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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

"Dear Son, I have ever had a Pleasure in obtaining any little Anecdotes of my Ancestors."

Known as one of the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin grew up in Boston, but after being apprenticed as a printer to his brother, they had a heated disagreement and Franklin ran away to Philadelphia.  Single-handedly, he built his own printing business and later became recognized for organizing the first lending library, starting a volunteer fire department and inventing the Franklin stove, along with numerous other sterling accomplishments.  His autobiography ends in 1757 with his involvement in the French-Indian Wars but, as most people know, Franklin went on to great feats, being involved in the Revolutionary War, and helping draft the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war.


Benjamin Franklin drawing electricity
from the sky (1816)
Benjamin West
source Wikipedia

I particularly enjoyed the first part of this autobiography, as Franklin describes his boyhood, his apprenticeship to an overbearing brother and his flight to Philadelphia where he eventually lands a job as a printer and later runs his own company.  His ability to examine a situation thoroughly and quickly and then be able to proceed with aptitude and insight into any challenge, was his trademark, and the reader can understand how he rapidly won the respect of the community and his fellow businessmen.  Being self-educated, Franklin had a love of good literature and along with that, good discussion, which led him to found the Junto club where he, along with other like-minded young men, hoped that by improving their minds through reading, they could better their community around them.

The main emphasis of Franklin's discourse was on "Wealth and Distinction" through accomplishment, employing "Industry and Frugality" to meet his goals. He noticed everything to the minutest detail and had an idea for the betterment of everything, including housekeeping, the communicating of instruction, virtue, personal growth, and even religion.  Virtue was a particular focus of Franklin's, as he was convinced that "vicious Actions are not hurtful because they are forbidden, but forbidden because they are hurtful, the Nature of Man alone consider'd: That it was therefore every one's Interest to be virtuous, who wish'd to be happy even in this World."  He set up a system to eradicate his faults and instil virtue, by working on one shortcoming at a time and moving to the next, only when the former was perfected.  His list read as follows:

1.  Temperance
Eat no to Dullness
Drink not to Elevation
2.  Silence
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself.
Avoid trifling Conversation.
3.  Order
Let all your Things have their Places.
Let each Part of your business have its Time.
4.  Resolution
Resolve to perform what you ought.
Perform without fail what you resolve.
5.  Frugality
Make no Expense but to do good to others or yourself: ie. Waste Nothing
6.  Industry
Lose no Time.  Be always employ'd in something useful.  Cut off all unnecessary Actions.
7.  Sincerity
Use no hurtful Deceit.
Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8.  Justice
Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.
9.  Moderation
Avoid Extremes.  Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10.  Cleanliness
Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Clothes or Habitation.
11.  Tranquility
Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.
12.  Chastity
Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dullness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another's Peace or Reputation.
13. Humility
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.



Through using this method, Franklin expressed himself surprised at his numerous faults.  Though it did not have the success he had expected, at least through application he was able to temper his faults to a greater degree than if he had never attempted the experiment.


Benjamin Franklin (center) at work on printing press
Reproduction of Charles Mills painting
source Wikimedia Commons

Franklin's style is rather continuous and so often muddled that it required effort to follow his train of thought.  He states that he's writing the biography for his son, but it was almost as if he was writing for himself, in that he had all the experiences and all the information in his head, and therefore didn't need to give additional details, which would have been useless for him, but perhaps helpful to the uninformed reader.  He sounded like quite a character though, rather impressed with himself and his achievements in spite of the feeble dose of humility that he attempted to add as an ingredient to his narrative.

The Declaration of Independence (1818)
John Trumbull
source Wikipedia

In fact, from the recent biographies that I've read, I've been struck by the pride and almost cavalier self-esteem of some of the authors.  While there can be a humbleness to their communication, it appears to be a forced diffidence that still smells of a hubris that they can't quite shake.  Perhaps this type of arrogance is needed in all great men, but, as I travel chronologically through these biographies, I certainly sense less of a reliance on external sources (respectable mentors, family and God/religion) and more of a sole reliance on self and philosophical ideas.

The next biography is Walden by Henry David Thoreau.



Christianity and the Survival of Creation by Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is an American essayist, novelist, poet, fifth-generation farmer, and environmental activist.  He has written copious numbers of short stories, essays, novels and poems during his rather interesting life.  Berry argues that the breakdown of communities has been aggravated by large corporate farming and that living in harmony with nature is a necessity, as its destruction will lead to our own.


Swiss Alps
source Wikipedia

Berry essentially first gained recognition as a poet, but his hard-hitting essays have earned him notoriety and a wider audience.  This essay was delivered as a lecture at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Berry hits hard right from the beginning of the essay, immediately punching home his topic:

"I want to begin with a problem: namely, that the culpability of Christianity in the destruction of the natural world and the uselessness of Christianity in any effort to correct that destruction are now established clichés of the conservation movement."

He establishes on one hand, that the "indictment is just" in that Christian priests, missionaries, organizations, etc. have been "largely indifferent to the rape and plunder of the world and of its traditional cultures" and that Christians are often as complicit as anyone else "to join the military-industrial conspiracy to murder Creation," yet there is a problem with the conservationists' indictment; the anti-Christian conservationists dismiss the Bible, without having an understanding of it. In effect, they "have not mastered the first rule of the criticism of books: you have to read them before you criticize them."  The error is not that the Bible has not given Christians a tradition of respect, stewardship and love for the earth, they have simply chosen to ignore it.


Kauai, Hawaii
source Wikipedia

Berry then examines Biblical tenants with regard to the earth, stating that the world is not owned by humans, but by God: "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof: the world and they that dwell therein. (Ps. 24:1)"   John 3:16 states that God loves the world, not as it might be but as it is, and He "continues to love it and find it worthy, despite its reduction and corruption by us  ........  Creation is not in any sense independent of the Creator, the result of a primal creative act long over and done with, but is the continuous, constant participation of all creatures in the being of God .......  Creation is God's presence in creatures."

Not only does Berry use the Bible to support his thesis, but he draws from Dante, William Blake, Thoreau, and others to support his views on the importance of nature and our human interaction with it.

"The Bible leaves no doubt at all about the sanctity of the act of world-making, or of the world that was made, or of creaturely or bodily life in this world.  We are holy creatures living among other holy creatures in a world that is holy.  Some people know this, and some do not.  Nobody, of course, knows it all the time.  But what keeps it from being far better known than it is?  Why is it apparently unknown to millions of professed students of the Bible?  How can modern Christianity have so solemnly folded its hands while so much of the work of God was and is being destroyed?"


Tornado, Oklahoma
source Wikipedia

Berry urges us on to a re-thinking of our ideals.  We think we can contain God within what we create, but God is much bigger. "He is not to be fenced in, under human control, like some domestic creature; He is the wildest being in existence.  The presence of His spirit is us in our wildness, our oneness with the wilderness of Creation.  That is why subduing the things of nature to human purposes is so dangerous and why it so often results in evil, in separation and desecration.  It is why the poets of our tradition so often have given nature the role, not only of mother or grandmother, but of the highest early teacher and judge, a figure of mystery and great power."

Outdoors we encounter the miraculous, indoors we meet the common.


source Wikipedia

Berry continues the thread of his argument through religious issues, through economy, or the ways humans live in relation to nature, then finally reaches the question of art in the context of what we, as humans, create.

"If we think of ourselves as livings souls, immortal creatures, living in the midst of a Creation that is mostly mysterious, and if we see that everything we make or do cannot help but have an everlasting significance for ourselves, for others, and for the world, then we see why some religious teachers have understood work as a form of prayer"

Berry offers some astute observations as to the traditions of art:  "Traditionally, the arts have been ways of making that have placed a just value on their materials or subjects, on the uses and the users of the things made by art, and on the artists themselves.   They have, that is, been ways of giving honor to the works of God.  The great artistic traditions have had nothing to do with what we call 'self-expression.'  They have not been destructive of privacy or exploitive of private life.  Though they have certainly originated things and employed genius, they have no affinity with the modern cults of originality and genius."

