“A person who repairs clocks must have the ability to concentrate on sounds and listening. They must listen to the gears, listen to the sound of the mainspring winding, and the sound of the ratchet clicking as the clock mechanism is wound… A ratchet has a certain sound when it is working correctly. A solid sound. Not a tight sound, and not a loose sound; a solid sound.” – An Essay on Clock Repair, David Tarsi, 2002 – “Notes From the Bench”, An Online Clock Repair Technical Journal.
In Buddhist meditation, calm mindfulness is achieved through concentration on breathing or a repeated sound: a mantra or the ticking of a clock. In their measured ticking and chiming, Howard's clocks – the grandfather, the carriage, the banjo, tambours and Chelsea ship's bells , the Viennese regulator and Ogee – "...did not seem to him to tick but to breathe and to give one another comfort..."
Hermit is a term used to describe someone who chooses to live apart from society – seeking wisdom or spiritual enlightenment from solitude and nature. It is derived from the Greek eremia for "of the desert," in reference to the desert theology of the Old Testament. St. John the Baptist, St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Seraphim of Sarov, and Gautma Buddha are some influential early hermits, mystics and holy men.
Servius Tullius was the 6th king of Rome and the second king of the Etruscan dynasty, reigning between 578 and 535 BC. According to legend, he was born a slave in the household of king Tarquinius Priscus, and that as a boy, a circle of fire was seen around his head (circum caput). This was considered a divine sign; from then on he was raised as the king’s child and heir.
Gilbert's recitation is from Georgics, Book I of 4 by Virgil the great poet of ancient Rome; it was most likely published in 29 BC. Georgics celebrates Nature, but also the darker, relentless aspects of Man toiling to tame it.
The quote above is from Line 42; translated to English it reads: "In early spring-tide, when the icy drip / Melts from the mountains hoar, and Zephyr's breath / Unbinds the crumbling clod, even then 'tis time; / Press deep your plough behind the groaning ox, / And teach the furrow-burnished share to shine."
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, was published in 1850. It is a romantic novel, set in puritanical Boston of 1642, that explores the consequences endured by Hester Pyrnne when she has an adulterous affair and bears a child. It was one of the first mass-produced books in America; the first mechanized printing of 2,500 volumes sold out within ten days. In 1995 it was made into a movie starring Demi Moore and Robert Duval.
George’s grandson has found an old notebook in the attic: the journal of George’s father, Howard – filled with intimate and mystical observations of nature. This introduces the first of six Borealis passages from Howard’s journal.
The Aurora Borealis was of great interest to New Englanders in the mid-1800’s. Between 1835 and 1860, New England was subject to unusually frequent and intense displays of the northern lights. One dramatic aurora occurred in September, 1851; it shut down all telegraph transmission in the region. This phenomena was particularly interesting to transcendentalists in their quest for spiritual understanding through nature. It is also, perhaps, a cosmic metaphor for Howard’s intensely visceral experiences during his epileptic seizures.
"Aurora Borealis” was first coined in 1619 by Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) to suggest the likeness of early dawn in the northern sky; Aurora is the Roman goddess of dawn.
cosmologies – scientific, religious, and philosophical – attempt to bring order to a chaotic world, to understand the nature of the universe and man’s place in it. The word “cosmos“ originates from the Greek term kosmos, meaning among other things “order”.
In 1619, Johannes Kepler published his “Harmonices Mundi” (Music of the Spheres), a treatise that attempted to find physical harmonies in our planetary system. The caption for the illustration at right reads, "A medieval missionary tells that he has found the point where heaven and Earth meet".