Classics and the Western Canon discussion

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Interim Readings > Essays of Elia, selected

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments As a light refresher between two serious reads, let's take a look at a few of the Essays of Elia, by Charles Lamb.

Not so many people know these essays, but I've loved them for over half a century. I can't say that they're quite "great books" material, but when you read them with care there's more in them than first meets the eye.

We'll start with Old China. I don't think it's worth a full two week discussion, so I'll probably propose one or two more down the road depending on how things go. And I'm calling this topic the Essays, so if you know them or read any others and want to talk about them, that would fit in fine.

In case you want to get all the essays at once, here they are on Gutenberg.

And in case you don't know anything, or much, about Lamb here's an interesting short essay, though I disagree with the author that Lamb avoids making a point. I think he does so, but subtly, almost underhandedly.

So. Start with Old China, and then we'll see how the rest of the two weeks go. Enjoy!


message 2: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK Thanks a lot Everyman - an intriguing choice. I look forward to reading these essays and to the following discussion. I like the humour of Charles Lamb - it is quintessentially English:).


message 3: by Aranthe (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments Everyman wrote: "As a light refresher between two serious reads, let's take a look at a few of the Essays of Elia, by Charles Lamb.

We'll start with Old China....And in case you don't know anything, or much, about Lamb here's an interesting short essay,..."


<grin>I think the essay about him is longer than his essay.</grin>


message 4: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Perhaps one of the reasons this essay resonates with me is that I went through the same experience as I was starting to build my library. I had very little money, I was living in a basement apartment making less than minimum wage. I almost lived in second hand book shops, and every potential book purchase had to be carefully considered -- was this the book to spend my hard won $1.95 on? Or should it be that one? I could only afford two books this month after paying the rent and eating; which books should they be?

Today, I have no such worries. I can just go online to Amazon or Alibris or Abebooks and order whatever I want. No need to economize, no need to put off a book purchase until my next paycheck arrives and I can afford it. I still enjoy each book, but they certainly don't mean as much to me now as they did then.


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Haven't you run across more than one person who started out poor (or what they considered poor) and have now "made it," but have nostalgic memories of their days of poverty? "The happiest years of my life were those when we started out in that fourth floor walk-up in Greenwich Village, half the time no heat or hot water, often wondering where our next meal was coming from. But those were the happiest days of our lives...."

Why is this? Was he or she really happier being poor than being comfortably off, living in a nice house in a nice suburb with nice children and a nice dog and nice cars and nice neighbors . . .

What is the pull of nostalgia? Why do we think the "good old days" were so good? Is that reality, or is it a convenient memory? Were our problems less then than now, or do they just seem so in retrospect, that we have to deal with today's problems now but those of the past are gone and leave us the memories of the good times without the memory of the tenth time the sewer blocked up and the toilets overflowed, the roaches we could never get rid of, the . . .

I know old WWII veterans who resolutely claim that those were the best years of their lives. They had a purpose, they were bonded with others in a bond of life and death, of reliance on the others to a degree that few people in civilian life can experience? When life was always being lived on the edge, with people constantly trying to kill you? Is that really the best of life? Yet to hear their stories -- and, indeed, to read the Iliad and the stories of the Crusades, many people think indeed it was.

Is it really the case that humans are happiest when they face the greatest challenges? That life was not meant to be easy or comfortable, and that somewhere deep down we know that?

Just some of the thoughts that this essay raises in my mind.


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Quick thoughts:

There is a current scientific hypothesis about how memory works that says every time we "remember" something we rewrite the memory in our brain, changing it and recoloring it a bit. So memories alter over time and acquire new meanings for us depending how often we've taken them out and looked at them. The more intense and memorable the initial event, the more times we rewrite the memory and the more opportunity it has to change. I can see this in the dinner table stories that get told in my own family. They're starting to really diverge from my own recollections of the past!

If we constantly rewrite our past memories, especially the ones that were visceral and profound to start with, it would be normal to build them up and color them as larger than life. They would become even bigger and more compelling every time we took them out to look at them. Meanwhile the backed up septic tank falls off the radar entirely :)


toria (vikz writes) (victoriavikzwrites) | 186 comments Another quick thought; Lamb (talking in the voice of the cousin) says how she enjoyed strawberries when they were eaten as a special treat. This made me think of how I used to enjoy eating strawberries straight out of my Granddad's garden and how I used to look forward to the summer and that first strawberry. I wonder if I enjoy them as much now I can get them, from a supermarket, virtually all year round.


