Friday, January 20, 2017

An inaugural prayer

The first Inaugural prayer was offered for FDR. This is from 1937. It was delivered by ZeBarney Phillips who was an Episcopal clergyman and Chaplain of the U.S. Senate:
Almighty God and Heavenly Father, ruler and guardian of the world: Sanctify to the nation the meaning of this hour that Thy people with one heart and mind may acknowledge their fealty to Thee.

Be with the President and the Vice President, as under Thee they renew their solemn pledges of devotion to their country’s weal in the high and holy offices to which again they have been called; let the blessings of Thy bounteous goodness be upon them, upon the Congress, upon the Judiciary and upon all who bear rule in our land.

In particular, we beseech Thee for our President that, casting all his care upon Thee, he may feel underneath Thine everlasting arms. Touch Thou his lips that he may speak, in the words of the unshorn truth and never-wearying kindness, the message for the healing of the nations, and hasten the day when men shall rise above all lesser things to those glorious heights where love shall weave a holy bond of peace enduring till earth’s shadows vanish in the light of light. Amen.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Winnie-the-Pooh Day

I discover that today is National Winnie-the-Pooh Day. It is the anniversary of the birth of A.A. Milne in 1882. Milne, of course, is the author of the books and father of the real Christopher Robin. It is a good day to pull one of the books from the shelf (actually any day is).

The first "Pooh" book I owned was When We Were Very Young, a gift on my 6th birthday, that isn't really about Pooh but does have Christopher Robin ("They're Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace") and a favorite, "Disobedience" ("James, James, Morrison, Morrison, Weatherby George Dupree..."). Dad was in the Army and we were living near Camp Gordon, Georgia, in an apartment complex known as Myrtle Court. The gift was from a neighbor girl my age — I still have the book and there is an inscription: "Happy Birthday to Jimmy from Mimi." Dad often read to me and since I wouldn't have been reading yet I'm sure the first time I heard these verses were in his voice. I'm not sure I read any of the other Milne books until I was an adult.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Emotional restraint

Betty Smartt Carter has been reading the memoirs of a Victorian lady:
.... By the time Hughes completed her writings, her parents and two of her brothers were long dead. She had lost her first child and only girl to a sudden illness. Her husband Arthur had been killed in a tragic road accident. And at some point she had learned that her father’s mysterious death in 1879 was actually a suicide, perhaps brought on by despair over his financial situation.

Such tragedy—any one of these tragedies—would demand pages of reflection from a modern memoirist. But children of the Victorian age tended to value courage over emotional openness. Though early death was more common then, and the power of it more formally acknowledged in social customs, spontaneous emotional expression was usually a private act. This is understandable, I think, since one way to cope with heartbreak is to contain and manage it, as if it were an unruly child. We (contemporary Americans) encounter personal tragedy much less often than the Victorians did, and we talk about it all the time.

Personally, I admire those restrained Victorians.... (So do I.)

"Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour...."

Entirely by coincidence — or at least unplanned by us — both the final hymn I chose for the worship service this past Sabbath (“Rejoice, Rejoice Believers”) and the pastor's sermon were from Our Lord's parable of the Ten Virgins:

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (1822) by William Blake
And Jesus said:
.... Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.

Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. ....
Matthew 25: 1-13 (KJV)

Ye saints, who here in patience your cross and sufferings bore,
Shall live and reign forever, when sorrow is no more.
Around the throne of glory the Lamb ye shall behold;
In triumph cast before Him your diadems of gold!

(Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers, verse 5)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Another "Golden Age" mystery author

If you know much about C.S. Lewis you know that one of his favorite authors was George MacDonald, the author of Phantastes and At the Back of the North Wind. Well before I knew of George MacDonald, I was enjoying books by his grandson, Philip MacDonald, a screenwriter and a writer of mysteries, who first published soon after World War I and continued  into the early 1960's. I think the first book of his that I read was The List of Adrian Messenger (1959). From a GoodReads reviewer:
Prior to boarding a plane from England to America, Adrian Messenger hands a list of ten names to a close friend of his. He explains that seven of the ten men listed are dead – all of them from accidents that occurred over the last five years. He strongly believes that there is a single minded killer out there who has been systematically killing off these men for a reason he has not yet determined. When the flight is several hours out over the Atlantic, a bomb explodes and forces the plane to crash land in the ocean. All aboard are killed except a Frenchman, Adrian, and one of the flight attendants. .... Just before he died, Adrian was able to speak a few cryptic words, which the Frenchman later related to Anthony Gethryn, a retired serviceman who was helping Scotland Yard in investigating the plane crash. Then Adrian’s friend, who had the list, turned up and shared the list with Gethryn. Now the search was on for the mystery killer. ....
That book was filmed by John Huston and was in theaters in 1963. It can be watched on YouTube today. It is an interesting film but, as is almost always true, the book is much better. (Later: I just re-watched the film - it's better than I remembered.)

