And Many More Essays.
by Paul Mathers
Deaths of Little Children, by James Henry Leigh Hunt
Oh, and it’s about as cheery as the title might suggest! Hunt was of the Byron and Shelley crowd, but was not as accomplished of a poet. It is unfortunate that he did not focus more on being an essayist. The core idea of this piece is that the death of a child is, of course, nearly the most terrible thing that could happen to a person. However, one slight consolation might be that those who have lost a small child, in a manner of speaking, have an infant forever, whereas those who watch their children grow up have this weird beast in front of them that ate their child and took on its features.
Note: If you are reading this in order to steal my ideas for an essay, please know that I really ran far into the hinterlands of paraphrase in my summation above.
Good? Yes, but odd and bleak. Gained from reading it? I guess. Recommend it? I wouldn’t not recommend it.
On the Realities of Imagination, by James Henry Leigh Hunt
What is the difference between dream life and waking life? It all takes place inside of your brain as far as you are concerned. A madman sees four foot long beetles on the wall. You do not see them. He really does see them though! To him, they are as real as you.
So it is with poets and artists.
Good? Yes. Gained from it? Well, not much besides hearing a second to ideas that I frequently state. Recommend it? Sure.
The Tragedies of Shakespere (sic), by Charles Lamb
I almost threw the book across the room. Lamb makes an argument that Shakespeare is meant to be read rather that to be seen performed on a stage. He states that a performance might forever taint the image of the action of the play in the mind of the reader/viewer, as if Hamlet will forever be David Tennant or Derek Jacobi or Kenneth Branagh or so forth, in your mind’s eye. As if you were some kind of drooling idiot whose imagination retards upon first imprint.
I wanted to grab Charles Lamb by the collar and shout in his face, “YOU SHOULD DO BOTH! READ IT AND WATCH IT! IMMERSION!”
So, I have a long path of recovering any shred of respect for Charles Lamb ahead of me.
Good? No. Evil. Gained from it? No! Recommend it ? No! No! No!
Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow, by Thomas de Quincey
I had heard of the author of Confessions of an English Opium Eater, but this was the first time I’ve had the pleasure of reading him. His writing is a heady wine. I have an affinity for the type who are brilliant, but after you talk with them for a few minutes you realize that they are more than a little mad (Taylor Mead and Glenn Gould spring to mind).
de Quincey gives a sort of morose alternative to the muses: Our Lady of Tears, Our Lady of Sighs, and Our Lady of Darkness. Seriously, this is what you should give to your nephew who is over-enamored with the poetry of Jim Morrison in hopes of getting him to read good literature.
Good? Yes. Gained from it? Yes. Recommend it? Yes. And I look forward to reading more of de Quincey once I am free from the shackles of this series.
A Defence of Poetry, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
It was worth reading the whole volume simply for this piece. This is the essay from which we get the oft quoted “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” That is, in fact, the summation of the piece which might also well serve as a thesis statement.
Shelley illustrates how, essentially, poets have created human civilization:
“The exertions of Locke, Hume, Gibbon, Voltaire, Rousseau, and their disciples, in favor of oppressed and deluded humanity, are entitled to the gratitude of mankind. Yet it is easy to calculate the degree of moral and intellectual improvement which the world would have exhibited, had they never lived. A little more nonsense would have been talked for a century or two; and perhaps a few more men, women, and children burnt as heretics. We might not at this moment have been congratulating each other on the abolition of the Inquisition in Spain. But it exceeds all imagination to conceive what would have been the moral condition of the world if neither Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Calderon, Lord Bacon, nor Milton, had never existed; if Raphael and Michael Angelo had never been born; if the Hebrew poetry had never been translated; if a revival of Greek literature had never taken place; if no monuments of ancient sculpture had been handed down to us; and if the poetry of the religion of the ancient world had been extinguished together with its belief.”
Shelley is one of the greatest authors in the entire collection.
Good? Great! Gained from it? Yes! Recommend it? Yes!
Machiavelli, by Thomas Babington Macaulay
I braced myself for another piece on the subject of something upcoming in the series which really should have been placed after I had read that piece. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was the exact opposite. It is a piece in which the author explains why Machiavelli existed, explains the time and political climate in which he lived, apologizes for him in a way, and then explains why one ought to read him. The style of prose was excellent and vibrant.
Good? Yes! Gained from it? Yes! Recommend it? Yes!