Fahrenheit 451 is a Conservative Classic

9781451673319_p0_v7_s456x700And I don’t mean “conservative” here just in the sense that Bradbury is arguing for preserving an established way of life, though his most famous work certainly does that.

No, despite its perennial status as a staple in the counterculture, Fahrenheit 451 defends the ideas of the right far more than the those of the left.

It’s always fun to track the many items in our modern world that Bradbury basically predicted here: earphone radios, massive flat screen televisions, reality TV, etc.  Far more prescient, though, are the modern issues of the Puritanical, tyrannical left that he saw ascending to dangerous heights.

Consider these passages from Beatty’s exposition in the first third of the book.  I’ve labeled them with contemporary problems that Bradbury described perfectly.

Censorship comes from aggrieved special interests who don’t want to be challenged.  This narrowing of acceptable ideas helps dumb down the culture and focuses it on lurid media that stimulates the body and pacifies the mind. 

“All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals.”

“Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag.”

A sprawling government bureaucracy can infantilize society through a shallow, technical education system and a coarse, hedonistic media culture.

“You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, what do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren’t they? Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun? That’s all we live for, isn’t it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.”

“If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.  Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can, nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide-rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won’t be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely. I know, I’ve tried it; to hell with it.  So bring on your clubs and parties, your acrobats and magicians, your daredevils, jet cars, motorcycle helicopters, your sex and heroin, more of everything to do with automatic reflex. If the drama is bad, if the film says nothing, if the play is hollow, sting me with the theremin, loudly. I’ll think I’m responding to the play, when it’s only a tactile reaction to vibration. But I don’t care. I just like solid entertainment.”

9 Blue Jokes in Shakespeare That Made Me Laugh

I admit, these juvenile gags gave me a giggle, and I kept track of them in my notes.  In chronological order:

#9. Guys get teased about someone sleeping with their mother.

Shakespeare is full of practical life advice. Like this: let’s say you’ve been secretly sleeping with some powerful female executive, which would really cause a scandal if revealed, because you’re black.

But then she gets pregnant and the baby comes out black, so the cat’s pretty much out of the bag on that one. Then, her two spoiled brat sons start whining to you that your little scandal has ruined mom’s career. What’s a guy to do?

Don’t worry, Shakespeare’s got you covered:

Demetrius. Villain, what hast thou done?
Aaron. That which thou canst not undo.
Chiron. Thou hast undone our mother.
Aaron. Villain, I have done thy mother.

–Titus Andronicus, Act IV, Scene 2, emphasis added

That’s right: tease the jerks about it. When Chiron says, “Thou hast undone out mother,” he means that Aaron has spoiled their mother’s reputation. Perhaps Titus Andronicus is set in Mississippi. But Aaron replies with one of those clever plays on words that Shakespeare is so famous for. Aaron’s response also uses the word “done,” but here it means…something more literal.

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Leo Tolstoy on Naive Liberals

Today I read chapter 10 in Part V of War and Peace.  Our hero, Pierre, having recently become enlightened, has set out to reform his estates accordingly.  He enacts some progressive ideas and then tours the area to see the results:

 

The southern spring, the comfortable rapid traveling in a Vienna carriage, and the solitude of the road, all had a gladdening effect on Pierre. The estates he had not before visited were each more picturesque than the other; the serfs everywhere seemed thriving and touchingly grateful for the benefits conferred on them. Everywhere were receptions, which though they embarrassed Pierre awakened a joyful feeling in the depth of his heart. In one place the peasants presented him with bread and salt and an icon of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, asking permission, as a mark of their gratitude for the benefits he had conferred on them, to build a new chantry to the church at their own expense in honor of Peter and Paul, his patron saints. In another place the women with infants in arms met him to thank him for releasing them from hard work. On a third estate the priest, bearing a cross, came to meet him surrounded by children whom, by the count’s generosity, he was instructing in reading, writing, and religion. On all his estates Pierre saw with his own eyes brick buildings erected or in course of erection, all on one plan, for hospitals, schools, and almshouses, which were soon to be opened. Everywhere he saw the stewards’ accounts, according to which the serfs’ manorial labor had been diminished, and heard the touching thanks of deputations of serfs in their full-skirted blue coats.