I've just ordered the DVD of a movie based on my favorite Philip MacDonald book, Warrant for X, also known as The Nursemaid Who Disappeared, (1938). The film is 23 Paces to Baker Street and it's pretty good although, once again, the book is better. From an online review of the book:
.... An American playwright is in a teashop and overhears the conversation of two women (whom he cannot see) who are apparently planning a crime. One, with a deeper crueler voice, is intimidating the other, with a higher, more gentle voice. He catches a glimpse as they leave of a short stumpy brunette and a tall slender young blonde. And one of them leaves a glove behind that contains what seems to be a scrawled shopping list.

.... The playright takes his suspicions to the police and is pretty much turned away, so he enlists the assistance of well-known detective Anthony Gethryn (whose adventures also began with The Rasp). Together, they piece together crucial details from the few details offered by the playwright and from the shopping list, which turns out to contain much more information than one might have thought....

It’s hard to describe one of the most appealing things about this book and Macdonald’s work in general — the quality of sheer intelligence. ....

Saturday, January 14, 2017

"One night he heard screams"

Yet there is one experience which most sincere ex-Communists share, whether or not they go only part way to the end of the question it poses. The daughter of a former German diplomat in Moscow was trying to explain to me why her father, who, as an enlightened modern man, had been extremely pro-Communist, had become an implacable anti-Communist. It was hard for her because, as an enlightened modern girl, she shared the Communist vision without being a Communist. But she loved her father and the irrationality of his defection embarrassed her. "He was immensely pro-Soviet," she said, "and then — you will laugh at me — but you must not laugh at my father — and then — one night — in Moscow — he heard screams. That's all. Simply one night he heard screams."

A child of Reason and the 20th century, she knew that there is a logic of the mind. She did not know that the soul has a logic that may be more compelling than the mind's. She did not know at all that she had swept away the logic of the mind, the logic of history, the logic of politics, the myth of the 20th century, with five annihilating words: one night he heard screams.
 Whittaker Chambers, Witness

Friday, January 13, 2017

Biblical fidgets

From Edwin Yoder's review of a new book about the history of Bible translations:
.... In what C. S. Lewis called "the liturgical fidgets," translators of Scripture and ritual too up-to-date for their own good—or that of the English language—supposed that the King James Bible (and the earlier Book of Common Prayer) had grown too esoteric for the common ear and needed flattening. God, wrote one British wit, now "speaks like someone you meet on the bus." Thus we passed quickly from the 17th-century "Shakespearean moment" to the 20th-century moment of banality. It was, to say no more, a misreading of human psychology, which values challenge in ultimate matters.

Translations and revisions of the 1960s and '70s, with the elegant exception of the Jerusalem Bible, revealed that tin ears were widely distributed. An example, which this writer recalls from a college English class, came from a Pauline epistle: The King James translated one admonition as "See then that you walk circumspectly...redeeming the time."​ The revised version was "See that you go carefully, making the most of time." The metaphoric bite of circumspection (looking about) and redemption (as of a pawned treasure) were both lost, and with it the sense and depth of the verse. ....

.... King James I finessed Puritan demands for plain language and worship by sponsoring the version that bears his name. The Puritans were represented among the 1611 translators but happily were prevented from laundering its eloquent and elegant phrases. Those hallowed words go on ringing today in the ears of those fortunate enough to be schooled in them, as do the felicities of Thomas Cranmer's incomparable Book of Common Prayer. Without the King James Version, would we know of "the world turned upside down" or "a thorn in the flesh" or "a still small voice" or the beating of "swords into plowshares" or "lambs to the slaughter"? And many other wonderful phrasings?

