Scope of Power and Usefulness

The phrase above comes from Frank Woodworth Pine's introduction to the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. While the autobiography was written during Franklin's lifetime, it only reached the public in unadulterated form in the late 19th century. True to the values of that time, Pine promotes it as a success story. By way of example of precedent, Seymour's Self-Made Men came out in 1858 and was "about the lives of ... persons who have attained emminence in spite of adverse circumstances of birth and fortune"; in it are assmebled, among others, tales of Hans Christian Anderson, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, William Cobbett, and James Watt. Pine thinks Franklin's work successfully conveys the secret of success of life, which he considers Americans love to read, though they are often disapointed at finding familiar if unfollowed commonplaces.
Pine attributes the book's success to Franklin's having been in "the same boat" as the public yet having overcome those adversities. The success promoted today is diametrical to that represented by Franklin (particularly in his short work The Way to Wealth): magnifying instead of shunning sloth, as in the example of reality shows boradcasting "stars" with nothing better to do than argue about nail polish. What is more, the modern success story, while still narrated in simple langauge, even emoji-esque instagram photos, lacks the moral component once taught by maxims.
Aristotle wrote about the use of maxims in Rhetoric (2.21.2), defining them as having as their objects human actions, "and what should be chosen or avoided with reference to them". He writes that maxims should be clear and concise. Just like the later humanists encouraged the collecting and employment of sententiae (brief moral sayings - often indicated at that time by a little hand), Aristotle suggests: "One should even make use of common and frequently quoted maxims, if they are useful" because they can unite a speaker with the audience through the articulation of their preconceived notions, which seem to be true, or they can go against popular sayings for passionate effect. Ultimately, however, they can be used for ethical effect, to promote the moral character of the speaker. (Freese's translation uses both the words ethical and moral in this context.)

Precedents to the Puritan maxims compiled by Franklin himself in his book Poor Richard's Almanack (which incidentally brought him into the public eye) would be Pythagorus' Golden Sayings, Appius Claudius Caecus' Sententiae, maybe Plutarch's Sayings of Romans, Erasmus' Adagia. Appius' most famous line pertains to the self-made man, stating: "every man is the fashioner of his own fortune" - which of course can be countered by any number of phrases from Epictetus' Golden Sayings that acknowledge the importance of discerning what exactly is ours to fashion.
At this time in my life, I ask myself how much of my life is in my power, as others have the power to determine whether to institute cut-backs at the university where I work. I question where my own usefulness might be found. Plutarch, in On Tranquility of Mind explains it may come from reasonableness, experience, and the ability or knowledge to make use of present situations. Even if something goes awry, he counsels us to look on the bright side: "For it is possible to change the direction of Fortune when she has given us things we do not wish. Diogenes was driven into exile: 'Not so bad after all!' for after his exile he began to lead the life of a philosopher. ... What, then, prevents our imitiating such men as these?" Indeed...
It is the "simplicity and vigor" of the style of Franklin's prose (his cogent reasoning and facile pen) that Pine admires: qualities that meant he knew how to convey the scope of power and usefuless that characterised him. "If Robert Louis Stevenson is right in believing that his remarkable style was acquired by imitation then the youth who would gain the power to express his ideas clearly, forcibly, and interestingly cannot do better than to study Franklin's method."
The scope of power and usefulness in the title of this blog post is therefore the range of one's ability to imitate goodness. Where inspiration is lacking, there is precedent.

Book in background: Amy Butler's Midwest Modern; brush: misprinted type.

Doctoral Degree Conferred

I appoloise to my regular readers for the radio silence, but have news to share as I was awarded a doctoral degree in recent days after years of anticipation. It is my hope that I will be back to regular blogging shortly and in the mean time, hope you are all well, too.

Magazine in background: Marie Claire Idees.

