Sunday, July 22, 2018

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery

Introduction

Opening Passages: From Douglass's Narrative:

I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday....

From Washington's Up from Slavery:

I was born a slave on a plantation in Franklin County, Virginia. I am not quite sure of the exact place or exact date of my birth, but at any rate I suspect I must have been born somewhere and sometime. as nearly as I have been able to learn, I was born near a cross-roads post-office called Hale's Ford, and the year swas 1858 or 1859. I do not know the month or the day. The earliest impressions I can now recall are of the plantation and the slave quarters--the latter being the part of plantation where the slaves had their cabins.

Summary: The tale laid out in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is a tale of education. Slaves are people who are denied truth in an often explicit attempt to degrade their humanity; they cannot speak honestly and they are allowed to learn nothing but what will keep them in chains. Douglass first gets his glimpse of "the pathway from slavery to freedom" when his master, Mr. Auld, lectures his wife on why she should stop teaching the young Douglass how to read: denying that education was part of how slaves were kept in line. Douglass thence set out to learn how to read, coming up with often ingenious solutions to do so. But reading alone was not the end of it; in teaching himself to read, Douglass was setting out on an ever-deepening to journey to unravel the central problem of slavery: what gave white men the power to enslave black men? Understanding that was indeed the path from slavery to freedom for Douglass, and would become the heart of his abolition work when free.

Up from Slavery is also about education. Washington, freed at an early age by the Emancipation Proclamation, goes to the Hampton Institute to study and thence is put in charge of the Tuskegee Institute. Starting with almost nothing -- there was some money appropriated by the legislature, but it could only be used for salaries, not buildings or supplies, of which there was none -- he built up the Institute into a major educational hub. (Hence the epithet often given to him, The Wizard of Tuskegee.)

One thing on which Douglass and Washington both agree is that there is no freedom without labor, both of mind and of body. Douglass has a very famous speech, "Self-Made Men", in which he makes the point vividly:

The lesson taught at this point by human experience is simply this, that the man who will get up will be helped up; and the man who will not get up will be allowed to stay down. This rule may appear somewhat harsh, but in its general application and operation it is wise, just and beneficent. I know of no other rule which can be substituted for it without bringing social chaos. Personal independence is a virtue and it is the soul out of which comes the sturdiest manhood. But there can be no independence without a large share of self-dependence, and this virtue cannot be bestowed. It must be developed from within.

The major steps to freedom for Douglass were to find ways to be educated in reading, to push back rather than to give in, and, when the opportunity arose, to escape to freedom and do what he needed to do to survive in it. Freedom is not just given to us; it is especially not given to slaves, who are stripped of the kind of power that makes it possible; it must be built for oneself, or it will not really be had. And Washington has much the same view; as he says, "Nothing ever comes to me, that is worth having, except as the result of hard work." A result of this is that both of them see the primary problem in racial relations as being a lack of fair play; freedom must be built, and cannnot be merely given, so the primary thing to do is to let it be built. The actual building can only be done by education and hard work, and freedom can only be built by those who are to have it.

Washington in particular has taken a lot of beating over the years for his statement of this idea in the Atlanta Exposition Address (discussed in Chapter XIV of Up from Slavery), which was originally generally hailed as a step forward, but eventually became criticized as the 'Atlanta Compromise', with Washington himself labeled, by W.E.B. Du Bois and others, as 'the Great Accommodator'. This comes in part of over-interpreting a particular statement in the Address:

The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing. No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized. It is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercises of these privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera-house.

To this day, you can find people treating the Atlanta Exposition Address as a statement that blacks will not agitate for voting rights or push back against racist activity, and would limit their participation in society to ways congenial to the lifestyle of whites. This is not only inconsistent with Washington's own views as stated elsewhere, it misses the point entirely of the Address, which is, again, that freedoms must be built step-by-step through hard work and cannot merely pushed into place by "artificial forcing" (terms that he elsewhere associates with Reconstruction policies). My suspicion (I should say it is just a suspicion, and not any sort of rigorous account) is that Du Bois's eventual reaction against Washington had less to do with any racial issue than with the fact that Du Bois was a socialist and Washington is about as far from being a socialist as you can possibly get. Both of them essentially agree on matters of race, and, what is more, both of them agree that freedom requires, among other things, an economic foundation for it. But there is no possible way that they could ever agree on the economic foundation.

