Thursday, May 19, 2016

"He seen his duty"

I'm reading All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt. Hay was one of two secretaries for Lincoln in the White House during the Civil War. He remained active in journalism, Republican politics and diplomacy for the rest of his life, finally serving as Secretary of State for McKinley and TR. Early in the period after the Civil War, he spent time as an editorial writer for Horace Greeley's New York Tribune. During that period he composed some very popular "poems" in the mode of Brett Harte. I think my Skaggs grandfather must have been familiar with the genre because he wrote several that had a similar sensibility.  One of Hay's very popular efforts was "Jim Bludso" (1871). Mark Twain liked it although that former river pilot had a few technical corrections. There is an unfortunate racial slur in the 4th verse that I have removed.

WALL, no! I can’t tell whar he lives,
Because he don’t live, you see;
Leastways, he’s got out of the habit
Of livin’ like you and me.
Whar have you been for the last three year   
That you haven’t heard folks tell
How Jimmy Bludso passed in his checks
The night of the Prairie Belle?
The fire bust out as she clared the bar,
And burnt a hole in the night,
And quick as a flash she turned, and made
For that willer-bank on the right.
There was runnin’ and cursin’, but Jim yelled out,
Over all the infernal roar,
“I’ll hold her nozzle agin the bank
Till the last galoot’s ashore.”

He weren’t no saint,—them engineers
Is all pretty much alike,—
One wife in Natchez-under-the-Hill
And another one here, in Pike;
A keerless man in his talk was Jim,
And an awkward hand in a row,
But he never flunked, and he never lied,—       
I reckon he never knowed how.

Through the hot, black breath of the burnin’ boat
Jim Bludso’s voice was heard,
And they all had trust in his cussedness,
And knowed he would keep his word.
And, sure’s you’re born, they all got off
Afore the smokestacks fell,—
And Bludso’s ghost went up alone
In the smoke of the Prairie Belle.

And this was all the religion he had,—
To treat his engine well;
Never be passed on the river;
To mind the pilot’s bell;
And if ever the Prairie Belle took fire,—
A thousand times he swore
He’d hold her nozzle agin the bank
Till the last soul got ashore.

He weren’t no saint,—but at jedgment
I’d run my chance with Jim,
’Longside of some pious gentlemen
That wouldn’t shook hands with him.
He seen his duty, a dead-sure thing,—
And went for it thar and then;
And Christ ain't a going to be too hard
On a man that died for men.

All boats has their day on the Mississip,
And her day come at last,—
The Movastar was a better boat,
But the Belle she wouldn’t be passed.
And so she come tearin’ along that night—
The oldest craft on the line—
With a _____ squat on her safety-valve,
And her furnace crammed, rosin and pine.

"Jim Bludso of the Prairie Belle," John Hay (1838-1905).

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Pirates and Howard Pyle

Howard Pyle (1853-1911) is among my favorite illustrators. Pirates were one of his favorite subjects and he both authored and illustrated Howard Pyle's Book Of Pirates. This painting, though, stood alone, not illustrating a particular story, although there is a story in the painting — easily interpreted by those familiar with the pirate genre.

Howard Pyle, "Dead Men Tell No Tales" (1899)

Pyle described to a correspondent what the picture shows:
My pirate picture may be explained as follows: The captain of the pirate vessel and the first mate called upon three of the crew and together they have carried a chest of treasure up among the sand hills on the Atlantic Coast just below the mouth of Delaware Bay. ....

The pirate captain and the mate had already arranged between them that the fewer who knew such a secret the better. Consequently when the treasure was safely buried...they immediately proceeded to put out of the way the unfortunate witnesses of the secret.

The mate shot two of the men as they stood together resting from their toil—the one with one pistol and the other with the other. The third victim started to run, but the captain running almost parallel with him and cutting him off at the edge of a little bluff, knocked him over with a single clean and well-directed shot.

As the situation now stands the mate has no load in either of his pistols and the captain has one pistol, which is yet loaded.

I do not know what happened after I drew my picture.

Monday, May 16, 2016

"Joy doth wait on his command"

Continuing to browse in Ian Bradley's The Penguin Book of Hymns (1989), I came to "All My Hope on God is Founded." From the description:
This is a good example of a hymn which has only become really popular because of a particular tune. Until Herbert Howells composed Michael for it in 1930, 'All my hope on God is founded' was sung comparatively little. Since then it has been a favourite...although it is still not found in as many hymn-books as it ought to be considering the quality of both its words and music....

