Emerson on Self Improvement

Something I was writing at work today made me think of this quote from Emerson, which I highlighted when I was 17. I dug out the book, which happened to be in my classroom, and looked it up. Classic.

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Gulliver’s Travels

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Google images result for the title…most of these are the famous scene from chapter ONE.

I read this last summer, and while it starts out strongly enough, it gets much better as it goes on–the satire gets far darker and more biting. Maybe that’s why the single part everyone seems to know and like–Gulliver being tied down by the tiny Lilliputians–is from chapter one. Nobody ever talks about the better parts later on.

The second half of the book really ramps ups the social commentary to Voltaire levels of savagery. Consider these observations of a university, from part III:

I saw another at work to calcine Ice into Gunpowder; who likewise shewed me a Treatise he had written concerning the Malleability of Fire, which he intended to publish.

There was a most ingenious Architect who had contrived a new Method for building Houses, by beginning at the Roof, and working downwards to the Foundation; which he justified to me by the like Practice of those two prudent Insects, the Bee and the Spider.

There was a Man born blind, who had several Apprentices in his own Condition: Their Employment was to mix Colours for Painters, which their Master taught them to distinguish by feeling and smelling. It was indeed my Misfortune to find them at that Time not very perfect in their Lessons; and the Professor himself happened to be generally mistaken: This Artist is much encouraged and esteemed by the whole Fraternity.

In another Apartment I was highly pleased with a Projector, who had found a Device of plowing the Ground with Hogs, to save the Charges of Plows, Cattle, and Labour. The Method in this: In an Acre of Ground you bury at six Inches Distance, and eight deep, a Quantity of Acorns, Dates, Chestnuts, and other Maste or Vegetables whereof these Animals are fondest; then you drive six Hundred or more of them into the Field, where in a few Days they will root up the whole Ground in search of their Food, and make it fit for sowing, at the same time manuring it with their Dung. It is true, upon Experiment they found the Charge and Trouble very great, and they had little or no Crop. However, it is not doubted that this Invention may be capable of great Improvement.

And this rather wry bit where the joke about government working purely and productively might seem like a lame cliche today just shows us, yet again, that there’s nothing new under the sun:

In the School of Political Projectors I was but ill entertained, the Professors appearing in my Judgment wholly out of their Senses, which is a Scene that never fails to make me melancholy. These unhappy People were proposing Schemes for persuading Monarchs to chuse Favourites upon the Score of their Wisdom, Capacity, and Virtue; of teaching Ministers to consult the Publick Good; of rewarding Merit, great Abilities, eminent Services; of instructing Princes to know their true Interest by placing it on the same Foundation with that of their People: Of chusing for Employments Persons qualified to exercise them; with many other wild impossible Chimaeras, that never entred before into the heart of Man to conceive, and confirmed in me the old Observation, that there is nothing so extravagant and irrational which some Philosophers have not maintained for Truth.

The final section of the book has the darkest humor, such as this almost invisibly veiled swipe at expansive governments spreading their influence:

But I had another Reason which made me less forward to enlarge his Majesty’s Dominions by my Discovery. To say the Truth, I had conceived a few Scruples with Relation to the Distributive Justice of Princes upon those Occasions. For instance, A Crew of Pyrates are driven by a Storm they know not whither, at length a boy discovers Land from the Top-mast, they go on Shore to Rob and Plunder; they see an harmless People, are entertained with Kindness, they give the Country a new Name, they take formal Possession of it for their King, they set up a rotten Plank or a Stone for a Memorial, they murder two or three Dozen of the Natives, bring away a couple more by Force for a Sample, return Home, and get their Pardon. Here commences a new Dominion acquired with a Title by Divine Right. Ships are sent with the first Opportunity, the Natives driven out or destroyed, their Princes tortured to discover their Gold; a free Licence given to all Acts of Inhumanity and Lust, the Earth reeking with the Blood of its Inhabitants: And this execrable Crew of Butchers employed in so pious an Expedition, is a modern Colony sent to convert and civilize an idolatrous and barbarous People.

Some Quotes From Orwell’s 1984

Evergreen insights into the nature of the Left, labelled with current concerns.

 

ON MILLENNIAL SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIORS:

With those children, he thought, that wretched woman must lead a life of terror. Another year, two years, and they would be watching her night and day for symptoms of unorthodoxy. Nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the Party. On the contrary, they adored the Party and everything connected with it. The songs, the processions, the banners, the hiking, the drilling with dummy rifles, the yelling of slogans, the worship of Big Brother — it was all a sort of glorious game to them. All their ferocity was turned outwards, against the enemies of the State, against foreigners, traitors, saboteurs, thought-criminals. It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children.

–Part I, chapter 2

 

ON THE UNCRITICAL WORSHIP OF EDGY INNOVATION

Anything old, and for that matter anything beautiful, was always vaguely suspect.

–Part I, chapter 8

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Quote About Reading Great Books, From a Great Book I Once Read

Winston stopped reading for a moment. Somewhere in remote distance a rocket bomb thundered. The blissful feeling of being alone with the forbidden book, in a room with no telescreen, had not worn off. Solitude and safety were physical sensations, mixed up somehow with the tiredness of his body, the softness of the chair, the touch of the faint breeze from the window that played upon his cheek. The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction. It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order. It was the product of a mind similar to his own, but enormously more powerful, more systematic, less fear-ridden. The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.

