The Bliss of Solitude

I recently received a letter in which my friend announced his intention to stop arguing with people when they say that they do not like winter. He is convinced of the correctness of his love for winter and anything that is already true and right does not need to be defended. There is no need for him to argue because being right is its own victory.

To the extent that winter means skiing and hot apple cider with rum, I think that it is clear how winter is wonderful. To the extent that my breath freezes in my mustache and my neighbors never shovel their sidewalk, winter is dreadful. Luckily, when winter becomes overly oppressive, we are at liberty to turn our minds to warmer subjects and grant ourselves respite from winter’s weary ways.

So if you are cold and longing for fairer weather, imagine a sunny day with a warm and gentle breeze. And from the top of a lush green hill, you look down on a sparkling, blue lake. Along the cost of the lake are myriad golden daffodils fluttering in the aforementioned breeze, almost dancing.

Doesn’t that sound pleasant? Doesn’t it sound familiar? It should; after all, that is the scene that William Wordsworth conjures in the poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. In the poem, Wordsworth claims that he imagines the daffodils when he is “In vacant or in pensive mood,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if he also turns his mind to that beautiful spring day when he gets fed up with winter.

 

Beer of the Week: Kunstmann Lager – I’ve never been to South America, but I have been led to believe that it is currently summer there. So I’ve decided to pair this reading with a Chilean beer. Kunstmann Lager is very clear and light. It is alright, but somewhat weak in the flavor department. One can taste hints of the same malt flavors found in Kunstmann Bock and Kunstmann’s Pale Ale, however, it is not quite as good as either of those two. It really is a decent beer and is better than many similar beers, but it is still my least favorite so far from this Chilean brewer.

Reading of the week: I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth – The reading last week was from English Traits by Emerson. I was so impressed with the people that Emerson got to meet personally, that I’ve decided to read works by many of them. So here is the first of a series of readings inspired by English Traits: a lovely little poem about flowers and the ability to “flash upon that inward eye” and imagine beautiful scenes.

Question of the week: Where is your “happy place”?

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It’s not what you know; it’s who you know. Also, what you know.

Today I watched a marathon of the television show Shark Tank.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, if I remember high school English class correctly, was a close friend and mentor of Thoreau. He also had a correspondence with Walt Whitman. Whitman, it seems, was acquainted with Oscar Wilde. (And if the rumors are true, they were “well acquainted”, if you catch my drift.) But Emerson’s connections did not stop there.

In his book English Traits, Emerson describes meeting and conversing with a number of great artists and literary figures of his day: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Carlyle, William Wordsworth, Thomas de Quincey, and more. I suppose that it should not be shocking that these sorts of gentlemen would move about in the same circles, but I still find it remarkable that so much talent and intellectual power should be found among a small group of people who know each other. It calls to mind Socrates, Plato, Xenophon, Aristotle and Theophrastus, although those gentlemen were all in the same city*.

Even more interesting than the people Emerson met was the conversations that they had. In English Traits, he describes conversations about a wide range of topics, from poetry and politics to art and architecture. These men were not just writers, they were well educated and extremely well rounded intellectuals. Reading this book has made my painfully aware of my own educational deficiencies. I imagine being introduced to Emerson and the conversation flagging. He, naturally, would want to talk about modern trends in art and philosophy. I would sheepishly admit that I know nothing about either subject and ask if he’d ever seen Shark Tank.

Beer of the Week: Köstritzer Schwarzbier – One would expect me to pair an English beer with English Traits. However, I chose a German beer to help make up for something that Emerson missed out on. When he traveled Europe, Emerson did not visit Germany because Goethe was already dead. Not only did Emerson not get to meet Goethe, he didn’t get to drink delicious German beers! “Schwarzbier” means “black beer”, and Köstritzer lives up to the name. It is not quite as black as pitch, but very little light makes it through when the glass is held up to the light. The aroma is mostly malty. The flavor has plenty of influence from the dark-roasted malt, but there is also a nice balance of hops to round out it out. The feel is light and refreshing for a beer this dark. Overall, this is a very nice beer.

Reading for the Week:  English Traits by Ralph Waldo Emerson – This selection of English Traits includes Emerson’s account of his meeting with Walter Savage Landor (to whom he was introduced by the very well known American sculptor Horatio Greenough.) They discussed everything from ancient art to entomology. What an fascinating conversation that must have been.

Question for the week: What is the reason that there are apparently so few thoroughly rounded intellectuals these days? Is it because of increased disciplinary specialization?