I’ve made good use of my late mom’s iPad to explore the world of free online 19th and early 20th century literature. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been slowly making my way through all of Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Magazine (I’m reading the 1905 issues this week) as well as Moby Dick (never read it in school), May Morris’ Decorative Needlework and the writings of John Ruskin and William Morris.
From these tomes I’ve bookmarked a few epic rants that I suspect Root Simple readers will appreciate. First, as quoted in The Craftsman, the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson,
We are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation-rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing. We cannot use our hands, or our legs, or our eyes, or our arms. We do not know an edible root in the woods, we can not tell our course by the stars, nor the hour of the day by the sun. It is well if we can swim and skate. We are afraid of a horse, of a cow, of a dog, of a snake, of a spider. The Roman rule was to teach a boy nothing that he could not learn standing. The old English rule was, ‘All summer in the field, and all winter in the study.’ And it seems as if a man should learn to plant, or to fish, or to hunt, that he might secure his subsistence at all events. and not be painful to his friends and fellow-men. The lessons of science should be experimental also. The sight of a planet through a telescope is worth all the course on astronomy; the shock of the electric spark in the elbow, outvalues all the theories; the taste of the nitrous oxide, the firing of an artificial volcano. are better than volumes of chemistry.
Enjoy the “taste of the nitrous oxide” kids!
A quote to hang over your workbench
It must also be distinctly understood that the proper preparation for this freedom, both of the mind and in design and work, can only come to full fruition by compelling your hands to obey you in doing whatever you have undertaken. Do not think for one moment that you can do good individualistic work, until you have demonstrated that you can copy so that the sternest critic must commend what you have done. Bliss Carman never wrote a truer thing than when he said: “I have an idea that evil came on earth when the first man or woman said, ‘That isn’t the best I can do, but it is well enough.’ In that sentence the primitive curse was pronounced, and until we banish it from the world again we shall be doomed to inefficiency, sickness and unhappiness. Thoroughness is an elemental virtue. In nature nothing is slighted, but the least and the greatest of tasks are performed with equal care, and diligence, and patience, and love, and intelligence. We are ineffectual because we are slovenly and lazy and content to have things half done; we are willing to sit down and give up before the thing is finished. Whereas we should never stop short of an utmost effort toward perfection, so long as there is a breath in our body.”
Now that is something worth writing out and hanging over one’s work-bench. It is on a line with St. Paul’s: “I have fought a good fight,” or Robert Browning’s emphatic words, where in the preface to his poems he says: “Having hitherto done my utmost in the art to which my life is a devotion, I cannot undertake to increase the effort.”
Looking for some 19th century summer reading? How about Abe Lincoln’s favorite non-fiction book, An Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American Brig Commerce, which tells the story of a crew shipwrecked and enslaved by a Saharan tribe (thank you Futility Closet for the tip on that one). And if you’re looking for more seafaring tales there’s always Two Years Before the Mast. Lastly, if you haven’t read Moby Dick, well, what can one say about a book that spends an entire, breathtaking chapter on the color white or pulls both Plato and Thomas Cranmer into a description of sitting atop the masthead?