Fourfold Vision and Fourfold Media, but not six

Gratefully, to my readers:

During the height of the Stephen Leacock Project, from 2017 to 2019, I maintained three blogs and the Voyageur Storytelling web site, backed by Twitter, Facebook, and a substantial e-mailing list, because I wanted to be able to come at the subject from several directions at the same time. In other words, I tried to look at Stephen Leacock with fourfold vision, or more. I thought he was worth the effort, and still do. He was a pretty good fourfold visionary in his day, but his tools were not superlative. Others have moved into the field, often I fear without even being aware that he had been there before them.

In recent weeks I have formally launched the Fourfold Vision Projectile, firing it in four directions, as is fitting. These are:

The Voyageur Storytelling Web Site, http://www.voyageurstorytelling.ca. I keep this going because it is handy, flexible, and respectful to the roots of all this endeavour, which owe so much to my years and friends in storytelling. Whatever I do with ideas, I do them as a storyteller, with the strengths and limitations of that cast of mind. This web site will remain the central chamber of the whole projectile.

In Search of the Great Canadian Œvirsaga. I keep my narrative wits fresh through this one, using random ramification. It fires through KnICH Magazine (see below), with an article every two weeks, on Fridays under the current schedule.

Girdling the Northern Quadrasphere Latitudinally. I am using this to experiment with a different way of viewing geography, starting from the North Pole and working southward. The technical method is not so much fourfold as labyrinthine. This also fires through KnICH Magazine every two weeks, on Tuesdays.

My Fourfold Visions Blog, https://paulwconway.wordpress.com/. I use this to comment on current public affairs, applying a fourfold (or at least not a onefold) vision to them as far as I am able.

I back these up with Twitter (@conwaypaulw), two Facebook pages (Paul W Conway and Voyageur Storytelling) and the e-mail list. It all helps to keep the mind alive.

KnICH Magazine is edited by my son Patrick. Besides my two threads it includes two threads of his, one exploring the world of words and the other digging archeologically in old magazines, and a Sunday Serial which currently is a new translation of Jules Verne’s Land of Furs, a rollicking Canadian epic of out of the best cask. KnICH Magazine runs by subscription at very reasonable monthly rates. You can examine the mechanism in detail at https://www.patreon.com/knichmagazine, and I have placed a convenient summary on the Voyageur Storytelling web site, linked through the main page.

You can guess from the above that I am busy. I hope I am not so busy that this blog effectively dies, but I cannot be sure. I am posting this to let its followers know what’s going on, along with anyone who might stumble on it as people do from time to time, and to encourage them to follow the Fourfold Visions Blog, or one of the social media sites, or to subscribe to KnICH Magazine, or to visit the Voyageur Storytelling web site.

Especially we encourage them to cultivate and promote the Stephen Leacock Tetrad of Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour as a solution to the Unsolved Riddles of our time, which are legion. That’s where the Fourfold Vision Projectile began, and where it remains firmly rooted.

Thank you for reading. Please keep in touch.

 

 

On Casts of Mind: The Ideological

This posting will describe an intention, and not much else. Some ideas coalesced today, opening, for me, a clear sense of direction for the next six months and probably beyond. I have long held, without much elaboration, that one of the most important variables in public discourse is cast of mind, that we should look behind political utterances and behaviour for the cast of mind behind them, and not take them at face value. This leads to the idea that if we seek a voice in public affairs that will help move them in a particular direction, then we must look for casts of mind likely to take them there.

I have finally articulated the directions that I think public affairs ought to move, the phrases that I would write into the preamble of a political manifesto were I to write one. I call it, following William Blake, a Fourfold Vision:

To Benefit the Common Weal;

To Advance Social Justice;

To Nurture Human Contentment;

To Pursue Sane, Orderly and Continuous Social Reform, as the means to the other three.

You can find the article that started the whole coalescing at https://paulwconway.wordpress.com/, a companion blog to this one.

There you will find hypothesized three casts of mind, one of which promotes a Fourfold Vision, and two of which do not, or even actively inhibit. I am calling these, respectively, the Literary, the Mariposan, and the Ideological.

Some time ago, full of enthusiasm for blogs as a publishing medium, I set up three blogs. Since the end of the Stephen Leacock project I have been wondering what to do with this one. The latest developments show the way. I will turn this blog into an exploration of the Ideological Cast of Mind. This is not really a convenient fit. Stephen Leacock was not an ideological thinker. In fact, he said quite rude things about the ideologies of his day, and would say quite rude things if he saw them in their contemporary forms. He was a complex thinker, with a Literary Cast of Mind, which he urged on his readers with great energy although never calling it that.

