Johnson’s friend, the surgeon Dr Staunton, was about to leave for the West Indies when he received this advice in a letter from Johnson. America here includes the Islands; New England was still a collection of British colonies. I hope you have the chance to enjoy examining something on holiday, a natural or even man-made curiosity.
In America there is little to be observed except natural curiosities. The new world must have many vegetables and animals with which philosophers are but little acquainted. I hope you will furnish yourself with some books of natural history, and some glasses and other instruments of observation. Trust as little as you can to report; examine all you can by your own senses. I do not doubt but you will be able to add much to knowledge, and, perhaps, to medicine. Wild nations trust to simples; and, perhaps, the Peruvian bark is not the only specifick which those extensive regions may afford us.
Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765 by James Boswell.
Cortex peruvianus study by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, 1706; better known today as quinine. A simple is a plant-based medicine; a specific is a medicine for a particular disease; in this case malaria.
JOHNSON. ‘There is nothing, Sir, too little for so little a creature as man. It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible.’
from “Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765” by James Boswell.
Samuel Johnson lived before the Voyage of the Beagle changed science for ever, but the generation of biologists before Darwin – like the Hampshire curate Gilbert White – were systematically looking at little things with the humility Johnson is advocating. Selborne parish was White’s study, the chalk hills, the plants and animals that inhabited them.
Our experience, walking on Kentish chalk during lockdown, is that once our eyes are open – to a damsel fly or to orchids for example – we see many more of them. This is a fly orchid, well named. But what else should my eyes be open to, walking city pavements?
Let’s pray for all those working at a really little, microscopic level, to bring us treatments and vaccines for diseases such as malaria and the new covid-19. Nothing is too little!
In connection with this subject of melancholy, George Eliot speaks somewhere of the “sadness of a summer’s evening.” How wonderfully true—like everything that came from that wonderful pen—the observation is! Who has not felt the sorrowful enchantment of those lingering sunsets? The world belongs to Melancholy then, a thoughtful deep-eyed maiden who loves not the glare of day.
It is not till “light thickens and the crow wings to the rocky wood” that she steals forth from her groves. Her palace is in twilight land. It is there she meets us. At her shadowy gate she takes our hand in hers and walks beside us through her mystic realm. We see no form, but seem to hear the rustling of her wings.
Even in the toiling hum-drum city her spirit comes to us. There is a sombre presence in each long, dull street; and the dark river creeps ghostlike under the black arches, as if bearing some hidden secret beneath its muddy waves. In the silent country, when the trees and hedges loom dim and blurred against the rising night, and the bat’s wing flutters in our face, and the land-rail’s* cry sounds drearily across the fields, the spell sinks deeper still into our hearts. We seem in that hour to be standing by some unseen death-bed, and in the swaying of the elms we hear the sigh of the dying day.
A solemn sadness reigns. A great peace is around us. In its light our cares of the working day grow small and trivial, and bread and cheese—ay, and even kisses—do not seem the only things worth striving for. Thoughts we cannot speak but only listen to flood in upon us, and standing in the stillness under earth’s darkening dome, we feel that we are greater than our petty lives. Hung round with those dusky curtains, the world is no longer a mere dingy workshop, but a stately temple wherein man may worship, and where at times in the dimness his groping hands touch God’s.
On Being Hard Up from Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome. A hint of Laudato Si’ before its time.
* The land rail or corncrake has disappeared from much of Europe due to modern agriculture destroying nests. It will spend the night in corn fields, saying its own Latin name, over and over again: CREX, CREX.
Eddie Gilmore of the Irish chaplaincy in London describes how he was coping with the discipline of working from home and not going up to the office. Read the whole article here.
My life in lockdown has become a bit monastic, and there’s a lot I like about that. There’s quite a nice, simple balance of work, prayer, meals, reading, recreation (much of that in the form of walking or cycling). I’m a bit more tuned in than usual to the subtle but magical changes in the natural world: the colours and the smells, the times of the day when the birds sing more loudly, the wonderful sight in the sky a few nights ago of a crescent moon underneath a brightly shining Venus.
Thank you Eddie for allowing us to use your writings! There will be a barbecue to end all this enforced confinement, but even now, let your heart be unconfined!
