Sunday, May 31, 2020

In the day of trouble

Via Alan Jacobs
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favour and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  
Book of Common Prayer (1928)

In the spirit of neighborliness

O God, the Creator of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you in Jesus Christ; in whose Name we pray. Amen.

Increase, O God, the spirit of neighborliness among us, that in peril we may uphold one another, in suffering tend to one another, and in homelessness, loneliness, or exile befriend one another. Grant us brave and enduring hearts that we may strengthen one another, until the disciplines and testing of these days are ended, and you again give peace in our time; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer (Anglican), 2019.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

"Make us wise..."

MOST heartily do we thank Thee, O Lord, for all Thy mercies of every kind, and for Thy loving care over all Thy creatures. We bless Thee for the gift of life, for Thy protection round about us, for Thy guiding hand upon us, and for the many tokens of Thy love within us; especially for the saving knowledge of Thy dear Son, our Redeemer; and for the living presence of Thy Spirit, our Comforter. We thank Thee for friendship and duty, for good hopes and precious memories, for the joys that cheer us and for the trials that teach us to trust in Thee. In all these things, our heavenly Father, make us wise unto a right use of Thy great benefits; and so direct us that in word and deed we may render an acceptable thanksgiving unto Thee, in Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
The Book of Common Worship (Presbyterian), 1906.


Re-posted because it's perfect:

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

"Once a thing is done..."

Similar to an argument I would make to persuade 9th graders of the value of studying history:
...[T]he future is imaginary, the present is happening and that only leaves the past to be true; and it leaves the past as, in a sense, all of a piece. Once a thing is done, it belongs to the past. .... C.H. Sisson (1914-2003)

Monday, May 25, 2020

"For I am a stranger...and a sojourner"

Lord, let me know my end and the number of my days, that I may learn how short my life is.

Behold, you have made my days as a span in length, and my age is even as nothing before you; and truly, everyone living is but a breath. For everyone walks about as a shadow, and disquiets himself in vain; he heaps up riches and cannot tell who shall gather them.

And now, Lord, what is my hope? Truly, my hope is in you.
Deliver me from all my offenses, and make me not a taunt of the foolish.

I became mute and opened not my mouth, for it was you that brought it to pass. Take your affliction from me; I am consumed by the blows of your heavy hand.

When you, with rebukes, chasten someone for sin, you consume what is dear to him, like a moth eating a garment; everyone therefore is but vanity.

Hear my prayer, O LORD, and with your ears consider my cry; hold not your peace at my tears. For I am a stranger with you, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.

O turn your gaze from me, that I may again be glad, before I go away to be seen no more.

Psalm 39:5-15 (Coverdale, 1535)

Memorial Day

Mom's youngest brother, Robert Levi Bond, killed in action in September of 1944, buried in Belgium at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery.

Mom, Uncle Robert, Aunt Bea

Secretary of War Stimson

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Surrounded by a cloud of witnesses

From the Book of Common Prayer, 2019:
Most loving Father, you will us to give thanks for all things, to dread nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on the One who cares 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 you have manifested unto us in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Heavenly Father, help us to entrust our loved ones to your care. Though sorrow darkens our lives, help us to look up to you, remembering the cloud of witnesses by which we are surrounded. And grant that we on earth, rejoicing ever in your presence, may share with them the rest and peace which your presence gives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Honored dead

My Bond Great-grandfather's brother

Levi W. Bond, Company B, 15th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry, US,
killed September 3, 1864, near Berryville, Virginia

Saturday, May 23, 2020


Sat outside under shelter this afternoon. Rain, straight down, warm, April showers, (in May), global warming, I guess, except a month later. Smoked a very good cigar. I first smoked cigars in graduate school in Virginia (1969-1970), cigarillos with plastic tips, I think.  A friend, now a pastor, later introduced me to Jamaican cigars — a considerable upgrade. Later, in the UK I purchased a packet of Cubans legally. They were unavailable here because of the boycott JFK imposed on Cuba (but only after he arranged to buy lot for himself). I enjoy them. A friend, who did, too, and whose wife didn't object, can't smoke anymore because of precarious health, and has stopped. Another friend, also stopped because they no longer gave him pleasure. Life can be unfair. I was reminded of this Kipling poem from 1922:
OPEN the old cigar-box, get me a Cuba stout,
For things are running crossways, and Maggie and I are out.

