December 15, 2010

"As sunbeams stream through liberal space/And nothing jostle or displace..."

"So waved the pine tree through my thought/And fanned the dreams it never brought."

Who wrote that? I asked aloud. Meade guessed the name of one of our regular commenters.

I laughed. "Emerson! You know why I'm reading that? I'm reading this letter to the editor of the New York Times from 1853, and the reason I'm reading it is that I did an archive search — you can go back to 1851 in the archives — for 'facetious' and 'bowers,' because I was looking for that quote in the law case Bowers v. Hardwick that uses the word 'facetious,' which is something I wanted for that post about argument by laughter."

Thereupon, I read the verbose and goofily palpitating paean to nature that begins "I have a penchant for grass and trees. A facetious friend intimates, it is on account of some natural affinity — mentioning a certain color by way of illustration." And so forth. The word "bowers" is in there:
Oh! happy is the man that has many of these spots to dream over, when the real of existence becomes too real! I have a few, and they are bowered with holy feeling — as beautiful and beloved as nests of singing larks in bowers of roses.
Oh, well, okay... I think I know what you're saying in that crazy-ass pre-Civil War way. The temperature has shot up to 10° here in the northland. I don't know if the real of existence becomes too real here at my desk with my computer-screen view of the internet and my peripheral view of a wall of windows looking out onto the "liberal space" of Madison, Wisconsin. I don't think it will be such a dreamy escape from the real to go out there, but we will. It's time for that. When I'm trying to write about law and sodomy and laughing and I tumble back into 1853, the pine trees are waving to us.

22 comments:

Hoosier Daddy said...

I was never one for the classics. The English language has evolved sufficiently over time where even mid 19th century prose is unreadable.

If you can't say what's on your mind without using a lot of $10 words then it ain't worth hearing.

Rialby said...

Last year I saw that the NY Times had their archives open so, just for fun, I searched for some family names.

And, from the NY Times, I found out my great-great-great grandfather had been murdered. Nobody in the family alive today knew.

Scott M said...

Liberal space is where:

...Jedi's get taxed for each use of the Force.

...everyone can hear everyone scream equally well as they contemplate their own equally miserable Outland.

...the invasion plans for Earth are scrapped due to the TSA bottleneck.

...the Death Star was built by union labor who went on strike to defend their right include a channel from the core to the surface that would allow easy access to the "Break Barge" regardless of what level a worker was on.

...starships cannot go faster than warp 5 due to the new Galactic Warming laws.

...etc etc

q12345q6789 said...

I like Emerson.
But, I just can't read him.

Oh! Damnable curse is this
contemporary, perverse, terse purchase of words so woven in
an electronical spider's web
capturing our culture as with the attention span of it's flailing fly.

edutcher said...

Ann Althouse said...

I think I know what you're saying in that crazy-ass pre-Civil War way.

Actually I think the 1853 way is rather poetical.

PS If you want a laugh, dig down and see what the Gray Lady's attitude toward Secession was about a week before Fort Sumter.

Ann Althouse said...

In the linked essay, is "George" a slave? I think so, and it changes the entire meaning of the essay.

Triangle Man said...

Who wrote that? I asked aloud. Meade guessed the name of one of our regular commenters.

He guessed Blogging Cockroach?

Hoosier Daddy said...

...everyone can hear everyone scream equally well as they contemplate their own equally miserable Outland.

That was such an awesome movie too.

Marshal O'Neil: I'd like a report of all the incidents in the last six months. I'd like it soon, or I might just kick your nasty ass all over this room. That's a marshal joke.

Or another favroite quote:

Montone: Nelson, we're talking about nuclear detonators here. You don't just lose them and then find them again. You lose your comb and then find it, but not nuclear detonators. I want to know when and where they were found. You get my drift?

MadisonMan said...

Shorter Hoosier: Eschew sesquipedalianisms.

MadisonMan said...

Hoosier Comment #1, that is, at 1:38.

Carl Vero said...

This post from our profuse professor reminds us that in the 157 years since Emerson's letter we have indeed moved on, from irony and snobbery to snark and snubbery, from freak shows to reality shows, from waxing poetically to waxing bikini lines. And we are gathering speed: In 2000we almost elected Gore, who almost invented the Internet and did reinvent himself to become the Great Green Gabby; in 2008 we elected Obama, who almost invented a few extra states and did reinvent deficit spending.

Penny said...

Best line from the archive letter:

"If they get a breath of fresh air, it's because of an unconscious yawn."

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Well, in the words of another writer a generation or two off from Emerson -- or, rather, of a small girl he quoted in an essay -- "well, why don't you take away the trees, and then it wouldn't wind?" Maybe it'd even warm up.

wv:serairee. You see?

nonapod said...

Emerson is certainly guilty of a great deal of Purple Prose.

Saint Croix said...

Outland is awesome. After Thunderball it's my favorite Sean Connery movie.

Name of the Rose is really cool, too.

Trooper York said...

Seriously, you know you are qouting ricpic.

Palladian said...

Emerson probably didn't hate us faggots as much as ricpic does.

Hoosier Daddy said... "I was never one for the classics. The English language has evolved sufficiently over time where even mid 19th century prose is unreadable.

If you can't say what's on your mind without using a lot of $10 words then it ain't worth hearing."


Or perhaps it could just mean that you're cognitively bankrupt and therefore cannot afford the expense of non-vernacular language.

Palladian said...

I meant "us" in the James Taranto-style majestic plural, I wasn't calling you a faggot, Trooper York. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Trooper York said...

That's ok Palladian. You can call me anything you want. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

I hope you and yours have a happy and prosperous New Year.

rcocean said...

First, I like a lot of mid 19th Century prose and poetry. Like Tolstoy, Melville, Dickens, Thackeray, etc.

Secondly, people in the mid 19th century led slower paced lives. No internet, TV, radio, recorded music, or movies. Even books were relatively rare and expensive. So, people didn't mind a lot of "purple prose".

Third, that said I never liked Emerson. He's a precursor to all the 20th century liberals that came after him. Transport him to today & he'd be a smug, self-satisfied Obama supporter and writing for the New York Times Op-ed Page.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Or perhaps it could just mean that you're cognitively bankrupt and therefore cannot afford the expense of non-vernacular language

I'm bi-lingual Palladian. I speak English and bad English.

Robert Burnham said...

With the best will in the world, Emerson is largely unreadable. You plow through paragraph after windy paragraph, steadily getting sleepier.

But every now and then, he comes out with something short and on target, and it's pleasurable jolt.

Emerson benefitted from where he was born and when. In the early 19th century the US had a pressing need to find native authors who (1) had serious things to say, (2) could hold their own intellectually with the best of Britain, and (3) were AMERICAN.

This led to some undeserved reputations....