Rachel Careau

The Old Pythagorean | Wish You Were Here
October 24, 2016 Careau Rachel

The Old Pythagorean


The Scottish sheep farmer John Williamson espoused the Pythagorean doctrine of metempsychosis, which held that the soul passed after death into the body of another, whether human or animal; and for this reason he stipulated that his sheep not be slaughtered, and therefore lost his tenancy. From that time on, given a small annuity by the Earl of Hopetoun, he spent his days wandering the hills and glens around the spa town of Moffat, prospecting for minerals.

For the last forty years of his life, Williamson ate no meat and would suffer no creature, however small, to be killed if it was in his power to prevent it. He converted the sixteen-year-old Boswell to vegetarianism during long tramps through the countryside in the summer of 1757, when Boswell spent some weeks or months in Moffat to be cured of his melancholy; but the conversion did not last: Boswell confessed it to Rousseau in the winter of 1764, and we are told that Boswell’s dinner on February 4, 1794, fifteen months before his death, consisted of “a course of two soups, two dishes of fish, stewed beef, boiled lamb and spinach, roast mutton, fricandeau of veal, petit pâté, exquisite beefsteaks, hot and hot, after which was a second course of game, omelette, pastry, &c.”

After the summer of 1757, John Williamson continued his rambles for another twelve years, until his death in 1769, at which time he was buried in the old churchyard at Moffat—by his particular request, “at as great a distance as possible from any other grave.”



Wish You Were Here


When I discovered the postcard in my mailbox, my first thought was, How nice, someone’s sent me a postcard. And in the next moment I thought, Who is sending me a postcard? I turned the postcard over and read, “Hi from Zion National Park. What a great place. We took lots of really great photos and did some lite hiking. You’ll have to come out here to visit sometime.”

I looked at the signature and thought, Who are Paul and Pam?

I turned the postcard over to the front again and studied the picture. It showed a still pool surrounded by red sandstone boulders, with a band of finely leafed trees behind the boulders, and tall sandstone cliffs to the right behind the band of trees, and behind the tall sandstone cliffs, off to the left in the distance, still taller cliffs that slanted upward as though pointing toward the few puffy clouds in an otherwise blue sky. In its stillness, the pool almost perfectly reflected the boulders and the band of leafy trees, the tall sandstone cliffs and the blue of the sky and the few puffy clouds, except that the blue of the sky and the green of the trees had become deeper, more saturated, in reflection.

And I realized, then, that the postcard was not meant for me.


Rachel Careau is a writer and translator and the author of one book of prose poems, Itineraries. Her stories and translations have appeared most recently in Harper’s, Plume, Lemon Hound, and Two Lines, where her essay on translating the work of the Swiss author Roger Lewinter, “The Trivial and the Sublime: Roger Lewinter’s ‘Passion,’” also appeared. Her translations of Lewinter’s Story of Love in Solitude and The Attraction of Things were published by New Directions in fall 2016.