The end of the essay is comparatively weak, contrasting the villainies of modern Christianity with the (probably more traditional), truly biblical focussed Christianity, where man is encouraged to root out and work on his weaknesses in the scope of a broader community base, and for the good of, not just oneself, but for all.

What I love about Berry is that he is not wholly on the side of any one group. He has developed his own personal thoughts and ideals through reading, discussion, experience, and observation and is quite adept at targeting strengths and weaknesses accordingly.  Though I've been meaning to read Berry for ages, this is my first taste of his writing and it was quite delicious.  I can't wait to jump in for another bite!

The complete essay can be found here.


Essay found in:



Further reading:


Father Brown: The Worst Crime in the World by G.K. Chesterton

Father Brown has plans to meet his niece in a picture gallery, but before he finds her, he encounters lawyer Granby who wants his opinion.  Should he trust a certain Captain Musgrove enough to advance him money on his father's estate?  The estate is not entitled and it is not conclusive that Musgrove Jr. will be the heir.  Upon the arrival of his niece, Father Brown learns that she is planning to marry the same Musgrove and meets the young man himself.  Musgrove invites both Father Brown and Granby to his father's castle, but then bows out of the trip at the last moment due to an arrival of a couple of shady characters in the background, but encourages the men to make the trip without him.

After they arrive at the castle (having to leap the moat due to a rusty, disabled drawbridge), they meet Old Musgrove, who assures them that his son will inherit, yet he will never speak to him again, due to the fact that he perpetrated the worst crime in the world.  Granby returns to town, secure in his knowledge, but Father Brown remains in the village, determined to discover the details of this dastardly crime.  Will he be able to discover the truth in time to save his niece from the clutches of a villain, or is the old man merely playing with him and there is nothing sinister about his son?  You will only find out, if you read the full story which can be found here:  The Worst Crime in the World - G.K. Chesterton

source Wikimedia Commons

I love Chesterton's Father Brown mysteries and this one does not disappoint.

Sonnet XXIX by Garcilaso de la Vega


Born in Toledo in 1501, de la Vega was one of the first Spanish poets to introduce Italian verse forms and techniques to Spain.  Mastering five languages as well as having a good aptitude for music, de la Vega eventually joined the Spanish military and died at 35 years old from a wound sustained in battle in Nice, France.  His poetry has been fortunate to be consistently popular during his life and up until present times.

In Sonnet XXIX, de la Vega explores the Greek myth of Hero (Ὴρὠ) and Leander (Λὲανδρος).  Each night Leander swam the Hellespont (the modern Dardanelles) to be with his lovely Hero, who lived in a tower in Sestos by the sea.  She would hang a lamp for him in her high tower to guide his path, however, on a particularly stormy night, the waves buffeted Leander, the wind blew out Hero's lamp, and brave Leander tragically drowned in the raging waters.  Bereft, Hero threw herself from her tower into the pitiless sea, which joined them in death, as it had kept them apart in life.


Hero and Leander (1828)
William Etty
source Wikimedia Commons


Sonnet XXIX
   Garcilaso de la Vega
    Brave Leander, dauntless, crossing the sea,
on fire with the lazing flames of love,
when winds blew strong and waters rose and swirled
with frenzied rage and driving, crashing swells.
    Vanquished by struggle, nearly overcome,
he could no longer battle with the waves,
and dying because of the love he’d lose
and not because his own life ebbed away,
    he raised his weary voice and faintly called,
speaking his final words to roiling waves,
but they ne’er heard his voice, his lover’s plea:
    “Waves, I know I cannot escape death,
but let me swim across; when I return
you can vent your wrathful surge upon my life.”
translation: Edith Grossman
Hero and Leander (1621/22)
Domenico Fetti
source Wikimedia Commons
Original Spanish: 
    Pasando el mar Leandro el animoso,
en amoroso fuego todo ardiendo
esforzó el viento, y fuése embraveciendo
el agua con un impetus furioso.
    Vencido del trabajo presuroso,
contrastar a las ondas no pudiendo,
y más del bien que allí perdía muriendo
que de su propia visa congojoso
    como pudo esforzó su voz cansada
y a las ondas habló desta manera,
mas nunca fuéla voz dellas oída:
    --- Ondas, pues no se escusa que yo muera,
dejadme allá llegar, es y a la tornada
vuestro furor esecutá en mi vida. ----






Hero finding Leander (c. 1932)
Ferdinand Keller
source Wikimedia Commons

Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats

If my memory serves me well, I believe this poem is a favourite of Jason at Literature Frenzy and it was his love of it that inspired me to include it in my Deal Me In Challenge.  Without this inspiration, it would probably still be unread, as Keats, for some reason, intimidates my uneducated poetic sensibilities.

Common Nightingale
Source Wikipedia


Ode to a Nightingale
The Dryad (1884-85)
Evelyn De Morgan
 Wikimedia Commons
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
         But being too happy in thine happiness,—
                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
                        In some melodious plot
         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
                Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
         Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
         Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
         Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
                With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
                        And purple-stained mouth;
         That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
                And with thee fade away into the forest dim:
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
         What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
         Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
         Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
                Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
                        And leaden-eyed despairs,
         Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
                Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
         Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
         Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
         And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
                Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;
                        But here there is no light,
         Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
                Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.
I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
         Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
         Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
         White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
                Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
                        And mid-May's eldest child,
         The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
                The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
         I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
         To take into the air my quiet breath;
                Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
         To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
                While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
                        In such an ecstasy!
         Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
                   To thy high requiem become a sod.
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
         No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
         In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
         Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
                She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
                        The same that oft-times hath
         Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
                Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
         To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
         As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
         Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
                Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
                        In the next valley-glades:
         Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
                Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?


Illustration of Poem
W.J. Neatby
source Wikipedia

Keats initially uses extreme contrasts of his dulled, poisoned senses to the happy nightingale, its song urging him out of his despair; one wonders if it will completely succeed.  In the second stanza the poet relates his desire for wine. Why?  Because wine is made from grapes, will it allow him to meld more with nature, or does he simply want to get intoxicated to forget his troubles?  He admits then that he wishes to escape the suffering of life and expresses regret at the transience of youth and life.  Ah, now he claims that he won't reach the nightingale through wine but poetry, and expresses almost a dualism in that his brain is dull perhaps still with care, yet he is already with the joyous nightingale.  The fifth stanza is even more curious. Though he is in the forest with the nightingale, he cannot see the beauty there, as if he can only get glimpes as he is unable to liberate himself from life's hardship.  The poet admits to being "half in love with .... Death," ---- I had thought the poet was equating the nightingale's song with joy, but now he appears to be marrying it with death.  Is this part of his confusion or something deeper that I'm missing?  Yet if he dies, he will cease to hear the song, so perhaps he realizes the dilemma.  The poet then equates the nightingale with immortality and, as we've read, the bird almost transcends earthly constraints; its song has been a continuous joy in a temporal world. But alas, the poet is recalled to his sad state, the nightingale's song abandons him and he is left to wonder if his whole experience was real or a dream.

Portrait of Keats listening to a nightingale (1845)
Joseph Severn
source Wikipedia


This was certainly a difficult poem for a rank amateur.  The themes I could pick up were isolation, death, a transcendent joy that perhaps may be unreachable at least for the poet, abandonment, disconnection, transience of life, and a longing for something beyond this life.

As I was reading, I wondered if the poet was trying to match his creative expression with the nightingale's song.  It would seem impossible to create at the level of God, but I felt such inspiration in the poem, almost as if Keats was trying to create the poem as intensely as the poet of the poem was wishing to escape earthly adversity.

I'm no expert, but this poem seems to pair well with Percy Bysshe Shelley's To A Skylark, which O reviewed recently on her blog Behold the Stars.  Both poets put nature front and centre, but Shelley has a much more positive outlook, while Keats' poem is filled with more nuanced emotions and contradictions.  The similarities and contrasts between the two are intriguing.


Deal Me In Challenge #9 - Ace of Diamonds




© Cleo and Classical Carousel, Years 2014 - 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this written material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Classical Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content



Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

"I am resolved on an undertaking that has no model and will have no imitator."

