[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
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L.Q. posts are for inquiring minds and avid readers. I gently chide you if you do not proceed.
No pictures this post to entertain those adverse or unpropitious to the written word. I didn’t care that much for the accompanying art work this issue, which is normally of extremely high quality. Too many late-20th century ‘chromogenic’ photo reproductions bordering on the prurient. Perhaps just my own libidinous perspective. Perhaps not.
The three sections in Voices in Time this issue are Salad Days, Growing Pains, and Coming of Age, representing stages in one’s youth I suppose.
Voices in Time
- George Saunders Tallies the Points: 2009 / New York
- A modern youth follows the prime directive: don’t think for yourself.
- Milk and Rosy Laughter: 1861 / Mississippi River
- Anthony Trollope. 47 published novels in his sixty-seven year lifespan. Prolific?
- Theodore Roosevelt Hits the Line Hard: 1900 / Albany
- Teddy expounds on what it is being a boy becoming a man.
“Of course what we have a right to expect of the
American boy is that he shall turn out to be
a good American man. Now, the chances are
strong that he won’t be much of a man unless
he is a good deal of a boy. He must not be a
coward or a weakling, a bully, a shirk, or a prig.
He must work hard and play hard. He must be
clean-minded and clean-lived, and able to hold
his own under all circumstances and against all
comers. It is only on these conditions that he
will grow into the kind of American man of
whom America can be really proud.” (p. 85)
- He could write well. At the end of the following somewhat long, descriptive piece which side research unearthed he tells of his own experience shooting a buffalo: The Bison Or American Buffalo
- Desiderius Erasmus Tends the Shoots: 1530 / Freiburg im Breisgau
- Amusing if not hilarious treatise on proper boy behavior.
“For the well-ordered mind of a boy to be
universally manifested-and it is most strongly
manifested in the face-the eyes should be calm,
respectful, and steady: not grim, which is a mark
of truculence; not shameless, the hallmark of
insolence; not darting and rolling, a feature of
insanity; nor furtive, like those of suspects and
plotters of treachery; nor gaping like those of idi-
ots; nor should the eyes be constantly blinking, a
mark of the fickle; nor gaping in astonishment-
a characteristic observed in Socrates; not too
narrowed, a sign of bad temper; nor bold and
inquisitive, which indicates impertinence; but
such as reflects a mind composed, respectful, and
friendly. For it is no chance saying of the ancient
sages that the seat of the soul is in the eyes.” (p. 88)
“The nostrils should be free from any filthy
collection of mucus, as this is disgusting. It
is boorish to wipe one’s nose on one’s cap or
clothing; to do so on one’s sleeve or forearm is
for fishmongers, and it is not much better to
wipe it with one’s hand, if you then smear the
discharge on your clothing. The polite way is to
catch the matter from the nose in a handker-
chief, and this should be done by turning away
slightly if decent people are present. Itf in clear-
ing your nose with two fingers, some matter
falls on the ground, it should be immediately
ground underfoot.” (p. 88)
- Leo Tolstoy on Sibling Rivalry: c. 1843 / Moscow
- Precocious brotherly un-love.
- Save the Children: 1843 / Wuxi
- Attempt to stave widespread infanticide in China.
- The Disguise of Childhood: 1963 / Paris
- Jean-Paul Sartre. Being a child to make others’ lives richer? Child as god? Too deep for me.
- Making the Ask: c. 1225 / England
- Ha! College kids write home for money. In the early 13th century.
- Lillian Hellman Allows the Testimony: 1934 / New York City
- Social mores in the 1930’s. Exactly what do they mean? Hellman was blacklisted by the HUAC in the 1950’s.
