John Burroughs and between seasons

must be fall_with nameWe, meaning those of us who reside in the western hemisphere, are between seasons; for sometimes it is as warm as a summer day and the next it is cool and fall-like. And though there is no name for this in- between season, the trees seem to agree. One has only to look around and observe that many of the leaves have not made up their minds either as to what season it really is.

The red maple, for example, presents her foliage as half-green and half-orange. The green leaves are hanging on to their end of the summer color as stubbornly as a child who refuses to eat his or her vegetables. But, like the child that will eventually have to complete the meal, these leaves will eventually have to submit to the inevitable by exchanging their dwindling summer green to a more glorious golden orange. It is a wonder that we too are not sure what to do about our own apparel…whether we should keep our t-shirts in the drawers or remove our sweaters from the cedar closet!

So, like those who look to the groundhog to determine the length of winter and are sadly disappointed that he will not come out of his warm burrow, do not rely upon the metamorphosis of leaves for the official start of autumn. But rather, it will be Mother Nature, like the stern mother that she is, who will cast her seasonal spell upon us, and we will awaken to the harvest days of fall!

John burroughs 2Today’s post is a return visit from the esteemed thinker: John Burroughs (1837-1921) a man who reminds us to observe and take time out of our hectic day to enjoy earth’s free gifts. (And who does not like something for free?) Born in Roxbury, New York he is known to us as an essayist, environmentalist, and conservationist. His union with nature was prominent in his work and his writing.

And so I bring you a snippet of his lovely words from his book, Under the Maples…which is most fitting for today!

“The time of the falling of leaves has come again. Once more in our morning walk we tread upon carpets of gold and crimson, of brown and bronze, woven by the winds or the rains out of these delicate textures while we slept.

How beautifully the leaves grow old! How full of light and color are their last days! There are exceptions, of course. The leaves of most of the fruit-trees fade and wither and fall ingloriously. They bequeath their heritage of color to their fruit. Upon it they lavish the hues which other trees lavish upon their leaves. The pear-tree is often an exception. I have seen pear orchards in October painting a hillside in hues of mingled bronze and gold. And well may the pear-tree do this, it is so chary of color upon its fruit.

But in October what a feast to the eye our woods and groves present! The whole body of the air seems enriched by their calm, slow radiance. They are giving back the light they have been absorbing from the sun all summer…”

Ralph Waldo Emerson and gifts

sky_compressed_with name We live in a world that often regards material things as having great value, and it is often not until one is feeling poorly that we begin to value health with greater esteem. Yet, this notion of placing importance on tangible items is not a concept that is germane only to our present century, but rather one that has been well rooted seemingly forever. And so it appears that we rank highly those gifts that fit among the category of expensive or prestigious.

Perhaps this trait is a characteristic inherent to most all humans, for realistically, who would like to trade their personal comforts with those who are less endowed with equal possessions. After a weekend of camping, a hot shower and clean sheets are indeed most welcome.

But there are gifts bestowed to us with unprecedented value and are delivered by unlikely sources, such as the artist, the poet, the musician, Mother Nature; this sampling of such makes us take pause and silently reminds us that valuable gifts are not just the things we like to wear or ride in, but those things that bear witness to the uniqueness of life…that we must stop for a moment and enjoy … just because….

Ralph Waldo Emerson 2jpg Following our theme of gifts, I welcome back the “gifted” and esteemed thinker: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) preacher, philosopher, and poet, considered having the finest spirit and ideals of his age. He was a bold thinker having penned essays and gave lecture that offer models of clarity, style, and thought, which guaranteed him a formidable presence in 19th century American life. Emerson offered his views on the harmonies of man and nature, intellectual and spiritual independence, self-reliance, and utopian friendship. He was a committed Abolitionist, a champion of the Native Americans, and a crusader for peace and social justice.

From his essay so aptly titled, Gifts, take a moment for his words. Written in the 1800s, they still resonate with reason.

“It is said that the world is in a state of bankruptcy, that the world owes the world more than the world can pay, and ought to go into chancery, and be sold. I do not think this general insolvency, which involves in some sort all the population, to be the reason of the difficulty experienced at Christmas and New Year, and other times, in bestowing gifts; since it is always so pleasant to be generous, though very vexatious to pay debts. But the impediment lies in the choosing. If, at any time, it comes into my head that a present is due from me to somebody, I am puzzled what to give until the opportunity is gone.