We quarreled about Havanas—we fought o’er a good cheroot,
And I know she is exacting, and she says I am a brute.

Open the old cigar-box—let me consider a space;
In the soft blue veil of the vapour musing on Maggie’s face.

Maggie is pretty to look at—Maggie’s a loving lass,
But the prettiest cheeks must wrinkle, the truest of loves must pass.

There’s peace in a Laranaga, there’s calm in a Henry Clay;
But the best cigar in an hour is finished and thrown away—

Thrown away for another as perfect and ripe and brown—
But I could not throw away Maggie for fear o’ the talk o’ the town!

Maggie, my wife at fifty—grey and dour and old—
With never another Maggie to purchase for love or gold!

And the light of Days that have Been the dark of the Days that Are,  
And Love’s torch stinking and stale, like the butt of a dead cigar—

The butt of a dead cigar you are bound to keep in your pocket—
With never a new one to light tho’ it’s charred and black to the socket!

Open the old cigar-box—let me consider a while.
Here is a mild Manilla—there is a wifely smile

Which is the better portion—bondage bought with a ring,
Or a harem of dusky beauties fifty tied in a string?

Counselors cunning and silent—comforters true and tried, 
And never a one of the fifty to sneer at a rival bride?

Thought in the early morning, solace in time of woes,
Peace in the hush of the twilight, balm ere my eyelids close,

This will the fifty give me. When they are spent and dead,
Five times other fifties shall be my servants instead.

The furrows of far-off Java, the isles of the Spanish Main,
When they hear my harem is empty will send me my brides again.

I will take no heed to their raiment, nor food for their mouths withal,
So long as the gulls are nesting, so long as the showers fall.

I will scent ’em with best vanilla, with tea will I temper their hides,
And the Moor and the Mormon shall envy who read of the tale of my brides.

For Maggie has written a letter to give me my choice between
The wee little whimpering Love and the great god Nick o’ Teen.

And I have been servant of Love for barely a twelvemonth clear,
But I have been Priest of Cabanas a matter of seven year;

And the gloom of my bachelor days is flecked with the cheery light
Of stumps that I burned to Friendship and Pleasure and Work and Fight.

And I turn my eyes to the future that Maggie and I must prove,
But the only light on the marshes is the Will-o’-the-Wisp of Love.

Will it see me safe through my journey or leave me bogged in the mire?
Since a puff of tobacco can cloud it, shall I follow the fitful fire?

Open the old cigar-box—let me consider anew—
Old friends, and who is Maggie that I should abandon you?

A million surplus Maggies are willing to bear the yoke;
And a woman is only a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke.

Light me another Cuba—I hold to my first-sworn vows.
If Maggie will have no rival, I’ll have no Maggie for Spouse!
That's not me. If I had married I would have given up the habit if it would have pleased her (whoever would have had me), but in my bachelor existence cigars have given a lot of pleasure.

"The book made me laugh out loud"

What is it about Wodehouse that makes so many lifelong enthusiasts of his readers? The world described in his novels and stories—at English country houses, in the clubs of London, on New York’s Broadway—seems to come to us from an early 1920s time capsule, even though the majority of his books were written later than that. His tales always bring the reader to a kind of happy ending, and along the way display no malice whatsoever, even for characters who might deserve to be despised (such as the fascist Roderick Spode). There are no murders, no situations truly fraught with tragedy or grave danger. ....

Perhaps it is Wodehouse’s attention to meticulous plotting. We know in advance, for instance, that the very appealing young man and woman will be together at the end, but the author can still surprise you with unexpected—and hilarious—situations before we get there. When it comes to his many love stories, Wodehouse is the twentieth century’s Jane Austen—girl meets boy, initial disregard turns to something else, wedding bells are finally heard—but armed with a squirting bouttonière.

Or perhaps it is Wodehouse’s perfect mastery of English prose. None of his sentences ever goes awry, though they can be as long and intricate as those in the epistles of St. Paul. Wodehouse’s English is always formally correct, yet it is sprinkled liberally with slang, odd idiomatic expressions, effortless literary allusions, and sudden punch lines that hit you between the eyes.

