“As human beings, we can encompass a vague feeling of what the universe is, and all in this funny little brain here — so there has to be something more than just brain, it has to be something to do with spirit as well.”
When the night wind makes the pine trees creak
And the pale clouds glide across the dark sky,
Go out my child, go out and seek
Your soul: The Eternal I.
For all the grasses rustling at your feet
And every flaming star that glitters high
Above you, close up and meet
In you: The Eternal I.
Yes, my child, go out into the world; walk slow
And silent, comprehending all, and by and by
Your soul, the Universe, will know
Itself: the Eternal I.
A transcript of the full discussion, absolutely stimulating from beginning to end, can be found it Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues, which also features conversations with luminaries like E.O. Wilson, Karen Armstrong, John Lithgow, Michael Pollan, and Jon Stewart.
But perhaps most timeless of all is a small section prefacing the delicious recipes and drawings, humbly titled “A Word of Advice,” in which Beard captures the spirit of good cooking and, more than half a century before Michael Pollan’s seminal Food Rules, presages much of today’s wisdom on simplicity and integrity of ingredients.
There is absolutely no substitute for good food. Good food cannot be made of inferior ingredients masked with high flavor. It is true thrift to use the best ingredients available and to waste nothing. If you use the best butter, eggs, cream, meat, and other ingredients, and use them carefully and wisely, you will have less waste than if you search for bargains and end up with a full garbage pail.
Plan ahead. Plan carefully and shop in advance for what you need. Planning saves money, as well as time and steps.
Stagger your preparations so that they fit in with your other duties. If you prepare vegetables and other ingredients in advance, the last-minute rush is greatly eased and you will have a few minutes to relax and enjoy the paper or a chat before dinner. Plan so that you do not have three or four things that need attention at the same time.
Avoid having too many courses. If the food is good, that is all the more reason to limit the number of dishes, so that each may be fully savored.
Divide your meal into separate entities. As we shall try to show in the vegetable chapter, many vegetables are important enough to have single billing on your menu and should be served as a separate course.
Give as much care to simple dishes and the humbler foods as you do to elaborate dishes and ambitious menus. At the same time, do not neglect to take advantage of new developments in the growing, shipping, preserving, and cooking of food. Take time to cherish the old and to investigate the new.
You can learn a lot about a person from the way he or she eats — about the extent of his physical appetites and the way they are satisfied. There are those who will try anything offered to them, no matter how new or exotic, while others refuse to accept any but the most familiar fare — obviously not the adventurous type to new experiences.
Sheraton argues that dietary preferences reveal a great deal about how good a dancer someone is in the intricate dance between abandon and restraint, so essential in intimate relationships:
Women who are diet-conscious should, when some tempting morsel is presented, throw caution to the wind and eat without a thought for tomorrow. An air of abandon must prevail sometimes, and if not at the table, then probably not in bed either; while a man who appears to be turning into one of Circe’s swine after dinner may display the same propensities when satisfying his other physical urge.
The act of ordering itself, Sheraton counsels, is remarkably revealing of a person’s overall authenticity:
While ordering in restaurants, you should be able to tell a great deal about someone’s tastes, sensitivities and pretensions. A man or woman who is completely honest and without airs, and already knows good food, will recognize it whether it be a hot dog at Nedick’s or a páté en croute at Pavillon. Beware of anyone who seems to recognize good food only when served in a currently fashionable restaurant. Such a person may be given to passing fads and is not to be trusted.
Sheraton goes on to offer a kind of gastronomic phrenology of personality types based on dietary preferences:
If a woman consistently orders sickeningly sweet, overelaborate whipped-cream desserts, she may be given to equally sticky goodbyes, and a man who overeats on one course and then has to pass up the rest of the meal doesn’t know how to pace himself and could be a problem later in the evening. And should you find yourself with a girl who orders a pastrami sandwich on whole-wheat toast with lettuce and Russian dressing (a meal I actually heard someone order in a New York delicatessen), you’d best be off before the waiter returns with the check.
“Remember at all times that while you are seeing the world, the world will see you.”
By Maria Popova
Founding father and American Enlightenment leader Benjamin Rush (January 4, 1746–April 19, 1813) is among the most diversely influential figures in modern history — he signed the Declaration of Independence and championed many reforms; he opposed slavery and capital punishment at a time when it was fashionable to favor them; he pioneered the free American public school and helped found five institutions of higher learning; he proposed a new model of education for women that included sciences, history, and moral philosophy; he worked for the humane treatment of the mentally ill; he was the first American to hold the title of professor of chemistry (at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania) and published the first American chemistry textbook; and he served as the treasurer of the United States Mint for sixteen years.
Directions and advice to Jno. Rush from his father and mother composed the evening before he sailed for Calcutta, May 18th, 1796
We shall divide these directions into four heads, as they relate to morals, knowledge, health, and business.
1. Be punctual in committing your soul and body to the protection of your Creator every morning and evening. Implore at the same time his mercy in the name of his Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
2. Read in your Bible frequently, more especially on Sundays.
3. Avoid swearing and even an irreverent use of your Creator’s name. Flee youthful lusts.
4. Be courteous and gentle in your behavior to your fellow passengers, and respectful and obedient to the captain of the vessel.
5. Attend public worship regularly every Sunday when you arrive at Calcutta.
1. Begin by studying Guthrie’s Geography.
2. Read your other books through carefully, and converse daily upon the subjects of your reading.
3. Keep a diary of every day’s studies, conversations, and transactions at sea and on shore. Let it be composed in a fair, legible hand. Insert in it an account of the population, manners, climate, diseases, &c., of the places you visit.
4. Preserve an account of every person’s name and disease whom you attend.
1. Be temperate* in eating, more especially of animal food. Never taste distilled spirits of any kind, and drink fermented liquors very sparingly.
2. Avoid the night air in sickly situations. Let your dress be rather warmer than the weather would seem to require. Carefully avoid fatigue from all causes both of body and mind.
1. Take no step in laying out your money without the advice and consent of the captain or supercargo. Let no solicitations prevail with you to leave the captain and supercargo during your residence in Calcutta.
2. Keep an exact account of all your expenditures. Preserve as vouchers of them all your bills.
3. Take care of all your instruments, books, clothes, &c.
Be sober and vigilant. Remember at all times that while you are seeing the world, the world will see you. Recollect further that you are always under the eye of the Supreme Being. One more consideration shall close this parting testimony of our affection. Whenever you are tempted to do an improper thing, fancy that you see your father and mother kneeling before you and imploring you with tears in their eyes to refrain from yielding to the temptation, and assuring you at the same time that your yielding to it will be the means of hurrying them to a premature grave.
* Rush was in fact a vehement proponent of temperance and designed “A Moral and Physical Thermometer” six years prior to penning the letter to his son:
Sadly, John was either ill-equipped to or chose not to follow his parents’ advice. John’s adult life was plagued by mental instability and, though he became a surgeon, his medical career was mediocre at most. Three years before his father’s death, John killed a friend in a duel and went insane. He was institutionalized at the Pennsylvania Hospital, his father’s place of work, where he remained for twenty-seven years until his last breath in 1837.
Posterity, however, is full of timeless epistolary wisdom from and to historical characters of decidedly more hopeful fates than John’s.