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November 17, 1957 - Image 11

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f T " w --

Page Sixteen


Sunday, November 17, 1957

Sunday, November 17, 1957


Emily Dickinson

JOHN AUBREY: The Determined Gossip

(Continued from Page 1)
sors, of the sovereign self-suf-
ficiency of the individual soul.
Testing the validity of self-reli-
ance by its application to the
inner, rather than the social life,
she became convinced of the
transcendental power and beauty
of rational perception. Her poems
are exercises in proportion; like
Emerson's "Compensation," they
were re-creations of the theolog-
ical paradox of spiritual gain
springing from earthly loss. At
best, they reflected the moral
stability as well as the intellectual
ferment of New England society,
mingling polished artfulness and
accuracy with idiomatic roughness
and "the rugged power of sense"
THE LAST PART of the book
deals extensively with the
structural clothing of Emily Dick-
inson's thought. Her poems were
essentially simple in meter and
form, adopted mainly from the
lyrics and hymns that she knew,
but like any artist, she struggled
to match her thoughts with her
expression of them.
Caring little for the niceties of
perfect grammatical structure and
absolute rhyme, she nevertheless
discarded them only when neces-
sary for meaning or contextual
consistency. The imagery is always
clear and often startling; usually
taken from nature, it becomes as
complex as the thought to which
it refers. Whicher follows the
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shape of the metaphor through
several levels of Miss Dickinson's
intellectual poetry, from the mere
n o t i n g of mental phenomena
through similes, to the actual per-
sonification of the abstract gen-
eralizations derived from the dis-
tillation of this data.
the confirmation of her poeti-
cal truths through experience,
Emily Dickinson shifted from ra-
tionalist to mystic to transcen-
dentalist to humorist with the
speed of spilled mercury. Whicher
sees her as an anticipation of the
future. Realizing in her loneliness,
"the full implications of the in-
dividualist's defeat by circum-
stance," she created for herself
a dynamic existence, within the
static bonds of isolation.
This Was a Poet is a pain-
stakingly complete treatment of
Miss Dickinson's life and poetry.
Despite the author's claims to the
contrary, the critical part of the
book is more valuable to the aver-
age reader than is the strictly
biographical section. W h i c h e r
claims for Miss Dickinson a posi-
tion closer to that of the Meta-
physicals than to that of the
Romantics commonly associated
with her century. Whether his
conclusions are entirely justified
depends primarily upon the in-
dividual reader's experience with
the poetry in questibn and his will-
ingness to accept the universal
validity of the poet's work.

(Continued from Page 0)
down the last detail concerning
someone's birth or death, and to
undersand the problems he would
DICK WRITES of Aubrey:
Sometimes ,too, he asked so
many questions that his
friends took pleasure in teas-
ing him: "Dr. John Newton--
-he told me he was borne in
Bedfordshire, but would not
tell me where": while at other
times his repeated queries
seem to have exasperated
them: "The Earle of Carnar-
von does not remember Mr.
Brown, and I ask't his Lord-
ship lately if any of his serv-
ants doe; he assures me NO."
There was also the problem of
accuracy with which Aubrey had
to cope:
Tombstones were scanned
for dates, and often proved
fallible, for though Aubrey
noticed that there was some-
thing wrong about the follow-
ing: "Pray for the soul of
Constantine Darrel Esq. who
died Anno Domini 1400 and
his wife, who died Anno
Domini 1495": he had no way
of checking .
TIS, of course, raises problems
in the reading of the Lives.

