsylvania roots.

He thought for himself and by himself. He had an interesting way of expressing original concepts. For example, he told me that he liked to call cats “fur people.” He said it made it easier to conceptualize having a relationship with them. And, then there was his concept of the “foot philosophy,” which he explained by saying that when he couldn’t decide which bus or train to take, whether to go to a museum or the cinema, or whether to walk uptown or downtown, he would go wherever, instinctually, his feet took him, follow his feet.

He did not put on airs. Just the opposite. He used to say to me, when he was living on East 5th Street between Avenues A and B, “I live in a slum and I like it.” At that time (which was the time when I first met him), urban renewal and slum clearance were in the air.

He was a deeply religious person and, especially in his later years, a churchgoer. This despite the fact that he detested religious dogmatism.

He was a very earnest thinker. He dwelt all day long, every day, in the realm of ideas. He thought long and hard about things. Over and over again. Immortality and the afterlife. What is truth? The truth of art. The spiritual. Past lives. Places.

He did not have much use for formal education, although there was an English teacher at the prep school he attended, Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, whom he never forgot, who taught him to appreciate poetry. He wasn’t impressed by scholarship or academic credentials. He developed his own credo, but it was never set in stone. He would often say, quoting some philosopher: “Truth is like a butterfly. If you pin it down, it dies.”

He had acute tastes in art and loved the arts.

He was an earnest seeker after truth. In a conversation we had a few months ago, he told me something a philosophy professor in a college class he was enrolled in said many years ago: “The question is not whether a philosophy or belief system is true, it’s whether you like it nor not; does it appeal to you, say something to you? The same thing applies to art.” He sent me a postcard of Notre-Dame de Paris on a trip there in the summer of 1969. I remember in essence what he wrote. That he would continue seeking truth wherever he went. That he was in search of truth, repeating the word several times.

 

 

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

 

Some biographical details about Bill.

He grew up in Wilkinsburg, a borough adjacent to Pittsburgh. He loved the hills. The trolley cars. The movie theatre. How he went to a film once and before the film heard music, which he later learned was Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture. He wasn’t expecting it. The music overwhelmed him. It was a mystical experience. Bill’s grandfather had a 78 rpm record of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Bill played it over and over again and said to me in old age that he had never ever tired of it.

He moved to New York in the 1950’s. He loved his adopted city. He used to say, “Would you care to hear me sing the praises of New York?” He used to marvel at the fact that so many people of all races and nationalities lived cheek by jowl in harmony. At how much the City had to offer by way of culture and places to enjoy at modest prices.

He made friends with many spiritually inclined people and, also, readily made friends with artists such as his lifelong friend Edwin Treitler, an artist, writer, and spiritual healer; the “magic realist” painter Gregory Gillespie; and the Greek-American painter Bill Komodore. He had an affinity for people in the arts. Gillespie’s portrait of Bill Dalzell, “Bill (in Studio),” was painted in the mid-1980’s when Bill was living in Pittsfield and Gillespie was living nearby in Belchertown, Massachusetts. The painting is owned by the Forum Galley in New York City. Bill had befriended Gillespie when the latter was studying at Cooper Union in New York in the late 1950’s.

He would on occasion speak about his parents: his father, who would visit Bill from time to time at his apartment on East 5th Street; and his mother, who died tragically of cancer in middle age. He felt an unnecessary operation led to her death. He never mentioned that his great-grandfather John Dalzell was a congressman from Pennsylvania.

He used to go the Metropolitan Museum of Art every weekend. He said that going to the Met was his equivalent of attending church. He would always begin by sitting in the cafeteria for an hour or so nursing a cup of coffee, lost in thought.

He had his favorite haunts. Besides the Met: the Thalia theater, an art movie house on West 95th Street; the Staten Island Ferry; the automat. He loved being able to see two films for the price of one at the Thalia and discovered art films there (as well as at the Museum of Modern Art). He loved to take the Staten Island Ferry to Staten Island and back. We did it together several times. Bill would recommend getting off on the Staten Island side and having a cup of coffee or walking around for a while. In his early New York days, he would get off and see a movie in Staten Island, then take the ferry back.

He had a discerning eye for art. He was an admirer of the painter Edward Hopper. Bill introduced me to Hopper. During museum trips we made together, he would point out how Hopper made use of light. “The light is different in America,” Bill would say. By “different,” he meant brighter. More brilliant. An observation which was true.

Bill loved the painting “The Peaceable Kingdom” by the American folk artist Edward Hicks and how the painting depicted visually Quaker principles: the lion lying down with the lamb. He would often go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the painting.

He had his favorite paintings and rooms in the Met. In the Medieval Art section behind The Great Hall, there was a marble sculpture of Saint Hilarion (North Italian School XII century), which was a favorite of Bill’s. He said it reminded him of me. Maybe Bill saw a corresponding sincerity and earnestness in me, in my expression.

Bill singlehandedly made me into a discerning filmgoer. He got me to appreciate foreign films such as Ivan the Terrible, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, the director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet, and The Gospel According to St. Matthew, films that most people would be unlikely to know about.

