Sunday, June 28, 2009

a face to make all things new

On June 28, 1848, Emerson wrote to his wife Lydian; here are extracts from the letter.
London, June 28.        

. . . All my duties will be quite at an end on Friday night at Exeter Hall, and I have then to determine which to choose of all the unseen spectacles of England. I have not seen Stonehenge, nor Chatsworth, nor Canterbury, nor Cambridge, — nor even Eton and Windsor, which lie so near London. I have good friends who send for me, but I do not mean to engage myself to new people or places. As Mr. Burke said, "I have had my day; I can shut the book." I am really very willing to see no new face for a year to come, — unless only it were a face that made all things new. There is very much to be learned by coining to England and France. The nations are so concentrated and so contrasted that one learns to tabulate races and their manners and traits as we do animals or chemical substances, and look at them as through the old Swedish eyeglass, each as one proper man. Also, it must be owned, one meets now and then here with wonderfully witty men, all-knowing, who have tried everything and have everything, and are quite superior to letters and science. What could they not, if they only would? I saw such a one yesterday, with the odd name, too, of Arthur Helps. On Sunday I dined at Mr. Field's at Hampstead, and found the Egyptian savant Mr. Sharpe, Rowland Hill (of the Penny Post), Stanfield the painter, and other good men. I breakfasted next morning with Stanfield, and went with him to see a famous gallery of Turner's pictures at Tottenham. That day I dined with Spence, and found Richard Owen, who is the anatomist. To-morrow he is to show me his museum. I esteem him one of the best heads in England. Last evening I went to dine with Lord Morpeth, and found my magnificent Duchess of Sutherland, and the Duke and Duchess of Argyle, and the Ladies Howard, and Lady Graham, and Mr. Helps, so omniscient, as I said. . . . This morning I breakfasted with him and Lady Lovelace, as Lord L. wished to read me a certain paper he had been writing on a book of Quetelet. We had quite a scientific time, and I learned some good things. I am to go there again to-morrow evening, to see Mrs. Somerville. . . .

{Exeter Hall was the site of Emerson's lectures to the London populace (as opposed to its social and intellectual elites); it was built about 15 years before he spoke there; image source:}

as Mr. Burke said: This is a reference to Edmund Burke's Speech at the Guildhall in Bristol, Previous to the Late Election In That City, Upon Certain Points Relative to his Parliamentary Conduct (1780). Here is the relevant text:
Gentlemen, I have had my day. I can never sufficiently express my gratitude to you for having set me in a place wherein I could lend the slightest help to great and laudable designs. If I have had my share in any measure giving quiet to private property and private conscience ; if by my vote I have aided in securing to families the best possession, peace; if I have joined in reconciling kings to their subjects, and subjects to their prince; if I have assisted to loosen the foreign holdings of the citizen, and taught him to look for his protection to the laws of his country, and for his comfort to the good-will of his countrymen ; — if I have thus taken my part with the best of men in the best of their actions, I can shut the book: I might wish to read a page or two more, but this is enough for my measure. I have not lived in vain.
{source: from The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke (London, John C. Nimmo, 1887), vol 2, p. 421}
Arthur Helps was an English writer and dean of the Privy Council. He was youngest son of Thomas Helps, a London merchant; as an author, he was known for his aphorisms, biographies, and essays.

Edwin Wilkins Field was an English law reformer and painter. I reproduced a painting attributed to him in a previous post.

{Richard Owen was an English biologist, comparative anatomist and palaeontologist; source: wikipedia}

See earlier posts in this series for descriptions of other persons mentioned, including:

Some sources:

Journals Of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1820-1872, with Annotations, edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes; Vol. VII, 1845-1848 (London, Constable & Co.; Boston And New York Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913)

Journals Of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1820-1872, with Annotations, edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes; Vol. VII, 1845-1848, (New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

a world to ride virtues in

From the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, written at the end of his 1847-48 trip to Britain and France.
June 27.        

Mr. Owen invited Hillard* and myself to inspect the Hunterian (John Hunter) Museum, of which he is the Curator. Afterwards, he would carry us to Turner, the artist, who is his friend. We met accordingly at his chambers and he showed us over the Museum, communicating a great deal of valuable information, of which I deeply regret that I omitted to make immediate record. He gave a sad history of the misuse and voluntary destruction of Hunter's manuscripts by Sir Everard Home, who had built his own scientific reputation on the private use he had made of these manuscripts, and then destroyed them to hide his debt. He was displaced, and Owen himself appointed to the care of the Museum, and he does not like to sleep one night away from it. One of these days when the Museum shall be confided to other and sufficient hands, he said, he shall feel at liberty to come to America, and read lectures to the Lowell Institute of Boston, as Mr. Lowell has pressed him to do. He thought Faraday would also come to Boston. Owen seemed to me an Englishman who had made a prodigious stride in scientific liberalism for an Englishman, and indemnified himself in the good opinion of his countrymen by fixing a certain fierce limitation to his progress, and abusing without mercy all such as ven tured a little farther; these poor transmutationists, for example.

