Monthly Archives: August 2020

Non-Sequaciousness (Emerson; also Carlyle)

 

 

‘The Non-Sequaciousness of Ralph Waldo Emerson’ – Irish Monthly, July 1900

 

 

non-sequaciousness ANNOTATED

 

 

 

Close reading recently of works by and about Walt Whitman have gotten me to think about the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson on Whitman. It is well known, and has often been commented upon, that there was such an influence.

The other day, I attempted to read Emerson’s essay “The Poet.” It seems likely that this essay, originally a lecture by Emerson, influenced Whitman — greatly, one would say. Whitman attended Emerson’s lecture, “Nature and the Powers of the Poet,” as a reporter for the New York Aurora. in Manhattan in 1842. Whitman was a journalist then. The great American poet whom Emerson was envisioning — the poet yet to come — seems (as Emerson described him) to prefigure the future poet Walt Whitman.

 

 

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I mentioned Emerson to a close friend of mine (a friend, importantly, who is one of the few I can share my readings and ideas with) who, at some point in the conversation — I think beforehand, actually — had mentioned that he had come across a few quotations from Emerson in blog posts of mine and had found them to be actually irritating. I forget just what he said or implied, but the gist was that Emerson’s prose was perplexing, unclear, and annoying on that account — not worth trying to decipher. I was more or less simultaneously having the same experience trying to read “The Poet.” I had been telling myself for a while that I should make a point of reading Emerson’s major (at least) essays — in part because of his influence on Whitman and also because of his fame and importance as an essayist.

I made the following note to myself recently. I don’t know if it is accurate, although I think there is at least truth in it. To verify this (and perhaps as fodder for a future essay of my own), I thought of rereading Whitman’s prose works and of taking it upon myself to read Emerson. My note to myself read as follows:

when it comes to exposition

to expository prose

Whitman as essayist/prose writer

sounds an awful lot like Emerson in the latter’s essays

the similarities are striking

the style is punchy, yet the tone is elevated (besides vigorous) — not arch or pompous, but very lofty, abstract … thoughts, ideas, the intended meaning are expressed in a somewhat elliptical manner

In the case of Whitman’s prose, I was thinking mostly of Whitman’s Preface to the first (1855) edition of Leaves of Grass and of his later work Democratic Vistas. The 1855 Preface begins with the following paragraph:

America does not repel the past or what it has produced under its forms or amid other politics or the idea of castes or the old religions . . . accepts the lesson with calmness . . . is not so impatient as has been supposed that the slough still sticks to opinions and manners and literature while the life which served its requirements has passed into the new life of the new forms perceives that the corpse is slowly borne from the eating and sleeping rooms of the house . . . perceives that it waits a little while in the door . . . that it was fittest for its days . . . that its action has descended to the stalwart and wellshaped heir who approaches . . . and that he shall be fittest for his days.

 

 

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Then I came across Patrick Dillon’s essay on Emerson’s style; on Emerson the writer; and the applicability of the author (Dillon’s) analysis to essay-writing in general:

“The Non-Sequaciousness of Ralph Waldo Emerson”

by Patrick Dillon

The Irish Monthly

Vol. 28, No. 325 (July 1900), pp. 415-421

 

The essay is posted above as a PDF file. Also posted here (above) is a Word document containing the complete text of the essay annotated by me.

 

 

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This essay (Dillon’s) is a seminal one that addresses crucial issues about expository writing. I have been thinking about such issues myself as of late. I would like to write an essay in which I more closely consider the prose writings of writers such as Emerson and Thomas Carlyle, who seem to have marked similarities. But, first, I need to read their works carefully, as is my habit, rather than just perusing them.

Another writer, a brilliant one, who presents a challenge for the reader, is Edmund Burke. I am reading his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke can be difficult to follow because of his way of attacking subjects from so many different angles; his convoluted (though, paradoxically, very clear), “dense” prose; his intricate sentence structure. I would be inclined to describe his writing as elliptical, as opposed to non-sequacious — complex but not (one would never say) illogical.

 

 

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Here is the opening paragraph from The History of England from the Accession of James II by Thomas Babington Macaulay:

I purpose to write the history of England from the accession of King James the Second down to a time which is within the memory of men still living. I shall recount the errors which, in a few months, alienated a loyal gentry and priesthood from the House of Stuart. I shall trace the course of that revolution which terminated the long struggle between our sovereigns and their parliaments, and bound up together the rights of the people and the title of the reigning dynasty. I shall relate how the new settlement was, during many troubled years, successfully defended against foreign and domestic enemies; how, under that settlement, the authority of law and the security of property were found to be compatible with a liberty of discussion and of individual action never before known; how, from the auspicious union of order and freedom, sprang a prosperity of which the annals of human affairs had furnished no example; how our country, from a state of ignominious vassalage, rapidly rose to the place of umpire among European powers; how her opulence and her martial glory grew together; how, by wise and resolute good faith, was gradually established a public credit fruitful of marvels which to the statesmen of any former age would have seemed incredible; how a gigantic commerce gave birth to a maritime power, compared with which every other maritime power, ancient or modern, sinks into insignificance; how Scotland, after ages of enmity, was at length united to England, not merely by legal bonds, but by indissoluble ties of interest and affection; how, in America, the British colonies rapidly became far mightier and wealthier than the realms which Cortes and Pizarro had added to the dominions of Charles the Fifth; how in Asia, British adventurers founded an empire not less splendid and more durable than that of Alexander.

It certainly illustrates what was said in Dillon’s essay about the clarity and directness of McCauley’s prose. This is not Carlyle.