The lead blog will be the one linked above. There I will explore the Literary Cast of Mind and how it can be mobilized.

The third blog is http://www.mariposabyconway.wordpress.com. It will be explore the Mariposan Cast of Mind.

All these matters I will explore, with the help of those I hope to recruit, in the months ahead. It will take some time, probably all summer, for me to get everything going the way I want, blogs, web site, social media, and all. Those with regular weekly publication schedules are KnICH Magazine at http://www.patreon.com/knichmagazine, the Voyageur Storytelling web site at http://www.voyageurstorytelling.ca, and my Twitter page @conwaypaulw. I will blog when I can, as the ideas emerge.

Please remember: It all starts with the Leacock Tetrad: Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour. It informs the Literary Cast of Mind. It repels the Mariposan and Ideological Casts of Mind. It can serve to Benefit the Common Weal, Advance Social Justice, Nurture Human Contentment, and Pursue Sane, Orderly and Continuous Social Reform. There is much that can be said to amplify these assertions, and it will be said.

Musings on Tetrationality

For many years I was part of the Anglican Church of Canada, attending services regularly and participating actively in parish life. Thus I heard, forty or fifty times a year, the ritual recitation of the “first and great commandment”, and the second “like unto it”, that I should love the Lord my God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind, and with all my strength, and my neighbour as myself. I then joined my companions in beseeching God to write both these laws in my heart. I would like to think God did that for me; they certainly became written in my memory. I can recite them with becoming accuracy even today, more than twenty years after I ceased to be a regular attender.

I remember one sermon in which the preacher explained, concerning the second commandment, that we are not required to like our neighbours, only to love them; not more than ourselves, only as much as. I found that idea consoling, and still do. Lest you think I am suggesting that a narrow kind of self-love is consistent with the commandment, please note that if you follow the first part you will inevitably find the right perspective on the second. The two parts are perfectly blended.

This commandment is in fact a triad of loving: God, self, neighbour. What we can see happening all around us now, however, makes it abundantly clear that the time to make it a tetrad arrived with full force some time ago, and we had better get on with it. Borrowing phrasing from one of the two positive commandments on the old list of ten, we should set about asking God, or whatever sense of higher purpose we believe in, to write the following further commandment on our hearts, and give it status like unto the others:

HONOUR NATURE, MOTHER OF US ALL, AND LOVE HER TOO, THAT OUR DAYS MAY BE LONG IN THE LANDS WE ARE BLESSED TO INHABIT.

If we do not learn how to do that, and act accordingly, it appears we may find our days in the land shortened. Certainly they bid fair to be much more uncomfortable.

I have talked before, here or in other places, about the Leacock Tetrad of Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour, which I believe to hold considerable hope, perhaps the only hope, for lifting the governing Tetrad out of our hearts and putting it into action. I have tried to wrap the entire package of commandments, beliefs and casts of mind in simple symbolic form in the banner at the top of this blog. The colour bars come from Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire. By laying them out horizontally, instead of vertically as the artist did, I am trying to admit the idea that the Voice must come from inside ourselves, that we cannot expect On High do all the work. On High has been voicing at us about these tetrads for some time, with little apparent effect except here and there, locally. Something is rotten, or at least deaf, in the Global Village.

I was moved the other day to speculate on why that might be happening. What voices are we listening to, telling us that the Voice of Fire, expressed in these Tetrads, can justly and safely be ignored? Perhaps they speak in tetrads too, such as the following, which for some reason came to me in adjectives, not nouns. Think of it as describing adverse casts of mind:

CONQUESTRIAN + CONSUMPTIVE + TECHNOLOGICAL + SCIENTIFIC

In other words, if the voice of this tetrad says anything, it would be that we are hoping that a combination of competition, consumption, technology, and science will get us out of the mess we are in, despite the obvious historical reality that they have played a huge part in getting us into it, or at least supporting us while we got into it ourselves. And if you think I am being a little hard on technology and science, then make a list of all the devices these actors have produced for us, and not only the wonderful beneficent ones, and ask yourself what it says,—the whole list,—about the cast of mind, the sense of direction, they bring to our search for well-being. They make tools for us. Marshall McLuhan tells us that first we shape our tools, then the tools take over and shape us. Do we really want to be shaped by some of those tools? Do they really have our best interests at heart?

I do not mean to suggest that competition, consumption, the invention of new tools, and rigorous specialized enquiry are wholly bad, only that we may be indulging too single-mindedly in them, too fast, without taking time to filter them through the whole Leacock Tetrad of

KNOWLEDGE + IMAGINATION + COMPASSION + HUMOUR

with the assistance of

DOUBT + HUMILITY + PLURALISM + INGENUITY

while giving full honour and respect to

GOD (higher purpose) + PERSONS (individual) + PEOPLE (collective) + NATURE.