He carried us to Turner's studio, but Turner, though he had written him a note to announce his visit, was gone. So he showed us the pictures. In his earlier pictures, he said, Turner painted conventionally, painted what he knew was there, finished the coat and buttons; in the later, he paints only what the eye really sees and gives the genius of the city or landscape. He was engaged to paint a whaleship, and he came one day to see Mr. Owen and asked to see a mullet (Agassiz said, a Clio), and begged him to explain to him, from the beginning, the natural history of the creature; which he did; and Turner followed him with great accuracy. In process of time the picture was painted, and Owen went there to see his mullet; "I could not find it," he said, "in the picture, but I doubt not it is all there." He told us that, one day, being present at the annual dinner of the Royal Academy, which takes place in the Gallery itself, as the shades of evening darkened around, all the pictures became opake, all but Turner's, and these still glittered like gems, as if having light in themselves. I was much struck with the elevated manner in which Mr. Owen spoke of the few men of science he named; of Agassiz and others, he said, "Each had a manner, and a certain strength, and his own foible too," and he thought he could well discern that in all they did, and I think he added, "I can see the same in myself, too."

Turner's face, I was told, resembles much the heads of Punch.

It was Miss —— of New Haven, who on reading Ruskin's book, said "Nature was Mrs. Turner."

By the kind offices of Mr. Milnes, Mr. Milman, Lord Morpeth, and I know not what other gentlemen, I found myself elected into the "Athenaeum" Club, "during my temporary residence in England"; a privilege one must prize, not because only ten foreigners are eligible, at any one time, but because it gives all the rights of a member in the library and reading-room, a home to sit in, and see the best company, and a coffee-room, if you like it, where you eat at cost. Milnes, Milman, Crabbe Robinson, and many good men are always to be found there. Milnes is the most good-natured man in England, made of sugar; he is everywhere, and knows everything; has the largest range of acquaintances, from the Chartist to the Lord Chancellor; fat, easy, affable, and obliging; a little careless and sloven in his dress. His speeches in Parliament are always unlucky, and a signal for emptying the House, a topic of great mirth to himself and all his friends, who frankly twit him with it. He is so entirely at home everywhere, and takes life so quietly, that Sydney Smith called him "the cool of the evening," and I remember I was told some anecdotes of exploits of well-bred effrontery. They address him now as Citoyen Milnes, since Punch's, that is, Thackeray's late list of the ministry; but with pure feeling between jest and earnest they speak of him as really one who might play, one day, the part of Lamartine in England.

Carlyle, at the first meeting of the London Library, proposed to sacrifice Milnes, as a sort of acceptable Iphigenia. When he breakfasted somewhere with the Archbishop of Canterbury, his friend said, "Now, Milnes, I beg you not to slap him on the back, and call him Canterbury, before breakfast is half over." His good humor is infinite; he makes bad speeches of exquisite infelicity, and joins in the laugh against himself. He is very liberal of his money, and sincerely kind and useful to young people of merit. Coventry Patmore told me that Milnes had procured him spontaneously the place he holds of sub-librarian in the British Museum; and that he had known many good deeds of his. Jane Carlyle testified to his generosity — rare, she said, among people of fashion — with his money.

For my part, I found him uniformly kind and useful to me both in London and in Paris. He procured me cards to Lady Palmerston's soirée, introduced me there, and took pains to show me all the remarkable persons there, the Crown Prince of Prussia; the Prince of Syracuse; Rothschild, a round, young, comfortable-looking man; Mr. Hope, reputed the richest commoner in England; the Turkish Ambassador; Lord Lincoln, head of the "Young England" party; and princely foreigners, whose names I have forgotten.

Milnes took pains to make me acquainted with Chevalier Bunsen and Lady Bunsen, whom I had already met at Mr. Bancroft's; with young Mr. Cowper, son of Lady Palmerston; with Disraeli; and with Macaulay, whom I here met for the second time. I had a few words with both Lord and Lady Palmerston. He is frank (at least, in manner; Bancroft says, far from frank in business), affable, of a strong but cheerful and ringing speech.

But I soon had enough of this fine spectacle and escaped. Milnes sent me again another card from Lady Palmerston, but I did not go.

Milnes again befriended me at Sir William Molesworth's, where Bancroft carried me, one night, and made me acquainted with Dr. Elliotson, and a very sensible young man, member of Parliament, whose name I have lost. At Paris, he carried me to De Tocqueville, and at last, at my Exeter Hall lectures in London, he took the chair, and made a closing speech full of praises, perfectly well meant, if not felicitous. He is one of the most valuable companions in London, too, for the multitude of anecdotes he tells about good people, and at Paris I found him equally acquainted with everybody and a privileged man, with his pockets full of free cards, which admitted him everywhere.

Milnes said, in my presence, that he desired nothing so much as to make a good speech in Parliament. The distinguished Mrs. Norton (to whom I was carried one day by Carlyle) said that "Milnes and Disraeli were the two remarkable political failures which she had known."

Viscount Melbourne's letter in reply to Lord Brougham's sheets of objections, — "Dear B. I am sorry you don't like my appointment of N. Pray expedite the matter through all the forms as fast as possible. Yours, M."

Topics of conversation in England are Irish affairs; universal suffrage; pauperism; public education; right and duty of government to interfere with increase of population; taxes.

