The Classic Tales Podcast

B.J. Harrison

Arts, Literature, Education

Chart Positions

Literature 17
Arts 75

Every week, join award-winning narrator B.J. Harrison as he narrates the greatest stories the world has ever known. From the jungles of South America to the Mississippi Delta, from Victorian England to the sands of the Arabian desert, join us on a fantastic journey through the words of the world's greatest authors. Critically-acclaimed and highly recommended for anyone who loves a good story with plenty of substance.


Episode 380, The Scholar-Gipsy, by Matthew Arnold

August 22nd, 2014

Episode 26 of 146 episodes

Today’s episode has it’s roots in a work written by Joseph Glanvill in 1661. Joseph Glanvill was an English writer, philosopher and clergyman. In 1661 he predicted “The time will come when making use of magnetic waves that permeate the ether,…we shall communicate with persons on the opposite side of the globe.” In 1661, Glanville wrote The Vanity of Dogmatizing, which was a plea for religious toleration, the scientific method, and freedom of thought. It also contains the tale The Scholar Gypsy, which inspired Victorian poet Matthew Arnold to write his poem of the same name. Epigraphs from Glanvill are found at the beginning of two short stories by Edgar Allan Poe: "Ligeia" and "A Descent into the Maelstrom". Aleister Crowley’s book “Diary of a Drug Fiend” opens with a direct quotation from Glanvill, and some sections of Shirley Jackson’s short story collection “The Lottery and Other Stories” also begin with Glanvill quotes. I recently ran across an article stating how the 40 hour work week was actually designed to keep the average worker on a perpetual treadmill of dissatisfaction. We tend to make just enough to get by, yet hope that someday things will get better. We come home and try to escape by watching TV, then buying the things advertised in the commercials. Which brings me to why I chose this poem. This poem, written over 150 years ago, and inspired by a work from 1661, strikes a definite modern chord. It begins describing a shepherd, who lives the humane, pastoral life of peace and lassitude. Then it speaks of Glanvill’s tale of the Scholar Gypsy. This is an Oxford scholar who leaves the privaledged comforts of the university, after discovering that the gypsy culture holds meritorious intrigue. He considers it his personal mission to probe the depths of the mysteries of the gypsies and then share these mysteries to the world. Then, the Scholar Gypsy becomes a folk figure. He is often seen in various times of the year in various climes. A silent, spare figure cloaked in a weathered hat and gray gypsy garb. 200 years pass, and still he is seen. For the Scholar Gypsy lives forever. Why? Because in leaving his tribe and following his passion, he has eluded the repeated shocks that exhaust the energy of the strongest souls, and numb the elastic powers. Then follows a description of those of us on a treadmill: Who are light half-believers of our casual creeds, who never deeply felt, who hesitate and falter life away, and lose tomorrow the ground won today. Finally, the Scholar Gypsy is encouraged to remain in the forest, so as not to be contaminated with the infection of our mental strife. It is a lot to think on, and I’ve included a PDF version of the file that app users can download and read along with the narration.

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