gall and gumption

Monday, March 06, 2006

Tolerance Part Two

I keep digging good things out of my boxes of books. They're still in boxes because bookshelves can't happen till a job happens. Sometimes I open a box and spot a book and wonder why I've been keeping it all these years. Other books, like my nice collection of Hazlitt, I would think about during the years they were in storage and miss, I'd have this piping little inner wail of anguish at the thought that I might never get my hands on them again. I now have just about half of them, 35 boxes that arrived here about six weeks ago.

The rest are still in Santa Barbara and I've got to get them here somehow, but that is an even more remote prospect than bookshelves just at the moment. But things happen. I didn't expect I'd have as many of them as I now do. So you never know.

I'm really glad to have the Hazlitt books back. They were a strange thing. I don't know why, but this publisher, Chelsea House, put together this series with the really AWFUL title, Prophets of Sensibility: Precursors of Modern Cultural Thought." Professor Harold Bloom, Yale University is General Editor. I believe that Bloom contributed his name, the title and the blurbage which describes the authors in the series, among whom there is conspicuously, blessedly, Hazlitt, as "Forerunners of our aesthetic sensibility." Which would surely make Hazlitt sit up and wonder. Then the blurbage takes on a slightly scolding tone. "These volumes are a great voice from the last century, calling us to ourselves."

Yeah! Straigten up and fly right, people!

All of this would put me off, of course, but the text is just a reprint of an old edition of Hazlitt. It's just the pure stuff, uncut as they say. The weird thing is that I have never seen anything else in this series -- no other authors. I can think of a few who would do. But no, a bunch of Hazlitt came out and that was that. Well, it could have been worse.

So I have been feasting on them. Because he writes things like this:

Prejudice, in short, is egotism: we see a part, and substitute it for the whole; a thing strikes us casually and by halves, and we would have the universe stand proxy for our decision, in order to rivet it more firmly in our own belief; however insufficient or sinister the grounds of our opeinions, we would persuade ourselves that they arise out of the strongest conviction, and are entitled to unqualified approbation; slaves of our own prejudices, caprice, igrnoance, we would be lords of the understandings and reason of others; and (strange infatuation!) taking up an opinion solely from our own narrow and partial point of view, without consulting the feelings of others, or the reason of things, we are still uneasy if all the world do not come into our way of thinking.

Here's another snippet:

To show at once the danger and extent of prejudice, it may be sufficient to observe that all our convictions, however arrived at, and whether founded on a strict demonstration or the merest delusion, are crusted over with the same varnish of confidence; or if there be any difference, we are in general "most ignorant of what we are most assured," the strength of will and impatience of contradiction making up for the want of evidence.

Last bit:

All the great points that men have founded a claim to superiority, wisdom, and illumination upon, that they have embroiled the world with,and made matters of the last importance, are what one age and country differ diametrically with each other about, have been successively and justly exploded, and have been the levers of opinion and the gorunds of contention, precisely because, as their expounders and believers are equally in the dark about them, they rest wholly on the fluctuations ofo will and passion, and as they can neither be proved nor disproved, admit of the fiercest opposition or th emost bigoted faith.

His essays move: they don't end up where they started out, he takes you to surprising places. The essay is not really adequately represented by the snips I've put here. Someone or something called Blupete has posted the whole essay.

But I said I'd come back to this tolerance subject and here, you see, I have. Just go with that for a while, if you're following me on this at all.


At 9:08 AM, Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

I was very happy to be pointed to that site. It has much Hazlitt. And much else. A resource.

At 11:54 PM, Anonymous nhoj said...

This is a test comment from John's computer to see if, as he and Kia's other "friends" claim, there is some technical problem with my site that prevents them from posting comments.

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