Green and Seasonal

Autumn is descending upon this city: suddenly, my long runs have ended in dusk, while they begin hued in gold, as if all plants and objects have become especially receptive to these last rays. As I ran around a bend yesterday, at once freed from lines of trees, the sun struck my eyes without blinding, and in the few wisps of cloud beside it, I saw a tiny rainbow.
It seems particularly intelligent or inspiring to write about the seasons, it is also to step in that river that is the past. There are Virgil's Georgics; seasons as metaphors in Ovid's Metamorphoses (e.g. the line I now relate to: "Autumn comes, when the ardour of youth has gone, ripe and mellow, between youth and age, a scattering of grey on its forehead."); Petrarch's sonnet to Laura.
British poets to address the seasons include Chaucer and Shakespeare, of course, but perhaps most significantly, James Thomson, whose The Seasons straddles the age marking perhaps the (temporary?) end of formal metaphysical, encyclopedic poetry and the beginning of something more subjective. He predates Romantics like Keats and Wordsworth.
The poem is at once located "in the tradition of idealized epic encyclopedism" for its implications of Newtonian physics, Spenserian romance, Miltonic epic, geology, but, because of its "subordination of an individualized poetic vision and the exclusion of conventional organizational mechanisms", it sought a different kind of complete knowledge (Seth Rudy, Literature and Encyclopedism in Enlightenment Britain, 78). The poem includes even political themes: questions of human rights, liberty on the national as well as individual level, patriotism, the historical role of Scotland, which had been unified with England during his lifetime. The book remained popular for decades, in part because booksellers were able to repackage it given its Romantic appeal by playing down the multiple levels of meaning the poem contains (Rudy, 80).
Samuel Johnson's criticism of the work, that it was lacking a clear method that would synthesize its disparate parts, seems to have been part of the reason for its continued popularity. And it is this lack of "proper arrangement" allowing ready absorption of diverse elements (ibid.) that brings us to the colour green.

And so we reach our final book of poems about seasons, The Book of the Green Man, by Ronald Johnson (via). The blurb by the publisher's reads: "Ronald Johnson described The Book of the Green Man as his 'attempt, as a brash American, to make new the traditional British long seasonal poem.' This Poundian endeavor to 'make it new' stemmed from a visit that he ... made to the UK in the autumn of 1962, in search of all things 'most rich, most glittering, most strange.'"
Perhaps more exciting, we learn that he walked the landscapes - as well as gardens and grottoes, and, most notably to me at least, Gilbert White's Selborne. White is best known for his The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, written just a few years after Thomson's death, and a model for natural historians and writers. As a bird-lover, I find his ornithological description movingly astute, and who does not love the phrase "birds of passage" - observed throughout.
Part of one of Johnson's August poems reads: "'August is by much the most mute month', yet, the air may be so strongly electric that bells may ring & sparks be discharged in their clappers: ... Gilbert White quotes from the Latin: He preferred the sounds of birds to those of men..." In these lines, similarities can be seen with Thomson: individualized poetic visions, breadth over formal unity, emphasis on eye and ear.
Scope can be seen in Johnson's lines above where he writes of White, who indeed quotes from the Latin, in Letter LVI. The passage is by French philosopher, mathematician and astronomer (connected to Kepler, Galileo, Descartes) Pierre Gassendi, whose The Life of Peiresc immortalized his patron. White identifies with Peiresc: "This curious quotation [of preferring birdsong] strikes me much by so well representing my own case ... When I hear fine music I am haunted with passages ... elegant lessons still tease my imagination, and recur irresistibly to my recollection at seasons, and even when I am desirous of thinking of more serious matters."
The British Library offers a recording of birdsong rivalling instrumental music, so we might recollect it at seasons, have our imaginations teased, and contemplate what it means to be "green" - infused with nature? But seeing that Johnson also wrote a cookbook that I'd love to get my hands on, The American Table, any lack of unity encountered while walking through, writing of, and eating greens, is at least individualized: the individual being modernity's season of man.
This post (like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) was inspired by Susannah Conway's August Break.

