William Cobbett and observations

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The mind is truly amazing and one of its unique abilities is the way it filters extraneous information allowing us to function uninterrupted unlike an overloaded circuit breaker that abruptly shuts down. And although we are constantly bombarded both internally and externally, our minds ability to sort allows us to carry on. However, as we sort we are also apt to miss certain things which do not always take a prominent position of importance. Traveling in a vehicle requires us to look forward, as when we are the driver of car in contrast to times we don’t look around at all but rather stay to ourselves, such as riding in a subway. Here wondering eyes that happen upon another may be considered nosy or even rude.

There are specific moments however when observing one’s surroundings is initiated with a more than a casual interest; when something is new, when we are lost, or when we reminisce; otherwise many are quite content simply getting to and fro from one destination to another without taking additional time out for the sights. For example our observations become enhanced if we are in a location that we have never ventured, such as on a vacation. We are more relaxed, allowing our minds to examine the new, the different, and the picturesque. Our senses are heightened; we permit curiosity to take over and our adventurous spirit to be released.

When we are lost our observational skills resemble those of Sherlock Holmes. We look for clues, familiar sights, locations, people that may lead us back on to the correct path. The physical beauty of our surroundings are irrelevant and no matter how much the sun may be shining upon the landscape, our observational mission is primarily directed to uncovering where we have gone astray.

Then there are those of us who return to places and locations after so many years away; here we find that our observations are directed into comparison mode. We endeavor to find a street, a house, even a tree that once existed and when it is not there we try to make sense out of the new thing in its place. We rummage through our mind comparing our yesterday with today.

How quickly does the day go by. How often have we arrived at a destination and the very act of traveling was like a dream since we are so preoccupied with matters at hand or matters that are weighing on our mind we don’t even remember the act of getting from one place to another. How curious is it that one can go through a season and not remember seeing the buds awakening on the winter trees, or the migration of robins returning, or even the full moon against the black sky even when it was directly over head.

Perhaps all this filtering is like censorship and we have managed to censor what may be the most remarkable part of our days. Perhaps we need to turn off our “auto pilot” just so we don’t miss the show.

William Cobbett by John Raphael Smith Today’s blog returns the esteemed thinker: William Cobbett (1763-1835) English born political reformer, writer, and editor. Although he is not widely read today, he is not a man to be dismissed. His outspoken editorials and mouthpiece for the general population during England’s Industrial Revolution, one finds him dodging prison and “escaping” to the United States for a period of time. His ability to connect to people may have originated from his innate and keen ability to observe. From 1821 to 1836 Cobbett traveled on horseback through rural England whereby he documented his observations of daily life and surroundings.

From his book titled Rural Rides I bring you a sampling of his work. Though it is but a brief passage, it is written with rich details whereby we too have become an observer. I present to you, Mr. Cobbett…

“This, to my fancy, is a very nice country. It is continual hill and dell. Now and then a chain of hills higher than the rest, and these are downs, or woods. To stand upon any of the hills and look around you, you almost think you see the ups and downs of sea in a heavy swell (as the sailors call it) after what they call a gale of wind. The undulations are endless, and the great variety in the height, breadth, length, and form of the little hills, has a very delightful effect.—The soil, which, to look on it, appears to be more than half flint stones, is very good in quality, and, in general, better on the tops of the lesser hills than in the valleys. It has great tenacity; does not wash away like sand, or light loam. It is a stiff, tenacious loam, mixed with flint stones. Bears Saint-foin well, and all sorts of grass, which make the fields on the hills as green as meadows, even at this season; and the grass does not burn up in summer.—In a country so full of hills one would expect endless runs of water and springs. There are none: absolutely none. No water-furrow is ever made in the land. No ditches round the fields. And, even in the deep valleys, such as that in which this village is situated, though it winds round for ten or fifteen miles, there is no run of water even now. ..”

Second image: National Portrait Gallery (London) William Cobbett by John Raphael Smith ,chalk, engraved 1812

Robert Louis Stevenson and autumn

??????????????????????????????? There is something quite enchanting about seasons; for the changes endowed upon much of the earth are as if nature was staging a new theater production. And if you are not careful, if you are quite busy going about your business, as most industrious people do, we are apt to find ourselves missing the show. Because the world is a sphere, those of us who are presently ensconced in autumn live in the hemisphere which is now trounced by falling leaves.

Here the world is noiselessly changing; for those who walk and kick up leaves, and those who admire the landscapes, in our little part of the universe, (and I say little for we take up just a tiny bit of room) the leaves must have drunk up all the yellow, and orange, and brown … for being quite greedy, it stands to reason that surely they have grown too lazy and hang slothfully upon the trees rusting, and then with very little effort, with the slightest push from a breeze, drop off and flutter idly to the ground.

In autumn there is a thinning, the days have shortened and perhaps because the temperatures have fallen, evening comes upon us earlier with its blanket of darkness and covers the day like a warm friend…

No wonder we refer to autumn as fall, the time when the earth seems to be slowly curling, drying, chilling, it is falling into a state of sleep. And right before our eyes it is vanishing into thin air…

Robert-louis-stevenson Today I bring back to you the ever popular esteemed thinker: Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Our Scottish author has entertained readers of all ages with his classic novels; Kidnapped, Treasure Island, and even Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Although Stevenson was ill much of his life, he was a prolific writer of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His beautifully crafted essays expose his keen understanding of human nature.

