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Something Tells Me I’d Really Enjoy the Private Letters of Two Men I Didn’t Even Know Existed

Photo by Alessio Fiorentino / Unsplash

It helps to be aware of one’s ignorance.

That’s one reason I like to read Joseph Epstein, who wrote a delightful essay for the current issue of the new Catholic journal, The Lamp that brought my level of awareness to the brim.

The topic?

The letters of George Lyttelton and Rupert Hart-Davis. I’d never heard of either man (though Lyttelton’s name at least rang a bell), and I definitely had no idea why anyone would publish their private letters, unless they were well-known conservatives from the Church of England who were engaged in a torrid and secret homosexual affair.

But they weren’t.

They were “merely” well-known men of letters (one a professor in classics and English literature at Eton, the other a publisher) in mid-twentieth-century England, when erudite and cultured men of letters were a dime a dozen.

Neither was interested in politics, thereby bolstering Russell Kirk’s observation that politics is the pursuit of the quarter-educated.

Neither was religious.

Both were married, but only one happily and faithfully. The other led a double life with his legal wife’s (at least tacit) approval.

Both men would’ve been delightful to drink with if the witticisms, opinions, and observations recounted by Epstein are indicative of their personalities and conversational abilities.

Who wouldn’t want to have a drink with a guy who notices the paradox that all great womanizers are physically ugly, then backs it up with examples: Casanova, John Wilkes, H.G. Wells? Or a guy who has read broadly from, and admires, the works of Max Beerbohm and P.G. Wodehouse (long a Modern Drunkard Magazine favorite, btw)? Or who observed that Lady Chatterley’s Lover should be censored, not for obscenity, but because of dullness? Or who knew that King George V went to the opera only once a year and that La Boheme was his favorite because it was by far the shortest?

My only quibble with the men (well, with Hart-Davis) is that he thought George Gissing’s work “dull.” That kind of hurt. I believe The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft a beautiful little book.

But no matter, I’d love to have a drink with either of them. Heck, I’d be happy simply to have the booth next to them and eavesdrop for two hours, assuming I could penetrate the English accent, which I’m guessing was quite thick on both of them.

Speaking of which, if anyone can put me in touch with Joseph Epstein, I’d love to share a drink with him and would happily make the trip to his Chicago. I suspect he could match Lyttelton and Hart-Davis anecdote-for-anecdote, plus I have long (for over 20 years) read him and thought I always perceived in him a generous and noble soul, as evidenced by this passage about T.S. Eliot (keep in mind, Epstein is Jewish):

For all the attacks on T.S. Eliot for the anti-Semitic touches in his poems, I know of no one who knew him, including Jews, who did not find him personally considerate, kindly, winning.

That’s a beautiful paragraph, and not just because he left out the conjunction “and” at the end.

Photo above by Pixabay on

The Golden Hour

I plunged and bought the Optimal Work master class. It’s salty ($595), but I think it’ll be worth it.

The class revolves around “the golden hour,” which is the practice of setting aside blocks of time (45-90 minutes) for focused attention on a single task. It can apply to the work day or to a student’s study life. You can get a glimpse at what it’s all about by registering at the site above and getting a few free lectures.

I think the end goal is to quiet your mind, lead a happier life, and be more productive. It’s like you’re traveling the American train of busyness and productivity, with a Buddhist conductor.

I’m told, incidentally, that the psychiatrist who set up the class is a devout and serious Catholic. If I had to guess, his real goal in this master class is to create saints in the workplace and school. I doubt you’ll notice it in me, but I think that’s what he’s doing.

The Golden Month

The Golden Hour? Heck, I’m looking forward to the Golden Month.

Welcome to January.

I’ve long maintained that each season—whether it’s a season in your life or a season of the year—brings its advantages and disadvantages. January is normally considered the loathsome month: the holidays are over; ten weeks of horrible weather stretch before us.

Not for me. January is the golden month.

Travel is over; company isn’t arriving; everyone is dieting; no one wants to drink; there are no temptations to spend excessive time on outdoor activities.

The order of the day involves work, meditation, prayer, study, and writing. The order even leaves some time at the end of the day for a little HBO.

It is the golden month.

The process of taking a crappy month like January and looking at its good opportunities is known as “reframing.” It’s a crucial step in the Optimal Work class. I’ve long engaged in the process of reframing, but I didn’t know there was a word for it.

Of course, I’ve also long engaged in the process of complaining (the opposite of reframing), but at least I’m now aware that reframing is “a thing” and I’m beginning to understand better why complaining is a bad thing.

A Modest Joy

There are little things that give me a ridiculous amount of modest joy.

Like clearing snow or frost off areas of a car windshield or cement early in the morning then letting the winter sun warm it a bit and melt/clear the surrounding areas. It’s such a quiet source of joy that I find myself checking out the sun’s progress several times a day.

I think it ties into man’s natural propensity to seek the greatest return with the least amount of work. It’s the same propensity that leads people to gamble and to seek out huge federal contracts, except in my case, I’m not wrecking my family’s finances or destroying the nation.