What Makes Me Feel Big

J. Frank Dobie - Austin, Texas
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, May 22, 2009
J. Frank Dobie
University of Texas Center for American History photo

Texas writer and folklorist J. Frank Dobie finds inspiration in those things that make him feel big: his belief in evolution, the beauty of nature, and a drive to push the status quo.

“My mind is big when I look at you and talk to you,” Chief Eagle of the Pawnees said to George Bird Grinnell when, after years of absence, that noble writer appeared at his friend’s tepee.

It is very difficult in drawing up a credo to be severely honest about one’s self, to avoid all traditional cant. We actually believe in what we value most. Outside of the realms of carnality and property, which men appearing in public generally pretend not to notice, I believe in and draw nourishment from whatever makes me feel big.

I believe in a Supreme Power, unknowable and impersonal, whose handiwork the soul-enlarging firmament declares. However, I believe in questionings, doubtings, searchings, skepticism, and I discredit credulity or blind faith. The progress of man is based on disbelief of the commonly accepted. The noblest minds and natures of human history have thought and sung, lived and died, trying to budge the status quo towards a larger and fuller status.

I am sustained by a belief in evolution—the increasing purpose of life in which the rational is, with geological slowness, evolving out of the irrational. To believe that goodness and wisdom and righteousness, in Garden of Eden perfection, lie somewhere far ahead instead of farther and farther behind, gives me hope and somewhat explains existence. This is a long view. I do not pretend that it is a view always present in me. It does raise me when I have it, however.

I feel no resentment so strongly as that against forces which make men and women afraid to speak out forthrightly. The noblest satisfaction I have is in witnessing the up movement of suppressed individuals and people. I make no pretense to having rid myself of all prejudices, but at times when I have discovered myself freed from certain prejudices, I have felt rare exhilaration.

For me, the beautiful resides in the physical, but it is spiritual. I have never heard a sermon as spiritual in either phrase or fact as, “Waters on a starry night are beautiful and free.” No hymn lifts my heart higher than the morning call of the bobwhite or the long fluting cry of sandhill cranes out of the sky at dusk. I have never smelled incense in a church as refining to the spirit as a spring breeze laden with aroma from a field of bluebonnets.

Not all hard truths are beautiful, but beauty is truth. It incorporates love and is incorporated by love. It is the goal of all great art. Its presence everywhere makes it free to all. It is not so abstract as justice, but beauty and intellectual freedom and justice, all incorporating truth and goodness, are constant sustainers to my mind and spirit.

Educator and folklorist J. Frank Dobie wrote numerous books and articles about vanishing ways of life on the ranches of his native Texas. He taught in the English department at the University of Texas for many years and was a lecturer on U.S. history at Cambridge during World War II.