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Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Samuel Johnson: The Last


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File:Dob Park Lodge.jpg

Dobs Park Lodge, abandoned hunting lodge, Yorkshire Dales: photo by TJBlackwell, 2010



Value is more frequently raised by scarcity than by use. That which lay neglected when it was common, rises in estimation as its quantity becomes less. We seldom learn the true want of what we have till it is discovered that we can have no more.




File:Canada Packers Chimney Stack Edmonton  Alberta Canada 01.jpg

Abandoned Canada Packers chimney stack, industrial area, north-east Edmonton, Alberta
: photo by WinterE229, 2008



There are few things not purely evil, of which we can say, without some emotion of uneasiness, this is the last.



File:Deception-Base.jpg

Deception Base, derelict British factory in Whalers Bay, Deception Island, Antarctica: photo by Lyubomir Ivanov, 2006



This secret horror of the last is inseparable from a thinking being whose life is limited, and to whom death is dreadful. We always make a secret comparison between a part and the whole; the termination of any period of life reminds us that life itself has likewise its termination; when we have done any thing for the last time, we involuntarily reflect that a part of the days allotted us is past, and that as more is past there is less remaining.



File:Rowley, Alberta 053a.jpg

Disused grain elevators, Rowley, Alberta: photo by Kappakapa, 2008



It is very happily and kindly provided, that in every life there are certain pauses and interruptions, which force consideration upon the careless, and seriousness upon the light; points of time where one course of action ends and another begins; and by vicissitude of fortune, or alteration of employment, by change of place, or loss of friendship, we are forced to say of something, this is the last.



http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/Pirttipohja.jpg

Abandoned village of Pirttipohja, Sortavala district, Republic of Karelia: photo by Scaut2002, 2008



An even and unvaried tenour of life always hides from our apprehension the approach of its end. Succession is not perceived but by variation; he that lives to-day as he lived yesterday, and expects that, as the present day is, such will be the morrow, easily conceives time as running in a circle and returning to itself. The uncertainty of our duration is impressed commonly by dissimilitude of condition; it is only by finding life changeable that we are reminded of its shortness.




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Abandoned cabins, Opal Creek, Marion County, Oregon: photo by Katr67, 2007



This conviction, however forcible at every new impression, is every moment fading from the mind; and partly by the inevitable incursion of new images, and partly by voluntary exclusion of unwelcome thoughts, we are again exposed to the universal fallacy; and we must do another thing for the last time, before we consider that the time is nigh when we shall do no more.





File:Ukivok.jpg

Deserted stilt village of Utivok, King Island, Bering Strait
: photo by Capt. Budd Christman, 1978 (NOAA)



Samuel Johnson: from The Idler no. 103, Saturday, 5 April 1760

8 comments:

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

Johnson's idle musings must give us pause, looking ahead (how much further?) to the last . . . . The sun just rising now above clouds above the ridge (again 'there' -- a few minutes ago 'not there', another rain cloud passing through), these words still possible before the last. . . .

4.28

first grey light in sky above still dark
ridge, whiteness of moon behind branches
in foreground, waves sounding in channel

object is presented against
background, the thing

e.g., in painting, material
become possible after

grey rain cloud against invisible ridge,
slope of sandstone cliff across from it

TC said...

And just after those last words, the iron grey skies over the bay closed in and a tremendous downpour began; which has continued e'er since; giant ice droplets pounding onto the tarps; making one wish once again to have seen the last of all this. (Hail, heavy rain & c., that is.)

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Yes, that here too yesterday, but today sun rose up over ridge into cloudless blue sky, white full moon going down above branches in the west --still not "the last" (we hope). . . .

4.29

first grey light in sky above still black
ridge, white circle of moon above branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

in concealed repose of this
holds, is established

there, distance in question,
how it changes things

grey of cloud in green canyon of ridge,
line of pelicans flapping toward point

Curtis Faville said...

I've always loved abandoned places. Old cabins and factories are just mystically intriguing to me. The sense of the presence of the former inhabitants is vivid, and persistent.

Think about all the dead of the past, all buried and decayed under our feet. Millions of years of deposition, layer upon layer, generation upon generation. Layers and layers of graves. Eons. Turned in the mulch and loam of time.

When we've used everything up, and there are the last stragglers hanging by their fingernails. Just us and the cockroaches, crawling over the dry, denuded surface of a dead planet.

Lucy in the Sky said...

"This is the last..." The complete opposite of routine and numbness. Does the secret lie in living every single thing as if it was our last chance to go through it?

TC said...

An acquaintance has a habit of shrugging fatalistically while brightly saying "Mañana" that confused me for a while, until at length I was able to hear the unspoken "quizas" dangling like a tiny quizzical ironic fish hook at the end of each "mañana".

The strange presque vu or déja vu sensation of something or someone being "the last" would seem an aberrant preoccupation for anyone who is actually in the swim of things, as they say. But when you're old and in the way, not so much.

It should be pointed out that in the interest of respecting the notorious brevity of the universal blogospheric attention span I have edited Samuel Johnson's essay. It was a valedictory piece, The Idler saying farewell to his audience.

"Though the Idler and his readers have contracted no close friendship they are perhaps both unwilling to part. There are few things not purely evil, of which we can say, without some emotion of uneasiness, this is the last. Those who never could agree together, shed tears when mutual discontent has determined them to final separation; of a place which has been frequently visited, though without pleasure, the last look is taken with heaviness of heart; and the Idler, with all his chillness of tranquility, is not wholly unaffected by the thought that his last essay is now before him."

('Tis hard not to find that at least a bit touching.)



These comments (Stephen, Curtis, Lucy, Curtis) make a chord:

in concealed repose of this
holds, is established

there, distance in question,
how it changes things

I've always loved abandoned places. Old cabins and factories are just mystically intriguing to me. The sense of the presence of the former inhabitants is vivid, and persistent.

"This is the last..." The complete opposite of routine and numbness. Does the secret lie in living every single thing as if it was our last chance to go through it?

Think about all the dead of the past...


Ah, Curtis I do. Looking up one January morning toward where you are from a park near here where there is some open space for sky watching, I thought, apropos the passing of someone dear, ..."What the dead don't know/How swiftly we are coming to join them". That sort of proleptic experience has been bugging me a lot lately.

The fascination with abandoned places, yes. A while back I did a book of a long poem (Threnody) about disused industrial sites, with drawings -- when I look at it again now, it seems to reflect the oddest mixed feeling of regret over the loss of something one had never exactly.. loved, is that the word?

Elegies for rusty iron?



Lucy,

I would always agree that this is the Last Chance Saloon.

(Horrible uninvited memory of Dr. Faustus saying, "This is Hell, nor am I out of it!") (Smiley face con besitos.)

Peter Skyhouse said...

The cabins at Opal Creek, Oregon were never abandoned. They have been in constant use from the time they were built in 1930-1. I know because I have lived and worked there for the last 20 years. The education center that uses these cabins sees now 50, 000 visitors a year. Nice photo though. PeterSkyhouse. 5/25/11

TC said...

Thanks very much, Peter. I did think those cabins looked a bit too habitable to be filed under abandoned. In fact, they look better than my own house.

It's encouraging to know that while there's life there's hope in every old cabin and it's always too soon to say This is the last... until it isn't.