The full title would be “the story of how I realized something while reading Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History, together, eventually, with an exposition of that something.”
Footnote: It is not just the realization. Every honest exposition is part narrative, and every narrative needs its setting. These are things I believe, by which I mean, perhaps ironically, things that require no narrative, truths that transcend all narrative, principles that emanate from a stillness so entire that narrative explodes in their presence by virtue of the stillness’s virtue still emanating from them as they themselves emanate from that stillness, and the talebearer must, to recover his “and then’s” and and “and then’s,” round up the receding stars of his narrative with a stardog or chase them down with a net, whichever is more to the task. End of footnote.
A few years ago, John Locke got me interested in the 17th century, and I’ve been reading about it off and on ever since. I think I’m understanding part of the draw. Here’s Professor Alan Charles Kors from the first lecture in his Teaching Company series The Birth of the Modern Mind: The Intellectual History of the 17th and 18th Centuries:
The thinking group is small. In a subsistence economy, very few are freed from labor to study and to think. But travel is expensive and dangerous, paintings few, there are no media, and one’s window on other times, places, and minds — one’s escape from one’s own life — is the text. The book. And people who could read focused on the book with an intensity difficult to imagine today. They loved close reading and logical argument and took pride in erudition and formal thought. That will be our window onto early modern culture: their texts, the debates around those texts, and, dramatically, the consequences around the debates.
Here’s Anna Beer from her book Milton: Poet Pamphleteer, and Patriot:
Having acquired a new book, John would adopt an intensely scholarly approach to his reading. His edition of one of his favorite writers, the Greek playwright Euripides . . . is annotated within an inch of its life . . . John made notes on hundreds of the pages and then added side notes so that he could find certain passages more easily. Tellingly, he also made corrections and comments in a number of places, and even added many new references to the index, all written into the book in extremely neat handwriting. (63)
[Photo by Provenance Online Project. Used by permission.]