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Kate wrote: "Quick thoughts:

There is a current scientific hypothesis about how memory works that says every time we "remember" something we rewrite the memory in our brain, changing it and recoloring it a bit..."


Ah, yes. Memory is fascinating. I dealt with this for fifteen years as a trial lawyer, since most trial testimony is based on memory. It's amazing how differently people will testify about the same event. Often, of course, they're deliberately shading their testimony to favor their position. But even taking that into account, memories are often remarkably different. And sometimes witnesses are really trying hard to be absolutely accurate, and still giving very different reports of an event.

There has been a lot of work done on interrogators deliberately changing or creating memories, particularly in children (used to be very frequent when ardent child advocates wanted to nail somebody they thought was abusing a child). Memories can be created out of whole cloth. Researchers used to do this a lot before it became considered unethical -- they would have a family talk about an event that never happened -- such as a trip to Disneyland -- and after a while the child would report the event as something that actually happened to him or her -- and when the trick was revealed, the child would still believe in the false memory.

Fascinating stuff, memory!


toria (vikz writes) (victoriavikzwrites) | 186 comments Kate wrote: "Quick thoughts:

There is a current scientific hypothesis about how memory works that says every time we "remember" something we rewrite the memory in our brain, changing it and recoloring it a bit..."


Good point. Scientists also argue you that our early memories are more vivid since these experiences new and fresh. Every book we read when young is new and novel.


message 10: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Vikz wrote: "Another quick thought; Lamb (talking in the voice of the cousin) says how she enjoyed strawberries when they were eaten as a special treat. This made me think of how I used to enjoy eating strawb..."

That's a nice point. When something which was once scarce or limited becomes plentiful, does its appeal diminish? I remember in college that in late spring vendors would suddenly appear in the streets of Annapolis pushing wooden hand carts and calling in a distinctive cry "Strawwwwwwwwberries strawberries strawberries" and people would come flocking out of houses and apartments and dorms to get the freshly picked strawberries. It was a special experience. Now, as you say, we can get them virtually year round, not to mention that Costco sells big bags of frozen strawberries, and there's nothing special about a box of strawberries. Our children are growing up to assume that all sorts of foods that were once exotic are commonplace.

Which is true of other experiences, too, isn't it?


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Cleopatra recalls her younger years and their intensity and vitality, and in the process gives us an idiomatic expression for the experience you all are discussing above:

Cleopatra: My salad days,
When I was green in judgment: cold in blood,
To say as I said then!


message 12: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 01, 2010 03:27PM) (new)

One of my favorite volumes in my bathroom library is A Charles Lamb Daybook. Dating from at least 1927 to judge by an inscription on the flyleaf, this compilation of short excerpts from Lamb's letters and essays is delightful. In the introduction, E.V.Lucas writes that the 'Essays of Elia' are: "a complete revelation of the writer's character, and, with his correspondence, constitute an autobiography."

Here is the blog post that led me to Lamb and the Day Book. I am glad that Everyman is now leading us to the essays.

http://evidenceanecdotal.blogspot.com...

I'm not certain what my schedule will allow for discussion during the interim read (especially with being so far behind in Greek stuff) but I will try to share some of the nuggets with the group. I'll begin with a reference in a letter to his sister, who he cared for after the 32 year old Mary Lamb stabbed their mother to death with a kitchen knife.

It is no new thing for me to be left to my sister. When she is not violent, her rambling chat is better to me than the sense and sanity of this world. Her heart is obscured, not buried;it breaks out occasionally; and one can discern a strong mind struggling with the billows that have gone over it. I could be nowhere happier than under the same roof with her.


message 13: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Zeke wrote: "In the introduction, E.V.Lucas writes that the 'Essays of Elia' are: "a complete revelation of the writer's character, and, with his correspondence, constitute an autobiography.""

E.V. Lucas! Another English essayist I really enjoy, though only available now in the back shelves of the mustier second hand bookstores.


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Who was EV Lucas? Were his essays modern versions of Lambs?


message 15: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Zeke wrote: "Who was EV Lucas? Were his essays modern versions of Lambs?"

