HISTORY

Modern History 1500-1750


MODERN LITERATURE: 1500-1750

The focus in this section of modern history is modern literature in the period 1500-1750. When this site is revised I will give this section its proper title or heading, that is, Modern Literature: 1500- 1750. When this new website was being designed i was unable to get the heading for this section changed; I hope to do this when this site is revised in the months or even years ahead. For my comments on history readers need to go to my section/category on modern history.

For a detailed outline of the following stages of English Literature(1500-1750) go to:

wikisource.The_Cambridge_History_of_English_Literature

Renaissance and Reformation.

Prose and Poetry from Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

The Drama to 1642. Part I.

The Drama to 1642. Part II.

Cavalier and Puritan.

The Age of Dryden.

From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

The Rise of the Novel: Johnson and his Circle.


AN IMPORTANT BOOK BEFORE 1500

It is difficult to know whether a medieval “Book of Hours” is really a book at all in the modern sense. It looks like a book and it contains texts and usually pictures, and most surviving copies are now kept on shelves in modern libraries. In the Middle Ages, however, it had the principal purpose of focusing the mind on devotion rather than conveying a single text or narrative. A Book of Hours was likely to have been the only volume in the possession of its owners, and it might well have been acquired by inheritance rather than by purchase. Much of its text was in Latin, a language that many people did not fully understand. It would probably have been kept wrapped up in textile, and it might sometimes have served part of its purpose without even being opened.For more on this important book discussed in
Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240–1570 by Eamon Duffy go to this link:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2007/feb/15/the-one-and-only-book/

THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

I hope my technique, my approach, my process of extended analysis in my autobiographical work, in its several genres, enlivens the story and adds new levels of interpretation not only to my own life, but to the life of my society and my religion. Hopes and goals, aims and ambitions, are essential to any achievements. Of course the purely serendipitous and chance events of life often produce their own successes.  The greatest ambition of any novel, it is sometimes argued, is to give the illusion of life itself.  In my memoiristic autobiography I create no illusion but try to deal with life in the raw, as it were, with thick coatings of discussions of what I aim to provide: invigoratingly brisk analysis and phrase-relishing. One can but hope. Writing a memoir resembles Samuel Johnson’s(1709-1784) understanding of the futility of any attempt to chisel the English language into stone. Johnson was that English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer.
Writing, in some ways, is like chasing the sun: one must remain ever far from the destination, but one can make use of the light along the way.

CONVERSATION: Part 1

Coming across Samuel Johnson’s essay on Conversation has stimulated this comment on the same subject after the experience of nearly fifty years of pioneering over four epochs. “The faculty of giving pleasure is of continual use” says Johnson. Those who are able to give pleasure by the use of the spoken or written word are frequently envied and when they leave they are missed, he goes on in closing the first paragraph of his useful and pithy analysis on the subject of conversation.  In my early years of teaching the Cause, of employment, of moving from place to place, I was not able, on entering a room, to bring a sense of felicity; when I left my departure was not lamented. My presence did not inspire gaiety nor enliven people’s fancy except from time to time.

This inability was not due to lack of knowledge or a proportional lack of virtue; for in the first years of my service to the Cause as a pioneer I completed my high school, my university and my vocational training. I prayed frequently, read the Writings and, indeed, as I often point out to my son, my friends and associates, when the opportunity arises, I felt more virtuous than after these many years of life’s practice. Insensibly, after a decade as first a homefront and then an overseas pioneer, I found myself able to entertain, to give that pleasure which Johnson speaks of and which is, indeed, essential if one is going to be an effective teacher, either in classrooms or in a wide variety of other places promoting the teachings of Baha’u’llah. A forgiving eye, a sin-covering eye, as ‘Abdu’l-Baha calls it, is essential; for noone wants to be under the watchful eye of someone who feels some uncontestable sense of superiority. And I did feel that in those early years in the field. I felt a sense of moral superiority: clear, graphic, open, subtle, insinuating.

I did not possess a “wit whose vivacity”, as Johnson puts it, condemned “slower tongues to silence.” Gradually, I was able to hold my tongue and let others say their piece. My knowledge was not dominant, domineering; my critical eye was not pervasive; my reasoning did not condemn those whose minds were more idle.  Over several decades in classrooms I obtained praise and even reverence from students.  My words did indeed attract the hearts which was the essential prerequisite of the teaching process, in or out of classrooms. My aim was to please. And please I did. From February 1972, after ten years in the field, to April 1999 there was a reciprocality in the conversational process, mutual entertainment, but nothing too quick, too sprightly, too imaginative, nothing to distort the face without a deeper gladness of the heart underneath, as Johnson emphasizes in his criticism of the overly bright and enthusiastic.  Of course, one does not win with everyone; I had my critics. Many a student was far from impressed with me as a teacher.