Paris and London have this difference, that Paris exists for the foreigner, serves him; — whilst in London is the Londoner, who is much in the foreigner's way. England has built London for its own use. France has built Paris for the world.

The French have this wonderful street courage. The least dislike, the smallest unpopularity, is intolerable to them. But they will take your fire with indifference. And is this a world to ride virtues in? There must, then, be revolutions to bring them out.

In Blanqui's Club des droits de l'Homme, an orator in blouse said, "Why should the rich fear that we shall not protect their property? We shall guard it with the utmost care, in the belief that it will soon be our own."

People eat the same dinner at every house in England, 1, soup; 2, fish; 3, beef, mutton, or hare; 4, birds; 5, pudding and pastry and jellies; 6, cheese; 7, grapes, nuts, and wine. During dinner, hock and champagne are offered you by the servant, and sherry stands at the corners of the table. Healths are not much drunk in fashionable houses. After the cloth is removed, three bottles, namely, port, sherry, and claret, invariably circulate. What rivers of wine are drunk in all England daily! One would say, every guest drinks six glasses.

The English youth has a narrow road to travel. Besides his horse and gun, all he knows is the door to the House of Commons.

Landseer the only genius of the Academy exhibition. Leslie very sensible and pleasing. There are many English portraits, the true national type. The 'Hŵs of Gibson,, like the admirably finished pictures of Scheffer, show want of all object with great powers of execution, so that we get noble vases empty.

I bring home from England — 1, the Heim-skringla, or Sea Kings of Norway, translated by Laing; 2, Wood' Athenae Oxonienses; 3, Bede; 4, The Megbaduta; 5, Lowth's Life of William of Wykeham; 6, Wordsworth's Scenery of the Lakes; 7, Jacobson's Translation of Aeschylus; 8, John Carlyle's Translation of Dante; 9, John Mill's Political Economy.

I thought how great men build substructures, and, like Cologne Cathedral, these are never finished. Lord Bacon begins, Behmen begins, Goethe, Fourier, they all begin; we, credulous, believe, of course, they can finish as they begun. If you press them, they fly to a new topic, and here again open a magnificent promise which serves the turn of interesting you, and silencing your reproaches.

I stayed in London till I had become acquainted with all the styles of face in the street, and till I had found the suburbs and then straggling houses on each end of the city. Then I took a cab, left my farewell cards, and came home.

I saw Alison, Thackeray, Cobden, Tennyson, Bailey, Marston, Macaulay, Hallam, Disraeli, Milnes, Wilson, Jeffrey, Wordsworth, Carlyle, Dickens, Lockhart, Procter, Montgomery, Collyer, Kenyon, Stephenson, Buckland, Sedgwick, Lyell, Edward Forbes, Richard Owen, Robert Owen, Cruikshank, Jenny Lind, Grisi, William Allingham, David Scott, William B. Scott, King-lake, De Tocqueville, Lamartine, Leverrier, Rachel, Barbes, Eastlake, Spence, Wilkinson, Duke of Wellington, Brougham, Joanna Baillie, De Quincey, Sir C. Fellows, Sir Henry De la Beche, John Forster.

[Note from the editor of the Journals: "Just before his final departure from London, Mr. Emerson visited Cambridge, and the next day went with Carlyle to Salisbury, and thence by carriage to Amesbury on July 7, whence they walked to Stonehenge. Next day they visited the sacred circle again with the local antiquary, then saw Wilton House, and passed Sunday with Arthur Helps at Bishop's Waltham. Monday they spent at Winchester. Of this excursion Mr. Emerson gives a full ac count in English Traits."]

*Footnote by the editor of the Journals: Probably Mr. George S. Hillard, of Boston, at one time editor of the Courier, author of Six Months in Italy, and other works.

{Richard Monckton Milnes; source: wikipedia}

{Hunterian Museum in Emerson's time; source: taxidermy4cash. The Hunterian Museum was 'founded in 1807 on the collections of the eminent Scottish physician and obstetrician, William Hunter (1718-1783) whose medical collections were the core of his career, museum and success.'}

Everard Home, British physician, a pupil of his brother-in-law, John Hunter.

{An early work of Turner's: Fishermen at Sea (1796); source: wikimdeia}

{Whale Ship by Turner (1845); source: picasaweb}

John Elliotson

{William Molesworth was a British politician and civil servant; source: wikipedia}

{Edwin Henry Landseer's painting, "Dignity and Impudence"; source: squidoo}

{Charles Robert Leslie; source: rossettiarchive}

{Elizabeth Fry, by Charles Robert Leslie; source: wikimedia}

For information on others mentioned in this journal entry, see these previous blog posts:

Some sources:

Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, With Annotations, ed. by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes (Houghton Mifflin company, 1912)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Emerson observes extravagant paintings

Here is the brief entry in Emerson's journals for this day in 1848:
June 26.        

[Breakfasted] at Mr. Stanfield's, who showed me some of Turner's pictures and his own. Each of Turner's cost one hundred guineas.

I went with Edwin Field and Mr. Stanfield and his son to the house of Mr. Windus, Tottenham, to see his collection of Turner's pictures and drawings of which altogether he may have a hundred. This gallery was that in which Ruskin had studied. It is quite necessary to see all these pictures to appreciate the genius of Turner through his extravagances.

