Sunday, October 23, 2011


Johann Gottfried Herder’s Journal meiner Reise im Jahr 1769 / Journal of my Trip in 1769

Many of the events of our lives are, in truth, dependent on the play of chance. Thus I came to Riga in my clerical office and thus I abandoned that office; thus I began to travel. I was not happy with myself socially, neither in the circles I frequented nor outside the ones I chose not to frequent. I was not happy with myself as a teacher, the sphere was too narrow for me, too unsuitable, and I for that sphere too broad, too foreign, too busy. I was not happy as a citizen, since my domestic life was typified by restrictions, little substantial productivity, and a lazy, often odious placidity. And least of all, finally, as an author, in which capacity I had achieved a reputation that was as disadvantageous to my position as it was to me personally. Everything was loathsome to me. I didn’t have enough courage and strength to destroy these unfortunate circumstances and to swing myself into an alternate career. Thus I was forced to travel; and because I doubted the likelihood of that, as suddenly, overwhelmingly, and even adventurously as possible. . . .

I reproach myself, I have lost years of my Human life; and wasn’t it my sole responsibility to enjoy those years? Didn’t fate offer me the full capacity to do so? What if I had chosen to make the French language, history, natural science, mathematics, drawing, comportment . . . my highest commitments? . . . I wouldn’t have become an inkpot of learned scribbling, a dictionary of arts and sciences that I haven’t seen and don’t understand. I wouldn’t be a repository full of papers and books that belong only in the study. I would have avoided situations that hemmed in my spirit and mind and thus limited me to a false, intensive understanding of people. . .

Herder boards a ship and while sailing to Sweden, Denmark, and France, develops a new curriculum for educating the kind of person he wishes he were. While denouncing abstractions and the language of abstraction he constructions new abstractions. It reminds me of Thoreau's turning to nature at Walden Pond and then experiencing nature through the lenses of classical education.

Still, Herder's decision to travel in order to flee the restrictions of his life, in order to open new spheres of experience, speaks to me.

Time to break loose. 


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