Thursday, February 25, 2010

Essay: "The City as a Summer Resort." Finley Peter Dunne



10-second review: Hilarious comparison between staying in the country and living in the city—and in the Irish dialect of Mr. Dooley.

American Essays. Ed. Charles B. Shaw. A Pelican Mentor Book. New York: The New American Library. 1948.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Essay: From "Trivia" and "More Trivia." Logan Pearsall Smith.

One-minute review: A series of musings about life. Things he would like to write about but doesn’t because they are “beyond my reach.” He notes the commonplace objects that are not commonplace, “the corner of a road, a heap of stones, an old gate.” He tries to think of the joys of life, but can’t find any: “… there wasn’t one of them for which I seemed to care a button—not wine, nor fame, nor friendship, nor eating, nor making love, nor the consciousness of virtue.” Then he thinks of reading—“the nice and subtle happiness of reading. This was enough, this joy not dulled by age…this selfish, serene, life-long intoxication.” An author in search of his thoughts.


American Essays. Ed. Charles B. Shaw. A Pelican Mentor Book. New York: The New American Library. 1948.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Essay: "Fatigue and Unrest." John Jay Chapman.

One-minute review: Our leisure has become shortened because we have lost our taste for the past.


Ideas:

“The writers strive to docket the past, hold it down, and teach something over its dead body.”


“Hurry was born the day that steam was invented.”


“It is the slow pace of the older pictures, music and fiction that so bores the futurists. They cannot bear the quietude, the heavy calm of Claude Lorraine, Beethoven or Walter Scott. Quietude irritates….”


“The worst augury for futurism is that it looks toward the future, and patronizes the past; whereas the votaries of every art that has come to greatness have always worshiped the past.”


“Our art talk today is small talk.”


“The humanists of the Renaissance envisaged the classics en bloc as a refining influence.”


American Essays. Ed. Charles B. Shaw. A Pelican Mentor Book. New York: The New American Library. 1948.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Essay: "Opinions." Agnes Repplier.

One-minute review: People who know little or nothing about a subject express their opinions about it. “…the opinions of poets upon education, and educators upon poetry; of churchmen upon politics, and of politicians upon the church; of journalists upon art, and of artists upon journalism….” People are asked their opinions on any given subject and they give them.


American Essays. Ed. Charles B. Shaw. A Pelican Mentor Book. New York: The New American Library. 1948.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Essay: "A Life of Fear." John Burroughs

One-minute review: “As I sat looking from my window the other morning upon a red squirrel gathering hickory nuts from a small hickory and storing them up in his den in the bank, I was forcibly reminded of the state of constant fear and apprehension in which the wild creatures live, and I tried to picture to myself what life would be to me, or to any of us, hedged about by so many dangers, real or imaginary.”


Ideas:

“Eternal vigilance is the price of life with most of the wild creatures.”


“Or when a flock of birds is in flight, it is still one body, one will: it will rise, or circle, or swoop with a unity that is truly astonishing…. Without a word or signal, how is it done?”


American Essays. Ed. Charles B. Shaw. A Pelican Mentor Book. New York: The New American Library. 1948.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Essay: "Writers and Talkers." Thomas Bailey Aldrich.

One-minute review: “As a class, literary men do not shine in conversation. The scintillating and playful essayist whom you pictured to yourself as the most genial and entertaining of companions, turns out to be a shy…individual who chills you with his reticence when you chance to meet him.”


“Why is it not permissible in him [essayist, poet, novelist, dramatist] to be as prosaic and tiresome as the rest of the company? He usually is.”


American Essays. Ed. Charles B. Shaw. A Pelican Mentor Book. New York: The New American Library. 1948.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Essay: Enchantments and Enchanters." Mark Twain.

(An interpolated chapter from Life on the Mississippi.)


One-minute review: Beginning with an accurate description of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Twain switches to a diatribe against Sir Walter Scott whom Twain blames for the loss of Southern culture.


Ideas:

“Against the crimes of the French Revolution and of Bonaparte may be set the compensating benefactions: the Revolution broke the chains of the ancient rĂ©gime and of the Church, and made a nation of abject slaves a nation of freemen; and Bonaparte instituted the setting of merit above birth….”


“Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it existed before the War, that he is in great measure responsible for the War.”


“There is as much literary talent in the South, now, as ever there was, of course, but its work can gain but slight currency under present conditions: the authors write for the past not the present; they use obsolete forms and a dead language.”


“A curious exemplification of the power of a single book for good or harm is shown in the effects wrought by Don Quixote and those wrought by Ivanhoe. The first swept the world’s admiration for medieval chivalry silliness out of existence; and the other restored it. As far as our South is concerned, the good work done by Cervantes is pretty nearly a dead letter, so effectively has Scott’s pernicious work undermined it.”


Comment: For those of you who do not read books, there was a time when books helped to shape people’s ideas. RayS.


American Essays. Ed. Charles B. Shaw. A Pelican Mentor Book. New York: The New American Library. 1948.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Essay: "Resistance to Civil Government." Thoreau. 1849.