I knew going in that I would enjoy Douglass's Narrative, since I've liked other work by Douglass. I was less sure of what to expect from Up from Slavery, but having read it, I think I do not exaggerate in saying that it is one of the most important works ever written on the philosophy of education. And the scope of what Washington was trying to do was simply astounding. He was not merely trying to build a school; he was trying to seed an entire system of education, building it literally from the bottom up. This is part of the reason why he emphasizes vocational education so much, another thing that has elicited unmerited disdain, particularly from academics. But Washington himself addresses this point explicitly; for him, it is about maintaining the necessary order, not merely in educating oneself but in building an entire system of education:

One man may go into a community prepared to supply the people there with an analysis of Greek sentences. The community may not at the time be prepared for, or feel the need of, Greek analysis, but it may feel its need of bricks and houses and wagons. If the man can supply the need for those, then, it will lead eventually to a demand for the first product, and with the demand will come the ability to appreciate it and to profit by it.

And the educational system was itself to be the beating heart of an entire industrial system, self-supporting, self-developing, contributing so much to the "markets of the world" that the ever-growing freedom it would bring to the black community would not depend on good intentions or mere political promises and policies -- it would be something so overwhelming in its practical benefits that no one would dare even try to strip it away. Since I've been thinking a lot about Scotland this summer, what Washington was aiming at reminds me a bit of what happened on a smaller scale to the Scots after the Union: an originally marginal nation that by force of education and practical aims became a significant economic force. And it was all to start with the Tuskegee Institute, an educational institute that Washington explicitly designed to be self-replicating in its effect. It is a breathtaking vision, of immense scope, yet put together with an attention to practical details. I've sometimes noted that one of the reasons for the success of Plato is that he has a talent for philosophizing simultaneously at the level of the argument and at the level of an entire scheme of civilization, whereas the rest of us have to oscillate between the two, if we ever manage to encompass both at all. Washington has interests very different from those of Plato, but he has that rare talent of being able to think of things simultaneously as a solution to an immediate problem and as a component in an entire system of civilization. The best thought on education will inevitably include both. And this easily characterizes Washington's thoughts on education in Up from Slavery, whether one agrees with his emphases and solutions or not.

Favorite Passages: From the Narrative:

Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said, "If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master—to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now," said he, "if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy." These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom....

From Up from Slavery:

Several of these festivals were held, and quite a little sum of money was raised. A canvass was also made among the people of both races for direct gifts of money, and most of those applied to gave small sums. It was often pathetic to note the gifts of the older coloured people, most of whom had spent their best days in slavery. Sometimes they would give five cents, sometimes twenty-five cents. Sometimes the contribution was a quilt, or a quantity of sugarcane. I recall one old coloured women who was about seventy years of age, who came to see me when we were raising money to pay for the farm. She hobbled into the room where I was, leaning on a cane. She was clad in rags; but they were clean. She said: "Mr. Washin'ton, God knows I spent de bes' days of my life in slavery. God knows I's ignorant an' poor; but," she added, "I knows what you an' Miss Davidson is tryin' to do. I knows you is tryin' to make better men an' better women for de coloured race. I ain't got no money, but I wants you to take dese six eggs, what I's been savin' up, an' I wants you to put dese six eggs into the eddication of dese boys an' gals."

Since the work at Tuskegee started, it has been my privilege to receive many gifts for the benefit of the institution, but never any, I think, that touched me so deeply as this one.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended, both; Up from Slavery should in particular be read by anyone with an interest in education.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

A Quick Trip to Scotland, Miscellanea II

Edinburgh: Old Calton (continued)


Edinburgh: Calton Hill


Edinburgh: Views from Bridges in Old Town

Edinburgh has a lot of bridges (over valleys, since it lies on an area that geographically is cut by deep ridges). I tried to get some pictures of views from them, but most of the photographs turned out very busy -- the whole of Old Town is very crowded.


One over the Cowgate, which, as the name suggests, was the route people would take with their herds to get to the markets in the medieval city:


Edinburgh: Miscellaneous

More around the cathedral:


Various in and around Princes Street Gardens:


Out near Holyrood:


This is St. Andrews, a government building done in Art Deco style, a bit institutional-looking but very striking on the ground:


A famous statue of Wellington:


St Andrew Square, the Melville Monument, which commemorates Henry Dundas, the Viscount Melville:


Dundas was a major player in the political government in his day, so much so that he was sarcastically referred to as King Harry the Ninth and the Great Tyrant. He helped establish New Town, obstructed the abolition of slavery for years, expanded British domination of India, and was the last person in the United Kingdom to be impeached by the House of Lords (although he was acquitted).