CONVERSATION: Part 2

There are usually many views of just how one is doing in life. My wife offers a more moderate, a more moderating tone and perspective on just how successful I am and have been, to balance what might appear as my own more enthusiastic view. Many of my students found me a gentleman who approached saintliness, extreme knowledgeability and a delightful sense of humour. Other students would have gladly confined me to oblivion as a useless weed. One can not win the day in every way with everyone. We are all many things to many people. At the very least the pioneer must learn the art of loving, of pleasing, of bringing pleasure, reach as many hearts as he can. This was my own aim, my own particular approach. This is a long and extensive subject but, to start, he at least must have gladness in his heart and it is this gladness that is infectious, that attracts by example. But, again, this must not be carried too far, with too much intensity, too much brightness. A certain moderation of tone and demeanor is helpful.

Indeed, as Johnson goes on, a good-natured personality is important to bring to the conversational milieux. To take on board criticism, to be unmoved by whatever confusion and folly surrounds him and to be willing to listen; these are all essential and useful traints. All of this brings, promotes, induces, a certain cheerfulness, and sometimes friendship.  Of course, conversation is not all. Some of the ablest conversationalists I knew over those years, for the most part in the tenth and final stage of history, that is after 1963, were people who suffered a great deal and found human interaction very frustrating. Although I was able to connect with hundreds of people in the small country town of Katherine from 1982 to 1986, I was not able to connect with my boss and I suffered a great deal from my inability to deal with him effectively.  My talents in Perth Western Australia did not enable me to work happily with the LSA in Belmont at all times.  After a dozen years in Perth I was worn out in spite of any verbal talents I had acquired. Perhaps this was due my health problems.

There is a rhythm in life, in both conversations and in the flow of pleasure and pain to our sensory receptors; and our happiness in life depends to a very large extent on the depth of our understanding of this life process and our capacity to regulate our own life to its rhythm. Opportunity without capacity produces stress. The pioneer is given many opportunities to find out the limits of his or her capacity. Stress is just part of the ride.

HAMLET

In Shakespeare's play Hamlet the performance of thought, thinking, takes places in the form of inaction, of delay. The play is about a man who thinks. Hamlet's disposition to think and his indisposition to act, his intellectual activity and his aversion to action is at the centre of the play. We have here a man prone to thinking who seems incapable of acting and proportionally the more he thinks, the less he acts. Psychological readings of the last two centuries have blown plot and genre out of the play’s critical waters. Readers have internalized the focus on character so that delay is not a plot device but a symptom of psychic conflict and the conjunction of the tragic and the comic heightens not social division but psychic conflict.

MY MEMOIR

My own memoir is, in some ways, about a man thinking. This introspectivity to me, though, is but another form of action. As I see it, "we can no longer separate the active and the contemplative facets of our lives. Practicality and mysticism possess a oneness of vision and form."(1)   So too is this true of smooth surfaces and the ruffled edges in life. They both can be pressed into cultural and autobiographical service and they are inherent parts of the warp and weft of one's life.  I am currently, in these years of late adulthood, deeply involved in action.  And those who have ascended, it is my belief, “labour to assist me in this world.”(2)   I have been praying for their intercession for some thirty years and they have been praying for me. Such is my belief, my assumption.  Will emanates from soul. This memoir is an example of the knowledge of self and it is, in the main, an inherent gift.  It is a gift of unmerited grace or merited. One never knows for sure. This power of will shapes my destiny for good and ill.  In the process, although I seem to have little to no control over the path my life takes or what tests and calamities befall me, I do have control over how I will respond to my circumstances.(3) I can find out how well I am doing, to some extent at least, by means of the guidance and standards set forth in the authoritative Bahá'í texts as I aim to awaken myself to the truths governing the total integration of the physical and spiritual aspects of reality.-Ron Price with thanks to (1) Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, "Artist, Seeker and Seer," Bahá’í Studies, Vol.10, p.16; (2) John Hatcher, op.cit., p.215, and (3) ibid., p.224.