One-minute review: Government is subservient to and dependent on the individual. “I heartily accept the motto—‘that government is best which governs least’; and I should like to see it acted up to rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which I also believe – ‘that government is best which governs not at all’; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.”


Probably the most frequently quoted scene in this essay is Thoreau’s night in jail for not paying the poll tax. RayS.


Ideas:

“Practically speaking, the opponents to a reform in Massachusetts are not a hundred thousand politicians at the South, but a hundred thousand merchants and farmers here, who are more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico….”


“Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?”


“I do not wish to quarrel with any man or nation. I do not wish to split hairs, to make fine distinctions, or set myself up as better than my neighbors. I seek rather, I may say, even an excuse for conforming to the laws of the land.”


“No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America.”


“…to be strictly just, it [government] must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual. Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government?”


“There will never be a really free and enlightened state until the state comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.”


“…prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious state, which also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.”


American Essays. Ed. Charles B. Shaw. A Pelican Mentor Book. New York: The New American Library. 1948.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Essay: "Cacoethes Scribendi." Oliver Wendell Holmes.

(Father of the long-time Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.)


One-minute review: Holmes wrote a series of books in which people sat around the breakfast table and talked. This particular essay was published as Over the Teacups. It involves a discussion of why everybody wants to be a poet. The answer? To be famous. It finishes with a poem that suggests everyone wants to write and if that great well of ink dried up, everyone would be clamoring for more ink so that they could write, presumably, poetry.


Quotes:

“…which pour out of the press, not weekly, but daily, and at such a rate of increase that it seems as if before long every hour would bring a book, or at least an article which is to grow into a book by and by….”


“I have sometimes thought I might consider it worth while to set up a school for instruction in the art. Poetry Taught in Twelve Lessons. Congenital idiocy is no disqualification. Anybody can write ‘poetry.’ ”


“It is a most unenviable distinction to have published a thin volume of verse which nobody wanted, nobody buys, nobody reads, nobody cares for except the author, who cries over its pathos, poor fellow, and revels in its beauties, which he has all to himself.”


“A fellow writes in verse when he has nothing to say, and feels too dull and silly to say it in prose.”


“What is the meaning of this rush into rhyming of such a multitude of people, of all ages, from the infant phenomenon to the oldest inhabitants?”


Comment: In the late 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, a similar outpouring of publications has been produced by self-publishing. I am one of those self-published authors, whose book “nobody wanted, nobody buys, nobody reads, nobody cares for except the author….” RayS.


American Essays. Ed. Charles B. Shaw. A Pelican Mentor Book. New York: The New American Library. 1948.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Essay: "Literature." Ralph Waldo Emerson.

One-minute review: Two types of mind inhabit England—the poetic and the practical. The poetical flows from Shakespeare. The practical concerns science from which money is produced. Bacon represents both the poet in the style of his essays and the scientist with his desire for experiment. The modern English population has lost its taste for charm, love for nature, has suppressed its imagination in its lost appreciation of literature and love for the practical.


Quote:

“Nothing comes to the book-shops but politics, travels, statistics, tabulation and engineering, and even what is called philosophy and letters is mechanical in its structure, as if inspiration had ceased, as if no vast hope, no religion, no song of joy, no wisdom, no analogy existed any more.”


Comment: An old/modern complaint. No one reads serious literature any more (2010). RayS.


American Essays. Ed. Charles B. Shaw. A Pelican Mentor Book. New York: The New American Library. 1948.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Essay: "The Titan Leeds Hoax." Benjamin Franklin.


One-minute review: Titan Leeds was a competing writer of almanacs who engages in a feud with Franklin who wrote under the pseudonym of Richard Saunders. Franklin falsely predicts Leeds’s death because such a gentleman as Leeds would never say the things he is saying about Franklin, his “dearest friend.” Franklin continues the fiction that Leeds is dead. And to prove it he publishes a letter that Leeds’s ghost has written through Franklin when he was asleep, a letter predicting that another almanac will be published by someone else under Leeds’s name. The following quote is an example of Franklin’s humor, written with tongue firmly in cheek:


Quote:

“There is, however, (and I cannot speak it without sorrow) there is the strongest probability that my dear friend is no more; for there appears in his name, as I am assur’d, an almanack for the year 1734, in which I am treated in a very gross and unhandsome manner; in which I am call’d a false predicter, an ignorant, a conceited scribbler, a fool and a lyar. Mr. Leeds was too well bred to use any man so indecently and so scurrilously, and moreover his esteem and affection for me was extraordinary: so that it is to be fear’d that pamphlet may be only a contrivance of somebody or other, who hopes perhaps to sell two or three year’s almanacks still, by the sole force and virtue of Mr. Leeds’ name: but certainly, to put words into the mouth of a gentleman and a man of letters, against his friend [Franklin], which the meanest and most scandalous of the people might be asham’d to utter in a drunken quarrel, is an unpardonable injury to his memory, and an imposition upon the publick.”


Comment: I’m reminded of the retort given to someone who has bitterly criticized another person: “He always speaks well of you.” RayS.