It is loosely based on a German hymn, 'Meine Hoffnung Stehetfeste', by Joachim Neander (1650-80). Neander was born in Bremen, became a Christian pastor following a dramatic conversion after a youth devoted to riotous living, and at the age of twenty-four was appointed headmaster of the Latin School at Dusseldorf. His highly independent and unorthodox views caused some trouble with the authorities and he was forced to sign a declaration that he would not engage in extreme religious fervour. Although he died of consumption at the age of thirty, he left around sixty hymns, many of which are still sung by reformed congregations in Germany.

'Meine Hoffnung Stehetfeste', which appeared in Neander's hymn collection Alpha and Omega, published in 1680, was originally intended to be sung as a grace after a meal. It was based on the passage in I Timothy 6:17, in which the rich are charged not to 'trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy'. .... (Ian Bradley, ed., The Penguin Book of Hymns, 1989.)
Robert Bridges (1844-1930) did the English translation:

All my hope on God is founded;
He doth still my trust renew,
Me through change and chance He guideth,
Only good and only true.
God unknown,
He alone
Calls my heart to be His own.

Pride of man and earthly glory,
Sword and crown betray his trust;
What with care and toil he buildeth,
Tower and temple, fall to dust.
But God's power,
Hour by hour,
Is my temple and my tower.

God's great goodness aye endureth,
Deep His wisdom, passing thought:
Splendour, light, and life attend Him,
Beauty springeth out of naught.
From his store
New-born worlds rise and adore.

Daily doth th' Almighty Giver
Bounteous gifts on us bestow;
His desire our soul delighteth,
Pleasure leads us where we go.
Love doth stand
At his hand;
Joy doth wait on his command.

Still from man to God eternal
Sacrifice of praise be done,
High above all praises praising
For the gift of Christ His Son.
Christ doth call
One and all:
Ye who follow shall not fall.

The version sung here omits the 4th verse above.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

"Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee"

"Abide with us, for it is toward evening"

(Luke 24:29, KJV)

Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide:
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold thou Thy Cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies:
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

About the hymn:
...[T]his Victorian hymn is particularly associated with funeral services and has given hope and comfort to many facing death or bereavement.

The author, Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847), was born at Ednam, near Kelso in the Scottish borders, and educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he won the prize for English poetry three times. He was ordained in 1815 and served as a curate in churches in Ireland and the West of England. In 1823 he became perpetual curate of the parish of Lower Brixham, a seaside and fishing village in Devon. There he remained for the rest of his life, increasingly dogged by illness.

....In 1820, when he was just 27, Lyte visited an old friend, Augustus le Hunte, who was in his last illness. The dying man apparently kept repeating the phrase 'Abide with me', and these words greatly impressed the young curate. When Lyte knew himself to be close to death, he recalled le Hunte's words and wrote out his hymn. Shortly before leaving Brixham he gave the manuscript to his daughter, who published it in 1850.

The scriptural inspiration for the hymn comes from St Luke 24:29, where the disciples journeying on the road to Emmaus beseech Christ: 'Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.' ...[W]hen Hymns Ancient and Modern was being compiled...William Henry Monk (1823-89), organist of St Matthias, Stoke Newington, was asked to write a new melody. His tune, Eventide, accompanied the hymn in the first edition of the new hymn-book which was published in 1861, and has been its inseparable companion ever since. ....

'Abide with me' was much parodied by soldiers in the First World War. .... In its original version the hymn gave much comfort to Edith Cavell, the British nurse imprisoned and condemned to death by the Germans in 1915 for helping wounded soldiers to escape. On the night before she was shot, she sat in her cell singing it with a British chaplain. (Ian Bradley, ed., The Penguin Book of Hymns, 1989.)

Friday, May 13, 2016


James Bowman on today's directive to public schools:
“The Obama administration is planning to issue a sweeping directive telling every public school district in the country to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity.” .... By now, of course, it’s no surprise that the law is being supplanted by executive “directives” from an increasingly lawless administration. But the terms in which this process is reported reveal how much it has been helped along by a decline in the standards of our common English tongue. The word “identity,” as we are now to understand, has joined a host of other once-useful words — “truth,” “lies,” “justice,” “honor,” and “reality” among them — in becoming completely subjective and therefore meaning whatever the speaker or writer wants them to mean.