Maybe this suggests another tetrad:

BALANCE + MODERATION + PATIENCE + TRANQUILITY.

Something along those lines, perhaps. What is a tetrad of tetrads? Two tetrads interwoven like the double helix of DNA might form an ogdoad. Four of them? A quadrupad?

PWC; January 21, 2020

Revelation on Labyrinthine Lane

I am trying to imagine what it would be like to drive from here to Edmonton, Alberta, and back by a labyrinthine route, here being my home on Bruce Peninsula, in extreme northwestern southwestern Ontario. I believe that the answer is: difficult. The Labyrinthine Travelling Experience,—if, that is, you follow the Cretan model,—requires you to lay out your route in a series of seven linked rings with your destination in the middle. You sojourn along one ring, then reverse direction onto the next one. Furthermore, you begin with the third ring, and proceed in a rigorously predetermined order: third, second, first, fourth, seventh, sixth, fifth, and into the centre. Then you sojourn back home in reverse order. The rings which you travelled in one direction going in, you follow in the opposite direction going out. Highway planners do not often think this way. Linearity is their watchword or, in many parts of this country, a severe kind of rectangularity dictated by the survey grid. You could, in fact, use the survey grid in farming country to lay out any number of labyrinthine drives, and it might be quite fun to do that.

My choice of Edmonton as a destination is not arbitrary. There live two of my offspring, their spouses, and their offspring, their mother, and many friends, the happy legacy of a previous life. It’s a bit of a hike,—some 3,500 kilometres,—and I don’t go there as often as I would like. I don’t go there at all by a labyrinthine route, assuming I could work one out. The idea is so silly I am not even sure why I am talking about it.

When it comes to the Bible, however, the idea is not silly at all, at least if we take up the scheme laid out by Professor Northrop Frye in his mind-expanding book, The Great Code: The Bible and Literature. There, in his chapter called Typology II, he lays out the the seven Phases of Revelation. I invite you to think of them as the seven rings of your labyrinth, as follows:

First Phase: Creation
Second Phase: Revolution
Third Phase: Law
Fourth Phase: Wisdom
Fifth Phase: Prophecy
Sixth Phase: Gospel
Seventh Phase: Apocalypse

These phases correspond naturally to specific books of the Bible, and can therefore be re-arranged in labyrinthine order without difficulty:

First Ring: Law
Second Ring: Revolution
Third Ring: Creation
Fourth Ring: Wisdom
Fifth Ring: Apocalypse
Sixth Ring: Gospel
Seventh Ring: Prophecy

Quite frankly, I think that arrangement makes a whole lot of sense, perhaps even more than the original. We begin with the laws and customs we inherit at birth. We revolt against them. We create something new, during which onerous process,—this is the longest ring,—we become susceptible to wisdom, leading in a brief, intuitive leap to a apocalypse,—this is the shortest ring,—revealing a gospel (‘good news’), which calls us to prophesy to the dry bones in order to wake them up. That sounds to me like a noble course for a life.

Two issues remain. First, what is the centre, the point at which we turn around and return whence we came, reversing the order of the rings? Is it perhaps the course that we must follow in order to realize the potentials unleashed by the awakening of the bones, beginning with a further round of prophesy and ending with a new environment of laws? Indeed that is possible, although note that, regardless of the wisdom gained along the way, we will require another revolution after the second creation before our laws become rightly formed.

Second, the way of the labyrinth requires us to change direction, or perspective, or line of thought, in some meaningful way from one ring to the next. Can we achieve that by switching between the right and left halves of our brains, assuming that brains do in fact work that way? Or could it mean alternating our ways of thinking, as in Professor Frye’s distinction between ‘rational thinking’ and ‘mythical-typological’ thinking, in order to cultivate our Both-And minds? Better that, certainly, than Either-Or.

PWC::January 15, 2020

Stephen Leacock’s 150th Birthday!!! December 30, 2019

Leacock Post 12-30.jpg

Stephen Butler Leacock was born on December 30th, 1869, in southern England. His parents emigrated to Ontario six years later and he, as he put it, decided to go with them. He lived on a farm south of Lake Simcoe, then in Toronto, then in Chicago (as a graduate student), then in Montreal for the rest of his life, except in the summers (after 1908) when he migrated to his cottage on Lake Couchiching just outside Orillia.

By profession he was first a teacher, first in Uxbridge, Ontario, for six months, then at Upper Canada College in Toronto, for ten years, then at McGill University, for 35 years. His academic field was Political Economy.

