Friday, April 17, 2015

Links of Note

* Philosopher's Carnival #174 at "Aesthetics for Birds"

* Whewell's Gazette #43 at "Whewell's Ghost"

* An amusing article showing a law professor's sense of humor:

In 2011, Chief Justice Roberts commented that if you "pick up a copy of any law review that you see," "the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria, or something, which I'm sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn't of much help to the bar.” No such article exists, of course -- until now. This short essay explains why, in all likelihood, Kant’s influence on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria was none.

* Sharman Apt Russel on citizen science.

* The puzzle of how late medieval cartographers made portolan maps that were so accurate.

* Patrick Toner, The Low Standards of Norman Rockwell's Critics. Toner also has a blog on Rockwell's art.

* Oscar Wilde in America.

* A post on the harrowing of Hell at "A Clerk of Oxford"

* James Parker reflects on the campaign for beatifying G. K. Chesterton.

* Charles Babbage's obituary in Nature.

* Old Style and New Style: Thony Christie discusses the common confusions arising over the date of Newton's death, due to the change of calendars.

He also has a good post discussing the problems with talking about 'Greek science'.

* The history of Harlequin Romance novels, and how they came to shape a genre.

Music on My Mind



First Aid Kit, "Master Pretender"

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Triumphal Fires

With Wavering Feet
by Vladimir Solovyov
tr. by Babette Deutsch and Avrahm Yarmolinsky


With wavering feet I walked where dawn-lit mists were lying,
To find the shores of wonder and of mystery.
Dawn struggled with the final stars, frail dreams were flying,
While unto unknown gods my morning lips were crying
The prayers that my dream-imprisoned soul had whispered me.

The noon is cold and candid, the road winds on severely,
And through an unknown land once more my journey lies.
The mist has lifted now, and the stark eye sees clearly
How hard the mountain-road that rises upward sheerly,
How distant looms the dream the prescient heart descries!

Yet onward with unfaltering feet I shall be going
Toward midnight, onward toward the shore of my desires,
Where on a mountain-height, new stars its glory showing,
My promised temple waits, with plinth and pillar glowing,
Beaten about with flame of white, triumphal fires.

Sui Juris Churches V: The Russian Greek Catholic Church

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Byzantine

Primary Liturgical Language: Church Slavonic

Juridical Status: Apostolic Exarchate

Approximate Population: Less than 10,000.

Brief History: The Russian Greek Catholic Church is almost more of a suggestion of a church than what we would normally think of as a church. It has very little formal structure. It is not sharply distinguished from its Russian Orthodox counterpart. It is tiny and scattered, and nobody knows for sure how many Russian Catholics there are. It is like a wisp or a shadow of a cloud curling across the Russian landscape, certainly there but difficult to see and define.

There was never any sharp, formal rupture between the Russian Orthodox Church and Rome; it was a gradual divergence, with Moscow gravitating toward Constantinople. In the fifteenth century, Metropolitan Isidore of Kiev and a number of other Russian delegates attended the Council of Florence and united with Rome. They attempted to put this union in effect, but failed, partly through the opposition of the Czar. It is rumored that there were scattered groups who had followed Isidore, and they continued to exist, Starokatoliki, a sort of scattered set of Catholics in hiding. Their existence is not even certain, although there are indications of secret Catholicism here and there, and their relation to the Russian Catholic Church as it exists today may be no more than folklore. It is, nonetheless, part of the folk history.

