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).