Friday, February 28, 2020

Monday, February 24, 2020

Pilgrims with purpose

Through the night of doubt and sorrow    
Onward goes the pilgrim band,
Singing songs of expectation,
Marching to the Promised Land.
One the strain the lips of thousands
Lift as from the heart of one;
One the conflict, one the peril,
One their march in God begun;
Clear before us, through the darkness,
Gleams and burns the guiding light.
Brother clasps the hand of brother,
Stepping fearless through the night.
One the gladness of rejoicing
On the far eternal shore,
Where the one Almighty Father
Reigns in love forevermore.
One the light of God's own presence,
O'er His ransomed people shed,
Chasing far the gloom and terror,
Brightening all the path we tread;
Onward, therefore, pilgrim brothers!
Onward, with the cross our aid!
Bear its shame and fight its battle
Till we rest beneath its shade.
One the object of our journey,
One the faith which never tires.
One the earnest looking forward,
One the hope our God inspires.
Soon shall come the great awaking,
Soon the rending of the tomb,
Then the scattering of all shadows,
And the end of toil and gloom.

"Through the Night of Doubt and Sorrow" with some variations from the text above:

Friday, February 21, 2020

"Redeeming love has been my theme"

Today Jonathan Aigner offers "9 Hymns for Those Struggling with Anxiety and Depression." He writes:
I’m not going to tell you what others might have; that if you just praise God all your troubles will melt away. Those are evil lies. Reliance upon God doesn’t melt away your troubles, and those who say so have either had terribly easy lives or, more likely, are lost in religious delusion. But what these hymns, and especially worship in Word and Sacrament, can do is to aid us in seeing the world, and ourselves, through a Christ and cross-shaped lens. Then in the midst of the deepest, darkest night of the soul, we can find the tiny morsel of faith we need to keep going. ....
It's good selection of hymns; all but one familiar to me. One of them is the great Cowper hymn "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood" about which he writes:
This is one of those hymns that has fallen out of favor in recent years because of its so-called “blood and guts” theology, an issue exacerbated by sadomasochistic neo-calvinists. But on the other hand, without the shedding of blood we’re all screwed, regardless of our particular theological bent. So, in or out of favor, this hymn will be sung at my funeral, if only because nobody likes to argue with a corpse. And the organist will have explicit instructions to play this early American hymn tune with strength, sobriety, and dignity. Though at times my words are feeble and few, redeeming love shall be my everlasting theme, in this life, and the life to come.
He includes a YouTube Sacred Harp singing of that hymn:


Aigner provides five stanzas — not all performed above:


There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,       
Lose all their guilty stains:
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die:
And shall be till I die,
And shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away:
Wash all my sins away,
Wash all my sins away;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
When this poor lisping, stamm’ring tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save:
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save,
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save;
then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save.
Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its pow’r,
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved, to sin no more:
Be saved, to sin no more,
Be saved, to sin no more;
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved to sin no more.


9 Hymns for Those Struggling with Anxiety and Depression | Jonathan Aigner

Monday, February 17, 2020

"May ours this blessing be"

Most of the new-to-me hymn texts/tunes that I have posted on this site I found while leafing through A Hymn Companion (1985) by Frank Colquhoun. Today, "Blest Are the Pure in Heart":



Blest are the pure in heart,
For they shall see our God;
The secret of the Lord is theirs,      
Their soul is Christ’s abode.
Still to the lowly soul
He doth himself impart
And for His dwelling and His throne
Chooseth the pure in heart.
The Lord, who left the heavens
Our life and peace to bring,
To dwell in lowliness with men,
Their Pattern and their King;
Lord, we thy presence seek;
May ours this blessing be;
Give us a pure and lowly heart,
A temple meet for Thee.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

An evening hymn


God, that madest earth and heaven,       
Darkness and light,
Who the day for toil hast given,
For rest the night:
May Thine angel guards defend us,
Slumber sweet Thy mercy send us;
Holy dreams and hopes attend us,
This livelong night.
Guard us waking, guard us sleeping;
And when we die,
May we, in Thy mighty keeping,
All peaceful lie.
When the last dread trump shall wake us,
Do not Thou, our God forsake us,
But to reign in glory take us
With Thee on high.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Illustrations

