The Articles of Honesty

On Saturday nights, Martin Sampson had a standing engagement.

Around 9:30 in the evening, Professor Sampson, the popular Dean of the Cornell English Department in the 1920s, hosted the Manuscript Club. It was a group of promising student writers, including a young E.B. White, who gathered at the Professor’s house to – as the Cornell Daily Sun put it – “quaff shandygaff and read original poetry.”

The articles of the Club, according to Professor Sampson, were simple:

“To be frank, to use one’s brains, to write what is in one to write, and never to take oneself too damned seriously or too damned lightly.”

Simple and not altogether easy.

By my reading, the Manuscript Club’s articles boil down to one thing: honesty.

To be honest with the world and ourselves in it. Honest with what we have to say, which does not mean unkind with what we have to say; honest with our intelligence; honest with what we have in us to do and to be.

It’s a demanding kind of honesty.

It’s safer to be a bit less honest. To say less than what we have to say, use less than our full intelligence, employ less than our full potential. But safer will get us just that: a safe life.

I think we’re capable of more. Of using all that we have in us to use, of living all the life we have in us to live.

It’s not easy or safe. But these are not the articles of ease or safety. These are the articles of honesty.

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