Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Month of May, 1898: A Passage from My Forthcoming Book About Wilson R. Bachelor's Work

And speaking of nature (I'm echoing here the sharp aphorism of Eduardo Galleano that I just posted): a constant theme throughout the writings of Wilson Bachelor, the 19th-century Arkansas country doctor whose diary, essays, and letters I'll be publishing in a book that will come out in a few weeks, is the healing power of nature. Particularly in his latter years, as his medical practice winds down, he notes in his diary that he spends much of his time sitting under an arbor of vines he had constructed in his garden, reading and watching the unfolding of the day around him.

In the final decade of his life, in 1894 (he would die in 1903), he published a review of a now-forgotten novel by a fellow Arkansan--Addison McArthur Bourland's Entolai--which deals with the redeeming and transforming power of nature in a world riven by strife between competing religious groups. Bachelor's review is in the form of a personal letter to Bourland, who was, like Bachelor, a doctor and a personal friend of Bachelor. 

He tells Bourland that Entolai speaks to him, because he is "a child of nature." And then he says, "Amidst the jarring discords of rival creeds, the dying faiths of fanatics in man-made religions, how pleasant to withdraw from the surface and dwell with nature and infinity." Bachelor notes that as he sees death approaching (and after he has watched two sons die in the prime of their life), he has passed "beyond the bars" set around us in life, and begins to see the battleground of daily life receding. Though he can still hear its clash and din in the distance, he now finds himself able to rest in the contemplation of nature.

In this latter period of his life, he writes in his diary an annual series of what can only be called meditations on nature, on the changing of the seasons. These have a gorgeous Virgilian quality about them, and are among his finest prose. Here's a note about the month of May in 1898, as the month ends and he's sitting in his office listening to his children play the guitar in the family dwelling to which his medical studio was attached:

It is the last day of beautiful May of 1898.  The moon is gibbous and gives a Mellow light. The odor of poppys and honeysuckles are bourn into the Studio. Chuck-wills-widow is heard on the hills mingled with the drowsy humming of bees. The tones of a guitar in an adjoining room can be heard. Ever an[d] anon the exuberance of the Mockingbird makes him heard from the orchard. The tired farmer Seeks rest. So, beautiful Sweet May too Soon leaves us. But grand, glorious June is our guest to night—So farewell lovely May with all your we[a]lth of flowers, Singing birds and rural Sweets. We Shall not forget your pleasant and mild Stay for your remembrance is always is [sic] always bright and desireable.*

I've entitled the book compiling Bachelor's writings Fiat Flux, because this was the title of a monograph he himself wrote on the subject of free thought, and because the cycle of the seasons, their constant flux, had a particular significance for him as a freethinker. Because he came to the conviction that there is nothing above nature in a metaphysical sense, nature was all the more precious--all the more sacred--to him, and deserved to be revered as the matrix of life that gathers us back to herself at death.

For anyone interested, the second link above leads to a description of the book in the catalogue of the University of Arkansas Press, with information about ordering the book. The catalogue page does also contain an error: the price given for the book is for a hardback copy, and not the cloth copy noted in the catalogue.

*The unconventional spellings are in the original, and are characteristic of Bachelor's writing.

The graphic: a picture of a "May tree" Steve and I took in Stommeln, a village outside Cologne in which some of his family roots lie, in early May 2005.

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