What Pierre did not know was that the place where they presented him with bread and salt and wished to build a chantry in honor of Peter and Paul was a market village where a fair was held on St. Peter’s day, and that the richest peasants (who formed the deputation) had begun the chantry long before, but that nine tenths of the peasants in that villages were in a state of the greatest poverty. He did not know that since the nursing mothers were no longer sent to work on his land, they did still harder work on their own land. He did not know that the priest who met him with the cross oppressed the peasants by his exactions, and that the pupils’ parents wept at having to let him take their children and secured their release by heavy payments. He did not know that the brick buildings, built to plan, were being built by serfs whose manorial labor was thus increased, though lessened on paper. He did not know that where the steward had shown him in the accounts that the serfs’ payments had been diminished by a third, their obligatory manorial work had been increased by a half. And so Pierre was delighted with his visit to his estates and quite recovered the philanthropic mood in which he had left Petersburg, and wrote enthusiastic letters to his “brother-instructor” as he called the Grand Master.

“How easy it is, how little effort it needs, to do so much good,” thought Pierre, “and how little attention we pay to it!”

He was pleased at the gratitude he received, but felt abashed at receiving it. This gratitude reminded him of how much more he might do for these simple, kindly people.

Heh.  And thus we see that human nature will conspire to constipate civic charity.  I also like Tolstoy’s clear message that one of the monkey wrenches in Pierre’s plan is the corruption of bureaucratic middle managers, who exist to perpetuate their own comfort.  It was ever thus, and thus always shall be.

Yet again, the Law of Unintended Consequences in action.  Truly, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

“Primary Education of the Camiroi”

XTRTRRSTRB1988One of my favorite science fiction stories is R.A. Lafferty’s “Primary Education of the Camiroi.”  I remember reading it in the Issac Asimov-edited anthology Extraterrestrials at the old Charleston Heights library in the late 1980’s.  I loved how weird and silly it was–I’d never read anything quite like it.

Reading it again now on Google Books, I see it as a pretty biting satire of an American education system that even by the late 60’s, when the story was first published, was already showing cracks.  I especially loved the schema for the alien curriculum near the end, which I’ve copied below.  In fact, I think this story helped influence young me in my decision to become a teacher.

I really think we should consider some of the “modest proposals” in this story.  I would have loved having a class in “laser religion” as a high school freshmen.

My grade for this story now, nearly 30 years after first reading it?

A+

Lafferty 1 Lafferty 2 Lafferty 3 Lafferty 4 Lafferty 5

12 Required Readings For the Human Race

Last month I mentioned on Facebook that I’d feel satisfied with my life if, in the future, there’s a library named after me.  This prompted someone to ask what books would be the first on the shelves, which would be the books I’d recommend reading most.

I’ve been thinking about it: what would the core of that collection be?  Not my own desert island books, necessarily, but the ones I think that all other people would enjoy the most and derive the most value from.

I decided to pick the twelve categories most important to me, and pick one for each.  They are all absolutely wonderful, and I think they would meet that criteria above: they are important, accessible, and worthwhile.  Here they are. in alphabetical order by category:

Children’s: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo

A masterful allegory that delights and inspires.  Fun, short, cute, and genuinely powerful.

History: Heroes of History, Will Durant

Durant’s choices for figures to honor is amazing enough, but the way he tells their life stories is one of a kind in its sheer beauty and power.  An amazing classic.

Humor: Code of the Woosters, P.G. Wodehouse

There are so many funny books I’d want people to read, but the Jeeves and Wooster stories have a special place, and everyone should try them.  There’s just nothing else out there like these.  Truly, a singular joy.  Really, anything by Wodehouse would be good here.

Literature (classic): Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

And there are so many more classics than humorous titles I’d love to share!  But this one has to take the cake.  From the profoundly brooding tone, which no one else has touched in terms of sheer stark glory, to the generational saga of ruin and redemption, to the narrative ingenuity of it all (at one point, there’s a story within a story within a story, all told in distinct and vividly arresting voices), Wuthering Heights has the best of it all.

I don’t care it if supposedly inspires Twilight.  It’s still awesome, and I still love it.

Literature (contemporary): Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

I don’t think any work of the last generation has impressed me or touched me as truly as this one did.  It can only be recommended in breathless tropes: a soaring, searing paen to the human spirit, majestic in its earthy, folk tradition.

