The Gods of the Copybook Headings

A poem  by Rudyard Kipling published in 1919, found here. The point of the poem?

Kipling “foresaw the decline of his country’s empire and attributed it to a loss of the old virtues, and to a general complacency entailing that ‘all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins’ (38). The central message of the poem is that basic and unvarying aspects of human nature will always reemerge in every society that becomes complacent and self-indulging.

The ‘copybook headings’ to which the title refers were proverbs or maxims, extolling virtues such as honesty or fair dealing that were printed at the top of the pages of 19th-century British students’ special notebook pages, called copybooks. The school-children had to write them by hand repeatedly down the page” (Source: Wikipedia)

 

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‘Forget Your Personal Tragedy’

From Letters of Note,

On May 10th of 1934, a month after the publication of his new novel, Tender Is the NightF. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his friend, Ernest Hemingway, and asked for his honest opinion on the book — a tale about Dick and Nicole Diver, a couple based largely on mutual acquaintances of both Fitzgerald and Hemingway: Gerald and Sara Murphy.

Hemingway certainly responded with honesty…

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AN Wilson: ‘Everyone writes in Tolstoy’s shadow’

From the Guardian—a brief interview covering the “prolific author on the mystique of Tolstoy, his spat with Richard Evans and the limitations of the Kindle.”

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The Value of Literature

From The New York Times, a teacher describes the difficulty of actually measuring “the value of literature” in the classroom—but she knows of its transformative nature.

I would agree. We learn better to understand the human condition through reading good literature (perhaps even bad literature) than through studying ‘studies’ of what makes us tick.

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The Death of Telling the Truth

From Utne Reader:

Telling the truth sounds easy, but social and professional expectations increasingly dictate how honest we can be with one another.

Three points:

1. The writer defends lying politicians with a kind of understanding that it’s just the way they are:

Politicians, for example, are especially hard-pressed to tell the truth consistently. Perhaps this is because, as George Orwell once observed, the very function of political speech is to hide, soften, or misrepresent difficult truths. It would be naive (or cynical) for anyone in today’s world to act shocked when a politician tries to hide the real truth from the public.

2. And then, apparently only applying to the rest of us who are not politicians, the article states:

Friendships, family, work, and civic relations all suffer whenever dishonesty comes to light. The main reason that no one wants to be known as a liar is that people shun liars.

 

3. The article closes with this striking observation:

We seem to be reaching a dysfunctional tipping point in which an essential commitment to truthfulness no longer seems to be assumed in our society. If this is indeed the case, the danger is that the bonds of trust that are important in any society, and essential for a free and democratic one, will dissolve so that the kinds of discourse required to self-govern will become impossible.

Actually, it would seem appropriate to shun politicians, who are less and less inclined to allow for self-governance anyway.

 


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‘I saw a woman who knew where she belonged’

As a jazz fan, I found this article about Thelonious Monk and Nica de Koenigswarter fascinating:

The moment she first heard Thelonious Monk play the piano, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter walked out on her own life, including five children, and devoted herself to the American jazz genius. The Rothschild family disowned her, but now her great niece, Hannah Rothschild, tells her extraordinary story.

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‘The Sniff of Legend’

A mostly scientific article from Discover Magazine—April 1994

Human pheromones? Chemical sex attractants? And a sixth sense organ in the nose? What are we, animals?

Pheromones have long fascinated me—the very idea that we can be attracted (or repelled) via animalistic instincts driven by chemistry within. And I use the notion in my fiction, as in Waiting for Zoë.

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