By profession he was also a writer, first of academic texts, then as a humorist and popular historian, then as an essayist writing without fear about anything he chose. His production is, or ought to be, legendary, although largely forgotten.

By profession he was also a public lecturer, beginning with learned propaganda concerning the British Empire, and expanding eclectically from there.

He was a dutiful son to his mother Agnes, eventually a hostile son to his father Peter, a conscientious brother to his ten siblings, a loving but somewhat overbearing husband to  his wife Beatrix (who died in 1925) and father to his son Stevie (born in 1915), a generous sponsor and employer to his niece Barbara Ulrichsen, and a good friend to many.

He died of throat cancer in Toronto on March 28, 1944.

His legacy, viewed in the best way: He planted seeds, in particular, a perception of Social Justice as embedded in Unsolved Riddles, and tools for thinking about them embracing Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour. He left to us the rich satisfactions of cultivation.

My tribute to him:

The Ballad of Stephen Butler Leacock

Come, readers and writers and I’ll sing you the song
Of a man who could write even when he was wrong;
He wrote his way to money and fame :
You’d best remember if you want the same;
He wrote, and he thought, and he talked, and he read,
Up early in the morning and early to bed :
A hard-working, hard-reading, hard-talking, hard-thinking,
Hard-smoking, hard-drinking, hard-writing man,—
Stephen Leacock! the name of this man of fame;
Stephen Leacock! Remember if you want the same.

He wrote in the morning when the day was new;
He wrote the words that he thought were true;
He wrote in the hope that people would laugh,
But of all that he wrote that was never more than half;
He wrote of the rich, and he wrote of the poor,—
Social Justice and a whole lot more:
A hard-working, hard-reading, hard-talking, hard-thinking,
Hard-smoking, hard-drinking, hard-writing man,—
Stephen Leacock! the name of this man of fame;
Stephen Leacock! Remember if you want the same.

He preached prosperity, he cursed at graft,
He teased their foibles and the people laughed;
He told the stories of the present and past—
Much that he wrote wasn’t fated to last;
He wrote for his time, and he wrote for his place,
He wrote stupid things about women and race :
A hard-working, hard-reading, hard-talking, hard-thinking,
Hard-smoking, hard-drinking, hard-writing man,—
Stephen Leacock! the name of this man of fame;
Stephen Leacock! Remember if you want the same.

He wrote his country, and the Empire wide,
He wrote his people and he wrote with pride,
He wrote through depression, and he wrote through war,
He wrote for peace, and romance, and more;
He wrote for laughter, and he wrote to touch;
He wrote for money, and he wrote too much :
A hard-working, hard-reading, hard-talking, hard-thinking,
Hard-smoking, hard-drinking, hard-writing man,—
Stephen Leacock! He had his moment of fame;
Stephen Leacock! Enjoy it if you get the same
As much as he did.

With a little effort he can serve to inspire English Canadians who read, write, explore, create, think, care, and laugh. Our cultural lives will be richer if we remember him well.

Approaching Stephen Leacock’s 150th Birthday

Today is Wednesday, December 18th. In less than two weeks, on Monday, December 30th, we will celebrate Stephen Leacock’s 150th birthday with a party of friends, a cake, and an unveiling of the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice as manifested in 2019. Stephen Leacock wrote a book about that in 1919, one hundred years ago, making 2019 another significant Leacock anniversary. The third was the 75th anniversary of his death, on March 28th. I have been celebrating his Anniversaries since that day, an endeavour that did not, I regret to say, go viral. It appears that Stephen Leacock, if not absolutely dead, is well along that way. Leslie and I know, of course, from our 2017 western tour, that there remain people who still find him interesting, rather more who still find him amusing, at least when he is at his best.

The writer of Ecclesiastes pronounced, many years ago, quite accurately as it turns out, that there is no end to the writing of books, and new writers can be forgiven if they prefer that the number of old books in circulation should be kept to a minimum. We can remember an old writer for his books, of course, if they are good enough, but perhaps a worthy alternative for some writers is to remember them for the seeds they planted. I think it entirely likely that I will never read another Leacock book, having read a great many during the several phases of this project. There are fifty-three of them; I have not read them all. From now on I will remember him, not for the few favourites that I find worth remembering, but for two seeds that he planted in my mind. I have been cultivating those seeds, and intend to continue, for their own sake, not for his, but primarily for the sake of my children, grand-children, and beyond, and for everyone else’s.

