Monday, May 20, 2019

'Well! It Is Always Good to Be Undeceived'

For more than two weeks after spinal surgery I stopped shaving, something I never do. Shave or grow a real beard. None of that hipster stubble, please. Because I normally shave daily I was surprised to see my beard had come in almost entirely white. It was a mild shock seeing Gabby Hayes in the mirror, and my first morning back at home I shaved it off. Vanity can be clandestine. While reading Julius Caesar again on Monday I was pleased to find this in Scene II, Act 1. The conspirators are meeting, and Metellus Cimber says of Cicero:

“His silver hairs
Will purchase us a good opinion
And buy men’s voices to commend our deeds:
It shall be said his judgment rul’d our hands;
Our youths and wildness shall no whit appear,
But all be buried in his gravity.”

Nice to borrow some ersatz gravitas with a few white hairs, but as William Hazlitt reminds us in his commentary on Julius Caesar: “The honest manliness of Brutus is, however, sufficient to find out the unfitness of Cicero to be included in their enterprise, from his affected egotism and literary vanity.” Hazlitt then quotes Brutus on Cicero:

“O, name him not: let us not break with him;
For he will never follow any thing,
That other men begin.”

That stung a little too. William Cowper, though often certifiably mad, could sometimes be counted on for commonsensical wisdom. On this date, May 21, in 1793, he writes to his friend William Hayley:

“How insensibly old age steals on, and how often it is actually arrived before we suspect it! Accident alone [a two-week hospital stay],--some occurrence that suggests a comparison of our former with our present selves, affords the discovery. Well! it is always good to be undeceived, especially on an article of such importance.”

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