TNR reviews a new book profiling George Washington’s human side…
Throughout his life, Washington struggled to discipline his passions in search of perfect self-control. Determined to impress people, he cultivated a distant majesty and stoicism that revealed little, while slowly taking the certain measure of others. “Be courteous to all but intimate with few,” he advised a nephew. A Continental Army officer noted that “the dignity of his presence, large and manly, increased by [a] steady, firm, and grave countenance and an unusual share of reserve, forbidding all familiarity, excited no little reverence in his presence.” By mastering self-control in public, Washington became revered by thousands, but he was truly known by almost no one, save perhaps Martha. Unwilling to let down his guard, he made only one other close friend—Henry Knox, a fellow general—and eventually would cast even him aside. By perfecting his reserve, Washington paid a chilling price in suppressed emotions (until they occasionally erupted) and in a lack of consoling bonds with others. In duty to us, he made himself the loneliest of men.
This just deserved posting.
After a year or two of working for the centre and getting to know the area – a rugged, mountainous landscape covered in forest – I moved to the wild. The first time I got up close to a wolf, within around 30 metres, any fear I had quickly turned to respect. I stayed in a den area, a remote spot where wolves look after their young, and very soon one pack began to trust me. I lived with them day and night, and from the start they accepted me into their group. I ate what they ate, mostly raw deer and elk, which they would often bring back for me, or fruit and berries. I never fell ill and my body adapted quickly to its new diet. It’s easy to look back and think, “What horrible food”, but when you haven’t eaten for a week, it looks appetising.
I was only ever truly scared on two occasions: once, when all the wolves were feeding, I ate the wrong piece of meat – there is a strict hierarchy of who eats what part of an animal – and one of the wolves leapt on me in seconds because of my mistake. He took my entire face in his mouth and started to squeeze hard. I could feel the bones in my jaw begin to bend, and in that split-second I realised how vulnerable I was and how restrained they were most of the time.
The other time, I wanted to get a drink from the stream and one of the wolves stopped me dead in my tracks, growling, snarling and nipping me. I thought, “This is the end, he’s going to finish me off.” An hour or so later, he started to lick my face and we both went to the stream for a drink. There I saw evidence of recent bear tracks and droppings, and I realised this was why he guarded me. I would almost certainly have been killed but, more importantly, my tracks would have led back to their young, so it was for their protection.
The reasons that I have for wishing to go to Harvard are several. I feel that Harvard can give me a better background and a better liberal education than any other university. I have always wanted to go there, as I have felt that it is not just another college, but is a university with something definite to offer. Then too, I would like to go to the same college as my father. To be a “harvard man” is an enviable distinction, and one that I sincerely hope I shall attain.
April 23, 1935
John F. Kennedy
Joseph P. Kennedy wrote a letter to the dean before his son enrolled in 1936, after stints at the London School of Economics and Princeton. Apparently Joe’s strategy was one of brutal honesty:
Jack has a very brilliant mind for the things in which he is interested, but is careless and lacks application in those in which he is not interested. This is, of course, a bad fault.
A new study by climatologist Ulf Buntgen of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape research has shown an intriguing, if not insidious, correlation between a pronounced period of climate change in Europe, and the fall of the seemingly unconquerable Roman Empire. As reported in New Scientist, by analyzing almost 9,000 ring samples from a variety of tree species, Buntgen was able to reconstruct a record of important climactic details like annual rainfall and average temperatures, and to connect these patterns with an era of mass migration and social unrest, one that ultimately ended in the dissolution of one of history’s largest dynasties.
Why I love ruins…