View Full Version : Quoting Carlyle on Humour

Ron Price
01-12-2008, 12:06 AM

While I was teaching at the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education in 1974 and at Box Hill Tafe College in Melbourne in 1975, the film Monte Python and the Holy Grail was produced and then released in London. I won't summarize the film's story here because readers can find the story in many places. But this classic satire of King Arthur and his knights has been part of the core of comedy's world in western society now for more than a quarter of a century. This send up of a legend, of courtly love, fidelity and bravery, among other things, symbolized, for me, my getting of humour. I had grown up in a serious household of classical music and religion; I had studied serious subjects in university for four years; I had struggled through the first six years as a teacher, experienced several episodes of bi-polar disorder and lived through a divorce by 1975. These were all pretty heavy-duty items on life's agenda.

By 1975, though, I had had four years living in Australia where humour was a way of life with its slices of skepticism and cynicism, sarcasm and irony, self-mockery and pleasure seeking. During my decades in Australia humour became, as Thomas Mann experienced the process, insensibly and by immeasureable degrees, by subtle and incremental additions and alterations, part of my soul's salvation. Humour was, as Thomas Carlyle put it at the beginning of the Bahá’í Era, "a token of virtue." Self-mockery and humour's light touch became for me, what it was for millions of others, survival tools in a spiritually parched land.1 -Ron Price with thanks to Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, Four On An Island, George Ronald, Oxford, 1983, p.87.

They've been pumping laughing-gas
into lounge rooms now for over half
a century.1 I remember I Love Lucy
back in the fifties: that was where it
began for me. It's not all bad, Gore.
It's got an important role in our great,
vast brontosaurissmus society, with its
slough of despond and the phantoms
of a wrongly informed imagination.

The laughs have lightened the load,
Gore. I was, like you, once critical
of the whole thing, but I've softened
with the years in this downunder land,
this world that is just not as serious as
Canada which once housed my impulse
to believe, nurtured my imperfections
and let them grow as insidious as a seed.

Laughter came out like a baby, pushed
out, giving birth, born of the pain of life
in a grand and periodic shake-up injecting
a high seriousness with laughing-gas.
Gore, it's not all that bad.

1 A remark made by Gore Vidal in an interview in 2006.

Ron Price
21 November 2006

Ron Price
01-12-2008, 12:07 AM

In 1841, British historian Thomas Carlyle described "a man's religion" in terms that best illustrate the base from which I have approached my fellow-man since beginning my pioneer life in 1962. One needs a framework of understanding when one is involved in teaching this Cause. The Baha'i writings, of course, have a great deal of helpful insights and one can usually find quotations there to help define the kind of perspective with which to approach one's fellow human beings. Carlyle writes that:

A man's religion is the chief fact with regard to him.....I do not mean the church-creed which he professes....This is not what I call religion, this profession and assertion....But the thing a man does practically believe...and this is often enough without asserting it even to himself, much less to others; the thing a man does practically lay to heart and know for certain concerning his vital relations to this mysterious universe and his duty and destiny there....This is his religion...his mere skepticism and no-religion....That is in all cases the primary thing for him and creatively determines all the rest. That is what a man is.
-Ron Price with thanks to Thomas Carlyle in The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement, Richard Noll, Fontana Press, London, 1996, pp.3-4.

This is, I think, the inner man
that Holley talked about
and meeting it is no mean trick.

I knew I did not have the trick
back at the start, a young bloke
out on the weekend trying to
make it pay, as the song says.
I was trying to get my own
emotional life sorted out, then.

By the age of thirty I got
a handle on it, though,
and they made me a tutor
in human relations:
I was looking good.

I don't think I ever lost it
after that, by the end of
the Nine Year Plan,
but in some ways
that was just a start.
It helped to plant seeds,
but the soil was black
and dried and these
were only the first rains,
the quickening.1

1 'Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p.5.

Ron Price 29 December 2001