The two seeds are, first, the title of the book whose 100th anniversary I am celebrating:

The UNSOLVED RIDDLE of SOCIAL JUSTICE

It’s the title that matters most to me, not the book. I consider that Social Justice, widely conceived, is the greatest cause that humanity can and does pursue. Stephen Leacock identified it as an Unsolved Riddle, a type of ideal that is not to be answered with some pat “solution”, but to probed and wrestled with endlessly in the cause of improvement, or “progress” as it used to be called, and should continue to be called. Because when the world’s store of poverty, pain, misery, alienation, exploitation, oppression, violence, unnatural death, and other ills has been lessened, then that is progress, even if these ills persist. To identify Social Justice as an Unsolved Riddle is a huge, brilliant insight, a creative response to idealogues of all kinds, whose prescriptions have a nasty habit of increasing the ills, not the reverse. It is unfortunate that Stephen Leacock himself did not enlarge upon his insight, even in his book. That work remains.

The second seed grew out of my efforts to summarize the lessons he was trying to drum home to us in his fifty-three books, numerous individual pieces, public lectures, and lifetime of teaching about economics, politics, education, culture, and ways of life. The tools that he brought to his quest, and that he recommends to us, form a Tetrad:

KNOWLEDGE + IMAGINATION + COMPASSION + HUMOUR

One of my favourite passages in all of the literature I know is the opening to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress where the narrator, walking through “the wilderness of this world”, falls asleep and dreams of a man with “a great burden on his back”. Our burden comes with the benefits we have created for ourselves in our adoption of the industrial, commercial, technological, scientific, intricately interconnected way of life that brings us such a range of benefits. The burden is the costs that come with them, and the duty to deal with them for our own and the futures’ sakes. There is nothing wrong with wanting our lives to be prosperous, comfortable, secure, convenient, richly informed, and entertaining. We fool ourselves tragically when we can assume they can be that way without cost.

The Leacock Tetrad does not remove the burden, but has the capacity to lighten the carry, because these tools, taken together, will help us work to alleviate the costs without adding new ones, and to reassure us that we are doing the best we can. We are fated to muddle our way through the muddle we have ourselves created, because that is the nature of our creation. We all crave Social Justice, although we may vary somewhat in our definitions. Social Justice is an Unsolved Riddle. We cannot make it otherwise. Stephen Leacock is one of those people who gives us tools we need to work with it.

Who else? My current list: William Blake, Henry Thoreau, Herman Melville, George Eliot, Henry George, Northrop Frye, Marshall McLuhan, B.W. Powe, and now recently arrived Marilynne Robinson. More about them in the weeks and months ahead. I will also tell you about the œvirsagas and where they fit. Stephen Leacock had something to do with them too, or one of them at least. In Canada they are four in number, another Tetrad: Aboriginal, National, Political, and Urbanismal. They too are tools to grapple with the Unsolved Riddles and lighten the burden.

Ringing in the Tetrads

First posted October 21, up-dated October 29th. I have been running three blogs during the months of the Leacock Anniversaries, with different postings. This week, for a change, as I swing into yet another break, this one for two or even three weeks, I am posting the same text on all three.

This week’s pictoverbicon, as displayed on the Voyageur Storytelling web site (www.voyageurstorytelling.ca), the Leacock’n Bulletin linked thereto, and my Twitter page (https://twitter.com/conwaypaulw) introduces the Idea of Tetrational Thinking:

Leacock Post 10-31.jpeg

I have occupied much of the past two months in writing a book called The Marriage of Social Justice and Unsolved Riddles, in which I am attempting to convince readers that Social Justice and Unsolved Riddles belong together. The narrative approach that I adopted for this task I find subsequently to be consistent with Northrop Frye’s intention which was, according to his biographer John Ayre, “to spread imaginative poetic thought throughout society to soften and cancel the effects of procrustean logic and ideology.” This is most satisfying, because for a Canadian of my generation who graduated from the University of Toronto, to be consistent with Northrop Frye is always consoling.

I have talked before about Stephen Leacock’s Tetrad of Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour as a form of quadruple-thinking Both-Andian (or All-Andian) cast of mind able to work us toward Social Justice. When we pursue the Tetrational Way we find ourselves of course in a forest of Unsolved Riddles, that is, inherently conflicting or contradictory goods, but what is the alternative? How difficult would it be to tune our collective minds in all four of these directions at once? Quite difficult, I think, but possible with practice. Both Northrop Frye and Stephen Leacock insisted on Imagination as the linchpin of this whole way of thinking. That seems obvious, because the Tetrad demands that we step outside our normal, simplified, linear ways of thinking, the ones that enable us to get on with our lives from day to day without going mad, and view our lives together, our society, in a much more complicated way. In order to do that we have to free our imaginations from the “procrustean logic and ideology” which powerful forces press upon us so insistently.

