American Individualism: The World's Briefest Overview- April 15, 2010

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Tobacco smoke is the one element in
which . . . men can sit silent together without embarrassment, and where no man is bound to speak one word more than he has actually and veritably got to say.

–Thomas Carlyle, History of Frederick the Great, Vol. 1

The day was unseasonably warm, the sort of soporific weather that makes you want to lay under a tree in the shade and nap all day. The evening was cooler, but still with a warmth that explained why, when I arrived, there was only one log in the fire pit, smoldering away.

Yesterday, I received what I believe to be the first ever piece of mail addressed to the Brotherhood of the Briar. In it was a wedding invitation to be hand-delivered to the group on Thursday. For those of you who were attendees of the brotherhood when Josh Lefler lived in Wheaton, he is getting married June 12 in Bakersfield, California.

While I was at Half-Price Books a few days ago, I came across an interesting volume entitled The Ultimate Pipe Book. Author Richard Carleton Hacker (how appropriate) is not the best writer, but the book contains good information and interesting pictures, so I bought it. This excerpt from the forward will give you an idea of his writing style:

I was first lured to the pipe while still in college, well over two decades ago. The complete recounting of these exploits (or as much of it as I felt the reader could endure) will be stumbled over occasionally as we wind our way along the course of the pages beyond. But suffice to say, nobody ever taught me how to smoke a pipe. Like many of the most important lessons in life, I had to learn for myself and was all the worse for it. Ah, but that only I had a mentor! Unfortunately, there were no readily available books on the subject back then. My only encounters with any pipe smokers that I knew on a regular basis were Sherlock Holmes in novels and Mammy Yokum in the comic strips. Still, I persisted in my eager pursuit of the briar, learning as I went, making new discoveries and, in time, meeting others of the pipe smoking coterie, an opportunity which enabled me to share not only friendships, but information as well. I soon learned that the pipe smoking world was omnipresent and in many cases served as a common bond that linked a humanitarian cohesiveness between individuals, ideologies and international borders. So ubiquitous has the pipe become, yet how often it is ignored; how little importance do we actually place upon it in the overall scheme of things. This situation must be changed, if pipe smoking is to endure beyond our time. Oh, it is healthy enough at the present moment, but there is always a danger of losing anything that we take for granted. And so, I felt that now was the time for this book to be written.

And you never knew pipe smoking could do so much.

The conversation tonight (what little of it I caught) centered around American individualism. Poet Jane Beal was attending tonight and quoted an Emily Dickinson poem. She considers Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman to be the mother and father of American poetry because of their significant impact. Jerry talked about American writer and literary critic Alfred Kazin, who wrote An American Procession and who said that American literature’s defining moment was when Ralph Waldo Emerson stepped up into his pulpit, renounced his trinitarianism, became a monotheistic unitarian and preached his sermon Self -Reliance. All of the people immigrating to America from various countries defined themselves by their rugged individualism, and felt it was their manifest destiny to conquer the continent. This rugged individualism is probably the culture in which Emerson preached Self Reliance. So the first generation of immigrants was characterized by their individualism; the next was characterized by the subjectivism of Emily Dickinson; the next generation by the cynicism of Henry Adams and Mark Twain and the fourth by the nihilism of Ernest Hemingway.

Jerry had another theory concerning American individualism: English-speaking peoples lived basically on islands and this geography might have shaped some of their language. In our language, we don’t have any way to make, except by artificiality, a distinction between the plural and singular “you.” Almost every “you” in the Bible is plural, written to the community. Our English reflects this geographic isolation and in some ways it reflects our individuality.

And that is the gist of the conversation, and the end of this post.

Note: The largest pipe show in the world is happening May 1 and 2 in St. Charles, IL.  For more information:  Chicagoland International Pipe and Tobacciana Show

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Continue the discussion. Ask questions. Disagree with me. Give your version. Leave a comment. I’ll be reading and responding.

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~ by Mark Neal on April 18, 2010.

One Response to “American Individualism: The World's Briefest Overview- April 15, 2010”

  1. Thank you, Mark. It is an honor to be the first to send mail to the Brotherhood. 🙂 I am humbled by God’s grace whenever He brings to mind the memories of sharing thursday evenings with some honest friends.

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