This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

May 19, 2005 - Will Durant

Sometimes I think I should learn Latin.

After three years of high school French, I could read it reasonably well. Over time, that skill faded. C'est dommage.

Many years later, when I was the director of the Greeley Public Library, I took a Spanish class. But it did little more than ALMOST revive some of my French.

In fact, French and Spanish (and Italian, and Portugese, and others) are "corruptions" of Latin. That is, they are what happened to Latin after lots of people, over great distances, started applying their local variations of speech. Sometime, I'd like to follow the Romance languages back to their source.

I'm thinking about this because I just finished reading a recently discovered last manuscript of Pulitzer-prize-winning historian and former Latin professor, Will Durant.

Durant, author (with his beloved wife, Ariel) of "The Story of Civilization," died at the age of 96. His plan, for this final book of historical essays, was to write 23 chapters. He finished 21.

After his death, the manuscript "would survive three moves and a major flood" until John Little "happened upon it in the winter of 2001 -- twenty years after Will Durant had finished it."

The book is called "Heroes of History: A Brief History of Civilization from Ancient Times to the Dawn of the Modern Age." The prose is magnificent, stately, and wise.

Here's a favorite example: "We cannot know what God is, nor understand a universe so mingled of apparent evil and good, of suffering and loveliness, destruction and sublimity; but in the presence of a mother tending her child, or of an informed will giving order to chaos, meaning to matter, nobility to form or thought, we feel as close as we shall ever be to the life and law that constitute the incomprehensible intelligence of the world."

As always, the magic of literacy is that we can still, five years after the author's death, and 119 years after his birth, sit with Professor Durant, listen enthralled to his stories, and try to absorb some of his lessons.

And what are those lessons?

Foremost is that civilization is largely the accomplishment of women, who first invented agriculture, and then have sought -- with enormous difficulty and only partial success -- to domesticate man.

To Durant, civilization is a harnessing of the biological drives of our species -- to fight, to acquire, to know pleasure, to procreate. The harnessing influences include the family, religion, the state.

Durant observes that history oscillates between excess and puritanism, from concentration of wealth to often violent revolution.

But it is more than that. It is also, he writes, "a veritable City of God, in which the creative spirits of the past, by the miracles of memory and tradition, still live and work, carve and build and sing."

Durant's measured, balanced prose, modeled on the writings of ancient Romans, is a fine tonic for our times. One does not find in his writing the pea-brained and petty partisanship of so many of our leading lights today. One does not find screed and contumely.

Instead, there is illumination, a steady, penetrating light that looks upon the parade of the ages, and finds it rich, and beautiful, and good.

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