The Devil in the Details

I picked Brave New World from the shelf this morning, to have a little lunch hour reading (Metamorphoses being my evening fare).  This is another favorite, as it recalls me to my high school British Literature course.  The instructor, you see, was a handsome older fellow with a brilliant dry wit, a much younger wife, and the distinction of having once been called in front of the school board for teaching Lord of the Flies.

So as I watched the Barista prepare my venti decaf mocha with chocolate whipped cream, I indulged in some nostalgia about my friend on the Yearbook Committee who smuggled me a candid shot of said handsome teacher which in my adolescent glee was pasted carefully into my diary, and then settled down under the noontime sun to read a bit of Huxley.

Within a page I was enamoured of a particular phrase, something I found sad and puzzling and exciting and true:

For particulars, as every one knows, make for virtue and happiness; generalities are intellectually necessary evils.  Not philosophers but fretsawyers and stamp collectors compose the backbone of society.

I was pretty well pleased with myself for picking this out, which I shared with my husband this evening as if it was some sort of intellectual triumph.  But later when I searched for the definition of fretsaywer by simply Googling the word, the first 10 results were ALL related to this particular passage.  Somehow, this dimmed my excitement a bit.

A fretsawyer, by the way, is a woodworker who specializes in detailed decorative work (called fretwork – imagine that).


One response

  1. I had to read this post at least 5 times not because of the book or the very wise quote (which I love btw) but because you mentioned venti decaf mocha with chocolate whipped cream… that was just cruel, my eyes got stuck on it every time and then I had to stop drooling before I could read on!

    Don’t you love how as we learn we find out how such words came about, the question is did fretsawyer come after the word “to fret about something” or before… hmmm off to go investigate!

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