Friday, October 21, 2011

Put them all down?...

For when we think that progress is never made...

Thoreua in a letter to Harrison Blake: "They have a census table in which the put down the number of the insane. Do you believe that they put them all down there?

And this the accompanying note by Bradley Dean: "The 1850 Census forms had a column for "deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper or convict'; the census taker in Concord listed two deaf and dumb, one blind, five insane, one idiotic, eight paupers, and five convicts among the 2,249 residents."


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The common level...

One more from HDT...

"It is worth the while to live respectably unto ourselves. We can possibly get along with a neighbor, even with a bedfellow, whom we respect but very little; but as soon as it comes to this, that we do not respect ourselves, then we do not get along at all, no matter how much we are paid for halting. There are old heads in the world who cannot help me by their example or advice to live worthily and satisfactorily to myself; but I believe that it is in my power to elevate myself this very hour above the common level of my life."


Monday, October 17, 2011

Rotting potatoes...

This, briefly, from Thoreau's "Letters from a Spritual Seeker"

I have had but one spiritual birth (excuse the word,)and now whether it rains or snows, whether I laugh or cry, fall farther below or approach nearer my standard, whether Pierce or Scott is elected,-not a new scintillation of light flashes on me, but ever and anon, though with longer intervals, the same surprising & everlasting new light dawns upon me, with only such variations as in the coming of the natural day, with which indeed, it is often coincident.

As to how to preserve potatoes from rotting, your opinion may change from year to year, but as to how to preserve your soul from rotting, I have nothing to learn but something to practice.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

home-made divineness...

My current devotional reading includes Thoreau's "Letters to a Spiritual Seeker," edited by the late Bradley Dean. It is a wonderful volume (not least for the copious notes provided by Dean) and vital in understanding Thoreau's religion. This morning I was deeply struck by the profound importance of "expectation" in HDT's thought and life...

"Is not the attitude of expectation somewhat divine-a sort of home-made divineness? Does it not compel a kind of sphere music to attend on it? and do not it's satisfactions merge at length by insensible degrees in the enjoyment of the thing expected?"


Thursday, October 13, 2011



"If a man constantly aspires, is he not elevated?"


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Let the beautiful laws prevail...

A little on the tired side today and thinking of a particular passage from Thoreau that I finally tracked down...

"Who are poor and dependent? Who are rich and independent? When was it that men agreed to respect the appearance and not the reality? Why should the appearance appear? Are we well acquainted, then, with the reality? There is none who does not lie hourly in the respect he pays to false appearance. How sweet it would be to treat men and things, for an hour, for just what they are! We wonder that the sinner does not confess his sin. When we are weary with travel, we lay down on our load and rest by the wayside. So when we are weary with the burden of life, why do we not lay down this load of falsehoods which we have volunteered to sustain, and be refreshed as never mortal was? Let the beautiful laws prevail!"

Amen and blessings

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The undulations of celestial music...

Thoreau's great call for living the day...

"The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night. Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our own newly acquired force and aspirations from within, accompanied by the undulations of celestial music, instead of factory bells, and a fragrance filling the air--to a higher life than we fell asleep from; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be good, no less than the light. That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way. After a partial cessation of his sensuous life, the soul of man, or its organs rather, are reinvigorated each day, and his Genius tries again what noble life it can make. All memorable events, I should say, transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas say, "All intelligences awake with the morning." Poetry and art, and the fairest and most memorable of the actions of men, date from such an hour. All poets and heroes, like Memnon, are the children of Aurora, and emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that men give so poor an account of their day if they have not been slumbering? They are not such poor calculators. If they had not been overcome with drowsiness, they would have performed something. The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?"


Friday, October 7, 2011

most complete...

I think it was Mark Twain who, when asked about the controversy over who really wrote the books attributed to Homer, said, "If Homer didnt write them, some other guy named Homer did" (that is, I think, a paraphrase.)  The first essay in Plutarch's "Morals," "On the Education of Children" was probably not written by Plutarch but by some other guy named Plutarch. This an excerpt...

