I have been neglecting my Inspiration category. It's time to step back and take a deep breath. As with my previous post, this quote is from George MacDonald's Lilith A. It could be clearer, but as I haven't been able to find the equivalent in the version of the book that was eventually published, it will have to stand.
The general courses of nature were much the same with [the alien beings] as with us, else communication would not after all have been so satisfactory, for all intercourse is founded on sameness with the differences of sameness and not of difference.
— George MacDonald
Doesn't this nail what's wrong with discourse these days? We talk, but we don't communicate because we don't recognize the sameness between us. We see our disagreements as arising from differences so fundamental that we share no humanity to build upon.
They [meet together] to sing out their thoughts. They would hurt them if they didn't. They're so strong and burn so. With only one throat each they can't make music enough to let it out in private; but what one hasn't another has, and so they gather to help each other's love and thanks out by singing, because everyone then feels that what they all sing he sings and everyone sings, with one mighty voice, and on the great torrent of that voice their big thoughts float out of every heart like great ships out of the harbour to cross the eternal seas.
— George MacDonald
One of my favorite books is George MacDonald's Lilith. The Johannesen edition we have also includes what they call Lilith A, a transcription of MacDonald's unpublished first draft. It has been amazing to read them back to back, to see both what an imaginative and technically able writer he was, and how the story was fleshed out into something magnificent through the rewriting and editing process.
Here is how the above paragraph looks in the published version:
They need help from each other to get their thinking done, and their feelings hatched, so they talk and sing together; and then, they say, the big thought floats out of their hearts like a great ship out of the river at high water.
The final version is more succinct, but I love the original because it speaks more specifically to what it's like to sing in choir.
I’ve created a new category, “Inspiration,” for collecting quotations. I’ll be gleaning from many sources, but at the start it will be mostly from George MacDonald, a consequence of my 95 by 65 goal of reading all of his books.
Can I say that I appreciate my Kindle more and more? I know that I hesitated to get an e-reader, because there’s nothing like the feel (and often the scent) of reading a physical book. I still believe that. And some of MadDonald’s books I’m reading from the delightful Johannesen complete set my father gave to me. MacDonald's book on Hamlet, for example, is much easier to read in physical form, with the text on the left page and his commentary on the right.
But the Kindle lets me bookmark, highlight, and take notes. Even when reading the physical book, I have the Kindle version nearby (easy, because of the phone app) so that I can do that. And then I can copy the quotations instead of transcribing them. It’s so much nicer than the sticky-note-type-it-all routine.
So on with this post’s quotation. The context is the process of restoring to health a severely ill young man. MacDonald wrote in the 19th century, when folks had to get well—if they ever did—without the help of antibiotics and other treatments we take for granted. Often recovery involved long stretches—weeks or months—in bed or with severely restricted activity. As unimaginable to most of us as that is, I think these exercises might still have educational value.
[Mr. Wingfold] began to set [Arthur] certain tasks; and as he was an invalid, the first was what he called "The task of twelve o'clock;"—which was, for a quarter of an hour from every noon during a month, to write down what he then saw going on in the world.
The first day he had nothing to show: he had seen nothing!
"What were the clouds doing?" Mr. Wingfold asked. "What were the horses in the fields doing?—What were the birds you saw doing?—What were the ducks and hens doing?—Put down whatever you see any creature about."
The next evening, he went to him again, and asked him for his paper. Arthur handed him a folded sheet.
"Now," said Mr. Wingfold, "I am not going to look at this for the present. I am going to lay it in one of my drawers, and you must write another for me to-morrow. If you are able, bring it over to me; if not, lay it by, and do not look at it, but write another, and another—one every day, and give them all to me the next time I come, which will be soon. We shall go on that way for a month, and then we shall see something!"
At the end of the month, Mr. Wingfold took all the papers, and fastened them together in their proper order. Then they read them together, and did indeed see something! The growth of Arthur's observation both in extent and quality, also the growth of his faculty for narrating what he saw, were remarkable both to himself and his instructor. The number of things and circumstances he was able to see by the end of the month, compared with the number he had seen in the beginning of it, was wonderful; while the mode of his record had changed from that of a child to that almost of a man.
Mr. Wingfold next, as by that time the weather was quite warm, set him "The task of six o'clock in the evening," when the things that presented themselves to his notice would be very different. After a fortnight, he changed again the hour of his observation, and went on changing it. So that at length the youth who had, twice every day, walked along Cheapside almost without seeing that one face differed from another, knew most of the birds and many of the insects, and could in general tell what they were about, while the domestic animals were his familiar friends. He delighted in the grass and the wild flowers, the sky and the clouds and the stars, and knew, after a real, vital fashion, the world in which he lived. He entered into the life that was going on about him, and so in the house of God became one of the family. He had ten times his former consciousness; his life was ten times the size it was before. As was natural, his health had improved marvellously. There is nothing like interest in life to quicken the vital forces—the secret of which is, that they are left freer to work.
— George MacDonald
There and Back