Flowers and fruits are always fit presents; flowers, because they are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty out values all the utilities of the world. These gay natures contrast with the somewhat stern countenance of ordinary nature; they are like music heard out of a workhouse. Nature does not cocker us: we are children, not pets: she is not fond: everything is dealt to us without fear or favor, after severe universal laws. Yet these delicate flowers look like the frolic and interference of love and beauty. Men used to tell us that we love flattery, even though we are not deceived by it, because it shows that we are of importance enough to be courted. Something like that pleasure the flowers give us: what am I to whom these sweet hints are addressed?

Fruits are acceptable gifts because they are the flower of commodities, and admit of fantastic values being attached to them. If a man should send to me to come a hundred miles to visit him, and should set before me a basket of fine summer fruit, I should think there was some proportion between the labor and the reward…”

A.A. Milne and the library

library For many the public library is synonymous with tranquility; it is a place where one can find things they may have lost and find things they may not know they wanted. It is one of the few places left where you can receive something without giving back anything except your time.

What a wonderful establishment, rows and rows and shelves and shelves of books; all maintained by others, cataloged in a way where they are easily found, and allowed to be taken home with little more than a promise that you will return them within a reasonable about of time. So much so that if one wished they could renew the book for many weeks thereafter.

Yet, with all its positive attributes, it has been threatened like an endangered species; for as much as many praise its existence, patronage and funding has been reduced in many communities where its very existence may soon become merely a memory of the past. And oh what a shame that would be, for though we may enjoy our digital ebooks and a coffee shop attached to the bookstore… wouldn’t it be a disgrace to lose such a dear and faithful friend, the one place where tranquility resides, the good old library.

Today’s blog returns the the esteemed thinker: A.A. Milne (1882-1956); an author whose books you may have first encountered at your earliest trip to the library. Poet, journalist, playwright, and writer, Alan Alexander Milne was born in London, England. After serving in the British army in WWI, he devoted his career to writing. His best known works include the children’s poetry collections in the 1920s, When we were Very Young and Now we are Six. a.a. milne

From his book, Not that it Matters, I have selected the essay “My Library”. Having carefully snipped and strung together some of his fanciful words, I hope you will find them to your liking. Take time from your hectic day to read and enjoy A. A. Milne; I believe you will find him still quite entertaining…

“When I moved into a new house a few weeks ago, my books, as was natural, moved with me. Strong, perspiring men shovelled them into packing-cases, and staggered with them to the van, cursing Caxton as they went. On arrival at this end, they staggered with them into the room selected for my library, heaved off the lids of the cases, and awaited orders. The immediate need was for an emptier room. Together we hurried the books into the new white shelves which awaited them, the order in which they stood being of no matter so long as they were off the floor. Armful after armful was hastily stacked, the only pause being when (in the curious way in which these things happen) my own name suddenly caught the eye of the foreman. “Did you write this one, sir?” he asked. I admitted it. “H’m,” he said noncommittally. He glanced along the names of every armful after that, and appeared a little surprised at the number of books which I hadn’t written. An easy-going profession, evidently.

So we got the books up at last, and there they are still. I told myself that when a wet afternoon came along I would arrange them properly…
If I gave you the impression that my books were precisely arranged in their old shelves, I misled you. They were arranged in the order known as “all anyhow.” Possibly they were a little less “anyhow” than they are now, in that the volumes of any particular work were at least together, but that is all that can be claimed for them. For years I put off the business of tidying them up, just as I am putting it off now. It is not laziness; it is simply that I don’t know how to begin….

Let us suppose that we decide to have all the poetry together. It sounds reasonable. But then Byron is eleven inches high (my tallest poet), and Beattie (my shortest) is just over four inches. How foolish they will look standing side by side. Perhaps you don’t know Beattie, but I assure you that he was a poet….

You see the difficulty. If you arrange your books according to their contents you are sure to get an untidy shelf. If you arrange your books according to their size and colour you get an effective wall, but the poetically inclined visitor may lose sight of Beattie altogether. Before, then, we decide what to do about it, we must ask ourselves that very awkward question, “Why do we have books on our shelves at all?” It is a most embarrassing question to answer…”

First image: At the children’s library, John Collier, Date Created/Published: 1943 Aug.

