Wednesday, September 27, 2006
[T]he past is a much bigger place than the present, so it follows that most worthwhile books were published not last week but some time in the previous three millennia. Every minute devoted to reading the new and middling is a minute spent languishing away from the old and dependably superior.I wonder if Patrick would include blogs among the "new and middling."
I recently happened on the following quotation from Jeremy Collier (an old author, 1650-1726) in a new book by Henry Hitchings, Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr Johnson's Dictionary (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), p. 84:
By reading, a man does, as it were, antedate his life, and makes himself contemporary with the ages past.Making oneself contemporary with ages past can be difficult, but rewarding, intellectual work. Owen Barfield, History in English Words (London: Faber, 1953; rpt. 1969), pp. 162-163, explains just how difficult it is:
In order to enter sympathetically into the outlook of an educated medieval gentleman, we have to perform the difficult feat of undressing, as it were, our own outlook by divesting it of all those seemingly innate ideas of progress and evolution, of a movement of some sort going on everywhere around us, which make our cosmos what it is. This is more difficult even than it sounds, because many of these thoughts and feelings have become subconscious. We have imbibed them with our vocabulary and cannot without much labour and research disentangle the part that is due to them from the rest of our consciousness. Let us try, for a moment, to realize with our imaginations as well as with our intellects the world in which our fathers dwelt -- a world created abruptly at a fixed moment in time, and awaiting a destruction equally abrupt, its inhabitants for ever to be the same, and for ever struggling, not to progress or to evolve into something different, but rather to become once more exactly like the first man and woman. Where we speak of progress and evolution, the Middle Ages could speak only of regeneration and amendment. Their evolution was like Alice's race with the Red Queen. It took all their energies to keep still; and even in this they had very little hope of succeeding, for they believed that the world was getting steadily worse.