There Were Pride & Shame
By Eli Siegel
Note. In Charles Lamb’s essay “Poor Relations” (1833), Mr.Siegel has come to the description of a young man with little money whom Lamb knew at school.
Poor W---- was...a youth of promise. If he had a blemish, it was too much pride; but its quality was inoffensive; it was not of that sort which hardens the heart...; it only sought to ward off derogation from itself.
One of the great things to find out is what is pride? Pride has with it piety, and also deference; it has showing off; it has guilt. And it is surrounded by nearly everything in this world. There is a pride one could see in a person holding out his tin cup for money—who seemed to say, after somebody did tinkle a coin into it, “How dare you take my acting seriously.” It’s called The Angry Tin Cup.
W---- went...to Oxford, where the dignity and sweetness of a scholar’s life, meeting with the alloy of a humble introduction, wrought in him a passionate devotion to the place, with a profound aversion to the society. The servitor’s gown...clung to him with...venom. He thought himself ridiculous in [the] garb.
What that means is that there were persons called “sizars” or “servitors,” who were working their way through college and waited at the tables of the more fortunate students. That was repeated later, when some of the best scholars in America worked at Grossinger’s during the summer in order to pay for an education.
In the depths of college shades, or in his lonely chamber, the poor student shrunk from observation. He found shelter among books, which insult not; and studies, that ask no questions of a youth’s finances....
[Then] the waywardness of his fate broke out against him with...worse malignity. The father of W---- had hitherto exercised the humble profession of house-painter at N---- , near Oxford. A supposed interest with some of the heads of colleges had now induced him to take up his abode in that city, with the hope of being employed upon some public works.... The temperament of W----’s father was diametrically the reverse of his own. Old W---- was a little, busy, cringing tradesman, who, with his son upon his arm, would stand bowing and scraping, cap in hand, to anything that wore the semblance of a [scholar’s] gown....
Such a state of things could not last. W---- must change the air of Oxford or be suffocated. He chose the former....[He] accepted a commission in a regiment about to embark for Portugal. He was among the first who perished before the walls of St. Sebastian.
[At the end of the essay, Lamb writes about the death of a “poor relation” of his own.] There is this:
With five pounds, fourteen shillings, and a penny, which were found in his escritoire after his decease, [he] left the world, blessing God that he had had enough to bury him.
That has been a real cause of concern and some kind of pride: to have a funeral that’s worthy of you, as in the phrase I’ll have a fine funeral. The phrase and the concern have been with many people. They are part of civilization. Hardly any proletarian has wanted to die without some kind of showiness.
“Poor Relations” is a famous essay. And I’m glad to have the tone, the charm, the aroma, the benediction of Charles Lamb (St. Charles, as he has sometimes been called) tied up with this awful thing, the profit system. If you don’t see the tie immediately, well, keep looking.
What Makes Us Intelligent?
By Miriam Weiss
The way Aesthetic Realism sees intelligence is completely democratic and unsnobbish. Eli Siegel defined it as “the ability of a self to become at one with the new.” And he explained in his lecture Mind and Intelligence:
Intelligence is that which enables you to repair a faucet, understand a child, get a bus sometimes, do well when you are cleaning your clothes, be more sensible in politics; and then, it is about the very biggest question of all: how to spend one’s life. [TRO 706]
I do remember getting a bus for the first time, at age 10—taking it with a friend, all by ourselves. I felt proud and very smart. And at school I loved having once unknown words, like medieval and paraphernalia, become part of my mind.
I got the message, beginning early, that I was intelligent. But that didn’t take away the uneasy yet distinct feeling that I wasn’t doing such a smart job with myself.
In the comment to his definition, Mr. Siegel writes: “We are afraid of the new and we want it.” Though I did venture out to the new, I was afraid of many things and felt the safest place was home with my parents, who made much of me.
I was in a class for “intellectually gifted children”; but the biggest intellectual gift I got is the knowledge that there are two completely different ways of using our mind: one in behalf of its strength and one that weakens us. I learned this from Aesthetic Realism, which shows that the true measure of intelligence is how much we use our thought to see value in the world. It explains too that what stands in the way of intelligence is contempt: if we rob people and things of meaning, we’re not only unjust but stupid about ourselves.
Some Early Mistakes about Intelligence
As many people do, I undermined my intelligence by feeling it was cool to show how unimpressed I was by things. My history teacher told my mother he thought that I was “jaded.” I looked up the word and it scared me, but I turned it into a badge of distinction, thinking it showed how knowing I was. Some years later, in Aesthetic Realism consultations, I heard this clear, critical question: “Is the world good enough to excite people?” I lamely answered yes, and my consultants said: “Either the world deserves for you to be excited, or it doesn’t and anyone who acts as though it does is a fool. Have you gone by the second?” I had.