Looking the other direction, the striking St. Andrew's and St. George's West Church:


to be continued

Friday, July 20, 2018

Pachelbel's Chicken



TwoSetViolin, "Pachelbel's Chicken".

Thursday, July 19, 2018

He Dared the Lightning in the Lightning's Track

Frederick Douglass
by Paul Laurence Dunbar


A hush is over all the teeming lists,
And there is pause, a breath-space in the strife;
A spirit brave has passed beyond the mists
And vapors that obscure the sun of life.
And Ethiopia, with bosom torn,
Laments the passing of her noblest born.

She weeps for him a mother's burning tears—
She loved him with a mother's deepest love
He was her champion thro' direful years,
And held her weal all other ends above.
When Bondage held her bleeding in the dust,
He raised her up and whispered,"Hope and Trust."

For her his voice, a fearless clarion, rung
That broke in warning on the ears of men;
For her the strong bow of his pow'r he strung
And sent his arrows to the very den
Where grim Oppression held his bloody place
And gloated o'er the mis'ries of a race.

And he was no soft-tongued apologist;
He spoke straight-forward, fearlessly uncowed;
The sunlight of his truth dispelled the mist
And set in bold relief each dark-hued cloud;
To sin and crime he gave their proper hue,
And hurled at evil what was evil's due.

Thro' good and ill report he cleaved his way
Right onward, with his face set toward the heights,
Nor feared to face the foeman's dread array—
The lash of scorn, the sting of petty spites.
He dared the lightning in the lightning's track,
And answered thunder with his thunder back.

When men maligned him and their torrent wrath
In furious imprecations o'er him broke,
He kept his counsel as he kept his path;
'Twas for his race, not for himself, he spoke.
He knew the import of his Master's call
And felt himself too mighty to be small.

No miser in the good he held was he—
His kindness followed his horizon's rim.
His heart, his talents and his hands were free
To all who truly needed aught of him.
Where poverty and ignorance were rife,
He gave his bounty as he gave his life.

The place and cause that first aroused his might
Still proved its pow'r until his latest day.
In Freedom's lists and for the aid of Right
Still in the foremost rank he waged the fray;
Wrong lived; His occupation was not gone.
He died in action with his armor on!

We weep for him, but we have touched his hand,
And felt the magic of his presence nigh,
The current that he sent thro' out the land,
The kindling spirit of his battle-cry
O'er all that holds us we shall triumph yet
And place our banner where his hopes were set!

Oh, Douglass, thou hast passed beyond the shore,
But still thy voice is ringing o'er the gale!
Thou 'st taught thy race how high her hopes may soar
And bade her seek the heights, nor faint, nor fail.
She will not fail, she heeds thy stirring cry,
She knows thy guardian spirit will be nigh,
And rising from beneath the chast'ning rod,
She stretches out her bleeding hands to God!

The Teacher

Today is the feast of St. Macrina the Younger, also known as the Teacher, grand-daughter of St. Macrina the Elder, daughter of St. Basil the Elder and St. Emmelia, and sister of St. Basil the Great, St. Naucratius, St. Peter of Sebaste, and St. Gregory of Nyssa. An interesting passage from St. Gregory's On the Soul and the Resurrection, an account of his dialogue with his older sister when she was on her deathbed:

As for the thinkers, the Teacher went on, outside our own system of thought, they have, with all their diverse ways of looking at things, one in one point, another in another, approached and touched the doctrine of the Resurrection: while they none of them exactly coincide with us, they have in no case wholly abandoned such an expectation. Some indeed make human nature vile in their comprehensiveness, maintaining that a soul becomes alternately that of a man and of something irrational; that it transmigrates into various bodies, changing at pleasure from the man into fowl, fish, or beast, and then returning to human kind. While some extend this absurdity even to trees and shrubs, so that they consider their wooden life as corresponding and akin to humanity, others of them hold only thus much — that the soul exchanges one man for another man, so that the life of humanity is continued always by means of the same souls, which, being exactly the same in number, are being born perpetually first in one generation, then in another. As for ourselves, we take our stand upon the tenets of the Church, and assert that it will be well to accept only so much of these speculations as is sufficient to show that those who indulge in them are to a certain extent in accord with the doctrine of the Resurrection.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

End in Itself

544. The human person is an end because of the divine element which informs it. This element, which in God is God, cannot be employed as a simple means even by God himself, who, being essentially end, cannot use himself as means. Hence Scripture says that God made himself the end of all things, and could not do otherwise.

