Saturday, August 27, 2011

Academic Ancestry

I’ve discovered family ties to two famous Brits and I couldn’t be more proud!

Eight years ago I lost one of my dearest friends to Lyme’s disease. His death hit me hard and I felt as if a part of my own being had been severed, leaving an angry wound and a soul-deep longing for my beloved friend. Then I found a piece of prose written by Henry Scott Holland that gave me more comfort than any other words have ever done. It’s an excerpt from a sermon that has become one of the most famous writings about loss. It’s called “Death is Nothing at All.”

Death is nothing at all.

It does not count.

I have only slipped away into the next room.

Nothing has happened.

Everything remains exactly as it was.

I am I, and you are you,

and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.

Whatever we were to each other,

that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name.

Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.

Put no difference into your tone.

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed

at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.

Let it be spoken without an effort,

without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

Life means all that it ever meant.

It is the same as it ever was.

There is absolute and unbroken continuity.

What is this death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you, for an interval,

somewhere very near, just round the corner.

All is well.

Today I discovered that those words, which have meant so much to me over the years., were penned by a relative. Henry Scott Holland is a distant cousin. He wrote speech as part of a sermon during his tenure as Canon for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. I have visited St. Paul’s many times and always find peace there, wrapping the stillness of the building and the voices of the choir around myself like a thick blanket. One of my ancestors, Salvator Muscoe, cut the stones for St. Paul’s, so perhaps it is not such a mystery that I find the place so meaningful when family connections abound.

I’ve spent the summer labouring over my Masters dissertation, and during the stolen hours when I’ve found time for “fun” research (genealogy), I have discovered another well known academic in the family tree. My ancestor Philemon Holland was a well-known Elizabethan scholar. He translated the classics into English during the century when the English middle-class was learning to read for the first time. Thanks to Philemon, we have the works of Erasmus, Suetonius, and Plutarch preserved in English. His books are still available on Amazon to this day. As I’m struggling for academic achievement, I’m proud to know I come from a family of scholars, especially one like Philemon who used his talents for the public good. Now back to the books! I’ve got to make Grandpa Holland (and cousin Holland) proud!

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