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The Weekend Eudemon

Moderation? Novel Concept
"A Maine college takes an unusual approach to curbing drinking: allowing students who are over 21 to drink wine and beer with dinner on campus. The policy is an unconventional method at trying to convey lessons on moderate drinking." Now, if we could only get everyone to lighten up on the minors a bit. LINK

H.G. Wells Bites
Looks like there's gonna be a little Wellsian revival this year. Fifteen titles in the new Penguin Classics H.G. Wells series will be published between March and May. We figure some bits about Wells might provide readers with good bar fodder, or cocktail party material, or (for our most gentle readers) tea party grist.

Joseph Pearce summarizes Wells's worldview that drove The Outline of History: "Wells believed that human 'progress' was both blind and beneficial; unshakeable, unstoppable and utterly inexorable. History was the product of invisible and immutable evolutionary forces that were coming to fruition in the twentieth century. Human history had its primitive beginnings in the caves, but was now reaching its climax in the modern age with the final triumph of science over religion. The emergence of science from the ashes of 'superstition' heralded a new dawn for humanity, a brave new world of happiness made possible by technology. [Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc, Ignatius, 2002, p. 217]

Hilaire Belloc on Wells's worldview: "Mr. Wells suffers from the very grievous fault of being ignorant that he is ignorant. He has the strange cocksureness of the man who only knows the old conventional textbook of his schooldays and mistakes it for universal knowledge." [Id., p. 218]

Pearce again: "Blinded by his own credulous optimism, it would take the horrors of the Second World War to open his eyes to the evils that could be unleashed by science in the service of 'progressive' ideologies. His last book, written before his death in 1946, was full of the desolation of disillusionment and was entitled, appropriately, The Mind at the End of its Tether. In the end, Wells's 'progressive' optimism was defeated, not by Belloc, but by reality." [Id., p. 222]

Three Wellsian Anecdotes:
In 1909 Ford Maddox Ford attended a Dutch-Treat dinner for writers and publishers presided over by the poet Herbert Trench. At his table of five, Ford was joined by H.G. Wells, Hilaire Belloc, Maurice Baring and G.K. Chesterton. When Belloc began to insult a novelist at the next table, an embarrassed Wells changed the subject by loudly asking Ford to tell everyone about a new writer he had just discovered. Thus did Belloc help launch the career of D.H. Lawrence. [Edward Nehls, D. H. Lawrence, Madison, 1957, v. I, p. 202]

In the autumn of 1917, young F. Scott Fitzgerald decided that a Great Writer is born every ten years. He noted that Shaw was 61, Wells was 51, Chesterton was 41, biographer Shane Leslie was 31 and he, F. Scott, was 21. His one demur was that he could not think of a better example for age 31. [Letters, New York: Scribner's, 1963]

"Wells was disarmed by Chesterton's good nature, disturbed by his inability to pigeon-hole the man. On a summers day in 1907, for example, Wells and Chesterton went to Oxford to attend a lecture. Walking together after the address Wells began to harangue his friend about the "bloody hand of Christianity." The diatribe lasted for over 35 minutes, without Chesterton making the slightest objection. At the end of it he turned to Wells, smiled and said, 'Yes, you do have a point.'" Michael Coren, The Invisible Man, New York: Athenaeum, 1993, p. 80]

The three anecdotes are courtesy of John Peterson, former publisher of Gilbert Magazine and one of the keenest minds we've ever grappled with.

The Punchy Journal

. . . One night, a friend was driving me home from the bar. It was dusk and we stopped at a rural stop sign. I saw a weird animal run up toward the front of the car. Its tail looked like it had little sharp spikes. I thought he was going to try to slice the tire with it, but before he could, my friend pulled away.

My friend said it was a beaver.

I think it was a hodag.

The hodag is a dreadful and strong beast that terrorized the logging camps of the nineteenth century. It had great iron teeth, a long flat tail of bone with serrated edges. It ate bears, deer, and wildcats, but its favorite food was landlookers: those men that scouted areas for suitable logging operations. Once a landlooker was pursued by a hodag, he was doomed. The hodag could run faster, and if the landlooker climbed a tree, the hodag would cut it down with his tail.

I read about this mythological creature in Albert Jay Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man.

"Nock made the essential point: ransack the past for your values, establish a coherent worldview, depend neither on society nor on government insofar as circumstances permit, keep your tastes simple and inexpensive, and do what you have to do to remain true to yourself. He borrowed from ancient Greece, Thomas Jefferson, Matthew Arnold, and especially from Rabelais, but not from banks." Robert Crunden

The book is excellent. It dishes out accidental education by the gigabyte.

"Accidental education" is a phrase I got from Henry Adams. It refers to the act of stumbling across delightful knowledge.

How do you go about getting accidental education? It seems impossible to try to attain it. After all, to be truly accidental, you can't set out with that purpose or it won't be "accidental."

But it is possible to increase your odds.

You gotta put yourself in the right position, and if the accidental education comes along, welcome it. It's like women who used to go to nursing school so they might meet and marry a doctor. Their intent wasn't to marry for money. They went where the money is and married for love.

In order to be in a position to attain accidental education, don't always read with a set purpose. Rather, read haphazardly and read the right kinds of books: the kinds that might be filled with interesting stories and facts that wouldn't have interested you prior to learning about them.

How do you find such books? Unfortunately, if you set out to find a book like that, you kinda violate the whole mindset needed for an accidental education and, maybe in a mystical way, hinder the enterprise.

I say, just pick-up a book and start reading.

Also: Get off the intellectual beaten tract: No newspapers, no magazines, no popular books. Everyone is reading that stuff. You want to read different things, off-beat books like Nock's Memoirs.

Stay away from books whose general content is obvious. If you pick-up a history of the United States, you know what you're getting. If you pick-up The Education of Henry Adams, you don't really know what you're getting, except you know it has a reputation of having a lot of good stuff in it, and it'll be stuff you're not looking for and information you can't control.

That's the beauty.

Biographies, especially autobiographies, seem to be good sources for accidental education. Also recommended are rambling essays by scholars (like Joseph Epstein) and collected letters of writers (like Flannery O'Connor). Big reference books are also very good. This is ironic because these books are produced as the antithesis of accidental education, but they're so crammed with information, that they can be a source of accidental education if approached with hazy haphazardness. . .