Mr. Stanfield's: See yesterday's post for information about this painter. This is one of his pastoral paintings, less common and quieter than the ones depicting drama at sea.

wikimedia has an excellent gallery of Turner paintings. This extravagant one is one of his most abstractly atmospheric:

{Sunrise with Sea Monsters by J. M. W. Turner (1845); source: wikimedia}

{Shipping on the Thames, Duke shaw Wharf, Limehouse, attributed to
Edwin Wilkins Field, an English law reformer and painter; source: }

{The Library at Tottenham belonging to Benjamin Godfrey Windus, a watercolour by John Scarlett Davis; source:}

Some sources:

Journals Of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1820-1872, with Annotations, edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes; Vol. VII, 1845-1848 (London, Constable & Co.; Boston And New York Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913)

Journals Of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1820-1872, with Annotations, edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes; Vol. VII, 1845-1848, (New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Emerson dines in Hampstead

Here is Emerson's laconic journal entry for this day in 1848.
June 25.        

Dined at Mr. Field's at Hampstead with Rowland Hill, Mr. Sharpe, and Stanfield, the painter.

{Hampstead High Street looking down the hill towards Haverstock Hill, c 1902; source:}

{A romantic depiction of a more rural part of Hampstead in 1848 by John Everett Millais; source:}

{Rowland Hill, postal reformer, was the originator of the penny post; source:}

{Samuel Sharpe (who seems to have looked a lot like Hill) was an Egyptologist and translator of the Bible; source: wikipedia}

{Clarkson Frederick Stanfield was a painter known for his pictures of boats and the sea; source: wikipedia}

{a representative painting by Stanfield; source:}

Some sources:

Journals Of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1820-1872, with Annotations, edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes; Vol. VII, 1845-1848 (London, Constable & Co.; Boston And New York Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913)

Journals Of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1820-1872, with Annotations, edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes; Vol. VII, 1845-1848, (New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912)

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Wreath of Roses

This week's lectionary contains text from Chapter 38 of the Book of Job. When I read and then heard it, I thought what an amazing mishmash of images it contains. In the New American Standard version of the Bible it reads thus:
Job Chapter 38, Verse 1, Lines 8-11

Then the Lord addressed Job out of the storm and said:
And who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb;
When I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands?
When I set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door,
And said: Thus far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stilled!*
In Chapter 38 as a whole Yahweh gives Job a thorough tongue-lashing, using rhetorical questions to put him in his place. YHWH says in effect that YHWH's knowledge, power, and authority are beyond question. This God has no compulsion to behave consistently, predictably. This God need answer no question, respond to no petition, observe no moral code. In the part of the chapter that is given in the lectionary YHWH's voice tells Job that this God can domesticate the most frightening and destructive forces of nature: YHWH speaks out of a waterspout in an ocean storm; the storm escapes from the confines of a womb; YHWH shuts the storm within doors, clothes and confines it in swaddling, keeps it safely locked up, and finally commands it to stop, calming it, removing its threat.

This is a loony juxtaposition of — on the one hand — nature at its most frightening extreme and — on the other — the reassuring protection and comfort of womb, home, and, ultimately, though not expressed, the reassurance of parental love. It brings to mind a sermon on creative unreason by my cousin Alice who says "while most of the daily work of our lives is done by the left hemisphere of our brain — language, logic, order — the right brain has enormous gifts to give to us. The left brain will tell us that its logic is the whole story of the world; but the right brain tells us that there is something else underneath that logic."

To my way of thinking this mixture of metaphors in YHWH's rant is a right-brain masterpiece.

These lines from the Book of Job and the whole book also raise a conundrum: This God presents as a powerful autocrat whom mankind are permitted to worship, but whom they are not permitted to question. Logically, it makes no sense to expect the execution of impartial justice from this God, to expect reward for right behavior, to expect that humble requests will be granted. It makes no difference whether mankind praises or curses this God; why then does the world contain religions devoted to encouraging worship of this God? What gives people a sense of purpose; what gives their lives meaning? How do they survive in a universe that appears to be unfeeling, uncaring, and unpredictably sown with good and evil?

They're never asked, but these questions seems — to me — to permeate a novel I recently read: Elizabeth Taylor's A Wreath of Roses.

Here's a lengthy extract in which one of her main characters has an epiphany which elucidates them to some extent:
Frances stood in the dark garden while Hotchkiss [a large and clumsy dog] crashed among the creaking cabbage-leaves after some small scuttling thing too quick for him. When he had plunged away through the gap in the hedge, there was silence. She imagined him going over the harsh stubble of the field, his belly grazed by hollow stalks, his nostrils teased by drifting scents of fur and flesh; but he was a great blundering Caliban, unused to the traffic of the night, the maze of crossed and crossing scents, evaded always by the quick and feat.

