It's All In The Game
by A. Charles Corotis


It's All In The Game: A selected Collection of Gay Essays
on Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Mnemosyne,
Assayed from the Provocative Pages of
New Jersey's Literate Review Weekly, The Argus

By A. Charles Corotis



Far be it from me to minimize the virtue of virtue, but there is such a thing as carrying goodness too far. Like Marcus Cato when he kept the consulship of Rome from Manilius and had him evicted from the Senate because, in open day and in the presence of his daughter, he kissed his own wife!

I am inclined to agree with Montaigne that "we may so clutch at virtue that if we embrace it with an over-greedy and violent desire, it may become vicious." Invariant virtue, says John Dewey, appears to be as mechanical as uninter­rupted vice. And, he might have added, considerably duller.

Forty-five, it seems to me, is an age overripe for innocence, a long time to live in the solitude of unrelieved purity. Why, even ancient Solon, stern and strait-laced as he was, recognized the need for connubial communion: one of his laws required the husband of an heiress "to consort with her thrice a month." Fortune hunters had to give something for the drachmas they were marrying.

I don't know what the oracle would have said about chastity in literature—he called public entertainment parasitein— but it seems to me deplorable that a book born in 1906, which is older even than I, should have preserved its virginity all these tumultuous, eventful years. Admittedly some books are better untouched, even unborn, but I speak not of those. I am referring to books in the classical sense. As I took down my 45-year-old edition of Sartor Resartus and, leafing through it, found half its pages uncut, I thought of Christopher Sly in The Taming of the Shrew: "Sit by my side, and let the world slip: we shall ne'er be younger."

The time had come for the despoiling of this lovely little volume, truly a morsel for a monarch, or at least a tidbit for a thane.

Book buyers are curious folk. On a day in May of 1906 a certain gentleman, whose name I shall not divulge, paid a visit to Thomas Carlyle's home in Chelsea, London, and there paid 3s.6d. [ 3 shillings, 6 pence- PMC] for a special autographed memorial edition with portrait, foolscap octavo, cloth back and corners, burnished top and roughened edges. Not only that, but, presumably a devotee of Carlyle, he paid a shilling to get into the hallowed house at 24 Cheyne Row.

My innocent abroad toted the precious cargo back home, undoubtedly awarded it the place of honor in his library, certainly showed it proudly to guests—but never got around to reading it. What other conclusion can one reach who finds it necessary to cleave a full half of the 311 pages in order to peruse Carlyle's ambitious, often obtuse but always exciting treatise on clothes and things in general? I might say parenthetically that my incisorial expedition was justified by the opportunity to meet Diogenes Teufelsdrockh, the unlikely philosopher of unlikely Weissnichtwo, and his equally ephemeral Boswell, Herr Hofrath Heuschrecke.

Perhaps I should explain how this 45-year-old virgin came into my avaricious possession and thus fell afoul of my lust for literatesque license— helluo librorum.

One of our Moorestown churches gave a bazaar, and I wandered up to look over the book stall, notwithstanding Hazel's standing threat to leave me whenever another volume finds its way into the house. Most of the books were of recent vintage, donated by parishioners. But what intrigued me was a group of wonderful old gems going back to the 19th century, two-score or more, all valuable titles, ornately done in the elegant style of the day, the piece de resistance an all-inclusive gold-edged volume of The Complete Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare "Accurately Printed from the Text of the Corrected Copies with a Copious Glossary. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co. 1851." 1851. Abraham Lincoln hadn't yet been elected to the Presidency. The Civil War hadn't been fought. 1851 . . . 1951.

Here, now, is the payoff. The task of pricing the books evidently was assigned to an automobile salesman or someone else who operates upon the theory that the older anything is, the less is its value. Common contemporary stuff worth a dime a dozen was marked from fifty cents up; my precious, priceless old antiques were five and ten cents each!

Needless to say, I seized every one, the acquisitive bargain hunter I am. Unquestionably there is a story with tragic over-tones behind the whole transaction. Some old book lover must have accumulated a library at great pains and considerable expense, someone now departed this vale of wrath and tears, and bequeathed them to a less appreciative descendant. I can visualize the sigh of relief when the old junk was hauled away to the church.

Maybe I shouldn't be so solicitous of the shade, at that, for it must have been he who set himself up as guardian of Sartor Resartus' morals and left her untouched all those years. Maybe he just didn't get around to reading, what with showing his prized possession off, but omittance is no quittance and I can't find it in my heart to forgive him his lack of literary lasciviousness. Maybe he was akin to one of Carlyle's own Half-Men in whom "that divine handwriting has never blazed forth, all-subduing in true sun-splendor, but quivers dubiously amid meaner lights, or smolders, in dull pain, in darkness, under earthly vapors."

Well, he missed a great deal. Witness the chapter titled J'The Everlasting Yea" :

Fly, false shadows of Hope; I will chase you no more, I will believe you no more. And ye too, haggard spectres of Fear, I care not for you; ye too are all shadows and a lie. Let me rest here; for I am way-weary and life-weary; I will rest here, were it but to die: to die or to live is alike to me; alike insignificant.

Despair? But magnificent despair, beautifully wrought.

