Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Back in January, writing about Montaigne, I mentioned a column I wrote for the college newspaper nearly fifty years ago, called "Under a Skeptical Star." I took the title from a quote of the Scots poet/scholar William MacNeile Dixon: "If there be a skeptical star I was born under it, yet I have lived all my days in complete astonishment." All these years later, that quote could be the epigram for this blog.

I wrote in January: Skepticism and astonishment. Doubt everything. Marvel at everything. Go through life drop-jawed. Pay attention to things that seem ostensibly insignificant. Run like hell from anyone who wants to sell you the meaning of life.

Last evening I was reading -- for the second time -- Andrea Barrett's collection of stories, all with a science theme, called Ship Fever. In a story called "Rare Bird," the character Catherine says: "Nothing can satisfy but what confounds. Nothing but what astonishes is true."

Which has echoes of the quote from Dixon.

This time I picked up Barrett's hint that Catherine is quoting. So off to Google.

And yes, the lines (minus a couple of commas) are from the 18th century poet Edward Young, a long melancholy poem called "Night Thoughts," which I will admit never having heard of, in spite of the fact that the poem was apparently extremely popular in its time. And, of course, like everything else, it is available on the net, the collective memory of our race.

Anyway, it is always lovely to find those two emotions juxtaposed: skepticism and astonishment. They have served me well for fifty years.