The Importance of a Dog

How is it that one recognizes one’s mistakes only after one has made them? The other day I was mortified to spot a gross grammatical error in an article that I had just published in a literary journal. To me it stood out from the page as if in neon lighting, and I felt depressed about it for the rest of the morning.

Of course I blamed the editor for not having corrected it as he should have done, but the fact is that it is the author who is to blame—or at least is blamed—for what appears under his name. In any case, an author is apt to overestimate the importance of his errors, which not one in twenty readers will notice. In this case, besides, the article would have been read by a few thousand people at most. It was only a book review, after all, a genre that even pedants tend to skim over.

But for me my error was important, though I recognize that it would be considered such by no one else in the world; and the disparity between my own reaction and that of everyone else caused me to think of the nature of importance. Against the State: An ... Rockwell Jr., Llewelly... Best Price: $5.02 Buy New $5.52 (as of 11:35 EST - Details)

Importance is not a natural quality, such as weight or density. There is no measurement one can take to prove something more important than something else. Hamlet tells us that there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so; and while I am reluctant to accept this, for I find such relativism very dangerous, the same might be said of importance, that nothing is important or unimportant, but thinking makes it so. In a universe without sentient and moral beings, importance and its opposite could not possibly exist.

Whenever the question of importance comes to my mind, I think of my late little dog called Ramses. I still miss him terribly, eleven years after his death. I found it impossible to be unhappy or bored in his company, and though he was small and our house at the time was large, he and his personality, or better still his character, filled the house with his presence. Strange to relate, I knew when he was there and was comforted by his presence even when he was in another room or even on another floor. When I called to him, he would come into the room in which I was and look quizzically at me, as if to say, “What is the matter?”

I could never think of him as an automaton without a soul, as Descartes suggests, though oddly enough I am also opposed in theory to the excessive anthropomorphism of some contemporary primatologists, who maintain that there is no essential difference between Man and the animals, but only one of degree. Be that as it may, I thought of Ramses as a kind of person, with a wide range of moods, desires, emotions, and even thoughts. He could be guilty, playful, melancholy, questioning, joyful, sad, and even humorous. I have certainly known humans less responsive to the world about them.

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