One of the great Unsolved Riddles of our time declares the possibility that the simplified, linear thinking which helps us individually to avoid going mad from day to day, when applied collectively, to our social situation, constitutes itself a form of madness. I am convinced that Tetrational Thinking would ease the collective madness. We might too find that it creates an even higher form of sanity for us individually.

Reading Northrop Frye’s biography I learned that he set down a Tetrad of his own, although John Ayre does not tell us when or where Frye said it. “I think there has to be an assumption that life is better than death, freedom better than slavery, happiness better than misery, equality better than exploitation, for all men everywhere without exception.” (In the interests of exact quotation I leave in Frye’s “all men” and do not substitute “all people” or “everyone” as I feel strongly inclined to do, because that is obviously what Frye meant.) Is his assumption perhaps the irreducible first principle of Social Justice?

As an exercise in Tetrational Thinking, I invite you to stare fixedly at the following tetragammon (Is it a mandala? I’m not sure.) keeping in mind the four elements simultaneously. I have tried it, and find that it does in fact tend to break apart the procrustean logic and ideology.  When I have time I’ll create one for Frye’s Tetrad of Life + Freedom + Happiness + Equality, as well as its antipode, the Death + Slavery + Misery + Exploitation that is the tragic lot of so much of humanity and that we must never willingly accept.

tetrad-138-1.jpg

Stare at that Tetrad for a long time. Think about the words and what they mean both individually and for each other. Weave circles around them and close your eyes in holistic dream. Imagine them becoming more than they are, more than you ever dreamed they could be. Don’t become discouraged if nothing magic happens the first time you try. It will come.

When I resume posting here later in November I will take up these ideas more fully, both theoretically and practically. I shall strive to integrate the Tetrads of Stephen Leacock and Northrop Frye with B.W. Powe’s “attentive sensitivity to multi-dimensional meaning”, Isaiah Berlin’s “loose texture  and a measure of inefficiency and even muddle”, Marshall McLuhan’s gnomic utterance that “The Medium is the Message” (which I think means that how we think or communicate determines, or at least heavily influences,  what we think or communicate), and George Eliot’s celebration, in one of her characters, of a benign influence that is “incalculably diffusive”.

We are not machines. Our minds are not governed by sequential cause and effect. They can leap.

In the meantime I leave you with the following jingle:

The Mud between the Minds
Like muds of other kinds,
Constitutes a kind of wealth
Or viscous form of filth :
This is the Unsolved Riddle
Of the Muddle.

 

Social Justice and Unsolved Riddles I: Monday

I am going to suspend my decade by decade accounts of the life and works of Stephen Leacock for the next eight weeks. I will pick up the thread on Monday, October 21. The reason: I am now writing the book that I said from the start I was going to write for the 100th Anniversary of The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, and my mind simply cannot cope with two major writing streams at once, these three blogs being one stream, the book being the other. For much of the past five months I have been fiddling around, trying to figure out how to approach that book.

If you have been reading the Monday blog, which is this one, you will be familiar with the workings of my mind, and particularly with my taste for metaphorical or allegorical reasoning, and for casting exposition in the form of narrative. My inspiration for that approach is John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I wish I had found myself able to be even more inspired by William Blake, but the going was too stern. I have had to content myself with secondary inspiration from the books of people who understand him better. I have recruited them as Guides for the pilgrimage.

If you are familiar with Bunyan’s book, you will know that it begins, “As I walked through the wilderness of this world … “, an image that appeals to me. Therefore I borrowed it, and the device of the dream introduced in the first paragraph. The story, therefore, becomes the story of a pilgrimage in a dream, told by a first-person narrator who may be the author or may be an invented character in the dream. If you are familiar with Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town and many other Stephen Leacock stories you will be familiar with this kind of narrator.

Today I am simply going to introduce you to the characters in the story, since they grew out of the ramblings of the Monday blog for the past five months.

The purpose of the pilgrimage is to locate a venue for the formal marriage of Social Justice, who is the Bride, and Unsolved Riddles, who is the Groom. They have been cohabiting for at least 100 years and have produced many offspring. The time has come for their union to be officially sanctioned. The title of the book is therefore The Marriage of Social Justice and Unsolved Riddles

The pilgrimage travels through a Mind Field occupied by and consisting of The Yottapede and the Charged Ooze. The Yottapede is the inhabitant of the Ooze, which is both its home and its source of nourishment. The Ooze also has a life of its own. It is a living thing, not just a medium for living things. So too is the Valley within which all this takes place and which has been brutally occupied by the Mind Field.

The others in the wedding party are Mnemochirianne the Centaur, Astranasus the Star-Nosed Mole, and Vulphystrix the Fox-Hedgehog (or Fox-Porcupine) Both-Andian. Monday blog readers will recognize them. Vulphystrix, as a Both-Andian, finds it difficult to walk. He therefore has acquired a personal attendant, called Prophet Isaiah, who is not that one, but another one.