Christopher D. Morley and the haircut

hair cut There are some things that we do which is universal; for example, getting a haircut. For within my lifetime I have yet to meet a person who has not at one time or another returned home rather unhappy. And although we know in our heart of hearts that the locks that have been cut will grow back, we may still feel like a lamb having just been sheared.

So traumatic is a bad haircut that it is enough to send a young person coming up with any excuse to stay home from school. For who doesn’t remember the emotional pain and embarrassment which was executed by a rather unkind classmate.

A poor haircut can make you believe as though you have the largest ears or the longest neck. It can make you feel as though you are ten years old again, or have been transformed back to the 1980s. And although your hairdresser or barber will look at you like they have just painted the Mona Lisa, no amount of lies will make you feel better when staring back at you in that over-sized mirror is you with a very miserable haircut!

So take note that the world may be a very big place but in spite of its vast landmass… you cannot hide from a getting at least once… a bad haircut!

christopher morley 3From his essay Sitting in the Barber’s Chair I bring back to you the esteemed thinker: Christopher Morley (1890-1957) American author, journalist, poet, and essayist. I believe that once again he will stir you away from your hectic day and enchant you with a small but worthy bit of humor.

“Once every ten weeks or so we get our hair cut… Of course, we believe in having our hair cut during office hours. That is the only device we know to make the hateful operation tolerable…
We knew a traveling man who never got his hair cut except when he was on the road, which permitted him to include the transaction in his expense account; but somehow it seems to us more ethical to steal time than to steal money…

We like to view this whole matter in a philosophical and ultra-pragmatic way. Some observers have hazarded that our postponement of haircuts is due to mere lethargy and inertia, but that is not so. Every time we get our locks shorn our wife tells us that we have got them too short. She says that our head has a very homely and bourgeois bullet shape, a sort of pithecanthropoid contour, which is revealed by a close trim. After five weeks’ growth, however, we begin to look quite distinguished. The difficulty then is to ascertain just when the law of diminishing returns comes into play. When do we cease to look distinguished and begin to appear merely slovenly? Careful study has taught us that this begins to take place at the end of sixty-five days, in warm weather. Add five days or so for natural procrastination and devilment, and we have seventy days interval, which we have posited as the ideal orbit for our tonsorial ecstasies…”

First image: Sergeant from Fort Benning getting his son’s hair cut at a barber shop in Columbus, Georgia 1941

Richard Jefferies and six legged friends

picnic For those of us who are on the fringes of warm weather, we are now compelled to open the windows and usher in the new day with gentle breezes. And as we welcome the longer days of sunshine we also may find that the beauty of spring comes with a small price. For some, the mornings may welcome the chirping of birds or there are those who may turn over and wish them away for though the term, “getting up with the birds” may look good on paper, it is not always something we wish for ourselves.

The quiet of winter is replaced with a more noisy spring for along with the lovely carpet-like lawns comes the droning noise of the mowers. And from under the ground that was formerly dormant and hidden has awakened with the budding of flowers, leaving us once again sharing our homes and gardens with insects and other small critters. Try as we may to keep them at bay, the little devils are with us again, bringing havoc to the most civilized of picnics.

So, open your hearts and oil your bicycle chains, warm weather is here with all its glory and all its pesky six legged friends. And just think… summer sunburns are just around the corner!

Richard Jefferies 2 Today’s post brings back English writer, Richard Jefferies, (1848-1887). An author who was noted as being a compassionate man that found and wrote about the esthetics of nature. His popularity as an author has gone in and out of vogue; however those who are drawn to the writings of rural life will surely find his work appealing.

I now bid you to take a bit of time out from your hectic day to walk among the flowers with Mr. Jefferies. From his essay, “Some April Insects” we are invited to share with him his observations about “the bee”.

