Letters to Atticus, Volume III: Letters 166–281 Letters to Atticus, Volume III discussion

Atticus: An Old One and a New

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message 1: by Ronald (new)


As Bruce Bawer points out, too, in his article “The Other Sixties” in The Wilson Quarterly from the late ‘50s onward into the beginning years of the 1960s one is struck “by the sudden proliferation of the word new.” There was talk of a new world order, a new math, a new feminism in Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl(1962), a new spirit in the Catholic Church in the convening of the Second Vatican Council(1962). There was a new popularized high culture in Leonard Bernstein’s promotion of classical music. Food and fashion were also affected with the new. There was a new consciousness of social problems: the population explosion, crime and pollution, et cetera, et cetera. This newness was reflected in the movies in a defining work of the period about prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird(1962).

So many things were seen as new, partly as a result of the prosperity of the 1950s which resulted, by the 1960s, in a feeling people could now do something with that prosperity. The late fifties was a period, writes Bawer, between the tranqillized fifties and the rock-and-roll sixties, between the acceptance of sacrosanct middle class values in the earlier 1950s and their dismissal in a condescending fashion in the 1960s. There was a new awareness of disturbing realities concealed beneath society’s genial and placid surfaces. These years, 1959 to 1962, were a “decent, earnest, innocent interlude” that ended sharply on November 22nd 1963 with the assassination of President John Kennedy. They were also my first three years as a Baha’i.

On Friday the 13th of June 2003, Gregory Peck, the famous twentieth century actor, died. He was 87. Among the many roles he played over many years was that of a lawyer in the 1962 production of To Kill a Mockingbird based on the 1960 novel by the same name. That film was released onto the screen just as my pioneering life began in the hot Canadian August of 1962 for the Canadian Baha’i community. Peck played Atticus Finch, a small town lawyer in the southern states set in 1932. It was a hero-role which was later voted as the most famous of film hero roles in the twentieth century. That hero, played by Gregory Peck, personified a new justice. His name also reminded me of Atticus to whom the Roman Cicero wrote many of his famous letters. -Ron Price with thanks to "Plot Summaries of Films," Internet, 13 June 2003.

His exterior was, in many ways, dull:
an ordinary 18 year old, played
baseball, was a good kid, didn't
mess with girls, although he’d
have liked to—left that to later.
He struggled, as most boys did
then insecurely to find security.

The asphyxia-wrap of his urban
civilization barely known, noisy
horrors of a dieing world, scarcely
visible, would not have called it
oppression, even though it was
dispensed with unctuous unconcern
from a lighted, chirping box every
night at 6, 6:30 and 7 setting the
tone for the evening yet again and

He was surviving the games of his
school and that subtle view of life
which sees it as endless indulgence.
He was on the edge of a battle for
his soul in the midst of hegemonies
of materialistic-normality and a pain
at the heart of life which broke through
and seared his emotions to the core.

In all this, Gregory Peck, always that
handsome and in command-man, was
showing a new justice to the world, a
justice that was slowly, not-so-slowly
taking the world by storm in the midst
of a tempest that would blow all his life.

His ordinary self's protective chrysalis
of everyday reality had been pierced
with a new Voice in a new Day, but oh
so gently it insinuated itself into the very
heart of his being very, very seductively.

Ron Price
21 December 2008

message 2: by Ronald (new)

Ronald Price More on Cicero--thanks to Anthony Trollope.-Ron Price, Australia

In discussing the character of a man, there is no course of error so fertile as the drawing of a hard and fast line. We are attracted by the salient points, what seems to stand out in his life and, seeing them clearly and repeatedly, we jump to conclusions. That is natural. These conclusions may even have some validity. These qualities that stand out may be likened to a lighthouse guiding our way in the night or, in the day, serving as a landmark in our travels. But they are only a guide. They tell us little of the surrounding landscape, none of the geology, the history, the botany, the geography of the nearby terrain. This is even more true of a man's life, so far removed in its detail, in many of its essentials and basic truths from the general sketch, the highlights we come to know in our mind’s eye, in our general portrait that we paint of him or her, which at best is all that is usually passed down to succeeding generations before that portrait, that sketch, disappears in the great abyss that is at the centre of history.

The man of letters on the other hand is, in truth, ever writing his own biography or autobiography. What is in his mind he declares to the world, to whoever reads his works and, if noone reads any of his work, he may be fortunate to have it preserved archivally. If he finds a readership, if his work is well written, this memoir, this autobiography, perhaps even a biography will be all that is necessary. It will take us far beyond that lighthouse into the terrain of geology, history, botany, geography—the beginnings at least of a total view. And, finally, as T.S. Eliot put it squarely while the 20th century experienced the beginnings of a magnitude of ruin it brought upon itself, a writer must live with the possibility that his writing is no good, of no value, will never be read---or as Leonardo put it at the end of his life in an even bleaker context---that he has done nothing at all. -Ron Price with thanks to Anthony Trollope, The Life of Cicero, quoted in Trollope, Victoria Glendinning, Pimlico, London, 1993, p.v.

There are some lighthouses here.
I 've set them out along the coast
to guide your way through the night
of my life and there has been much
night, black clouds and darknesses.

I've also provided rich and varied
collections of flora and fauna to tell
you something of the living tissue of
my days, some of its green shoots,
its flowers, its bright colours and
some of its exotic-passion texture.

I've even left you a map to help
you connect with nearby towns
and villages; for I have belonged
to a community where people knew
me and would tell you something of me.

But, again, do not jump to conclusions
about the nature of my person and self.
What I have left behind, like the lighthouse,
can only guide your travels, point the way.

I have tried to be faithful to the Covenant of God,
to fulfil in my life a trust in the realm of spirit
obtain the gem of divine virtue.(1)
But how successful I have been that
is a mystery to me, as much as thee.

(1) Baha'u'llah, Hidden Words, Introductory passage.

Ron Price
17 January 2002

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