Have you every felt so completely sorry for someone that that emotion eclipses any others that he might stir up inside you?  Have you ever encountered someone who simply is a unique soul, a person who, no matter what they do, does not fit in easily with society?  Have you ever been charmed by someone and then repelled at the same time?  All these thoughts and emotions were boiling up, mixing together, as I read Rousseau’s Confessions, the autobiography of his life.
Rousseau was born in 1712 in Geneva in the Republic of Geneva, a city-state in the Protestant Swiss Confederacy.  He was born to a watchmaker named Isaac Rousseau and his wife, Suzanne Bernard, his mother dying tragically mere days following Rousseau's birth.  He described her death as, "the first of my misfortunes."  
Reading his mother's romance books at such a young age, with his father, appeared to shape Rousseau's character in an unusual way:
"By this dangerous method I acquired in a short time not only a marked facility for reading and comprehension, but also an understanding, unique in one of my years, of the passions.  I had as yet no ideas about things, but already I knew every feeling.  I had conceived nothing; I had felt everything.  This rapid succession of confused emotions did not damage my reason, since as yet I had none; but it provided me with one of a different temper; and left me with some bizarre and romantic notions about human life, of which experience and reflection have never quite managed to cure me."
Curiously, Rousseau's experience with books and their  affect on human character are echoed by themes in other classics including, Madame Bovary, Eugene Onegin, and Anna Karenina.
Les Charmettes where Rousseau lived
with Mme Warens
source Wikipedia
From the age of 10 on, Rousseau saw little of his father, who had moved away to avoid prosecution by a wealthy land owner. The boy was eventually apprenticed to an engraver, but at 15 ran away and began a rather nomadic lifestyle.  In Savoy, he would be introduced to Madame Francoise-Louise de Warens, a woman 13 years his senior, whom he would forever call "Maman."  She would be his Muse and surrogate mother for the greater part of Rousseau's life, as well his lover for a short period of time.  Later, his obsessive interest in music would be used to earn money as a teacher, as well as gain him subsequent notoriety as a writer of opera and various other articles and works on the subject.  
In 1742, Rousseau moved to Paris and became close friends with Denis Diderot, another enlightenment thinker, and his renown as a philosopher was born.  His first major-philosophical work, Discours sur les Sciences et les Arts was presented to the Academy of Dijon in response to the question, "...whether the Restoration of the arts and sciences has had the effect of purifying or corrupting morals."  In it, Rousseau offered a thorough critique of civilization, seeing it not as a chronicle of progress, but instead as a history of decay.  For Rousseau, no one is innately good, but instead must cultivate a rational knowledge to gain control of nature and therefore, self.  
Denis Diderot (1767)
par Louis-Michel van Loo
Upon returning to Paris, after a posting in Venice as a secretary to the Comte de Montaigue, Rousseau took Thérèse Levasseur as a lover, eventually having 5 children with her, all of whom he placed in a foundling hospital, being unwilling to bring them up due to the lack of education and undesirable social class of his in-laws whom he was supporting.  With his later books on education and child-rearing, these callous actions made him the target of vicious ad hominem attacks from some contemporaries, in particular Voltaire and Edmund Burke.  
Through most of his life, Rousseau dealt with various health issues including being unable to urinate without the use of a probe, odd romantic attachments, including a passionate unconsummated obsession with Sophie d'Houdetot, who inspired his novel, Julie, breaks with various friends and acquaintances upon his retirement to the country, and various and numerous attacks of persecution and threats.  When Rousseau wrote that all religions had value, in that they all encouraged men to virtue, an intense uproar exploded against him, and he was finally forced to flee to England with the help of the Scottish philosopher, David Hume.  In 1767, he returned to France under an assumed name and finally in 1770, he was officially allowed to return.  
While the tone of Confessions often oozed of lament and discontent, especially during the latter half, Rousseau also showed a rather mischievous sense of humour:
“As we became better acquainted, we were, of course, obliged to talk about ourselves, to say where we came from and who we were.  This threw me into confusion; for I was very well aware that in polite society and among ladies of fashion I had only to describe myself as a new convert and that would be the end of me.  I decided to pass myself off as English:  I presented myself as a Jacobite, which seemed to satisfy them, called myself Dudding and was known to the company as M. Dudding.  One of their number, the Marquis de Taulignan, a confounded fellow, ill like me, old into the bargain, and rather bad-tempered, took it into his head to engage M. Dudding in conversation.  He spoke of King James, of the Pretender, and of the court of Saint Germain in the old days.  I was on tenderhooks.  I knew about all of this  only of what little I had read in Count Hamilton and in the gazettes; however I made such good use of this little knowledge that I managed to get away with it, relieved that no one had thought to question me about the English language, of which I did not know one single word.” 
One cannot talk about Rousseau's life without mentioning his passion for nature.  Once removed to the country, he was in his element, his retirement not only giving him an escape from the petty intriguing of Parisian society, but also gratifying his love of long rambles in the woods, his eventual interest in botany and his joy of solitutde.
"Two or three times a week when the weather was fine we would take coffee in a cool and leafy little summer-house behind the house, over which I had trained hops, and which was a great pleasure to us when it was hot; there we would spend an hour or so inspecting our vegetable plot and our flowers, and discussing our life together in ways that led us to savour more fully its sweetness.  At the end of the garden I had another little family:  these were my bees.  I rarely missed going to visit them, often accompanied by Maman; I was very interest in the arrangements, and found it endlessly entertaining to watch them come home from their marauding with their little thighs sometimes so laden that they could hardly walk."

Rousseau méditant dans un parc (1769)
par Alexandre Hyacinthe Dunouy
source Wikipedia

Rousseau was a man of numerous contradictions.  On one hand, he was self-absorbed, petty-minded, overly sensitive, idealistic, peculiar, selfish, out of touch with reality, yet on the other, he was also rather lonely, at times generous, unique, creative, self-aware, and inquisitive.  He is a puzzling conundrum bottled up in one person.  Yes, he would have been hard to bear at times.  He is one of those people with whom one could never be comfortable, as you would always be wondering if you were living up to his standards.  He had a short fuse, yet also a generous heart. 

How did I come to these conclusions?  Well, you certainly get a sense of Rousseau’s perceived persecution that appeared expanded to gigantic proportions in his mind.  Many reviewers call this obsession his “paranoia,” an imagined grand plot with machinations designed by numerous former friends, ready to invest years of their lives to bring about his downfall.  Yet perhaps this behaviour is not so surprising in a man who had been raised mostly without family, obviously needing the intimacy of human companionship, yet who had never really learned or accepted the proper manners to fit easily in society; French society, in particular, follows certain constructs that do not allow for individuality.  

In spite of Rousseau's various eccentricities, I couldn't help feel profound sympathy for him.  With no one to shape his character and with his unwillingness to temper his idiosyncrasies and become homogeneous with his surroundings, Rousseau became a victim of himself, a plight for me that only excites pity.
© Cleo and Classical Carousel, Years 2014 - 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this written material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Classical Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Persuasion by Jane Austen

"Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch-hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hours, and consolation in a distressed one ......"

Persuasion was the only major Austen novel that I had not read, so I was thrilled when Heidi at Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine announced her read-along.  I wasn't expecting to enjoy the novel quite as much as Pride and Prejudice, one of my favourites, but I'd heard enough positive reviews to whet my curiousity. And so I plunged in.

Anne Elliot is one of three daughters of Sir Walter Elliot, a vain baronet who is obsessed with the peerage.  While her sister, Elizabeth, is somewhat bossy, and Mary proves a proud, yet questionable, invalid, Anne shows a quiet reserve with more than average good sense and judgement.  Eight years ago, her engagement to Captain Frederick Wentworth was almost certain, but without a mother for guidance, and influenced by a respected friend of the family, Lady Russell, she broke off the engagement with a deep regret.


Manor House, Somersetshire (Halsway Manor)
source Wikipedia

Now, eight years later, Anne is confronted with a number of upheavals in her life. Not only does she and her family have to leave their ancestral home, Kellynch-hall, because of reduced finances, but Captain Wentworth has returned, and to further complicate matters, his sister and her husband are the new tenants of Kellynch-hall.  The blows would have reduced a weaker woman to despondency, but Anne is not only resourceful, she has learned to suffer life's troughs with resilience, and her positive attitude brings her through the stormy seas.

