By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
It is still dark outside my brilliantly lit Cambridge, Massachusetts office at 5:31 a.m. Eastern time, September 14, 2011. I am happy not only because I have just a few minutes ago completed my article of the day… but because this is the 350th article in my current series. Today’s article was a series of way out on a limb predictions about the 2012 American elections; prognostications at once cheeky and magisterial. Quick, can you say President Rick Perry?
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It occurred to me upon the completion of this article that I owed it to my millions of online readers, to posterity, and to myself to explicate my view of what constitutes superior commentary and how to provide it. Incipient commentators will want to know… and it is always a wise idea to record your side of any given matter before successors mangle, distort and rearrange the facts.
Where my commentary is written.
My office is situated across the street from Harvard Law School, a place of renown amongst whose graduates are the current president of the United States, the chief justice of the United States, and 5 of the 8 associate justices. It is a place where words matter and where students are instructed in the writing of limpid, precise, meaningful prose. It is a powerful example to have before oneself every day, and I strive to maintain these standards and be guided by them.
The actual room in which I write is unique. It resides on a piece of property originally owned by the Reverend Charles Follen, Harvard College’s first professor of both the German language (1825) and of gymnastics and physical education (1826). His abbreviated career at Harvard ended in 1827, perhaps because of his advanced political opinions.
Professor Follen was a reformer, an apt example for me. He wished, of course, to bring the latest advances in German pedagogy to Harvard… and he was also a rabid abolitionist at a time before such a viewpoint was acceptable. His views were so extreme they affronted his colleagues and neighbors who were undoubtedly pleased when a boat on which he was traveling from New York foundered on January 14, 1840. Dead prophets are so convenient… and it is safe to name myriad roads and places after them, as they memorialized the deceased Follen who no longer roiled the peace of their comfortable consciences. But here’s what’s important about Follen as far as I’m concerned. He had rage about the status quo, an acute desire to change and improve it, and moral superiority. All are useful to the commentator, and the spirit of Herr Doktor Follen envelope and reinvigorate me.
I call this room the “Imperial Webcast Facility” and that is accurate, if a trifle grandiloquent.
I used the word “imperial” for several reasons. First, it was a major subject of mine at Harvard, where I studied principally European history (from 1969), taking the M.A. degree in 1970 and the Ph.D. in 1975.
Second, I call it “imperial” because of the portraits and signed photographs which inhabit this space along with me. These include the boy Phillippe d’Anjou (born 1640) who became Philip V of Spain. Just 17 when he was made king by the decision of Louis XIV, he became the longest reigning Spanish monarch ever. He was never actually called an emperor but as ruler of 1/6 of the globe we may confer this courtesy.
His portrait by Henri Gascars, portrait painter to the Royal Children of France, Spain and England, is quite possibly unique… for when his Spanish majesty was a mere French duke he was of no importance whatsoever. Perhaps Gascars felt put upon painting such an insignificant subject; if so, I trust he kept his sentiments to himself, for King Philip was of a vengeful disposition. In any event it is a lovely picture of a young man elevated to rule by small pox and God’s will.
Two emperors of Austria hang near their earlier cousin of Spain, Joseph II (reigned 1764- 1790) and his brother Leopold II (reigned 1790-1792). These were just two of the many siblings of unlucky Marie Antoinette. Both pictures of these imperial brothers came to me in shocking condition, but the careful ministrations of my long-term London conservator Simon Gillespie brought them back to majesty.
Joseph’s portrait was by Josef Hickel, a well known painter who fathered an even better known painter son. It’s an artistic rendering that does full justice to the aesthetic man known to history as sublime Mozart’s patron. As for the painting of the Emperor Leopold, it is exceedingly rare because it shows him as Grand Duke of Tuscany, a training position for younger sons of the dynasty.
The room is packed with one royal, imperial, grand ducal and noble artifact after another, including two signed photographs of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, assassinated in 1914 along with his morganatic wife Sophie, the proximate cause of World War I. The 1890 photo of the young Franz is on my desk where I can stare at leisure into the eyes of this man of destiny. It is part of the palpable history that irradiates this special room. But important though this is, it is not the most important thing in this room…
… that would be the essential tools of the imperium, the keyboard where I compose, the screen where I daily webcast… and the unceasing flow of commentary from the one to the other. These tools and the messages are all mine, but the arrangement owes much to the office of another imperator, Napoleon.
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When he was a young man on the make, Napoleon met the love of his life, Josephine, a woman made for love and pleasure who adored luxury and never minded the bills; someone, she knew, would always pay. That someone more often than not was her second husband, General Bonaparte. In 1798 he left his faithless wife to seek fame and fortune in Egypt. While he was gone inventing himself and his legend, she purchased a lovely country house neither could afford. She cared not; he was enraged… and so Malmaison, the estate where both were happiest, came to be.
In it, the soon-to-be emperor had an office, not so very much larger than mine. In it were fine examples of the grand and grandiose Empire style, so imposing, including his desk and chair. Of course such artifacts are off limits, never to be touched, much less used. But I knew at once I wanted an office like this… and so, while the slothful guards took a long break I sat down in the chair, positioned myself just so and reviewed every millimeter, opened every drawer… then starred out the window to the verdant lawn on which the couple Bonaparte found happiness together as they strolled and loved each other.
I was happy there, too… and mulled over what Napoleon would add to this room were he alive today.
The answer was obvious for a man who spent his life communicating to manage and administer his empire… live 24 hour a day webcasting … and so that is what I added to my international communications center and from which I talk to the world en masse and to every individual like you. Right now, there are over 100 people here… that number waxes and wanes throughout the day and night, but it is never without visitors. Now you must consider yourself invited for this is a place of culture, humanity, a progressive outlook and a can-do attitude, where learning is valued, solutions sought for grave social issues and personal dilemmas, and where the focus is always on uplifting, improving, enhancing… just like it should always be for every commentator… and is most assuredly the way it is for me.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc. , providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Dr. Jeffrey Lant is also the author of 18 best-selling business books.
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