“…Any one delicate would do well to have a few such flowers in spring under observation, and to go out of doors or stop in according to their indications. I think there were four species of wild bee at these early flowers, including the great bombus and the small prosopis with orange-yellow head. It is difficult to scientifically identify small insects hastily flitting without capturing them, which I object to doing, for I dislike to interfere with their harmless liberty. They have all been named and classified, and I consider it a great cruelty to destroy them again without special purpose. The pleasure is to see them alive and busy with their works, and not to keep them in a cabinet. These wild bees, particularly the smaller ones, greatly resented my watching them, just the same as birds do. If I walked by they took no heed; if I stopped or stooped to get a better view they were off instantly. Without doubt they see you, and have some idea of the meaning of your various motions. The wild bees are a constant source of interest, much more so than the hive bee, which is so extremely regular in its ways. With an explosion almost like a little bomb shot out of a flower; with an immense hum, almost startling, boom! the great bombus hurls himself up in the air from under foot; well named—boom—bombus…”

First image: F. Graetz, 1884. India ink over pencil on bristol board

Esteemed thinker: David Hume

mic With each generation there comes change and with each generation there are those who look back at their elders as being rather antiquated. Changes within the generations are often parallel with technological advancements, relegating the elders into the unintentional but often considered outdated group. As change has ambushed the populations of the world so have many of the once heralded skills that have now been relegated as something one either does not partake in or “picks up” as they go along…such is the art of “eloquence”. Ahhh, a term that presently has been modified to mean something other than its original connotation, “a skillful way with words.”

There was once a time when the fine art of speaking, oration, was eloquence; when writing was eloquence, and those who attributed their time and learning to “eloquence” were looked upon with great regard. Yet rarely do we hear speakers of such finesse that we would call he or she an orator, and rarely in our day’s occurrences do we read anything which could be identified with such a title as eloquence, for with its meaning too has its execution been diminished.

So, for those who yearn for eloquence they will have to look back in time for certainly in the sound bites of today’s world, your “eloquent writing” would be snipped before you even got started …for after all… 140 characters is all you are allocated in a “tweet”!

David Hume Today’s blog takes us into the 1700s with the esteemed thinker: David Hume (1711-1776)born in Edinburgh, he was a Scottish philosopher , historian, economist, and recognized by contemporary philosophers as precursor to cognitive science. He was considered a skeptic regarding philosophy and relentless critic of religion and metaphysics. Although best known for his Treatise of Human Nature (1740) and six volumes on The History of England (1754 -1762), Hume made two other major lasting contributions to economics. One is his idea that economic freedom is necessary condition for political freedom. The second is his assertion that “you cannot deduce ought from is”—that is, value judgments cannot be made purely on the basis of facts.

I now bring you the words of Mr. Hume who will expound further about “eloquence” and which was eloquently snipped from his essay, so aptly titled “Eloquence” (1742).

“…in many respects, of an opposite character to the ancient; and that, if we be superior in philosophy, we are still, notwithstanding all our refinements, much inferior in eloquence…In enumerating the great men, who have done honour to our country, we exult in our poets and philosophers; but what orators are ever mentioned? Or where are the monuments of their genius to be met with? There are found, indeed, in our histories, the names of several, who directed the resolutions of our parliament: But neither themselves nor others have taken the pains to preserve their speeches; and the authority, which they possessed, seems to have been owing to their experience, wisdom, or power, more than to their talents for oratory. At present, there are above half a dozen speakers in the two houses, who, in the judgment of the public, have reached very near the same pitch of eloquence; and no man pretends to give any one the preference above the rest. This seems to me a certain proof, that none of them have attained much beyond a mediocrity in their art, and that the species of eloquence, which they aspire to, gives no exercise to the sublimer faculties of the mind, but may be reached by ordinary talents and a slight application….

One is somewhat at a loss to what cause we may ascribe so sensible a decline of eloquence in later ages. The genius of mankind, at all times, is, perhaps, equal: The moderns have applied themselves, with great industry and success, to all the other arts and sciences: And a learned nation possesses a popular government; a circumstance which seems requisite for the full display of these noble talents: But notwithstanding all these advantages, our progress in eloquence is very inconsiderable, in comparison of the advances, which we have made in all other parts of learning…”

Second image: Oil portrait of Hume by David Ramsay (1776)

John Burroughs and time

strata zion national park_ burroughs post There is little doubt to most of us that the things we do and the pace we live continues to accelerate, and when simple actions and events come to a stand still for reasons that we have no control over, it creates disappointment and frustration. Individually, one cannot be at blamed for having taken on these feelings, for as our everyday rate of interaction speeds up, it has become quite clear that one has to hang on or be left behind.

However, within all this acceleration and an often self-imposed race to the top, it is most interesting to observe that our planet Earth has maintained an even and steady course, while continuing to change, evolve, and exhibit stunning effects. Slowly, very slowly, very methodically she turns rocks into sand and mountains into valleys. Her time is geological and as the saying goes, “has all the time in the world.” And though humans have journeyed a parallel road, our existence is as brief as a flicker of light.

