Tropical Storm (née Hurricane) Isabel hasn't caused major damage in the area where I live --- it passed some miles to our west yesterday evening and early this morning --- but we have as expected lost electrical power. (Perhaps an hour of battery energy remains in this laptop for me to write and post. My dial-up ISP HIS.COM [1] seems, as usual, to be up and running --- thanks to the excellent work of owner Paul Heller and his colleagues.)

The sudden absence of most modern distractions has thus granted me an opportunity to read farther in The History of Tom Jones (1749). It's yet another of the classics that I overlooked in my ill-spent youth. Last night I encountered two wonderfully wry comments by author Henry Fielding on philosophic themes.

Concerning the construction of the universe and the vital importance of the smallest things:

Though this incident will probably appear of little consequence to many of our readers; yet, trifling as it was, it had so violent an effect on poor Jones, that we thought it our duty to relate it. In reality, there are many little circumstances too often omitted by injudicious historians, from which events of the utmost importance arise. The world may indeed be considered as a vast machine, in which the great wheels are originally set in motion by those which are very minute, and almost imperceptible to any but the strongest eyes.

(in Book V, Chapter iv, "A little chapter, in which is contained a little incident.")

And concerning the real-life application of theoretical doctrine, when Fielding's protagonist happens to discover, concealed behind the curtain in a lady's bedroom, a highly embarrassed philosopher:

I question not but the surprize of the reader will be here equal to that of Jones; as the suspicions which must arise from the appearance of this wise and grave man in such a place, may seem so inconsistent with that character which he hath, doubtless, maintained hitherto, in the opinion of every one.

But to confess the truth, this inconsistency is rather imaginary than real. Philosophers are composed of flesh and blood as well as other human creatures; and however sublimated and refined the theory of these may be, a little practical frailty is as incident to them as to other mortals. It is, indeed, in theory only, and not in practice, as we have before hinted, that consists the difference: for though such great beings think much better and more wisely, they always act exactly like other men. They know very well how to subdue all appetites and passions, and to despise both pain and pleasure; and this knowledge affords much delightful contemplation, and is easily acquired; but the practice would be vexatious and troublesome; and, therefore, the same wisdom which teaches them to know this, teaches them to avoid carrying it into execution.

(in Book V, Chapter v, "A very long chapter, containing a very great incident.")

(see also CatfightClub (5 Sep 2003), ... )

TopicPhilosophy - TopicHumor - TopicLiterature - 2003-09-19

(correlates: WhyWorry, 2005-11-03 - PBT at Night, FasterForward, ...)