what a paine

23 Sep

In my previous paine-ful post I posited the profit of Paine’s peculiar speed.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

And neither could Paine. He was one that seems to have fully lived out John Adam’s dictum, “Let us dare to thomas_paineread, to think, to speak, to write” – even if Adams did ultimately judge Paine to be “a mongrel between pig and puppy, begotten by a wild boar on a bitch wolf, never before in any age of the world was suffered by the poltroonery* of mankind, to run through such a career of mischief.” (Clearly, Adams had a problem telling people what he really thought.)

Paine thought. Many Paine-ful thoughts. Paine provoked.

In London he belonged to the Headstrong Club – now there’s a great name for a church, and it would be truth in advertising for many of us! The Headstrong Club was a place men went to eat, drink, and fight. No UFC fights on flatscreens for them. Just live verbal fisticuffs over politics, mostly. When he arrived in Philadelphia, he sought out a similar club, only I believe it had a much more enlightened sounding name.

In his subsequent pursuit of thought and debate in spoken and printed word, he “found the the one kind of life I am fit for, and that is a thinking one, and, of course, a writing one.” He went on (he was always going on, evidently), “You will say that in this classification of citizens I have marked no place for myself; that I am neither farmer, mechanic, merchant, nor shopkeeper. I believe, however, I am of the first class. I am a farmer of thoughts, and all the crops I raise I give away.”

Okay, he would no doubt have intimidated me witless, but I like this man.

As Jefferson observed somewhere, “I am not gifted with the skills of oratory,” so I seek not the floor in such headstrong company as Paine, but how I wish to be a farmer of thoughts – as well as a tiller of souls. (My middle initial even names me so – “G” for “George” = farmer, literally “earthworker”; and it is definitely literary soil for me, not literal.)

Thomas Paine_NelsonSo good to know who we are and to run with that.

And Paine’s “farming” technique? Paine-fully unorthodox, as would be expected, observed by one of his associates, Robert Aitken:

“[He] was soon seated at the table with the necessary apparatus, which always included a glass, and a decanter of brandy…He would never write without that. The first glass put him in a train of thinking; Aitken feared the second would disqualify him, or render him intractable; but it only illuminated his intellectual system; and when he had swallowed the third glass, he wrote with great rapidity, intelligence and precision; and his ideas appeared to flow faster than he could commit then to paper. What he penned from the inspiration of the brandy was perfectly fit for the press without alteration or correction.” (Craig Nelson in his book Thomas Paine, quoting Aitken).

A glass and a decanter of Brandy is probably not included in most journalist curricula. Probably not good protocol for me writing my devotions.


But it seemed to work for Paine – and he shaped his times.

Different speeds.

So good for us to find ours and to bring it.



* Poltroonery – French poltron, coward, dastard, mean-spirited wretch; hence, essentially, cowardice, dastardly conduct. What a great word! Thanks, John. Next time the driver ahead of you ticks you off, be creative.
Call him a “poltron.” Or perhaps just a Paine…

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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Books


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