June 9th, 2011

go south!

the key to it all

the first excerpt represents the element of air. it speaks of mental influences and the process of thought:

this was anything but a regular bee: in fact it was an elephant -- as alice soon found out, though the idea quite took her breath away at first. 'and what enormous flowers they must be!' was her next idea. 'something like cottages with the roofs taken off, and stalks put to them -- and what quantities of honey they must make! i think i'll go down and -- no, i won't just yet, ' she went on, checking herself just as she was beginning to run down the hill, and trying to find some excuse for turning shy so suddenly. 'it'll never do to go down among them without a good long branch to brush them away -- and what fun it'll be when they ask me how i like my walk. i shall say -- "oh, i like it well enough -- "' (here came the favorite little toss of the head), '"only it was so dusty and hot, and the elephants did tease so!"'

'i think i'll go down the other way,' she said after a pause: 'and perhaps i may visit the elephants later on. besides, i do so want to get into the third square!'

so with this excuse she ran down the hill and jumped over the first of the six little brooks.

the second excerpt represents the element of fire. it speaks of emotional influences and base passions:

when the historian of aristocratic ages surveys the theatre of the world, he at once perceives a very small number of prominent actors, who manage the whole piece. these great personages, who occupy the front of the stage, arrest the observation, and fix it on themselves; and whilst the historian is bent on penetrating the secret motives which make them speak and act, the rest escape his memory. the importance of the things which some men are seen to do, gives him an exaggerated estimate of the influence which one man may possess; and naturally leads him to think, that in order to explain the impulses of the multitude, it is necessary to refer them to the particular influence of some one individual.

when, on the contrary, all the citizens are independent of one another, and each of them is individually weak, no one is seen to exert a great, or still less a lasting power, over the community. at first sight, individuals appear to be absolutely devoid of any influence over it; and society would seem to advance alone by the free and voluntary concurrence of all the men who compose it. this naturally prompts the mind to search for that general reason which operates upon so many men’s faculties at the same time, and turns them simultaneously in the same direction.

i am very well convinced that even amongst democratic nations, the genius, the vices, or the virtues of certain individuals retard or accelerate the natural current of a people’s history: but causes of this secondary and fortuitous nature are infinitely more various, more concealed, more complex, less powerful, and consequently less easy to trace in periods of equality than in ages of aristocracy, when the task of the historian is simply to detach from the mass of general events the particular influences of one man or of a few men. in the former case the historian is soon wearied by the toil; his mind loses itself in this labyrinth; and, in his inability clearly to discern or conspicuously to point out the influence of individuals, he denies their existence. he prefers talking about the characteristics of race, the physical conformation of the country, or the genius of civilization, which abridges his own labors, and satisfies his reader far better at less cost.

the third excerpt represents the element of water. it speaks of pure spiritual influences and feelings of love:

sometimes she put in too much--too much of her own sense; sometimes she put in too little; and in either case this often came round to her afterwards, for she had an extraordinary way of keeping clues. when she noticed she noticed; that was what it came to. there were days and days, there were weeks sometimes, of vacancy. this arose often from mr. buckton`s devilish and successful subterfuges for keeping her at the sounder whenever it looked as if anything might arouse; the sounder, which it was equally his business to mind, being the innermost cell of captivity, a cage within the cage, fenced off from the rest by a frame of ground glass. the counterclerk would have played into her hands; but the counter-clerk was really reduced to idiocy by the effect of his passion for her. she flattered herself moreover, nobly, that with the unpleasant conspicuity of this passion she would never have consented to be obliged to him. the most she would ever do would be always to shove off on him whenever she could the registration of letters, a job she happened particularly to loathe. after the long stupors, at all events, there almost always suddenly would come a sharp taste of something; it was in her mouth before she knew it; it was in her mouth now.

the fourth excerpt represents the element of earth. it speaks of physical influences and the impact of the unseen on the visible world:

some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, i thought i would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. it is a way i have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. whenever i find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly november in my soul; whenever i find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral i meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, i account it high time to get to sea as soon as i can. this is my substitute for pistol and ball. with a philosophical flourish cato throws himself upon his sword; i quietly take to the ship. there is nothing surprising in this. if they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.


but look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. strange! nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. no. they must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in. and there they stand—miles of them—leagues. inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets and avenues,— north, east, south, and west. yet here they all unite. tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither?

once more. say you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. there is magic in it. let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries—stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. should you ever be athirst in the great american desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.

