Monday, 9 February 2009

A grand democracy

From one of Keats' letters to John Hamilton Reynolds, February 1818:

Now it appears to me that almost any Man may like the spider spin from his own inwards his own airy Citadel - the points of leaves and twigs on which the spider begins her work are few, and she fills the air with a beautiful circuiting. Man should be content with as few points to tip with the fine Web of his Soul, and weave a tapestry empyrean full of symbols for his spiritual eye, of softness for his spiritual touch, of space for his wandering, of distinctness for his luxury. But the Minds of Mortals are so different and bent on such diverse journeys that it may at first appear impossible for any common taste and fellowship to exist between two or three under these suppositions. It is however quite the contrary. Minds would leave each other in contrary directions, traverse each other in numberless points, and at last greet each other at the journey's end. An old Man and a child would talk together and the old Man be led on his path and the child left thinking. Man should not dispute or assert but whisper results to his neighbour and thus by every germ of spirit sucking the sap from mould ethereal every human might become great, and Humanity instead of being a wide heath of Furze and Briars with here and there a remote Oak or Pine, would become a grand democracy of Forest Trees!

I love the spiritual utopianism of this very famous passage, but, alas, Keats' vision would only work if coupled with universal good education, time, and patience, and a cultural environment that to some extent supported - or at the least, did not obstruct - sincere spiritual seeking. No account is taken of the dismaying and universal human capacity for recidivism and entropy. (...Original Sin?)

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