–George Orwell, 1984, Part II, chapter 9

 

Sundays With Shakespeare

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I put together a small book of 52 Shakespeare and scripture quotes, as a weekly spiritual devotional. From the Amazon description: “Each entry has a title based on the theme and a quote from scripture on the same theme, all focused on inspiration, reflection, and self-improvement. 50 footnotes explain difficult wording, and an index for play titles, subjects, and scriptures make this a useful resource for talks and lessons, as well as for personal study.” A perfect Christmas gift! Set some self-improvement goals for 2017 and this can help you.

A French Writer On Politics & Society Today

From Michel Houellebecq’s 2015 novel, Submission:

“The Muslim Brotherhood is an unusual party, you know. Many of the usual political issues simply don’t matter to them. To start with, the economy is not their main concern. What they care about is birthrate and education. To them it’s simple–whichever segment of the population has the highest birthrate, and does the best job of transmitting its values, wins. If you control the children, you control the future.” pg. 64

“My only goal in life was to do a little reading and get in bed at four in the afternoon with a carton of cigarettes and a bottle; and yet, at the same time, I had to admit, I was going to die if I kept that up–I was going to die fast, unhappy and alone. And did I really want to die fast, unhappy and alone? In the end, only kind of.” pg. 203

“The fact is, most people live their lives without worrying too much about these supposedly philosophical questions. They think about them only when they’re facing some kind of tragedy–a serious illness, the death of a loved one. At least, that’s how it is in the West; in the rest of the world people die and kill in the name of these very questions, they wage bloody wars over them, and they have since the dawn of time. These metaphysical questions are exactly what men fight over, not market shares or who gets to hunt where. Even in the West, atheism has no solid basis.” pg. 204

Favorite Quotes from John Taylor

“I have no ideas only as God gives them to me; neither should you. Some people are very persistent in having their own way and carrying out their own peculiar theories. I have no thoughts of that kind, but I have a desire, when anything comes along, to learn the will of God, and then to do it.”

The Life and Ministry of John Taylor

The only question with us is whether we will cooperate with God, or whether we will individually work out our own salvation or not; whether we will individually fulfil the various responsibilities that devolve upon us or not; whether we will attend to the ordinances that God has introduced or not; for ourselves to begin with, for our families, for the living and for the dead. Whether we will cooperate in building temples and administering in them; whether we will unite with the Almighty, under the direction of his holy priesthood, in bringing to pass things that have been spoken of by the holy prophets since the world was; whether we will contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the Saints. These things rest with us to a certain extent. …

Chapter 1: The Origin and Destiny of Mankind

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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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Favorite Quotes from Brigham Young

Finished the second volume in the Teachings of Presidents of the Church series: Brigham Young.

Here are my favorite quotes from volume 1: Joseph Smith.

These are the passages I marked from Brigham Young:

“Mormonism,” so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to “Mormonism.” The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. “Mormonism” includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it is bliss; it is the fulness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods (DBY, 3).

Chapter 2: The Gospel Defined

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Three John Muir Quotes

I noted these in a biography I read last year:

“The sun shines not on us but in us, as if truly part and parent of us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing…”  –journal, 1872.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul.”  –journal, (1888?)

“The American forests, however slighted by man, must surely have been a great delight to God; for they were the best he ever planted. The whole continent was a garden, and from the beginning it seemed favored above all the other wild parks and gardens of the globe.”  –first line of “The American Forests,” Atlantic Monthly, 1897

 

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Favorite Quotes from Joseph Smith

I recently finished reading the book, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith.  These are the passages I marked:

 

“[The latter-day scriptures are published] so that the honest in heart may be cheered and comforted and go on their way rejoicing, as their souls become exposed and their understanding enlightened by a knowledge of God’s work through the fathers in former days, as well as what He is about to do in latter days to fulfill the words of the fathers.”

Chapter 4: The Book of Mormon: Keystone of Our Religion

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More of The Odyssey on Living Well

From the Robert Fagles translation:

On Patriotism:

Mine is a rugged land but good for raising sons–

and I myself, I know no sweeter sight on earth

than a man’s own native country. (Book 9, lines 30-32)

On Appreciating Life:

[Spirit of Achilles speaking in Hades]

“No winning words about death to me, shining Odysseus!

By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man–

some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive–

than rule down here over all the breathless dead.”  (Book 11, lines 555-558)

On Sharing Memories:

We two will keep to the shelter here, eat and drink

and take some joy in each other’s heartbreaking sorrows,

sharing each other’s memories.  Over the years, you know,

a man finds solace even in old sorrows, true, a man

who’s weathered many blows and wandered many miles.  (Book 15, lines 447-451)

On Eating and Sleeping:

With the roasting done, the meal set out, they ate well

and no one’s hunger lacked a proper share of supper.

When they’d put aside desire for food and drink,

they remembered bed and took the gift of sleep.  (Book 16, lines 530-534)