Initially, Captain Wentworth is all resentment and cool responses, but gradually, as he sees Anne's quiet sacrifices, calm demeanour, and strength of character, his acrimony softens towards her.  Yet, at the same time, he appears to be playing the eligible bachelor, and it is uncertain as to which woman he will chose to be Mrs. Wenworth.  Both of Anne's sisters-in-law, Henrietta and Louisa, vie for the title and Anne must watch the perceived courtships with an uneasy mind.  A near-tragedy causes introspection in more hearts than one, Mr. Eliot, Anne's cousin and heir to Kellynch, enters the picture to further obscure the matters of courtship, but the final culmination exemplifies that a steadfast love is strengthened by misfortune and time, and the past lovers reunite in a now more matured and seasoned alliance.


Lyme Regis

Persuasion is a tale of new beginnings and second chances, not only for Anne and Wentworth, but for the characters surrounding them. Anne's family, because of their financial straits, must begin a new life in Bath; both the Musgrove girls will be looking forward to the start of their married lives; and even Mrs. Smith, who has found herself in poverty after her husband's death, is given a second chance at the end of the book as, with help from Wentworth, she recovers money from her husband's estate that will help her to live more comfortably.

While Austen, as per her usual method, allows the reader to examine certain segments of society, in this book especially, she seems to be highlighting the movements between the social classes, either by marriage or by economic necessity.  Within Anne's family, we not only have the family as a whole dropping in perceived standing by the lack of money to maintain their position at Kellynch, we also have the numerous characters dealing with the descent with different outlooks.  Sir Walter is obsessed with his Baronetage book and the importance of his place within the realm of society.  At first, he employs denial as to their new position, but thanks to a rather blind self-importance, is able to be persuaded to accept their new situation as if nothing has practically changed.  Anne's sister, Elizabeth, too, acts as if nothing has altered, yet you can see at certain points in the novel that she is aware of the disadvantage of their new situation and that they must have a heightened awareness of appearance to maintain the respect and dignity that they view as a societal necessity.  Anne does not seem to be bothered by the family's reduced circumstances, as position to her comes secondary to character and honesty and integrity.  In the old governess, Mrs. Smith we can examine what has come from her rise in stature upon her marriage, and then her subsequent fall upon her husband's death when she finds herself in financial troubles.  Finally, cousin William Elliot falls from his seat of grace with his scandalous behaviour at the end of the novel.


Pulteny Bridge, Bath
18th century
source Wikipedia

We are given the title of Persuasion for the book, yet Austen did not choose this title; instead her beloved brother, Henry, gave the book its name, as it was published posthumously, and there is no indication of what Austen's preferred title would have been.  Cassandra Austen, Jane's older sister, reportedly said that a name for this novel had been discussed, and the most likely title was "The Elliots," but as Austen passed away before selecting a definitive title, no one will know for certain her final choice. Nevertheless the word "persuasion", or a derivative of it, occurs approximately 30 times in the novel, a good indication that it is one of the main themes.  Yet as I finished the novel, what metamorphosed out the "persuasion" was the stronger theme of duty.  While Wentworth still appears to be disgruntled by Anne's choice to follow her family's wishes in breaking off their engagement eight years before, she however appears to have a different sentiment.  At the end of the novel, Anne concludes:

"I have been thinking over the past, and trying impartially to judge of the right and wrong, I mean with regard to myself; and I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it, that I was perfectly right in being guided by the friend whom you will love better than you do now.  To me, she was in the place of a parent.  Do not mistake me, however.  I am not sayng that she did not err in her advice.  It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides; and for myself, I certainly never should, in any circumstance of tolerable similarity, give such advice.  But I mean, that I was right in submitting to her, and that if I had done otherwise, I should have suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up, because I should have suffered in my conscience.   I have now, as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing to reproach myself with; and if I mistake not, a strong sense of duty is no bad part of a woman's portion."

In the book Anne is consistently dutiful, to her friend, Mrs. Smith, to her family and, more importantly, to her own conscience; and so we learn that a strong sense of duty and obedience to it is more crucial than any personal inclinations or aspirations.


Sandhill Park, Somerset (1829)
J.P. Neale/W. Taylor
source Wikipedia

Persuasion deviates from Austen's usual style and content.  By having a hero without ties to nobility, Austen explores in depth an area of society that had to date been given only a cursory treatment by her. Anne, as an older heroine, is presented in a new way; the reader learns of her character not necessarily through how she actually behaves, but more through her silence and by seeing her in contrast to the intensely flawed people around her. Contrary to other Austen novels, the romance develops almost in isolation, as the characters hold little conversation with each other until the end of the novel.  While the novel was interesting for these new features, I felt it to be weaker than Austen's previous novels, lacking a certain plausibility at times and a solid cohesiveness.  As she was writing Persuasion, Austen was ill with the disease that would eventually kill her, and because of this fact, her usual detailed pattern of revision was not completed; in this light, the diminished quality of the novel can certainly be understood.  However, while not shining with her usual brilliance, Austen still produced a jewel in its own right, and perhaps more intriguing because of its flaws, as these flaws contribute to its uniqueness.  As the character of Anne experiences a new beginning in Persuasion, so does the novel indeed appear to symbolize a new beginning by Austen, this beginning sadly cut short due to her untimely death.



Further reading:





© Cleo and Classical Carousel, Years 2014 - 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this written material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Classical Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content



On The Road by Jack Kerouac

"I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up."

Having read Kerouac's travelogue, The Dharma Bums a couple of years ago, I was really looking forward to this read, as On The Road is considered Kerouac's finest work.  With great anticipation I picked up the book, began to read, and what did I find ........???

A Roman a clef, with the characters acting as stand-ins for Kerouac and his buddies and their real life adventures, the novel traces their journeys as they travel back and forth across America between 1947 and 1950.  This Beat Generation, or post-World War II writers, Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Neal Cassady are mostly drunk, high, stoned or looking for sex, throughout most of the novel.  The rambling, sparse, uninteresting prose had me nearly catatonic about one-quarter of the way into the book and it was only with a supreme effort of will that I managed to finish.  Brutal.

So what was the difference between The Dharma Bums and On The Road? Why did I love one and hate the other?  Well, with The Dharma Bums, while there was drug use, it somehow seemed more innocent and less destructive. The characters sincerely appeared to be grappling with the purpose of life. There was thought and philosophy and even some solid descriptions of the places visited.  On The Road related the meaningless conduct of a bunch of miscreants who had no concern for anyone but themselves, were too stoned to think most of the time, and when they did, it was often complete nonsense. In real life, most of the characters died before their 40th or 50th birthdays from either a drug or alcohol-related death.  Such a sad waste of life, with nothing romantically counter-cultural, or excitingly anti-establishment about it.

One interesting anecdote is that the manuscript for this book was typed on a continuous scroll of one hundred and twenty feet of tracing paper taped together, single-spaced without margins or paragraph breaks.  A quirky writing method from a very experimental author.

The "On The Road" Scroll
Boott Cotton Mills Museum 2007
source Wikipedia




© Cleo and Classical Carousel, Years 2014 - 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this written material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Classical Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Ode VIII Quiet Night by Fray Luis de León

Fray Luis de León was a poet, an Augustinian friar, an academic and a theologian who lived during the Spanish Golden age.  This poem was one of 23 original poems composed by him during his lifetime; he also translated the Book of Job and the Song of Songs into Spanish from the Latin Vulgate, a forbidden act which landed him in prison.

