Monday, March 30, 2020

For protection

More Jeremy Taylor: a prayer "for all that lie under the rod of war, famine, pestilence." Protection from pestilence is definitely something we desire for ourselves and others.
O Lord God Almighty, Thou art our Father, we are Thy children. Let health and peace be within our dwellings; let righteousness and holiness dwell for ever in our hearts, and be expressed in all our actions. O merciful God, say unto the destroying angel, 'It is enough'; let Thy hand cover Thy servants and hide us from the present anger; that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we may fear no evil, and suffer none. Those smitten, support with Thy staff, and visit them with Thy mercies and salvation, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jeremy Taylor, The Role and Exercises of Holy Living, 1650-51.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

"Remember that thou art a Christian..."

An excellent reminder:
NOW suppose thyself in as great a sadness as ever did load thy spirit, wouldst thou not bear it cheerfully and nobly if thou wert sure that within a certain space some strange excellent fortune would relieve thee, and enrich thee so as to overflow all thy hopes and thy desires and capacities? Now, then, when a sadness lies heavy upon thee, remember that thou art a Christian designed to the inheritance of Jesus. Indeed if thou thinkest thou shalt perish, I cannot blame thee to be sad, sad till thy heartstrings crack. But if thou believest thou shalt be saved, consider how great is that joy, how unspeakable is the glory, how excellent is the recompense for all the sufferings in the world, if they were all laden upon the spirit? So that, let thy condition be what it will, here thou art but a stranger, travelling to thy country, where the glories of a kingdom are prepared for thee; it is therefore a huge folly to be much afflicted because thou hast a less convenient inn to lodge in by the way.

But these arts of looking forwards and backwards are more than enough to support the spirit of a Christian: there is no man but hath blessings enough in present possession to outweigh the evils of a great affliction.
Jeremy Taylor, The Role and Exercises of Holy Living, 1650-51.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

"I love you, but Jesus loves you best"


From the final page of Surprised By Joy:
But what, in conclusion, of Joy? for that, after all, is what the story has mainly been about. To tell you the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian. I cannot, indeed, complain, like Wordsworth, that the visionary gleam has passed away. I believe (if the thing were at all worth recording) that the old stab, the old bitter-sweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time of my life whatever. But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer. While that other was in doubt, the pointer naturally loomed large in my thoughts. When we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter. He who first sees it cries, "Look!" The whole party gathers round and stares. But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare. They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up. But we shall not stop and stare, or not much; not on this road, though their pillars are of silver and their lettering of gold.
C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1955.

Friday, March 27, 2020

"Vice, for vice is necessary to be shewn, should always disgust"

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler No. 4, Saturday, March 31, 1750, writing about fiction:
.... In narratives, where historical veracity has no place, I cannot discover why there should not be exhibited the most perfect idea of virtue; of virtue not angelical, nor above probability; for what we cannot credit we shall never imitate; but of the highest and purest kind that humanity can reach, which, when exercised in such trials as the various revolutions of things shall bring upon it, may, by conquering some calamities, and enduring others, teach us what we may hope, and what we can perform. Vice, for vice is necessary to be shewn, should always disgust; nor should the graces of gaiety, or the dignity of courage, be so united with it, as to reconcile it to the mind. Wherever it appears, it should raise hatred by the malignity of its practices; and contempt, by the meanness of its stratagems; for while it is supported by either parts or spirit, it will be seldom heartily abhorred. The Roman tyrant was content to be hated, if he was but feared; and there are thousands of the readers of romances willing to be thought wicked, if they may be allowed to be wits. It is therefore to be always inculcated, that virtue is the highest proof of a superior understanding, and the only solid basis of greatness; and that vice is the natural consequence of narrow thoughts; that it begins in mistake, and ends in ignominy.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

If you've thought of reading C.S. Lewis

Russell Moore on "Reading in Exile: Books by C.S. Lewis." Advice about books to read while self isolating. If you haven't read Lewis or about him, but have thought of doing so, these are very good recommendations.
Reading in Exile: Books by C.S. Lewis - YouTube