Take witness to Earth’s miraculous changes and transformations within the sights and vistas; the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Cliffs of Dover. All are a product of time which needs no calendar to interpret age, but rather the striations on rocks or the rings within a tree trunk.

And though we find that we must keep up and maintain the haste of each day, our time is akin to a footprint on the ocean’s shore…so take the advice of Mother Earth and enjoy the caress of the water, and make as deep but kindly impression as you can within the sands of our time….

John burroughs 2 Today’s blog has invited back the esteemed thinker: John Burroughs (1837-1921) best known as one of the literary caretakers of nature. And though he lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, his philosophy for everyday life has maintained its value. We are fortunate to be able to read and observe his work, a tribute to his writing that he had the foresight to document the beauty of nature and its symbiotic relationship with man, Earth, and the surroundings.

From his book, Time and Change (1912) I present to you a short but poignant piece extracted for your reading pleasure. Here are the words of Mr. Burroughs…

“… I am well aware that my own interest in geology far outruns my knowledge, but if I can in some degree kindle that interest in my reader, I shall be putting him on the road to a fuller knowledge than I possess. As with other phases of nature, I have probably loved the rocks more than I have studied them. In my youth I delighted in lingering about and beneath the ledges of my native hills, partly in the spirit of adventure and a boy’s love of the wild, and partly with an eye to their curious forms, and the evidences of immense time that looked out from their gray and crumbling fronts. I was in the presence of Geologic Time, and was impressed by the scarred and lichen-coated veteran without knowing who or what he was. But he put a spell upon me that has deepened as the years have passed, and now my boyhood ledges are more interesting to me than ever.

If one gains an interest in the history of the earth, he is quite sure to gain an interest in the history of the life on the earth…”

First image: Strata in Zion National Park, Utah, 1946: Carol Highsmith
Second image: John Burroughs in rustic chair, c1901

Joseph Conrad and authors

book store poster When we are young we were taught that humans are equipped with five senses: sight, taste, smell, touch, and hearing. A gift that we take for granted each day. There are some who believe that they are more sensitive or partial to one of the senses, whereupon we may say that a person is more visual, or more auditory, kinesthetic, etc.

And then there are places where one of our senses are deliberately heightened; the symphony beckons our sense of hearing, the baker attacks our olfactory, and the museum seduces our visual, the ballet virtually gets us up off our feet. Those who are creators of music, culinary delights, the visuals, the movements, all such artists are invested in the production of simulating specific senses.

But then there is the lonely author, the person who seems to be much like the outlier in a mathematical problem. This is the one among the artists who is requested by the reader to stimulate all the senses; for as a recipient of their work don’t we challenge them to show us the location of the story, demand entry into the emotions of the characters, hear their voices, taste their meals, feel the path beneath their feet as they walk, and journey in a manner that although we are sitting in a chair we are at the same time traveling across an ocean…. It is a most daunting task succinctly all packaged in what we know as a book.

And this is what the author must abide to for like an adult leads a child; the writer must lead the reader so that he or she is left satisfied in a way that it wishes to return for more…

Joseph-Conrad_new_image Today’s blog invites back the esteemed author: Joseph Conrad (1857-1924). His work was often characterized as adventurous and darkly pessimistic, with traditional qualities of commitment and courage. His young adult life as a merchant seaman took him around the world, whereby he later fictionalized his early in his novels such as Heart of Darkness. Conrad was not a stranger to other literary greats and was friendly with Henry James, H.G. Wells, Ford Madox Ford.

From his book, Notes on Life and Letters, Mr. Conrad will now take us into the very private world of the writer, a novelist to be more precise… I present him to you now in hopes that you will take a few moments out of your harried day.

“… The art of the novelist is simple. At the same time it is the most elusive of all creative arts, the most liable to be obscured by the scruples of its servants and votaries, the one pre-eminently destined to bring trouble to the mind and the heart of the artist. After all, the creation of a world is not a small undertaking except perhaps to the divinely gifted. In truth every novelist must begin by creating for himself a world, great or little, in which he can honestly believe. This world cannot be made otherwise than in his own image: it is fated to remain individual and a little mysterious, and yet it must resemble something already familiar to the experience, the thoughts and the sensations of his readers. At the heart of fiction, even the least worthy of the name, some sort of truth can be found—if only the truth of a childish theatrical ardour in the game of life, as in the novels of Dumas the father. But the fair truth of human delicacy can be found in Mr. Henry James’s novels; and the comical, appalling truth of human rapacity let loose amongst the spoils of existence lives in the monstrous world created by Balzac.

