Schoolboy sketches

Schoolboy sketches

Maurice Cramer was a Geneva schoolboy who joined his classmates in August 1870 for a school trip to discover Champéry.  It was common for such excursions to be recorded in some kind of journal and this one includes both text and drawings, even though it is believed...
Lost in Russia

Lost in Russia

The American writer John Steinbeck and the photographer Robert Capa spent months preparing for their trip to the Soviet Union in 1947, much aided by a philosophic bar-man and his cocktails. However, their plans fell flat at the first hurdle, which was to have someone...
An aching loss

An aching loss

The occasional ache of something long lost – Leigh Fermor’s likening it to an old wound; more less healed, but can still give you gip on a bad day. ‘The loss of the journal still aches now and then like an old wound in bad weather.’ For a...
The thoughts of a pig

The thoughts of a pig

A wonderfully involved tail of a pig’s escape and eventual recapture.Firstly, a protracted endeavour to find him, eventually discovered resting in a barn, engaged in ‘thinking unutterable things’. Secondly, the vain boast of an Irishman who was sure...
A wilderness of books

A wilderness of books

This vast languishing resource was first brought home to me in Erik Reinert’s How Rich Countries Got Rich … and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor, which highlighted a lemming-level of group-think compounded by ignorance of an entire ‘other canon’ of...
Wait your turn!

Wait your turn!

This observation of a family of swallows over 150 years ago struck me, along with another surprising tale by Thoreau. Apart from the impressive behaviour of the birds on both counts, in reading these immediate, living accounts, I wonder whether Thoreau had any idea...
Airborne support

Airborne support

This touching account in Thoreau’s journal has a swallow, injured by a shot from a gun, being given airborne support by another swallow. The duly contrite swallow-sniper thereafter showed reverence towards these lovely small birds. I hope the injured one...
Intimate and familiar

Intimate and familiar

A striking idea, that in being true, a book will feel intimate and familiar to all men.  ‘True’ surely means authentic rather than fact-based. Some books feel intimate and familiar to some people, not all, and there is value in that too. It is probably...
Feeding & reading: nuts vs apples

Feeding & reading: nuts vs apples

Thoreau’s observation on the pitfalls of eating nuts.  However, the upside, as far as I gather, is that nuts are packed with brain-food. ‘It is quite too absorbing; you can’t read at the same time, as when you are eating an apple.’ Source:...
Of the unspoken

Of the unspoken

A short and thoughtful statement.  He doesn’t elaborate and it is hard to know what drew him to this conclusion.  Given how much religion is spoken, it’s an interesting comment. ‘What is religion?  That which is never spoken.’  18 August 1858...
Wrong by a jugful

Wrong by a jugful

A charming way to say that someone is seriously wrong – not right by a jugful.  I will try to slip this into my daily speech and see if anyone notices. ‘… he says that his account is not right by a jugful, that he does not come within half a mile of...
Studying the ways of men

Studying the ways of men

So that’s the secret of the fox’s cunning – they hide out of sight and study us!  Thoreau has dozens of these tiny observations about animals.See also Mervyn Peake’s foxy simile.’Farmer said yesterday that he thought foxes did not live so...
The past as a concertina of time

The past as a concertina of time

I collect comments on and perceptions of time.  This one is striking and I am as guilty of it as anybody.  While we allow significant differences between recent centuries (the 18th century being Very Different from the 20th) we readily assume that the world of 100 AD...
That grand old poem called Winter

That grand old poem called Winter

To celebrate the winter solstice, a few crisp quotations.  I loved Thoreau’s description of winter as an epic in blank verse, and his words are themselves a grand old poem.  Enjoy. ‘That grand old poem called Winter … What a poem!  an epic in blank...

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