The moonlight was enough to read by, the air humid as the inside of a Bower. Orion seemed to hang and swing out across the sky like a man on a trapeze and, lifting her head, she thought: 'One glance at the sky finishes religion for me. I know then that we and all the clutter we have made upon the face of the earth — our fantasies and our myths — count for nothing. The scum of little houses, the Parthenon itself, all of our frail properties will fly like dust into the abyss. All civilizations are like elaborate campings-out, a complicated picnic in the face of nature's discomforts. And it is upon this impermanence that we set up our easels and paint our pictures. What goes onto the canvas is the very ticking of our hearts. Yet when we die, what will happen? Other men and women will paint over our heart's pulse; or those manifestoes of ours against the indifference of the world will lie, face down, among old books and ornaments in junk-shops, in attics. And even if they hang in a gallery, framed and catalogued, respected and remarked upon, soon brown gravy will cover them, cracks and whorls will appear, the once radiant light will pour upon the scene like a sepia fog, the transparent petal will be dipped in glue; so that soon only a pale face, a pale hand, will show in the darkness, and that face, that hand cracked over like mosaic. And in the end my heart-beats, my life's work, 'will fade away along with the rest, the Parthenon will go down oh its knees like an aged elephant, and the embalmed words of the great will count for no more than Liz and Camilla chattering up there in the lighted bedroom.'

The garden was so quiet that when an apple fell into the flower-border, she started. Then the silence seemed more intense than ever. 'When the rottenness has begun in it, it drops,' she told herself. 'It is either better or worse with people. For here am I, an old woman, but still hanging on the tree. In both compassion and in cruelty we outstripped nature long ago.'
Later in the novel, Taylor gives this character, Frances, a second epiphany. (Morland is a male friend who is devoting his life to the nurturing of creativity in others and to compassion, "saying the right word at the right time.")
Frances put aside her brush with a feeling of great weariness. She sat down and darkened her eyes with her hands, tired, but not as dejected as she looked. She looked up at her unfinished picture, trying to take it unawares, as painters do, and failed, as they must always fail.

As she looked at it panic beat about in her. She had no way to turn. There is no past for an artist. What is done is cast away, good only for the time of its creation. Work is the present and the immediate future; but her immediate future was a blank; the present, this half-­finished painting.

'The mistake is listening to others,' she told herself. 'One has little enough of one's own, but they will strip It away with their kindness and their good advice. It is best to turn to no one, to seek to please no one, to paint as if there were only oneself in the world. The pleasure of others is a by-product after all, and if ever the whispering voices are allowed to crowd out the one voice, the result is this —' she took the picture roughly in her hands, the paint tacky against her palms '— a sort of high-pitched silliness, a terrible silliness.' She stared down at the creamy-pink-and-yellow picture, half a mirror with reflected hands lifting a wreath of roses, a flash of golden hair. 'It is like Ophelia handing out her Bowers,' she thought. 'The last terrible gesture but one.'

As if to rid herself of the sight of it, she took the canvas and leant it with its wet paint to the wall. She would never finish it.

'Yes. Ophelia!' she thought, wiping her fingers on a rag. On the bench lay the wreath of roses she had twisted together the day before. She picked it up, and the petals were soft and dead to touch and warm from the sunlight. 'I shan't paint again,' she thought. 'It is time to finish.'

She heard footsteps along the gravel, and when Morland tapped at the door, she crossed the shed quickly to unlock it.

"Are you still working?"

He looked at her with love and concern as she stood in the doorway still holding the wreath of flowers. Then she smiled and shook her head.

"Liz says your coffee will be cold."

"I'm coming." She turned the key in the lock and dropped it into her pocket.

"What is that for?" he asked, touching the faded garland.

"Oh, it is dead."

He put his arm through hers, and they walked up the garden towards the cottage. A large drop of rain fell on the path before them, and the poplar trees by the hedge clattered their leaves in a sudden gust of wind.
The epigraph Taylor gave this novel, from Virginia Woolf's The Waves, has the same poetic force as does the passage just quoted. Here it is:
So terrible was life that I held up shade after shade. Look at life through this, look at life through that; let there be rose leaves, let there be vine leaves - I covered the whole street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, with the blaze and ripple of my mind, with vine leaves and rose leaves.
Taylor does not tell us what she thinks of this situation, these images, nor try to tell us how we should react to them. They are just there. For me they say, in part, what Beckett says in a famous line from The Unnamable:
Perhaps it's done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on [emphasis added].
They say, too, what MacLeish tells us in J.B., his reading of the Book of Job. J.B. addresses his wife, Sarah, who has, in the end, returned to him:
J.B.: Curse God and die, you said to me.

Sarah: Yes.

She looks up at him for the first time, then down again.
      You wanted justice, didn't you?
There isn't any. There's the world ...
She begins to rock on the doorsill, the little branch [of forsythia] in her arms.
Cry for justice and the stars
Will stare until your eyes sting. Weep,
Enormous winds will thrash the water.
Cry in sleep for your lost children,
Snow will fall ...
       snow will fall ...
J.B.: Why did you leave me alone?

                     I loved you.
I couldn't help you any more.
You wanted justice and there was none ­
Only love.
J.B.: He does not love. He

Sarah: But we do. That's the wonder.
There is no sure meaning we can attach to life. It is what we feel it be — what our right-brain perceptions lead us to believe it is from moment to moment. Neither our intellects nor our power of will can force authentic and fulfilling lives into existence. The abstractions that we value most — liberty, justice, compassion, goodness, and love — are ultimately matters of faith.

