The Private Lives of Some Very Great Thinkers Indeed
(from N. F. Simpson's highly recommended Most of What Follows is a Complete Waste of Time: Monologues, Dialogues, Sketches and Other Writings)
Swedenborg, we are told, saw God as infinite love and infinite wisdom and the end of creation as the approximation of man to God. But though this was undoubtedly one side of Swedenborg, it was not the only side. There was another side: the side that liked to put up shelves and to see to the ceiling where the plaster was coming away. Religion and philosophy were every bit as important in their own way, but, basically, they were there for Swedenborg as something to turn to in the small hours when it wasn't on to go banging about with a hammer, as there were people living upstairs. So often a theologian is, in essence, a kind of handyman manqué who, but for the neighbors, would have been building a cocktail cabinet with bevelled edges and a veneer finish, but has turned to the study of the eternal verities out of frustration: frustration at being unable to get the wood; frustration because he would no sooner get going than there'd be the usual thumping on the wall leaving him with no option but to down tools and start thinking about God again. One is reminded here of Schopenhauer, who, living as he did in a terraced house, had neighbors on either side. It made a quite spectacular difference to his heating bills. He was paying less than half, and this was why he stayed. But the opportunities for making things were seriously curtailed, and it is small wonder that he should have put forward the view that God, freewill and the immortality of the soul are illusions. Rousseau, who spent the better part of his life working up in the attic on that full-scale model of a Spanish galleon, solved the problem of noise by doing it, as we know, in raffia-work. It is possible there were complaints even so. But if there were, no record of them has come down to us. It is worth remarking here, perhaps, that Rousseau's reputation for being hopeless, galleon apart, at anything requiring manual dexterity was largely undeserved. True, he fell off a roof while trying to put some tiles back on, and in doing so, brought another sixteen down with him, and half the guttering. But it was a more or less isolated incident and the kind of thing that could happen to anybody. It has, nevertheless, tended to count against him amongst historians less than sympathetic to Rousseau's pretensions as a handyman. One thing about which there has never been any dispute is that he could lay lino. There are those who would say "after a fashion," adding that this does not make him the greatest handyman of all time, even if true. But he could do more than lay lino. He could unblock a drain. No outstanding achievement perhaps, except that he had a way of doing it with a broomhandle that impressed those looking on and excited a certain amount of, sometimes grudging, admiration. The real yardstick, surely, is whether you would have had Rousseau in if anything needed doing. Not, if one is being perfectly honest, as a first choice, admittedly, but I would, for my part, have Rousseau every time if it were a choice between him and Freud. Freud's behavior on a roof is something about which the less said the better. It was, as apologists for Freud are never tired of pointing out, in the middle of the night. And he was taken short. But you don't, in those circumstances, clamber up through the skylight and make water in the first receptacle you see. One is at liberty to accept his explanation that he thought it had been put there for the purpose, but I am convinced he knew perfectly well what it was put there for. It was put there to measure rainfall and it is almost superfluous to point out that, once the rainfall figures have been distorted, it can affect the whole climactic picture virtually in perpetuity. To go off next morning without a word to anyone, knowing this, is, to my mind, inexcusable. It invalidates his entire corpus.