Whether there is a connection with these Starokatoliki or not, the modern Russian Greek Catholic Church arose in the nineteenth century due to the philosopher, Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov. A man of many ideas, one of his ideas was that someone might be Russian Orthodox and Catholic simultaneously. His ideas in this respect influenced a Russian Orthodox priest, Fr. Nicholas Tolstoy, who eventually became Catholic. (Solovyov himself would become Catholic through Fr. Tolstoy.) Tolstoy was incardinated with the Melkite Catholic Church in 1893, having studied Middle Eastern Christianity for some time. On his return to Russia, a small community began gathering around him, including a few priests. These Catholic groups continued for some time despite being illegal, in part due to the influence of certain high members in the Russian court, most notably Prince Peter Volokonsky and Princess Elisabeth Volokonsky. In 1908 Fr. Alexander Zerchaninov was named Administrator for the Mission to the Russian Catholics. He was given a clear directive by the Vatican Secretariat of State: the practice of the Russian Catholics was to be exactly like that of the Russian Orthodox, without any latinization. This would be confirmed by Pius X in the famous phrase, which is the general principle on which Russian Catholic liturgy works: nec plus, nec minus, nec aliter (not more, not less, not other).

The tiny community, viewing themselves as Russian Orthodox in communion with Rome, were often harassed by the police, first under the Czars and then under the Communists. Fr. Nicholas Tolstoy would eventually be shot in 1938. One of the notable heroes of the group was Leonid Feodorov. Feodorov had originally studied to be a Russian Orthodox priest, but had converted to Catholicism; his original intent was to join the Latin Rite, but as he studied, he came to the conclusion that he should remain an Eastern Catholic, and received the permission of the pope to transfer to the Russian Catholic Church. He would eventually return to Saint Petersburg, where he was arrested and sent to Siberia. However, in the aftermath of the February Revolution, the provisional government of Russia freed all political prisoners and the Russian Catholic community began to come out into public view; Feodorov was named the Exarch of the Russian Catholic Church. However, in 1922, systematic religious persecution began; the Russian Catholic Church was suppressed, and a number of priests, including Feodorov were brought to court. Feodorov was sentenced to prison, and then to the Solovki prison camp. After serving his sentence, he continued to teach and say Mass, and would die a few years after, in 1935. He was beatified by John Paul II in 2001. His successor, who died in prison, would also be beatified.

Scattered incidents would continue (an illegal monastery here, an uncovered secret church there), showing that the Russian Catholic Church continued in secret. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, the Russian Catholic Church has slowly become more visible. The church has no hierarchy of its own (it technically has two exarchates, but they are currently vacant), and consists of some communities scattered through Russia and the Russian diaspora. It is remarkable, however, for its tenacity; having no clear form, often invisible, it nevertheless occasionally pops up again, showing that it continues to endure.

Notable Monuments: Saint Michael's Chapel in New York, which has a remarkably rich history for a little chapel.

Notable Saints: While I know of none with full canonization on the universal calendar, there are a few beatified martyrs (mostly under the Communist regime), like Blessed Leonid, some of whom may well end up on the general calendar at some point. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish them out, however; Russian Catholics tend to treat all Russians who are Catholic as Russian Catholics, which, of course, makes considerable sense given their history, so that Ruthenian Catholic and Roman Catholic martyrs will tend to be classified as Russian Catholic by Russian Catholics themselves. The Russian Catholic calendar, of course, is more or less the same calendar as that of the Russian Orthodox, and includes a number of Russian Orthodox saints.

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: Some parishes scattered around the world, under the patronage of bishops of other particular churches.

Online Sources and Resources:

http://www.rumkatkilise.org/necplus.htm

http://stmichaelruscath.org/

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Justice and Goodness

First of all, I think it necessary to observe that it is a very common thing for men to confound justice with goodness, and to assail the former with accusations which from their very nature could have no force whatever except as urged against the latter. How prone are people to claim rights which have no existence, or to complain of wrong where there has been no wrong at all! How extravagant are the pretensions of self-love! In its prejudiced eyes, it is a crime for you, not merely to do a hurtful thing, but also not to be lavish with what is your own. Let only your accustomed liberalities be diminished never so little—nay, let them only not be increased up to the measure of your client's greedy expectations, and lo! you will, in too many cases, have the cry of injustice raised against you; and this fancied injustice will be made the occasion of a thousand complaints, so that a very trifling accident will suffice to change into an object of execration and hatred a benefactor towards whom no true gratitude had ever been felt.