Monday, March 23, 2020

Hobbits, Hooligans, and Vulcans

From an interesting review of Against Democracy — a libertarian's argument that the franchise should be limited — comes this categorization of the voters in our democracy:
.... Brennan places citizens into three categories—Hobbits, Hooligans, and Vulcans. Hobbits are uninformed about politics and indifferent to them. The average non-voter in a Western democracy is a Hobbit. Hooligans are interested in politics, but follow it in the same way that a person follows a team sport. They are strongly partisan, frequently uninformed, and prone to cognitive bias. They barrack for team Republican or team Labour in the same way someone barracks for the New York Yankees or Manchester United. They can repeat the arguments in favour of their preferred party or ideology, but limit their sources of news to those which confirm their own views and have only a limited understanding of the position of the other side. A conservative Hooligan could not give an explanation of the arguments in favour of socialism that a socialist would recognise, nor could a socialist Hooligan give a cogent argument in favour of capitalism. In most democracies, he writes, the average voter is a Hooligan. Vulcans, by contrast, are the ideal democratic citizens—they inform themselves, seek out opposing views, and consider issues with as little cognitive bias as possible (nobody could be completely free from it). While we all like to think of ourselves as Vulcans, Brennan argues that they are actually rare. In general, when the apolitical become interested in politics, they go from Hobbits to Hooligans.

These categories do not conform to any one political ideology, and people in all three categories can be found in different camps. .... (more)
'Against Democracy'—A Review - Quillette

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Recklessness, courage, and cowardice

In "Coronavirus, Courage, and the Second Temptation of Christ" David French responds to those Christians who refuse to take precautions in the face of pandemic, for instance "a pastor encouraged people to greet each other and said that his Bible school was open because they’re 'raising up revivalists, not pansies.'"
.... Even within those churches that have chosen to comply with public health warnings and temporarily cancel services, there are rumblings of dissent and discontent. You see it all over social media. And whether sophisticated or simple, these impulses toward defiance are virtually all grounded in a similar question: Why should Christians surrender to fear? People of faith should reject the guidance of public officials. Our gatherings are different. After all, isn’t it true that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”? ....

There exists within Christianity a temptation to performative acts that masquerade as fearlessness. In reality, this recklessness represents—as the early church father John Chrysostom called it—“display and vainglory.” Look how fearless we are, we declare, as we court risks that rational people should shun. In the context of a global pandemic followers of Christ can actually become a danger to their fellow citizens, rather than a source of help and hope.

Or, put another way, reckless Christians can transform themselves from angels of mercy to angels of death, and the rest of the world would be right to fear their presence.

But just as Christ rejected performative displays, [Matthew 4:5-7] he also rejected cowardice. He demands sacrifice even unto death. Yet taking up one’s cross in imitation of Christ means engaging in purposeful sacrifice. This is the risk of the doctor or the nurse who possesses the courage to continually expose himself or herself to deadly disease to care for the sick and dying. This is the risk of the faithful believer who sheds personal protection to care for the least of these so that they are not alone. ....

Shun performative recklessness. Do not presume that our faith makes us immune to the laws of biology and viral transmission. At the same time, believers should not shrink from purposeful and sacrificial personal risk. There may come a time when you must care for those who are sick. Do so without reservation, but do so prudently with the knowledge that you should not impute your risks to others. ....

Saturday, March 21, 2020

"Let our spirits always rejoice..."