- Early Intervention: c. 90 / Rome
- Quintilian. Early disapproval of no-child-left-behind:
“The extremely undesirable “humanity,” as it is now called,
which consists of mutual praise without any regard
to quality, is unseemly, reeks of the theater,
and is quite alien to properly disciplined
schools; it is also a very dangerous enemy of
study, because if there is praise on hand for
every effusion, care and effort appear superfluous.” (p. 102)
- Trials of Strength and Wit: c. 625 BC / Sparta (Plutarch)
- Spartan indeed:
“Under the laws of Lycurgus, it was not left to a father to rear his children as he pleased; he was obliged to carry the child to a public meeting place to be examined by the most ancient men of the tribe who were assembled there. If it was strong and well-proportioned, they gave orders for its education and assigned it to one of the nine thousand shares of land, but if it was weakly and deformed, they ordered it to be thrown into a deep cavern near the mountain Taygetus called Apothetae, concluding that its life could be of no advantage either to itself or to the public, since nature had given it neither strength nor good constitution in the first place.” (p. 104)
“The boys were also taught to use sharp repartee, seasoned with humor, and whatever they said was to be concise and pithy. For Lycurgus fixed but a small value on a considerable quantity of his iron money, but on the contrary, the worth of speech was to consist in its being comprised in a few plain words, pregnant with a great deal of sense; and he contrived that by long silence they might learn to be sententious and acute in their replies. As debauchery often causes weakness and sterility in the body, so the intemperance of the tongue makes conversation empty and insipid.” (p. 106)
- There is plenty of side research available for this one. Note that author Plutarch lived c. AD 46 – AD 120. He writes of Lycurgus of Sparta who may or may not have been a real person, who may have lived sometime between BC 800 and BC 600, give or take. (!) After considerable browsing I think I finally found the 1889 edition from which this excerpt was obtained (it starts at the bottom of page 51): Parallel Lives .
For comparison the L.Q. version is available free. Several other translations can be found in item #2, Lycurgus, here. I liked chp. XV-XVII, on Gutenberg here. I always find differences between variations excerpts and translations thereof. L.Q. does state: “Many of the passages in this issue have been abbreviated without the use ellipses; some punctuation has been modified, and while misspellings have been corrected, archaic grammar and word usage remains unchanged. The words are faithful to the original texts.” (p. 6)
I think other parts of Lycurgus make thought-provoking reading as well. The Gutenberg text is easier to read than the fuzzy Google Book reproduction.
“Of Lykurgus’s many reforms, the first and most important was the establishment of the Council of Elders, which Plato says by its admixture cooled the high fever of royalty, and, having an equal vote with the kings on vital points, gave caution and sobriety to their deliberations. For the state, which had hitherto been wildly oscillating between despotism on the one hand and democracy on the other, now, by the establishment of the Council of the Elders, found a firm footing between these extremes, and was able to preserve a most equable balance, as the eight-and-twenty elders would lend the kings their support in the suppression of democracy, but would use the people to suppress any tendency to despotism.”
“The second and the boldest of Lykurgus’s reforms was the redistribution of the land. Great inequalities existed, many poor and needy people had become a burden to the state, while wealth had got into a very few hands. Lykurgus abolished all the mass of pride, envy, crime, and luxury which flowed from those old and more terrible evils of riches and poverty, by inducing all land-owners to offer their estates for redistribution, and prevailing upon them to live on equal terms one with another, and with equal incomes, striving only to surpass each other in courage and virtue, there being henceforth no social inequalities among them except such as praise or blame can create.”
“He desired to distribute furniture also, in order completely to do away with inequality; but, seeing that actually to take away these things would be a most unpopular measure, he managed by a different method to put an end to all ostentation in these matters. First of all he abolished the use of gold and silver money, and made iron money alone legal; and this he made of great size and weight, and small value, so that the equivalent for ten minae required a great room for its stowage, and a yoke of oxen to draw it. As soon as this was established, many sorts of crime became unknown in Lacedaemon. For who would steal or take as a bribe or deny that he possessed or take by force a mass of iron which he could not conceal, which no one envied him for possessing, which he could not even break up and so make use of; for the iron when hot was, it is said, quenched in vinegar, so as to make it useless, by rendering it brittle and hard to work?”
“After this, he ordered a general expulsion of the workers in useless trades. Indeed, without this, most of them must have left the country when the ordinary currency came to an end, as they would not be able to sell their wares: for the iron money was not current among other Greeks, and had no value, being regarded as ridiculous; so that it could not be used for the purchase of foreign trumpery, and no cargo was shipped for a Laconian port, and there came into the country no sophists, no vagabond soothsayers, no panders, no goldsmiths or workers in silver plate, because there was no money to pay them with. Luxury, thus cut off from all encouragement, gradually became extinct; and the rich were on the same footing with other people, as they could find no means of display, but were forced to keep their money idle at home. For this reason such things as are useful and necessary, like couches and tables and chairs, were made there better than anywhere else, and the Laconian cup, we are told by Kritias, was especially valued for its use in the field.” (Gutenberg, Life of Lykurgus, excerpts from chp. V-IX.)