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Some of the stories he tells can
be easily discounted by the lay-
man's knowledge of medicine, as
can the incident in the life of Dr.
William Butler:
A Gent, with a red ugly,
pumpled face came to him for
a cure. Said the Dr., I must
hang you. So presently he
had a device made ready to
hang him from a Beame in
the roome, and when he was
e'en almost dead, he cutt the
veines that fed these pumples
and lett out the black ugley
Blood, and cured him.
But how is one to judge the sto-
ries of Aubrey's which sound so
reasonable and raise no questions
in the reader's mind? The infer-
ence in Dick's prefatory essay is
that Aubrey, as well-intentioned
as he may have been, believed
what he recorded to be actual.
When there was a doubt, Aubrey
usually indicated it.
Credible or not, however, Aub-
rey's writings have a verisimili-
tude that rises from the author's
apparent conviction-unless oth-
erwise noted. And the author's be-
lief reflects on the nature of the
seventeenth century, leaving his
writings to represent, if not the
truth, certainly the seventeenth
century viewpoint of life.
ONE OF these viewpoints, or at-
titudes, is the concern for sci-
ence that was growing steadily in
that century. The persons Aubrey
writes the most about are the men
of science - Francis Bacon and
his Advancement of Learning,
Halley and the comet, and Wil-
liam Harvey and his theory of
the circulation of the blood. Aub-
rey says of the latter, when his
book came out,
that he fell mightily in his
Practize, and that 'twas be-
leeved by the vulgar that he
was crack-brained; and all
the Physitians were against
his Opinion, and envyed him;
many wrote against him.
The new science, the first re-
fusal, the old superstition -
Aubrey has caught them all in
this passage. Halley's life, how-
ever, a very short one, is primarily
superstition. Bacon's is science to
the end, where Bacon himself dies
of exposure in an experiment.
There are many other promin-
ent lives that Aubrey describes,
too. Of Shakespeare, he says, "His
Comoedies will remaine witt as
long as the English tongue is un-
derstood .. . " Of Sidney, "He was
a reviver of Poetry in those darke
times, which was then at a very
low ebbe: there is not three lines
but there is 'by God', or 'by God's
AUBREY'S faculty for descrip-
tion of features was well-
developed. Of Sir Walter Raleigh,
"an exceeding high forehead,
long-faced and sour eie-lidded, a
kind of pigge-eie. His beard turnd
up naturally."
Since Aubrey depended on in-
formation to come in his direc-
tion and only rarely went looking
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for additional facts, many of the
Lives are short, incomplete, odd-
ly-constructed passages which
only give hints of the real person
and make no attempt at a com-
plete description. An example is
the Life of Richard Lovelace, the
cavalier poet:
Richard Lovelace, Esq., he
was a most beautifull Gentle-
Obiit in a Cellar in Long
Acre, a little before the Res-
tauration of his Majestie. Mr.
Edmun4 Wyld, etc., have
made collections for him, and
given him money. George Pet-
ty, Haberdasher, in Fleet
Street, carried xxs. to him ev-
ery Monday morning from Sir
John Many and Charles Cot-
ton, Esq., for many moneths,
but was never repayd.
One of the handsomest
men in" England. He was an
extraordinary handsome Man,
but prowd. He wrote a Poem
called "Lucasta.
ANOTHER of the shortest of the
Lives is the two-paragraph
story of Sir Everard Digby, a con-
Sir Everard Digby was a
most gallant Gentleman and
one of the handsomest men of
his time,
'Twas his ill fate to suffer
in the Powder-plott. When
his heart was pluct out by the
Executioner (who, secundum
formam, cryed, Here is the
heart of a Traytor) it is
credibly reported, he replied,
Thou liest!
Indeed, Aubrey seems most con-
cerned with physical descriptions
and with deaths, the most-n-
cluded information in the Lives as
a whole. But he is not above di-
gressing, something he often does.
Half of the essay on Bacon is a
description of the country home
of Sir Francis. In the life of Sir
John Birkenhead, Aubrey relates
the circumstances of the gentle-
man's death (he "pined away")
and then concludes the Life
I remember at Bristow
(when I was a boy) it was a
common fashion for the woe-
men to get a Tooth out of a
Sckull in the Church yard;
which they wore as a preser-
vative against the Tooth-ach.
Under the Cathedral-church
at Hereford is the greatest
Charnel-house for bones, that
ever I saw in England ... a
poor old woman that, to help
out her fire, did use to mix
the deadmen's bones: this
was thrift and poverty: but
cunning alewives putt the
Ashes of these bones in their
Ale to make it intoxicateing.
BUT THESE extended com-
ments, often more than any
other part of the Lives, present a
candid view of England in the
1600s. The conflict, really just
starting, of science vs. superstition
and, eventually, religion, is one
whose beginnings are easy to
Aubrey's ability to create living
characters in a few words is com-
mendable although probably un-
conscious. But the most pleasant
moments of all in Aubrey's Brief
Lives come with the short, off-
hand comments of a contempor-
ary historian that today have a
different meaning and context for
the world. "He wrote a Poem
called 'Lucasta'," is one of these.
Another concludes the life of
James Bovey, a merchant who
had seen most of Europe: "In all
his Travills he was never robbed."
Another is the comment on the
person sought by a potential pa-
tron, but who had been hung two
weeks earlier: "He unluckily lost
a good opportunity of being pre-

The Dick edition of Aubrey's
Brief' Lives has indeed many re-
wards for the reader seeking ac-
gaintance with seventeenth cen-
tury England. The scholar, how-
ever, will want co return to the
original editions, as the present
one is intended for the general
reader, who should find it very
instructive gossip.

