Tuesday, March 24, 2020

'How Sweet, How Passing Sweet is Solitude!'

Our time has come – introverts, that is. We who are happiest with our thoughts, who shun the mob, for whom “social” is code for “tedious,” who never exchange high-fives or fist bumps, who remain in our rooms with Pascalian contentedness, who are stubbornly unclubbable, who have the good taste never to be the life of the party – we are fulfilling our civic and ethical obligations simply by being ourselves. Social distancing is second nature, old hat, the common sense of sensible people. Extroverts, we’ve always known, are dangerous. Speaking for himself, Bill Vallicella speaks for all of us:

“Extroverts abuse us, but there is no need to reply in kind since the present turn of events will do the job for us. They will suffer. We will have no trouble maintaining our social distance. We have rich inner lives and welcome the opportunity to have an excuse to withdraw from the idle talkers, the unserious, the spiritless, and the superficial. Call it the Introvert Advantage.”

Among introverted writers (which ought to be but is not an oxymoron), William Cowper is our tutelary saint. One of nature’s “Isolatoes” (as Ishmael called the crew of the Pequod), he was the most gregarious of letter writers. He befriended hares, guinea pigs, goldfinches and a former slaver. In “Retirement” he paraphrases la Bruyère and writes:

“I praise the Frenchman, his remark was shrewd,—
How sweet, how passing sweet is solitude!
But grant me still a friend in my retreat,
Whom I may whisper, solitude is sweet.”

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