 "...we ought to make philosophy the chief of all our learning. For though, in order to the welfare of the body, the industry of men hath found out two arts, — medicine, which assists to the recovery of lost health and gymnastics, which help us to attain a sound constitution, — yet there is but one remedy for the distempers and diseases of the mind, and that is philosophy. For by the advice and assistance thereof it is that we come to understand what is honest, and what dishonest; what is just, and what unjust; in a word, what we are to seek, and what to avoid. We learn by it how we are to demean ourselves towards the Gods, towards our parents, our elders, the laws, strangers, governors, friends, wives, children, and servants. That is, we are to worship the Gods, to honor our parents, to reverence our elders, to be subject to the laws, to obey our governors, to love our friends, to use sobriety towards our wives, to be affectionate to our children, and not to treat our servants insolently; and (which is the chiefest lesson of all) not to be overjoyed in prosperity nor too much dejected in adversity; not to be dissolute in our pleasures, nor in our anger to be transported with brutish rage and fury. These things I account the principal advantages which we gain by philosophy. For to use prosperity generously is the part of a man; to manage it so as to decline envy, of a well governed man; to master our pleasures by reason is the property of wise men; and to moderate anger is the attainment only of extraordinary men. But those of all men I count most complete, who know how to mix and temper the managery of civil affairs with philosophy; seeing they are thereby masters of two of the greatest good things that are, — a life of public usefulness as statesmen, and a life of calm tranquillity as students of philosophy. For, whereas there are three sorts of lives, — the life of action, the life of contemplation, and the life of pleasure, — the man who is utterly abandoned and a slave to pleasure is brutish and mean-spirited; he that spends his time in contemplation without action is an unprofitable man; and he that lives in action and is destitute of philosophy is a rustical man, and commits many absurdities. Wherefore we are to apply our utmost endeavor to enable ourselves for both; that is, to manage public employments, and withal, at convenient seasons, to give ourselves to philosophical studies."

   My reading project has been Plutarch (much loved by Emerson and many of the Boston Unitarians) and though the "Lives" have been finished for some time, the start of the Church year has caused some delay in taking up, again, the "Morals." I blog bits I like from my reading of and on Plutarch at Plutarchan Lustres.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

time is conquered...

File:Edward Rowland Sill.jpgThis a poem from Edward Rowland Sill, collected in the volume, "The Poets of Transcendentalism"

Forenoon and afternoon and night, —Forenoon,
And afternoon, and night, — Forenoon, and —
The empty song repeats itself. No more?
Yes, that is Life: make this forenoon sublime,
This afternoon a psalm, this night a prayer,
And Time is conquered, and thy crown is won."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

sit with the hermit in you...

This from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Celebration of Intellect"

"If I had young men to reach, I should say to them, Keep the intellect sacred. Revere it. Give all to it. Its oracles countervail all. Attention is its acceptable prayer. Sit low and wait long ; and know that, next to being its minister, like Aristotle, and perhaps better than that, is the profound reception and sympathy, without ambition which secularizes and trades it. Go sit with the Hermit in you, who knows more than you do. You will find life enhanced, and doors opened to grander entertainments. Yet all comes easily that he does, as snow and vapor, heat, wind and light. Power costs nothing to the powerful. I should say to them, Do what you can do. He that draws on his own talent cannot be overshadowed or supplanted. . . . Homage to truth discriminates good and evil. Power never departs from it."


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Careless of life...

In the notes to Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Courage," Edward Waldo Emerson remembers Margaret Fuller reporting that Emerson once said to her, "Careful of health, Careless of life, should be our motto."


Monday, October 3, 2011

the living and sanctifying spirit...

From John Emery Abbott, the "pious Unitarian" on the Religious Education of children..


The general necessity of the Religious Education of children is acknowledged by all; but it is perhaps impossible that its actual importance should be fully realized and adequately felt. The foundation of the moral character is most often laid in the years of childhood; and the progress of life very frequently does little more than develope and fix the principles, harden the habits, and give permanence to the feelings, which were either formed by deliberate care, or caught by accidental influences, during the period of youthful susceptibility. The world is full of temptations, through which, in various measures, all are destined to pass; and nothing can protect the young adventurer amidst the perils and exposures of life, but the early establishment of sound and deep rooted religious principles...

If we inquire into the obstacles which most frequently prevent parents from attending to the religious education of their offspring, we shall find them sometimes to arise from Vanity, which is more desirous of training children in showy accomplishments, than in the solid qualities of a virtuous character; of rendering them graceful and polished in manners, and fascinating in worldly accomplishments, than of giving them the less imposing graces of seriousness, humility, and purity, or kindling in their uncorrupted bosoms, the living and sanctifying spirit of silent and unobtrusive piety."


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Unless the soul...

From my morning devotionals. First Andrew Preston Peabody, then the Roman Stoic Seneca...

" your most imminent duty, and may be your most blessed privilege; and character-building ought to be temple-building,—the framing and perfecting of a sanctuary for the indwelling God, — a sanctuary in whose firm foundation, massive walls, fair proportions, and rich adornings there should be blended strength and beauty."

And Seneca...

"Do you ask where the supreme good dwells? In the soul. And unless the soul be pure and holy, there is no room in it for God"