Jan 5: Soaring Eagle and Contented Stork

But it’s not Animal Week at the Harvard Classics – instead, it’s something from Mazzini (who “labored for the freedom of Italy, but was exiled.”), and his comparison so Byron (eagle) and Goethe (stork). The hook is that Byron arrived in Greece on this day in 1824 to fight for Greek independence, and nothing so far has told me that the Harvard Classics are from another world as this – the fact that Dr. Eliot and friends consider, not even Byron’s writing, but an event from his life, to be celebration-worthy.

One begins to understand the hostility of the old guard when they started writing about cinema in the quality magazines…Pop was the death of the world where Byron’s fight for Greek independence was an appropriate sticker to put on one’s intellectual baggage.

Point for me: I did know that Byron had swum the Hellespont.

Okay, on to Vol. 32, pp. 377-396.

But first another note about volume 32! It’s “Literary and Philosophical Essays: French, German, and Italian.” the lineup is :

• Montaigne (whom I loved in college)
• Sainte-Beuve (who I’ve never heard of, but who is pictured opposite the title page wearing a hat that is almost certainly not a yarmulke, but if it were a yarmulke it would be worn at the jauntiest, Frenchiest angle ever. Presumably this is before the Dreyfus Affair.)
• Renan (who I’ve heard of, but c’est tout)
• Lessing (what’s German for “ditto”?)
• Schiller
• Kant (Kant! No wonder the spines on this edition – and probably all editions – of the Harvard Classics are so smooth! I couldn’t make heads or tails of Kant back when I didn’t get so sleepy. And just shoved in volume of essays with Montaigne and jaunty quasi-yarmulke wearing dudes! )
• And Mazzini. So the volume should really be called “Literary and Philosophical Essays: French, German, and an Italian.”

All right, here we go, here we go. As I turn to the essay (it’s the last one), there’s the crackle you get when you go deep into a hardcover book for the first time. Clearly Great-Grandpa wasn’t having any future metaphysics of morals.

Hey, an introductory note! Mazzini (1805-1872), fought tooth and nail for Italian independence, mostly from London, which I guess was lousy with political rabble-rousers. Apparently finding Italian government disappointing is a long tradition.

Okay, first of all, Byron is compared to a falcon, not an eagle. And Mazzini, or his translator, uses “from whence” (one of the irritating things about the Harvard Classics is that they never tell you who the translator is).

Summary: We overreacted in hating Goethe for his (unnamed) politics. I can only assume they were quasi-reactionary, because he’s being compared with Byron who, as we know, fought for Greek independence.

Then:

Our earthly life is one phase of the eternal aspiration of the soul towards progress, which is our law; ascending in increasing power and purity from the finite towards the infinite; from the real towards the ideal; from that which is, towards that which is to come. In the immense storehouse of the past evolutions of life constituted by universal tradition, and in the prophetic instinct brooding in the depths of the human soul, does poetry seek inspiration.
One waits for Groucho to reply to a Dumontian outburst like this.. The Harvard Classics definitely takes place in a pre-Groucho world.

Onward…it turns out they are the last individualists:
The Poetry of the epoch had represented individuality in its every phase; had translated in sentiment what science had theoretically demonstrated; and it had encountered the void. But as society at last discovered that the destinies of the race were not contained in a mere problem of liberty, but rather in the harmonization of liberty with association—so did poetry discover that the life it had hitherto drawn from individuality alone was doomed to perish for want of aliment; and that its future existence depended on enlarging and transforming its sphere...
Jesus. Maybe poetry was doomed to perish because of criticism like this. I can’t even finish this, not with the children fighting like they are downstairs. Maybe I’ll finish reading it tonight. Maybe it would have helped having read a little more Byron and Goethe before reading a dense second-order essay about them.

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