After some prompting by Facebook friends I finally got around to looking at the "Old Book Illustrations" site. There are thousands of illustrations, all out of copyright, searchable by subject, artist, or book title, and wonderfully scanned in several resolutions. Looking at a few of the artists that were familiar I selected the illustrations below as samples of what is available. You may not want to visit unless you have plenty of time to browse.
Arthur Rackham, Hansel & Grethel & other tales, "Hansel put out a knuckle-bone, and the old woman, whose eyes were dim, could not see, and thought it was his finger, and she was much astonished that he did not get fat."
Howard Pyle, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
Sidney Paget, The Hound of the Baskervilles, "Holmes Emptied Five Barrels"

George Cruikshank, Oliver Twist, "Oliver Asking for More"
Old Book Illustrations

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Witness

Browsing my bookshelves this afternoon I came to Whittaker Chambers' Witness. It was his autobiography concentrating particularly on his time as a Communist and spy for the Soviet Union and subsequently, some time after leaving the Party, he exposed the other members of the espionage ring in testimony before Congressional committees and ultimately in court. Although long disputed, it is now indisputable that he was right about Alger Hiss. From "The Foreword in the Form of a Letter to My Children":
...I was a witness. I do not mean a witness for the Government or against Alger Hiss and the others. Nor do I mean the short, squat, solitary figure, trudging through the impersonal halls of public buildings to testify before Congressional committees, grand juries, loyalty boards, courts of law. A man is not primarily a witness against something. That is only incidental to the fact that he is a witness for something. A witness, in the sense that I am using the word, is a man whose life and faith are so completely one that when the challenge comes to step out and testify for his faith, he does so, disregarding all risks, accepting all consequences. ....

But a man may also be an involuntary witness. I do not know any way to explain why God's grace touches a man who seems unworthy of it. But neither do I know any other way to explain how a man like myself—tarnished by life, unprepossessing, not brave—could prevail so far against the powers of the world arrayed almost solidly against him, to destroy him and defeat his truth. In this sense, I am an involuntary witness to God's grace and to the fortifying power of faith.

It was my fate to be in turn a witness to each of the two great faiths of our time. And so we come to the terrible word, Communism. My very dear children, nothing in all these pages will be written so much for you, though it is so unlike anything you would want to read. In nothing shall I be so much a witness, in no way am I so much called upon to fulfill my task, as in trying to make clear to you (and to the world) the true nature of Communism and the source of its power....

It is not new. It is, in fact, man's second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: "Ye shall be as gods." It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man's relationship to God. The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God. It is the vision of man's mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man's liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man's destiny and reorganizing man's life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation, not because God made man in His image, but because man's mind makes him the most intelligent of the animals. Copernicus and his successors displaced man as the central fact of the universe by proving that the earth was not the central star of the universe. Communism restores man to his sovereignty by the simple method of denying God. ....
Whittaker Chambers, Witness, 1952.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

"Equal upon principle"

On the anniversary of his birth, from an Independence Day speech Lincoln delivered on July 10, 1858:
.... We are now a mighty nation, we are thirty—or about thirty millions of people, and we own and inhabit about one-fifteenth part of the dry land of the whole earth. We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country,—with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men,—we look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our posterity, and we fix upon something that happened away back, as in some way or other being connected with this rise of prosperity. We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men, they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these [Independence Day] meetings in better humor with ourselves—we feel more attached the one to the other, and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations.

But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration [loud and long continued applause], and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world. [Applause.]

...[T]his argument of the Judge [Douglas] is the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it. Turn in whatever way you will—whether it come from the mouth of a King, an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent, and I hold if that course of argumentation that is made for the purpose of convincing the public mind that we should not care about this, should be granted, it does not stop with the negro. I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it where will it stop. If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get the Statute book, in which we find it and tear it out! Who is so bold as to do it! [Voices—“me” “no one,” &c.] If it is not true let us tear it out! [cries of “no, no,”] let us stick to it then [cheers], let us stand firmly by it then. [Applause.] ....

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

"We ask no victories that are not Thine"

A hymn written in 1864: "At the time the hymn was written the war had reached a turning-point. Following the bloody Battle of the Wilderness the nation was torn by a spirit of fear, bitterness and grief. Hence the reference in the first stanza to 'the night profound' which enshrouded the American people, and the prayer for God's guidance and strength." (Colquhoun, A Hymn Companion)


Stanza 2 is omitted in the performance above.

