27 May, 2007


Another in a continuing series of quotations for you. I don't know whether it is a true attribution, but one of my favourite quotes comes with a lovely story.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., was an American doctor and man of letters, and the father of the long-serving Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. He lived during the time that anæsthesia was developed and first used. In fact, he coined the word, though, being American, he may well not have spelled it the way i just have! He was instrumental in the spread within America of the practice and belief of the doctor aiding nature to heal, more along the lines of a passive treatment, and certainly disliked and countered the practice of blood-letting, one of the most ancient of treatments.

It is in relation to anæsthesia that the story is told: He was one of the first to be given an anæsthetic, either laughing gas or ether; as he was going under, he suddenly realised the most amazing truth, a matter that had to be spread abroad, because it would forever change our understanding of the nature of reality. Unfortunately, when he came round from the anæsthesia, though he remembered that the revelation had occurred, he no longer recalled its substance.

Holmes therefore arranged that the next day he should be anæsthetised again, but this time with a secretary standing by, with pen and paper, to record the words of revelation he would speak, were he graced with the understanding again. Indeed, he was so graced, and the words were written down for him to see when he awoke: The universe is permeated with the odor of turpentine.

So why, you may well ask, do i love this nonsense quote and its story? First, because of the sheer nonsense of it; obviously, as the story is told it is building up to some great climax, and though the fact that the revelation is rubbish is not a surprise ~ so many stories are told pricking the bubbles of the great and good ~ the rubbish itself is so bizarre that it tickles my fancy.

Second, i love it because it gives hope to all of us. If a man like Holmes, evidently quite a thinker, and a strong writer, can be so misled by his brain, how easy it is for us to be, and i needn't think that only wisdom and good writing is worth putting on paper (or disc), and recording for posterity. I am quite able to see myself straining and struggling to put my thoughts down in permanent form, and it is a relief to know that rubbish is as likely to come from the great as from the small.

And, third, the quote itself is a delight for the shape of the words in my mouth. Permeated, and turpentine, and universe ~ fully a third of the words have three or four syllables, they roll nicely off the tongue, and they sound precise, particular, and perfect. But they are nonsense; what a delight!

1 comment:

Biby Cletus said...

Cool blog, i just randomly surfed in, but it sure was worth my time, will be back

Deep Regards from the other side of the Moon

Biby Cletus