No, he wasn't really a modern Lamb. Whereas Lamb wrote very personal essays, Lucas wrote more traditional essays, many of them about literature and the arts. He also wrote a few novels -- I have, for example, London Lavendar (a 1912 First Edition) and Landmarks (a 1914 First Edition). But his essays are my favorites of his work.

Gutenberg has some of his work here
http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/autho...
but not my favorite books of essays, which are Loiterer's Harvest and Old Lamps for New. For some reason, Gutemberg seems mostly to have mostly travel essays and juvenile writing, not his casual essays and critical writing on literature and the arts.

He's not a deep writer, but I like his company on a quiet evening in front of the fireplace.


message 16: by Gayle (new)

Gayle Mangis | 163 comments Everyman wrote: "Haven't you run across more than one person who started out poor (or what they considered poor) and have now "made it," but have nostalgic memories of their days of poverty? "The happiest years of..."

September is starting this year, and I am not going back to a classroom--and not collecting a needed paycheck. While this essay definitely leads one back into nostalgic memories, I find a different pleasure in it today; the pleasure of remembering that the challenging times can be the happier times and that perhaps this financial struggle will help me to regain an appreciation of what is truly important in life.

We all know intellectually that "things" don't have lasting value, but how often do we cherish the simple pleasures in life. Going back to MiddleMarch: to live as Ladislaw enjoying every thing of beauty we find in life, instead of like Dorothea, ashamed of gifts we have been given, or worse like Rosamond, taking the gifts for granted and mourning any challenge to our every desire.


message 17: by Grace Tjan (last edited Sep 01, 2010 09:33PM) (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments "The ability to see the really important things was far more acute when they were poor. True insight disappeared when poverty disappeared. Surely this is a vast counter-cultural position, though one often found in Scripture and indeed in Socrates."

I found this on a blog (http://www.kirkcenter.org/index.php/b...) while googling. I wonder if this is indeed the point that Lamb is making? Or is he making an argument for the utter subjectiveness of memory instead?


message 18: by Mark (last edited Sep 02, 2010 07:20PM) (new)

Mark Williams | 45 comments I love the language and the universality of "Old China." Thanks for directing us to this, Everyman. I haven't come close yet to sorting it all out, but I'm enjoying the process, well-guided as I am by the comments thus far.

I was intrigued by Lamb's language in the second paragraph of the essay, referring to the china (tea cups , jars , and saucers?). "I had no repugnance then--why should I now have?--to those little, lawless, azure-tinted grotesques." Does the word "grotesque/s" have a less negative connotation in early 19th Century usage than today, or is there an intentional tension in having "no repugnance" to the "azure-tinted grotesques"? Are we to see the china as a metaphor for Lamb's nostalgia for his past and, maybe, the artificiality of remembering the "glory days" as positive and better than the present?

I think the comments so far, about Lamb dealing with our human nature to idealize, or remember fondly (and maybe unrealistically) times of economic hardship, are right on the mark. But I think he is also speaking to nostalgia more generally, and the human inevitability of growing old. Maybe I'm extrapolating beyond the text here, but it speaks to me of those themes. Especially toward the end of the essay, he seems to shift away from idealized memories of youthful financial limitations, to suggest regret about not being able to "purchase" what, return of his youth?, the glory days again?

Am I looking through the the lenses of my own aging process here?


message 19: by Grace Tjan (last edited Sep 01, 2010 10:42PM) (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Mark wrote: "I loved the language and the universality of "Old China." Thanks for directing us to this, Everyman. I haven't come close yet to sorting it all out, but I'm enjoying the process, well-guided as I..."

The "azure-tinted grotesques" might refer to a chinoiserie composition style that was in vogue during the late 18th century. I assume that they were also commonly employed in china design as well as wallpapers.

An example: http://jillbiskin.com/chinoiserie.html (Grotesque in the Manner of Watteau)


message 20: by Gayle (new)

Gayle Mangis | 163 comments Sandybanks wrote: "Mark wrote: "I loved the language and the universality of "Old China." Thanks for directing us to this, Everyman. I haven't come close yet to sorting it all out, but I'm enjoying the process, wel..."

