What is liberty? “I call liberty the flowers, the air, light, the stars, the happiness of going whithersoever the nervous limbs of twenty years of age may wish to carry you.” So says Aramis of The Three Musketeers. It is a strange definition of liberty, but it may stand up to some scrutiny.
Basically, the definition includes three parts: access to nature, movement, and age.
Prison is usually thought of as removal from society, but it is also removal from nature. Nature is a glorious whole, but Aramis refers to it by parts. “The flowers, the air, light, the stars,” are all important parts of nature, and all are denied to the prisoner. Their import is hard to overestimate. A recent post on this blog mentioned the pleasure derived from being able to gaze on the stars after a long period without seeing them. As for light, the modern world is positively flooded with it, but at the end of the 17th century, the dramatic date of The Musketeers saga, artificial light was a luxury and anybody without access to sunlight would not have seen very much light at all.
The freedom of movement makes perfect sense as the standard for liberty. Chains, the universal symbol of oppression, restrict liberty by restricting movement. Being held in place is a clear opposite of liberty.
The final part of Aramis’s statement is the most interesting though: age. Youth is liberty. I had a college professor who asserted that he was less free than his students because of his age. He could have attributed his comparative lack of liberty to his job, his wife, his children; because of his responsibilities he is not totally at liberty. There are things he must do as an employee, a husband, a father, and so forth. But he did not point to his responsibilities, he pointed to his age. He no longer has the time or vitality of a man of twenty, and with each passing day his liberty is diminished accordingly.
So make good use of your liberty while you have it, one day you may find that you can no longer go whithersoever your limbs wish to carry you.
Beer of the Week: Bischoff Fritz Walter – There is a lot going on here. First, this beer seems to be named after Fritz Walter, legendary German soccer player. Germans love beer; Germans love soccer; nothing could be more natural. The label also includes the phrase “”einer für ALLE und ALLE für einer”: “one for ALL and ALL for one.” I am not sure if Walter was a big fan of Dumas, but who knows. As for the beer itself, I rather enjoyed it. My knowledge of the German language is quite limited, but I had a fair guess that “ungefiltert” meant exactly what it sounds like. When I inverted the bottle and saw sediment begin to swirl through the beer, my translational acumen was confirmed. Most surprising about this beer is that it seems to be an unfiltered European pilsner. I am so used to unfiltered beers being wheat beers, I was genuinely surprised to taste this crisp beer. I was reminded immediately of Pilsner Urquel, but after drinking a bit more, the sediment made itself felt in the form of a pleasant earthiness and spice that compliment the strong hops.
Reading for the Week: The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas – In this scene, Aramis acts as confessor for the book’s eponymous prisoner. The prisoner (in words very reminiscent of Lovelace’s “stone walls” and “iron bars”) claims that he is content in prison and demonstrates how he is as free as anybody because he can still look out of his window.
Question for the week: Aramis regards the prisoner’s assertion that he is still free because he has his window as “that sinister philosophy which is the religion of the captive.” Is this an indictment of stoicism?