Monday, February 11, 2013

Still Learning From Thomas Carlyle

I'm probably wasting my time reading Thomas Carlyle. Not really just reading him, but studying him. Right now I'm reading his 1840 book On Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic Heroic in History. This is the first time I've read that, and I'm 330 pages into its 523. I'm also doing some formatting of his book Past and Present, with an eye toward putting it into a certain printed volume of his works.

I started reading Past and Present years ago, maybe 2005, but put it aside for other things that were more important at the time. This is an interesting book. Carlyle had finished Heroes and was working on a book on Oliver Cromwell and the English Civil War of the 1640s.

Something going on in England troubled Carlyle, so he broke off from the Cromwell book and in a hurry put together and published Past and Present. I read the first couple of chapters of the Cromwell book some years ago, and as I say am reading the Heroes book right now. So three books, from 1840, 1842, and 1844 have passed from Carlyle's mind to his pen to my mind fairly recently.

It's interesting to see the common themes in these books, even common wording and overlapping ideas. In Heroes Carlyle frequently makes reference to German literature. Early in his career Carlyle wrote extensively  on German literature. In Cromwell Carlyle used "Dryasdust" as a euphemism in the Introduction. In Past and Present he uses "Dryasdust" as well, though I'm not sure yet of the context. I suspect, as I go through his writings, I'm going to find much more overlap.

Which leads me to a memory from Saudi Arabia and North Carolina. This will take a while to explain. In Saudi it was very hard to find good English language reading material. One day I stumbled upon the library in Dhahran, the Aramco community. In that library I found an atlas of the stars. Actually, it was an atlas and sort-of encyclopedia of astronomy. When I was at Dhahran for business, I would look for occasions to spend an hour in the library. I studied certain things in the encyclopedia, learning about galaxies, galaxy clusters, and all the stars closest to us.

Fast forward a few years to our time in North Carolina. In the Asheboro public library I found two magazines of great interest. One was on astronomy, the other on NASA and the space exploration it did. I found many excuses to go to the library (fortunately my children were at a good go-to-the-library age then), and so we were in the library often. Those two mags were my main reading material in those visits.

In the astronomy mag I read an article about a certain astronomer. The interview explained how getting telescope time at a major telescope was difficult. The other problem was getting the time when whatever it was he waned to see was visible. He might have to wait months if not a year for telescope time at the right time. But when he did, he planned out his work, maximized his time, and then spent months going over the photographs. So meticulous planning led to six hours in the key place which led to months of deciphering research/work which then led to many publication.

Carlyle did the same thing as this astronomer did. His early work on German literature found much more use for him than just those translations and articles. Carlyle may have over done it some, however.

Which leads me to...what thought? That I need to do a good job of planning my research, of finding time in the "right seat" at the right time. Then to use that research over a long period of time to write whatever it is I right. I think I'm on the right path with this, but probably need to do a better job of it.

In another post, I may explore this habit of Carlyle of overdoing the same themes from book to book.

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