.... The lesson of the liturgical and biblical fidgets of the 1960s and '70s is that literacy, an essential part of what Edmund Burke called "the unbought grace of life," may be damaged, even lost, by eager revisionists who miss the deeper mysteries of life and faith. If it weren't uncharitable, I would say: a pox on them and their tinseled works!
The Jerusalem Bible was once my favorite among modern translations. I came to it upon reading that J.R.R. Tolkien was one of the editors. I still have a copy of that original edition (see above) which I think superior to a later revised version.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Biblical morality and republican virtue

Benjamin Rush
.... The renewal in 1805 of a 30-year friendship with Doctor Benjamin Rush reinvigorated [John Adams]. Their frank correspondence, touching on all manner of topics, lifted his spirits. “Dr. Rush’s letters are of inestimable value to me,” the former president recalled.

A Philadelphia physician, social reformer, and a venerated signer of the Declaration of Independence, Rush was respected by the leading political figures of the day. ....

In one conversation about the “perfectibility of man” and religion’s role in making “men and nations happy,” both Rush and Adams lamented the moral decay they witnessed in the world around them. “By renouncing the Bible,” Rush interjected, “philosophers swing from their moorings upon all moral Subjects.... It is the only correct map of the human heart that ever has been published. It contains a faithful representation of all its follies, Vices & Crimes.” He then concluded: “All Systems of Religion, morals, and Government not founded upon it, must perish, and how consoling the tho[ugh]t! — it will not only survive the wreck of those Systems, but the World itself. ‘The Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it [Matt. 16:18].’”

John Adams
“The Bible,” Adams promptly responded, “contains the most profound Philosophy, the most perfect Morality, and the most refined Policy, that ever was conceived upon Earth. It is the most Republican Book in the World, and therefore I will still revere it.... [W]ithout national Morality,” he continued, “a Republican Government cannot be maintained.” ....

The political discourse of the founding era is replete with expressions of religion’s vital contributions to a republican regime. This notion was espoused by Americans from diverse religious, intellectual, and political traditions. David Ramsay, a delegate to the Continental Congress and the first major historian of the American Revolution, expressed this idea succinctly in 1789: “Remember that there can be no political happiness without liberty; that there can be no liberty without morality; and that there can be no morality without religion.” Benjamin Rush similarly opined in 1786: “Without [religion], there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”

A self-governing people, in short, had to be a virtuous people who were controlled from within by an internal moral compass, which would replace external control by an authoritarian ruler’s whip and rod. The whip and rod were clearly unacceptable for a free, self-governing people. A moral people respected social order, legitimate authority, oaths and contracts, private property, and the like. For these Americans, the Bible was the well-spring of religion, and biblical morality was the source of this essential virtue. Therefore, many founders regarded the Bible as indispensable to a regime of republican self-government and liberty under law. .... [more]

Monday, January 9, 2017

Spiritual but not religious

Theodore Dalrymple, who is not, I believe, himself religious, comments on a recognizable inclination:
.... The reason (I surmise) that so many people claim to be spiritual rather than religious is that being spiritual imposes no discipline upon them, at least none that they do not choose themselves. Being religious, on the other hand, implies an obligation to observe rules and rituals that may interfere awkwardly with daily life. Being spiritual-but-not-religious gives you that warm, inner feeling, a bit like whiskey on a cold day, and reassures you that there is more to life—or, at least, to your life—than meets the eye, without actually having to interrupt the flux of everyday existence. It is the gratification of religion without the inconvenience of religion. Unfortunately, like many highly diluted solutions, it has no taste. .... [more]

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Conservatives, radicals, and reactionaries

HUMANITIES: The reactionary belief that something beautiful has been lost to us can be as compelling to the political imagination as its opposite, the revolutionary idea that we might be able to leap out of the present and into a better and more just future. Why then, as you point out, have scholars neglected reaction and the reactionary, in favor of studying revolution and the revolutionary?

LILLA: Because most Western intellectuals since the French Revolution have held some sort of progressive view of history. They have believed that over the course of time things just naturally improve; that was the illusion of the nineteenth century. Or they have believed that forces for good have seized control of history—the workers, the Third World wretched of the earth—and that, however dismal things may now appear, they will eventually triumph. That was the illusion of the twentieth century.

Meanwhile, though, not only were there powerful minds who dissented from these views. Events were also being shaped by forces of resistance that intellectuals, given their assumptions about history, had trouble making sense of. ....