He loved the D. W. Griffith film Intolerance, which he had seen I don’t know how many times. The film ends with an idealistic vision of a day “when prison bars wrought in the fires of intolerance will no longer prevail” and spectral prisoners in striped uniforms are seen moving through prison walls which disappear. A scene remarked upon by Bill.

He only recently called my attention to a film he loved from his early days in New York City: 3rd Ave. El, which was made in 1955. The music, as Bill pointed out, is a Haydn concerto played by harpsichordist Wanda Landowska. Bill thought the music was great and that it made the film. He made an observation to me once that I remember. He said that films work their magic by “sight and sound.”

His aesthetic senses were astute. Yet, it was all intuition, never tendentious. I learned much from him about how, while trusting my own intuitions, and being guided by them, to discriminate between the most profound works of art (chiefly films and paintings) and currently popular ones which (he could see) were of only passing interest at best or works that did not speak directly to him. He told me once that a good “measuring rod” for films was to ask oneself: do you still think it’s great, are you still thinking about it, the day after?

This kind of thinking — a sort of seat of the pants ratiocination — influenced me strongly. I feel that Bill never got credit for it and that it was overlooked. Another thought of his along these lines was a remark he made about traveling. When one arrives home after an overseas trip, he said to me, one is not quite home yet, mentally, and is still, mentally, a traveler. It takes a day or two to feel fully back home mentally, and, during that day or two, one is experiencing one’s own city as a traveler would experience it.

 

 

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

 

I remember Bill at 218 East 18th Street like it was yesterday and wish I could bring those times back. The cubbyhole in the cellar where he had his printing press. The pay phone in the hall on the bottom floor on which he would get calls from clients. How Charlie Bloomstein, the executive director of the New York Friends Group, would haggle Bill about paying part of the monthly phone bill.

In the 1960’s, he was kept busy printing flyers for the War Resisters League and Women’s Strike for Peace. Handouts announcing a march or demonstration. They trusted him; he was their printer of choice. “The war is good for business,” he would say to me jokingly.

Bill and his printing press. How he seemed to keep it working with rubber bands and paper clips and would, in his own words, get down on his knees and pray to the press to not stop working. How he would read his New York Times as the press was humming with sheets coming out of it. He had bill pads he had made up with the words: “William Dalzell, Quality Multilith Printing.” He explained to me how a multilith printer worked. The key thing to keep in mind, he said, is that “oil and water don’t like each other.” He loved to observe how mechanical things worked, and he loved old inventions. In a Thanksgiving card Bill sent me in the 1980’s, he wrote about visiting the Science Museum in Boston with Ed Treitler and his daughter Anya. “My favorite thing was the steam engine,” he wrote. “I love steam engines.”

My job title at the New York Friends Group was Workroom Supervisor; my responsibilities included mimeographing. Bill would patiently try, repeatedly, to show me how to stack a ream of paper so that the ends lined up. I never quite got the hang of it.
*****************************************************

 

 

Bill’s mind interested me because, like mine, it ranged all over the place. Nothing was seemingly too mundane for him to notice and consider, think about, and nothing was too arcane or “airy.” He once got to talking about waiters. He didn’t like coffee shops because he preferred not to have to be waited upon. He preferred places such as a cafeteria or fast food place where you could place your order and take it to your table. “Americans don’t make good waiters,” he told me. “They don’t like to be in a subservient position.”

Bill said that he had once had an experience in a restaurant in Europe (he was no snob and was anything but an epicure) with the perfect waiter. “A good waiter,” he said, “is someone who is there when you want them and is not there when you don’t.”

 

 

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

 

Bill was a great traveler. The places he went to (on a limited budget)! Europe. Mexico, where he lived for a while on a Friends Service Committee project. Alaska and Labrador. The Aran and Orkney Islands. The Findhorn spiritual community in Scotland. Russia. The Monastery of Trinity-St. Sergius, which is located near Moscow in what was then known as the town of Zagorsk. Bill had what he described as a mystical, or near mystical, experience there.

He had interesting observations to share — some of them “episodic,” but nonetheless fruitful. “The Scotch are in a class by themselves when it comes to love of books and reading,” he told me once. “You go into a bar and you’ll see a working man in working clothes with a worn [meaning its cover] book sticking out of his back pocket.”

His favorite place was Notre-Dame de Paris. He said that Notre-Dame was “the most holy place” he had ever visited.

He was in the United States Merchant Marine during his young adulthood. It must have been his first experience of travel. He told me that there is a lot of time on a ship where one is doing nothing and can presumably read and reflect. He said that as far as his duties on the ship were concerned, they almost always involved painting. Bill was not afraid or too snobby to do menial jobs.

He was not much of a writer, in terms of output, but he would write occasionally when he was away, always a very short communique — by design — usually a postcard. His writing was notable for its deliberate plainness and its sincerity. And his neat printing, which resembled calligraphy. He was a generous and thoughtful giver, on a limited budget, of gifts. If he wished to share a book with you, he would give you his own copy to keep, such as his ink stained copy of Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy and a book by Edgar Cayce.

Bill’s favorite poem was Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” which ends with the following lines which Bill would recite:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   March 2018

 

 

 

Bill Dalzell's note to Roger

This note from Bill Dalzell to Roger Smith was inserted in a copy of a book, “Edgar Cayce’s Story of Jesus,” given to Roger by Bill.