"grotesque" is actually derived from "grotto" and originally described the fresco art found in Ancient Roman grottoes. These often included fanciful characters which led to the association of the word with the bizarre or strange and it was downhill from there in common usage. In art and literature the term is much more specific and I would guess that this is how Lamb is using it-although I would think it likely that the tension with "repugnance" is an intentional ambiguity of meaning.


message 21: by Andreea (last edited Sep 02, 2010 07:42AM) (new)

Andreea (andyyy) Mark wrote: "Are we to see the china as a metaphor for Lamb's nostalgia for his past and, maybe, the artificiality of remembering the "glory days" as positive and better than the present?"
To me,the old china represents life's little, seemingly petty pleasures. The first paragraph reads:

I cannot defend the order of preference, but by saying, that we have all some taste or other, of too ancient a date to admit of our remembering distinctly that it was an acquired one. I can call to mind the first play, and the first exhibition, that I was taken to; but I am not conscious of a time when china jars and saucers were introduced into my imagination.

I think that the use of the word "acquired" is important because "to acquire" can also mean "to gain or purchase an object". While his sister claims that the pleasure an acquisition brings us is directly proportional with the circumstances in which we made it, the narrator tells us that the circumstances are irrelevant. I love how subtle Lamb is, I'm going to go back and read some of his other essays this afternoon.


message 22: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK Zeke wrote: "Cleopatra recalls her younger years and their intensity and vitality, and in the process gives us an idiomatic expression for the experience you all are discussing above:

Cleopatra: My salad days,..."


Ah! Just like Moi:).


message 23: by MadgeUK (last edited Sep 02, 2010 02:37AM) (new)

MadgeUK Sandybanks wrote: "Mark wrote: "I loved the language and the universality of "Old China." Thanks for directing us to this, Everyman. I haven't come close yet to sorting it all out, but I'm enjoying the process, wel..."

Zeke wrote: "One of my favorite volumes in my bathroom library is A Charles Lamb Daybook. Dating from at least 1927 to judge by an inscription on the flyleaf, this compilation of short excerpts from Lamb's lett..."

Thanks for referring us to the Day Book Zeke. I empathise especially with 'I love to lose myself in other men's minds. When I am not walking, I am reading; I cannot sit and think. Books think for me.'

The paragraphs showing Lamb's empathy with the poor and appreciating his sister's strengths show what a kind man he must have been. How sad it was that he had to care for a schizophrenic sister at at ime when there was no medication available to treat her.

Lamb's reference to azure tinted chinoserie could refer to pottery like the Willow patterned crockery which was imported in large quantities from China from the 1750s onwards which was subsequently copied by English manufacturers like Spode when it became very popular indeed. I still serve my Christmas turkey from my grandmother's large willow pattern plate!

http://whitemorn.typepad.com/.a/6a00e...

Here is a history of it, together with the romantic story of the Willow Pattern, showing the significance of each bit of the pattern:-

http://www.thepotteries.org/patterns/...

Wallpapers and many other artefacts like lampshades, curtains, large vases and even toilets were made using the same design so it all got a bit OTT and could have been described as 'grotesque'.


message 24: by Kevin (last edited Sep 02, 2010 05:40AM) (new)

Kevin | 10 comments It seems that there is some wisdom to the old saw that the journey is more important than the destination. When we are having a difficult time financially, every little extra that we can do is a luxury and a victory. I believe it is this sense of victory that makes the good times good.
Maybe the problem is not success, but our failure to seek out the next challenge, to rest on our laurels, te feel that we have arrived? With financial success are we not better equipped to tackled some of the larger problems of society? How many of us when we lacked the means say "If only I had the money I would (fill in the philanthropic deed of your choice)". But having known "bad" times (which become the good times in retrospect) with success comes a desire to build up our own security, to make sure that we never want for anything again. Maybe the reason that in our wealth we long for the good times is because in the good times we could still believe in our best intentions, and the reason times are no longer "good" is because wealth has shown us the truth about ourselves, and we are not just a little disappointed.


message 25: by Mark (new)

Mark Williams | 45 comments Thanks for the images, Madge, of those azure-tinted china plates. Those photos confirm the mental image that Lamb's descriptive language had put in my head, but it is nice to see the real examples. And thanks to the other posters' comments on the "grotesque" reference and chinoiserie.