Antonio Rosmini, Theodicy, volume 1, Signini et al., tr., p. 204.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ages and Ages Have Fallen on Me

A Song of Enchantment
by Walter de la Mare


A song of Enchantment I sang me there,
In a green-green wood, by waters fair,
Just as the words came up to me
I sang it under the wild wood tree.

Widdershins turned I, singing it low,
Watching the wild birds come and go;
No cloud in the deep dark blue to be seen
Under the thick-thatched branches green.

Twilight came: silence came:
The planet of Evening's silver flame;
By darkening paths I wandered through
Thickets trembling with drops of dew.

But the music is lost and the words are gone
Of the song I sang as I sat alone,
Ages and ages have fallen on me -
On the wood and the pool and the elder tree.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Doctors of the Church

As I noted previously, news reports were out in February noting that Pope Francis had accepted the recommendation to make Gregory of Narek the 36th Doctor of the Church, but (as I also noted then) he could not actually have the title, which is a liturgical one, until he was given a place on Rome's general calendar for the appropriate liturgical honors. This was done on April 12, and so it is now official; his feast day is February 27, as it was in the Roman Martyrology. This is an updated post.

'Doctor of the Church' is a special, officially given, liturgical title in Rome's Universal Calendar: it indicates (1) saints in the universal calendar who (2) were and are doctors (i.e., theological teachers) and who (3) have left theological writings that (4) are of extraordinary quality and considerable value for the whole community of the faithful. It originally grew up on its own as applied to a small group of especially important theologians (Athanasius, Basil, Nazianzen, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great). It was later conferred on Thomas Aquinas, and shortly afterward, Bonaventure, in order to recognize that these theologians were, in their own ways and according to the formats of their time, teachers of the Church of the same caliber as the prior Doctors of the Church. It has since been extended outward by official recognition of a theologian as being in the same class. Because of (2), it is traditional not to consider martyrs for the title, despite a number of notable theologians in that category who fit all of the other criteria, because 'martyr' is a higher liturgical title than 'doctor' -- martyrs would never be liturgically given a Mass for doctors, only for martyrs, and thus the title would be otiose. Likewise (3) is pretty restrictive; there have been some excellent theologians who don't qualify because we know of their work only indirectly and not from any writings they left (Saint Macrina comes immediately to mind). And, of course, there are extraordinarily important theologians who aren't saints in any calendar (Tertullian, Origen, Theodore Abu-Qurra, Leo XIII). What follows are various lists in which different kinds of theological periods and overlaps can be observed.

I. By Death Year
(sometimes approximate; year in parentheses is the year they were officially recognized as Doctor of the Church; to show gaps, asterisks indicate approximate length of intervening interval between death years, each asterisk indicating approximately a decade)

368 Hilary of Poitiers (1851)
373 Athanasius
373 Ephrem the Syrian (1920)
379 Basil of Caesarea
387 Cyril of Jerusalem (1883)
390 Gregory Nazianzen
397 Ambrose of Milan
407 John Chrysostom
*
420 Jerome
*
430 Augustine
*
444 Cyril of Alexandria (1883)
450 Peter Chrysologus (1729)
*
461 Leo the Great (1754)
**************
604 Gregory the Great
***
636 Isidore of Seville (1722)
*********
735 Bede (1899)
*
749 John Damascene (1883)
**************************
1003 Gregory of Narek (2015)
******
1072 Peter Damian (1828)
***
1109 Anselm (1720)
****
1153 Bernard of Clairvaux (1830)
*
1179 Hildegard von Bingen (2012)
*****
1231 Anthony of Padua (1946)
****
1274 Thomas Aquinas (1568)
1274 Bonaventure (1588)
1280 Albert the Great (1931)
*********
1379 Catherine of Siena (1970)
*******************
1569 John of Avila (2012)
*
1582 Teresa of Avila (1970)
1591 John of the Cross (1926)
1597 Peter Canisius (1925)
**
1619 Lawrence of Brindisi (1959)
1621 Robert Bellarmine (1931)
1622 Francis de Sales (1877)
****************
1787 Alphonsus Liguori (1871)
**********
1897 Therese of Lisieux (1997)

