Easier Times

“No one is useless in this world,’ retorted the Secretary, ‘who lightens the burden of it for any one else.’     Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens

 Right Brain / Left Brain

Corpus Callosum connecting our beautiful right and left brain hemispheres

It was a Full Moon in Leo (heart and circulation)  on 7 February and a good day for a juice feast – increasing so much vitality and greater function via the corpus callosum between the two brain hemispheres – but I definitely don’t recommend the poisonous liquid diet Charles Dickens was prescribed (detailed below, end of post).

This week, also on Tuesday 7 February, was also the bicentennial commemoration of the life of the great author Charles John Huffam Dickens – happy 200th birthday Mr Dickens!

Fancy and Fact – Logic and Imagination

There isn’t space here to write a full thesis on the subject.  However, one of the major themes in  Dickens’s novel, “Hard Times” (1854) for me, illuminates the educational separation of these two brain hemispheres.  Dickens’s character names are invariably aptronyms; and the  “dictatorial” and “eminently practical” Gradgrind, naively as it turns out, insists on “Facts, facts, facts…  Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the mind of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.” He was the antithesis of another fictional teacher:  “Mr Chips”.   [“Goodbye Mr Chips”, by James Hilton, 1934].    No wonder Gradgrind’s wife is a constantly complaining invalid in that strict, inhibiting, monotonous and uncolourful environment.  Josiah Bounderby, a self-made business man “a man perfectly devoid of sentiment,” marries Louisa Gradgrind, thirty years his junior.    Louisa and Tom Gradgrind from childhood quickly become repressed, maladjusted,  adults forced through an oppressive system of wholly inaccurate, imbalanced left-brain only information, whose mechanical (like the industrial factories) existences are sadly soulless.

“Imagination … is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”  Einstein

One of Einstein’s many thoughts on imagination.   His information didn’t come by logic, he said, but via his imagination, his mind being allowed to dream.   This is the case for many inventors, writers, painters etc.

In “Hard Times,” the biblical name Rachael denotes purity (she is referred to as an angel by Stephen who himself,  is loyal, honourable, inherently and richly moral but financially destitute and who is bewildered by the mess of society he found “a muddle”).  Sissy Jupe, is a circus performer who cares for Louisa and Tom when their Mother dies.  These are relatively minor characters in the novel.  However, their love, compassion and goodness shines out from the pages.     Their light illuminates the darkness and Gradgrind later realises the true value of these qualities in life when he reflects upon his own mistaken past methods.

‘Some persons hold,’ he pursued, still hesitating, ‘that there is a wisdom of the Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart.   I have not supposed so; but, as I have said, I mistrust myself now. I have supposed the head to be all-sufficient.   It may not be all-sufficient; how can I venture this morning to say it is!   If that other kind of wisdom should be what I have neglected, and should be the instinct that is wanted..

In an old film of “Hard Times”, I recall the first half was in black and white – the darkness of the drab streets and factories: ” a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it” reflecting the dull method of education –  and the visits to Mr Sleary’s circus were in glorious colour to enhance the entertainment, the shows, the music, the wonder of it all.

The circus comes to town!

Mr Sleary repeats that “people must be amused” (as with Julia Cameron’s “artist’s dates” or absorbing distractions,  in her book “The Artist’s Way”) yet Sleary is looked upon as a fanciful fool by those who promulgate only facts.

This emphasises how important both sides of our brain hemispheres are; that both exist because both are necessary and that both left and right must be enhanced, protected and nurtured.   Balance is key as they work together.    (Jill Bolte Taylor, no relation, a brain surgeon tells of her left brain stroke experience on Ted.com)

In order to hear right brain messages – indeed to think at all – apart from brain food, we need to connect to our own nature through Nature; and to disconnect from the constant electronic noise produced as background and from willingly plugging in to it.    I walked through a small park today and, to my amusement as I was about to write about a circus, saw a tiny little fairground for small children, full of colour, but the music on each roundabout was wholly inappropriate, money-mogul  “music” booming out into tiny ears and programming their subconscious minds.