Mystery: An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears

A long, detailed historical murder mystery that deftly weaves fact and fiction.  So mysterious that for much of the time, you don’t even know it’s a mystery, until the threads all start coming together.  One of those very long books that you’ll wish was ten times longer.

Politics: The Secret Knowledge, David Mamet

Mamet’s explication of his political conversion and the subsequent re-evaluation of the various values underpinning our current ideologies is perfect.  Nobody has explained it all better.

Religion (LDS): The Book of Mormon

Nothing better shares the vitality and depth of this faith than its foundational text itself.  Often plain and prosaic on the surface, it nonetheless offers a unique epic narrative, with revolutionary (and surprisingly humanistic) theology.  Its constant, frankly moving calls to charitable reformation are couched in rhetoric that frequently evolves its approach, and thus repeatedly registers deep in the universal psyche.  A journey not to be missed, or taken casually.

Religion (non-LDS): Essential Writings, Thich Nhat Hanh

Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, and one of the most wonderful personalities I’ve ever met on paper.  I’ve read plenty of metaphysical shysters, but this man knows it and means it.  His words are soothing and moving in the best and most lovely of ways.  A treat for the soul–pure joy.

Science Fiction/Fantasy: Dune, Frank Herbert

Yes, everyone knows of this one, but I think fewer have actually read it than should.  Its achievement is so different from what we’re already used to just two generations later: a sweeping, immersive creation that never panders to stale conventions.  Indeed, there are no robots or explicit space travel in its hundreds of pages of gorgeously sprawling sci-fi spectacle.  Everybody really should read this.

Self-Improvement: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey

I still read a lot of this genre–I’ve found a lot to like in Laura Vanderkam and Gretchen Rubin in recent years–but just as every action movie in the last quarter century or so seems to be a copy of Die Hard, every self-help manual is derivative of The 7 Habits.  It might be too this or too that, but it does have the virtue of working.  You want to actually live without regrets and do that whole bucket list?  Start here.

Travel: Charles Kurault’s America, Charles Kurault

A homely work by a calm old man, this is still the best thing I’ve read about the people and places all around our amazing land.  Kurault has a gift for taking you with him and making you experience all five senses’ worth of the trip.  I’d love to follow his footsteps on this one someday.

William Faulkner and the Book of Mormon

I recently shared with some classes the acceptance speeches of great American authors who had won the Nobel Prize in literature.  I’m always struck by William Faulkner‘s declaration that:

The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.

It reminds me so precisely of this statement from Moroni at the end of the Book of Mormon:

give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.

Another reminder that the greatest literary achievements tend to admit the inherent darkness of existence, because only then can we actually rise above it.

Every Play By Shakespeare, Ranked And Graded

Last year I read everything Shakespeare wrote. Here now are my final notes on the plays.  The grades only represent how much I enjoyed reading each work; they are not meant to be an objective measure of quality:

 

D

38. The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Almost a total loss. There are a few cute parts and clever lines, but this juvenile, obvious mess of a play is clearly the work of someone still getting the hang of playwriting.  I’m not one to judge past works by present standards, but the casual misogyny of the conclusion is jaw-droppingly awful.

37. Pericles

Nearly as bad as Two Gentlemen. Yes, the last act has some very nice stuff, and I actually liked Act IV, but the first three acts are so wretched they almost seem purposely bad. At one point, a character remarks on how poor his speaking is.  A meta joke?

36. The Two Noble Kinsmen

This late work is far more complexly plotted and artfully written than the two plays above, but while those areas are much more competent, this play suffers from an identity crisis. Too light to be tragic and too violent to be comedy, this one also has little to say about human nature, an unforgivable sin for Shakespeare.

35. The Merry Wives of Windsor

A star vehicle for a great but minor character from other plays—Sir John Falstaff—this play is no different from a thousand other vanity project spinoffs: it loses the original charm completely.  Still, there are quite a few funny, if lowbrow, jokes here.

34. The Taming of the Shrew

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My New Article on Temples and Families in the Bible

The Integration of Temples and Families: A Latter-day Saint Structure for the Jacob Cycle” was published on Friday.  This is my first peer-reviewed, academic article, so I’m pretty excited.  Anyone with an interest in Biblical literature, or its temple and family themes, would likely enjoy it.

