On December 19th, I (finally) got my first tattoo.
The phrase comes from the concluding words of Edwin Ginn’s autobiography:
“The rules that have governed me in the conduct of our business have been strict adherence to principle, punctuality, and the improvement of every moment; and if you will follow the man who has succeeded in this world you will find that his idle moments have been few, that when the hour struck he has been at his post, and that he has rigidly followed the path of duty. The policy of this house has been along strict, arbitrary lines. The life of a (publishing) house depends not upon the amount of business secured, but upon the principles which guide its conduct; and so far as I am able to judge, financial success is almost sure to follow the lines of uprightness. This world, as I have studied it, is governed by the law that good must prevail in the end and that evil contains the sees of death. For a time we may vary a little from the right without apparent loss but in reality decay begins the very moment the tiniest seed of corruption is sown; and the man who has not been actuated by principle in the accumulation of wealth enjoys but a short-lived triumph. The true business of this world is to make men, not money. May it be our purpose in the future, as it has been in the past, to see to it that every one we come in contact with, if not made better, is certainly not harmed in any way because of us.”
A few words about Edwin Ginn and I why I decided to get some words of his on my body, even though he is not Shakespeare or even an author of anything besides his autobiography and a few incendiary pamphlets in the 1880s against the American Book Company .
When I began writing my Masters thesis, I was curious about paperback Shakespeare–where it came from and how it ended up looking like it does today. I started investigating the 1960s but rabbit holes led to rabbit holes and I stumbled upon Edwin Ginn: a fiery publisher who used his built from the ground publishing company to defy the strongest conglomerate of text book publishers in the name of defending students.
After going toe-to-toe with the text book monopoly, Ginn spent the last few decades of his life leading the peace movement through philanthropy. He also began and ended his career by publishing groundbreaking formats of Shakespeare’s plays, hence the connection to my original inquiry.
In his editors notes at the front of his company’s text book version of Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare he remarked:
“It seemed wise to omit the portion of Lamb’s preface especially applicable to English schools, as the following quotation would indicate: ‘Instead of recommending these Tale to the perusal of young gentlemen, who can read them so much better in their originals, their kind assistance is rather requested in explaining to their sisters such parts as are hardest to understand.’
Such a recommendation would be hardly appreciated in our schools, where the misses have equal advantages with their brothers, and do not feel the need of such assistance.” (published 1903)
A champion of literacy, independent businesses, peace, and girls reading Shakespeare without help from anyone–how could I not love him?
After almost a year of studying him, and another six months missing studying him, I decided that his life had played a crucial enough role in mine to warrant a tattoo. (If anyone is wants to know more Ginn and/or my thesis, just buy me a drink. I could talk for hours.)
Now, about the quote itself:
When I first read those closing lines of his autobiography, they got stuck in my head like song lyrics. There was such hope and conviction in them–I wanted, and still do, to believe everything he saw in the world. Sure, he is a dead, white, rich guy, but after a year of researching his business I can confidently say he put his money and energy where his heart was: reforming the textbook system in the United States and campaigning for peace.
The line “certainly not harmed” seemed like a pure and clear goal: I pray that I only improve the life of those around me, and at very least don’t make anyone worse off. Of course, there are days, weeks, months even, where I am sure to fail.
I become petty, lazy, vindictive. But, thanks to some very permanent ink on my arm, I won’t be satisfied being there. I can remember who I am in this moment: someone committed to peace and to serving others.
Getting the tattoo at the end of 2017, a year mostly defined by moments of violence, anger, and prejudice seemed especially appropriate. No matter how dark this world gets, I am committed to actively advocating for peace and believing in good by being the good.