Which, as a moment’s thought will tell us, is tantamount to meaning nothing at all. ....

First, that is, you choose your “gender”; then you lose your identity. And so does everyone else. We might have seen this coming years ago when people started “identifying” with fictional characters and then — full of compassion, naturally — with each other. We pedants might have pointed out that what they meant was that they identified themselves with those who inspired in them fellow-feeling of one sort or another, but hardly anyone saw the need to retain this second, crucial element in the process of identification....

...[A]ll identification has become self-identification, a mere fantasy of otherness, that everyone now can feel he or she has a right to — like, as it turns out, the right to be he or she. Nor, as the latest news informs us, is it only the right to one’s “chosen gender” that one is entitled to but the right to have everyone else forced to play along with the fantasy, as always in the name of compassion. ....

Thursday, May 12, 2016


I bought a set of books collecting Charles Schulz's cartoons fifty or more years ago. Today, looking through one of them, it occurred to me that Linus might be quite successful in politics today.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"You of little faith, why are you so fearful?"

Reading this article in Christianity Today moved me to find Bonhoeffer's sermon, “Overcoming Fear." Our times are not as parlous as Bonhoeffer's — Hitler was about to take power in Germany — but what he preaches here is always relevant. Despair is the opposite of hope and Christians know hope. The Biblical text for the sermon is the passage from Matthew that I quoted yesterday. Bonhoeffer:
.... Fear is, somehow or other, the archen­emy itself. It crouches in people’s hearts. It hollows out their insides, until their resistance and strength are spent and they suddenly break down. Fear secretly gnaws and eats away at all the ties that bind a person to God and to others, and when in a time of need that person reaches for those ties and clings to them, they break and the individual sinks back into himself or herself, helpless and despairing, while hell rejoices.

Now fear leers that person in the face, saying: Here we are all by our­selves, you and I, now I’m showing you my true face. And anyone who has seen naked fear revealed, who has been its victim in terrifying loneliness — fear of an important decision; fear of a heavy stroke of fate, losing one’s job, an illness; fear of a vice that one can no longer resist, to which one is enslaved; fear of disgrace; fear of another person; fear of dying — that per­son knows that fear is only one of the faces of evil itself, one form by which the world, at enmity with God, grasps for someone. Nothing can make a human being so conscious of the reality of powers opposed to God in our lives as this loneliness, this helplessness, this fog spreading over everything, this sense that there is no way out, and this raving impulse to get oneself out of this hell of hopelessness. ....

But the human being doesn’t have to be afraid; we should not be afraid! That is what makes humans different from all other creatures. In the midst of every situation where there is no way out, where nothing is clear, where it is our fault, we know that there is hope, and this hope is called: Thy will be done, yes, thy will is being done. “This world must fall, God stands above all, his thoughts unswayed, his Word unstayed, his will forever our ground and hope.” Do you ask: How do you know? Then we name the name of the One who makes the evil inside us recoil, who makes fear and anxiety themselves tremble with fear and puts them to flight. We name the One who overcame fear and led it captive in the victory proces­sion, who nailed it to the cross and committed it to oblivion; we name the One who is the shout of victory of humankind redeemed from the fear of death — Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Living One. He alone is Lord over fear; it knows him as its master; it gives way to him alone. So look to Christ when you are afraid, think of Christ, keep him before your eyes, call upon Christ and pray to him, believe that he is with you now, helping you ... Then fear will grow pale and fade away, and you will be free, through your faith in our strong and living Savior, Jesus Christ.

Let’s say there is a ship on the high sea, having a fierce struggle with the waves. The storm wind is blowing harder by the minute. The boat is small, tossed about like a toy; the sky is dark; the sailors’ strength is failing. Then one of them is gripped by ... whom? what? ... he cannot tell him­self. But someone is there in the boat who wasn’t there before. Someone comes close to him and lays cold hands on his arms as he pulls wildly on his oar. He feels his muscles freeze, feels the strength go out of them. Then the unknown one reaches into his heart and mind and magically brings forth the strangest pictures. He sees his family, his children crying. What will become of them if he is no more? Then he seems to be back where he once was when he followed evil ways, in long years of bondage to evil, and he sees the faces of his companions in that bondage. He sees a neighbor whom he wounded, only yesterday, with an angry word. Suddenly he can no longer see or hear anything, can no longer row, a wave overwhelms him, and in final desperation he shrieks: Stranger in this boat, who are you? And the other answers, I am Fear. Now the cry goes up from the whole crew; Fear is in the boat; all arms are frozen and drop their oars; all hope is lost, Fear is in the boat.