The dispute between revolutionaries and reactionaries is not over human nature. It is, as I’ve been suggesting, over the nature and course of history. And so, in many ways, conservatives and reactionaries are adversaries. The conservative believes that change should happen slowly, but that it is inevitable. He might regret what has happened in history, but he is under no illusion that the past can be recovered or recreated; neither does he believe that society should be reconstructed according to some rational plan inspired by the past. The conservative thinks that while societies differ, human nature stays pretty much the same over time and that the problems of politics are perennial. The reactionary thinks that history has changed human nature and that action in history can restore it to what it should be. .... [more]

Friday, January 6, 2017


.... I am on record somewhere saying that Winnie-the-Pooh — the 90th anniversary of whose publication passed last October — and its sequel The House at Pooh Corner are better than anything by Faulkner or Joyce. Returning to them once again, I find myself standing by that judgment; indeed, I feel inclined, if anything, to double down and say that they are among the ten or so finest novels in our language.

It is important to recall that Milne, like Dickens, the novelist whom in many ways he most resembles, did not sit down to write books from beginning to end but rather published chapters that appeared in serial form and were meant to be self-contained. ....

Some adult Pooh readers will be surprised by what they have not remembered or were never acquainted with in the first place because they have seen only the old Disney film (the less said about the computer-animated sequel and the television series, the better). The books are, for one thing, uproariously funny. Most of the dialogue is worthy of P.G. Wodehouse, Milne’s great contemporary, with whom he had an unfortunate falling-out during the Second World War:
“Hallo, Rabbit,” [Pooh] said, “is that you?”
“Let’s pretend it isn’t,” said Rabbit, “and see what happens.”
“I’ve got a message for you.”
“I’ll give it to him.”
“We’re all going on an Expedition with Christopher Robin.”
“What is it when we’re on it?”
“A sort of boat, I think,” said Pooh.
Others will be put off by unexpected hints of melancholy. Milne’s trees loom in the background as a kind of reminder of the adult world with its attendant horrors. It is difficult to think of a novel with a more memorable ending than The House at Pooh Corner (Great Expectations comes to mind); it is almost impossible to think of one that is sadder. In “an enchanted place on the very top of the Forest,” after confusing him with talk about “People called Kings and Queens and something called Factors,” Christopher Robin dubs our hero “Sir Pooh de Bear, bravest of all my Knights,” and begs his friend never to forget him while tacitly begging his forgiveness in the — well-nigh inevitable — event that he will leave his animal friends forever. ....“Wherever they go,” Milne tells us in his final paragraph, “and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.” ....
(the article is behind a subscription wall)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

"Our Lady of Wheaton"

A class at the very Evangelical Wheaton College considers what Catholicism teaches about Mary:
...[T]he Virgin of Wheaton that slowly emerged in our course was a Protestant one, even if she came to light in conversation with the four traditional Catholic Marian teachings: Mary as Mother of God, her perpetual virginity (before, during, and after the birth of Christ), her immaculate conception, and her bodily assumption into heaven. How did each of these teachings fare with my Evangelical students? Our class had no difficulty assenting to the common Christian teaching of the Council of Ephesus in 431, that Mary is the Theotokos, the one who gave birth to God. “That which was formed in the womb is not itself God,” insisted the heretic Nestorius. .... Cyril of Alexandria’s question to Nestorius became ours: In light of Christ’s divinity even in utero, “How can anyone have scruples about calling the holy Virgin the ‘Mother of God’?”

In regard to the second Catholic teaching, the perpetual virginity, of course we accepted Mary’s virginity before the birth of Christ. As J. Gresham Machen argued, to dismiss this cardinal doctrine, as fashionable Protestants once did, was to invent a religion other than Christianity. Karl Barth, for whom there is much enthusiasm at Wheaton, asserted against his liberal Protestant colleagues, his own father among them, the necessity of the virgin birth as both a fact of revelation and an indispensable illustration of salvation by grace alone.

Most students were surprised to discover that the chief Protestant Reformers, Luther, Calvin, even Zwingli, as well as later lights like John Wesley, assented to Mary’s virginity after the birth of Christ, giving most of us pause before dismissing the notion as necessarily unbiblical. ....

Not surprisingly, our strongest objections arose in regard to the Immaculate Conception, the belief that Mary was preserved by God from original sin, and the Assumption, the belief that her body was taken into heaven at the end of her earthly life.... [more]


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Old times and old friends

I've posted this or a variation of it several times before on New Year's Eves:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and days of auld lang syne?

Peggy Noonan, in 2011, on the song:
"Auld Lang Syne"—the phrase can be translated as "long, long ago," or "old long since," but I like "old times past"—is a song that asks a question, a tender little question that has to do with the nature of being alive, of being a person on a journey in the world. It not only asks, it gives an answer.