Thou, who with thine own mouth hast told us that at midnight the bridegroom shall come: Grant that the cry, "The bridegroom cometh!" may sound evermore in our ears, that so we be never unprepared to meet him, or forgetful of the souls for whom he died, for whom we watch and pray. And save us, O Lord. Amen.
Lancelot Andrewes (1555 – 1626)

Lord Jesus, be mindful of your promise. Think of us, your servants, and when we shall depart, speak to our spirits these loving words: "Today you shall be with me in joy." O Lord Jesus Christ, remember us, your servants who trust in you, when our tongues cannot speak, when the sight of our eyes fails, and when our ears are stopped. Let our spirits always rejoice in you and be joyful about our salvation, which you, through your death, have purchased for us. Amen.
Miles Coverdale (1488 – 1569)

On the anniversary of Bach's birth

Thursday, March 19, 2020

"Going up home to live in green pastures"

Troubles and trials often betray those
On in the weary body to stray
But we shall walk beside the still waters
With the Good Shepherd leading The Way  
We will not heed the voice of the stranger
For he would lead us all to despair
Following on with Jesus our savior
We shall all reach that country so fair
Those who have strayed were sought by The Master      
He who once gave His life for the sheep
Out on the mountain still He is searching
Bringing them in forever to keep
Going up home to live in green pastures
Where we shall live and die never more
Even The Lord will be in that number
When we shall reach that Heavenly Shore
Going up home to live in green pastures
Where we shall live and die never more
Even The Lord will be in that number
When we shall reach that Heavenly Shore

"Come unto me and rest"

Jonathan Aigner, is doing a series of blog posts about "Hymns of Hope and Comfort," today: "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say." Some time ago I posted this performance of that great hymn:

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Come unto me and rest;
lay down, thou weary one, lay down
thy head upon my breast."
I came to Jesus as I was,
weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting place,
and he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink, and live."
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"I am this dark world's light;
look unto me, thy morn shall rise,
and all thy day be bright."
I looked to Jesus, and I found
in him my Star, my Sun;
and in that light of life I'll walk
till traveling days are done.

Words: Horatio Bonar, 1846, Music: Kingsfold, Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

On talk and talkers

Continuing to read Robert Louis Stevenson, this time in "Talk and Talkers":
There can be no fairer ambition than to excel in talk; to be affable, gay, ready, clear and welcome; to have a fact, a thought, or an illustration, pat to every subject; and not only to cheer the flight of time among our intimates, but bear our part in that great international congress, always sitting, where public wrongs are first declared, public errors first corrected, and the course of public opinion shaped, day by day, a little nearer to the right. ....

There is a certain attitude, combative at once and deferential, eager to fight yet most averse to quarrel, which marks out at once the talkable man. It is not eloquence, not fairness, not obstinacy, but a certain proportion of all of these that I love to encounter in my amicable adversaries. They must not be pontiffs holding doctrine, but huntsmen questing after elements of truth. Neither must they be boys to be instructed, but fellow-teachers with whom I may, wrangle and agree on equal terms. We must reach some solution, some shadow of consent; for without that, eager talk becomes a torture. But we do not wish to reach it cheaply, or quickly, or without the tussle and effort wherein pleasure lies. ....

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Thanks be to God

Colossians 1:12-22 (KJV)
.... Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight....

Monday, March 16, 2020

"A tradition is a living thing"

From a good long essay by Roger Scruton, "T.S. Eliot as Conservative Mentor":
.... One other essay in The Sacred Wood deserves mention—"Tradition and the Individual Talent," in which Eliot introduces the term which best summarizes his contribution to the political consciousness of the twentieth century: tradition. In this essay Eliot argues that true originality is possible only within a tradition—and further, that every tradition must be remade by the genuine artist, in the very act of creating something new. A tradition is a living thing, and just as each writer is judged in terms of those who went before, so does the meaning of the tradition change as new works are added to it. It was this literary idea of a living tradition that was gradually to permeate Eliot’s thinking, and to form the core of his social and political philosophy.

