David M. Brown's Blog

January 23, 2010

Not this age

Filed under: Literature,Society and culture,Technology — davidmbrowndotcom @ 7:25 am
Tags: , , , ,

Writing not recently, Thomas Carlyle, in an introduction to an autobiography by Goethe, says, “Fame, we [i.e., we Englishmen] may understand, is no sure test of merit, but only a probability of such…often it is but a false glare, dazzling the eyes of the vulgar, lending by casual extrinsic splendour the brightness and manifold glance of the diamond to pebbles of no value. A man is in all cases simply the man, of the same extrinsic worth and weakness, whether his worth and weakness lie hidden in the depths of his own consciousness, or be betrumpeted and beshouted from end to end of the habitable globe.”

All this is fine eloquent observation, and I don’t mean to imply by the title of this post that in our own age nobody recognizes that fame and the intrinsic worth of one who happens to be famous are not the same thing. What struck me, though, is the opening clause here: “Fame…is no sure test of merit, but only a probability of such….” Fame indicates a probability of merit? Is that the thought? The edition of Goethe’s Autobiography: Truth and Fiction Relation to My Life that I am looking at lacks a copyright. But Caryle, coming a little later than Goethe, lived mostly in the nineteenth century. So he was writing in the nineteenth century, in which it was apparently more unusual to achieve a completely meritless rise to fame than it is today. Apparently they didn’t have TV and the Internet back then, technology that makes it possible for the doings and stylings of gaudy nonentities to be inflicted in endless loops on trash-engorged audiences.

I’m just a few paragraphs into the introduction, but I suspect that Carlyle finds that the attention surrendered to Goethe is not entirely wasted. I would not be about to find out more about what Carlyle thinks about Goethe were it not for Amazon and the Kindle for PC software. I don’t know how many titles in the public domain I have downloaded for free over the last few weeks, but it’s somewhere around a couple hundred. I guess I’m eventually getting a Kindle. I would prefer an ereader that could accommodate every format (and etexts that could be ported to any ereader). Still, Amazon’s Kindle is famous for a reason.

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