This description of Menenius Agrippa, “friend of Coriolanus,” captures my feelings about certain students and colleagues and for that matter many people I know.
He stands out, as a sort of Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, one of those who endeavor, in the midst of ignorance, selfishness, and animosity, to carry on the world’s business.” The Complete Works of Shakespeare, edited by Hardin Craig (1961) page 1110
Occasionally I have heard said of some person, “He is one of the good ones.” I take this to mean that he or she is honest, hardworking, and modest with good values, one of the underappreciated and undervalued people who keep the world on an even keel.
I got curious about Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau. The reference is to a poem, a dramatic monologue, by Robert Browning titled Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, Savior of Society. I don’t have the skills to read this type of literature so I sought out a descriptive essay which I found in chapter 2 of Browning’s Later Poetry 1971-1889 by Clyde de L. Ryals. The character represents Napoleon III whose accession brought great hope and whose tenure inevitably disappointed. The poem is an interior monologue striving to reconcile the contradiction between ideals and actuality. According the de L. Ryals, the poem does not succeed because of the inconsistent self-serving justifications that the prince offers, yet,
The poem implicitly asks the question, why do men with good intentions fail to attain to what they aspire? And the answer provided is that the human personality is never adequate to the demands made on it. With imperfect eyes and imperfect speech man never can visualize or verbalize the promptings of his soul. Once those aspirations are released from the depths of the self into the light of external reality they are, by the very nature of the world, deflected from their true intent. And it is this truth that the speaker of the poem learns from his attempted multifaceted examination of himself. pp. 47-48
And yet he and all the “good ones” are up early everyday taking care of the world’s business.