Then it is as if the heavens opened, as if the heavenly hosts themselves raised a shout of victory in the midst of hopelessness: Christ is in the boat. Christ is in the boat, and no sooner has the call gone out and been heard than Fear shrinks back, and the waves subside. The sea becomes calm and the boat rests on its quiet surface. Christ was in the boat! ....

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Unless some real Event lay behind them

My father's favorite New Testament version was J.B. Phillips's The New Testament in Modern English (1958) combining the previously published Letters to Young Churches with Phillips's translation of the Gospels. This, from Matthew 8, gives a fair sense of how the translation reads:
On the evening of that day, he said to them,
"Let us cross over to the other side of the lake."
So they sent the crowd home and took him with them in the little boat in which he had been sitting, accompanied by other small craft. Then came a violent squall of wind which drove the waves aboard the boat until it was almost swamped. Jesus was in the stern asleep on the cushion. They awoke him with the words,
"Master, don't you care that we're drowning?"
And he woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves,
"Hush now! Be still!"
The wind dropped and everything was very still.
"Why are you so frightened? What has happened to your faith?" he asked them.
But sheer awe swept over them, and they kept saying to one another,
"Who ever can he be?—even the wind and the waves do what he tells them!"
I bought my own copy a few years ago but was today pleased to discover that Amazon has it for Kindle.

In 1967 Macmillan published Phillips's Ring of Truth: A Translator's Testimony. These two quotations are from his chapters about translating the Gospels:
Suppose that you have spent many hundred hours in putting these four widely differing accounts of some of the sayings and doings of the man Jesus into today's English. Do you find yourself so confused that you conclude that there was no such person at all? I take leave to doubt it. It is, in my experience, the people who have never troubled seriously to study the four Gospels who are loudest in their protests that there was no such person. I felt, and feel, without any shadow of doubt that close contact with the text of the Gospels builds up in the heart and mind a character of awe-inspiring stature and quality. I have read, in Greek and Latin, scores of myths, but I did not find the slightest flavour of myth here. There is no hysteria, no careful working for effect, and no attempt at collusion. These are not embroidered tales: the material is cut to the bone. One sensed again and again that understatement which we have been taught to think is more "British" than Oriental. There is an almost childlike candour and simplicity, and the total effect is tremendous. No man could ever have invented such a character as Jesus. No man could have set down such artless and vulnerable accounts as these unless some real Event lay behind them. ....

But it would be a profound mistake to think that Jesus was merely an eloquent field preacher who had got on the wrong side of authority. His character was strange and unpredictable. He was meek in the way that only the strong can truly be, yet he called, demanded, and commanded without explanation or apology. What other man could call some fishermen to leave their skilled job or ask somebody else to give up the lucrative, even though despised, work of tax collecting and to follow him, and succeed? What other man could look straight at a ring of hostile faces and throw out the challenge "Which of you convinces me of sin?" and yet give no impression of arrogance or self-righteousness? ....

Monday, May 9, 2016


We’ve tried the following phrases/statements:
  • The intolerance of tolerance.
  • There is a lack of diversity in the push for diversity.
  • Those complaining the loudest about discrimination, are often the most discriminatory.
  • Liberals are not really liberals, but simply want one view.
  • Those pushing for all views to be treated fairly, are not treating all views fairly.
  • The supposed quest for equality, is really a quest to privilege a certain viewpoint.
And on and on we could go.

The basic point is this. In the modern liberal push for diversity there is one enormous category missing: intellectual/religious/ideological diversity.

All the while our liberal culture pats itself on the back for being so diverse–whether that diversity be racial, ethnic, or cultural diversityit continues to ignore the biggest area of potential diversity. Diversity of thinking. ....

This point has been eloquently made by Nicholas Kristoff in a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece aptly entitled, “A Confession of Liberal Intolerance.” He writes:
WE progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table — er, so long as they aren’t conservatives.

