Friday, April 21, 2006

No Pity

You are sorry for me!!!
Eternal God! Am I then that thing
As to excite pity!
Give me deep scorn, without disguise,
Most rancorous hate, abhorrence
Any thing, but pity!
---Lines written in the diary of Joseph Lyons, Savannah GA, April 1833

Joseph Lyons wrote these lines in a journal where one theme is his loss of vision--an eye inflammation has "maimed" him as the journal begins (young Lyons was equally melodramatic about his romantic life, his spiritual questions, and his professional prospects). He was nineteen, a Jewish Southerner studying the law; he noted that he'd "fallen in love for 2 days together at least 20 times" in the previous six months. He loved the "bananas, Books, and oysters" that abounded in Charleston. He worried that the "clouds" obscuring one pupil might disrupt his studies, but he took "blue pills" and ate according to doctors' orders, hoping to manage the condition.

Lyons died from tuberculosis in 1839, at the age of 25, in Paris. His journal was passed down through the generations of his family until the 1970s, when it eventually reached the Special Collections department at the College of Charleston. There it was discovered sealed in an old envelope.

The complete two-year diary of Joseph Lyons was published a few years ago in the journal American Jewish History, which included a long introduction explaining the journal's origin and historical context. As far as I know, it hasn't yet been noticed as an engaging first-hand document of a young man's concern about loss of sight, which here appears as only one of the many uncertainties Mr. Lyons faced at the verge of adulthood.


Marie Ferrara, et al. "The Diary of Joseph Lyons, 1833-1835: Introduction," American Jewish History 91(3-4)(September-December 2003): 493-525. The diary itself, transcribed in its entirety, appears in the same volume, pp. 526-606.