II. By Birth Year
(often approximate, especially for earlier figures)

293 Athanasius
300 Hilary of Poitiers
306 Ephrem the Syrian
313 Cyril of Jerusalem
*
329 Gregory Nazianzen
330 Basil of Caesarea
337 Ambrose of Milan
*
347 Jerome
349 John Chrysostom
354 Augustine
**
376 Cyril of Alexandria
380 Peter Chrysologus
**
400 Leo I
**************
540 Gregory I
**
560 Isidore of Seville
***********
672 Bede
676 John Damascene
***************************
951 Gregory of Narek
*****
1007 Peter Damian
**
1033 Anselm of Canterbury
*****
1090 Bernard of Clairvaux
1098 Hildegard von Bingen
**********
1195 Anthony of Padua
1206 Albert the Great (although perhaps as early as 1193)
**
1221 Bonaventure
1225 Thomas Aquinas
************
1347 Catherine of Siena
***************
1500 John of Avila
*
1515 Teresa of Avila
1521 Peter Canisius
**
1542 John of the Cross
1542 Robert Bellarmine
*
1559 Lawrence of Brindisi
1567 Francis de Sales
************
1696 Alphonsus Liguori
*****************
1873 Therese of Lisieux

III. By Year of Recognition

[Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzen, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great all received it by organically developed custom]

1568 Thomas Aquinas
**
1588 Bonaventure
*************
1720 Anselm of Canterbury
1722 Isidore of Seville
1729 Peter Chrysologus
**
1754 Leo the Great
*******
1828 Peter Damian
1830 Bernard of Clairvaux
**
1851 Hilary of Poitiers
**
1871 Alphonsus Liguori
1877 Francis de Sales
1883 Cyril of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Damascene
*
1899 Bede
**
1920 Ephrem the Syrian
1925 Peter Canisius
1926 John of the Cross
1931 Albert the Great, Robert Bellarmine
*
1946 Anthony of Padua
*
1959 Lawrence of Brindisi
*
1970 Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila
**
1997 Therese of Lisieux
*
2012 John of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen
2015 Gregory of Narek

IV. By Number of Years from Death to Recognition
(Color Code, very rough: Patristic Era, Scholastic Era, Counter-Reformation)
[Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzen, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great all received it by organically developed custom]

1547 Ephrem of Syria

1496 Cyril of Jerusalem
1483 Hilary of Poitiers
1439 Cyril of Alexandria

1293 Leo I
1279 Peter Chrysologus

1164 Bede
1134 John Damascene

1086 Isidore of Seville
1012 Gregory of Narek

833 Hildegard of Bingen

756 Peter Damian
715 Anthony of Padua

677 Bernard of Clairvaux
651 Albert the Great
611 Anselm of Canterbury

591 Catherine of Siena

443 John of Avila

388 Teresa of Avila
340 Lawrence of Brindisi
335 John of the Cross
328 Peter Canisius
314 Bonaventure
310 Robert Bellarmine