A TEACHER OF ENGLISH

As a teacher of English for over three decades at all levels of the educational process, I came to know of the reading tastes of a good cross-section of the public. The Bible, Shakespeare, most of the major philosophers, sociologists and social scientists modern, medieval and classical were simply not read by the great mass of the public. They never came anywhere near the writings of the greats of history or of their contemporary society. One could go so far as to say that my chances of winning any popularity contest was just about nil. Indeed, it would probably be a bad sign if I did. Reading was, in the main, a populist sport, so to speak: novels, magazines, newspapers and now the internet, a vast quantity of espcapist literature. Of course, at the other end of the reading spectrum there were now more people reading the serious stuff too. The picture of who was reading what was a specialist subject in itself, too specialist to discuss here in any detail.

EXPERIENCE AND LANGUAGE

Some schools of thought take as one of their basic assumptions that we cannot transcend our experiences. One of the founders of such a school, Ernst von Glasersfeld, put that assumption this way: "knowledge, no matter how it is defined, is in the heads of persons, and the thinking subject has no alternative but to construct what he or she knows on the basis of his or her own experience."(1) What we make of experience constitutes the only world we consciously live in. It can be sorted into many parts: things, self, others, and so on. It can and it does change from day to day. But all kinds of experience are essentially subjective and, though I may find reasons to believe that my experience may be like yours, I have no way of knowing how much it is like yours and, if I never meet you, as is the case with most of my readers I must leave the drawing of parallels to others. The experience and interpretation of language is the place where these parallels are drawn.-Ron Price with thanks to (1) Ernst von Glasersfeld, Radical Constructivism: A Way of Knowing and Learning, Falmer Press, London, 1995, p.1.


ME AND THE METAPHYSICAL POETS

I sometimes think this autobiography is a little like the poetry of the metaphysical poets. T.S. Eliot says that in that poetry "a degree of heterogeneity of material is compelled into a unity by the operation of the poet's mind."(1)  Such poets are constantly amalgamating disparate experience, literally devouring that experience and in doing so they modify their sensibility and form new wholes. In the process an originality and a clarity results which you might call my autobiographical point of view or, in the case of the metaphysical poets, the poet's point of view. Eliot writes that "our standards vary with every poet" and this is also the case with every autobiographer. Refering to the poet John Dryden, Eliot writes that his "unique merit consists in his ability to make the small into the great, the prosaic into the poetic, the trivial into the magnificent."(2) While I would like to be able to do this in this autobiography and, while I feel I do achieve it on occasion, I do not think I achieve this transformation on a regular basis. I create the objects I am contemplating, namely myself, my society and my religion, through the employment of memory, reason and will, thrusting each of them into whatever nourishes me and finding, as best I can, the aptest expression for my feelings and thoughts.

Perhaps I could say I am 'rendering' the past as a painter renders. I have rendered my life, given it a certain transparency, refigured my world, re-described it, appropriated it, re-enacted it, reeffectuated the past in the present.(4)  I have brought things out into the open, the way we all do when we tell stories about ourselves. I have transformed my life in the sense that an examined life is a changed life, a different life. So many Baha'is have achieved great things for their Faith. Many have achieved little. The portion of some and the portion of others varies as do their respective receptacles. Comparisons may be partly odious, but they are inevitable.(5) I would like to compare my work with any one of the great epic poets. I would like to think my work and the spirit that inspires it is, in the words of Paris to Hector in the Iliad, “like a tireless axe plied in the hands of a skilled carpenter.”(6)  But my axe is often tired; my spirit is often worn and I often question just how skilled the craftsman is who wields the axe.-Ron Price with thanks to:(1) T.S. Eliot, Selected Essays, Faber and Faber Ltd., London, 1932, p.283, (2)
ibid., p.31, (3) R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1946. (4) While I write I am thinking of an email I got recently from a Baha'i named Dempsey Morgan who chaired nine LSAs, 5 NTCs and was on four NSAs in Africa among a host of accomplishments too many to list here and a Baha'i who lived in Gravenhurst Ontario for fifty years as an isolated Baha'i from about 1915. (5) See Baha'i Canada, 2001(ca), (6) Homer, The Iliad, Book 3, lines 60-62.

Some of my internet posts on Shakespeare:

http://www.thehistoryforum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=86&t=29655

http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/Oldsite/35Dreams.

http://www.online-literature.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3706