Carlyle was at his bitter, biting best in debunking the ego, in exploring the sanctuary of sorrow and probing the divine depth of sadness. What does man require for his per­manent satisfaction and saturation? Simply this allotment, no more, and no less: "God's infinite Universe altogether to himself, to enjoy infinitely, and fill every wish as fast as it rose." Oceans of Hochheimer, a throat like that of Ophiuchus: they are as nothing.

No sooner is his ocean filled than he grumbles that it might have been of better vintage. Try him with half a Universe, of an Omnipotence, he sets to quarreling with the proprietor of the other half, and declares himself the most maltreated of men. Always there is a black spot in our sunshine, the Shadow of Ourselves.

The whim we have of Happiness is somewhat thus: by certain valuations and averages of our own striking we come upon some sort of average terrestrial lot; this we fancy belongs to us by nature, and of indefeasible right. It is simple payment of our wages, of our deserts; requires neither thanks nor complaint; only such over­plus as there may be do we account Happiness; any def­icit again is Misery. Now consider that we have the valuation of our own deserts ourselves, and what a fund of self-conceit there is in each of us—do you wonder that the balance should so often dip the wrong way, and many a Blockhead cry: See there, what a payment; was ever worthy gentleman so' used—I tell thee, Blockhead, it all comes of thy Vanity; of what thou fanciest those same deserts of thine to be. Fancy that thou deservest to be hanged (as is most likely) thou wilt feel it happiness to be only shot; fancy that thou deservest to be hanged in a hair-halter, it will be a luxury to die in hemp.

So true it is that the Fraction of Life can be increased in value not so much by increasing your Numerator as by lessening your Denominator .... Make thy claim of wages a zero; then, thou hast the world under thy feet.

What is this that, ever since earliest years, thou hast been fretting and fuming, and lamenting and self-tor­menting, on account of? Say it in a word: is it not be­cause thou art not Happy? Because the Thou (sweet gentleman) is not sufficiently honoured, nourished, soft-bedded, and lovingly cared-for? Foolish soul! What Act of Legislature was there that thou shouldest be Happy?

A little while ago thou hadst no right to be at all. Art thou nothing other than a Vulture that fliest through the Universe seeking after somewhat to eat, and shriek­ing dolefully because carrion enough is not given thee? Close thy Byron; open thy Goethe.

Es leuchtet mir ein, I see a glimpse of it! There is in man a higher than love of happiness: he can do without happiness, and instead thereof find blessedness!

Hast thou in any way a Contention with thy brother, I advise thee, think well what the meaning is. If thou gauge it to the bottom, it is simply this: "Fellow, see! thou art taking more than thy share of Happiness in the world, something from my share: which, by the Heav­ens, thou shalt not; nay I will fight thee rather."

Alas, and the whole lot to be divided is such a beggarly matter, truly a feast of shells, for the substance has been spilled out: not enough to quench one Appetite; and the collective human species clutching at them!—Can we not, in all such cases, rather say: "Take it, thou too-ravenous individual; take that pitiful additional fraction of a share, which I reckoned mine, but which thou so wantest; take it with a blessing; would to Heaven I had enough for thee!"

\If Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre be, to a certain extent, applied Christianity, surely to a still greater extent is this:

Let him who gropes painfully in darkness or uncertain light, and prays vehemently that the dawn may ripen into day, lay this other precept well to heart: Do the Duty which liest nearest thee, which thou knowest to be a Duty! Thy second Duty will already have become clearer.

When your Ideal World, wherein the whole man has been dimly struggling and inexpressibly languishing to work, becomes revealed and thrown open, you discover, with amazement enough, like the Lothario in Wilhelm Meister, that your America is here or nowhere.

The situation that has not its Duty, its Ideal, was never yet occupied by man. Yes here, in this poor, miserable, hampered despicable Actual, wherein thou even now standest, here or nowhere is thy Ideal: work it out therefrom; and working, believe, live, be free.

Fool! the Ideal is in thyself, the impediment too is in thyself; thy Condition is but the stuff thou art to shape that same Ideal out of: what matters whether such stuff be of this sort or that, so the Form thou give it be heroic, be poetic? O thou that pinest in the imprison­ment of the Actual, and criest bitterly to the gods for a kingdom wherein to rule and create, know this of a truth: the thing thou seekest is already with thee, here or nowhere, couldst thou only see!

But it is with man's Soul as it was with Nature; the beginning of Creation is— Light. Till the eye have vision, the whole members are in bonds. Divine moment, when over the tempest-tost Soul, as once over the wild-weltering Chaos, it is spoken: Let there be Light! Even to the greatest that has felt such moment, is it not miraculous and God-announcing; even as, under simpler figures, to the simplest and least. The mad primeval Discord is hushed; the rudely-jumbled conflicting ele­ments bind themselves into separate Firmaments: deep silent rock-foundations are built beneath; and the skyey vault with its everlasting Luminaries above: instead of a dark wasteful Chaos, we have a blooming, fertile, heav­en-encompassed World.

Produce! Produce! Were it but the pitifullest infinitesimal fraction of a Product, produce it, in God's name! 'Tis the utmost thou has in thee: out with it, then. Up, up! Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy whole might. Work while it is called Today; for the Night cometh, wherein no man can work.

Thus commences our spiritual majority; henceforth should we work in well-doing, with the spirit and clear aims of a man, those of us with the capacity to read and heed and think. The ideal workshop we so panted for is the same actual, ill-furnished workshop we have so long been stumbling in.