Step by step

One step at a time. That’s all I have to believe in.

KS59

Slowly but surely, I’m building a full and rich life.

I have to believe that. Maybe happiness comes later.

Homo universalis

One of my guiding principles is that we’re all capable of self-improvement at any age, particularly intellectual self-improvement. Sometimes that faith is the only thing that enables me to sleep through the night and get out of bed in the morning.

KS16

That’s Latin for “universal man” or “man of the world,” if Wikipedia can be relied on for a proper translation.

I glide through a small, comfortable life — trying not to bother anyone, trying to be pleasant and polite, non-judgmental and sympathetic, charming and humble, trying to be intellectually honest and self-aware of my limits and flaws, every day edging closer to fulfilling all my ambitions.

One of my guiding principles is that we’re all capable of self-improvement at any age, particularly intellectual self-improvement. Sometimes that faith is the only thing that enables me to sleep through the night and get out of bed in the morning. I’ve always been blessed with a hunger for knowledge, a curiosity that often flares into full-blown passion for new arenas of experience, a curiosity perhaps sparked by a bittersweet frustration that I don’t know as much about literature, science, mathematics, history and culture as I think I should.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve always embraced wholeheartedly people like Theodore Roosevelt and Michelangelo, those who lived their lives desperately hungry for more of the world to absorb into their hearts and minds, constantly reaching out to make more of it their own.

A friend once called me a polymath. Other friends have called me a Renaissance man. I politely laughed off both compliments. I’m certainly no genius. I’d hardly consider myself intelligent, compared to the accomplishments and capabilities of the other men and women in my life.

As I understand it, polymaths and Renaissance men and women possess an immensity of talent to complement that fiery passion to achieve great things in multiple fields, professions, etc. As my quiet life sadly illustrates — in which I’ve been not much more than a minor writer, historian, editor, painter and arts critic — I have very much of the latter and very little of the former.

Perhaps later life will prove otherwise, as I’m slowly exploring how to become a proper pianist, an amateur boxer, an effective apiarist and gardener, an expert numismatist and philatelist, a stellar professor of American Civil War and Roman and Spanish imperial history, a sympathetic and effective psychologist, an historical novelist, a decent speaker, writer and translator of Turkish, Spanish and Latin, and a less-than-atrocious golfer, photographer, and salsa dancer. My mandate is to be more than a simple-minded, well-meaning hobbyist.

But if none of that works out, perhaps this particular man of the world will be content being someone who’s fun to spend time with, whose passion for history is inspiring, whose writing makes the heart soar, who’s always interesting, always relaxing, always enriching. Always happy.

I’d settle for that last one, above and beyond all the rest.

‘I woke with a feeling of agony’

This special series explores the Morgan Library & Museum’s fascinating exhibit, “The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives.” Part 2 focuses on Frances Eliza Grenfell, whose parents forbid her to spend her life with the man she loved. So she secretly wrote him letters, spilling her broken heart and feverish longings, page after page after page.

This special Stillness of Heart series explores the Morgan Library & Museum’s fascinating exhibit, “The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives.”

Part 2 focuses on Frances Eliza Grenfell, whose parents forbid her to spend her life with the man she loved. So she secretly wrote him letters, spilling her broken heart and feverish longings, page after page after page.

“I dreamt a long letter came from you, & I opened it, Oh! how well I can see it now, & as I was eagerly beginning the first page, I woke with a feeling of agony, for to have read it in a dream w[oul]d have been a blessing. I slept again; & again a long long letter was brought to me in your hand – I opened it, I found it was my own writing inside – the Journal I had kept for you.”

Examine images of her beautiful diary and listen to the museum’s audio guide here.

Entries in this series:
Part 1: Introduction to the exhibit and Charlotte Brontë
Part 2: Frances Eliza Grenfell
Part 3: Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne
Part 4: Paul Horgan
Part 5: John Newton
Part 6: Mary Ann and Septimus Palairet
Part 7: Walter Scott
Part 8: Bartholomew Sharpe
Part 9: Tennessee Williams
Part 10: John Ruskin