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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review July 6, 2006 / 10 Tamuz, 5766

The misleading dimensions of persons and lives

By Paul Johnson


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | I am disquietingly conscious of feeling smaller than I was; relatively, that is. For most of my life, being six foot one, I have loomed over the majority of men and almost all women. Now, at the local Sainsbury's, where queues are constant as they are too mean to employ enough staff, I find I am often out-topped by young fellow-queuers, sometimes even by girls. Many of the young men are enormous, six-and-a-half, even seven feet. Female six-footers stride along the pavements, elbowing elderly dwarves out of the way.


When I was a young man living in Paris, one of my girlfriends was a six-footer, an American called Euphemia, whom the goggling French thought a gratte-ciel. But that was most unusual. My French girls tended to be around five foot two or three. Quite enough, as tall French females, in my experience, tend to be exceptionally tiresome. So, paradoxically, do English girls of five foot or less. Dorothy Wordsworth was an exception, being one of the most angelic figures in our literary history, until she got Alzheimer's in the 1840s. She said she was five foot. She was delighted to meet the tiny Thomas de Quincy, just under four foot ten, because 'he is the first person who has made me feel tall'.


What I want to know is this. Is the increase in average height, which is clearly a fact, being accompanied by an increase in intelligence? If so, it is a historic reversal. In the diaries of Edmund Wilson, which I have been reading, there is a passage on this point. Stephen Spender, a tall man, complains to him that for physiological reasons, relative intelligence declines with height. He said he had been lamenting this correlation with Aldous Huxley, who was a lanky giant and who argued that it was impossible for someone of his physique to have an absolutely first-class brain. Wilson, who was short and stout, heard this with some complacency and cited another example: Ernest Hemingway, a tall man whose cerebration somehow did not come up to scratch. Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant were all pretty short, were they not? But not all beanpoles concur. Old Galbraith, the economist, who died the other day in his late nineties, often boasted of his 'towering intelligence', as though it could be measured in feet and inches. He was certainly exceptionally tall. At the funeral of Jack Kennedy in Washington, General de Gaulle, six foot eight, I think, who took a keen interest in men as tall as himself (though he liked small women), spotted him and demanded: 'Present that homme élevé to me.' You could not exactly say that de Gaulle was short on intelligence, though he certainly lacked other things — generosity, gratitude, tolerance, magnanimity, etc. He was in the wrong profession until he transformed himself into a politician, since almost all successful generals have been below average height. There are, of course, exceptions — Washington being one.


I wish some meticulous scholar would produce a book giving the heights (and other personal details, such as hair colour) of important historical figures. Recently, one of those know-all correspondents in The Spectator challenged my assertion (taken from the DNB) that Mary Queen of Scots was five foot ten, and insisted that both she, and her mother Mary of Guise, were both exactly six foot. How can anyone be so sure? Take the case of Nelson. He was smallish. But how small exactly? Enormous trouble has been taken by generations of biographers, from Southey onwards, to get a precise figure. His effigy in Westminster Abbey, confidently asserted at the time to be lifesize, is five foot five inches. 'Nelson's Spot', a height measurement in the old Admiralty Board Room, is five foot four. Some of Nelson's uniforms, and many other articles of clothing, have survived, and calculations based on them give estimates varying from five foot four to five foot six. But some contemporary guesses put it at below five foot four. There has been a lot of argument, too, over the exact height of Napoleon and Wellington, both small men. Monty was small, too, and so was Harding, best of our postwar generals. Ike was not particularly small: when I met him at Nato HQ I'd say he was 'average'. But then he was not much of a general. How tall was Patton? Photos make him look big. Above all, what was the height of Rommel? We ought to know such things.


Why, you ask? Sheer curiosity. And did not Dr Johnson rightly remark: 'Sir, there is no item of information, however insignificant, which I would not rather know, than not know.' Such a book, if conscientiously compiled so we could trust it, would tell us these minutiae, and would be widely bought and consulted. It should cover as many fields as possible. For instance, I have an impression that famous historians were small. This was formed at Oxford, where I saw Powicke, Gabriel le Bras, Neale, Braudel, Southern, etc. But Carlyle was an exception, not far short of six foot, and so was the shambling Lecky. But how tall was Maitland? Then again, writers. A lot were certainly small: Milton, Pope, Gray, Lamb, Hardy, Wells, Waugh being examples taken at random. But Thackeray was enormous, and Shaw pretty tall. Wilde was always a strong, hefty fellow even before he put on weight.


Mention of Shaw raises another point I have been thinking about. Somewhere in the Letters of Sir Walter Raleigh, 1884-1922, the old critic and literary pundit remarks: 'We often talk about length of life, but the number of years a man lives can be misleading. We should also consider breadth of life.' That is true. Shaw lived to be 94, being born in 1856 and dying in 1950, an immensely long life by the standards of a century ago. But his life lacked breadth: there were whole areas of the emotions and the senses into which he never ventured, and he emerges from his huge volumes of correspondence, which I have on my shelves, as narrow and bony, like his body. He lived so long, I suspect, because only part of him was actually alive.


Of course it has to be said that shortness of life does not guarantee breadth: far from it. For instance, Dylan Thomas's life was short, but the fat volume of his letters gives an impression of its narrowness, an existence focused on distressingly few, almost entirely sensual, objects, dominated by the need to get money by writing endless begging letters. Keats, by contrast, died very young but his letters have an overarching span of impressive width, and all his activities under the span were intense, whirling, potent and driven by strong emotion, right up to the last weary collapse. On the other hand again, Shelley's life, certainly lacking length, did not exactly lack breadth, but there was something missing: an ability to feel personal affection or emotion beyond a certain point where it ceased to have the abstract or idealistic or theoretical aspects which interested him. In short, he lacked depth.


I notice comparable contrasts between pairs of contemporaries in the arts. Turner said of Girtin, wiped out by TB, 'If Tom had lived, I should have starved.' Untrue, of course. But Turner's life, totally intense in his work (no artist was ever so wholly absorbed in his profession) lacked breadth at a personal level. And poor Géricault's life, tragically short, was rich in breadth, whereas Delacroix, who lived so long, never advanced beyond the point at which Géricault's death left him. There is much food for argument here.

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Previously:

06/06/06: First editions are not gold
05/23/06: A downright ugly man need never despair of attracting women, even pretty ones
04/25/06: Was Washington right about political parties?
04/12/06: Let's Have More Babies!
04/05/06: For the love of trains
03/29/06: Lincoln and the Compensation Culture
03/22/06: Bottle-beauties and the globalised blond beast
03/15/06: Europe's utopian hangover
03/08/06: Kindly write on only one side of the paper
02/28/06: Creators versus critics
02/21/06: The Rhino Principle

© 2006, Paul Johnson

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