When Words Mattered
Past few weeks I’ve been posting various quotes on Facebook. Here’s the story on the source of these bits of ephemera.
Two weeks ago Kim and I took a ride out to Shelburne, Mass. Purpose of this trip was to get some grass-fed beef from Wheel-View Farm, a great place where John and Carolyn Wheeler raise Belted Galloway cattle just on grass, free from antibiotics, corn or hormones. It is just beef that tastes great and is great for you.
On the way back we passed an antiques store – can’t recall if it was in Turner’s Falls or Miller’s Falls, but around there. New Englanders will instantly be familiar with this kind of place: aisles and aisles and shelves and shelves of old junk, from keys to tableware to brushes and razors to aged toys to old signs and more. We were in no hurry to get back and you never know what you will find, so we stopped and browsed around.
The was a section of old books and out of the yellowed issues of Life and Time the title shown here to the left instantly leapt out at me: Elbert Hubbard’s Scrapbook. I snatched it up and without even opening it made my way to the checkout, where I parted with all of $4.50.
I know Hubbard, at least a bit. He was one of the great progressives of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a printer and businessman, and founder of Roycroft, an Arts and Crafts movement that lives on to this day in East Aurora, NY, not far from my own hometown. (He is also the uncle (adopted) of L Ron Hubbard of Scientology and Battlefield Earth fame.) On Hubbard’s wikiPedia page you’ll find he was a socialist and anarchist, but his was a uniquely American version of those ideologies, melding a deep reverence for personal responsibility and productivity with a desire for social justice. If Hubbard is known for anything today it is for the essay, Message to Garcia. The message in this story of initiative, self-reliance and devotion to duty has made this work required reading in US military academies for decades; not many socialists nor anarchists are so revered.
The scrapbook is not Hubbard’s own writing, but writings of others that he prized. In it you will find quotes from over 500 authors: Twain, Wordsworth, Solon, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Savonarola, Blake, Bronte, Buddha, Charles Darwin, Eugene Debs, Cato, and Cicero, just to name a few pulled at random from the index.
Isn’t this amazing? I consider myself a well-read person, and having access to the information resources of the modern age, I should easily excel someone like Hubbard – who, as Mr. Spock remarked lived in a “stone knives and beaksins” culture – in exposure to great thoughts. Yet it is not so. My own scrapbook would be a thin volume indeed, compared to Hubbard’s.
We can debate the reasons for this, but it hardly matters. To skim through the Scrapbook is to quickly see how the progressive movement was born in words, wed to action, much as the independence of America was born in the works of thinkers like John Locke and later John Stuart Mill.
I suppose people today would find much of the Scrapbook maudlin, or naïve. In my sampling of it I have found to be energizing and optimistic. I’ll leave you with this quote:
EVIL is unnatural – goodness is the natural state of man. Earth has no hopeless islands or continents. We live in a redemptive world. Poverty will end; sin will die; love will triumph and hope will plant flowers on every grave.
– David Swing
I imagine this was Hubbard’s belief as well – provided of course enough men and women are willing to take the message to Garcia …