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