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Albert Jay Nock

Hero of the Day - Albert Jay NockThe following passage is taken from Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, a "purely literary and philosophical autobiography."

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As far back as I can push my own memory, it stops at the point of recalling a set of dirty and defaced alphabet-blocks lying about our cellar in company with a dog-eared copy of the New England Primer. There is a bare chance that these may have helped me on with my earliest adventures in the realm of the liberal arts, but I doubt it; indeed, I am almost sure they did not. In the first place, I do not remember ever playing with the blocks, or making any use of them, or even paying any particular attention to them; nor do I remember ever noticing the Primer until such time as I could read it, which certainly would be no later than when I was three. Our house was a rented one; the cellar was really rather more of a basement than a cellar; it was light, dry and clear; a palatial playroom from a child's point of view; so my notion is that the blocks and the Primer were probably among the oddments discarded and forgotten by some former tenant's offspring.

While it is must unlikely that these bits of salvage did much to put me on the way to literacy, the Primer may possibly have had something to do with forming one of the channels through which the course of my thinking was permanently set. Here again  the possibility is very frail, and I set no store by it, but it does exist. If today for the first time I met the Primer's statement—

    In Adam's fall
    We sinnéd all

—my first question would not be, Did Adam really fall?, nor would it be, Did we all really sin? It would not even be the previous question, Did Adam ever really exist? It would be the question previous to all these three questions, namely: How can any one possibly know anything about it? Moreover, not only is this the case now, at the close of a rather uncommonly experienced and reflective old age, but even though I stretch my memory to the utmost I do not recall a time in all my life when I would have met a similar or analogous statement in any other way. I can quite believe that at three years of age...I would have instinctively put the same question as at thirty or threescore. Therefore my impression is that the channel of my reaction to the Primer's doctrine of original sin was somehow ready-cut, that my reaction followed a habit of mind already fixed and settled, and that in so far as the Primer's couplet had any function in the premises, it was merely that of a trigger, a spring of action.


Find out for yourself why Albert Jay Nock (1872-1945) continues to charm generation after generation of readers. Read Memoirs of a Superfluous Man

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