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Friday, October 03, 2008


by David Chorlton

Dear Dr. Johnson, I own a copy of The Rambler, Volume III,
printed in 1798 on the kind of paper
that makes us value the print upon it. My grandfather
first told me about you; now amid slogans
I turn the pages to find your sentences
are often long enough to tie up with a knot
the superficial arguments of our age
masquerading as discourse.
Power and superiority are so flattering and delightful, that, fraught
with temptation, and exposed to danger, as they are, scarcely any
virtue is so cautious, or any prudence so timorous, as to decline them.
You couldn’t sell that on the street today, not on a Tuesday
and not on a Saturday the way you did. I’m not looking
to cloud the issues with language, but to find
some pleasure in the way ideas ripen
into words. Politicians like the ones whose meanings
have no binding power, like change or choice.
There’s no difference between their speeches
and the nightly ads between segments of the TV news
for allergy pills or stool softener. They just want
to sell us the idea of comfort. I doubt that you’d make it
as a commentator on the shows we have in which
it isn’t enough to serve sound bites, but we get the content
chewed up and ready to swallow. You’d take a question
and respond: There is nothing more common
among this torpid generation than murmurs and complaints;
murmurs at uneasiness, which only vacancy and suspicion
expose them to feel, and complaints of distresses, which it is
in their own power to remove. Some elegance might help us
disagree when we must. My grandfather appreciated
the way you wrote. He was just what we call working class,
which is to say he liked his beer and didn’t own
a lot. He didn’t learn about you in college
because he never went to one. It was simply the language
that proved that thinking isn’t a matter of class,
it is everyone’s right to conclude It is necessary
to distinguish our own interest from that of others;
          and that distinction will

perhaps assist us in fixing the just limits
of caution and adventurousness.

David Chorlton has lived in Phoenix for 30 years and come to love the desert around it. He recently won the Ronald Wardall Award from Rain Mountain Press for The Lost River, a chapbook whose contents reflect his unease with what is happening to our planet. More of his work, including paintings, is at his Web site.