- Ishmael Beah’s Baptism by Fire: 1993 / Sierra Leone
- Boy soldiers. This is not childhood or growing pains. This is death. I must be reading of another planet.
- This Is Arrested Development: 1922 / Eton
- The cocooned comfort of pre-university schooling.
- Count Your Blessings: c. 885: Kyūshū
- Those who had a high station in life may also experience a low station.
- Life Lessons: 1746 / Bath
- Hmm. Philip Dormer Chesterfield, Lord Chesterfield, 4th Earl of Chesterfield. Well-known for Letters to His Son, of which this is an extract. His bastard son, that is, but kind of him to advise him extensively on being a gentleman nonetheless. Illegitimate children seemingly proliferated in those days as much amongst the voluminous peerage such as Stanhope as among the fishmonger and shoemaker, not that there is anything wrong with that. They proliferate today on Game Of Thrones (HBO) as well as the extensive celebrity ‘peerage’ we idolize. What is marriage anymore, other than a past honorarium a man and a woman (horrors) bestowed upon each other out of a professed love and desire to be a family. I digress.
“To know mankind well requires full as much attention and application as to know books, and, it may be, more sagacity and discernment. I am, at this time, acquainted with many elderly people who have all passed their whole lives in the great world, but with such levity and inattention that they know no more of it now than they did at fifteen.”
That would be me.
- Filing a Grievance: 1919 / Prague
- Franz Kafka. Thanks for the discipline father but I wish you would have just been a Dad.
- Going to the Devil: 1487 / Germany
- Which witch? Is it coincidental that witch-hunting came at the same time as the Renaissance or was it contrapuntal?
- Just Deserts: 1845 / Germany
- Don’t suck your thumb or you’ll lose it. I’m glad we cleared that.
- Remembering the Warmth of Family: 1967 / Copenhagen
- A sad Danish woman with a sad childhood and sad life. Sad, but that is reality for many.
- Henry Adams on Whence He Came: 1845 / Quincy, MA
- Grandson of John Quincy Adams, not the Addams Family. On his childhood, in the third person. Writers could describe things in those days:
” To the boy Henry Adams, summer was drunken. Among senses, smell was the strongest: smell of hot pinewoods and sweet fern in the scorching summer noon; of new-mown hay; of plowed earth; of box hedges; of peaches, lilacs, syringas; of stables, barns, cow yards; of salt water and low tide on the marshes; nothing came amiss.”
” The boy was a full man before he ever knew what was meant by atmosphere; his idea of pleasure in light was the blaze of a New England sun. His idea of color was a peony with the dew of early morning on its petals. The intense blue of the sea, as he saw it a mile or two away, from the Quincy hills; the cumuli in a June afternoon sky; the strong reds and greens and purples of colored prints and children’s picture books, as the American colors then ran; these were ideals.” (p. 125)
- The Proper Nutriment: 1787 / England
- Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein, wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley), on raising babies:
“It is easy to distinguish the child of a well-bred person, if it is not left entirely to the nurse’s care. These women are of course ignorant, and to keep a child quiet for the moment, they humor all it’s little caprices. Very soon does it begin to be perverse and eager to be gratified in everything.” (p. 128)
- For Her Own Good: 1393 / France
- An elderly man instructs his 15 year-old bride.
- Like Father, Like Son: c. 1640 / Oxford
- A vicar of such little faith.
“I can remember staring at the orphanage and feeling envy.” —George Carlin, 1997 (p. 131)
- Beauty and the Beast: c. 150: Athens
- Zeus likes the young boy Ganymede.
- Looking Back With Eyes Wide Open: c. 1940 / Brazil
- Stefan Zweig, after fleeing the Nazis, and a year before committing suicide with his wife. Male and female puberty at odds with itself and each other in the earliest 20th century.
- Playboy’s Mansion: c. 28 / Capri
- Suetonius on Tiberius the pedophile.
- Scout Finch Learns Her Lesson: c. 1933 / Maycomb, AL
- From To Kill A Mockingbird. Doing the right thing against all odds when it’s a lost cause.