Universities are the bedrock of progressive values, but the one kind of diversity that universities disregard is ideological and religious. We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

May no deceit mislead me

From Elton Trueblood's collection of Daily Readings from the Prayers of Samuel Johnson, one titled "Engaging in Politics."
ALMIGHTY GOD, who art the Giver of all Wisdom enlighten my understanding with knowledge of right, and govern my will by Thy laws, that no deceit may mislead me, nor temptation corrupt me, that I may always endeavour to do good, and to hinder evil. Amidst all the hopes and fears of this world, take not Thy Holy Spirit from me, but grant that my thoughts may be fixed on Thee, and that I may finally attain everlasting happiness, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
Samuel Johnson, November, 1765.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Taking offence

I'm offended every day. For example, the British newspapers every day offend me with their laziness, their nastiness, and their inaccuracy, but I'm not going to expect someone to stop that happening; I just simply speak out about it. ... [A] fellow who I helped write two books about psychology and psychiatry was a renowned psychiatrist in London called Robin Skynner said something very interesting to me. He said, "If people can't control their own emotions, then they have to start trying to control other people's behavior." And when you're around super-sensitive people, you cannot relax and be spontaneous because you have no idea what's going to upset them next. ...[P]olitical correctness has been taken from being a good idea, which is let's not be mean in particular to people who are not able to look after themselves very well — that's a good idea — to the point where any kind of criticism [of] any individual or group could be labeled cruel.

And the whole point about humor, the whole point about comedy, and believe you me I thought about this, is that all comedy is critical. Even if you make a very inclusive joke like how would you make God laugh? Answer: Tell him your plans. Now that's about the human condition; it's not excluding anyone. It's saying we all have all these plans, which probably won't come and isn't it funny how we still believe they're going to happen. So that's a very inclusive joke. It's still critical. All humor is critical. If you start to say, "We mustn't; we mustn't criticize or offend them," then humor is gone. With humor goes a sense of proportion. And then as far as I'm concerned, you're living in 1984.

Monday, May 2, 2016


After a much longer wait than the original estimate the Kickstarter project, BIBLIOTHECA, may be nearing completion:
...[A]s of last week our proofreading phase with Peachtree Editorial has concluded, and we are now devoting every ounce of energy to making our final checks and corrections and finessing the typesetting before we ship the text off for printing. Production on well over 100 tons of premium book paper began at Salzer, in Austria, last week, and Kösel, our printing and binding house, has reserved a block for Bibliotheca on their production calendar. We will deliver files on May 11 to begin printing on May 19. ....

Through the day

Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy,
Whose trust, ever child-like,
no cares could destroy,
Be there at our waking, and give us, we pray,
Your bliss in our hearts, Lord,
at the break of the day.
Lord of all kindliness, Lord of all grace,
Your hands swift to welcome, 

your arms to embrace,
Be there at our homing, and give us, we pray,
Your love in our hearts, Lord,

at the eve of the day.

Lord of all eagerness, Lord of all faith,
Whose strong hands were skilled 

at the plane and the lathe,
Be there at our labors, and give us, we pray,
Your strength in our hearts, Lord,

at the noon of the day.

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
Whose voice is contentment, 

whose presence is balm,
Be there at our sleeping, and give us, we pray,
Your peace in our hearts,  Lord,

at the end of the day.
Songs of Praise, 1931

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Truer than ever in 2016

"A balm for this dour day and age"

I haven't read The Prisoner of Zenda since I was a teenager — which is to say for a very long time. I remember enjoying it a lot and largely for the reasons Sean Fitzpatrick gives in "The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope: Escape From Cynicism." The book is pure escapism and especially in political years like this one yearns to escape. Tolkien defended "escapist" stories by asking "Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?” and reminds us that those tasked with preventing escapes are jailers. Fitzpatrick on the book:
.... There are in existence a few books that can cure the sickness of cynicism. These books remind men of the glory and grandeur of man and the glories and grandeurs that give meaning to mankind. The Prisoner of Zenda, written in 1894 by Anthony Hope, is one of these. This “spirited and gallant little book,” as Robert Louis Stevenson described it, is a remedy to the heavy seriousness of cynicism because it is lighthearted. It is a fairy tale infused with the optimism of escapism, the thrill of romance, and the charm of the dashing, debonair, gentleman hero. Even the gravest of cynics must smile, chuckle, and inch to the edge of his seat in appreciation of men bristling with weapons, women swooning in their lovers’ arms, guns firing and combatants laughing, swords flashing and soldiers of fortune. The Prisoner of Zenda is quite simply irresistible, making it a balm for this dour day and age, and worthy of its reputation for being the finest adventure story ever written, in which the struggle between good and evil is a great game and nothing seems so serious as keeping the serious at bay. ....