but here is an artist. he desires to paint you the dreamiest, shadiest, quietest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape in all the valley of the saco. what is the chief element he employs? there stand his trees, each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a crucifix were within; and here sleeps his meadow, and there sleep his cattle; and up from yonder cottage goes a sleepy smoke. deep into distant woodlands winds a mazy way, reaching to overlapping spurs of mountains bathed in their hill-side blue. but though the picture lies thus tranced, and though this pine-tree shakes down its sighs like leaves upon this shepherd’s head, yet all were vain, unless the shepherd’s eye were fixed upon the magic stream before him. go visit the prairies in june, when for scores on scores of miles you wade knee-deep among tiger-lilies—what is the one charm wanting?— water - there is not a drop of water there! were niagara but a cataract of sand, would you travel your thousand miles to see it? why did the poor poet of tennessee, upon suddenly receiving two handfuls of silver, deliberate whether to buy him a coat, which he sadly needed, or invest his money in a pedestrian trip to rockaway beach? why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? why did the old persians hold the sea holy? why did the greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of jove? surely all this is not without meaning. and still deeper the meaning of that story of narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. but that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. it is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.
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(no subject)

go back to your grave, o my Dream, under forests of snow,
where a heart-riven child hid you once, seven eons ago.
who bade you arise from your darkness? i bid you depart!
profane not the shrines i have raised in the clefts of my heart.
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(no subject)

throughout this preparation there had been a constant tremor in hepzibah's frame; an agitation so powerful that phoebe could see the quivering of her gaunt shadow, as thrown by the firelight on the kitchen wall, or by the sunshine on the parlor floor. its manifestations were so various, and agreed so little with one another, that the girl knew not what to make of it. sometimes it seemed an ecstasy of delight and happiness. at such moments, hepzibah would fling out her arms, and infold phoebe in them, and kiss her cheek as tenderly as ever her mother had; she appeared to do so by an inevitable impulse, and as if her bosom were oppressed with tenderness, of which she must needs pour out a little, in order to gain breathing-room. the next moment, without any visible cause for the change, her unwonted joy shrank back, appalled, as it were, and clothed itself in mourning; or it ran and hid itself, so to speak, in the dungeon of her heart, where it had long lain chained, while a cold, spectral sorrow took the place of the imprisoned joy, that was afraid to be enfranchised, --a sorrow as black as that was bright. she often broke into a little, nervous, hysteric laugh, more touching than any tears could be; and forthwith, as if to try which was the most touching, a gush of tears would follow; or perhaps the laughter and tears came both at once, and surrounded our poor hepzibah, in a moral sense, with a kind of pale, dim rainbow.
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(no subject)

one of the most curious and characteristic features of language, affecting
both syntax and style, is idiom. the meaning of the word 'idiom' is that
which is peculiar, that which is familiar, the word or expression which
strikes us or comes home to us, which is more readily understood or more
easily remembered. it is a quality which really exists in infinite
degrees, which we turn into differences of kind by applying the term only
to conspicuous and striking examples of words or phrases which have this
quality. it often supersedes the laws of language or the rules of grammar,
or rather is to be regarded as another law of language which is natural and
necessary. the word or phrase which has been repeated many times over is
more intelligible and familiar to us than one which is rare, and our
familiarity with it more than compensates for incorrectness or inaccuracy
in the use of it. striking expressions also which have moved the hearts of
nations or are the precious stones and jewels of great authors partake of
the nature of idioms: they are taken out of the sphere of grammar and are
exempt from the proprieties of language. every one knows that we often put
words together in a manner which would be intolerable if it were not
idiomatic. we cannot argue either about the meaning of words or the use of
constructions that because they are used in one connexion they will be
legitimate in another, unless we allow for this principle. we can bear to
have words and sentences used in new senses or in a new order or even a
little perverted in meaning when we are quite familiar with them.
quotations are as often applied in a sense which the author did not intend
as in that which he did. the parody of the words of shakspere or of the
bible, which has in it something of the nature of a lie, is far from
unpleasing to us. the better known words, even if their meaning be
perverted, are more agreeable to us and have a greater power over us. most
of us have experienced a sort of delight and feeling of curiosity when we
first came across or when we first used for ourselves a new word or phrase
or figure of speech.

there are associations of sound and of sense by which every word is linked
to every other. one letter harmonizes with another; every verb or noun
derives its meaning, not only from itself, but from the words with which it
is associated. some reflection of them near or distant is embodied in it.
in any new use of a word all the existing uses of it have to be considered.
upon these depends the question whether it will bear the proposed extension
of meaning or not.
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