American Essays. Ed. Charles B. Shaw. A Pelican Mentor Book. New York: The New American Library. 1948.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Essay: "Here Is New York." EB White (4). 1948.

One-minute review: Impressions of New York City by the well-known writer of children’s books and for

The New Yorker magazine.


Ideas (continued):

“The subtlest change in New York is something people don’t speak much about but that is in everyone’s mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now….”


“All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority.”


“In a way it [an old willow tree] symbolizes the city: life under difficulties, growth against odds, sap-rise in the midst of concrete, and the steady reaching for the sun.”


Comment: The first two quotes are an eerie prophecy of 9/11 and who knows what else? The essay was published in 1948. RayS.


Great Essays. Ed. Houston Peterson. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc. 1960.

What is an essay? “They are all prefaces. A preface is nothing but a talk with the reader; and they [essays] do nothing else.” Charles Lamb.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Essay: "Here Is New York." EB White (3). 1948.

One-minute review: Impressions of New York City by the well-known writer of children’s books and for

The New Yorker magazine.


Ideas (continued):

“On week ends in summer the town empties. I visit my office on a Saturday afternoon. No phone rings, no one feeds the hungry in-baskets, no one disturbs the papers; it is a building of the dead, a time of awesome suspension.”


“The collision and the intermingling of these millions of foreign-born people representing so many races, creeds and nationalities, make New York a permanent exhibit of the phenomenon of One World.”


“To a New Yorker, the city is both changeless and changing.”


“Men go to saloons to gaze at televised events instead of to think long thoughts.”


New York has changed in tempo and in temper during the years I have known it. There is greater tension, increased irritability. You encounter it in many places, in many faces. The normal frustrations of modern life are here multiplied and amplified—a single run of a crosstown bus contains for the driver, enough frustration and annoyance to carry him over the edge of sanity: the light that changes always an instant too soon, the passenger that bangs on the shut door, the truck that blocks the only opening, the coin that slips to the floor, the question asked at the wrong moment. There is greater tension and there is greater speed.”


To be concluded.


Great Essays. Ed. Houston Peterson. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc. 1960.

What is an essay? “They are all prefaces. A preface is nothing but a talk with the reader; and they [essays] do nothing else.” Charles Lamb.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Essay: "Here Is New York." EB White (2). 1948.

One-minute review: Impressions of New York City by the well-known writer of children’s books and for The New Yorker magazine.


Ideas (continued):

“The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island…. The greatest human concentrate on earth…but whose full measure will always remain illusive.”


“The Empire State Building shot twelve hundred and fifty feet into the air…and been jumped off of by so many unhappy people that pedestrians instinctively quicken steps when passing Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.”


Manhattan has been compelled to expand skyward because of the absence of any other direction in which to grow.”


“Mass hysteria is a terrible force, yet New Yorkers seem always to escape it by some tiny margin: they sit in stalled subways without claustrophobia, they extricate themselves from panic situations by some lucky wisecrack, they meet confusion and congestion with patience—a sort of perpetual muddling through.”


To be continued


Great Essays. Ed. Houston Peterson. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc. 1960.

What is an essay? “They are all prefaces. A preface is nothing but a talk with the reader; and they [essays] do nothing else.” Charles Lamb.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Essay: "Here Is New York." EB White (1). 1948.

One-minute review: Impressions of New York City by the well-known writer of children’s books and for The New Yorker magazine.


Ideas:

“On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.”


“…for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail.”


New York…can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him….”


“I heard the Queen Mary blow one midnight, though, and the sound carried the whole history of departure and longing and loss.”


“I mention these merely to show that New York is peculiarly constructed to absorb almost anything that comes along…without inflicting the event on its inhabitants….”


“There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter—the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something.”


To be continued.


Great Essays. Ed. Houston Peterson. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc. 1960.

What is an essay? “They are all prefaces. A preface is nothing but a talk with the reader; and they [essays] do nothing else.” Charles Lamb.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Essay: "The Lady on the Bookcase." James Thurber.

One-minute review: Cartoonist separates his cartoons into five categories. Some of his funniest cartoons are as follows:


A man approaches his house that is wrapped around by his scowling wife.


A wife and husband are in bed and behind the bed is a seal. The wife says to the husband, “All right, have it your way—you heard a seal bark.”


A woman crouches on the top of a bookcase as the husband below says to his visitor, “That’s my first wife up there,” referring to the woman on top of the bookcase. and, beckoning to the woman standing beside him, “This is the present Mrs. Harris.”


A woman glares at a hippopotamus with a shoe and a hat on the ground beside it and says, “What have you done with Dr. Millmoss?”


Finally, in a psychiatrist’s office, the psychiatrist, looking very much like a rabbit, says to his patient, “You said a moment ago that everybody you look at seems to be a rabbit. Now just what do you mean by that, Mrs. Sprague?”


In this essay, Thurber describes the origin of these cartoons.


Great Essays. Ed. Houston Peterson. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc. 1960.

What is an essay? “They are all prefaces. A preface is nothing but a talk with the reader; and they [essays] do nothing else.” Charles Lamb.