Prufrock and The Sacred Wood already help us to understand the paradox of T.S. Eliot—that our greatest literary modernist should also be our greatest modern conservative. The man who overthrew the nineteenth century in literature and inaugurated the age of free verse, alienation, and experiment was also the man who, in 1928, was to describe himself as “classical in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion.” This seeming paradox contains a clue to Eliot’s greatness as a social and political thinker. For Eliot recognized that it is precisely in modern conditions—conditions of fragmentation, heresy, and unbelief—that the conservative project acquires its sense. Conservatism is itself a modernism, and in this fact lies the secret of its success. What distinguishes Burke from the French revolutionaries is not his attachment to things past, but rather his desire to live fully in the concrete present, to understand the present in all its imperfections, and to accept the present as the only reality that is offered to us. Like Burke, Eliot recognized the distinction between a backward-looking nostalgia, which is but another form of modern sentimentality, and a genuine tradition, which grants us the courage and the vision with which to live in the modern world. .... (much more, worth reading if you value Eliot)

Sunday, March 15, 2020

"A faculty for idleness"

In "reading in a time of anxiety" Alan Jacobs suggests stories and essays available free at Project Gutenberg. A friend has chosen Kipling. I decided to look at a collection of essays by Robert Louis Stevenson. The second essay I came across was "An Apology for Idlers" and since I am an idler, and am likely to be even more idle for the next few weeks, I read and enjoyed it. From the essay:
.... Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity. There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you will see how they pine for their desk or their study. They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they cannot be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill. When they do not require to go to the office, when they are not hungry and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing world is a blank to them. .... As if a man's soul were not too small to begin with, they have dwarfed and narrowed theirs by a life of all work and no play; until here they are at forty, with a listless attention, a mind vacant of all material of amusement, and not one thought to rub against another....

....There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy, we sow anonymous benefits upon the world, which remain unknown even to ourselves, or when they are disclosed, surprise nobody so much as the benefactor. The other day, a ragged, barefoot boy ran down the street after a marble, with so jolly an air that he set every one he passed into a good humour; one of these persons, who had been delivered from more than usually black thoughts, stopped the little fellow and gave him some money with this remark: "You see what sometimes comes of looking pleased." If he had looked pleased before, he had now to look both pleased and mystified. For my part, I justify this encouragement of smiling rather than tearful children; I do not wish to pay for tears anywhere but upon the stage; but I am prepared to deal largely in the opposite commodity. A happy man or woman is a better thing to find than a five-pound note. He or she is a radiating focus of good-will; and their entrance into a room is as though another candle had been lighted. .... ("This essay was first printed in the Cornhill Magazine, for July 1877, Vol. XXXVI, pp. 80-86.")

Saturday, March 14, 2020

"Preserve us from faithless fears..."

From the Book of Common Prayer (1928):
O MOST loving Father, who willest us to give thanks for all things, to dread nothing but the loss of Thee, and to cast all our care on Thee, who carest for us; Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which Thou hast manifested unto us in Thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O MOST mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto Thee for succour. Deliver us, we beseech Thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

"Leave us alone!"

Re-posted because it is so good and so true.

The worst thing about teaching didn't happen in the classroom. It was in-service meetings involving "brainstorming" and whiteboards and vast amounts of wasted time. Alan Jacobs explains the real reason these things happen:
...[I]n 2005 a very thoroughly researched and well-argued scholarly article was published that demonstrates, quite clearly, that group productivity is an illusion. All those brainstorming sessions and group projects you’ve been made to do at school and work? Useless. Everybody would have been better off working on their own. Here’s the abstract of the article:
It has consistently been found that people produce more ideas when working alone as compared to when working in a group. Yet, people generally believe that group brainstorming is more effective than individual brainstorming. Further, group members are more satisfied with their performance than individuals, whereas they have generated fewer ideas. We argue that this ‘illusion of group productivity’ is partly due to a reduction of cognitive failures (instances in which someone is unable to generate ideas) in a group setting. Three studies support that explanation, showing that: (1) group interaction leads to a reduction of experienced failures and that failures mediate the effect of setting on satisfaction; and (2) manipulations that affect failures also affect satisfaction ratings. Implications for group work are discussed.
Has the puncturing of that “illusion of group productivity” had any effect? Of course not. Groupthink is as powerful as ever. Why is that?