(Continued from Page 4)
and wastelands came another
name on the map.
Alex and Maria are proud of
the new face they helped to put
on their country. They report that
even today large-scale building is
in progress. From all outward ap-
pearances, battle-scarred Poland
seems to have recovered well from
the war.
"Yes," Maria muses thought-
fully, "we have built up Poland
materially." She pauses, contin-
ues very seriously: "You know
they say that Germany lost the
war, but it was really Poland. Per-
haps some people even in Poland
never realize the deep effect ,of a
war. It does not matter that they
destroy 90 per cent of Warsaw,"
Maria leans forward, eyes burn-
ing, face intense. "A house you
can rebuild, the chance to be
young, never!"
SHE relaxes, continues, slowly,
more quietly: "You wonder
why we feel cynical toward life? I
will tell you: It is because we have
never had anything to do with
youth. We are 20 and 30 years old;
we feel like 40 or 50."
With a wistful smile she says:
"Now I am here at this University
where I see people at parties, act-
ing like teenagers, having a good
time. And I feel jealous that I
couldn't have had a normal child-
hood. I wanted to laugh, to play,
to feel no pressure, to feel secure.
But somehow there was never
time. Now I can do these things.
But I don't feel right; I feel too
Maria and her friends matured
too quickly. When they should
have been having fun, they were
hiding out in cellars, fighting
Nazis; when they should have
been exploring the adolescent's
world, they were rebuilding their
country. If they act and feel old-
er than people of their own age,
as Maria says, it's because they-
assumed more demanding respon-
sibilities. They had to.
Maria's feelings, she points out,
are peculiar only to her genera-
tion. Today's Polish teenagers are

more normal. They don't remem-
ber war and its aftermath as viv-
idly as Maria, and their attitude,
if less mature than Maria's was at
their age, is certainly brighter.
MARIA'S generation may be bit-
ter, but it is also realistic. Its
young people know they are the
real leaders of their country, and
as such they are seeking positive
means for its betterment.
Education is their prime tool.
Alex remembers the first year or
so after the war when he was go-
ing to a university in Krakow:
"We had to walk many miles to
get there. The whole country was1
in such a mess; there was no1
transportation. At the school, no
glass in the windows, no heat in
the winter. Yet many, many
people came to study."
Education is a subject upon
which Maria can talk for hours.
An English teacher - she ma-
jored in English philology at the
University of Warsaw and later
taught it there - she has great
faith in the power of education to
improve communications between
It's easy, she maintains, for one
to get a wrong idea of life in a
country across the globe. "You
Americans speak-of an iron cur-
tain. But I would stress a hundred
times"-her voice rises, tone is
emphatic- "that Polish people feel
no iron curtain. If there is any
barrier, it is misunderstanding, not
an iron curtain."
MARIA is a linguist and she
"believes in perfecting com-
munications." It is her firm con-
viction that if we knew more about
life in other countries from the
people there, some of our miscon-
ceptions would be cleared up.
One wrong idea she hastens to
reinterpret is "your assumption of
Polish ideology." Claims she: "Most
Americans think that communism
and its ideology occupies more of
the daily life of the people than
it really does."
If we considered Poles as being
primarily similar to us: students,
husbands and wives, people with
jobs and families to raise, we would
be more realistic.
Maria has given this topic much
thought. What she asserts she does
sincerely and with strong convic-
tion: "When we start wars, we say
that we fight our enemy because
he is bad, cruel, or whatever, but
really because he is different from
us. It is not so. We are exactly the
same as our opponents. We build
racial, social and class prejudices
with our imagination. And it is
this imagination that deceives us,
because we are basically the same.
We feel the same pains and joys
no matter whether we are com-
munists, socialists or capitalists."
WHEN it comes to politics, Maria
shies away from direct com-
ment. But she doesn't hesitate to

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declare that "modern politics and
science have become, so to speak,
dehumanized. It is as if we were
dealing with tree trunks, not
Maria's greatest dream "is to or-
ganize a large-scale student ex-
change program among Poland,
West Europe and the United
Some sparse student interchange
has already taken place, mostly in
the last year since the revolt. Here
Maria interjects a word about last
fall. It was not an attempt to over-
throw the existing regime, she
explains and Alex agrees, but to
make it "more honest for the
people. We wanted to make social-
ism really socialism." Although
communism may have a political
connotation for Americans, Maria
points out that when Poles speak
of communism, it's mainly in
terms of a socialist economy--one
with which they would have no
quarrel "if the execution were as
honest as the principles."
Were they successful? Maria an-
swers in her own terms. The post-
revolt period is "a different exist-
ence." There is much more per-
sonal freedom, and also English
books can be freely . imported,
Americans and Westerners are
coming to visit, student exchange
is beginning.
EVEN BEFORE the uprising,
Polish students were avid in
their quest for knowledge of their
own and foreign cultures. Maria
and Alex report that the least
stimulating lectures or exhibits on
foreign subjects are always jam-
med to capacity in Polish universi-
She wonders why American stu-
dents are indifferent to their own
and other cultures: "Sometimes a
Pole will know more about America
and American history than the
average American."
In the Polish eye, Americans are
especially lackadaisical when it
comes to discussion groups.
"The other day, recalls Maria,
"I attended a political issues club
you have here on campus. I was
amazed to find only a small group.
See POLISH, page 19


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