Classic Books

“ Omnia mutantur, nihil interit (everything changes, nothing perishes). ” Ovid, Metamorphoses.

“A classic stands the test of time. The work is usually considered to be a representation of the period in which it was written; and merits lasting recognition. In other words, if the book was published in the recent past, the work is not a classic.
A classic has a certain universal appeal. Great works of literature touch us to our very core partly because they integrate themes that are understood by people from a wide range of backgrounds and levels of experience. Themes of love, hate, death, life, and faith touch upon some of our most basic emotional responses.”


A classic has the ability to engage the reader as part of the narrative. I have to confess – and indeed it feels confessional to say so – that modern literature is frequently depressing since its focus is either on caustic satire or lamentable weakness and affairs about which few of us can be proud. The sequel to “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”  relates Tom’s experiences when he becomes a student at Oxford and struggles to balance the temptations of university life at the time with his innate sense of decency. Hughes preaches relentlessly at us, Tom develops Chartist leanings and old friends from Rugby turn up in unexpected places. It takes a more outward-looking view, no longer from a boy in the closed cocoon of his school, describing manners and customs long forgotten, but underlying motives about who we are as people and how we interact with each other is a universal theme, seen through the Victorian lens of a rigid class system. Perhaps we have lost sight a little of how heroism and unselfishness works, how faith ought to drive our actions and our contribution to the world means that we leave it a better place than we found it.

Retirement seems to have had the effect of developing a longer, broader view. It becomes easier to contextualise one’s being at this particular time within the perspective of a much longer timeframe. As we are more honest with ourselves, we see more clearly from whence we have come and how we have arrived at where we are, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. I can’t help wondering if this is what a spark of wisdom actually looks like. 
The world is made up of two kinds of people, first are those who love classics, the second are those who have not yet read a classic.  Oscar Wilde once wrote that ‘if one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all’. I’m looking forward to revisiting many of my old friends in their pages.

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arma virumque cano*

Single shot, breech loading circa 1800

Once again. A young man with a grudge and guns. Ten students dead this time. Second Amendment? Just because it was set in place in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War doesn’t mean that it is set in stone, nor can its fundamental ideology be questioned. In the light of the fact that people without proper training or experience can acquire not just a hunting rifle but in certain states a semiautomatic assault rifle more usually seen on the battlefield, and remembering that when the Amendment was written, all that was available was a single shot, breech loading device that could, in very experienced hands, fire between three and four rounds a minute, it is time for a review, gun lobby or not since the Amendment as written is no longer fit for purpose.
 
It would be counterintuitive – as well as anti-historical – to believe that the landowning aristocracy like Madison and Washington wanted to arm the population so that a crowd of malcontents could resist the constitutionally elected government. In reality, the Framers of the Constitution wanted to arm the people – at least the white males – so uprisings, whether economic clashes like Shays’ Rebellion, anti-tax protests like the Whiskey Rebellion, attacks by Native Americans or slave revolts, could be dealt with by a locally raised militia. They were the local Government agents, guarantors of economic tranquility and were never given a mandate for wanton destruction, neither was such ever envisaged as a possibility at the time.
What about other places? People carry in Israel, for example. The primary difference is that most Israelis are weapons-trained, having served in the IDF, and many Americans are not; no proof of competence seems to be required. In Israel, getting a license is gruelling and can often involve months of security vetting, weapons licensing checks, serial number matching, condition of the weapon, range certification, plus a barrage of awareness-raising information to be given verbally to the prospective owner – “When can I shoot in self-defence?” “You had better be certain that you had no other recourse, that you did what you could to warn the attacker, and that had you not taken action, at least one innocent life could have been lost. And you may still expect to do jail time.” A fair disincentive for shooting someone in a fit of pique. Soldiers with weapons and private citizens who openly carry are everywhere in Jerusalem but it is hardly surprising that unprovoked discharge of a firearm is almost unheard of.  
It should be made much more difficult – in the US and elsewhere – for a civilian, especially without proper training, to acquire and keep any kind of weapon. We have an old hunting rifle, which I don’t use because I am not licensed to do so and if I wanted to buy a gun here in France, I’d have to pass a written and practical test then join a gun club and/or buy a safe and finally buy the annual license. I would not be allowed to carry it on the streets under any circumstances on penalty of extreme prosecution.

The statistics are overwhelming. I wonder which of Washington’s successors will have the courage to do the right thing.
 
* I sing of arms and the man.. Virgil: Aeneid