For reasons that will become apparent, two other creatures have joined the party: Eulalie, an Owl, and Ursula, a Bear. I capitalize these identities in order to emphasize that they are creatures of the Dream, not of Nature.

The Narrator, who calls himself “I” or “Me” as the case requires, will be informed throughout the Pilgrimage by three of the nine Muses: Calliope, Clio, and Terpsichore. Calliope, their leader, is accompanied by a handmaiden named Mosjaur, who is the Story.

The whole party will be guided through the Mind Field by three Guides, whose names are Marshall, Northrop, and Bedoubleyou. The exact relationship between them and the three Thinkers they represent remains to be discovered.

That makes a party of sixteen, if I am counting properly: 1. Social Justice; 2. Unsolved Riddles; 3. Mnemochirianne; 4. Eulalie; 5. Ursula; 6. Astranasus; 7. Vulphystrix; 8. Prophet Isaiah; 9. Calliope; 10. Clio; 11. Terpsichore; 12. Mosjaur; 13. Marshall; 14. Northrop; 15. Bedoubleyou; 16. I-Me. We should also count The Yottapede and the Charged Ooze, making eighteen, and the Valley, making nineteen, and even Olde Stephen, the ghost of Stephen Leacock, who hovers over the entire ensemble, making twenty. The numerology of all this is extraordinary, but I won’t try to explain it here.

That’s the set-up. Mosjaur the Story is hard at work. Things are starting to rumble.

The Preface was released on Saturday, August 24th, and the first chapter will be released on Saturday, August 31st, one hundred years to the day since Stephen Leacock published his first chapter in the New York Times, the Toronto Star, and other newspapers. If you want a copy, e-mail me at voyageur-at-bmts.com and you shall have it. There’s no charge, but there is a condition: I am looking for feedback, and reserve the right to beg you for it.

The Second Decade of Stephen Leacock, 1880-89. Upheaval.

If you go back a couple of weeks to the full list of Leacock’s decades, all 7.325 of them, you will see this one described as follows:

1880’s :: Rescued into Upper Canada College, Toronto, (1882); graduates as Head Boy; enters University of Toronto (1887) but drops out due to finances. Trains to teach high-school Latin, Greek, French, German & English. Teaches one term in Uxbridge (1889).

It did not end, however, quite as described. In the Fall of 1889 he returned to Upper Canada College as a junior master, and resumed his studies at the University of Toronto. The story of his time there properly belongs to the next decade. That one was lively, but not quite as lively as this one.

We left Stephen Leacock in his “damnedest place  you ever saw” on the farm in Georgina Township, just south of Lake Simcoe. This proximity is important, because somehow, despite the rigours of farm life, the family contrived to spend its summers by the lake, in true genteel Ontario fashion. Incidentally, I have seen their farm life described as that of pioneers in Upper Canada. This is not pedantically correct. “Upper Canada” had been re-named as “Canada West” in 1841, and “Ontario” at Confederation in 1867, nine years before the Leacocks arrived. And they did not hew their farmstead out of the forest primeval; someone had done that before them. The conditions remained somewhat primitive, however, although possibly not quite as colourfully so as he described them later on in his old age for the purpose of publication.

Carl Spadoni, in his “Chronology” provided with his monumental A Bibliography of Stephen Leacock (1998) summarizes in more detail the events of Leacock’s second decade: he is appointed joint editor of the school paper in 1886; in 1887 he publishes therein his first signed article called “The Vision of Mirza”; he wins a scholarship to the University of Toronto; in the summer his father leaves the family forever. The year 1887 was a lively one. In 1888 Stephen, unable to continue his studies, heads off to Strathroy (Ontario) to become a teacher. As already noted, after a brief spell in Uxbridge he finds himself back at Upper Canada College, having not yet found himself in the larger sense.

Leacock’s mother Agnes once described her husband Peter to one of her granddaughters as “one of the wittiest men I have ever known.” He also must have been lovable in some sense because they had eleven children together over a span of nearly twenty years, and was well regarded in the little Nova Scotia village to which he retired (as Captain Lewis) to spend his many remaining years.  He died in 1940. If Stephen inherited his wit from his father, he certainly did not therefrom receive his drive, ambition, and overbearing personality. Neither does his mother come across that way, although she was certainly educated, determined and a lady in all the Victorian senses both favourable and otherwise. I suspect that the cutting edge to Stephen Leacock’s personality came his grandparents, who come across as quite a bit that way, but without the wit. But this is all speculation, because the record is sparse.