.... The plot hurtles on like a horse and is dominated by a sense of time running out. The Prisoner of Zenda might even be regarded as one of the original ticking-clock suspense thrillers, paving the way for a whole story-type that relies on a heightened awareness of time and impending doom. Related to this theme of time is the timing of a protagonist who rises to occasion. Rudolf Rassendyll was launched into a breakneck race sword in hand, but he began the story at a breakfast table egg-spoon in hand. Rassendyll represents a classic romantic archetype, being the ordinary gentleman who is ready, willing, and able to face extraordinary circumstances and play the part of the hero decisively when the times demands it of him. ....

The Prisoner of Zenda is an antidote for worldly cynicism because it transports readers to another world that is unsullied by cynicism. .... [more]
The Prisoner of Zenda: Being the History of Three Months in the Life of an English Gentleman can be downloaded from ManyBooks.

I like the 1937 movie version best of the several film versions of the story.

Friday, April 29, 2016

On Arbor Day


Alan Jacobs has created a beautiful site, G O S P E L  O F  T H E  T R E E S. He explains:
The Bible is a story about trees. It begins, or nearly enough, with two trees in a garden: the Tree of Life, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The pivotal event in the book comes when a man named Jesus is hanged on a tree. And the last chapter of the last book features a remade Jerusalem: “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” If you understand the trees, you understand the story. ....
One of the entries:
Out of the fertil ground he caus’d to grow
All Trees of noblest kind for sight, smell, taste;
And all amid them stood the Tree of Life,
High eminent, blooming Ambrosial Fruit
Of vegetable Gold; and next to Life
Our Death the Tree of Knowledge grew fast by,
Knowledge of Good bought dear by knowing ill. — John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book IV
G O S P E L  O F  T H E  T R E E S

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Our fellow-man


...I learned with little labour
The way to love my fellow-man
And hate my next-door neighbour.

The World State, G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The loud and troublesome insects of the hour.

From Farnsworth's Classical English Metaphor: Edmund Burke in 1791.
Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number, or that, after all, they are other than the little, shriveled, meager, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour.

Making invisible things visible

I have received my copy of Farnsworth's Classical English Metaphor. I'm enjoying it. Farnsworth warns against reading it from beginning to end and I won't. This is selected from the introductory chapter:
.... A metaphor can make unfamiliar things familiar, invisible things visible,and complicated things easier to understand. It can, as Aristotle said, give life to lifeless things. It can produce amusement by putting a subject into unexpected company. It can create feeling by borrowing it from the source to which the subject is compared. It can make a point riveting and memorable by the beauty of the comparison's fit. It can make an insult or a compliment immortal. It can attract attention by the element of surprise. And it can do all this with wondrous economy, invoking a mass of imagery and meaning in a sentence or a single word. ....

Metaphors can serve deeper ends. Many important subjects cannot be described literally, at least not well. States of mind are like this, as are the sources and effects of language and other arts and many elements of spiritual life. They don't just require pictures in order to be understood. They require comparisons, because they cannot be depicted literally in images or in words. A subject tends to defeat literal description when it is inaccessible to the senses; our words for what we can see are more extensive and refined than our words for what is intangible. Other truths and observations cannot be captured through a literal use of words simply because words and reality aren't coextensive. The range and subtlety and feeling of what we wish to say outruns the labels that our language provides for the purpose. Comparisons free us from those limits. They allow a writer to use words not as labels to name a thing but as links that attach it to what we have known or seen or can imagine. The link summons pictures and other associations in the reader's mind and rallies them to the descriptive purpose. A metaphor may, in short, express something that otherwise cannot quite be said or shown, and provide a way to understand it—possibly the only way. ....