Eternal Ruler of the ceaseless round
Of circling planets singing on their way,
Guide of the nations from the night profound
Into the glory of the perfect day,
Rule in our hearts, that we may ever be
Guided and strengthened and upheld by Thee.
We are of Thee, the children of Thy love,
The brothers of Thy well belovèd Son;
Descend, O Holy Spirit, like a dove
Into our hearts, that we may be as one;
As one with Thee, to whom we ever tend;
As one with Him our brother and our friend.
We would be one in hatred of all wrong,
One in our love of all things sweet and fair;
One with the joy that breaketh into song,
One with the grief that trembleth into prayer,
One in the power that makes Thy children free
To follow truth, and thus to follow Thee.
O clothe us with Thy heavenly armor, Lord,
Thy trusty shield, Thy sword of love divine;
Our inspiration be Thy constant Word;
We ask no victories that are not Thine;
Give or withhold, let pain or pleasure be,
Enough to know that we are serving Thee.

Frank Colquhoun, A Hymn Companion, Hodder & Stoughton, 1985.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Reading Paul

A small group of Baylor University Scholars and I are reading the New Testament, in a slightly peculiar fashion. I’ve asked them to read each book not in the canonical order, but in the likely order of composition, and to imagine themselves as followers of the Way, this new faith centered on Jesus of Nazareth, whom we believe to be the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the whole world. But we don’t know whether we’re doing it right. The Way is quite recent, has spread by word of mouth, and no one account of its essentials meshes perfectly with the others. When someone brings to us a painstakingly-copied letter or narrative from what we believe to be an authoritative source, we pounce on it, we treasure it, we read it with forensic attention. And what do we learn?

We have all been struck by certain matters of tone.

We begin with some of the letters of Paul. He begins hopefully. .... (more)

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Hating the sin but not the sinner

On one of the Facebook pages I visit daily there appeared a quotation attributed to C.S. Lewis:
“There is someone I love, even though I don’t approve of what he does. There is someone I accept, though some of his thoughts and actions revolt me. There is someone I forgive, though he hurts the people I love the most. That person is...me.”
I like the quotation very much. It does seem like something Lewis could have written. But since it was presented without a source my curiosity about where he wrote it sent me to Google. Someone at Essential C.S. Lewis has done the research:
It’s just the type of thing you would expect C.S. Lewis to encourage somewhere in his writings. In fact he does! But, he just does NOT use those exact words. While known for making concise profound statements, he expresses this sentiment with a lot more words (details below). So, what we have pictured above is another example of taking material from C.S. Lewis and paraphrasing it. ....

All is not lost, because there is a good candidate for where those thoughts originated. In Mere Christianity there is a chapter entitled “Forgiveness” (Book 3, Chapter 7) where at the end of the fourth paragraph he begins a second point that sounds like the ideas in this questionable quotation.
From that chapter in Mere Christianity:
.... I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life—namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again. .... (emphasis added)

Friday, February 7, 2020

Helpless laughter

From "No flash in the pan by John Steele Gordon" about my favorite series of historical novels:
.... This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the first installment of the Flashman Papers, entitled simply Flashman.

Through the course of twelve books Flashman finds himself, despite his best efforts, at the heart of nearly every major military disaster of the nineteenth century: the First Anglo-Afghan War, the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Indian Mutiny, John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, Rorke’s Drift, even Custer’s Last Stand. And, thanks to luck and guile—Flashman always had plenty of both—he came up smelling like a rose every time. By the end of his life he was a brigadier general and a Knight of the Bath. He had been awarded numerous decorations for bravery, including the British Victoria Cross, the American Medal of Honor, and the French Légion d’honneur, all of them richly undeserved. ....

Flashman was the brilliant conception of the British author George MacDonald Fraser. Flashman had been a minor character in Thomas Hughes’s Victorian classic Tom Brown’s School Days—so minor he didn’t even have a first name in that book. As the school bully at Rugby, Flashman had made Tom Brown’s life hell until he had been expelled for drunkenness. ....

But Fraser took this thinly fleshed-out character and brought him to life by means of a masterly literary conceit. Had he simply written these books as third-person novels, it is unlikely they would have caught on....

