Posts Tagged ‘Emily Dickinson’
September 23, 2013 | by Adam Leith Gollner
What have we not done to live forever? Adam Leith Gollner’s research into the endless ways we’ve tried to avoid the unavoidable is out now as The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever. Over the past six weeks, this chronological crash course has examined the ways humankind has striven for, grappled with, and dreamed about immortality in different eras throughout history. This week explores the nineteenth century. The final installment will run next Monday.
The only secret people keep
—Emily Dickinson, poem number 1748
Last week, Google launched Calico, a new company dedicated to fighting “aging and associated diseases.” The idea of aging as a curable disease (rather than a fact of life) can be traced back to the work of Charles Édouard Brown-Séquard (1817–94), the first medical scientist to make the idea of comprehending—if not controlling—aging a respectable aim.
Not much remembered today, Brown-Séquard was the chair of physiology at the Collége de France, one of the most prestigious appointments in nineteenth-century medicine. He is still known for successfully describing Brown-Séquard syndrome, a paralysis caused by severed spinal cords. His late-period research, however, occupies one of the more bizarre footnotes in medical history: toward the end of a distinguished career, he stunned the scientific community by announcing that he’d found a glandular elixir of eternal youth.
His speech on June 1, 1889, at the assembly of Paris’s Société de Biologie, is widely considered to mark the commencement of gerontology. (Gerontology, from geron, meaning “old man” in Greek, is the systematic study of aging.) Most members of the society were in their seventies, as was the swarthy, six-foot-four, bushy-bearded gentleman onstage. In unscheduled introductory remarks, Brown-Séquard confessed that his natural vigor had declined considerably over the last decade.
At that time, many scientists felt that old age was not a natural phenomenon, so a murmur of commiseration rippled through the room. Those graying authorities knew full well what it meant to grow elderly and infirm, nodding as Brown-Séquard lamented his own chronic pain—the lassitude, the insomnia, and, most delicate of all, the decline of his manliness. He had a pretty young wife, he was rich, successful, accomplished—et quand même. Read More »
September 10, 2013 | by Sabina Murray
One recent evening, my father and I were sharing a bottle of wine when our conversation turned, as if often does, to his father. We like to call my paternal grandfather “the Judge,” and we use this moniker in a spirit of camaraderie. My grandfather, who died eighteen years ago, was a forceful sort of person. The discipline that he exercised on my father, his eldest son, bordered on tyranny, but in my life, this seasoned toughness was inspiring, fun, and a recognizable expression of love. My grandfather, Frank J. Murray, was a self-made man. Born in 1904, he grew up in the rough Dorchester neighborhood of Boston and played football at Commerce High, a school for clever, working-class kids. A field goal in the final game of his high-school career caught the attention of a Dartmouth College scout, but he was saved from the Protestants—at his mother’s insistence—by a priest, who secured a place for him at the Catholic Georgetown University. At Georgetown, he was quarterback, although he had no depth perception, due to a childhood accident that had left him blind in one eye. He went on to Georgetown Law, during which period he himself scouted for the Georgetown football team, and—in a series of successes—became a well-respected Boston lawyer, married my grandmother (who came from better circumstances), had three sons, bought a house in the solidly middle-class West Roxbury, sent his kids to the prestigious Roxbury Latin for high school, ascended to the Bench—Massachusetts Superior Court—and, some time in there, was appointed a federal district judge. When my father and I talk about this man, there certainly is a lot to cover, but on this particular evening, we were thinking of the Judge’s love of poetry.
My grandfather did not have an innate sense of good taste, but he could recognize it, and, as one might assume from his career successes, he was a quick study. As an adult, he wore nothing but Brooks Brothers suits, playing it safe; his one fashion adventure, a salmon-colored sports coat, also came from Brooks Brothers. He had a learned poise, and even his accent, which was an acceptable Back Bay Boston, was an acquired thing—the Dorchester snarl packaged away, placed securely in the past. This need to acquire the accoutrements of privilege gave my grandfather the passion of a convert. He wanted you to appreciate the fine wine, the prime rib, the Royal Brougham—but more than all of that, he wanted you to appreciate the great gift of his education, which was not law, but poetry.
As a law student at Georgetown, he had taught both poetry and math to the freshman. For the math, as is part of the legend, he cowrote his own textbook, but for the poetry, he used the standard reference of the time, The Golden English Treasury, edited by Francis T. Palgrave, commonly referred to as Palgrave’s. I remember the Judge—at this point reluctantly retired—bringing this book out on evenings, when I stayed at his house in Cohasset, on Boston’s south shore. Mostly, when I visited him, it was just two of us. We would go out for lobster, then return for tea, and if the Celtics, Red Sox, or Patriots weren’t playing, we’d continue to sit at the dining room table, each with a glass of Gewürztraminer, and he’d read me poems. Read More »
January 1, 2013 | by Jessie Gaynor
We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2012 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!
December 18, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
November 1, 2012 | by Sadie Stein