I invite you to steal a moment away from your day with a portion trimmed from his 1875 essay titled An Autumn Effect. Join Mr. Stevenson on an autumn walk as he shares with us his thoughts. And if you live in the hemisphere where we are now engaged in this season called fall, perhaps you too will reminisce with the same observations, only with an eye that is more than a century of years later.

“… It was well, perhaps, that I had this first enthusiasm to encourage me up the long hill above High Wycombe; for the day was a bad day for walking at best, and now began to draw towards afternoon, dull, heavy, and lifeless. A pall of grey cloud covered the sky, and its colour reacted on the colour of the landscape. Near at hand, indeed, the hedgerow trees were still fairly green, shot through with bright autumnal yellows, bright as sunshine. But a little way off, the solid bricks of woodland that lay squarely on slope and hill-top were not green, but russet and grey, and ever less russet and more grey as they drew off into the distance. As they drew off into the distance, also, the woods seemed to mass themselves together, and lie thin and straight, like clouds, upon the limit of one’s view. Not that this massing was complete, or gave the idea of any extent of forest, for every here and there the trees would break up and go down into a valley in open order, or stand in long Indian file along the horizon, tree after tree relieved, foolishly enough, against the sky. I say foolishly enough, although I have seen the effect employed cleverly in art, and such long line of single trees thrown out against the customary sunset of a Japanese picture with a certain fantastic effect that was not to be despised; but this was over water and level land, where it did not jar, as here, with the soft contour of hills and valleys. The whole scene had an indefinable look of being painted, the colour was so abstract and correct, and there was something so sketchy and merely impressional about these distant single trees on the horizon that one was forced to think of it all as of a clever French landscape. For it is rather in nature that we see resemblance to art, than in art to nature; and we say a hundred times, ‘How like a picture!’ for once that we say, ‘How like the truth!’ The forms in which we learn to think of landscape are forms that we have got from painted canvas. Any man can see and understand a picture; it is reserved for the few to separate anything out of the confusion of nature, and see that distinctly and with intelligence…”

Vincent van Gogh and patience

Van Gogh-church-at-auvers-1890.jpg!Large Is it possible that in the 21st century men and women are in a hurried state, both in mind and movement, more than those who lived in previous centuries? For without much effort it is easy to observe that in all walks of life, regardless of one’s location, there is a sense of urgency smothering the landscape and exuding an assumption that we are never caught up, that the more we do the more we feel we need to do. And as we rush about there too is a chronic din, a background noise of dissatisfaction. Accompanied with the belief that men and women today have a monopoly on being too busy is the conclusion that those who came before could not possibly understand that we today have so much more to accomplish.

But let us stand back and treat the problem by viewing it with a pragmatic approach; this problem that maligns our thoughts, this problem that haunts us and keeps us awake at night…this problem of too much to do and not enough time. If we were to inspect any device that tells time, from your antique Grandfather Clock that survived so many house moves, the one with the pendulum that still swings and dings at each hour, to the most efficient app on your phone that awards you with accurate time anywhere in the universe at any given moment; if you count the minutes from the first light of day to the blackest part of night, the total will still be only twenty-four hours. It is the same amount of time that humans have always been allotted to accomplish what they set out to do in any given day.

Then just perhaps what has diminished is actually not “time”, since mathematically that notion is completely erroneous… Perhaps we have whittled away a part of what was a human attribute and supplanted in its place another human attribute, frustration. Just perhaps it is our patience that has worn away like treads on tires that speed round and around on a race track. For although humans have always been in the market to improve time in order to more quickly accomplish our tasks, our chores, our day-to-day means of transportation, our ability to receive and send communication, although we have successfully sped up the inner workings within our world, we still must be patient… for within the space allocated in a single day it forever remains finite… no more no less, twenty-four hours. Like expanding a balloon, we are able to fill it with just so much air, and although by using a pump we can increase the speed at which the air enters such a playful object … it can only consume and occupy a fixed amount of space before…(well you know what happens)…… it pops!

van gogh 2 Today’s blog brings back a most original person, the esteemed thinker: Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Dutch post- impressionist. Although he is recognized as one of our most gifted artists, this blogger finds that his writing is as expressive as many of his paintings. So, I have taken the liberty of extracting from his autobiography, Dear Theo, a most thoughtful observation.

Without further delay, enjoy a few moments out from you hectic day to enjoy his words. I now present Vincent van Gogh ….

“…There is a saying by *Gustave Dore which I have always admired: ‘J’ai la patience d’un boeuf’. I find in it a certain virtue, a certain resolute honesty. It is the word of a real artist. Ought one not to learn patience from nature, learn patience from seeing the corn slowly ripen, seeing things grow? …

Hardly a day passes now that I do not produce one thing or another. I cannot but make progress; each drawing one completes, each study one paints is a step forward. It is the same as on a road: one sees the church spire at the end, but there is another bit of road one did not see at first, and which must be covered. But one comes nearer and nearer. Sooner or later, I shall arrive at the point of beginning to sell….”

*Gustave Doré : French artist, engraver and illustrator (1832-1888). Translation: “I have the patience of an ox”
First Image: The Church at Auvers by Vincent van Gogh (1890)
Second image: Self-Portrait of Van Gogh (1889)