Stardom and its alternatives

It is unlikely that many of us will be famous, or even remembered. But not less important than the brilliant few that lead a nation or a literature to fresh achievements, are the unknown many whose patient efforts keep the world from running backward; who guard and maintain the ancient values, even if they do not conquer new; whose inconspicuous triumph it is to pass on what they inherited from their fathers, unimpaired and undiminished, to their sons. Enough, for almost all of us, if we can hand on the torch, and not let it down; content to win the affection, if it may be, of a few who know us and to be forgotten when they in their turn have vanished. The destiny of mankind is not governed wholly by its “stars."

- F. L. Lucas

Stepping around the gender exclusivity, I found in the quote above much to consider, and reassurance to be found. It seems to me that a necessary condition of the 'inconspicuous triumph' is to aspire to stardom, but it is somehow heartening to be reminded of the enormous value of cultural work, independent of fame and fortune. It would seem important to know and to value those 'few who know us', and to avoid taking them for granted. Of course, the corollary to this is to make a mark on the world - to leave a record of progress, of the process of maintaining the 'ancient values'.

This is a kind of immortality, or at least endurance beyond our short allotted span. I am drawn to this sort of thing, and I have in my possession two documents, one written in 1451 and one written in 1494. (My documents are archivally framed, and difficult to photograph; the image above is of an English document a century older, but the handwriting is similar.) I am yet to have my documents translated, but I know one to be a letter of recommendation for a young man, and the other is a passport, the documentation required to cross the feudal borders of 15th Century Italy. I love these documents, I love that they have survived intact and legible on their tough parchment, and I find them inspiring. Certainly, the handwriting - small and tight, yet flowing and lyrical - brings the presence of the scribe close to the surface of the document.

I aspire to this kind of endurance, this modest form of immortality: it seems far less fleeting, and more achievable, than 'stardom', to use Lucas' terminology. This also lies at the root of my fondness for good paper, bottles of ink and fountain pens. I will continue to write, transcribing my thoughts and aspects of my mundane, workaday world, and we shall in time see what comes of it.