Monday, May 17, 2021
The hunger of an age is alike a presentiment and pledge of its own supply. Instinct is not only prophetic but provident. When there is a general craving for bread, that shall assuredly be satisfied; bread is even then growing in the fields. Now, men are lean and famishing; but, behold, the divine Husbandman has driven his share through the age, and sown us bread that we may not perish; yea, the reapers even are going forth, a blithe and hopeful company, while yet the fields weep with the dews of the morning, and the harvests wave in yellow ripeness. Soon shall a table be spread, and the age rejoice in the fulness of plenty.
Sounds to me that he is saying, what you hunger for will be provided. How different is this from Jesus saying that the birds in the field are provided for, and so too will we be – so too are we?
Only bear in mind, the implication is that what you hunger for, you get. If it is a healthy hunger – for bread, for livelihood, for community, whatever – it will be provided, but if an unhealthy hunger – for excitement, for thrills, for the enjoyment of seeing others suffer – that too will be provided. And if you hunger for contradictory things, you receive contradictory results.
Probably be just as well to be conscious of what it is we want, then, huh?
Looking at it carefully, I see, “the hunger of an age”: I see “general craving”; I see a prediction of plenty for all. It doesn’t seem particularly a prophecy of individual creation and individual reaping.
Don’t neglect to read any given saying in light of preceding sayings, for the light they will shine on the tendency of the argument. Originality, Valor, Character, referred to the effect upon the community as a whole of reform or regeneration of the individual. So here on the one hand, Alcott is saying, “Better times coming,” and on the other hand, implicitly, “Be careful what you ask for.” We concede, this latter message may not have been foremost in his personal mind; still it is there in the message he was the means of forwarding.
The prophet, by disciplines of meditation and valor, faithful to the spirit of the heart, his eye purified of the motes of tradition, his life of the vestiges of usage, ascends to the heights of immediate intuition: he rends the veil of sense; he bridges the distance between faith and sight, and beholds spiritual verities without scripture or mediator. In the presence of God, he communes with him face to face.
Again, he states that the prophet is one who sees clearly, by purified intuition. In a very real sense, this is Alcott’s life-story, and he was simple enough, pure enough, to at one and the same time realize it and not be inflated by it. His was a sort of humble pride, or proud humility, rejoicing in his condition but not imagining that it was an accomplishment rather than a gift.
So you think he didn’t realize he was talking about himself?
We mean, he did, but in his simplicity he thought he was talking about what everyone could become, if they would only cease to be blind and half-asleep, captive to defeatist “scientific” or fundamentalist theories.
This was before the word “fundamentalism” came into existence, I think, but I see your point.
To benefit another, either by word or deed, you must have passed from the state in which he is, to a higher. Experience is both law and method of all tuition, all influence. This holds alike of physical as of spiritual truths; the demonstration must be epical; the method living, not empirical.
Teach only what you have lived.
More, you can teach only what you have lived, but yes.
I am not partial to your man who always holds his balance in hand, and must weigh forthwith whatsoever of physical or metaphysical haberdashery chances to be laid on his counter. I have observed that he thinks more of the accuracy and polish of his scales, than of the quality of the wares in which he deals. He never questions his own levity. But yet these balance-men are useful: it is convenient to have standards of market values. These are the public’s approved sealers of weights and measures, who determine the worth of popular wares by their favorite weights, lucre and usage. It is well for the ages, that Genius rectifies both scales and men by a truer standard, quite wide of marts or markets.
An interesting thought, here. “He never questions his own levity” is a nice disconcerting touch.
Yes, this is one of the most balanced of the sayings, appropriately enough. On the one hand, he doesn’t particularly value people who presume themselves able to judge, not realizing their own incompetence to judge. On the other, their efforts serve a useful purpose; they show by their judgments what the age values, what it recognizes. Only, as he says, it is well that intuition provides a correction for such judgments.
Prudence is the footprint of Wisdom.
Not necessarily. Look at it closely.
Clearly it states, wisdom results in prudence.
Then which is he doing, saying he is not wise, or not recognizing that of all possible laudatory adjectives people might apply to him, “prudent” is more or less in last place?
Huh. Well, that is true, isn’t it? He had little of the world’s prudence. He was, in fact, an exasperation to his more practical friends – and scarcely any of his friends were less practical, though, come to think of it, impractical one-foot-in-the-moon young dreamers were precisely what he did draw to him, like those two Englishmen whose names I forget.
So if we take his saying to be nonetheless true, what do we infer?
I guess, that there’s more than one kind of prudence. And after all, that is something of a Transcendentalist cliché, isn’t it?
And what does it mean, more than one kind of prudence?
I suppose it depends on what you’re after. What is prudent as a step toward one goal may be folly or anyway irrelevant as a pursuit of another goal.
There you are.
But did he mean that?
Does it matter?
Well – I don’t know, I think so, because we’re trying to figure out what he is saying.
And on the other hand if we have a different goal – one of gleaning whatever wisdom may be sparked from it – then it doesn’t matter.
And this demonstrates what you just said.
It does. Not that he was wrong – in fact, he was right – but that there is always more to be said, always more to be learned by treating the words as sparks rather than as dead letters. The spirit gives life; the letter kills.
The standing problem of Genius is to divine the essential verity intimated in the life and literature of the Past, divesting it of historical interpolations; separating the foreign from the indigenous, and translating the letter of the universal scripture into the spirit of contemporaneous life and letters.
You see how the sayings connect? You always need to exercise judgment, only not necessarily using logical criteria. In reading scripture in any form, you will need to sift what you read, not letting yourself say, uncritically, “Scripture is inerrant, therefore I know what it means to say.” If the bible you read was written down by humans, it necessarily must be non-3D insight filtered through a particular 3D brain. Any part of it may be inaccurate, may be interpolation, may be willful insertion for political reasons. Yet other parts perhaps of the same sentence may be true revelation. How are you to winnow chaff from wheat?
Use our own intuition. Read the words as sparks rather than as law.
What did Henry Thoreau say?
Something like, “Anything anyone ever said is only hearsay until Reason whispers it to me.” I made a terrible mess of the quotation, but this is the gist of it: Don’t trust anything till your own spirit, your own knowing, approves.
Scripture is invaluable, a library of other men’s inspiration. But it must be handled with care, like any explosive. To borrow certainty and authority from scripture is to succumb to Psychic’s Disease. To find in it sparks or even echoes is not the same thing, though it will seem similar.
To just criticism unity of mind is essential. The critic must not esteem difference as real as sameness, and as permanent in the facts of nature. This tendency is fatal to all sound and final thinking: it never penetrates to the roots of things. All creative minds have been inspired and guided by the law of unity: their problem is ever to pierce the coarse and superficial rind of diversity, and discover the unity in whose core is the heart and seed of all things.
Well, this one is clear, anyway, right? There is an underlying unity in all seeming diversity.
We smile. You may think that statement clear, just as Alcott thought his statements clear, but you will find that unless people have the key, they will not understand. It will seem ungrounded, unsupported, merely rhetorical.
And yet it is true.
What of Alcott’s sayings is not true? That doesn’t mean they are accessible to an unsympathetic state of mind. To such, it appears mere words, “pretty to think so” but with no foundation in reality. In any case, there’s your hour.
We galloped through seven of the sayings, but it didn’t feel like we were rushing things.
No, you were being absorbed in the general atmosphere of his thought, and things felt clearer – needing less explanation – than perhaps others will feel them.
Well, our thanks as always. Till next time.
Frank DeMarco, author
Papa’s Trial: Hemingway in the Afterlife, a novel