Faith in the Distance: The Wisdom of Loren Eiseley

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He bitterly opposed the student revolts at his own The source of that popularity will perhaps become university and expressed contempt for hippy ideals, understandable once you read some of the essays in most particularly their attempts to live in a permanent this anthology.

The freedom of birds is an insult to me. I'd have them all in zoos.—Judge Holden

Eiseley tackled the deepest of subject present and their careless attitude toward academic matter, human nature and destiny viewed from the freedom. In reality they could hardly have been farther perspective of Darwinian evolution, and he tackled it apart, as Eiseley was deeply immersed in the Past, in finely-honed and emotional prose. An ability to raise which he claimed to be able to see and feel revealed in a chuckle over the death of Little Nell is famously the landscape, and he had an almost Calvinist supposed to be the touchstone of literary tough- preoccupation with the inevitability of death.

He took when I heard that cry my heart turned over. It was not refuge first in reading and later in writing, and the cry of the hawk I had captured; for, by shifting my accounts of his life suggest a man more at ease in the position against the sun, I was now seeing further up.

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A list of all Straight out of the sun's eye, where she must have been his influences would be very long indeed, so it's easier soaring restlessly above us for untold hours, hurtled his perhaps to recall just some of those mentioned mate. And from far up, ringing from peak to peak of explicitly in the essays: Boethius, Shakespeare, Bacon, the summits over us, came a cry of such unutterable Donne, Thoreau, Darwin, Melville, Poe, Thomas and ecstatic joy that it sounds down across the years Huxley, W. Hudson, Jack London, Freud, Hardy. His poetry was appreciated and encouraged by some Toward the end of his life Eiseley directed his thought great poets, including W.

Auden, Conrad Aiken and into ever deeper and darker channels. Those soaring Archibald McNiece, but it can be at least argued that passages celebrating the diversity and fecundity of the greater part of Eiseley's poetic imagination went nature that illuminated his early works became rarer, into his prose. The essays, always written in the first and he dwelt more and more on the loneliness of a lost person and always emotionally charged even when human species that had killed off both God and its own they carried a payload of scientific argument are often preserving animal instincts.

His prose style changed to best read as prose poems.

His gloomy silence. All Eiseley biographers have final essay collection, 'The Night Country' of , commented, plausibly enough, that in this horrible contains some of his best writing but would not be an disparity between his communications with the obvious recommendation as a 'holiday read'. His By the time Loren Eiseley died in , both his belle- grandiloquent prose style perhaps remembered his lettrism and his moral earnestness were already starting father's dramatic delivery — certainly he kept the to feel out of step with the times.

A revival of radical battered Complete Works of Shakespeare that his Marxism cast suspicion on Darwin and any notion of a father left to him all his life.

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The structuralist ideas of Levi-Strauss and and were more or less ostracised from Lincoln society. Given history to language and social structures. In the realm this isolating environment it was hardly surprising that of letters Mailer, Capote and Wolfe's 'new journalism' Loren became — like so many other writers of talent — a was steering American writers toward a terser, more solitary and bookish boy. He showed early signs of ironic prose style that was quite at odds with Eiseley's great intelligence, and developed an equally early a seriousness.

When Loren was Looking back now at Eiseley though, he seems far five his brother started reading to him from Robinson more closely in tune with our darkened times. The glib Crusoe during a visit home, and left the book with him: assumptions of '60s libertarianism are increasingly Loren taught himself to read in order to finish the story questioned, scientific optimism has worn thin and and was soon making his own way through Jules Verne fundamentalist religion is on the rise.

Eiseley always and Robert Louis Stevenson. A childhood reading of warned against being fooled by our own abstractions, Jack London's 'Before Adam', so he later claimed, is that we should duck for cover whenever something is what first introduced Loren to the concept of evolution proposed in the interest of 'Man' rather than mere men and in he was delighted to be asked to write an and women. Perhaps most important of all though, epilogue for a new edition.

Analysis and Reviews

Young Loren also recent advances in genomics have shifted Darwin's developed a taste for adventure stories and books with thought back to the centre of the intellectual stage in animal heroes, including Anna Sewell's 'Black Beauty', the most dramatic way, and our most pressing moral J.

Curwood's 'Baree: Son of Kazan' about a wolf, debate is now over the use or misuse of genetic and Charles Roberts 'Hunter of the Silence'. When Loren was 12 his Uncle Buck — Daisy's brother- in-law, a wealthy Lincoln businessman and philanthropist — first took him to the University of A Genius, But Moody Nebraska museum, which was mostly devoted to Loren Eiseley was born in in Lincoln, Nebraska, archaeology, zoology, geology and anthropology, and in the very centre of the Mid-West prairies, a grandson possessed a fine collection of Indian relics.

Loren was of pioneers who had arrived on the westward-bound fascinated and started to spend much of his spare time wagon trains of the s. His grandparents were there. He also began to make small clay models of wealthy, but ruined by a recession, so that his parents, early human skulls, which he persuaded his beloved though some way from being 'dirt poor', had to grandmother Malvina to fire in her bread oven.

