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Thursday 2 December 2010

The Victorians and the Balance of Heart and Mind

(I have temporarily put on hold the remaining excerpts from ‘Queen Victoria’s Granddaughters’ as they concern WW1 and, as a result of research for a book I am working on, much more detailed information has recently come to light).

In the meantime, this bitterly cold night when everything is knee-deep in snow brings to mind some thoughts about the Victorian Age in general and what an incredibly bizarre era it was. The Age of Sentimentality at its peak – Christina Rossetti’s ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’; Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘Little Match Girl’;
Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’ and ‘The Selfish Giant’; Dickens’ account of the death of Little Nell,
which had people weeping in the streets as they read it; countless sentimental songs about dying children of drunken fathers – and I wonder if that excessive sentimentality was some kind of attempt to balance what was happening at the other end of the spectrum: the sudden supremacy of learning/mind/education. The balance of Yin & Yang perhaps, in what is regarded as ‘New Age’ parlance, but is really very ancient). The sentimentality was ‘the heart’ (or perhaps the Feminine aspect) to its extreme and it might well have been a response to the ‘Intellect’ aspect (which is regarded as more Masculine).

Until the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Britain, along with the rest of Europe, was predominantly agricultural. What happened in governments had little impact on the everyday life of people who moved with the seasons and seldom knew what was going on in some government somewhere else. Their lives weren’t easy but they lived in harmony with Nature. Dependent on sunlight, they got up later in the winter and earlier in the summer. Every season was celebrated for its particular gifts with festivals like Easter and Christmas or Beltain and Samhain; Michaelmas, Martinmas, Lady Day; equinox or solstice.

Suddenly – dramatically! – there was an explosion of ‘progression’. It almost seems like the adolescence of humanity. Brilliant engineers appeared; brilliant inventors, brilliant designers and the whole way of life was thrown into turmoil as industry flourished. Brilliance was brought into the lives of ordinary people - railways with gorgeous stations; soap, running hot water, warmer clothes, richer diets...It was all meant to create a better way of life for people and today we are the inheritors of that better way of life (with our access to transport, communication etc. etc.) but it happened so rapidly that something was temporarily lost. People lost their way for a while. People forgot their humanity, too, and many were treated as mere commodities, herded into slums in cities that were not ready to receive them. I stand in utter awe of the bridge-builders, the railway designers, the people who began the age of invention that led to all the benefits we enjoy today (not least the internet!). It all moved so quickly that it became overly ‘Yang’ – all intellect and commodity, and no heart, so soul anymore, so people tried to reach back to that with over-sentimentality.

The entire 20th century, it seems to me, was an attempt to come to terms with all of that. First there was the anger – exploding in two World Wars – and deciding that the cause of all the distress was the monarchies (so we’ll kill them)). Then we don’t know who to turn to, so seek new ‘strong’ leaders – like Hitler, Lenin, Stalin – and that doesn’t work so there comes the backlash of the 60s with the ‘make love not war’ slogans and attempts to escape via drugs etc. Gradually, too, there came a return of people trying to balance Nature and Creation/Heart and Intellect...the rise of the New Agers, which wasn’t really new at all.

Today, I think, we live in a time where we have the benefit of all that has gone before. We live in an era where we can bring things into balance again. Between the extremes of political correctness and hypersensitivity, to the extreme of being pawns of the state or cogs in the wheel; and between the extremes of intellectual mastery or superstitious peasants, there is always a balance. To my mind, it is always the balance that takes place within the individual person played out on the larger scale of humanity - the perfect balance of the heart and the mind – the thought and the feeling, the Masculine and Feminine, the Arts and the Sciences – the wonderful balance of Creation of Divine design.

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