People do not worship because they have certain knowledge that worship is right. As the Book of Job tells us, worship is not a logical, rational set of actions. Despite YHWH's indifference and the human fallibility of religious practitioners, people who worship do sometimes believe — with greatly varying degrees of fervor — that life is meaningful and do sometimes have faith in the possibility of experiencing authenticity and fulfillment, if only infrequently and not for long. They share this tentative faith with people who create, like Elizabeth Taylor, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, Archibald MacLeish, and with all those of us who nurture loving relationships despite the impediments of our own fickle natures and the fickle natures of those whom we love,

It's as my cousin Alice says, we can all know the interconnectedness of all that exists, if only we open our hearts and quiet, for a time, our clamoring intellects. Despite our knowledge of how terrible life can be, with right-brain insight we are capable of covering the world with the blaze and ripple of our minds. This may not seem like much, but it is enough to go on. We can all, as MacLeish says, "blow on the coal of the heart." At the close of the play, J.B. and Sarah accomplish a simple and routine task together, lifting and straightening chairs, and she says to him:
Blow on the coal of the heart
And we'll see by and by ... We'll see where we are.
The wit won't burn and the wet soul smoulders.
Blow on the coal of the heart and we'll know ...
We'll know ...


{Waterspout: whirlwind at sea; source:}

{William Blake, 1825; source arthistoryarchive}

{God speaks from the whirlwind. Walter Russell. Job 38:1; source: Grace Communion International}


*I have reproduced this and other text in this post for purposes of research and explication under fair use provisions of the copyright act.

Here are two alternative translations of the text:

Young's Literal Translation Job 38:1, 8-11:
And He shutteth up with doors the sea, In its coming forth, from the womb it goeth out. In My making a cloud its clothing, And thick darkness its swaddling band, And I measure over it My statute, And place bar and doors, And say, 'Hitherto come thou, and add not, And a command is placed On the pride of thy billows.'
The Book of Job 38, 1, 8-11
Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb? When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it, And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors, And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

a Massachusetts Indian in London society

On June 21, 1848, Emerson's travels in England and France were nearing their conclusion. Having lived more than half a year abroad, he was eager to return home. He had witnessed the (mostly) peaceful revolution of the Chartists in the one and the (considerably) violent revolution of republicans in the other. He'd become disenchanted with the orderly dignities of the British upper classes and become enthusiastic about the brash informality of the shirt-sleeved French.

Still, as he wrote to his friend Elizabeth Hoar on this date, the English aristocracy had its attractions.

London, June 21, 1848.        

Dear Elizabeth, — I have been sorry to let two, or it may be three, steamers go without a word to you since your last letter. But there was no choice. Now my literary duties in London and England are for this present ended, and one has leisure not only to be glad that one's sister is alive, but to say so. I believe you are very impatient of my impatience to come home, but my pleasure, like everybody's, is in my work, and I get many more good hours in a Concord week than in a London one. Then my atelier in all these years has gradually gathered a little sufficiency of tools and conveniences for me, and I have missed its apparatus continually in England. The rich Athenaeum (Club) library, yes, and the dismaying library of the British Museum could not vie with mine in convenience. And if my journeying has furnished me new materials, I only wanted my atelier the more. To be sure, it is our vice — mine, I mean — never to be well; and to make all our gains by this indisposition. So you will not take my wishings for any more serious calamity than the common lot. And yet you must be willing that I should desire to come home and see you and the rest. Dear thanks for all the true kindness your letter brings. How gladly I would bring you such pictures of my experiences here as you would bring me, if you had them! Sometimes I have the strongest wish for your daguerreotyping eyes and narrative eloquence, but I think never more than the day before yesterday. The Duchess of Sutherland sent for me to come to lunch with her at two o'clock, and she would show me Stafford House. Now you must know this eminent lady lives in the best house in the kingdom, the Queen's not excepted. I went, and was received with great courtesy by the Duchess, who is a fair, large woman, of good figure, with much dignity and sweetness, and the kindest manners. She was surrounded by company, and she presented me to the Duke of Argyle, her son-in-law, and to her sisters, the Ladies Howard. After we left the table we went through this magnificent palace, this young and friendly Duke of Argyle being my guide. He told me he had never seen so fine a banquet hall as the one we were entering; and galleries, saloons, and anterooms were all in the same regal proportions and richness, full everywhere with sculpture and painting. We found the Duchess in the gallery, and she showed me her most valued pictures. ... I asked her if she did not come on fine mornings to walk alone amidst these beautiful forms; which she professed she liked well to do. She took care to have every best thing pointed out to me, and invited me to come and see the gallery alone whenever I liked. I assure you in this little visit the two parts of Duchess and of palace were well and truly played. ... I have seen nothing so sumptuous as was all this. One would so gladly forget that there was anything else in England than these golden chambers and the high and gentle people who walk in them! May the grim Revolution with his iron hand — if come he must — come slowly and late to Stafford House, and deal softly with its inmates! . . . Your affectionate brother, Waldo.

On this day Emerson also wrote to his wife Lydian:
Dear Lydian,
London, June 21.        