294 Thomas Aquinas
255 Francis de Sales

100 Therese of Lisieux

84 Alphonsus Liguori

V. Recognition by Papal Reign

225. Pius V
Thomas Aquinas

227. Sixtus V
Bonaventure

243. Clement XI
Anselm of Canterbury

244. Innocent XIII
Isidore of Seville

245. Benedict XIII
Peter Chrysologus

247. Benedict XIV
Leo the Great

52. Leo XII
Peter Damian

253. Pius VIII
Bernard of Clairvaux

255. Pius IX
Hilary of Poitiers
Alphonsus Liguori
Francis de Sales

256. Leo XIII
Cyril of Alexandria
Cyril of Jerusalem
John Damascene
Bede

258. Benedict XV
Ephrem the Syrian

259. Pius XI
Peter Canisius
John of the Cross
Albert the Great
Robert Bellarmine

260. Pius XII
Anthony of Padua

261. John XXIII
Lawrence of Brindisi

262. Paul VI
Catherine of Siena
Teresa of Avila

264. John Paul II
Therese of Lisieux

265. Benedict XVI
John of Avila
Hildegard of Bingen

266. Francis I
Gregory of Narek

VI. Various Comments

Because of the split between East and West, for most of the history of the title there have been no Eastern Doctors after Damascene. However, Gregory of Narek lived after Damascene and brings the total to nine (Hilary, Athanasius, Ephrem, Basil, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, Cyril of Alexandria, John Damascene, Gregory of Narek).

There are three Carmelites (Teresa, John of the Cross, and Therese), two Jesuits (Canisius and Bellarmine), three Dominicans (Thomas, Albert, Catherine (Tertiary)), four Franciscans (Anthony, Bonaventure, Lawrence, Francis de Sales (Tertiary)), one Redemptorist (Liguori), and five or six Benedictines (Isidore [it is thought], Bede, Anselm, Bernard, Hildegard, Peter Damian).

There are four laypersons, all of them women (Hildegard, Catherine, Teresa, Therese), three of whom were nuns (Hildegard, Teresa, Therese). There are nineteen bishops, of whom two were Patriarchs of Rome (Leo, Gregory), two Patriarchs of Alexandria (Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria), two Patriarchs of Constantinople (Nazianzen, Chrysostom), and one Patriarch of Jerusalem (Cyril of Jerusalem). There is no Patriarch of Antioch with the title. There is one deacon (Ephrem).

The period in which the most Doctors of the Church were added most quickly was the period from 1920 to 1931; in those eleven years, five saints were given the title. The Popes who proclaimed the most saints 'Doctor of the Church' were Leo XIII and Pius XI, with four each.

Sui Juris Churches IV: The Romanian Church United with Rome, Greek-Catholic

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Byzantine

Primary Liturgical Language: Romanian

Juridical Status: Major Archiepiscopal.

Approximate Population: The population of this church is especially difficult to determine. Only about 150,000 to 200,000 show up on the Romanian government census; the Vatican estimates over 600,000 in the church at large, and the Romanian Church United with Rome puts the figure at just under 800,000. Given the church's history of persecution by the government, it would not at all be surprising if Romanian Greek Catholics were not actually providing accurate information to government census takers; but it is impossible to say how much this is a factor. In addition, the Romanian Church United with Rome has insisted that the Romanian census is distorted by inconsistent practices that result in Romanian Greek Catholics being miscategorized as Romanian Orthodox.

Basic History: Christian presence in Romania goes back perhaps at least to the third century, and there were notable Christian martyrs, like St. Sabbas the Goth, from the region, but a very large amount of the early history is obscure and known only indirectly by artifacts that have survived. We know that the area fell under the jurisdiction of Constantinople and had two metropolitan bishops (for Wallachia and Moldavia) by the thirteenth century. It is likely that church structure had solidified by the ninth century, at least, as the region came under the control of the First Bulgarian Empire, which converted to Christianity. The Roman Empire -- that is, the Byzantines out of Constantinople -- conquered the Bulgarian Empire in turn in the late tenth century. It eventually broke off again as the Second Bulgarian Empire. The politics involved in that Empire are far too complex to go into here, but a key point is that the politics forced the Bulgarians to try to develop alliances westward, which allowed for the spread of Western Christian influence in the form of groups like the Teutonic Knights and the Dominicans. In the meantime other parts of the region came under control of the Hungarians, whose political situation was also too complex to discuss here, but had much the same effect. The result is that the entire area has been a short of shadowland between East and West, with each dominant and receding in turn.

