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Lt. j.g. William, Jarvis, golfing with a bum knee at Naval Hospital, Portsmouth, Virginia



Portsmouth Naval Hospital

My last “tour of duty” in the Navy was at the Portsmouth, Virginia General Hospital where I was a patient for several months. Despite a small duodenal ulcer, I was in good shape at the hospital and had the opportunity of my life to relax and do some reading.

The hospital library was literally my salvation. Somehow I started on Russian literature; I read everything by Dostoevski, and then all of the works of Tolstoy including War and Peace. In particular, I recall the magnificent account of the old general, moving his cot every night to a different place in the castle, trying to move away from his recurring nightmares.

I also enjoyed Tolstoy’s writings in a completely different way when that author surprisingly came to my rescue. I had never liked Shakespeare but had suffered through his various plays in college and attended numerous Shakespeare theatres. To me, his plays never seemed to have any point to them! It turned out that Tolstoy had the same problem but, like myself, did not want to sell Shakespeare short.

At the end of Tolstoy’s long career he laid down his pen and proceeded to read everything that Shakespeare had ever written; then he wrote a critical discourse on Shakespeare’s works. He opined that he had found a woeful lack of character development in all of Shakespeare’s plays; he further challenged anyone to find a pattern of unambiguous phrases in Shakespeare’s works.

At last, I had intellectual backing from the great Tolstoy. I have never since felt obliged to read Shakespeare.
All the aforementioned reading was a mere prelude to my final great discovery—Plato. The hospital library had several philosophy books with excellent English translations of Greek works and I read them word by word. I felt that I knew Plato and Socrates as friends.


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