 

 

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A final thought. I have wondered about Montaigne’s quotations. Sometimes they seem tedious. I have to read more of him.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

great sports writing indeed (as it rarely is, yet should be)

 

 

Tex Maule, ‘The Giant Story’

 

 

THE GIANT STORY

by Tex Maule

Sports Illustrated

December 23, 1963

https://vault.si.com/vault/1963/12/23/the-giant-story

 

downloadable Word document, above

 

 

 

I was a New York Giants fan in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I am sure I watched the 1963 Eastern Division championship game between the Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers on television. I knew the individual players and thrilled to the exploits of players such as Frank Gifford, Y. A. Tittle, and Del Shofner. Shofner was always getting open for miraculous receptions of Tittle’s passes lofted downfield in a high arch. I knew the defensive stars such as Sam Huff and Rosey Grier. I recall Frank Gifford’s one-handed catch in the 1963 game, assuming that this was the play I remember. Or did he (again) or another Giant player do it in a later game?

 

 

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The reason for this post is my commentary on Tex Maule’s 1963 Sports Illustrated story about the 1963 Giants-Steelers game. Does any sportswriter write like this nowadays? I would say no, there is no such example. Read Maule’s story and see for yourself.

Most sports reporting (game coverage) nowadays consists of essentially “filler’ material putting the game in context — along with a summary account of the game. Some or most of the background material is written before the game or as it is in progress. The Milwaukee Bucks were facing elimination toady in the sixth game of the Eastern Conference finals and the daunting prospect of playing at Boston Garden against a heavily favored Boston Celtics squad. And so on. Then a blow by blow account of the game, and a few post-game interviews, if the reporter can get a quote or two. Down by three runs in the seventh, the Yankees loaded the bases on a single and two walks. Red Sox manager Johnny Pesky yanked his starter and brought in flame throwing reliever Dick Radatz. “He was throwing smoke,” catcher Russ Nixon said.

 

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Every play and the game itself are put into context and elucidated with consummate skill and meticulous attention to detail in Maule’s account of the 1963 Giants-Steelers game. It is an incredible piece of reporting — it speaks for itself. The reader feels like he was there, on the field.

Note how Maul intermixes reportage (description) with exposition. Some examples:

 

* * *

Buddy Dial, who was cut by the Giants in his rookie year only to become one of the best receivers in the league for Pittsburgh, found a long stick during practice one day and sneaked into a meeting of the defensive club with it.

“Here, fellows,” he said. “You better take this. You may need it to knock down Tittle’s passes Sunday.”

He was a better prophet than he knew, although even a 10-foot pole would not have been ong enough to reach Del Shofner on some of the passes Tittle threw him.

 

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The first touchdown came on a 41-yard pass play from Tittle to Shofner, who was yards beyond Willie Daniel, the Steeler corner back attempting to cover him. Daniel, a young back in his third season, found Shofner’s experience and speed difficult to cope with. Earlier in the game Tittle had attempted a sideline pass to Shofner, luring Daniel up close. This time Shofner faked the sideline, then broke downfield, and Daniel, coming up too hard, could not reverse direction and could only watch helplessly from far behind as Shofner took the perfectly thrown pass.

Late in the second period Tittle did almost the same thing to set up the second Giant touchdown. Again it was a first-down play–a play on which Tittle does not often pass. Again Shofner beat Daniel and this time the pass carried down to the Steeler 14-yard line for a 44-yard gain.

 

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The Steelers, whose main threat is the running of John Henry Johnson and Theron Sapp, had moved sporadically over the frozen ground during the first half. Their drives were aborted when [quarterback] Brown went to the air but could not connect with his receivers and the Giant defense, with linebackers playing up close, stopped Johnson and Sapp.

 

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The Steeler field goal came with seven seconds left in the half, and the drive that produced it was frustratingly typical. From the Giant 20, first and 10, Brown threw three passes. On all three he had plenty of time, but none of the passes was within reach of a receiver, and twice receivers were in the clear. On fourth down Lou Michaels kicked a 27-yard field goal.

For a few moments after the Giants got the ball for their next series of downs, it appeared that the Steelers, encouraged by their quick score, might take control of the game. They rushed Tittle hard and forced him to hurry a pass so that it fell incomplete. They smothered Phil King on a running play. It was third and eight, Del Shofner was out of the game with bruised ribs, and the Giants were in trouble–or so it seemed.

But then Frank Gifford took over Shofner’s role as first-down getter. Gifford had been laying flanker back all afternoon–just getting exercise. Tittle had thrown to him only once. Gifford’s covering man was Glenn Glass, a second-year corner back. Glass, aware that Tittle’s favorite pass to Gifford is to the outside, near the sideline, had been following Frank closely to the outside, almost conceding him the inside routes, where help might be expected from a safety or a linebacker. The Giants had discussed this during the half-time intermission, and now Tittle called a pass pattern that sent Gifford down and in. When he broke to his left, toward the center of the field, he left Glass cross-legged. Tittle’s pass was low, and Gifford reached down with one hand, hoping to tip the ball up. The ball, amazingly, stuck in his hand for a completion on the Steeler 47, a 30-yard gain and a first down. …

“That Gifford catch was the end for us,” Steeler Coach Buddy Parker said later. “It looked then like we were beginning to pick up and they were sliding. But you could see the whole club come alive after that play.”

 

 

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Hamilton Prieleaux Bee Maule (1915-1981), commonly known as Tex Maule, was the lead football writer for Sports Illustrated in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

 
— Roger W. Smith

   August 2020