The title of the book and some of the comments just made have used the word "metaphor" to refer to figurative comparisons in general. The word will bear that meaning but is also commonly used in a more specific way: a metaphor is a comparison, often implied, in which one thing is equated with another ("all the world's a stage"), whereas a simile makes the comparison explicit by saying that one thing is like another or using similar language ("he doth bestride the narrow world/Like a Colossus"). The differences between metaphor and simile are discussed...but most of the book presents those two kinds of comparisons side by side without fussing over the distinction between them. ....
The rest of the book is examples, categorized but almost entirely without commentary. Most are from secular literature of the 18th and 19th centuries but a few are from Scripture (KJV) and there are many from Shakespeare. Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Chesterton, P.G. Wodehouse, are among those from whom many examples seem to have been selected. I have a feeling that I will be posting favorites as I come across them.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Arsenic or cyanide?

One of the prized possessions on my mystery shelves is the Handbook for Poisoners (1951). The subtitle reads "A collection of great poison stories." And indeed it includes stories by great Golden Age mystery writers including Dorothy L. Sayers, E.C. Bentley, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, R. Austin Freeman, G.K. Chesterton, and earlier authors Nathaniel Hawthorne and Rudyard Kipling. It is a good selection of stories but the most valuable section of the book for mystery lovers is the seventy-five page introductory essay by the editor, "A Preface: About Poisons and Poisoning." From the flyleaf:
...[L]eading the reader into this treasury of malevolence, is Raymond Bond's introduction — as exhaustive as it is entertaining. With lively authority, he discusses not only the great poisoners of history, but also nature's own — the snakes, fishes, insects, trees, plants, etc. And to sum it up, he lists twenty poisons common to fact and fiction, with symptoms of each.
He begins with snakes:
...[A]ll poisonous snakes may be classified on the basis of their venom. Broadly speaking, their poison is either neurotoxic and attacks the nerve elements of the body, or it is hemotoxic or hemolytic and breaks down the blood and the tissue. In many instances, the same venom seems to contain both toxins to some degree.

Snake venom, when freshly drawn, is a colorless or slightly yellow liquid, without taste or smell; it quickly deteriorates unless it is dried, when it lasts almost indefinitely. It is not affected by cold but heat destroys it, as will certain chemicals such as nitrate of silver and potassium permanganate. The yellow crystals of the dried poison are soluble in a weak salt solution and generally in distilled water. Chemically, snake venom is a combination of proteids, too complex for analysis. It may be taken into the mouth and stomach without harm, provided there are no cuts or abrasions in the tissue walls. The neurotoxic type of venom destroys and paralyzes the nerve centers, such as those controlling the respiratory system; the larger the concentration of this element in the venom, the sooner death results. This is in the poison of the cobras and the coral snakes and makes them far more dangerous, other factors being equal, than the rattlesnakes. Indeed, it has been estimated that if a western diamondback rattler were equipped with neurotoxic venom, it would carry a sufficient quantity to kill four hundred men. The rattlers, copperheads and moccasins of this country, however, are dangerous enough with their own supply of hemotoxic or hemolytic venom. This poison acts on the blood and cell walls, breaking them down much as our digestive juices break up meat tissues. An antifibrin element prevents the blood from clotting and adds to the destruction. It is this escaped and blackening blood which produces the swelling and discoloration so typical of the pit-viper's wound. ....
And so on....  Then he lists those poisons most often used by mystery writers with a brief description of each. An example:
ARSENIC (or arsenium) — A steel-gray brittle metal, odorless and tasteless, and found with the other metallic minerals in the older rocks. In combination with sulphur, arsenic occurs naturally as realgar and orpiment. Arsenic and its soluble compounds are exceedingly poisonous, as mystery-story readers have learned. In its various forms, it is used in the production of green pigments, in glass and wallpaper manufacture, in dyes, in insecticides such as Paris green, flypapers, fruit sprays, and in rodent poisons. Arsenious oxide, sometimes called white arsenic, has an astringent sweetish taste and is white or porcelainlike in color. In addition to its popularity in commercial poisons, it is used in medicine for treating skin diseases, in malarial fevers, neuralgia and asthma. Limited amounts of arsenic have been used by women for many years in cosmetics and by men as a stimulant to increase their power of endurance. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning appear within an hour—a burning in the throat, stomach pains, cramps, pallor, shallow breathing, thready fast pulse, coma, convulsions and collapse.
I assume all of this sort of information is available from many other sources. If not this would be a rather disturbing "handbook." But for someone who reads Christie, or Sayers, or any number of others, or watches crime films or TV, it provides interesting background. Unfortunately the book is out of print, although both used hardbound and paperback editions can be found online at Amazon and elsewhere.