October and November in these mountains often seem to me a time of melancholy and bereavement, of Demeter grieving the loss of Persephone, the good earth receding into itself. In Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe, who grew up less than a mile from here, and who lies buried around the corner, connected October, the month in which his brother Ben died, with mortality and the tomb: “we shall not come again. We never shall come back again. It was October, but we never shall come back again.”
My melancholic mood today brought to mind another piece of writing, an essay from With Love and Prayers. Here F. Washington Jarvis, an Anglican priest who for many years served as headmaster of Boston’s Roxbury Latin School, recounts the story of another headmaster approached by a mother about the direction of her son’s education:
“Are you preparing Henry for a political career?” she asked Alington.
“No,” he said.
“Well, for a professional career?”
“No,” he replied.
“For a business career, then?”
“No,” he repeated.
“Well, in a word, Dr. Alington, what are you here at Eton preparing Henry for?”
“In a word, madam? Death.”
Despite our lust for violence...