Instead, Fraser wrote them in the first person, explaining that they were actually the memoirs of Harry Flashman. “The great mass of manuscript known as the Flashman Papers,” he wrote, “was discovered during a sale of household furniture at Ashy, Leicestershire, in 1965.... The papers, which had apparently lain untouched for fifty years, in a tea chest...were carefully wrapped in oilskin covers.” All Fraser had to do, he explained, was edit them very lightly and supply footnotes and endnotes. As far as I know, the Flashman Papers are the only novels in the English language, perhaps besides Tolkien’s, with extensive back matter, at least back matter written by the author and not an English professor determined, as they always are, to make a good book boring. ....

And the endnotes reveal another of Fraser’s literary conceits. For while Harry Flashman is completely fictional, the world he lived in for so long (his dates are 1822–1915) was very real, as were many of the characters and events in the Flashman Papers. Fraser sticks to history as much as possible. Flashman wrote that he met Florence Nightingale, for instance, at Balmoral, Queen Victoria’s Scottish estate, on the night of September 22, 1856, and, indeed, Nightingale was there that day, as recorded in Queen Victoria’s letters. ....

...Flashman is absolutely honest and forthright about his manifold deficiencies as a human being. Memoirs are not exactly famous for their warts-and-all qualities, but the Flashman Papers are most definitely warts and all and then some. Flashman knew exactly what a rotter he had been all his life and had no trouble with it.

Each of the twelve Flashman books stands alone and can be read independently in any order. They were certainly not written in chronological order. But if you are new to Flashman, I’d advise reading them in chronological sequence, though not one right after another. Like a rich and delicious dessert, the Flashman Papers should be consumed one portion at a time. ....

And one final note of caution: these wonderful books are best read either alone or in the bosom of the family. For if you read them in a public place such as a suburban commuter train or a doctor’s waiting room, you will, from time to time, burst out in helpless laughter and everyone will turn around and look at you.

You have been warned. (much more)
The Wikipedia article on The Flashman Papers includes, at the end, the books listed according to the chronology of Flashman's fictional life:


No flash in the pan by John Steele Gordon | The New Criterion

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Detection Club

In 1933, Lucy Malleson – who published detective stories under the name Anthony Gilbert – received a letter from one of her literary heroes. Dorothy L Sayers, creator of the flamboyantly monocled detective Lord Peter Wimsey, was writing to invite her to join the Detection Club, a secret society for crime writers, which Malleson regarded as “an association of the aristocracy of the detection writing world”. “Everything snobbish in my system,” Malleson recalled, in her memoir Three-a-Penny, “acclaimed this opportunity to hobnob with the great.” With some trepidation, she arrived at the Northumberland Avenue Hotel in London for the initiation dinner, to be swept up by “a massive and majestic lady in a black dress” – Sayers herself – and led down a hall lit only by flickering tapers. On instruction, Malleson placed her hand on a skull, which an impassive John Rhode was holding on a cushion, while the club’s president, GK Chesterton, dressed in a scarlet cloak and flanked by torchbearers, intoned commandments “in a voice that might have come from the abyss”. Malleson was to swear that her detective would make no use whatsoever of “Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God”; that she would “conceal no vital clues from the reader”, and be sure to “honour the King’s English”. Should she fail in her solemn duty, Chesterton warned, a curse would befall her: “May other writers anticipate your plots, may total strangers sue you for libel, may your pages swarm with misprints, and your sales continually diminish!”

The Detection Club had been established three years earlier by a group of crime writers that included Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, Baroness Orczy and Ronald Knox. Chesterton was its first president, replaced in 1936 by EC Bentley; Sayers, originally the club’s secretary, held the chair from 1949. And ever since its foundation, members have regularly convened in London restaurants and hotels, at dinners notorious for their macabre rituals and mock-serious insistence on their “fair-play” creed, which also prohibits the use in any detective plot of “hitherto undiscovered poisons”, “more than one” secret room or passage, or the introduction of identical twins without proper warning. ....