And then there are his characters. The inimitable Psmith (“the P is silent”), the roguish Ukridge, the indefatigable storyteller Mr. Mulliner, the puttering old pig farmer the Earl of Emsworth. And of course the perfectly amiable twit Bertie Wooster, his priceless brace of aunts (Dahlia, good, and Agatha, bad, but both formidable), his would-be fiancée, the fearsome Honoria Glossop, and his omniscient gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves. Most Wodehouse fans find their way in via the first-person tales of Bertie. I recommend The Code of the Woosters (1938), which begins with the best description ever written of the experience of a hangover, or Joy in the Morning (1946), published in the U.S. as Jeeves in the Morning. ....

One learns after a while that when one begins a Wodehouse story, satisfaction is guaranteed. Like a fresh whisky and soda, his work promises an easing of the tensions of daily life, an invitation to merriment, and a quiet contentment that in the end all will be well. (more)

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Remembering and feeling nostalgic

Pulled out a folder from my filing cabinet this afternoon that contained documents and photos from my years teaching. I hadn't looked through it for a long time and it brought back many memories. There were evaluations based on principal's observations of my teaching, letters and cards from students and parents. All were positive. It is quite possible I simply didn't save things that weren't. But it was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon and left me feeling pretty good about myself. There was a packet from my final year teaching, 2005 (I retired from James Madison Memorial High School in Madison, Wisconsin), that I particularly enjoyed reading: the result of a survey of seniors asking them to nominate an "Influential Teacher." The cover note read "Traditionally, these ballots have been destroyed after being counted, but I thought it would be nice to share these with you; it is not too often that we get positive feedback!" They were anonymous.

An example:

Obviously that is the sort of thing a teacher hopes might be said. There were quite a few and if there were negative evaluations they weren't passed on to me. A few others that I particularly enjoyed reading:

  • I learned a lot and he influenced my ways of thinking and showed you can command respect not by harsh discipline but by example.
  • He encouraged open discussion in his class even though he held a minority and often unpopular view. Furthermore, his classes were lively and encouraged thinking about a variety of political issues.
  • He has such a vast knowledge of his subject that he shares with his students. I've never had a teacher who knows his subject so well. He shares his own opinions but listens to others as well.
  • He is an expert at what he teaches. He seems to know the answer to any question his students ask and always treats his students with respect and as if they are intellectual equals, not inferiors.
  • I entered American Politics class knowing little and caring little about politics. However, Mr Skaggs's enthusiasm and wide-knowledge base made me very interested in something I cared very little for in the past.
  • As the sole influential conservative in the building, he brings diversity to the classroom and says what others won't. His retirement will truly mark the end of an era. He's the most learned person I think I've ever met in respect to politics and history.
  • Cuz he was da straight shit, yo!
It's been a good afternoon!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

"On Him all my need I lay"

Jesus bleibet meine Freude,
Meines Herzens Trost und Saft,
Jesus wehret allem Leide,
Er ist meines Lebens Kraft,
Meiner Augen Lust und Sonne,
Meiner Seele Schatz und Wonne;        
Darum lass' ich Jesum nicht,
Aus dem Herzen und Gesicht.
Jesus all my joy remaineth,
My heart's solace and my stay
All my wounds to heal he deigneth,
On Him all my need I lay
He's my heart's fond hope and treasure,
My soul's rapture and dearest pleasure
He is with me day and night,
Ever in my heart and sight.
English translation

Monday, May 18, 2020


From Anecdotal Evidence this morning:
It takes a singular individual, one who is unfashionably non-aligned, to acknowledge his dependence on the work of others. .... Originality is a pernicious myth. Something truly original would be a horrifying blank, or chaos. We all come from somewhere.... Simon Leys writes in “The Experience of Literary Translation” (The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays, 2013):
“String together all the pages that you have copied out over the course of your readings and, without there being a single line by you, the ensemble may turn out to be the most accurate portrait of your mind and your heart. Such mosaics of quotations resemble pictorial ‘collages’: all the elements are borrowed, but together they form original pictures.”
I'm pretty sure I've never had an original thought.

"All should be equally free"

Quoted in the "Moore to the Point" newsletter this morning:
Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans, and Christians.

— Virginia Baptist evangelist John Leland (1754-1841).

Sunday, May 17, 2020

"Thank God for laughter!"