545. He is end, therefore, in so far as he communicates himself to humankind, either through the light of reason or through gifts superior to nature. This teaching, which ennobles human creatures, is echoed in divine Scripture when it says that God, in his absolute, all-powerful dominion, treats mankind 'with great reverence'.

[Antonio Rosmini, The Philosophy of Right, Volume 4: Rights in God's Church, Cleary & Watson, trs., Rosmini House (Durham: 1995) p. 26.] The passages referred to are Proverbs 16:4 and Wisdom 12:18, respectively.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Two Poem Drafts

Kora of Sicyon was, according to Greek legend, the first person to draw the human form itself; she traced her lover's shadow on the wall with charcoal.

Psyche

Psyche looked on Eros,
thought on love,
to capture him in vision
who moved in might;
the deathlessness of love
took startled flight
and lost and chained was thought.

Undying life cannot be caught;
the mind can barely catch a glimpse
when, turning around
amid the currents of the dark,
it sees itself a work of love;
but love cannot be held.
It hides from sight,
forever veiled.

Yet not unknown:
caress in darkness,
love with thought,
gives communion higher than all sight,
interweaves the night with joy divine,
a joy that does not die,
transcending joys that have been sought.

Psyche looked on Eros,
thought on love,
to capture him in vision
who moved in night;
the god was holy-hidden
but patient tears
with yearning heart restored him,
and splendidly were joined
thought and love.

Kora of Sicyon

He is gone too swiftly,
shadow-like,
a waver in the burning sun,
and I,
too soon alone,
am turned to shadow.
No!
I will keep him,
his presence secure,
give him outline
more sure than the sun's,
that I always may see him,
though only in shadow.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Voyages Extraordinaires #30: Nord contre Sud

Florida was annexed to the American federation in 1819; it was organized into a state a few years afterwards. By the annexation the area of the republic was increased by some 67,000 square miles. But the star of Florida shines with second-rate brilliancy in that constellation of thirty-eight which spangle the banner of the United States of America.

Florida, throughout, is a low, narrow tongue of land, and its rivers, with one exception—the St. John's-owing to the narrowness of the country, are of no importance. From such a slight rise, there is not sufficient fall for the watercourses to be of any rapidity; there are no mountains, only a few lines of “bluffs” or low hills such as are numerous in the central and southern regions of the Union. In form the peninsula is not unlike the tail of a beaver dipping into the ocean between the Atlantic on the east and the Gulf of Mexico on the west.

North against South, also known in English as Texar's Revenge, tells the story of a Northerner and abolitionist, James Burbank, who owns a plantation in Florida in the midst of the Civil War. He is opposed by a man of Spanish background, named Texar, who has a longstanding grudge against him and who stirs up the pro-slavery sentiment against him in an attempt to burn down his plantation. Texar kidnaps Burbank's little daughter, Dy, and her caretaker, the recently freed slave, Zermah, and hides them deep in the Everglades.

The work, published in 1887, flopped in the United States; Americans were not particularly thrilled at a foreigner telling a tale about the Civil War, and the book was criticized as being shot through with inaccuracies. Not being a Civil War buff, and not making an effort to double-check timelines and such, I didn't notice anything outright. (And such inaccuracies would, in any case, have to be checked against the French, given how often Verne was garbled in translation.) But Verne very definitely has a decided view about the Civil War, and can't always resist lecturing about it. The example that really stood out to me was his adamant insistence that it was wrong to remove McClellan from command. This is contrary to the usual view that McClellan was a competent strategist but an overly cautious commander, and that Lincoln was probably right in thinking that he was neither aggressive enough in his approach nor, in talent, a match for the likes of Lee. There is, in any case, a considerably amount of nuance Verne has dropped, and it is perhaps not surprising that Americans were unwilling to be lectured about their own Civil War by someone who only knew about it secondhand. It probably also didn't help that the book is not like most of the works that really made his name.

The best way to approach the book, I think, is not to regard it as Civil War fiction so much as a mystery adventure set in the swamps of Florida in a broadly Civil War setting: Texar was seen, by an unimpeachable witness, in the very process of kidnapping Dy and Zermah; but he has an equally unimpeachable alibi for exactly that time. Once all the pieces for that are in place, it's just a race to solve the mystery before it is too late for Zermah and Dy.

A Quick Trip to Scotland, Miscellanea I

Edinburgh: Old Town

Some pictures from the street:


A few miscellaneous shots of the Scott Monument:


Some pictures from and in Princes Street Gardens, especially of the Castle:


Edinburgh: Old Calton


to be continued