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But any good it has done has been more or less by accident, since I had no idea it would ever be read in medical schools and anthropology classes and so on. My essays have had even less lofty aspirations. They are a selfish pursuit. For example, I love the essays of Charles Lamb, the great earlyth-century English Romantic writer. The last essay in the book, about a drowning I witnessed when I was eighteen, could hardly be more serious.

But most of the time, my own view of life eventually reasserts itself. Teaching is another form of play.

The example that comes to mind for me is George Plimpton. My information-gathering method is more like making maple syrup. Up here in Western Massachusetts we tap our trees every March. To make one gallon of syrup, you have to gather 40 gallons of sap and boil off 39 of them. My essays are like that. I read and read and collect a ton of material. Then I boil and boil, and the result is often a very brief piece. Those have to be a set length. I like that sense of constraint.

The result is that the essays are dense—not dense as in hard to understand I hope!

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I like to have a permanent, or at least semi-permanent, home. One of us does a book and the other has a job with health insurance. So during this phase of my life, my only time to write is the summer. I like to move in a deep, narrow track in which I can get really obsessed with something and do nothing else. When I was writing my essay on Coleridge, it was just me and him for a couple of weeks. Life would be easier if I had a more conventional circadian rhythm.

And the impetus to read a canonical set of books was largely based on a mid-century drive for upward mobility in a hierarchal society that thankfully no longer exists—at least not in the same way. I had only a sense of what was going on in the mini-culture of the Fadiman family. Which was exactly what you just described—but in our family, I never viewed it as a downside. My father was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, and he was exactly the kind of upwardly mobile person that you just referred to pejoratively.

20 travel memoirs written by inspiring and fearless women

Nothing could be more canonical. It was an annotated list of or so classic books written by long-dead white males that you were supposed to read over the course of a lifetime in order to become an educated person. I have an older brother who, if anything, is a better writer than I am. He chose not to become a writer and I did. In fact, maybe it provided something useful to react against. But I always felt encouraged by both my parents to do whatever I wanted to do.

And growing up in a house with zillions of books was absolutely great. My father thought books were meant to be handled. He dog-eared the pages and wrote in the margins. After our parents died and my brother and I inherited their library, it was like hearing a voice from the other side to read the notes our father had written next to passages he particularly liked. My parents were both professional writers, but they also did a ton of reading for pleasure. My father was a judge for the Book-of-the-Month Club for 60 years.

He got just as excited about a good thriller or sci fi novel as about a literary biography. Many people are still excited by reading. This may not be the sort of thing that I would write myself, maybe not even read myself. One example is the blog. At the moment, most blogs are terrible. The form is in its infancy. But I think that in future, the blog may become what the personal essay was in the past.

And I find that a hopeful prospect. Things that used to be handled by phone are now handled by e-mail. Now everybody knows how to type. I have observed of late, the style of some great ministers very much to exceed that of any other productions.

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Instead of productions, which resemble not ministers great nor small, the proper word is writers or authors. If men of eminence are exposed to censure on the one hand, they are as much liable to flattery on the other. If they receive reproaches which are not due to them, they likewise receive praises which they do not deserve. Here the subject plainly demands uniformity in expression instead of variety; and therefore it is submitted, whether the period would not do better in the following manner: Edition: ed; Page: [ 35 ].

If men of eminence be exposed to censure on the one hand, they are as much exposed to flattery on the other. If they receive reproaches that are not due, they likewise receive praises that are not due. I cannot but fancy, however, that this imitation, which passes so currently with other judgements, must at some time or other have stuck a little with your Lordship. They wisely prefer the generous efforts of goodwill and affection, to the reluctant compliances of such as obey by force.

Titus Livius, mentioning a demand made by the people of Enna of the keys from the Roman governor, makes him say,. Quas simul tradiderimus, Carthaginiensium extemplo Enna erit, foediusque hic trucidabimur, quam Murgantiae praesidium interfectum est. Quintus Curtius, speaking of Porus mounted on an elephant, and leading his army to battle:. Magnitudini Pori adjicere videbatur bellua qua vehebatur, tantum inter caeteras eminens, quanto aliis ipse praestabat. It is still a greater deviation from congruity, to affect not only variety in the words, but also in the construction.

Describing Thermopylae, Titus Livius says,. Id jugum, sicut Apennini dorso Italia dividitur, ita mediam Graeciam diremit. There may remain a suspicion that we over-rate the greatness of his genius, in the same manner as bodies appear more gigantic on account of their being disproportioned and mishapen.

This is studying variety in a period where the beauty lies in uniformity. Better thus:. There may remain a suspicion that we over-rate the greatness of his genius, in the same manner as we overrate the greatness of bodies that are disproportioned and mishapen. Edition: ed; Page: [ 37 ]. Next as to the length of the members that signify the resembling objects.

To produce a resemblance between such members, they ought not only to be constructed in the same manner, but as nearly as possible be equal in length. By neglecting this circumstance, the following example is defective in neatness. As the performance of all other religious duties will not avail in the sight of God, without charity; so neither will the discharge of all other ministerial Edition: current; Page: [ ] duties avail in the sight of men, without a faithful discharge of this principal duty.

In the following passage are accumulated all the errors that a period expressing a resemblance can well admit. Ministers are answerable for every thing done to the prejudice of the constitution, in the same proportion as the preservation of the constitution in its purity and vigour, or the perverting and weakening it, are of greater consequence to the nation, than any other instances of good or bad government. Next of a comparison where things are opposed to each other. And here it must be obvious, that if resemblance ought to be studied in the words which express two resembling objects, there is equal reason for studying opposition in the words which express contrasted objects.

This rule will Edition: ed; Page: [ 38 ] be best illustrated by examples of deviations from it:.

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And therefore the contrast or opposition will be better marked by expressing the thought as follows. The wise man is happy when he gains his own approbation; the fool when he recommends himself to the applause of those about him. The wise man is happy when he gains his own approbation; the fool when he gains that of others. Sicut in frugibus pecudibusque, non tantum semina ad servandum indolem valent, quantum terrae proprietas coelique, subquoaluntur, mutat.

We proceed to a rule of a different kind. During the course of a period, the scene ought to be continued without variation: the changing from person to person, from subject to subject, or from person to subject, within the bounds of a single period, distracts the mind, and affords no time for a solid impression. I illustrate this rule by giving examples of deviations from it.

Speaking of the distemper contracted by Alexander bathing in the river Cydnus, and of the cure offered by Philip the physician:.


Hook, in his Roman history, 37 speaking of Eumenes, who had been beat to the ground with a stone, says,. After a short time he came to himself; and the next day, they put him on board his ship, which conveyed him first to Corinth, and thence to the island of Aegina. I give another example of a period which is unpleasant, even by a very slight deviation from the rule: Edition: ed; Page: [ 40 ].

This expression includes two persons, one acquiring, and one inculcating; and the scene is changed without necessity. To avoid this blemish, the thought may be expressed thus:.