We finished the Marylebone course last Saturday afternoon, to the great joy, doubt not, of all parties. It was a curious company that came to hear the Massachusetts Indian, and partly new, Carlyle says, at every lecture. Some of the company probably came to see others; for, besides our high Duchess of Sutherland and her sister, Lord Morpeth and the Duke of Argyle came, and other aristocratic people; and as there could be no prediction what might be said, and therefore what must be heard by them, and in the presence of Carlyle and Monckton Milnes, etc., there might be fun; who knew? Carlyle, too, makes loud Scottish-Covenanter gruntings of laudation, or at least of consideration, when anything strikes him, to the edifying of the attentive vicinity. As it befell, no harm was done; no knives were concealed in the words, more 's the pity! Many things — supposed by some to be important, but on which the better part suspended their judgment — were propounded, and the assembly at last escaped without a revolution. Lord Morpeth sent me a compliment in a note, and I am to dine with him on the 28th. The Duchess of Sutherland sent for me to come to lunch on Monday, and she would show me her house. Lord Lovelace called on me on Saturday, and I am to dine with him to-morrow, and see Byon's daughter. I met Lady Byron at Mrs. Jameson's, last week, one evening. She is a quiet, sensible woman, with this merit among others, that she never mentions Lord Byron or her connection with him, and lets the world discuss her supposed griefs or joys in silence. Last night I visited Leigh Hunt, who is a very agreeable talker, and lays himself out to please; gentle, and full of anecdote. And there is no end of the Londoners. Did I tell you that Carlyle talks seriously about writing a newspaper, or at least short off-hand tracts, to follow each other rapidly, on the political questions of the day? I had a long talk with him on Sunday evening, to much more purpose than we commonly attain. He is solitary and impatient of people; lie has no weakness of respect, poor man, such as is granted to other scholars I wot of, and I see no help for him. ... I have been taxed with neglecting the middle class by these West-End lectures, and now am to read expiatory ones in Exeter Hall; only three, — three dull old songs.

one's sister: Elizabeth Hoar had been engaged to marry Emerson's brother Charles. Although Charles died of tuberculosis before the wedding could take place, Emerson subsequently considered Hoar to be as a sister and addressed her accordingly.

{The Athenaeum; source:}

Reading room of the British Museum in Punch; source:

{This daguerreotype of Emerson was taken in 1848; source:}

Portrait of Anne Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland by John Singer Sargent; source:

{Galleries at Stafford House; source:; other images from this source: Great Staircase, facade, }

the Marylebone course: This refers to Emerson's final series of London lectures.

Massachusetts Indian: Ironic reference to himself as outlander in English eyes.

{Lord Morpeth; source: spartacus.schoolnet}

Carlyle and Monckton Milnes, etc.: Emerson's friends, previously descrbied in this series of blog posts.

Earl of Lovelace was husband of Byron's daughter Ada.

{Byron's daughter, Ada Lovelace; source:}

{Leigh Hunt; source:}

Note on finding other posts in this series: All have the tags Emerson, journal, and 1848.

Some sources:

A memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson, by James Elliot Cabot (Cambridge, Printed at the Riverside Press, 1887)

A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson, by James Elliot Cabot (Houghton Mifflin and company, 1887)

Ralph Waldo Emerson on Transcendentalism Web (

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I recently finished reading Elizabeth Taylor's novel The Wreath of Roses and am thinking about writing something about it. In doing a little web searching on the topic I stumbled on an interesting post by a Tayloresque Irish woman who calls her blog ganching ("1. To talk in a halting, agitated way; 2. talk stupidly; 3. of a dog snapping of the teeth; 4. of a horse biting"). The post includes a photo of a branch line railway station. The author and a friend have come there to take a countryside walk. The connection with Taylor's novel relates to its branch-line motif. (Its first line: "Afternoons seem unending on branch-line stations in England in summer time.")

Excerpts from the post:
I was in Balcombe yesterday with my friend Fiona who likes to talk and talk and talk some more. With every mile we walked my mood got worse and worse. When we arrived in Balcombe it was raining. . . . We squelched off through the long, wet grass to the nearest pub where we had cold fried eggs and ham. This also made me cross as did the fact that my boots were letting in water. Fiona pretended not to notice that I was out of sorts and continued to talk. . . . Eventually I snapped: "Would you ever stop talking 'til I read these directions. . . . Fiona continues to chat. We walk along for 15 minutes. Nothing we see accords with the directions in the book. Eventually I stop. I insist that Fiona must be wrong and we need to retrace our steps all the way back to the exiting the woods bit. Fiona argues against this but eventually agrees and we spend 20 minutes trudging back the way we have come. Eventually we reach the bridge again.

"Ok, Fiona, you have to pay attention this time as well. Cross the river by a wooden bridge, following the footpath sign. Follow this path straight up the hill.

"What happened to the half-left?"

"What half-left?

"The half-left you read out the last time!"

It is at this point that I realise where I have gone wrong. For a split second I consider lying to Fiona but good sense prevails plus I know I wouldn't get away with it.

"Umm, I think I turned over a page too many last time!"

