Reading history is good for all of us, he says, not surprisingly, perhaps, but his rationale is a fresh, somewhat bracing thought: If you know history, you know that there is no such thing as a self-made man or self-made woman. We are shaped by people we have never met. Yes, reading history will make you a better citizen and more appreciative of the law, and of freedom, and of how the economy works or doesn't work, but it is also an immense pleasurethe way art is, or music is, or poetry is. And it's never stale.
From the time I was 7 or 8 years old, we were the roughest knockabout act that ever was in the history of the theater, not only in the United States but all over Europe as well. We used to get arrested every other week--that is, the old man would get arrested. The first crack out of the box here in New York state, the Keith office raised my age two years, because the original law said that no child under 5 could even look at the audience, let alone do anything. So they said I was 7. And the law read that a child can't do acrobatics, can't walk a wire, can't juggle--a lot of those things--but there was nothing said in the law that you can't kick him in the face or throw him through a piece of scenery. On that technicality, we were allowed to work, although we'd get called into court every other week, see.
I had spent many nights in the jungle looking for game, but this was the first time I had ever spent a night looking for a man-eater. The length of road immediately in front of me was brilliantly lit by the moon, but to right and left the overhanging trees cast dark shadows, and when the night wind agitated the branches and the shadows moved, I saw a dozen tigers advancing on me, and bitterly regretted the impulse that had induced me to place myself at the man-eater's mercy. I lacked the courage to return to the village and admit I was too frightened to carry out my self-imposed task, and with teeth chattering, as much from fear as from cold, I sat out the long night. As the grey dawn was lighting up the snowy range which Iwas facing, I rested my head on my drawn-up knees, and it was in this position my men an hour later found me fast asleep; of the tiger I had neither heard nor seen anything.
For when I trace back the years I have liv'd, gathering them up in my Memory, I see what a chequer'd Work Of Nature my life has been. If I were now to inscribe my own History with its unparalleled Sufferings and surprizing Adventures (as the Booksellers might indite it), I know that the great Part of the World would not believe the Passages there related, by reason of the Strangeness of them, but I cannot help their Unbelief; and if the Reader considers them to be but dark Conceits, then let him bethink himself that Humane life is quite out of the Light and that we are all Creatures of Darknesse.
Whatever our official pieties, deep down we all believe in lives. The sternest formalists are the loudest gossips, and if you ask a cultural-studies maven who believes in nothing but collective forces and class determinisms how she came to believe in this doctrine, she will begin to tell you, eagerly, the story of her life.
No man is a caricature, no individual can alone bear responibilty for a nation's collapse. The disaster Zaire became, the dull acquiescence of its people, had its roots in a history of extraordinary outside interference, as basic in motivation as it was elevated in rhetoric. The momentum behind Zaire's free-fall was generated not by one man but thousands of compliant collaborators, at home and abroad.