Butterfly Minds

One of Dalrymple’s main characteristics, obvious to anyone who has paid any attention at all to him, is his seemingly boundless curiosity. So it says a lot about the man that he still chides himself for not developing more of an interest in this or that subject. In this new piece for the New English Review, he writes of his regret for not developing more of an interest in nature. (Meaning, nature generally. Human nature is probably the chief interest of his life.) Take those butterflies that flit across his lavender bushes…

Why… did the question of where they went after dark never occur to me before?

…The reason is that I simply took the way things were for granted, without thinking why they were as they were. Of course we have to do this for most of our lives: we cannot be paralysed by curiosity. And yet the opposite extreme, the habit of taking everything for granted, never wondering about anything, is one of the worst fates that can befall a man (if taking everything for granted can be called a fate rather than a decision). To walk in a world devoid of mystery is to embark on a voyage that is as tedious as it will appear long.

4 thoughts on “Butterfly Minds

  1. Jaxon

    “From a very early stage in his young life he had displayed a strong aversion to learning anything that was enjoined or forced by others to learn; he would learn only what happened to interest him.”

    I was rather extreme in this way, I basically hated school. I recall in primary school my teacher rather aggressively errm how can I say? Clapped his hands only my head was between them… It was just the one brisk clap, I hasten to add. I never much liked him but I don’t recall having much in the way bad feeling toward him on account of that incident, I knew I was so much more difficult to teach than my fellow pupils, I could sort of understand his despair.

    In secondary school I drifted into something of a tacit agreement, I wouldn’t be disruptive and the teachers would quietly respect my non-existence, at least that’s how I remember it. My school reports ranged from bad to appalling but I was ‘usually polite and considerate’. Actually that’s more generous than I often deserved but I guess they didn’t wish to completely write me off, or something.

    “We old wiseacres predicted a grim future for him, since we were of opinion that no one could succeed unless he was prepared or able to learn what he did not feel inclined to learn, but we were wrong; when finally the boy was allowed to pursue the course of life he had mapped out for himself, and no longer forced into the procrustean bed of academic training, he was a great success…”

    I don’t think anyone would consider me a complete failure, but no one, surely, would consider me a success, let alone a great one.

    “Well, one lives and learns: not that I would erect an invariant educational theory around this experience – or any other, for that matter.”

    I confess I had strong, I dare say egotistical, notions of just such an ‘invariant educational theory’ (perhaps still do to some extent) and it has taken me a long time to recognise and accept the wrong headedness of this.

    Curiously, I found significant refuge in nature, there was quite a lot of it virtually on my doorstep as a child… But also David Attenborough was an important part of my childhood.

    I don’t recall the words exactly but King Lear when he’s at the mercy of the elements and… Well, pretty much rambling incoherently, he’s says something about how he doesn’t resent the pitiless storm for, whilst there is much mention of the ‘kind’ gods and what have you, Lear recognises that unlike his daughters, nature owes him no such loyalty, there is no malice intent. I think lapses from that sentiment somewhat but was there and it resonated with me. Also in As You Like It, the forest of Arden, doubtless it may be a metaphor for the audience or something, but for me it has strong resonance as an alternative to the social, or antisocial, mendacity of court; I think we all know something like that, it was particularly grievous for me.
    In my adolescence I was probably happiest when I was camping, not least because I’d often sleep under the stars, and the stars and the moon have a powerful effect on me. I clearly recall, in my adolescence, when I would go out and get quite drunk and walk home alone, I’d look up at the stars and the contrast between that sense of awe and the sheer frivolity and stupidity of what so much of my life seemed to amount to would… well, it influenced me profoundly, indeed I made a drastic break from that world, as it were.

    Yeah, butterflies are nice too… And hummingbirds, though I’ve only seen them in books and on TV.

  2. Jaxon

    Having written that… Having kind of opened a can of worms that I could never really do justice to, it’s had me thinking over the weekend. This is probably trivial and I don’t expect anyone to really care either way but a few little things for the record. I don’t suppose I was really *that* much more difficult to teach, it’s certainly not as though I was a hell-raiser, especially not at primary school.
    Later at secondary school I did go through a phase, and I cringe to think (Dalrymple thinks he has regrets) basically I was a bit of a nuisance, I’d occasionally get asked to stand outside the classroom, a few detentions, that sort of thing. I was probably angelic compared to the sort of ‘disruptiveness’ that seems to be all too common these days.

    On camping, I (we, friends) probably didn’t sleep under the stars, no tent or tarp, all that often actually, I don’t know… we didn’t really bother with tents as we’d never be *that* far from home, it was just a bit of fun really, not serious. But anyway blah blah

  3. Jaxon

    I’ve just come across this interview with Eric Clapton, of all people… which, I think, has some resonance here… at least I think it relates to quite a lot of what Dalrymple discusses more generally anyway. I will say, as I’ve already touched on above, regrets; several times a day I must look as though I’m in pain and it’s because I thinking of things I’ve done in the past, mainly in my teens. On the face of it, from most people’s point of view these are probably quite trivial things, embarrassing and undignified, usually where alcohol is involved.
    For instance, this is one memory that sort of jumped out of nowhere just the other day. It’s one of the lesser ones really so I don’t have a big problem with sharing it here. I was in a bar/pub/nightclub with friends and I was quite drunk and… sort of dancing, going round in circles, (being stupid) and I completely lost balance and flew off onto a low table where there was a group of people, I completely wiped out their drinks etc. Did I apologise? No. Offer to buy some more drinks? No… I just went and continued where I left off. What an Ass!
    The thing is, Clapton talks about regrets as being part of a journey and that we should be somehow reconciled to them because they makes us who we are… actually he’s kind of pondering this, not at his own willfully construed ‘philosophy’, he doesn’t seem entirely convinced, I’m certainly not. My regrets, on the whole are just things I wish I’d never done and I think it’s right that they pain me every so often… no matter how unrealistic is the alternative of having no regrets.

    Anyway, about Clapton, I must say I’m rather impressed, he seems a rather agreeable and surprisingly sane person. I suppose a lot of Rockstars do.

  4. Jaxon

    Never mind where the butterflies are eh?
    “And he is here among us, raising his ugly head, spitting his poison, small still, curled up like a caterpillar on a leaf, but in the heart of England.”

    eh? eh? Happy hunting


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