Magazine in background: Marie Claire Idees;
brush: misprinted type, via Pugly Pixel (we will be sad to see go).

Sweet Delight

It is a strange moment to be writing about sweetness as thunder shakes the windows and lightning calls to the eyes. But maybe not, if it is nature that connotes it. My first association with sweetness is honey: and from there, my mind wanders to antiquity, the nectar of the gods. I found Horace in those thoughts, and will note some of what he writes on sweetness, specifically, where it is connected to figurative literary inspiration and/or described more literally in connection with food, but ultimately where it connotes absence from worry.
And about Horace. It is amazing to read some of his lines and relate to them so deeply that, all these centuries and cultures apart, one wishes to have written them oneself. In I. xxxiii, he writes that he hopes to write sweet calming work that will endure: "We are now called upon. If in idle amusement in the shade with you, we have placyed any thing that may live for this year and many, come on, assist me with alyric ode in Latin, my dear lyre, - first tuned in Greek by the Lesbian citizen Alcaeus … O thou ornament of Apollo, charming shell, agreeable even at the banquets of supreme Jupiter! O thou sweet alleviator of anxious toils, be propitious to me, whenever I duly invoke thee."
Similarly, in I. xxvi, which translator C. Smart introduces as, "That free from all care and anxiety, he celebrates the praise of Lamia", Horace writes: "O sweet  Muse, who art delighted with pure-fountains, weave together the sunny flowers, weave a chaplet for my  Lamia. Without thee my praises profit nothing." Note the flattery involved in his invocation! In IV.ii, he writes: "With lavish labor hiving thrifty sweets; Lowly, by Tibur's grove and dewy banks, I seek the honey that I store in song, Kneaded with labour."
Despite such depth of meaning in imagery, he also writes of food like a true gourmand, but in multiple registers. In satire II.iv, a man struggles to remember the lessons he got from a professor about food - containing such detail of how to dine well! Our sweetness here comes from the section of the professor's counsel that reads: "Some there are whose talent lies only in finding new sweets; 'tis by no means enough to spend all one's care on a single point — just as if someone were anxious only that his wines be good, but cared not what oil he poured upon his fish."

Though displaying knowledge of a good spread, Horace writes in favour of a more modest lifestyle, like in II.xvi, in which he writes of a nobelman who lives simply. I will be generous with how much I quote because I particularly like these lines about the needlessness of pursuing other shores when one has (sweets) enough before one: "Why crave new suns? What exile from his country Flies himself also? Diseased Care ascends the brazen galley,  And rides amidst the armed men to the battle, Fleeter than stag, and fleeter than, when driving Rain-clouds, the east wind. The mind, which now is glad, should hate to carry Its care beyond the Present; what is bitter With easy smile should sweeten: nought was ever Happy on all sides."
In those last few lines, he resolves the eternally-relevant philosophical problem of how to find happiness in difficulty, his words acting as the balsam he wrote of aspiring towards in I.xxxiii. We shall conclude on this soothing note with two more excerpts.
The beautifully sentimental "To Virgil" (IV.xii), which translators cannot agree upon (compare this translation), is a call to a feast (to a living/departed the/another Virgil). Let us imagine ourselves as Virgil invited in this way: "These, O my Virgil, are the days of thirst;  But if, O client of illustrious youths, Calenian juices tempt, bring thou the nard,  And with it earn my wine;...— Cask large enough to hold a world of hope, And drown a world of care. Quick! if such merriments delight thee, come With thine own contributions to the feast; Not like rich host in prodigal halls — my cups  Thou shalt not tinge scot-free. But put aside delays and care of gain, Wamed, while yet time, by the dark death-fires; mix  With thought brief thoughtlessness; to be unwise In time and place is sweet."
Reading those lines, one becomes imbibed by his song, it is so potent, affording the same effect as wine. In epode xiii he writes, "From thy bosom be lifled by wine and by song; Soothers they of a converse so sweet, it can charm All the cares which deform our existence away."
That is my definition, in response to today's prompt in the August Break, of sweet delight, particularly the part about song. But to emulate Horace's breadth and end this post on literal sweetness is the photo, depicting blender ice-cream of frozen banana and berries, sweetened with vanilla and honey. Perhaps I am that very 'professor' cited in the satire.