I'm still grappling with the metaphorical meaning of the "old china." Lamb calls those azure-tinted grotesques "lawless." That intrigues me, too. Maybe the images are so ornate and seemingly random that they don't follow any specific rules and are, therefore, lawless? He seems to me to be making a negative judgment on the "old china" for reasons I haven't sorted out satisfactorily. If the old china is a metaphor for what Bridget wishes would come again--the "good old times"--is Lamb telling us that our nostalgia about the good old times is artificial or somehow illegitimate?


message 26: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Gayle wrote: ""grotesque" is actually derived from "grotto" and originally described the fresco art found in Ancient Roman grottoes. These often included fanciful characters which led to the association of the word with the bizarre or strange and it was downhill from there in common usage."

The OED gives the definition: "A kind of decorative painting sculpture, consisting of representations of portions of human and animal forms, fantastically combined and interwoven with foliage and flowers."

They also confirm the origin as coming from "grotto" art.


message 27: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Mark wrote: "I'm still grappling with the metaphorical meaning of the "old china." Lamb calls those azure-tinted grotesques "lawless." That intrigues me, too."

We have to interpret this, I think, with the understanding that he seeks out and likes this old china. "we have all some taste or other, of too ancient a date to admit of our remembering distinctly that it was an acquired one." Perhaps there is something about the absurdity, lawlessness, even minor grotesqueness of the old stuff that appealed to him in the way that some dogs that look horribly ugly to me and perhaps to you are beautiful to others.


message 28: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Patrice wrote: "This piece brings to mind "The Hiero" by Xenophon. The tyrant complains that he has so much that nothing can bring him happiness."

Noel Coward wrote a song "Poor Little Rich Girl." While not having enough money for the basics of life can impede happiness, having far more than enough often doesn't enhance happiness. I look out my window at some of the huge and ostentatious yachts that cruise by and sometimes think that those who own them were probably happier when these things were a dream for them, not a reality


message 29: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Patrice wrote: "As I sit here with a lump in my throat I can't help wondering why eman thinks that this is a less serious read. "

From the discussion already, you're probably more right than I was.


message 30: by MadgeUK (last edited Sep 02, 2010 12:42PM) (new)

MadgeUK Mark wrote: "Thanks for the images, Madge, of those azure-tinted china plates. Those photos confirm the mental image that Lamb's descriptive language had put in my head, but it is nice to see the real examples...."

BTW 'China plate' is also Cockney (London) rhyming slang for Mate meaning a friend or a wife - mate rhyming with plate. As in 'How are you, me old china?' - the word plate is dropped because everyone knows what you mean (if you are a Cockney!).


message 31: by MadgeUK (last edited Sep 02, 2010 12:41PM) (new)

MadgeUK These are designs of of chinoserie wallpaper, also used for curtains, and as you can see they include 'fantastical' interwoven foliage and flowers combined with birds and animals:-

http://www.paulmontgomery.com/Wallpap...

As Mark says, there is a sort of 'lawlessness' about the designs because they are very random. The overall effect in a room could be overwhelming, as I remember from my grandmother's house when I lay recovering from my various childhood illnesses.


message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

I am glad you like Cowper. I could forgive a man for not enjoying Milton, but I could not call that man my friend who should be offended with the "divine chit-chat of Cowper." Write to me --God love you and yours.

Letter to Coleridge, 1796

[My cursory search indicates that Cowper was a very popular pastoral poet of the time. Generously cited as a forerunner of the Romantics. Less so, as a manic-depressive religious eccentric.]


message 33: by Aranthe (last edited Sep 03, 2010 07:43AM) (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments I like the way he makes the imagery and theme of perspective do double-duty:


• He parallels Elia's reaction to the china in "that world before perspective" with Bridget's nostalgic memories, then juxtaposes Elia's latter-day perspective against the two.

• The disjointed spacial perspective of the china's world also presents a nice parallel to the fragmented time perspective in Bridget's discourse.


message 34: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Zeke wrote: "I am glad you like Cowper. I could forgive a man for not enjoying Milton, but I could not call that man my friend who should be offended with the "divine chit-chat of Cowper." Write to me --God lov..."

For some reason, about ten years ago I bought a three volume set of the poems of Cowper. I was involved in something else when it came, so it went onto the TBR shelf and you reminded me that it's never left that. When I get some time I'll try to dip into it and see why Lamb liked him so.