The pursuit of happiness by means lawful and unlawful, through resignation or revolt, by the clever manipulation of conventions or by solemn hanging on to the skirts of the latest scientific theory, is the only theme that can be legitimately developed by the novelist who is the chronicler of the adventures of mankind amongst the dangers of the kingdom of the earth. And the kingdom of this earth itself, the ground upon which his individualities stand, stumble, or die, must enter into his scheme of faithful record. To encompass all this in one harmonious conception is a great feat; and even to attempt it deliberately with serious intention, not from the senseless prompting of an ignorant heart, is an honourable ambition. For it requires some courage to step in calmly where fools may be eager to rush. As a distinguished and successful French novelist once observed of fiction, “C’est un art trop difficile…”

First image:a poster The Bookman-artist: Flagg, James Montgomery, 1877-1960, Date Created: New York:1896

Esteemed thinker: William Hazlitt

Characters in a literary work are those persons or things that carry out the action the author has executed. They are the change agents of a story; the personalities that interact to weave a good tale. However, when we think of someone’s attributes, may they be considered good or bad, then we also are thinking of the word character. This one, the moral or ethical quality of an individual however, is much less easy to establish. For even though we may have known a person for a great while, just how well do we know their character?

Some believe that we can tell a man or woman’s character by looking into their eyes…as in the expression ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul’. The notion that we can detect one’s deep thoughts, decipher what makes a person tick, all with a casual glance is indeed intriguing… yet it makes us wonder if this prescription is a fact or merely a romantic perception. In the 1800s, right about the time photography was coming into the hands of ordinary folks, photographers such as the great Matthew Brady set their sights on portraiture to show a person’s noble character and Samuel G. Szabó who believed physical characteristics of the criminal psyche could be discerned through photography.

And then there are some who claim they can divulge a man or woman’s true character by the company they keep. At first blush this seems like logical reasoning for if one’s friends are scrupulous and trustworthy, then it would be fair to assume that the character of said individual would too be conscientious and honest. However, does that mean as we travel in and out of relationships the integrity of our character is examined with such fine tuned scrutiny that our traits would to be judged fickle like the disposition of a hungry bear? Vicious before it eats, but then when fully satisfied it is content and resumes in peaceful slumber. Is it possible then to postulate that a person can impersonate a different character and like a chameleon that can camouflage its appearance to suit its surroundings so too can the character be so easily disguised?

Alas then, how can we determine if human nature is designed to be a good judge of character? A man or woman in a relationship is often blind to the disposition of the attracted mate; even though others around see quite clearly that there is…shall we say…a marked flaw. And as time passes, a revelation appears, but not to anyone’s surprise…for like finding bones in a cemetery…sometimes we do not have to dig too deep to uncover the true character of a person.

William Hazlitt Today’s blog presents esteemed thinker: William Hazlitt (1778-1830). Born in Kent, England; he was an essayist, painter, and philosopher. Though he is a relatively an unknown to the 21st century reader, he was considered a great prose writer and important critic of the early 19th century’s Romantic period, making original contributions to appreciation of art, theatre, literature and philosophy. His essays could fill twenty volumes, making him one of England’s most prolific writers. Hazlitt was also a controversial journalist who, at the expense of his own chances for advancement, defended a radical stance that was actively persecuted in his day; an attack on the privileged and monarchy.

I now bid you good reading as you take time to venture into the prose of William Hazlitt. Take time and please do dally…for your full attention will not be wasted as I bring to you a snippet from an essay in his book Table Talk.

“ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHARACTER “
“It is astonishing, with all our opportunities and practice, how little we know of this subject. For myself, I feel that the more I learn, the less I understand it… There are various ways of getting at a knowledge of character—by looks, words, actions. The first of these, which seems the most superficial, is perhaps the safest, and least liable to deceive: nay, it is that which mankind, in spite of their pretending to the contrary, most generally go by. Professions pass for nothing, and actions may be counterfeited; but a man cannot help his looks. ‘Speech,’ said a celebrated wit, ‘was given to man to conceal his thoughts.’ Yet I do not know that the greatest hypocrites are the least silent. The mouth of Cromwell is pursed up in the portraits of him, as if he was afraid to trust himself with words. Lord Chesterfield advises us, if we wish to know the real sentiments of the person we are conversing with, to look in his face, for he can more easily command his words than his features. A man’s whole life may be picture painted of him by a great artist would probably stamp his true character on the canvas, and betray the secret to posterity…

I shall not say much of friendship as giving an insight into character, because it is often founded on mutual infirmities and prejudices. Friendships are frequently taken up on some sudden sympathy, and we see only as much as we please of one another’s characters afterwards. Intimate friends are not fair witnesses to character, any more than professed enemies. They cool, indeed, in time, part, and retain only a rankling grudge of past errors and oversights. Their testimony in the latter case is not quite free from suspicion.

One would think that near relations, who live constantly together, and always have done so, must be pretty well acquainted with one another’s characters. They are nearly in the dark about it. Familiarity confounds all traits of distinction: interest and prejudice take away the power of judging…”

First images selected from Metropolitan Museum in NYC: “Rogues, a Study of Characters “1860; photographer Samuel G. Szabó

Samuel Johnson and think time

the thinker So extraordinary is our brain, it works relentlessly, never resting, always on the go; a thankless job. For how often do people go out of their way to pamper their feet with a pedicure, their hands with a manicure, their backs and shoulders with a message, and then their skin with a facial. Yet our sleepless brain only gets ridiculed in a way that it is called rather unpleasant names such as “dumb” or “loser”; it is even the subject of books that claim techniques to make it smarter or perform more proficiently. Yet, all it asks for is a place to lie down at night without being disturbed…and even under the most tranquil of conditions it continues to manufacture pictures and stories…our dreams. And then, are we satisfied? Oh, no! We complain that we had such a poor night’s rest because we “had a bad dream…even a nightmare!”

Alas…our brains continue to work at a feverish pitch but still we become impatient when ideas or answers do not come as quickly as we would like, although the remedy is quite simple… all we really need to do is give ourselves “think time”; a concept that was once exemplified as being even prestigious… so-much-so that people would gather together under the guise of being “a think tank”… allowing groups to ponder and contemplate problems without being ridiculed for being too slow. Today our brains are expected to manipulate information and multi-task even without taking into effect that the poor thing has not changed in composition nor evolved as fast as technology. It can only work as effectively as it always has done in the past, for the more we hurry the less accurate we become.

Slip into any social situation where there is a group of people and often the person who is the loudest and responds the fastest appears to demonstrate leadership qualities that others like to be around. The person who can spin a good tale, tell a joke well, or spout facts like a game of jeopardy often holds an advantage position. But do not despair if you are not firing back as though playing a match of ping pong; for in the game of chess to “checkmate” requires patience and think time.

samuel johnson 2 For today’s blog I bring back our esteemed thinker: Samuel Johnson, the 18th century English writer, critic, and man of tolerance. His writings covered subjects as varied as theatre, biography, politics, religion, travel, French, Latin, Greek, and Italian translations; as well as America, censorship, taxation, and slavery.

I invite you now to take a few moments of your valuable time and tap into some thoughts from his essay titled “Conversation”. I present to you the astute words of Dr. Johnson….

“None of the desires dictated by vanity is more general, or less blamable than that of being distinguished for the arts of conversation. Other accomplishments may be possessed without opportunity of exerting them, or wanted without danger that the defect can often be remarked: but as no man can live, otherwise than in an hermitage, without hourly pleasure or vexation, from the fondness or neglect of those about him, the faculty of giving pleasure is of continual use. Few are more frequently envied than those who have the power of forcing attention wherever they come, whose entrance is considered as a promise of felicity, and whose departure is lamented, like the recess of the sun from northern climates, as a privation of all that enlivens fancy, or inspires gaiety…

It is apparent, that to excellence in this valuable art, some peculiar qualifications are necessary: for every one’s experience will inform him, that the pleasure which men are able to give in conversation, hold no stated proportion to their knowledge or their virtue…no style of conversation is more extensively acceptable than the narrative. He who has stored his memory with slight anecdotes, private incidents, and personal peculiarities, seldom fails to find his audience favourable… “

* first photograph: The Thinker by French artist Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)