I’ll tell you. It’s because the world is run by extraverts. (And FYI, that’s the proper spelling: extrovert is common but wrong, because extra- is the proper Latin prefix.) Extraverts love meetings — any possible excuse for a meeting, they’ll seize on it. They might hear others complain about meetings, but the complaints never sink in: extraverts can’t seem to imagine that the people who say they hate meetings really mean it. “Maybe they hate other meetings, but I know they’ll enjoy mine, because I make them fun! Besides, we’ll get so much done!” ....

...[E]xtraverts of the world, I invite you to make a New Year’s resolution: Refrain from organizing stuff. Don’t plan parties or outings or, God forbid, “team-building exercises.” Just don’t call meetings. (I would ask you to refrain from calling unnecessary meetings, but so many of you think almost all meetings necessary that it’s best you not call them at all.) Leave people alone and let them get their work done. Those who want to socialize can do it after work. I’ll not tell you you’ll enjoy it: you won’t. You’ll be miserable, at least at first, because you won’t be pulling others’ puppet-strings. But everyone will be more productive, and many people will be happier. Give it a try. Let go for a year. Just leave us alone.
Hey Extraverts: Enough is Enough | The American Conservative


Alan Jacobs on what might increase the credibility and authority of experts:
.... I [would place] more stress on the need for experts to police themselves far more carefully then they currently do: to maintain the strictest standards of impartiality, and to make clear distinctions among (a) what they know, (b) matters about which they can reasonably surmise, and (c) those topics on which their opinions are no better than yours or mine. One of the primary responsibilities of genuine experts, in a heavily polluted informational ecosystem, is to give uninformed laypeople no justification, however implausible, for preferring their own judgment to that of the genuinely knowledgeable. ....

Wednesday, March 11, 2020


Caricature of Winston Churchill found at Old Book Illustrations. The book it is found in was published in 1913. World War I began in 1914. He was First Lord of the Admiralty when that war began.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Lord is my Shepherd

The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am His
And He is mine for ever.
In death's dark vale I fear no ill
With Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.
Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul He leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow    
With food celestial feedeth.
Thou spread'st a table in my sight;
Thy unction, grace bestoweth:
And O what transport of delight
From Thy pure chalice floweth!
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.
And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house for ever.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

"For Thine is the Kingdom"

I've been reading a lot about Tom Holland's Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World and what I've read interests me, especially as I am an erstwhile history teacher who is Christian. Dwight Longenecker's review, "For Thine is the Kingdom," may overcome my resistance to adding another hefty volume to my already too large library.
.... I love reading history, but there are few things more tedious than a historian who is a prisoner in his ivory tower—never venturing beyond the safety of his footnotes, his research, and his “objective findings.” So worried about the approval of his peers and so cautious for his tenure in the fantasy land of academia that he never ventures a daring opinion (if he even has one). So obsessive about “objectivity,” he never risks his reputation by voicing a view. ....

Like a queen who rides a bicycle, Tom Holland’s Dominion is both majestic and down to earth. From antiquity to modernity, Mr. Holland traces a sneaky thesis that Christianity has changed the world—transforming it from the inside out. For those who love symmetry, Mr. Holland breaks down his sprawling history of the West (and from there the whole world) into three sections of seven chapters each. ....

The first section is “Antiquity” in which Mr. Holland traces the germination of Christian thought among the Greeks before spreading through Jerusalem and across the Roman Empire. Part two deals with the flux and influence of Christendom from the ninth to seventeenth centuries, while the third section takes us through the enlightenment, the revolutions of the modern age, and the contemporary modern malaise. In each chapter Mr. Holland shows how a particular advance, philosophy, humanistic development, or philosophical insight was inspired and driven by the core tenets and worldview of Christianity. ....

The development of science springs from a Christian theology that the natural world is real, and that it is ordered and structured and can therefore be studied and analyzed. The idea that one can take initiative and change one’s life and change the world springs from the empowerment that comes from the doctrine of free will. Human rights would never have been thought of without the belief in the innate dignity of each human being created in God’s image and likeness. Justice is possible because of the belief in an objective law—which would be impossible without a divine lawgiver, and even the atheistic rebellions of Voltaire, Nietzsche, and Marx would have been impossible without a higher belief in the values of truth and personal integrity that undermine hypocrisy, humbug, and injustice. ....