One of the interesting things about Lamb is the number of poets and writers that he was friends with -- not only Coleridge, but Wordsworth, Keats, and others.


message 35: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Got to the library today and from my long list of books to get sometime settled on Woolf's A Room of One's Own. Turns out to have been inspired. Started it tonight, and early on found this:

"As chance would have it, some stray memory of some old essay about revisiting Oxbridge in the long vacation brought Charles Lamb to mind--Saint Charles, said Thackeray, putting a letter of Lamb's to his forehead. Indeed, among all the dead (I give you my thoughts as they came to me), Lamb is one of the most congenial; one to whom one would have liked to say, Tell me then how you wrote your essays? For his essays are superior even to Max Beerbohm's, I thought, with all their perfection, because of that wild flash of imagination, that lightening crack of genius in the middle of them which leaves them flawed and imperfect, but starred with poetry."


message 36: by [deleted user] (new)

Virginia Woolf: For his essays are superior even to Max Beerbohm's, I thought, ...

Isn't that setting the bar a bit low?


message 37: by Dianna (new)

Dianna | 393 comments I just got a copy of A Room of One's Own a couple of weeks ago at the trade-in bookstore.


message 38: by Rosemary (last edited Sep 03, 2010 12:53PM) (new)

Rosemary | 232 comments I saw the china as iconic of the pleasure in small luxuries which diminishes with satiation.

I felt that Lamb left it at least partially ambiguous whether the loss of that pleasure is inevitable when money increases, or whether it is partially our own attitude. Certainly his pleasure in the old china hasn't been diminished.

I'm not sure if there is any thematic relation, but since we're talking about what this essay reminded us of, I was reminded of Yeats's Lapis Lazuli. Entirely because of the imagery of the small carved (or painted) Chinese figures acting as a metaphor for the rest of the work.

PS- Thanks for re-introducing me to Lamb. My only prior encounter with him was Tales from Shakespeare as a child, which I sneered at as an act of adult condescension (I was a difficult child).


message 39: by [deleted user] (new)

Cousin Bridget

"She hath an awkward trick (to say no worse of it)of reading in company: at which times she will answer yes or no to a question, without fully understanding its purport--which is provoking, and derogatory in the highest degree to the dignity of the putter of said question."

(Mackery End, in Herfordshire)


message 40: by [deleted user] (new)

I found it interesting that the bulk of the essay is actually cousin Bridget's peroration. Not having read other complete essays by Lamb, I am not sure if this is a characteristic stylistic method. But it seemed odd that an essayist conveys what I assume to be his own opinion through the voice of someone who appears to be criticizing him.


message 41: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Zeke wrote: "I found it interesting that the bulk of the essay is actually cousin Bridget's peroration. Not having read other complete essays by Lamb, I am not sure if this is a characteristic stylistic method...."

I think you'll find that many of his essays start off in one direction and then use that as a springboard to go unexpected places. Usually moving from a fairly simple personal anecdote or experience into something meatier.


message 42: by Aranthe (last edited Sep 03, 2010 05:22PM) (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments Everyman wrote: "I think you'll find that many of his essays start off in one direction and then use that as a springboard to go unexpected places."

Which is why I'm not so sure that he is elevating "the good old days" above the present so much as creating a balance of tensions between nostalgia and embracing change, and in reconciling the two, recognizing that you never really lose the sweetness of the former by embracing the latter.

You said (of your books), "I still enjoy each book, but they certainly don't mean as much to me now as they did then." But would you be any more willing to give up reading the later purchases than the earlier ones? Is it the books themselves or the intensity of anticipation that made the early purchases more meaningful?

I've found that in the last few years, I've begun to appreciate, even savor, that tension between the then and now. Where I once felt I had lost something, I've begun to value the perspective I've gained in return. It's a subtler thing.

(Of course, I'm no wealthier now than I ever was, so maybe that's a difference, too. I can't spend thoughtlessly, even today, but my desires are relatively simple, too.)


message 43: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Aranthe wrote: "You said (of your books), "I still enjoy each book, but they certainly don't mean as much to me now as they did then." But would you be any more willing to give up reading the later purchases than the earlier ones? Is it the books themselves or the intensity of anticipation that made the early purchases more meaningful?"