A story circulates about some interaction between Stephen and his father when Peter left the family for good. I won’t repeat it, because I suspect it is a fabrication. Who would have started that story? If it was Stephen himself,—and who else could it be, if the story is not a complete fabrication,—why on earth would he do that? Harsh words could well have been spoken, although I expect the story stretched itself in transmission through the years. The reportage of seventeen-year-old boys in dramatic situations cannot be entirely trusted, especially Stephen Leacock’s, habitual indeed professional stretcher that he was.

Be that as it may, Peter departed, Stephen assumed the role of oldest male in the household (his older brothers having gone out west to seek their fortunes, as their father and uncle had done, the latter with considerable success; see “My Remarkable Uncle”), and was driven into school teaching, biding his time until he could find a more congenial profession. That story comes next week.

The First Decade of Stephen Leacock, 1870-79. Ready to Learn.

If you read last week’s posting, in which I listed the decades of Stephen Leacock, you will know that his first decade was, practically speaking, 1870-1879. He was born on December 30, 1869; he therefore had little experience with the decade of the 1860’s. The nine months of it that he spent in utero do not seem to have been notable in any way. I will therefore ignore them, as having contributed to the personage he became only in the most basic biological sense.

His parents were Peter Leacock and Agnes Butler, married under somewhat hasty circumstances three years before Stephen was born. Their first child was born six-and-a-half months after the wedding. Peter was then nineteen, Agnes twenty-three. It would appear that Agnes and Peter, despite the vicissitudes of their early married life including three forays into the colonies two of which ended dismally and a third just as dismal but more persistent, and forced exile from the gentrified comforts of both their up-bringings, continued to find comfort with each other throughout the decade of the 1870’s and into the next. The years of their eleven children’s births were 1867, 1868, 1869, 1871, 1873, 1875, 1877, 1878, 1880, 1884, 1886. We see from this list that Stephen’s first decade was enlivened by the births of five of his siblings, added to the two he already had when he was born.

It was also enlivened by his father’s failed attempt to establish himself as a farmer in Kansas (1874), and by the whole family’s emigration to the wilds of Ontario, just south of Lake Simcoe (1876). Grandfather Leacock was determined to get rid of them. Before emigration they had been living in Porchester (which now seems to be spelled Portchester and maybe was then,—Stephen is not always reliable on such matters), a village in the south of England just outside Portsmouth. Stephen had happy memories of Porchester, not as many of Georgina Township a little southeast of Sutton. “Our own farm with its building was the damnedest place I ever saw,” he reminisced in old age.  Nevertheless, it’s where he was once the family arrived in 1876, and where he stayed for the rest of the decade, during which he published not a word.

I see no reason to believe that any of his experiences in the first decade had any abnormal effect on the personage he became. He began it as a puling infant, ended as a ten-year-old boy. With his brothers he attended the local school in nearby Egypt for a brief time, until his mother began to fear it would corrode their gentility. She tried home schooling with herself as the teacher, then turned the job over to a tutor named Harry Park who was unusually capable and conscientious. Thus the young Stephen ended his first decade and began the second, which I will tell you all about next week.

Since justice to the first decade for my purposes leaves me some space I will now muse a little on an interesting general question, viz., this “personage he became”, what is it, for our purposes? Is it the works he left behind? Or the accessible remnant thereof? Or the memorable remnant? Or the currently respectable memorable remnant? Or something conjured up by his biographers? Or by scholars? Or by readers? Or by the Leacock Museum in Orillia? Or by the Orillia Chamber of Commerce? Who has laid claim to Stephen Leacock and what are they claiming?

I myself pursue him for somewhat limited purposes of my own. I find him a good story,  and as I am a storyteller that is one purpose good enough for me. He tells good stories, which I like to read. Some I like to tell. That’s another. Most important to me, however, is the belief that he left behind an important idea,—the idea of the “Unsolved Riddle” applied to Social Justice,—that I think has been overlooked: not the idea itself, but his catchy label and the easy way he hands it over, handle first, edge turned away. It’s not even clear that he realized how sharp it was, although he certainly saw what it had to cut. Maybe it wasn’t even all that sharp, coming from him. I say that because he might have entertained the idea that if we scraped off some of the irregularities the edge wouldn’t have to be all that sharp. We know better now, that the irregularities are who we are as a nation. As I put it in a poem recently composed: inside our Dark Tower we search in vain for simplicity, finding only a rampant Pluralism. Isaiah Berlin is the man for that, not Stephen Leacock, wise as he was on his good days.

Stephen Leacock was a great teacher, however. What he wanted most for us was that we should learn. Such was the personage he became. I will tell you how he got there. At the end of his first decade he was on his way, but only just. Harry Park was about to give him the first boost.