Unusually for those times both his Malvina, a devout Methodist with spiritualist leanings, parents had been previously married and divorced, and reluctantly complied while grumbling that his artefacts theirs was a deeply troubled marriage. Loren's father were ungodly, clearly possessing "that Darwin look He had also begun to domineering and manipulative. Unable to hear herself, write poetry, some of which was published in in she spoke in discordant shouts which Loren came to the small magazine 'Prairie Schooner', founded and detest.

Huxley as Wimberly's magazine, avidly reading all the major the Thoreau to whom he was often compared of the texts of modernism, including Freud, Darwin and 20th century. It was in that circle that Loren met his future wife Mabel Langdon.

The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley

Some years his senior, Mabel Nevertheless Eiseley decided against a career in was a woman of sensitivity and intellect, an Ibsen literature, choosing instead to pursue in geology and scholar at the university. After a decade of indecision palaeontology. During several successive seasons he on Loren's part they married, a marriage which lasted took paid summer employment in the university's his whole lifetime. Mabel greatly assisted his collecting parties which scoured the badlands of subsequent career, carefully nurturing his somewhat western Nebraska and South Dakota for fossil bones.

Still at that time where as a bonus he and Mabel gained an introduction though, Loren declared no intention to become a to the Taos literary set surrounding Mabel Dodge professional writer and saw his future as a scientist. Luhan which at that time included D.

Lawrence's widow Frieda. Eiseley's experiences during these In his father Clyde died of cancer, an event that fossil-hunting expeditions provided him with the raw appears to have deeply affected Loren's mental materials for many, perhaps most, of his later essays, equilibrium: from that time till the end of his life he though they were not to be written-up for another 20 suffered from incurable insomnia and a morbid years. Under the influence of his teacher William preoccupation with death. One of the pivotal moments Duncan Strong, Loren discovered a particular passion of his deeply psychological autobiography 'All the for the study of early man and was persuaded to switch Strange Hours' comes when, following his father's to anthropology, in which he graduated in There his head of department was the man who became his mentor, Eiseley's university education was a fraught affair, ethnologist and naturalist Frank Speck, whose prolonged to more than eight years and punctuated by fascination with American Indian shamanism formed periods of manual labour when money ran out, by the an important component of Eiseley's later world-view.

In he hunting with them in the woods of the north-eastern developed serious pulmonary problems after a bout of USA. Considered somewhat eccentric by academic influenza and was diagnosed or possibly mis- colleagues, Speck kept live turtles roaming free in his diagnosed as having tuberculosis. This was one of the most important decisions territories. Forward's course introduced From then on Eiseley's career progress was steady and students to the masters of the essay form — Hazlitt, rapid. In he was made assistant professor of Macaulay, Lamb, De Quincey, Carlyle, Ruskin and, sociology and anthropology at the University of most significantly for Loren, Thomas Henry Huxley, Kansas, where he remained for most of World War II — that early defender of evolutionary theory who was excused war service on health grounds, his war was nicknamed 'Darwin's Bulldog'.

The essay form suited spent teaching medicine to enlisted reservists. He remained a professor at Pennsylvania for the rest of his The Pilfered Parable life, even acting for a few rather uncomfortable years Nowadays Eiseley's best-known work is his essay as provost. Briefly In Philadelphia Eiseley took his first tentative steps summarised, this story finds Eiseley walking along the into journalism — from through the early s, starfish-littered beach of a small Central American he wrote popular science articles on evolution and village.

Eiseley, himself a collector of echinoderm other archaeological themes for upmarket magazines specimens, knows that this beach is a magnet for that included Harper's, The New York Times commercial starfish souvenir gatherers. These essays were so well received that starfishes from collection by throwing them far out into Random House persuaded him to collect them together the sea, one at a time. Eiseley remonstrates with him with new ones to publish his first book 'The Immense that he can't possibly make a difference, but the man Journey' in The story has unfolding of the idea of evolution by natural selection become a folk myth, appearing in hundreds of different — this required much original documentary research in versions — modified, reset in both time and place, the Darwin archives, work which as an obsessive rewritten to feature different actors and animals, bibliophile Eiseley found very congenial.

The same website offers a page of links renewed. He also returned to writing poetry, of which to organizations and causes that are currently using three volumes 'Notes of an Alchemist' , 'The Eiseley's parable to support their aims, and the variety Innocent Assassins' and 'Another Kind of of beliefs represented there is quite staggering: social Autumn' were published during his lifetime and and community workers; fire fighters; educationalists; one 'All the Night Wings' was published mental hospitals and support groups; Roman Catholics; posthumously in Auden who dedicated a poem to him.

After many years of difficult going Eiseley eventually completed his psychologically-revealing, if somewhat Many of these causes admittedly have something in fictionalised, autobiography 'All the Strange Hours' common — a 'caring' aspect, a promotion of compassion the title is a line from Swinburne and published it in — but others instead emphasise the story's message of , only shortly before contracting the illness that individualism, that one person can 'make a difference'.