It was written, or written down, by Robert Burns, lyric poet and Bard of Scotland. In 1788 he sent a copy of the poem to the Scots Musical Museum, with the words: "The following song, an old song, of the olden times, has never been in print." Burns was interested in the culture of Scotland, and collected old folk tales and poems. He said he got this one "from an old man"—no one knows who—and wrote it down. Being a writer, Burns revised and compressed. He found the phrase auld lang syne "exceedingly expressive" and thought whoever first wrote the poem "heaven inspired." The song spread throughout Scotland, where it was sung to mark the end of the old year, and soon to the English-speaking world, where it's sung to mark the new.

The question it asks is clear: Should those we knew and loved be forgotten and never thought of? Should old times past be forgotten? No, says the song, they shouldn't be. We'll remember those times and those people, we'll toast them now and always, we'll keep them close. "We'll take a cup of kindness yet." .... [more]
SHOULD auld acquaintance be forgot,    
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne

And here 's a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o' thine;
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae rin about the braes,
And pu'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit
Sin' auld lang syne.
And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine;
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne!
We twa hae paidl't i' the burn,
Frae mornin' sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd      
Sin' auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

The statue of Burns below stands not far from where my brother lives in Milwaukee, WI. The story of why it came to be there.

 Days of Auld Lang What?, Buzz: Burns statue salutes 'Auld Lang Syne' creator

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


This Christmas Terry Teachout's brother sent him hours of digitized home movies taken by their father and they brought forth memories. Some of what he wrote:
...[M]y parents are dead now. So is everyone in my father’s family. So are my mother’s parents, and all but one of her siblings. And so, of course, is the simpler, less knowing world of my youth that is enshrined in those faded movies, the self-confident age of Eisenhower and Kennedy, of three TV networks and tuna casserole with crumbled potato chips on top, of films and newspapers and Books of the Month that everyone saw, read, and believed. It lives only in memory....

Memories are especially important at this time of year, to me and, I suspect, to most people who have put youth behind them. “‘I miss.’ That sums up Christmas for me.” So said a thirty-nine-year-old friend of mine the other day, and I knew what she meant. How could I not? I miss my mother and father. I miss my aunts and uncles. I miss the old wooden swing on the porch of my grandmother’s house. I miss the Christmas presents and sliding boards and carefree vacations that my father loved to film. I miss the shadowless summer afternoons (“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” Henry James once said to Edith Wharton) when there was nothing to worry about, when my parents did the worrying behind my back and let me assume that all was right with the world.

For a long time I returned each Christmas to Smalltown, U.S.A. I slept in my old bedroom, ate my mother’s cooking, and pretended, even after my father died, that nothing had changed, even though I knew perfectly well that everything had changed. ....

To have had a happy childhood is the greatest of gifts, a permanent source of comfort and inspiration. ....

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A prayer for Christmas

From The Book of Common Prayer, a prayer for Christmas Day:
ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end.  Amen.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christ's three-fold coming

"The Christmas Oratorio recounts the coming of Christ in history in order to help bring about the coming of Christ in the hearts of its hearers, while pointing them toward the final coming of Christ at its end." 

Christ's Three-Fold Coming in Music | Nathaniel Peters | First Things

Monday, December 19, 2016

Bilbo: "Never laugh at live dragons"

In the mail today:

David Rowe, Proverbs of Middle-earth at Oloris Publishing, and at Amazon, at each location for $18.00.

From the publisher's description:
The works of JRR Tolkien are unique in English Literature, as they are filled with hundreds of original proverbs. 'Not all those who wander are lost,' 'Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,' and 'Never laugh at live dragons' are all poetic, wise, and convincingly real-sounding, but they are also a lens, through which more can be seen. These proverbs belong to entirely invented wisdom traditions and reflect the culture, the philosophical worldview, and the history of those who use them.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Christmas gifts, 1916

I've been browsing through the December, 1916, issue of St. Nicholas magazine — one hundred years ago. That magazine, as I noted a couple of posts ago, was intended for a young audience. All of the issues before 1924 are available online as PDFs. When looking at old magazines I always find the advertisements interesting. Advertisers, of course, motivated to sell a product, are always attempting to appeal to their potential buyers and, if they're any good, will provide some insight into those folks — both the children and their parents. These ads are all from that December issue of the magazine. The ads can all be enlarged to make the text more readable.

Parker Pen, of course, was located in Janesville, Wisconsin:
Sleeping on a glowing watch may not have been a great idea: