Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Stonewall Jackson and Natural Depravity

Yesterday's post on Stonewall Jackson made me think of this passage from Melville's Billy Budd:

"In a list of definitions included in the authentic translation of Plato, a list attributed to him, occurs this: "Natural Depravity: a depravity according to nature." A definition which tho' savoring of Calvinism , by no means involves Calvin's dogmas as to total mankind. Evidently its intent makes it applicable but to individuals. Not many are the examples of this depravity which the gallows and jail supply. At any rate for notable instances, since these have no vulgar alloy of the brute in them, but invariably are dominated by intellectuality, one must go elsewhere. Civilization, especially if of the austerer sort, is auspicious to it. It folds itself in the mantle of respectability. It has its certain negative virtues serving as silent auxiliaries. It never allows wine to get within its guard. It is not going too far to say that it is without vices or small sins. There is a phenomenal pride in it that excludes them from anything mercenary or avaricious. In short the depravity here meant partakes nothing of the sordid or sensual. It is serious, but free from acerbity. Though no flatterer of mankind it never speaks ill of it.
But the thing which in eminent instances signalizes so exceptional a nature is this: though the man's even temper and discreet bearing would seem to intimate a mind peculiarly subject to the law of reason, not the less in his heart he would seem to riot in complete exemption from that law, having apparently little to do with reason further than to employ it as an ambidexter implement for effecting the irrational. That is to say: Toward the accomplishment of an aim which in wantonness of malignity would seem to partake of the insane, he will direct a cool judgement sagacious and sound.
These men are true madmen, and of the most dangerous sort, for their lunacy is not continuous but occasional, evoked by some special object; it is probably secretive, which is as much to say it is self-contained, so that when moreover, most active, it is to the average mind not distinguishable from sanity, and for the reason above suggested that whatever its aims may be--and the aim is never declared--the method and the outward proceeding are always perfectly rational."

See also, this quote on why Jackson did not drink alcohol:
"Having lingered to the last allowable moment with the members of my family... it was after 10 o'clock at night ( May 30,1862 ), when I returned to headquarters for final instructions, and before going to the General's room ( at the hotel in Winchester ) I ordered two whiskey toddies to be brought up after me. When they appeared I offered one of the glasses to Jackson, but he drew back, saying: "No, Colonel, you must excuse me, I never drink intoxicating liquors."
"I know that, General," said I," but though you habitually abstain as I do myself, from everything of the sort, there are occasions, and this is one of them, when a stimulant will do us both good; otherwise, I would take it neither myself nor offer it to you. So you must make an exception to your general rule, and join me in a toddy to-night."
He again shook his head, but, nevertheless, took the tumbler and began to sip its contents. Presently putting it on the table, after having but partially emptying it, he said: "Colonel, do you know why I habitually abstain from intoxicating drinks?" And on my replying in the negative he continued: "Why, sir, because I like the taste of them, and when I discovered that to be the case I made up my mind at once to do without them altogether."
Col. A.R. Boteler in the Philadelphia Weekly Times; as quoted in "Sparks From the Campfire," Southern Historical Society Papers, x ( June, 1882 ), 287


  1. Not the lemons though....

    Lay off the Melville, and especially the Billy Budd, or you will be put off that fishing trip altogether.

  2. Isn't Jackson's thoughts on liquor similar to George W. Bush's reasons why he quit drinking?