Acute Vision For Others, Feeble Sight For Ourselves

I recall reading somewhere that both Archimedes and the mathematician Leonhard Euler never liked to explain how they arrived at their discoveries.  They took care to remove all the scaffolding before presenting their magnificent edifices to posterity; we saw the finished product, but not the arduous labor that was necessary to create it.  This may be an exaggeration, at least in the case of Archimedes, whose lost Method was finally unearthed in Istanbul in 1906; but I think the point is sufficiently true, for enough famous names, to merit some reflection.

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On Hospitality

In taking the measure of a man’s cultural refinement, we must examine the degree to which he is practiced in the art of hospitality.  And when I say art, I mean this in a literal sense.  Arts are not inborn; they must be studied and honed with constant use.  A culture that teaches its members how to treat guests is a confident one; it is a culture that has, to some degree at least, liberated itself from the oppressions of acquisitiveness and greed, and has embraced some aspects of the communitarian ethic.  It is also a culture that understands the value of reciprocity:  the idea that a good turn done for one today, may mean a good turn done for oneself tomorrow.

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The State Of Common Life

In 1773 Samuel Johnson and his friend James Boswell made a journey through some of the more remote parts of Scotland.  Each of them wrote his own account of the journey, and I am currently absorbed in reading Johnson’s impressions in his Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland.  As always, he stimulates and fascinates:  his eye for detail is superb, and like the best of writers he combines wit, dry observation, and philosophic pronouncements.

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Films, Trade, And Pleasure (Podcast)

I didn’t really know what to call this podcast.  It’s a mix of a few different things.  I wanted to talk about the movies I reviewed in the last post here, but I also wanted to toss out an interesting comment made by Samuel Johnson on trade and pleasure.  And finally–to relax and unwind a bit–I read a few recent tweets by the G Manifesto (@MichaelPorfirio).  It’s important in life to mix things up.  Idleness may be the Devil’s servant, but so is monotony.

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On His Deathbed, Johnson Celebrates Youth’s Vitality And Spirit

It is right that youth should celebrate its vigor.  We do it a grave injustice by shackling its natural ebullience, by attempting to douse its fires with an excess of admonitions and restrictives.  Let it, as far as health and safety will permit, taste the light of the open sky, the airs of unexplored mountains, and the swift currents swirling along tropical beaches.  For in our elder years we will recall these liberating sensations with an intensity that sustains life itself.

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A London Men’s Club Of 1783 (Podcast)

Men’s clubs used to be places where like-minded individuals could congregate and discuss topics of mutual interest. As society has changed, this is becoming an increasingly rare tradition. To see just what a gentleman’s club was like in London in 1783, we go to the original sources and read the club’s by-laws. Nothing better illustrates how different that era was from today.

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Some Bits Of Travel Advice

It is very easy to find travel advice.  It gushes in currents, like the waters of a melting glacier, carrying all before it.  I have no desire here to provide an exhaustive laundry-list of action items; my goal is only to toss out a few thoughts on the subject that have come to me in recent days.  I recently read the following travel recommendations which appear in Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson.  They are taken from a letter he wrote to one Mr. Perkins in 1782, when Johnson was 73 years old:

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Ictus Animi: The Smiting Of The Mind

We are unlikely to arrive at any awareness of things while sitting within the confines of our domestic barricades.  Enlightenment requires perception; perception, sensory input; and sensory input, direct experience with the world of the living outside our familiar habitations.  The leisure of contemplation, and the enticements of philosophical reflection, allow for the refinement and processing of these experiences, but cannot serve as a direct substitute for them; and unlucky is he who deludes himself into believing he has arrived at weighty insights from the contemplation of the four walls around him.

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On Idle Or Trifling Speech

There are some who say that idle talk has no purpose, and should be avoided.  Yet in many cases it serves valuable purposes:  it enables us to test ideas or plans on our friends, and solicit their opinions; it enables us to relieve stress; and it enables us to pass the time in conversational pleasantry.  Not every dialogue needs to have a definite purpose; sometimes the exchange of words themselves becomes a form of relaxation.  The exchange below is taken verbatim from James Boswell’s famous Life of Samuel Johnson.  In the short dialogue between himself and his biographer, Johnson, that great man of English letters, makes the point that it may be well to make idle speech, as long as one does not unduly subscribe to its banalities.

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On The Acceptance Of Disappointments

There is no man who can boast of having enjoyed an unbroken string of successes.  The variability of Fortune, a pervasive theme in these pages, is a force of nature that ensures success will be liberally interspersed by failure.  So it seems to me that we ought to spent just as much time–perhaps even more time–in equipping ourselves with the tools needed to deal with defeats and disappointments, than we do in preparing ourselves for short-lived victory parades.  The seasoned, mature mind will wave to the crowd, and enjoy his moment of reflected glory, remembering all the while that dejection is waiting for him just around the next corner.  I believe it was Theodore Roosevelt who said that, nearly as soon as man passes through the triumphal arches of his victory parade, the crowd will be ready to pelt him in the back with bricks.  And this is undoubtedly true.

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