Sadly the text of this poem is too long to include and I can't find any online sources but it is included in the book The Golden Age ~ Poems of the Spanish Renaissance. Here is an except:


Source Wikipedia

When I contemplate the heavens
embellished and adorned with countless lights,
then look down at the earth
enveloped in dark night
and buried deep in oblivion and sleep,
     the love and sorrow I feel
awaken in my breast an ardent longing;
my eyes, become like fountains,
let flow abundant streams,
and at last, in woeful tones, my voice does call:
     "Oh, home of so much grandeur,
temple of light, of clarity, of beauty:
my soul was born for your heights,
yet what immense misfortune
keeps it in this vile prison, in the dark?
     "What mortal misperception
moves my senses so far away from truth
that, leaving your sacred good,
forgetting they wander, lost,
following vain shadows, illusions of good?
      "Man is given over
wholly to sleep, not caring for his fate,
while heaven, with silent steps,
keeps turning round, keeps turning,
stealing from him the hours of his life.
      "Oh moral men, awake!
Open your eyes and see the harm you do.
Can your immortal souls, 
created for such great good,
survive on shadows and on mere deceit?

de Leon begins with the poet envisaging heaven from his place on earth, yet he quickly reverses the observation by viewing earth from the vantage point of heaven. From the first viewpoint, heaven looks grand and beautiful but when his perspective is reversed, the earth is seen as a place of devastation and turmoil, as man forgets the purpose of his creation and allows precious time to be stolen from him.  The poet uses an apostrophe to awaken his fellow man the plight of his dying soul and encourages his amelioration.  There is a wonderful weaving of the celestial planets into heaven's fabric, personifying their glory and importance, while communicating divine beauty.

Such a lovely poem and as a bonus, an opportunity to practice my Spanish!



© Cleo and Classical Carousel, Years 2014 - 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Classical Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

The Journal of William Sturgis

"1799 - On the 13th of February at 7 in the morning we saw the land ahead bearing about N East distant 2 leagues, which we soon found to be the high land about Port Banks, and a Cape to the Southward and Eastward of us distant 3 leagues, to be Cape Muzon."

In 1798, William Sturgis found a berth on the Eliza, a ship set to leave Boston harbour in the summer on a voyage to the Pacific Northwest to trade in the lucrative business of animal pelts. Sturgis had finished schooling at fourteen, afterwards being employed as a junior clerk in a trading office. With the unexpected demise of his father, Sturgis, knowing that he had to support a mother and sisters, decided to turn to the sea to make his fortune. He was only 17 years old.


Fur traders in Canada 1777
source Wikipedia

Because Sturgis had had experience in business, the captain of the Eliza asked him to be his assistant, and his quick adeptness at learning the native languages soon saw his rise in stature.  The Americans generally coped well with the Indians while trading, and there were few altercations, but the precautions on board ship to assure safety were stringent and followed closely. Because of these safeguards, relations between the two were relatively harmonious and as Sturgis noted years later:

"I believe I am the only man living who has a personal knowledge of those early transactions and I can show that in each and every case where a vessel was attacked or a crew killed by them, [the Indians of the region] it was in direct retaliation for some life taken or for some gross outrage committed against that tribe. This is the Indian law, which requires one life for another, as inflexibly as we civilized nations exact the life of a murderer.  The Indian did not forget, but silently waited his opportunity, and retaliated because his duty and his law required it of him."

Launch of the North West America at Nootka Sound 1788
C. Mertz
source Centre of Study for Pacific Northwest

With his faculty for the languages, Sturgis' dealings and contact with the Indians increased.  He ensured he acted with complete honesty and openness to his Indian counterparts and, in consequence, often acquired more goods than your average trader, as the Indians were more amenable to people whom they liked.  In fact, Sturgis became a great favourite with some of the Indians, sometimes to his detriment.  One old Indian woman, to whom he gave the appellation, Madame Connecor, claimed, "All white men are my children," and insisted on hugging him and kissing him in public, much to the horror of Sturgis, who had to submit to this uncomfortable display of affection as "her tribe had many valuable furs to sell ....... (I) had no escape."

Sturgis became quite familiar with a Indian chief named Keow (or Cow), whom he quite admired and they struck up a perhaps unusual friendship:

"Keow was upon the whole the most intelligent Indian I met with.  He was a shrewd observer of quick perceptions ----- with comprehensive and discriminating mind, and insatiable curiosity.  He would occasionally pass several days at a time on board my ship, and I have often sat up half the night with him, answering questions, and listening to remarks.  .... his comments upon some features of our social system, and upon the discrepancies and inconsistencies in our professions and practice as Christians ---- particularly in relation to war ---- duelling ---- capital punishment for depredations upon property, and other less important matters, were pertinent and forcible, and by no means flattering to us, or calculated to nourish our self conceit."

Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast (1870)
Albert Bierstadt
source Wikiart


Yet, in spite of his good relations with the native people, Sturgis showed quite clearly that there was a careful balance that needed to be maintained in relations that often included lying, manipulation and trickery, a sort of dance practiced by both parties, accepted by both, and neither held in contempt or begrudged.  It was a meeting, or indeed a confrontation, between two different cultures and attitudes that required patience, skill, wisdom and ingenuity to lay a viable foundation.


Later in the voyage, when the Eliza came across two other ships the Despatch and the Ulysses, they found the Ulysses in a state of mutiny and the officers of the two other ships had to arbitrate the dispute. It was agreed that the captain (Lamb) should be reinstated, with Sturgis, only a few month's previously an amateur sailor, as his second officer.  The appointment was an enormous boost for Sturgis' career.  The Ulysses continued to trade in furs, but when it eventually met up with the Eliza in Macao, Sturgis was happy to rejoin his old ship as third mate.

Sturgis also shares some fascinating information on the Indian female and comparisons to his own class.

"The females have considerable voice in the sale of the Skins, indeed greater than the men; for if the wife disapproves of the husband's bargain, he dares not sell, till he gains her consent, and if she chooses she will sell all his stock whether he likes it or not, or rather what she likes, he is obliged to approve of or afraid to disapprove of .......... In fact, the power of the fair sex seems to be as unlimited on this as on our side of the Continent ....."

Very intriguing that Sturgis sees his fellow women as having unlimited power ..... and this is 1799!

On his second voyage, this time on the ship Caroline, upon the death of its captain, all responsibility was turned over to Sturgis who returned the ship complete with profits from 3000 skins. When the ship return to Boston, he was officially made the master of it at twenty-two years old.


source GoHaidaGwaii

His third voyage was another success for Sturgis, and when he set out on the Atahualpa on his fourth voyage, it was not only as the commander of the fleet, but as a shareholder.  His status and wealth continued to increase and in 1810 he abandoned his nomadic life at sea to marry Elizabeth Davis and became a partner in a shipping business called Bryant and Sturgis.  From the years 1818 to 1840, their company directed more than half the business carried on from the United States to California.

Sturgis was seen as a laconic and somewhat stern man, but he was well-respected and lived life with a strong sense of duty and honesty.  He died at the age of eighty-one and his eulogies and obituaries speak to his character:

" ..... his cool judgement and his considerable action under difficulties, stamped him as an uncommon man; and his extensive knowledge and his judicious inferences from it, made him a useful one ..... Hi strong intellect and clear judgment made him a wise and safe counsellor.  Singularly independent and honest in the formation of his opinions; unswerving in fidelity to his convictions; of an impulsive temperment, guided by principle and made amenable to conscience, ---- his character and career, honorable to himself and beneficial to others, leave his name to be held in remembrance as that of a wise, just, faithful and benevolent man ....."

In his final lecture, Sturgis expresses gratitude, that he had not caused any acrimony or bitterness in his dealings with the native population:

"I have cause for gratitude to a higher power ----- not only for escape from danger, but for being spared all participation in the deadly conflicts and murderous scenes which surrounded me.  I may well be grateful that no blood of the red man ever stained my hands ---- that no shades of murdered or slaughtered Indians disturb my repose ----- on the reflection that neither myself, nor any one under my command, ever did, or suffered, violence or outrage, during years of intercourse with those reputed the most savage tribes, gives me a satisfaction in exhange for which wealth and honours would be dust in the balance."

The integrity and honour Sturgis showed towards a native population, while being willing to alter his worldview to meet them on equal grounds, truly speaks to his character.  Sturgis is a man I would have certainly been proud to know.

Doctor Marigold by Charles Dickens

"I am Cheap Jack, and my own father's name was Willum Marigold."