That's a good question. I probably put it wrong. I still love the contents of the books. But when I can buy any book I want any time I want it, there isn't the anticipation, the question "which should take priority, this book or that book," the excitement when a book I have been able to afford shows up and I open the package. In my early years, my TBR shelf was very, very slim, because I only bought books when I was ready to read them. Now, I read about a book or come across a reference to it, and I go out and buy it to have it available when I can get to it. So my TBR shelf is many, many books long, and no single book as a book gives me the same excitement that a new book did in my early years of book buying.

The books themselves are not to blame. They still give me the same pleasure. But it's the attitude toward the physical presence of any particular book that has changed.


message 44: by [deleted user] (new)

I loved the way the young Lamb passed on a new and needed suit in order to buy a folio of Beaumont and Fletcher.

Thoreau wrote that anything which requires you to buy new clothes is not worth doing!


message 45: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Another delightful essay, this one showing Lamb's humorous side, is Mrs Battle's Opinions on Whist.

In case you don't know whist, it's very similar to modern bridge, four players in teams, but two major differences are a) that there is no bidding, and b) the last card dealt to the dealer is turned up, and that suit is trumps for the hand. That adds an element of luck to the hand, which is why the issue of luck comes up so strongly in the essay. A team scores one point for each trick taken in excess of six.


message 46: by MadgeUK (last edited Sep 04, 2010 04:37AM) (new)

MadgeUK Oh yes, that is a very amusing essay! You really build up a good picture of Mrs Battle as you read.

Do Americans have 'Whist Drives'? They used to be very popular here when I was younger but I think they have gone out of fashion:(. They were a good way of raising money for charity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whist_drive


message 47: by Mark (new)

Mark Williams | 45 comments S. Rosemary wrote: "I saw the china as iconic of the pleasure in small luxuries which diminishes with satiation.

I felt that Lamb left it at least partially ambiguous whether the loss of that pleasure is inevitable ..."


That was a very helpful post for me, S. Rosemary--thanks. I thought the last two sentences of the essay were interesting and powerful. The extra-long second-to-last sentence, that I had to struggle with a bit, has the narrator saying he knows not how much wealth he would be willing to bury to purchase the return of "those days" (the relative poverty of his youth). And, as you point out, he finishes, in the last sentence, with what I read as a nostalgic memory of one of the presumably chinoiserie scenes from the old china.

I really enjoyed Lamb's musing on nostalgia, the hopefulness and happiness of youth with its financial limitations, and the poignancy of looking back from the perspective of our later years. Thanks for recommending "Old China," Everyman. I look forward to reading about Mrs. Battle.


message 48: by [deleted user] (new)

Another example of literary serendipity. Immediately after reading "Old China," I was reading a contemporary novel in which a 31 year old Russian woman, "the author of two miscarriages," is brushed aside by her husband.

Iosef ate his dinner, went off to sleep with a grunt, and I thought of myself then as a piece of china--a single saucer,perhaps, or a lid--decorative and useless.

I am sure that had I read that before reading the essay the metaphor would have slipped past me with much less resonance. It was a nice reminder that literary images and allusions work on many levels simultaneously. Also, that the larger the bank we build up of them (even in our subconscious) the richer our reading can become.


message 49: by Rosemary (new)

Rosemary | 232 comments I was reading some on night shift (just coming off . . . it's almost 9am here and I need to go to bed!)

I glanced over Mrs. Battle's Opinions on Whist (I'll come back to it now), but I read and liked The Two Races of Men. I'm reading Bleak House and of course I thought of Skimpole. Now all I can think of is Polonius- 'neither a borrower nor a lender be!'

I (predictably) loved A Quaker's Meeting, since I am one, and I so rarely meet representations of us in non-Quaker literature.

Modern Gallantry struck me as very true today- not so much about men and women but about the ways we claim we're civilized but truly are not.

I started on Grace before Meat but at that point it was 2am-ish and I lost my concentration and switched to Sherlock Holmes.


message 50: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK Zeke wrote: "Another example of literary serendipity. Immediately after reading "Old China," I was reading a contemporary novel in which a 31 year old Russian woman, "the author of two miscarriages," is brushed..."

So very true Zeke! I wonder if our great-grandchildren will be reading references to Penguin Book mugs and deckchairs?

http://www.artmeetsmatter.com/product...


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