This window explicitly links the Ascension to Pentecost, ten days later. And there seems to be a female presence in the shape of Mary and another woman in each scene, which is as it should be, despite the Lectionary airbrushing the women out of the Pentecost day reading from Acts.
But today is Ascension Day – Why are you looking up into the sky? What do you expect to see?
Or we could put the Angel’s question another way: if you are looking for Jesus where do you expect to find him? Among the clouds; really? Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it for me. It began with mutual support as the disciples continued to come to grips with all that had happened.
Here and now we can pray for the Spirit to fill our hearts with love, and give us eyes to see Jesus in our neighbours, family, friends.
It was the first rainy day for weeks; in two hours of walking on paths that had been busy by viral standards last time we walked them, I scarcely met a score of fellow walkers. It was a few degrees cooler than the preceding days, and wet. As I reached Blean church, big heavy drops drove me under the yews; I began looking for passion flower carvings without success but enjoyed seeing the lichen again and these bluebells of different colours.
Many times have I cycled past here, usually going to or from work, but never noticed these, partly because the church is at the top of a hill and all my attention would have been on completing the climb. Since it was the virus that drove me out here on foot, this is a going viral post, Stay safe, let your heart be unconfined!
A Master of a house (as I have read) Must be the first man up, and last in bed: With the Sun rising he must walk his grounds; See this, View that, and all the other bounds: Shut every gate; mend every hedge that's torn, Either with old, or plant therein new thorn: Tread o'er his glebe, but with such care, that where He sets his foot, he leaves rich compost there.
Robert Herrick lived in turbulent times: 1591-1674. In other words Elizabeth I, James I, Charles I; the revolution and Cromwell; Charles II and the Restoration. ‘Husband’ here means householder as well as spouse. Looking after one’s estate, however small, was important then, and so it is now. Happy gardening and DIY!
The disciples did not know that it was Jesus walking with them. They told him how sad they were that Jesus had been killed.
They did not understand that Jesus had risen.Then Jesus said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have declared! The Messiah had to suffer these things and then enter into his glory.’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he opened up to them the things the Bible told about himself.
It’s a bit difficult to open up the Bible if you never open the Bible! But I don’t think it’s fair to accuse these two disciples of never opening the Bible, no! Jesus knows that they do read the words in the Bible, but he wants to open their hearts and their minds to understand the Bible in a new way.
Open hearts and open minds lead to open ears and open eyes. Open to read the Bible in what we see and hear around us. Let us listen today to our fellow walkers; can we have a laugh with them? Dennis was laughing and joining in when we saw the ducks on Tuesday and joined in with my quacking at them. That was more fun with two.
It is foolish playing at ducks, perhaps, but the disciples’ foolishness is the way in to their hearts that works for Jesus. I think he wants us in L’Arche to be like the prophets. They often did silly things that made people think about their lives. Some of the things we do may seem silly to other people, but we know they are important.
Is it foolish to spend four days walking from Dover to Canterbury? Saint Paul said, ‘We are fools for Christ’s sake.’(1 Corinthians 4:10)
A Reflection on the “Walk to Emmaus” from Luke’s Gospel by David Bex and Vincent Dunkling of L’Arche Kent.
How many of us have been on that road to Emmaus? A journey that is full of emotions that stop us from being able to recognise where we are in our lives. A journey that throws obstacles in the way of asking for help? A journey that we feel has no end.
Mental health provision in this country is so poor that there are thousands who are on this road to Emmaus and are not getting the help they need.
‘They knew him in the breaking of bread.’ I was uneasy about using this photo with its bread knife, when a picture came into my mind.
I was 21 years old, and seated at table with the family who were supposed to be helping my stumbling steps in the French language. The father of the family is standing to my left, the long loaf held against his chest as he cuts thick slices for his family and guests. Such a clear image it is too; no wonder then that only a few hours after his death, these two recognised Jesus in the breaking of bread!
Learning to speak and read French opened doors in my heart and mind for which I am forever grateful; although it took months to be competent and confident. How did it feel to be taught for two or three hours by the greatest of teachers, and then to have their whole beings exposed to the heavenly light of the Resurrection?