And so we are introduced to Doctor Marigold, bestowed with such an unusual first name for a Cheap Jack in honour of the doctor who delivered him.  I did not imagine him in the appearance of the rather dandified peasant-gypsy looking gentleman on the cover to the left, but I suppose that's beside the point.  In any case, Doctor Marigold, as you know, is a Cheap Jack. For those who don't know what a Cheap Jack is (I raise my hand), it's a hawker who deals in bargain merchandise, anything from plates to frying pans to razors to watches to rolling pins and everything in between.  Marigold has followed his father's trade like a good son.

Doctor Marigold 1868
E.G. Dalziel
source Victoria Web

Soon Marigold marries a woman who is not a bad wife by his estimation, but whoa, does she have a temper!  She berates and torments her husband, and later beats their daughter, Sophy, while Marigold stands and watches.  Why doesn't he intervene?  Because it causes more of a ruckus than observing, and then people suspect that he is beating his wife.  Wimp.

Sophy grows up especially attached to her father and fearful of her mother -- no kidding.  Yet with their vagrant lifestyle, she becomes ill and passes away.  One fateful day, the now childless couple come across a mother beating her tearfully pleading daughter, and with a shrill scream his wife tears away and drowns herself in the river.  Good riddance.

Lonely Marigold now roams the country alone, until one day he comes across a deaf and dumb child whom he purchases and calls Sophy.  They are devoted to each other for years, until, when she reaches sixteen, he decides to have her educated and puts her in an institution for two years.  When he returns she is thrilled to see him, but as they resume their lives, he learns that she has acquired a suitor.  Old generous Marigold decides he cannot stand in the way of their love ---- although Sophy is willing to give it up to stay with her father ---- and allows them to marry.  The couple then move to China and five or so years later return with Marigold's granddaughter for a reunion.

E.A. Abbey
source Victoria Web

Again, Dickens is somewhat of a trial to read.  On one hand, his stories engage you for being overly maudlin and nauseatingly sentimental but I can never shake the feeling that he seems to think that as long as he uses affected emotional scenes and obscurely clever sentences, he can win adherents with such contrived effort.  I find it almost insulting. However, as much as the first part of the story really irritated me, I must admit, I somewhat fell for it in the end. Perhaps Dickens achieved his desired effect after all.



© Cleo and Classical Carousel, Years 2014 - 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cleo and Classical Carousel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content


East of Eden by John Steinbeck

"The Salinas Valley is in Northern California."

I usually don't worry about giving warning about spoilers but I've discovered that's because I normally read pre-1850-ish books and, while plot is important, there is much more from the book to be gained.  However, 20th century literature, seems to rely a great deal on the story, and so I'm issuing a warning that his review does contain a few spoilers, therefore, continue at your own risk.

Written in 1952, Steinbeck considered East of Eden his magnum opus.  At the time, Steinbeck was separated from his two young sons by divorce and he felt a need, not only to communicate with them through his creative medium, but to share family history in a manner that would make it a permanent record. Yet Steinbeck was also sensitive to his readers, aware that he would have to paint the well-known Salinas Valley of his youth with a vibrant brush of memories, in order to endow the people and the place with dynamic yet corporeal life. Writing in his journal on his first day of work on the novel, Steinbeck described his process: "But [I] try to relate the reader to the book, so while I am talking to the boys actually, I am relating every reader to the story as though he were reading about his own background ........ Everyone wants to have a family. Maybe I can create a universal family living next to a universal neighbor." 

Rural Youth, Monterey California 1940
source Wikimedia Commons


As in any good history, the historian wishes to imbue the characters with personality and, in this case, the Valley itself is a character, merging with the people to form a unique examination of this time in history. Steinbeck uses the Salinas Valley as a microcosm to examine human nature, both its strengths and its frailties, its goodness and its evil.  As you read through the novel, you almost feel as if all the characters have a little of Steinbeck in their make-up.  It's as if, through them, he was exploring not only family history, but also the history of man, the mutations caused by evil and the healing caused by goodness, set against the background of free will and choice.


With the use of the title East of Eden, Steinbeck brings in the biblical story of Cain and Abel, infusing both the relationship of the brothers, Adam and Charles Trask, and then Adam's two twin sons, Aron and Caleb, with the jealousy, impulses and sinful passions of the former.  Both sets of brothers contend against each other, while still being bound by their ties of family and a rather strange type of love.  The story of Steinbeck's own maternal family, the Hamiltons, parallels that of the Trask's, beginning with his grandfather, Samuel Hamilton, whom one could describe almost as a philosopher-farmer, down to the brief appearance of Steinbeck himself in the work.  On the Trask side, Adam is the main focus, as are his two sons and their Chinese servant, Lee, who is himself a philosopher.

Salinas Valley 1940
source Wikimedia Commons

For me, much of the embodiment of the novel was contained in the grave prophecy of Samuel Hamilton, just before Adam Trask purchases his land in the Salinas Valley: "There's a blackness on this valley.  I don't know what it is, but I can feel it.  Sometimes on a white blinding day I can feel it cutting off the sun and squeezing the light out of it like a sponge .......  There's a black violence on this valley.  I don't know ---- I don't know.  It's as though some old ghost haunted it with unhappiness.  It's as secret as hidden sorrow.  I don't know what it is, but I see it and feel it in the people here."  This  "black violence" hovers over the story like a pall, and the characters are perpetually struggling to rise above it.  Charles Trask battles against an inner hatred that nearly makes him murder his brother, Adam Trask contends against guilt and indifference, Caleb against a perceived inner badness which warps his actions and mars his character, Aron, the good and favoured son, becomes tormented by thoughts and events that are too evil to be conceived by his goodness, and Cathy, the mother of the twins, is pure evil, a psychopathic sociopath whose pathological desire for revenge drives her every action.  There is an echoing of sins passed down through generations, and behaviours that resist change. While Lee and Adam discuss the story of Cain and Abel, they decide, quite wisely, that even though sins may be persistent, there is always choice:

"Don't you see?" he cried.  "The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance.  The King James translation makes a promise in 'Thou shalt,' meaning that men will surely triumph over sin.  But the Hebrew word, the word timshel --- 'Thou mayest' --- that gives a choice.  It might be the most important word in the world.  That says the way is open.  That throws it right back on a man.  For if 'Thou mayest' ----- it is also true that 'Thous mayest not.'  Don't you see?"

"Choice" is unarguably one of the most important words, yet healthy choice does not seem attainable by these characters, and the black violence of Hamilton's perception clouds out the sun.  Throughout the novel, nearly every person, while occasionally getting a breath of fresh air, still appears to be drowning in it.

There were many parts of the book that were implausible.  A Chinese servant who can not only speak English and philosophize better than a university professor, can also turn into a Hebrew scholar when need be, and then later gain as much knowledge as a doctor specializing in diseases of the brain. The reader is introduced to the token crazy religious person, yet this person had appeared the most balance and grounded character of them all, up until his conversion.  And one of the main characters, while recognizing his sinful impulses, has absolutely no control over them, yet he is the hereditary son who remains to carry on the family name.  Lee's discovery of timshel, or "Thou mayst", at the end of the book perhaps has an affect on the father, yet the son is changeless throughout, merely experiencing a rollercoaster of undisciplined actions and regrets.

Watsonville, Salina Valley
source Wikimedia Commons

Yet in spite of the difficulties, Steinbeck attempted quite a feat with this novel and I can certainly appreciate his dream and his attempt to bring that dream to fruition.  Writing the novel was more of an outpouring of creative spirit for Steinbeck:  "I stay fascinated with East of Eden .... never has a book so intrigued me.  I only hope other people enjoy reading it as much as I am enjoying writing it."  Yet he did not exhibit any naiveté toward the reaction that his work was destined to elicit.  Writing to his editor, he admitted:  "You know as well as I do that this book is going to catch the same type of hell that all the others did and for the same reasons.  It will not be what anyone expects and so the expectors will not like it."   After publication, the critics remained curiously divided, the book being described as "one of Steinbeck's best novels" on one hand, and on the other drawing disparaging comments such as, "a huge grab bag in which pointlessness and preposterous melodrama pop up frequently as good storytelling and plausible conduct."  Yet in spite of sometimes vicious criticisms, many readers enjoyed what the critics discredited and the book has become an enduring classic in its own right.  As for me, I respect Steinbeck's effort and love for his work, and perhaps that is good enough.

