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Tony Grist

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Ancestors [Jan. 7th, 2008|08:48 am]
Tony Grist

Ailz is taking her mother for a hospital appointment, so I'm up before dawn, providing ancillary support- by which I mean pouring orange juice and making cups of tea. The plop, plop, plop of big raindrops hitting the glass roof of the kitchen bay is not a friendly sound.

Mother-in-law broke her hand about a week ago. It was several days before she bothered to tell anyone about it- no doubt thinking, "Oh it'll sort itself out". Just as I would have done.  Mother-in-law and I are much alike.
 
I'm reading An Instance Of The Fingerpost by Ian Pears- which means I'm spending a portion of my waking life in mid-17th century Oxford. It's a grotty place. The town is provincial and the dons are all boors. Well, most of them are;  there are also geniuses at large- Robert Boyle (father of chemistry) and the philosopher John Locke. Mind you, we're seeing things through the eyes of a super-subtle Venetian for whom England is Barbary. Our Venetian and a man called Lower (who really existed) are experimenting with blood transfusion. And we've just attended an autopsy in the kitchen at New College- with the corpse laid out on the table where the college servants will shortly be preparing breakfast.  

Our ancestors lived on very easy terms with death.

It's something I envy them.  I really do wish the whole business of bodily decay and hospitals and funerals didn't faze me so.

Here (courtesy of wikipedia) is John Locke's epitaph. The coolness- the urbanity- is like nothing you'd find on a modern gravestone.  One has to suppose he composed it himself.  

Hic juxta situs est JOHANNES LOCKE. Si qualis fuerit rogas, mediocritate sua contentum se vixesse respondet. Literis innutritus eo usque tantum profecit, ut veritati unice litaret. Hoc ex scriptis illius disce, quae quod de eo reliquum est majori fide tibe exhibebunt, quam epitaphii suspecta elogia. Virtutes si quas habuit, minores sane quam sibi laudi duceret tibi in exemplum proponeret; vita una sepeliantur. Morum exemplum si squaeras in Evangelio habes: vitiorum utinam nusquam: mortalitatis certe (quod prosit) hic et ubique.
Natum Anno Dom. 1632 Aug. 29
Mortuum Anno Dom. 1704 Oct. 28
Memorat haec tabula brevi et ipse interitura.

Near this place lies John Locke. If you ask what kind of a man he was, he answers that he lived content with his own small fortune. Bred a scholar, he made his learning subservient only to the cause of truth. This you will learn from his writings, which will show you everything else concerning him, with greater truth, than the suspect praises of an epitaph. His virtues, indeed, if he had any, were too little for him to propose as matter of praise to himself, or as an example to you. Let his vices be buried with him. Of good life, you have an example in the gospel, should you desire it; of vice, would there were none for you; of mortality, surely you have one here and everywhere, and may you learn from it. That he was born on the 29th of August in the year of our Lord 1632, and that he died on the 28th of October in the year of our Lord 1704, this tablet, which itself will soon perish, is a record.

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: glitzfrau
2008-01-07 10:48 am (UTC)
That is a truly glorious inscription. Thank you so much for sharing it.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-07 11:07 am (UTC)
I stumbled across it for the first time this morning, whilst doing a bit of background reading. Isn't wikipedia wonderful!
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[User Picture]From: aellia
2008-01-07 11:01 am (UTC)
The whole business fazes me,too.
My mind is not in a good place at the moment. My false calmness belies my utter terror.
x
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-07 11:09 am (UTC)
I'm so sorry.

Maybe you should write about it. I find airing these things does help.
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[User Picture]From: pondhopper
2008-01-07 12:52 pm (UTC)
It's almost worth a pilgrimage to his tomb to read that in situ. Wonderful!

It all fazes me terribly, also. As a child I had an absolute terror of death, of attending funerals, of seeing dead bodies which was aggravated, I think, by my parents insisting that I attend the viewing of the body of a cousin of a cousin who died when he was just 12 years old. It's better now but I still get very uncomfortable with the whole subject and have to really force myself to attend the funerals and wakes of close relatives.

When my mother in law was in hospital just recently I felt so uncomfortable while visiting her there. But that is getting better as I age. Perhaps it's because we're closer to that stage ourselves.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-07 02:01 pm (UTC)
I did a spell working in a hospice in my early twenties and saw a lot of death and helped lay out dead bodies. You might think that would have anaesthetised me to the "horror" but it doesn't seem to have done.
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2008-01-07 01:05 pm (UTC)
I'm glad the Fingerpost is giving you some things to think about. And thanks for John Locke's very modest auto-obit. He would have been a pleasant guy to know, I think.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-07 02:02 pm (UTC)
Locke was just a name to me before this. I think I need to know more.
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[User Picture]From: aerodrome1
2008-01-07 03:04 pm (UTC)
The epitaph is lovely.

And even Foucault rediscovered Locke there at the end.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-07 04:01 pm (UTC)
I know so little about the history of philosophy.

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[User Picture]From: aerodrome1
2008-01-07 04:11 pm (UTC)
Always a topic worth exploring.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-07 04:26 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, I believe you. The trouble is my brain just can't cope with philosophical method. The only "serious" philosopher I've ever really been able to get alongside is Nietzsche- and that's because he's intuitive.
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[User Picture]From: aerodrome1
2008-01-07 04:34 pm (UTC)
Try...hmmm...Richard Rorty.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-07 04:55 pm (UTC)
Okay.
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[User Picture]From: aerodrome1
2008-01-07 05:02 pm (UTC)
"Contingency, Irony, Solidarity"--- a good place to start.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-07 05:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks.
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[User Picture]From: aerodrome1
2008-01-07 04:34 pm (UTC)
And Hume, of course. Always Hume.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-07 04:54 pm (UTC)
I have to admit I find Hume difficult. Ailz and I were both reading Hume last year. She found him a breeze and I was struggling.
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[User Picture]From: jenny_evergreen
2008-01-07 01:16 pm (UTC)
I love that epitaph SO MUCH! Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-07 02:03 pm (UTC)
I'm so pleased to have stumbled across it. Wikipedia rules!
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[User Picture]From: solar_diablo
2008-01-07 01:52 pm (UTC)
I love the last line of that, for some reason.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-07 02:05 pm (UTC)
Me too.

All things must pass.
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[User Picture]From: aerodrome1
2008-01-07 03:03 pm (UTC)
I rather liked "Instance of the Fingerpost"--- nicely done.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-01-07 04:00 pm (UTC)
Yes, I'm only about 100 pages in- but it's got me hooked.
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