Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Well, no WONDER I couldn’t remember what it was.

The other book I had ordered through interlibrary loan was an architecture book--figures I wouldn’t be able to remember it. But it does follow the theme of autobiographies--it is Louis Sullivan’s The Autobiography of an Idea. In it, Sullivan (a contemporary of Daniel Burham and John Root, and a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright) explores the genesis of his ideas of organic architecture through a third-person exploration of his childhood and growth to adulthood.

It’s an interesting read, what little bit I’ve been able to actually read since yesterday--although Sullivan is rightly boastful of his world-changing views of ornament and utility in architecture, his prose doesn’t have the rich simplicity of his buildings, but is Dickensian in its wordiness and grammar. Thankfully, it also matches Dickens’ humor and wry sensibility.

Sullivan begins with his beginning, naturally enough, with a bit of background on his odd assortment of ancestors--especially his grandmother, a slightly-monied woman of Swiss-French extraction driven to ruin by his grandfather, a man with much charm and a poor eye for investment. Sullivan’s mother (their daughter) had come to American with them to seek to rebuild the family name, an attempt which she managed to arrest with her marriage to an itinerant Irish dancer named Patrick Sullivan. Sullivan recounts his family’s influence upon him and his inquisitive nature as a child growing up on a small farm in South Reading, Massachusetts. In many ways, it is a typical American upbringing at the middle of the 19th Century--everywhere was newness and novelty, and a freedom that Sullivan seemed to sense even as a youngster that set America apart from the fusty Old World of his grandparents. Following is an excerpt of their slightly askew life in New England:

[…] Among the treasures of barn and pasture, there was a certain and only horse named Billy. He was an object at the time technically known as a “family horse--safe for any lady to drive.” Billy was a sallow plug, who, as a finality, had resigned himself to a live of servitude, but not of service. Within the barn was housed what was mentioned familiarly as the “carryall.” It was a family carriage, having an enclosed body. It was a neat solid affair, well build, well finished and upholstered, and with good lines. It was of the essence of respectability, even as Billy was of the lower classes. Billy’s harness was all that could be desired, and on Sundays Billy was groomed to the extent of his limited adaptability to the exactions of high life. Billy, harness, and carryall, made a rather interesting combination, even though Billy, as fate would have it, was as a fly in the ointment. The combination, however, is explainable. Grandma was timid, or at least apprehensive, and very cautious. She wished to be the sole guardian of her physical safety, to the extent, even, that she permitted no one but herself to drive. Her husband was too nearsighted and absent-minded, her son too reckless, her grandson, too young. Hence her determination to take matters into her own hands. The idea of a glossy, dignified, high-stepper to match the aristocratic carryall could therefore not be entertained by her. It involved risk, possibly disaster. So Billy was selected as a compromise between the desired tone and the much more desired security. That is, as a deletion of a certain, or uncertain percentage of village respectability, for South Reading was of ancient settlement.

Grandma would not countenance a checkrein for Billy; she maintained that it was cruel. The normal center of Billy’s head, in consequence, was nearer the earth he feebly loved than the heaven Grandma hope to reach with Billy’s material aid. There was a whip, in its socket, to be sure, but Grandma would not strike a dumb beast. When Grandma wished to start, or, on frequent occasions, to accelerate Billy’s pace--if such it might be called--she waved the lines with both hands and chirped encouragement--never becoming aggressive--and satisfied that she had a horse “safe for any lady to drive.” But just here appearances became deceptive; for Billy, soon after his transfer in exchange for legal tender, revealed a defect in character. He was given to unlooked-for fits of insanity. From a turbid dodder, he would suddenly break into a runaway. This was alarming; yet there seemed a method in the madness. Like a clock, with mainspring breaking, and the works rattling fiercely toward a silence soon reached, even so were Billy’s runaways. Their distance-limit seldom exceeded one hundred yards. So, after prudent observation of his antics, and with due allowance for the fact that he did not run away every time, Billy was reinstated as a family horse, safe for any lady to drive, provided she were familiar with his mannerisms. […]

More as I get further along in the book.

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