Aware of modern man’s antipathy towards organized religion, Mr. Holland simply lays out his case for the power and fecundity of the Christian worldview. Aware of our boredom with dull politically correct lectures, he portrays the dominion of Christianity as a series of surprises and a great adventure. Aware also of modern man’s distrust of establishment authority figures, he manages to portray the dominance of Christian thought as the subversive strain in society that it always has been. .... (more)

Friday, March 6, 2020


I discover a quotation from Phillip Larkin:
...I dislike such things not because they are new, but because they are irresponsible exploitations of technique in contradiction of human life as we know it. This is my essential criticism of modernism, whether perpetrated by Parker, Pound, or Picasso: it helps us neither to enjoy nor endure. It will divert us as long as we are prepared to be mystified or outraged, but maintains its hold only by being more mystifying and more outrageous: it has no lasting power. Hence the compulsion on every modernist to wade deeper and deeper into violence and obscenity....
From a book I haven't read: Larkin, All What Jazz, 1985.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

"The only thing we ultimately control"

Alan Jacobs some years ago on "A Long Defeat, A Final Victory":
.... The phrase “long defeat” comes from J.R.R. Tolkien, who in The Lord of the Rings puts it in the mouth of Galadriel, and in a letter uses it himself: “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ — though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.” ....

.... Perhaps the chief problem with the “culture wars” paradigm that governs so much Christian action and reflection, in the North American context anyway, is that it encourages us to think in terms of trophies rather than testimonies. It tempts us to think too much about whether we’re winning or losing, and too little about the only thing we ultimately control, which is the firmness of our own resolve. ....

It seems to me that the most important political acts I can perform do not involve siding with one of the existing parties, or even necessarily to vote at all, but to try to bear witness through word and action to this double vision of the earthly city: a long defeat followed by a longer joy.

We are too prone, I believe, to think that voting is the definitive political act. That would be true only if politics simply belongs to the government. There is a far vaster sphere of politics — the life of the polis — that belongs to everyday acts of ordinary people. In this maybe Gandalf is a pretty good guide: “Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Death Day


Philip Jenkins on why we are certain March 1 was the day the patron saint of Wales died and why "death days" were so important:
St David's, Pembrokeshire, Wales
March 1 is the feast of David, the early medieval bishop and missionary who became patron saint of Wales. We actually know strikingly little of David apart from that date, of March 1, but I’m going to suggest that represents a good deal in its own right. ....

A death about 590 is a reasonable guess, but we could easily slip fifty years either way. Oddly though, we can be sure that he died on March 1, whether in (say) 532 or 632 AD. Through the Middle Ages, hagiography was a vast area of cultural effort, when almost any outrageous achievements could be credited to a saint. (No, David did not really make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was ordained by the Patriarch). The one thing that we know these writers did keep faithfully was the death day — the date not the year — because that marked the hero’s ascension to glory, the promotion to heaven. In a particular church or community, those days were critical, as marking the annual celebration of the beloved local saint.
Argue as much as you like, then, about precise years, achievements, martyrdoms and areas of activity, about the number of lepers cured and tyrants opposed — but don’t quarrel with death days.
Death days.
It’s an interesting term. I know my birthday. I also know that at some future point I will die, and that that will befall on a particular date. Let me be optimistic and assume that it will be a distant event, say on July 23, 2049. Each year, then, I pass through July 23 happily unaware that I am marking my Death Day, surely as significant a milestone as my birthday, but not one I can ever know with certainty until it occurs. Nor is it something we really ever contemplate, as we all know, in our hearts, that we are immortal.
I suppose though that it is something we can learn from those medieval monks, that the Death Day is not just a key event in anyone’s life, but literally the only one we can take with absolute confidence. [emphasis added]

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


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


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”
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)