I really like the story, and enjoyed noting its attribution. Via Ray Ortlund:
Rev. Theodore L. Cuyler, the celebrated Brooklyn divine, was visiting the famous London preacher, Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon. After a hard day of work and serious discussion, these two mighty men of God went out into the country together for a holiday. They roamed the fields in high spirits like boys let loose from school, chatting and laughing and free from care. Dr. Cuyler had just told a story at which Mr. Spurgeon laughed uproariously. Then suddenly he turned to Dr. Cuyler and exclaimed, "Theodore, let’s kneel down and thank God for laughter!" And there, on the green carpet of grass, under the trees, two of the world’s greatest men knelt and thanked the dear Lord for the bright and joyous gift of laughter.

The Sabbath Recorder, 1 February 1915, page 157.
Updated when I discovered where it was to be found. The page number was correct but the fifth issue, rather than the first, of The Sabbath Recorder in 1915.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

On the wrong road

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world it's pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistakes. We're on the wrong road. And if that is so we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

"Bless the name of the Lord..."

An interesting essay by a Christian who has been in lock-down in Michigan ends with a quotation from Samuel Johnson:
The chief security against the fruitless anguish of impatience must arise from frequent reflection on the wisdom and goodness of the God of nature, in whose hands are riches and poverty, honor and disgrace, pleasure and pain, and life and death. A settled conviction of the tendency of everything to our good, and of the possibility of turning miseries into happiness, by receiving them rightly, will incline us to “bless the name of the Lord, whether he gives or takes away.” The Rambler No. 32, Saturday, 7 July 1750

“The Weight of Glory”

This week Russell Moore's Reading in Exile series of YouTube talks is taking up a collection of C.S. Lewis's essays — a different one each day. Yesterday it was one of the best, “The Weight of Glory.” I was curious whether that essay, actually a sermon preached in 1942, could be found online. It is here as a pdf.

Monday, May 11, 2020

“I don’t think I am wrong, but what if I am wrong?”

Shadow To Light is an interesting Christian blog that engages with atheist arguments. Today he takes up Sam Harris’s effort to refute "Pascal’s Wager."
Blaise Pascal
.... I was not raised as a Christian. I became a Christian, and remain a Christian, because of reason and evidence. However, I also recognize the limitations of the human intellect. Since my Christian faith is not rooted in intellectual certainty, I fully concede that I could be wrong. I could be deluded. That naturally leads to the following question – “What if I am wrong?” It’s precisely at this point that the Wager comes into play. For if I am wrong, if when I die I simply cease to exist, the answer becomes “So what?” It’s not as if I will ever know or notice it. ....

...[G]iven the Wager is a wager, it’s not an issue of it being “valid.” It’s whether or not it is wise. Whether it is smart. And the answer to that question will depend on a) the actual wager being made and b) the person who makes the wager.

Yes, I think when it is an issue of choosing between atheism and Christianity, the Wager is wise. As I mentioned above, if I am wrong, and the atheist is right, I’m left with the unanswerable question – So what? When I die, I simply cease to exist. I have incurred no cost. ....

I accept and embrace Christianity because I think it is true because of reason and evidence. As I explained, the Wager comes into play after the evidence is considered. The Wager exists due to the fact that none of us can purchase intellectual certainty. The human brain is too limited and too fallible. The Wager is the response to the question, “I don’t think I am wrong, but what if I am wrong?” ....

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Safe to glory

Come, ye souls by sin afflicted,
Bowed with fruitless sorrow down;
By the broken law convicted,
Through the cross behold the crown;
Look to Jesus; mercy flows through Him alone.
Blessèd are the eyes that see Him,
Blest the ears that hear His voice;
Blessèd are the souls that trust Him,
And in Him alone rejoice;
His commandments then become their happy choice.
Take His easy yoke and wear it;
Love will make obedience sweet;
Christ will give you strength to bear it,
While His wisdom guides your feet
Safe to glory, where His ransomed captives meet.   
Sweet as home to pilgrims weary,
Light to newly opened eyes,
Or full springs in deserts dreary,
Is the rest the cross supplies;
All who taste it shall to rest immortal rise.
Jo­seph Swain, 1792.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Rewriting history

.... Mr. Putin’s version of history depends on two myths: that the Soviet Union started the war on the right side, and that autocracy was necessary to win the war. To align the facts with these fictions, educational reforms have rewritten Russia’s history textbooks. They now provide little detail about Stalinist repression or the Soviet role in the war’s beginnings. ....

After victory in World War I, the Allies sought to demilitarize Germany. To avoid Allied inspection teams, the German military formed a secret partnership with the U.S.S.R. in 1922. They established a network of military bases, industrial facilities and research laboratories inside the Soviet Union to rearm both states. There could have been few doubts on the Soviet side about the militaristic intentions of their German partners. On the weapons ranges at their joint bases, officers fired at dummies dressed in Czech and Polish uniforms. German tank prototypes tested in the Soviet Union were carefully designed to fit French and Belgian railway cars. German ambitions became even clearer in 1933, when Hitler became chancellor and accelerated rearmament.

Despite tensions, the two sides renewed their collaboration six years later in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Under its terms, they partitioned Eastern Europe. Stalin provided Germany millions of tons of oil, grain and other resources for the war against the U.K. and France. He even hosted a German military base on Soviet soil. Whatever Stalin’s calculus might have been, he helped rearm Germany, then assisted in Hitler’s conquests for two years. ....

Rewriting history does nothing to honor the sacrifice of millions of Soviet soldiers who gave their lives to defeat Nazi Germany. ....

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A deplorable "historian"

Almost all of my thirty-five years teaching history in high schools I taught 9th grade US History. Toward the end of that time some of my colleagues used Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as a supplemental text. I didn't. If you were among those subjected to reading that ideological polemic you might appreciate reading "The Disgraceful Howard Zinn." From that review of Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America:
.... A tireless left-wing activist with a Ph.D. in history, Zinn (1922–2010) urged fellow historians, as Grabar relates, to eschew “disinterested scholarship” in order to bring about “a revolution in the academy.” Not all radical academics agreed with his anti-capitalist take on history. Eugene Genovese declined to review Zinn’s opus, which he privately described as “incoherent left-wing sloganizing.” Michael Kammen called it “a scissors-and-paste-pot job” that devoted too much attention to “historians, historiography, and historical polemic” and hence provided “little space for the substance of history.” Kammen acknowledged the need for “a people’s history; but not single-minded, simpleminded history, too often of fools, knaves and Robin Hoods.” ....

Grabar argues that deplorable as was Zinn’s misguided treatment of the discovery of America, slavery, and the Civil War, worse still was his treatment of World War II, which she calls “obscene.” Zinn compared internment camps for Japanese Americans to the death camps of Nazi Germany, suggested that the U.S. provoked the attack on Pearl Harbor, insinuated that Franklin Roosevelt’s failure to take special steps to protect Europe’s Jews made him as morally culpable as Hitler, argued that America’s policy of having its army segregated meant that the country was little better than Nazi Germany, and contended that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki rendered the U.S. as guilty of war crimes as the Japanese, who perpetrated atrocities on a vast scale (e.g., the rape of Nanking). ....

In explaining the popularity of Zinn’s book among “the young and uninformed,” Grabar emphasizes what Stanford education professor Sam Wineberg called its ability to “speak to our inner Holden Caufield,” the sneering adolescent protagonist of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, to whom “our heroes are shameless frauds, our parents and teachers conniving liars, our textbooks propagandistic slop.” “They’re all phonies,” Wineberg concluded, remains “a message that never goes out of style.” .... (more)
The Disgraceful Howard Zinn - Claremont Review of Books

Wednesday, May 6, 2020


I've been missing Michael Dirda's book reviews at The Washington Post. He's back. It turns out that "The world was too much with me. I felt old and depleted and tired..." and so he took some time off and read:
First I dug into a stack of Golden Age detective novels, all from the early to mid-1920s. I began with Freeman Wills Crofts’s early police procedural, The Cask, in which a beautiful young woman’s body is discovered inside a barrel used for packing statuary. Crofts’s style is plain and factual, but surprisingly effective, as we see alibis established and then, gradually, inexorably, dismantled. Except for a thrilling chapter toward the end, the novel is restfully cerebral rather than visceral or dramatic. I recommend it.

The Cask proved so tonic that I immediately followed it up with Philip MacDonald’s breezy, locked-study whodunit The Rasp, A.E.W. Mason’s The House of the Arrow (whose Inspector Hanaud may have influenced the creation of Hercule Poirot) and Edgar Wallace’s updated version of a Victorian sensation novel, The Green Archer. For further criminous diversion, I spent one evening enjoying the hit film Knives Out, while noting the flaws in its intricate plot.
I've read, and own, The Cask and The Rasp and recently watched Knives Out (streaming), which I recommend to fans of Golden Age mysteries. The illustration is the cover of my favorite Philip MacDonald, who, by the way, was a grandson of George MacDonald.

When the world was too much with me, here’s what I read for some R&R - The Washington Post

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

"The very best of the best"

The Claremont Review of Books has made all of it's current issue available, free, on-line. The first thing I read was "The Mind of the Moralist." The subject is Samuel Johnson and is very good about his life, work, and personality.
Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds
.... Patient in affliction with the fortitude of those schooled in suffering, Johnson did not fear dying; but the thought of what was to come after death terrified him thoroughly. The conviction of his unworthiness before the throne of God gnawed at his vitals. Heaven was not for the likes of him, he could be sure, and visions of damnation burned their way into his mind. ....

His too-tender conscience extorted from him an immense sum in psychic pain. He told a friend that if he were to divide his innermost thoughts into three equal parts, two of them would consist of flagrant impieties. .... His writing and conversation were perfect and upright, espousing unimpeachable Christian virtues that he actually lived by. He was certain, however, that he fell hopelessly short of the exalted reasonableness and religious sentiment he promoted in his moral essays.

So what if he did; who doesn’t? Self-knowledge on that score was not his strength. Active virtue was. He was the very soul of charity. His benevolence was prodigious. He housed and cared for an assortment of waifs and strays, including a prostitute he had found near death in the street, carried home on his back, nursed to health, and convinced to live a righteous life. Yet nothing Johnson said or did could calm his fear of the Lord’s implacable justice. He knew he was unregenerate, and that was that. He could have used a friend to tell him that if God had wanted him to think himself a worm, He would have made him a worm. ....

...Johnson fraternized heartily with some of the most extraordinary men Great Britain has ever produced. The Club was founded in 1764 by Johnson and the great portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, and the members they selected were Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, Burke’s father-in-law, and three particular friends of Johnson’s, the young men about town Topham Beauclerk and Bennet Langton, and the musicologist and magistrate John Hawkins. After Hawkins fell out with Burke over some now obscure matter, he left the Club, leading Johnson to coin a phrase and proclaim him “an unclubbable man.” The ranks would swell over the next 20 years to include such luminaries as Edward Gibbon, Adam Smith, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and David Garrick, as well as a host of scholars, bishops, lawyers, and physicians now as then less resonant in name than the acknowledged eminences. One blackball was enough to keep out a prospective member, and Boswell, to his chagrin, was at first considered to be insufficiently distinguished for inclusion, gaining admission only in 1773.

The elect would gather weekly at the Turk’s Head Tavern to eat, drink, and launch high talk well into the night. As Damrosch points out, conversation was the Club’s raison d’être, and it was conducted with vigor, wit, and competitive fire—especially on the part of Johnson, who as Boswell observed was given to “talking for victory.” For the sake of sport he would take the side of an argument that appeared less tenable and carry the day with it. Johnson found Burke a nonpareil opponent in this informal and everlasting debate, and he memorialized Burke’s gifts even as he displayed his own: “You could not stand five minutes with that man beneath a shed while it rained, but you must be convinced you had been standing with the greatest man you had ever yet seen.” On the subject of America, however, the two masters diverged so sharply that they tacitly agreed for friendship’s sake never to argue the matter. Burke favored the colonists’ struggle for independence, while Johnson believed them “a race of convicts, [who] ought to be grateful for anything we allow them short of hanging.” ....

Of one day in 1775 Boswell writes, “I find all my memorial is, ‘much laughing.’ It should seem he had that day been in a humour for jocularity and merriment, and upon such occasions I never knew a man laugh more heartily.” The most clubbable of men, Johnson was the presiding figure when friends assembled, primus inter pares at the very least, dominating the event with his readiness of wit, copious eloquence, and laughter. Everyone knew what a man he was, the very best of the best. If only he had known it himself. (much more)

Monday, May 4, 2020

A "useful" gospel

Russell Moore's newest "Moore to the Point" newsletter includes his reaction to reading that a new Russian Orthodox cathedral will include an image of Josef Stalin:
.... In this case, the fervor for national identity has meant that a cathedral dedicated to Jesus Christ celebrates mass murderers. That can happen anytime that Christianity is a means to an end, and it can happen anywhere—and does.

Anytime a gospel becomes “useful” to a ruler or to a culture or to a subculture, it becomes a tool. That’s why Jesus declared emphatically “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36). And it’s why Jesus warned his disciples to “Watch out; beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mk. 8:15). Jesus uses that language of leaven (“yeast”) in the same way he does of the kingdom of God. It works invisibly and, before you know it, it is all through the loaf.

That’s how you can end up with churches ignoring the sinful injustices of the slave-owning and Jim Crow-enacting South, all the while pretending to believe in the authority of Scripture. That’s how you can have churches that pretend not to notice a prominent member’s adultery or other moral scandal. And that’s how you can end up with a bloodthirsty dictator or two etched in your stained glass. If the Christianity is useful in propping up a regime—any regime—it will soon become something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. ....
Subscribe to Moore's weekly (Mondays) newsletter here.

Cynicism, Sincerity, and Parks and Recreation

Sunday, May 3, 2020


 Irving Kristol on Thomas More:
More himself, as we know, went into the service of King Henry VIII in order, as he explicitly informs us, to minimize the evils which a ruler may introduce into the world as it is—the "everywhere" which is a very different place from the philosopher’s "nowhere." In loyally serving King Henry, he never repudiated his utopian vision; he never apparently had the sense he was in any way "compromising" it; and he certainly never pretended that he was engaged in "realizing" it. He simply thought that, as a political philosopher with a ­superior vision of the ideal, he might prudently influence the politics of his time toward somewhat more humane ends. He failed utterly, as we know, and paid for his failure with his life. But he was not at all surprised that he failed, nor was he shocked to discover the price of his failure. A less utopian statesman than the author of Utopia is hard to find. And yet there was not an ounce of cynicism in him. His nobility of character consisted precisely in the fact that, even as he could imagine the world as it might be, he could also live and work in the world as it was, trying to edge the latter ever so slightly toward the former, but experiencing no sour disillusionment at his ultimate lack of success. Such a perfect combination of detachment from the world and simultaneous attachment to it is as exemplary as it is rare.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Cary Grant

On Twitter, a query: "Best Cary Grant movies to watch with daughters? Thanks in advance." She got suggestions she thinks will last to the end of "Shelter at Home." Some of the responses, films I know and enjoy (Updated with some cast information on 5/3):
  • Bringing Up Baby (Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn)
  • The Philadelphia Story (Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and James Stewart)
  • To Catch A Thief (Hitchcock directing Cary Grant and Grace Kelly)
  • Arsenic and Old Lace (Grant, Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre)
  • His Girl Friday (Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy)
  • Charade (Grant, Audrey Hepburn)
  • North by Northwest (Hitchcock directing Grant, James Mason, Eva Marie Saint)
  • Mister Blandings Builds His Dream House (see right)
  • Notorious (Hitchcock directing Grant and Ingrid Bergman)
  • Gunga Din (Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Victor Mclaglen, Sam Jaffe)
  • The Awful Truth (Grant, Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy)
  •  Topper (Grant, Constance Bennet, Roland Young)
One of the respondents writes "To Catch a Thief, Charade and His Girl Friday are all excellent and included with Amazon Prime right now." (I haven't checked.)

Friday, May 1, 2020

Happy May Day!

It's a beautiful morning and warmer:
We've been a-rambling all this night,
And sometime of this day;
And now returning back again
We bring a branch of May.

A branch of May we bring you here,
And at your door it stands;
It is a sprout well budded out,
The work of the Lord's hands.

The hedges and trees they are so green,
As green as any leek;
Our Heavenly Father, He watered them
With His heavenly dew so sweet.

The heavenly gates are open wide,
Our paths are beaten plain;
And if a man be not too far gone,
He may return again.

So dear, so dear as Christ loved us,
And for our sins was slain,
Christ bids us turn from wickedness
Back to the Lord again.

The moon shines bright, the stars give a light,
A little before it is day,
So God bless you all, both great and small,
And send you a joyful May.

The Mayers' Song
Once upon a time May Day had nothing to do with any political cause, much less Communism, but with things like May Poles and May Baskets and the celebration of the coming of Spring.

Happy May Day!

The verse and the illustration are from The Children's Book of Rhymes, by Cicely Mary Barker