Notable quotes:

"And this I believe:  that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.  And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direciton it wishes, undirected.  And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.  This is what I am and what I am about.  I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system.  Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts.  If the glory can be killed, we are lost."

Friendship by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Oh, what flowery and majestic rhetoric flows from the pen of Ralph Waldo Emerson in this essay on friendship!  Emerson was a transcendentalist and his views colour nearly every sentence of this beautiful yet perhaps rather hyperbolic essay on friendship.

Wikipedia's definition of transcendentalism states:

Transcendentalism is a religious and philosophical movement that developed during the late 1820s and '30s[1] in the Eastern region of the United States as a protest against the general state of spirituality and, in particular, the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and the doctrine of the Unitarian church as taught at Harvard Divinity School. 
Among the transcendentalists' core beliefs was the inherent goodness of both people and nature. They believe that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—ultimately corrupt the purity of the individual. They have faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed.

I knew almost nothing about Emerson before I read this essay.  I had the vague idea that he was a naturalist and perhaps a deist, and the only thing I knew for sure was that he was one of Pa Ingalls favourite authors.  I had expected his writing to be rather sparse and serious, so l was rather amazed at the waxing lyrical prose to which I was treated!

Good Friends (1927)
Norman Rockwell
source Wikiart

This essay on friendship, I believe, was written by Emerson in honour of his dear friend, Henry David Thoreau.  Emerson's rhapsodic sentences impact the reader right from the start, as he elevates friendship to the platform of one of the greatest gifts of life.   As soon as we're drawn into the bonds of deep friendship, our soul is engaged and we function almost on a different plane.

“Delicious is a just and firm encounter of two, in a thought, in a feeling.  How beautiful, on their approach to this beating heart, the steps and forms of the gifted and true!  The moment we indulge our affections, the earth is metamorphosed: there is no winter, and no night: all tragedies, all ennuis vanish;  -- all duties even; nothing fills the proceeding eternity but the forms all radiant of beloved persons …”

While Emerson lauds the benefits of friends, he also is cognizant of the fluctuations in friendship, but rather than lamenting over the lows, we should see them as a natural rhythm of life.

“ …. Thou art not my soul, but a picture and effigy of that.  Thou hast come to me lately, and already thou art seizing thy hat and cloak.  Is it not that the soul puts forth friends, as the tree puts forth leaves, and presently, but the germination of new buds, extrudes the old leaf?  The law of nature is alternation forevermore …..  The soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude; and it goes alone, for a season, that it may exalt its conversation or society ……”


Portrait of Two Friends (1522)
Jacobo Pontormo
source Wikipedia
Yet while one must treasure friendships and elevate them, one must not force their progression, as it would be an assault on their natural course.
“Our friendships hurry to short and poor conclusions, because we have made them a texture of wine and dreams, instead of the trough of the human heart.”
We must be patient as friendship ripens or we may find the friendship brought to a sharp conclusion.  Let nature have free-reign, and it will not disappoint. 
While society pressures us to be social, true friendship is not cultivated in numbers but in a one-on-one companionship.  The bud will not flower without the correct nurturing.
"But I find this law of one to one, peremptory of conversation, which is the practice and consummation of friendship.  Do not mix waters too much.  The best mix as ill as good and bad.  You shall have very useful and cheering discourse at several times with two several men, but let all three of you come together, and you shall not have one new and hearty word.  Two may talk and one may hear, but three cannot take part in a conversation of the most sincere and searchng sort ........ Now this convention, which good sense demands, destroys the high freedom of great conversation, which requires an absolute running of two souls into one." 
Emerson rejects dissimulation and false pretences in an effort appear prestigious or more worldly, claiming that truth and sincerity in friendship is utmost.  You may look insane with this approach, but it will win you the friendship and respect that are your greatest desires.  Go against society and show your face to your fellow man, instead of your backside!  
Sorry, but I just couldn’t resist teasing Emerson a little in my review.  His language is so flowery, occasionally trite and often exaggerated that I found myself struggling sometimes to take the essay seriously.  Yet he does have some wonderful points and hits on the important qualities of friendship and its worth to mankind.  

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan


"In this my relation of the merciful working of God upon my soul, it will not be amiss, if, in the first place, I do, in a few words, give you a hint of my pedigree, and manner or bringing up; that thereby the goodness and bounty of God towards me, may be the more advanced and magnified before the sons of men."

John Bunyan was born in Elstow, a village near Bedford in Bedfordshire, and was baptized on November 28, 1628, the first son of Thomas Bunyan and his second wife.  In 1644, he joined the Parliamentary army as a soldier and was active until 1647.  The year 1655 saw him joining the congregational church at Bedford and the following year he was actively disputing with the Quakers, out of which was born his first book, Some Gospel Truths Opened.  With the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658 and the restoration of the monarchy, the persecution of Non-Conformists began. Bunyan was given every opportunity to conform by the surprisingly tolerant Royalists, but he was staunchly resistant to a compromise of principles that could weaken the faith of his followers.  Prevented from preaching by various imprisonments, Bunyan turned to writing.  Grace Abounding is a record of his spiritual experiences from his first meaningful encounter with God to his life of preaching.

Bunyan admits to having a lack of religion in his upbringing and it was only later, with some the influence from his wife, that he came to entertain thoughts of spirituality:


"But I observe, though I was such a great sinner before conversion, yet God never much charged the guilt of the sins of my ignorance upon me; only he showed me I was lost if I had not Christ, because I had been a sinner; I saw that I wanted a perfect righteousness to present me without fault before God, and this righteousness was nowhere to be found, but in the person of Jesus Christ."

After hearing a sermon preached from the Song of Songs, Bunyan was struck by the love of God and came to the following conclusions:

That the church and so every saved soul, is:

  1. Christ's love, when loveless
  2. Christ's love without a cause
  3. Christ's love when hated to the world
  4. Christ's love when under temptation, and under desertion
  5. Christ's love from first to last


Birthplace of John Bunyan
source Wikipedia

Though Bunyan had moments of euphoric revelation and joyful epiphanies, his conversion was still fraught with doubts and fears.  Had he abused God too much for forgiveness?  Was forgiveness given to others but not to him?  Like Esau, had he sold his birthright and would never be able to regain it?  His agonies leapt off the page with a startling clarity:


"Yet I saw my sin most barbarous, and a filthy crime, and could not but conclude, and that with great shame and astonishment, that I had horribly abused the holy Son of God; wherefore, I felt my soul greatly to love and pity him, and my bowels to yearn toward him; for I saw he was still my Friend, and did reward me good for evil; yea, the love and affection that then did burn within to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ did work, at this time, such a strong and hot desire for revengement upon myself for the abuse I had done unto him, that, to speak as then I thought, had I a thousand gallons of blood within my veins, I could freely then have split it all at the command and feet of this my Lord and Saviour."

Bunyan eventually is able to reason his way through his doubts and come to peace with his faith.  He realizes that while he prayed fervently when he was in the midst of troubles, he neglected to pray for himself to avoid the pitfalls and temptations.  The sense of being a sinner did not ever leave him completely, but as he grew, so did his understanding of the depth and breadth of the grace of God, and he was finally at peace.

Stained glass of Bunyan in prison
source Wikimedia Commons

At the end of the book, Bunyan explains the cause of his imprisonment, which appears to be directly related to his refusal to use the Book of Common Prayer.  When questioned by the justices, Bunyan stated that he would be pleased to use the Book, if the justices could so kindly point to him in Scripture where the particular book was referenced.  The justices, however, viewed the Book of Common Prayer as second only to the Bible.  Bunyan was stubborn, the justices unyielding, and so began Bunyan's time in the gaol. When released from prison in 1672, on a declaration of indulgence issued by the king under a new wave of religious tolerance, Bunyan returned to preaching, this time legally, and continue as the pastor of the Bedford Meeting, a position he had been given while languishing in prison a year before.  In 1688, while visiting London, he contracted a fever and passed away on August 31st.