Sayers died suddenly in 1957, whereupon the Detection Club presidency passed to Agatha Christie, who was so shy that a co-president (Lord Gorell) had to be appointed to make the speeches and toasts. Yet the club goes on. In the course of my research, I was lucky enough to be invited by the current president, Martin Edwards (author of an excellent history of the club, The Golden Age of Murder), to the club’s annual dinner. .... (more)

Sunday, February 2, 2020

"Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation"

And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart 
In peace, according to Thy word: 
For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, 
Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; 
A light to lighten the Gentiles, 
And the glory of Thy people Israel. 
And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:25-35 KJV)

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

"A breath of springtime as the autumn winds blow"

Michael Dirda on re-reading (which he doesn't do very much):
...[S]ome folks discover the secret to thwarting the meretricious allure of the evanescently contemporary. Instead of picking up new books, they go back to old favorites. There are people who every year reread The Lord of the Rings or Jane Austen’s six novels or the complete adventures of Sherlock Holmes or all the plays of Shakespeare. My favorite college professor reread Madame Bovary whenever he taught the novel, which was essentially every year for three decades. He said that each time he found something new in it. Oscar Wilde contended that if a book wasn’t worth reading over and over again, it wasn’t worth reading at all. ....

One sure sign that a reader has reached old age is that he or she loses interest in new fiction. Seen it all. Been there, done that. It’s then that people nearly always do return to the books they loved when young, hoping for a breath of springtime as the autumn winds blow. And if they aren’t rereading Treasure Island or The Secret Garden? Then it’s likely to be the Bible, Plato’s dialogues or Montaigne’s essays because these inexhaustible classics address nothing less than the meaning of life, which really means, of course, the meaning of our own lives.

Alan Jacobs

I've been quoting Alan Jacobs quite a lot recently. It occurred to me that it has not been just "recently" so I did a search of the blog. Almost from its beginning I've been quoting from his books, his blog entries, and more. I have decided that it is time to create an "Alan Jacobs" label here. References to his work can be found here or by going to the label below.

Idle words

.... In response to the Pharisees who claim that it is through Beelzebub that Jesus casts out demons, he lashes them: “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (The same principle is at work in the parable of the unforgiving servant, who ends by being condemned according to the standard he applied to his fellow servant. Measure for measure….)

It is curious that Jesus speaks of the Pharisees’ accusation against him as a “careless word” — and disturbing that he clearly does not mean thereby to excuse them. Perhaps we would like to think that our careless words are more forgivable than our calculated cruelties, but it seems that we will “give account” for all our words alike. I doubt that we think about this often enough. There is sure wisdom in the Great Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim, much used in the Orthodox world, which begins thus: “O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle talk.” Idle talk! — how many of us would think to place, near the head of a long prayer to be repeated frequently in Lent, a plea to be delivered from that?

And yet many have been my idle words over the years. I wonder how much harm they have done to others, and even to me. ....

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

C.S. Lewis on reading

Alan Jacobs links to "an annotated anthology I was invited to edit — and then disinvited," consequently unfinished, but what he did finish would be interesting to anyone who reads and who enjoys C.S. Lewis.
.... But this man who could take delight in old books, old poems, that few others could read except as a matter of scholarly duty and under duress, was also a lifelong lover of children’s books. “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” And in the last scholarly book he published in his lifetime, An Experiment in Criticism (1961), he celebrated and defended once more the child’s way of reading.
As there are, or were, families and circles in which it was almost a social necessity to display an interest in hunting, or county cricket, or the Army List, so there are others where it requires great independence not to talk about, and therefore occasionally to read, the approved literature, especially the new and astonishing works, and those which have been banned or have become in some other way subjects of controversy. Readers of this sort … are entirely dominated by fashion…. Yet, while this goes on downstairs, the only real literary experience in such a family may be occurring in a back bedroom where a small boy is reading Treasure Island under the bed-clothes by the light of an electric torch.
Few indeed are the scholars — fewer still the great scholars, and Lewis was indisputably a great scholar — who could write so passionately in defense of the way he read when he was a small child, or who could enjoy The Wind in the Willows as much at age sixty as he had at age ten. This distinctive ability to read in so many ways, and for so many reasons, is what makes Lewis such a wonderful guide to the world of reading. ....

Lewis’s letters are full of accounts of the re-reading of his favorite books — a habit that those for whom adding to their list of Books Read is a major incentive to picking up a book cannot readily understand. For Lewis it was a practice so deeply ingrained that he felt it had to be restrained. When he reviewed The Lord of the Rings (which perhaps he should not in good conscience have done, given his intimacy with its author, but we’ll set that aside for now) he commented that “the book is too original and too opulent for any final judgment on a first reading. But we know at once that it has done things to us. We are not quite the same men. And though we must ration ourselves in our re-readings, I have little doubt that the book will soon take its place among the indispensables.” ....  (more)