David Grayson’s Under My Elm

elm 1#1162 in Life’s Little Instruction Book says: “Try to find a copy of the book Under My Elm by David Grayson (Doubleday, 1942). You might have to order it.

I did have to order it.  Here are the passages I marked:

 
I don’t know what it is, but there is something about steady manual labor like this, alone in the fields, that gives one a curious deep satisfaction. I like the sense of doing hard work that is also useful work. One’s mind at first drops asleep, except for the narrow margin relating to this or that repetitive process. One lets go, calms down. For hours, sometimes, while at such work, I came near the point of complete mental vacuity. The mind sets itself the minute task it has to do and goes off somewhere to its own high pastures, serene uplands, to rest and play. The hours pass magically: the sun that was low when the work began rides high in the heavens—and suddenly the mind comes home again. It comes home refreshed stimulated, happy. I always know the exact moment of its arrival. Yesterday it did not return until I had nearly finished my work in the field. It seemed to cry out: “What, asleep! Listen to the bobolinks.”
I straightened up quickly and realized that I had been working for several hours without hearing or seeing much of anything—this literally. The whole world now became flooded with delightful sounds, not only the bobolinks, but a hundred other voices both of nature and human nature, so that I had a deep and indescribably friendly feeling towards all things. I thought it good and beautiful to be there and to be alive. Even the grass clinging wetly to my legs as I walked seemed consciously holding me close to the earth; and the shovel held warmly, even painfully in my blistered hands, was proof that I had at last become part of a universal process. These sensations, even as I set them down, seem difficult to express, but they were there, and they were true and sound. (11-12)

 

elm 2Steve had been working all day, harrowing and fertilizing his tobacco land, and should, I suppose, be properly tired. But the weeds in the onions are growing! Down on his knees he went and began weeding. A moment later his wife was at his side. The children cried a little, for they were tired and hungry and wanted to go home, but soon whimpered down. I wondered what an American family I know of, which keeps a nurse for each of their weakling children and a second girl to help the nurses, would say to this way of “raising” children! These two little Poles are magnificent physical specimens, and the boy, when clean, is really beautiful. At eight-thirty when it was too dark to see, the family trailed homeward, Steve carrying the little boy in his arms. Can these people be beaten? (86-87)

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Three Great Writers Have Died Recently, and I Miss Them

Early this week, I heard of the passing of British novelist P.D. James.

Here are my thoughts from reading Death in Holy Orders in 2009.

Here is Mark Steyn reflecting on her dystopian masterpiece The Children of Men.

I’m currently reading The Murder Room, and you should, too.

*****

Just a day later, I heard of the death of Kent Haruf.

This is what I wrote nearly two years ago, when his book Benediction was about to come out.

Now I’m re-reading Plainsong, his magnum opus.  You really should read it, also.  I even liked the Hallmark movie version.

*****

The other great writer who died in the past week is the poet Mark Strand, but I actually didn’t like his work very much–I found it too narrow and self-consciously obscure for my taste.  Still, a great talent who made a major contribution to letters.

No, the third writer who I loved and who we recently lost is the critic D.G. Myers, who died in September.  I found his work A Commonplace Blog years ago, and long treasured his thoughts about writers, especially his fellow Jewish writers–I learned a lot about Saul Bellow and I.S. Singer from him.

Peruse his final months of posts–those from 2014–and you’ll be treated to two posts about his battle with cancer, posts about the best debut novels and the bets novels of the 1940s, and two posts about the degradation of the humanities in the American university.  A 21st century Allan Bloom, he was.  Though his link sat in my sidebar for as long as this blog has existed, I never mentioned him here explicitly, and for that I am sorry.

Here are some thoughts about him from some other prominent thinkers and writers.

*****

The work of all three of these writers were essentially conservative.  James was celebrated in some circles; Haruf and Myers were under-appreciated.  All three are worthy of your time.

“We Real Nerds”

A wonderful parody, posted here.

 

Today’s poem is by David Hernandez

We Real Nerds

We real nerds. We
Love words. We

Break lines.We
Trim vines. We

Craft poems. We
Tall gnomes. We

Can’t dance. We
Hold stance. We

Reread. We
Wear tweed. We

Small herd. We
Tenured. We

Got smarts. We
Fat hearts. We

Prolong. We
Live long.

King Lear Reimagined As a Band of Five

In my project of reading the complete works of Shakespeare this year (currently at 33 down, 5 to go), I read King Lear for a second time.  Something that struck me is just how complementary the five most sympathetic male characters are.  I was reminded of the Five Man Band trope, which shows itself in numerous stories and films.

I think a modern movie or TV series based on Lear’s five man band could be quite good.  Picture an ongoing series of conflicts in a large story arc, where their dynamic strengths and weaknesses both contribute to their success while often hindering them (not very original, that), could make for excellent episodic storytelling.

Consider these character notes:

Lear: Out of touch with reality from betrayal brought on by his own shallow pride when (he was younger, here).  When lucid, he’s brilliant and fierce, though wracked with remorse.  Often, though, he falls victim to fugues of emotional breakdown.  Fallen from a position of power before the story started.

Kent: Disguised, unknown to Lear: serves Lear despite Lear foolishly hurting him in an earlier wrath (years before, in our version), before insanity.  Wants to save the old man; doesn’t (consciously) blame him for the assault and subsequent bad fortune.  Loves Lear from empathy for the role fate has played in his fall, and from seeing him used and abused by those he loved and trusted.  Has to balance desire to protect and nurture this father-figure with occasionally dealing with repressed anger over the suffering he endured at his hands–though, again, he doesn’t hold Lear fully responsible for his actions.

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Notes and Quotes: September 2014

EDUCATION

I’ve always said this: teachers don’t leave because of bad pay, they leave because of poor working conditions.

WSJ: Four Ways to Spot a Great Teacher.

 

HUMOR

I suspect I find this funny for reasons other than those the artist had:

shirt

 

LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE

Gioia’s intro to Finnegans Wake

WSJ: Shakespeare as a Life Coach.

14 Reasons to Read the Classics

Fight the Moral Madness: Read Charles Dickens to Your Kids

 

LIVING WELL

Fun parkour video.

I’m a sucker for great astronomy photography.

Beautiful photo of contrasts.

Sunset AND a castle?  Wow!

Here’s a chart I found online with some good productivity ideas:

how-to-be-productive_530adf38cc928_w1163

 

POLITICS AND SOCIETY

Ten Ways Mormons Can Celebrate Independence Day”  Good advice for all of us, for every day.

Great essay about defining conservatism–required reading for all poli-sci wonks.

On conservative literature–a good start.

The complicated politics of Shakespeare.

On ostensibly conservative college students being intellectually stunted:

“They cannot think with a conservative worldview because they have had limited exposure to conservative values. Children spend thirteen years in a school system which was founded upon progressive ideals about education and which increasingly promotes statism. For eighteen years the entertainment industry communicated to them an equally progressive worldview. From all sides children are taught to believe in the inherent goodness of humankind and to cherish the values of tolerance and diversity. There is no good and evil; there is just diversity. There is no justice and truth; there is only tolerance for other opinions. Democracy has become a good in its own right instead of being founded upon virtue. When democracy becomes its own end, any atrocity can be justified by a majority vote.”

Great comment on an Instapundit link about politically biased professors:

I noticed that back when I was in university: the liberal students were so used to everyone around them validating their opinions that they didn’t learn to make good arguments; the conservative students knew they needed good arguments, so they learned to make them,

The unfortunate part comes when these liberal students go through many years of schooling, get loads of validation for twittering about the talking point of the day, and then turn into incredulous, raging jerks when an adult conservative makes a point contrary to their ideology.

 

Emerson and Melville on Melancholy

Two great quotes I picked up on earlier this summer when I read Eric Wilson’s Against Happiness:

 

I compared notes with one of my friends who expects everything of the universe, and is disappointed when anything is less than best, and I found that I begin at the other extreme, expecting nothing, and am always full of thanks for moderate goods.