Brush: pfefferminzchen at DeviantART

Look Up

Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations, or To Himself as it is alternatively translated, writes about looking up and looking down (in the first entry of Book 7): the purpose of this looking is to remove sensations of shock when one sees something bad, which is disturbing. I was myself disturbed today and shocked at my disturbance when on my long run, I saw groups and groups of refugees, clustered on park benches, some sitting while others stood a close distance away, just like how people act in airports. I think of them all the time, but it is different to see them; how strange it is that consideration of fate becomes harder with faces on. The vice one considers is whatever duress uproots such people from their homes. It occurred to me how bizarre it is that I should have longed this summer to leave my home for vacation, when some are unable to ever go back to their own.
The first few entries in Aurelius' Book 7 are related to observation with the goal to maintain or regain inner peace. Thence the observation of looking up and down and realising that "there is nothing new to be met with" and whatever happens "will be over soon" (which some translators note as connected to Eccles. 9 and 2 Cor. 4:17-18). I compared four translations (1, 2, 3, 4), but another that I can't find now added in to the idea that what happens is quickly over, "this too shall pass" - which wikipedia writers note appears in a Sufi tale about a King who wished to be happy when he was sad, so his sages presented him with a ring with that phrase inscribed on it, which made him curse when he was happy.
Aurelius is not so fickle. In 7.2 (which I understood best in the Loeb translation), he writes about how one is not to waver in one's principles, no matter what might happen. The wavering comes from losing ideas of the principles and not cultivating them. It also comes from considering things that are beyond what one knows. He suggests one stick to what one knows - which is a contrast to what popular culture suggests today, namely that one is to support what one encounters. Instead, Aurelius suggests something quite Tao (e.g. 4, 5, 65, etc.), which is to simply let things be, and to keep to one's own sphere (e.g. 55, 63, especially 47, etc.).

Aurelius refers to different spheres. There is that of the self (which he writes is like one's house one's field, where one goes to retire "lapped in ease") and there is that of circumstance, which one is to filter before letting it get to one. In 7.4 he writes that one is to be wary of what people say and do: looking for the significance of their words and the design of their actions. If only it were possible to take what people say at face value, but no.
Just like it is possible for the soul to "teaze and put fetters upon herself" - and so block oneself from peace of mind (7.16).
So, one can retain the right to not concieve of calamity as calamity (7.14). I do not think that this means to be unfeeling and suffer no pain, but rather that this is a form of dammage control. I write these things out as my own future is being toyed with by those higher up than myself. And to one who may be in a toxic environment, Aurelius recommends: "Let people talk and act as they please; I must be an emerald, and I must keep my colour."
It was noted at the beginning that if one is faced with vice, one is to look up and down and conclude that bad happenings are nothing new, and that they will pass. Another principle applicable in such situations is part of the psalm (121) that was the motto of my first boarding school: Lift up thine eyes. But it never occurred to me before today that these are words uttered by those that need help.
Some learning is like training for difficult times. Without building muscle in separate exercises, running is less fun; when one is injured, if one does not do dull exercise, one will not be fit enough later to run again. And without exercise, one has a greater likelihood of needing to use all the senior products advertised on the billboard outside the pharmacy: diapers, memory-boosting pills. It seems like a good idea to practice principles just for those times, for if those products are needed, one would hopefully, at least occasionally, remember to look up.
This post was inspired by today's topic set by the August Break. If this post has failed, at least I put a bird on it. See it below? Look up! Hardy har.

Brush: pferfferminzchen at DeviantART.
Restaurant in Μικρολίμανο (Mikrolimano) , 
I think Μπαχάλικο (Bachaliko) - it's an old photo.
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