Something often taken as a sign of intelligence is the ability to accumulate a lot of knowledge in one field. People find a specialized niche, such as sports, computers, bird-watching. But the criterion, I’ve learned, for any interest is how much it’s used to like the whole world more. At 16 I began to study Japanese, which I loved. But before long, I saw everything not connected with Japan as dull.
My life revolved around Japanese books, history, art, and I went religiously to double-feature samurai films every Saturday night. I was in a mix-up of welcoming the new but then making this new aspect of the world my private, superior territory. I came up with a wild plan to travel to Japan as deckhand on a freighter, since I was afraid of flying. This never got off the ground. Then I got into a college that would enable me to study in Japan—but I started to have panics. I left that school and felt like a failure. Luckily, soon after, I heard about Aesthetic Realism and began to learn what success in life and intelligence really are!
A New Point in Education
In issue 1882 of The Right Of, Ellen Reiss explains:
There is, really, nothing more important in intelligence than that we think in a way that makes us proud....You can score high on an IQ test, speak 12 languages, be a mathematics whiz, but if you hate your thoughts when you’re alone, there is a huge intellectual amissness.
At my first Aesthetic Realism consultation, I was embarking on the thrilling, avant-garde, ethical education in what it means to use my thoughts to be fair to things. I was asked: “Do you think the world is in you?” I said, “Yes, because I’m from the world.” When my consultants asked, “Do you think the world has rights?,” I was at a loss and said, “It has the right to go on as it goes on.” They asked: “Does the world have the right to be seen truly? Is the world in you asserting that right? It’s saying, ‘You can’t sneer at me and like yourself’?”
I learned that my self, like the self of every person, is ethical, and the fears and panics I had were a way of punishing myself for having contempt. I was being encouraged to make a different choice: “Do you want to like yourself because your intention is to be fair, or because you’ve made less of everything?” “To be fair!” I said. Among the people I was learning to see fairly were my parents. I was asked to write a soliloquy of my father—and saw he had a full life I had ignorantly summed up. I learned about the opposites, the aesthetic structure of reality that every person and all art have in common. I was asked to write about opposites in Japanese culture and my mother; also, “How I Can Use Japanese to Like Other Things More.”
I was seeing that things I had snobbishly relegated to separate worlds are in one world. For instance, I had felt I was too good to do ordinary housework. My consultants suggested that my mother might read me lines of Shakespeare while I did the dishes, in order to bring together the domestic and the cultural. We did it, and we had a great time! This has to do with a maxim I love, from Eli Siegel’s Damned Welcome: “One sign of being intellectual is to think that intellect and potatoes have something in common.”
Love; or, What’s Intelligence Got to Do with It?
In Mind and Intelligence, there are these sentences:
People are unintelligent because their intelligence is separated. They have one kind of intelligence for one thing and another kind of intelligence for another.
Like other women, I saw no connection between the way I thought about men and how I saw other things. I felt inept in love, but I began to learn it wasn’t that knowledge of how to attract young men was left out of my DNA: it was my purpose that was wrong. The true purpose of both love and education, Aesthetic Realism explains, is to like the world. The mistake I made about a certain kind of knowledge, using it for my glory, I also made about men. My daydreams focused on how a handsome, popular boy would make me look good.
Through what I was learning, my life and mind were expanding. I came to love literature, wanted to know people, and felt I could have a good effect on them, including men. But when my boyfriend, Jim Hayes, and I weren’t getting along, rather than look at mistakes I made, I came up with excuses: I said he wasn’t right for me because he didn’t read Henry Fielding, an English novelist I’d come to love. My consultants pointed out: “Before we get to how he uses his mind, what about the way Miriam Weiss uses her mind on Jim Hayes as an object? Are you trying, as Matthew Arnold says, ‘to see the object as in itself it really is’?”
No. I had been more interested in Jim’s praise of me than seeing who he was and what I truly felt. They said: “We’d like you to feel your mind is integrated as you think of a man. Does your feeling for Jim Hayes come from the same source as your care for literature or a different source? Does it come from your vanity self, or a self which wants to be in a more intense and deeper relation to the world?” The answer, I saw, was the former. I felt inspired and energized when they asked: “Do you think in the future, colleges will be studying What is a beautiful attitude for a woman to have as to a man?”
These questions were part of my ongoing education, which enabled me, some years later, to love and marry Joe Spetly. As a person who once had the conceit to say “No” when asked, “Do you think any man is good enough for an intelligent woman?,” I feel today that to understand and learn from how Joe sees things—with his love for the precision and surprise of reality—is an honor and great good time. Through our marriage, I’m proud to be meeting life at new angles and in new depth, and to care for people more. I love the hearty way Joe has of dispelling a fear I can concoct, showing logically with humor that what I try to put over as keen seeing of imminent disaster is often laughably out of proportion and unfounded.
I had the good fortune to study with Eli Siegel, and I saw that his was the greatest intelligence—combining unparalleled scholarship, scientific method, and utter good will. His thought made it possible for me to learn what intelligence is and to be smarter every year. I thank him from the bottom of my heart.