[Categories: LAPHAM’S QUARTERLY, LITERATURE, Philosophy, Reading.]
Were it not for Lapham’s Q I might never have been exposed to so many great writers and thinkers from throughout the ages. They speak best for themselves:
Seneca: c. 55, Rome (p. 120)
I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response. Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself–as if nothing is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap–in fact, almost without any value. People are delighted to accept pensions and gratuities, for which they hire out their labor or their support or their services. But nobody works out the value of time: men use it lavishly as if it cost nothing. But if death threatens these same people, you will see them praying to their doctors; if they are in fear of capital punishment, you will see them prepared to spend their all to stay alive. So inconsistent are they in their feelings. But if each of us could have the tally of his future years set before him, as we can of our past years, how alarmed would be those who saw only a few years ahead, and how carefully would they use them! And yet it is easy to organize an amount, however small, which is assured; we have to be more careful in preserving what will cease at an unknown point.
No one will bring back the years; no one will restore you to yourself Life will follow the path it began to take and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly It will not lengthen itself for a l<.ing’s command or a people’s favor. As it started out on its first day, so it will run on, nowhere pausing or turning aside. What will be the outcome? You have been preoccupied while life hastens on. Meanwhile death will arrive, and you have no choice in making yourself available for that. (p. 120)
Life is divided into three periods: past, present, and future. Of these, the present is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain. For this last is the one over which Fortune has lost her power, which cannot be brought back to anyone’s control. But this is what preoccupied people lose: for they have no time to look back at their past, and even if they did, it is not pleasant to recall activities they are ashamed of. (p. 121)
George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796 (p. 203)
Let me warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects ofthe spirit of party, generally. This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
Miscellany: (p. 204)
On the future of history, Thucydides speculated that since there are no “temples or monuments of magnificence” in Sparta, “future generations would find it very diflicult to believe” that it once commanded two-fifths of the Peloponnesus; while those same generations would conclude from the impressive ruins of Athens that it was “twice as powerful as it in fact was.”
“The splendors of this age outshine all other recorded ages,”wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1871. “I have seen wrought five miracles-namely, the steamboat, the railroad the electric telegraph, the application ofthe spectroscope to astronomy, the photograph.” He died in 1882, missing the invention of the machine gun by three years, the gramophone and radar by five years, and the diesel-fueled internal combustion engine by ten years.
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