–Emerson, “Friendship”

So, therefore, that mortal man who hath more of joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true—not true, or undeveloped. With books the same. The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. ‘All is vanity.’ ALL. This wilful world hath not got hold of unchristian Solomon’s wisdom yet. But he who dodges hospitals and jails, and walks fast crossing graveyards, and would rather talk of operas than hell; calls Cowper, Young, Pascal, Rousseau, poor devils all of sick men; and throughout a care-free lifetime swears by Rabelais as passing wise, and therefore jolly;—not that man is fitted to sit down on tombstones, and break the green damp mould with unfathomably wondrous Solomon.              

But even Solomon, he says, ‘the man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain’ (i.e. even while living) ‘in the congregation of the dead.’ Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he forever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.

–Melville, Moby Dick, ch. XCVI

 

More of Mill on Living Well

From chapter 5 of the autobiography…

On happiness through ignoring yourself:

The enjoyments of life (such was now my theory) are sufficient to make it a pleasant thing, when they are taken en passant, without being made a principal object. Once make them so, and they are immediately felt to be insufficient. They will not bear a scrutinizing examination. Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so. The only chance is to treat, not happiness, but some end external to it, as the purpose of life. Let your self-consciousness, your scrutiny, your self-interrogation, exhaust themselves on that; and if otherwise fortunately circumstanced you will inhale happiness with the air you breathe, without dwelling on it or thinking about it, without either forestalling it in imagination, or putting it to flight by fatal questioning. This theory now became the basis of my philosophy of life. And I still hold to it as the best theory for all those who have but a moderate degree of sensibility and of capacity for enjoyment, that is, for the great majority of mankind.

 

On music:

The only one of the imaginative arts in which I had from childhood taken great pleasure, was music; the best effect of which (and in this it surpasses perhaps every other art) consists in exciting enthusiasm; in winding up to a high pitch those feelings of an elevated kind which are already in the character, but to which this excitement gives a glow and a fervour, which, though transitory at its utmost height, is precious for sustaining them at other times. This effect of music I had often experienced; but like all my pleasurable susceptibilities it was suspended during the gloomy period. I had sought relief again and again from this quarter, but found none. After the tide had turned, and I was in process of recovery, I had been helped forward by music, but in a much less elevated manner. I at this time first became acquainted with Weber’s Oberon, and the extreme pleasure which I drew from its delicious melodies did me good, by showing me a source of pleasure to which I was as susceptible as ever.

 

On finding enjoyment in simple things:

Relieved from my ever present sense of irremediable wretchedness, I gradually found that the ordinary incidents of life could again give me some pleasure; that I could again find enjoyment, not intense, but sufficient for cheerfulness, in sunshine and sky, in books, in conversation, in public affairs; and that there was, once more, excitement, though of a moderate kind, in exerting myself for my opinions, and for the public good.

 

On poetry (and mountains):

This state of my thoughts and feelings made the fact of my reading Wordsworth for the first time (in the autumn of 1828), an important event in my life….   
  In the first place, these poems addressed themselves powerfully to one of the strongest of my pleasurable susceptibilities, the love of rural objects and natural scenery; to which I had been indebted not only for much of the pleasure of my life, but quite recently for relief from one of my longest relapses into depression. In this power of rural beauty over me, there was a foundation laid for taking pleasure in Wordsworth’s, poetry. the more so, as his scenery lies mostly among mountains, which, owing to my early Pyrenean excursion, were my ideal of natural beauty. But Wordsworth would never have had any great effect on me, if he had merely placed before me beautiful pictures of natural scenery. Scott does this still better than Wordsworth, and a very second-rate landscape does it more effectually than any poet. What made Wordsworth’s poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that they expressed, not mere outward beauty, but states of feeling, and of thought coloured by feeling, under the excitement of beauty. They seemed to be the very culture of the feelings, which I was in quest of. In them I seemed to draw from a Source of inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be shared in by all human beings; which had no connexion with struggle of imperfection, but would be made richer by every improvement in the physical or social condition of mankind. From them I seemed to learn what would be the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed. And I felt myself at once better and happier as I came under their influence. There have certainly been, even in our own age, greater poets than Wordsworth; but poetry of deeper and loftier feeling could not have done for me at that time what his did. I needed to be made to feel that there was real, permanent happiness in tranquil contemplation. Wordsworth taught me this, not only without turning away from, but with a greatly increased interest in the common feelings and common destiny of human beings. And the delight which these poems gave me, proved that with culture of this sort, there was nothing to dread from the most confirmed habit of analysis.