The directions in the book begin to make sense again. My boots continue to let in water. Fiona continues to chat.
{The photo shows Balcombe Station; it was taken by the author and appears on flickr.}
Here's a recent post the author calls White Collar Crime. The phrase "Moats, tennis courts, flat screen televisions!" refers to the revelations of illicit and highly questionable public expenditures for personal benefit by House of Commons Members. We know from previous posts that the author has recently moved into a tiny London flat and is making repairs. She puts the whole post in Italics to show that it's a conversation.
Nearly finished. If you could just turn the heating on for a minute to make sure there are no leaks. So, like I was saying, what a bloody shower.

I know! Moats, tennis courts, flat screen televisions!

If it was one of us it would be a different story. It's fraud isn't it? Nothing else. Have you got a cloth in case there is a leak?

Scatter cushions, flipping, flipping nerve more like.

That's it - all done.

How much do I owe you?

Forty five quid if you want a receipt?

I was going to pay cash.

Great! Thirty quid and no receipt.

There you go.

Lovely - so I'll be back to clean out the radiators in a few weeks. See you then.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chicago to LA by rail, 1943

Here are photos from the end of the age of steam. They were taken on Santa Fe freight trains pulled by steam locomotives between Chicago and Los Angeles in March 1943. The photograrpher was Jack Delano and the assignment came from an agency of the US government, the Information Division of the Farm Security Administration unit in the Office of War Information. Run by Roy Stryker, the FSA/OWI was nothing like other wartime propaganda operations. Stryker put together a core of able photographers, some of them mdash; at the outset mdash; inexperienced and unskillful amateurs. Remarkably in a time when photog professionals were all men, quite a few of his crew were women. He gave them all considerable artistic freedom, even to the extent of showing gross defects in American society such as racial and sexual inequality, and he insisted that they all research projects before going out to shoot them, understanding the context of the stories their photos would tell.

In this photo-shoot, Delano showed technical skill, artistic imagination, and an ability to construct a compelling visual story. The story he tells is one of transportation muscle, the strength of a country engaged in a two-theater war which was manufacturing weapons at an unprecedented rate. It's a story of men and machines interacting across half a continent. It shows both low-paid minority workers along with the dominant white culture and the few women who could obtain jobs in the railroad industry at the time. Finally, it shows the powerful, streamlined diesel-electric engines which would, in the next decade or two, wholly replace the stolid, black steam locomotives.

All the photos come from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection in the Library of Congress Prints and Photos Division. The captions are from notations on the film negatives and were prepared by P&P staff members. Click the images to view them full-size.

{Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad conductor George E. Burton and engineer J.W. Edwards comparing time before pulling out of Corwith railroad yard for Chillicothe, Illinois; Chicago, Ill.}

{Santa Fe R.R. freight train about to leave for the West Coast from Corwith yard, Chicago, Ill. }

{Night view of part of Santa Fe R.R. yard, Kansas City, Kansas}

{Santa Fe R.R. yards, Argentine, Kansas. Argentine yard is at Kansas City, Kansas}

{Servicing engines at coal and sand chutes at Argentine yard, Santa Fe R.R., Kansas City, Kansas}

{Yardmaster in railroad yards, Amarillo Texas }

{General view of the city and the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, Amarillo, Texas. Santa Fe R.R. trip}

{A completely overhauled engine on the transfer table at the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad locomotive shops, Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is now ready to go into service}

{Hammering out a draw bar on the steam drop hammer in the blacksmith shop, Santa Fe R.R. shops, Albuquerque, N[ew] Mex[ico)}

{Vaughn, New Mexico. Easternbound train about to leave the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad yard on the return trip}

{Clovis, New Mexico. D.L. Clark, engineer, ready to start his locomotive out of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad yard}

{Clovis, New Mexico. Women employed at the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad yard to clean out the potash jars. Left to right: Almeta Williams, Beatrice Davis, Liza Goss, and Abbie Caldwell}

{Ash Fork, Arizona. Pulling into the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad yard}

{Winslow, Arizona. A young Indian laborer working in the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad yard}

{Barstow, California. Head brakeman J.C. Shannon (left) and swing brakeman, B.E. Wilson, waiting for their train to pull out of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad yard}

{Switch lights in Santa Fe R.R. yards, Los Angeles, Calif. Due to blackout regulations all such lights are hooded. Santa Fe R.R. trip}

{Activity in the Santa Fe R.R. yard, Los Angeles, Calif. All switch lights, head lights and lamps have been shaded from above in accordance with blackout regulations. The heavy light streaks are caused by paths of locomotive headlights and the thin lines by lamps of switchmen working in the yard. Santa Fe R.R. trip}

{Washing one of the Santa Fe R.R. 54 hundred horse power diesel freight locomotives in the roundhouse, Argentine, Kansas. Argentine yard is at Kansas City, Kansas}

{Santa Fe R.R. streamliner, the "Super Chief," being serviced at the depot, Albuquerque, N[ew] Mex[ico]. Servicing these diesel streamliners takes five minutes}

{Primary route of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway; source: wikipedia}

{Jack Delano; source: wikipedia}

For more information see:

Photography Encyclopedia: Jack Delano

Jack Delano (American, 1914-1997) by the Scott Nichols Gallery

Jack Delano photos from the 1940s

Gallery of Jack Delano pictures of the Santa Fe Railway for Railfans

The Legendary Super Chief, Flagship Of The Santa Fe

Super Chief article on wikipedia