Friday, February 23, 2018

Quote of the Day (P. G. Wodehouse, on the Merits of a Young Woman’s Suitor)

[The Earl of Ickenham—“Uncle Fred”—has not only convinced his nephew Pongo Twistleton, against his better judgement, to follow him into the suburb of his youth, but also to occupy, in an attempt to escape a downpour, a villa known as The Cedars. There, they encounter the Parkers, a middle-aged couple who are relatives of the house’s owner, and their 19-year-old daughter, whose suitor has just been persuaded by Uncle Fred to hide behind a settee. Mrs. Parker now vents to Uncle Fred—who she mistakenly believes is her cousin’s husband, Mr. Roddis—about the young man she can’t see.]

“ ‘I found to my horror that a young man of whom I knew nothing was arranging to marry my daughter. I sent for him immediately, and found him to be quite impossible. He jellies eels!"’

‘Does what?’

‘He is an assistant at a jellied eel shop.’

‘But surely,’ said Lord Ickenham, ‘that speaks well for him. The capacity to jelly an eel seems to me to argue intelligence of a high order. It isn't everybody who can do it, by any means. I know if someone came to me and said ' “Jelly this eel!”  I should be nonplussed. And so, or I am very much mistaken, would Ramsay MacDonald and Winston Churchill.’ The woman did not seem to see eye to eye.”—British humorist P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), “Uncle Fred Flits By,” in The Best of Wodehouse: An Anthology (Everyman’s Library, 2007)

Though I have had this Wodehouse collection for several years, only now did I have the chance to read this story about “Uncle Fred.” It was brought to my attention this past Sunday, at a matinee of the one-man show, John Lithgow: Stories by Heart. The actor—first exposed to it in childhood in a 1939 anthology edited by W. Somerset Maugham, Tellers of Tales—spotlighted “Uncle Fred” in the second act, convulsing the audience with laughter.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Uncle Fred was portrayed—first on American TV, then on the BBC—by, respectively, David Niven and Wilfrid Hyde-White. (You can see Niven’s performance, in an episode of Four-Star Playhouse, in this YouTube clip.) But, as accomplished as those actors were, it is hard to see how their performances could top Lithgow’s, who managed to conjure up all the story’s characters.

Then again, what source material he had to work with! Almost any attempt to convey the quality of Wodehouse’s inspired lunacy runs the risk of overanalyzing the ineffable. But, in remarks prepared for an 80th birthday broadcast for his friend, Evelyn Waugh—a writer of distinctly darker shadings—paid full tribute to his fellow comic master:

“Mr. Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.”

(The image of Wodehouse that accompanies this post was taken around 1904.)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Quote of the Day (David McCullough, on Why ‘History Ought to be a Source of Pleasure’)

“To me history ought to be a source of pleasure. It isn't just part of our civic responsibility. To me it's an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is.”—Historian David McCullough, in an interview with Bruce Cole, former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, quoted in “Conversation: McCullough—A Visit with Historian David McCullough,” Humanities, May/June 2003

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Quote of the Day (Alfred Adler, on Principles)

“It is always easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them.”— Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler (1870–1937), quoted in Phyllis Bottome, Alfred Adler: Apostle of Freedom (1939)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Quote of the Day (George Washington, Wishing for ‘Firmness and Virtue’)

“I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles: the character of an honest man.”— Continental Army General and first U.S. President George Washington (1732-1799), letter to Alexander Hamilton, Aug. 28, 1788

Whatever his flaws, George Washington did not seek to profit from office or play footsie with a foreign power to gain the highest office in the land. He was content to let his deeds rather than his words do his talking for him. And he stepped away from seizing power—twice—stepping away from military command and the Presidency to go back to his farm.

The contrast with others in his own time, such as Benedict Arnold, was enormous, even startling. The contrast with the current occupant of the Oval Office is not just dismaying, but would be cause for despair, if not for the realization that the man who was “first in the hearts of his countrymen” took on far greater personal dangers in opposing arbitrary power than any of us could ever imagine.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Photo of the Day: Skating Rink, Bryant Park, NYC

I don’t recall ever seeing Bryant Park in winter. But today, I had a bit of time to kill before a mid-afternoon Broadway matinee, so I decided to see what was going on in the space behind the New York Public Library’s central building. 

I wasn’t completely surprised to see throngs out in the space—after all, the sun had come out and temperatures had climbed again after the swift snowstorm of the night before—but I hadn't expected an ice-skating rink in the space. “The Rink” is part of Winter Village, sponsored by Bank of America. 

Perhaps because I work in the area, whenever I associate the word “rink” with anything in New York, it is with the one at Rockefeller Center. That one lasts through April 15, but it does charge. 

On the other hand, The Rink at Bryant Park, according to the park’s Web site, is “New York City’s only free admission ice skating rink.” It is open through early March. As you see from this photo I took, many took advantage of the middle of this long holiday weekend to enjoy themselves on the ice. It was nice to see this oasis in the midst of the skyscraper canyon better known as Midtown Manhattan.