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He died in of pancreatic cancer. There's an development in parallel with the narrative of human element of rebellion, of standing alone against a tide of evolution. He felt a deep empathy with wild animals commercialism. This ethical complexity, ambiguity that was entirely free from the cloying sentimentality even, is no doubt responsible for the great popularity of and anthropomorphism that afflict pet owner, animal- the parable: like many Christian parables, its message libber and Disney nature film alike. He could as easily can be interpreted to support quite diverse philosophies identify with the predator as with its prey, and might recall Margaret Thatcher's reading of 'The Good simultaneously admire and loathe the fiendishly Samaritan'.

The Star Thrower is not a Christian parable though. In his first essay collection 'The Immense Journey' Though throughout his career Eiseley was mistaken for Eiseley tries to popularise, even rhapsodise, the theory a religious believer, even a mystic, he emphatically of evolution. The subject matter is mostly drawn from rejected either label.


As a working archaeologist, Eiseley's earlier career as a fossil hunter, and each palaeontologist and anthropologist he never cast doubt story illustrates some aspect of evolution or on the facts of the fossil record and the evidence for archaeology that is, evidence for the evolution of evolution, and it requires a positively perverse Homo sapiens in particular in a thrilling and powerful misreading to find any succour for Creationism in his fashion.

In other essays though Eiseley feels closer to fourths water, rising and subsiding according to the animism, shamanism and paganism, which are far less hollow knocking in my veins: a minute pulse like the congenial to those sorts of reading. Despite his love of eternal pulse that lifts Himalayas and which, in the animals he was not a vegetarian and even participated following systole, will carry them away. Eiseley was first and with a wonderfully light touch, how the emergence of foremost a scientist who wrestled throughout his life the flowering plants transformed the energetics of life with a problem that still eludes satisfactory solution: to on earth, their nutrient-rich seeds finally providing a discover an ethical stance compatible with modern food source compact enough to make possible the fast- science's picture of an unknowing, uncaring, evolving moving, warm-blooded, large-brained creatures from universe that yet avoids nihilism.

Down on the grass by a streamside, "There is a grandeur in this vision". Eiseley devoted one of those apes with inquisitive fingers turned over a his considerable poetic talent to conveying this stone and hefted it vaguely. The group clucked together grandeur to a lay readership. His essays weave together in a throaty tongue and moved off through the tall anthropological, ethological, dramatic and moral grass foraging for seeds and insects. He foresees the potential danger of theory. We would like to contain the which will entrance their mass audience.

There is a uncontainable future in a glass, have it crystallized out muted intimation that we can do without the kind of before us as a powder which we might swallow. All intellectual individualists who used to declaim along then, we imagine, would be well. We were destroy this one. The notion that he was a simple blob, the discovery of whose chemical composition would enable us instantly to set the life process in operation, turned out to be, at best, a monstrous caricature of the truth. With the failure of these many efforts science was left in the somewhat embarrassing position of having to postulate theories of living origins which it could not demonstrate. After having chided the theologian for his reliance on myth and miracle, science found itself in the unenviable position of having to create a mythology of its own: namely, the assumption that what, after long effort, could not be proved to take place today had, in truth, taken place in the primeval past.

My use of the term mythology is perhaps a little harsh. One does occasionally observe, however, a tendency for the beginning zoological textbook to take the unwary reader by a hop, skip, and jump from the little steaming pond or the beneficent chemical crucible of the sea, into the lower world of life with such sureness and rapidity that it is easy to assume that there is no mystery about this matter at all, or, if there is, that it is a very little one.

This attitude has indeed been sharply criticized by the distinguished British biologist Woodger, who remarked some years ago: "Unstable organic compounds and chlorophyll corpuscles do not persist or come into existence in nature on their own account at the present day, and consequently it is necessary to postulate that conditions were once such that this did happen although and in spite of the fact that our knowledge of nature does not give us any warrant for making such a supposition It is simple dogmatism--asserting that what you want to believe did in fact happen.

Yet, unless we are to turn to supernatural explanations or reinvoke a dualism which is scientifically dubious, we are forced inevitably toward only two possible explanations of life upon earth. One of these, although not entirely disproved, is most certainly out of fashion and surrounded with greater obstacles to its acceptance than at the time it was formulated. I refer, of course, to the suggestion of Lord Kelvin and Svante Arrhenius that life did not arise on this planet, but was wafted here through the depths of space.

Microscopic spores, it was contended, have: great resistance to extremes of cold and might have come into our atmosphere with meteoric dust, or have been driven across the earth's orbit by light pressure. In this view, once the seed was "planted" in soil congenial to its development, it then proceeded to elaborate, evolve, and adjust until the higher organisms had emerged.

This theory had a certain attraction as a way out of an embarrassing dilemma, but it suffers from the defect of explaining nothing, even if it should prove true. It does not elucidate the nature of life. It simply removes the inconvenient problem of origins to far-off spaces or worlds into which we will never penetrate. Since life makes use of the chemical compounds of this earth, it would seem better to proceed, until incontrovertible evidence to the contrary is obtained, on the assumption that life has actually arisen upon this planet.