The title Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners comes from two Biblical scripture references:

"Moreover the law entered that the offence might abound.  But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord"  Romans 5: 20-21

"This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief."  1 Timothy 1: 15

My absolute favourite part of this book was when Bunyan realized the impact of conversion.  His fellow men and women were suddenly lovely to his eyes and he viewed them "like a people that carried the broad seal of heaven about them."  What a transformative experience!  Instead of being irked, or disdainful, or petty, or indifferent toward our fellow man, if we could see them as beloved children of God, how differently we might treat them!


John Bunyan at the Gates of Heaven
William Blake
source Wikimedia Commons

I must say that while I liked this read, so far I'm finding the biography list rather quirky.  Taken separately, the books have been enjoyable, but when taken together, they don't strike me as a concise, chronological order of biographies that perhaps expand ideas or give insight into changes in societies or thought.  

And lastly, here are a few photos of Bedfordshire, where the narrative takes place.



Elstow Stream


Bridge and Promenade


Bedford Bridge



Song II: The Dark Night by San Juan de la Cruz

St. John of the Cross (1656)
Francisco de Zurbarán
source Wikipedia


Canción II: La Noche Oscura

      De el alma que se goza de haber llegado
          Al alto estado de la perfección, que
          Es la union con Dios, por el camino
          De la negación espiritual.
1. En una noche escura,
con ansias, en amores inflamada,
¡o dichosa ventura!,
salí sin ser notada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada:
2. a escuras y segura
por la secreta escala, disfrazada,
 ¡o dichosa ventura!,
a escuras y en celada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada;
3. en la noche dichosa,
en secreto, que nadie me veía,
 ni yo miraba cosa,
sin otra luz y guía
sino la que en el corazón ardía.
4. Aquésta me guïaba
más cierto que la luz del mediodía,
a donde me esperaba
quien yo bien me sabía,
en parte donde nadie parecía.
5. ¡O noche que guiaste!,
¡o noche, amable más que el alborada!,
 ¡o noche que juntaste
Amado con amada,
amada en el amado transformada!
6. En mi pecho florido,
que entero para él solo se guardaba,
allí quedó dormido,
y yo le regalaba;
y el ventalle de cedros aire daba.
7. El aire de la almena,
quando yo sus cabellos esparcía,
con su mano serena
en mi cuello hería,
y todos mis sentidos suspendía.
8. Quedéme y olvidéme,
el rostro recliné sobre el amado;
cesó todo y dejéme,
dejando mi cuidado
entre las azucenas olvidado.




Song II: The Dark Night
      Of the soul that rejoices at having reached
         The high state of perfection, which
          Is the union with God, by means of the path
          Of spiritual denial of self
1.  On a dark night, deep and black,
When I, on fire with the passions of love
---- what great good fortune was mine! ---
slipped out, hidden, unseen,
when my sleeping house was silent and still;
2. and protected in the dark,
concealed by the quiet, secret staircase
---- what great good fortune was mine! ---
in the ebon dark, well-hidden
when my sleeping house was silent and still;
3. and on the fortunate night,
in secret, when no one’s eyes could see me,
I saw nothing around me
And had no light or guide
But the one that was blazing in my heart.
4. This was the fire that led me,
more clear and certain than the light of noon,
to where he waited for me
--- I knew who he was, oh I knew ---
there where no one was seen, no one appeared.
5. O dark night who guided me!
O night, kinder by far than any dawn!
O night, you who have joined
lover with beloved,
beloved into lover here transformed!
6. On my flowering bosom,
meant only for him, kept for him alone,
he rested his head to sleep,
and I with love caressed him,
and the swaying cedars sent a breeze for him.
7. The wind from the battlements
when I loosed his hair and smoothed it, unbound,
with serene and tranquil hand,
struck my neck, pierced and wounded it,
dimming and suspending all my senses.
8. I stayed there, self forgotten,
lowered my face, leaning over my lover,
all things ceased, self abandoned,
abandoning all care
that lies, forgotten, there among the lilies.

I found this poem in the book The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance to which Amanda of Simpler Pastimes kindly introduced me.  It was a "close your eyes and point" choice, yet it has turned out to be quite a fascinating poem.

St. John of the Cross was a disciple of St. Teresa of Ávila, whose biography I had recently read.  He fought to reform the Spanish Carmelites and spent a number of years in prison where he compposed the Cántico espiritual, or Spiritual Canticle, without any writing tools, having to rely solely on his memory.  
Song II: The Dark Night is part of St. John's greater work, The Dark Night of the Soul, chronicling the spiritual journey of the soul and the stages of love that it must pass through to become more like God.  Taken out of context, this poem loses some meaning but the beauty of the words and the impact is spiritual by themselves.  Based on the biblical book, Songs of Songs, the sensual imagery St. John uses for the union of the soul and God is a stepping outside of religious tradition.  Mystic and beautiful, the poem marries the natural to the supernatural, to exemplify harmony with God.
Deal Me In Challenge #5 - Jack of Diamonds


The Princess by Anton Chekhov

Portrait of Anton Chekhov (1886)
Isaac Levitan
source Wikiart


What happened to Narcissus when he looked at his own reflection in the pool? This beautiful hunter from Boeotia fell in love with himself, and in fact was so deeply infatuated, in his self-obsession he fell into the pool and drowned.  Not a very fitting end for one with so much promise.

Narcissus (1594-96)
source Wikipedia

In Chekhov's story we meet the Princess, a lovely young woman who arrives at an isolated monastery for a night's stay.  She is so thrilled to be there, gushing effusively about the setting and the priests and brothers who have received her.  She wants to forget her life in the city and the monastery and its occupants give her the tools to do so.  But the reader soon realizes that her arrival, instead of being a moment of interest and delight, is instead looked upon with discomfort and even dread by the good brothers of the monastery, and one feels that the Princess, in spite of her outward joie-de-vivre and vivacious personality, is only noticing the benefits that she gets from her visit, without concern for anything or anyone around her.

Soon she meets Mikhail Ivanovitch there, a doctor whom she'd earlier employed in her service, but instead of a warm reception for her, the doctor's replies drip icicles.  Our poor, puzzled Princess cannot understand ..... why the reserve, especially when she condoles with him upon the death of his wife, an event that is certainly sad, but of course, life must go on.  When she mentions the mistakes she's made in life and the doctor agrees, she begs him to enlighten her.  Perhaps she should have been more careful in what she asked for.  Directly he begins to catalogue her offenses, taking her to task for her lack of sympathy, her greed, her complete disdain for the feelings of others .......... in fact, the whole system of life that she has built around her is false and cruel, breeding those traits, and choking out any love or caring.  She has replaced God with herself, and therefore is no longer able to understand the creation in which she lives.

Oh!  The Princess is hurt, she is distraught, she is devasted!  That cruel, uneducated, ill-bred man!  How could he speak so to her, to HER, a princess?!  She must use her only defence against these horrid accusations, and so she begins to cry.  The doctor is immediately contrite and leaves her.  When they meet the next day, the princess is once again herself, gay and blithe as she prepares to leave, expecting everyone to admire and entertain her even as she promises to come again soon.  The unpleasantness of the day before is blotted from memory as once more she strives to be the centre of the world.

The Unsmiling Tsarevna (1916-26)
Niktor Vasnetsov
source Wikiart

In spite of the inclination to laugh at the princess' stupidity and complete self-absorption, this story is quite a tragic one.  Her character is certainly one of a narcissist, and anything that exists around her, merely exists for her alone.  She is devoid of the character traits that make one truly human and, therefore, is not much better than a beast.

On November 15, 1888, Chekhov wrote to his publisher, stating that he was writing a story about a "vile woman".  Three days later Chekhov wrote, "I want to write protest stories this season ------  I must learn the knack, but it bores me because I'm not used to it," which makes one wonder if the doctor's social protest was supposed to be the hub of the story.  In any case, both character's roles offered a ripe opportunity for social and psychological examination.  This was an excellent story that certainly makes me want to read more of Chekhov's works.

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