Education is from “educare” Latin meaning to educe.  The antithesis of imposing, misleading and dampening fresh minds.     I enjoyed the short time I taught English Literature privately, as a labour of love, really.    But I stopped at the point I was offered £260 by the Mother of a student to do his course work and told this was normal practice at his school.    This couldn’t be more disempowering, humiliating and disheartening for children and for any teacher for that matter.     I’m surprised any parent would think so little of their children to demean them and teach them that falsehood is any way of life.

Back to the wonderful Dickens.    There are many excellent exhibitions new and long standing all over London in houses in which the prolific and emotive story teller  lived.     Ironically, Dickens revealed more historical truths in fiction than the social reformer, journalist Henry Mayhew did in more sensationalised, embellished “fact”!     Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!  

Charles John Huffam Dickens 7 Feb 1812 – 9 June 1870 age 58

I feel extremely fortunate and grateful having been read to as a child by my Father, himself a life long lover of Dickens; and much later I was taught by sublime Dickensian experts at London University: Professor Michael Slater and Dr Andew Sanders. 

I was delighted with fond memories recently at seeing one of each of their books in a recent Dickens exhibition gift shop.   Some years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Cedric Charles Dickens (September 24 1916 – February 11 2006) over cups of ‘Sherry Cobbler’ from an enormous tea urn, at a wonderful Dickens anniversary at the University of London.    I recall his Mr Pickwick tie and his wonderful great guffaw-ing laughter!    He was the last surviving great grandson of Charles Dickens.

I also had the privilege of seeing Geoffrey Harris‘s incredibly vibrant portrayal of Dickens as he would have performed himself.    I barely blinked, so compelling was his performance and my heart was pounding at seeing “Mr Dickens” brought alive.   Sadly, Mr Harris has now also passed away.    However, I look forward to seeing Lloyd Lee in “An Evening with Charles Dickens – The Sparkler of Albion”.

Miss Bolo rose from the table considerably agitated, and went straight home, in a flood of tears and a sedan-chair!  Pickwick Papers c 1867

My favourite example of semantic zeugma (syllepsis)!     I’ve had a copy of RW Buss’s painting, Dickens’s Dream, (below) on my desk for many years, amongst other inspirational items.   Dickens was so absorbed by his characters when writing and enacting their conversations, he could be oblivious of anyone else in the room, his daughter once observed, but then greeted his guests with all the congeniality and presence possible.

I trust that this curious era of chaos and change is bringing in with its flow, much more rounded and real education and eye-widening, heart-expanding, profound knowledge in 2012; which consequently enhances new thinking and discoveries; especially in a total review of history, architecture and the sciences where so much knowledge has been kept out of universities.

Ultimately, I feel a major evolution in learning will certainly result in more fulfilled lives, happier, contented souls on this planet – and that means peace.      I trust also, that this will bring “Easier Times” to all of us – because we never stop learning throughout our lives.

DICKENS’S DREAM painted by R W Buss (1804-1875)

Dickens Diet

Dickens was wasting away but didn’t stop his very vigorous performances and had taken laudanum to ease his pain.    If only what we know now was more widely known in the 1800s and Dickens could have had raw living foods on his demanding “Farewell Tour” in America instead of the following:

 ‘ I cannot eat (to anything like the necessary extent) and have established this system.

At 7 in the morning, in bed, a tumbler of new cream and two tablespoons of rum.               At 12, a sherry cobbler and a biscuit.     At 3 (dinner time) a pint of champagne.    At five minutes to 8, an egg beaten up with a glass of sherry. Between the parts, the strongest beef tea that can be made, drunk hot.    At a quarter past 10, soup, and any little thing to drink that I can fancy.     

I do not eat more than a half pound of solid food in the whole four-and-twenty hours, if so much.”  

Extract from Dickens’s letter to John Forster, his friend and biographer

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