Latin Catholics have been a fairly constant presence throughout, but depending on the political situation, there were also often Greek Rite Christians in various degrees of communion with Rome, although these situations rarely lasted due to the constant political shifting. In 1687, however, a more lasting political event occurred: the Holy Roman Empire under the Hapsburgs invaded Transylvania. In the wake of this, the bishop of Alba Iulia, Atanasie Anghel, convened the "Union Synod" (attended almost entirely by priests) of 1698, which signed an Act of Union with Rome, a decision confirmed at another council in 1700. He is considered the first primate of the modern Romanian Church United with Rome, Greek-Catholic. It almost ended there; when Atanasie Anghel died in 1713, they had difficulty replacing him. Originally they chose a Jesuit, Francisc Szunyogh, who refused the honor; their next candidates were nixed by the Holy Roman Emperor. They finally chose Ioan Giurgiu Patachi; but it took a while for him actually to take his place, because he was Latin Rite, and as a priest had to get explicit permission to become Byzantine Rite; the Latin bishop of Alba Iulia also did not think that there needed to be a Byzantine Rite bishop for the same city, and opposed it. In addition, they had to move, because the monastery at which the prior patriarch had resided was destroyed. He did eventually pass all the obstacles, of course, but it was a rocky ride at first. The Romanian Greek Catholic Church was eventually raised to Metropolitan status in 1853 by Pope Pius IX, giving it a greater degree of independence.

Romanian Greek Catholics had from the beginning been actively involved in the struggle for greater rights and freedoms for Romanians, leading to an often uncomfortable relationship with the government; the heads of the church had several times been forced into resignation because of their political positions. However, all this trouble would pale compared to the trouble that came about with the rise of Communism. Beginning in 1948, the Communist regime began engaging in a religious persecution, purging the dominant Romanian Orthodox Church of bishops opposed to the regime and actively suppressing the Romanian Church United with Rome. Romanian Greek Catholics were now outlaws. Their churches were taken away. Bishops who refused to break ties with Rome were imprisoned. Alexandru Rusu, head of the church, was imprisoned; his successor, Alexandru Todea, was also imprisoned. There were many martyrs.

For forty years this state of affairs lasted, until the Romanian Revolution in 1989. But decades of oppression had taken their toll. Bishops had to be appointed to dioceses that had fallen vacant. All of the church's property was in the hands of others, and it has only slowly been able to get some of it back. There has been a constant shortage of priests. The once thriving population, once apparently over a million, is much diminished and very scattered. It's not even easy to assess the level of damage. Recovery is a very long and slow effort. Similar problems have practically destroyed other Eastern Catholic churches. But the recovery does seem to be proceeding, and the juridical status of the church was raised to Major Archiepiscopal in 2005 by Benedict XVI.

Notable Monuments: Holy Trinity Cathedral in Blaj, Romania, which is the primary see of the church. In addition, there is a famous set of small churches called the Wooden Churches of Maramureș that are important cultural landmarks; most of these are Orthodox, but a few are Greek Catholic. the most important of these is the Church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel in Șurdești.

Notable Saints: Bretannio (January 25); Sabbas the Goth (April 12). I don't know of any particular Romanian Greek Catholic saints on the general calendar, although there were enough martyrs under the Communist regime that a few are likely to end up there. (This has been the case with Romanian Catholics of the Latin Rite, of whom several have already been canonized; and processes of canonization are already under way for several Greek Catholic bishops who were killed.)

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: The Major Archdiocese of Făgăraș and Alba Iulia, with five suffragan sees in Romania; there is one eparchy outside of Romania, for the U.S. It is important to keep in mind that even within Romania most Catholics are actually Roman Catholics, i.e., Latin Rite.

Online Sources and Resources:

http://www.bru.ro

http://www.cnewa.org/

http://www.katolsk.no

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Fortnightly Book, April 12

Jules Gabriel Verne is one of the most widely translated authors in the world. Much of his reputation is based on his Voyages Extraordinaires series of books, fifty-four novels that were designed to convey the universe, with all of its wonder and scientifically discovered detail, in miniature. Indeed, it was explicitly undertaken to be a sort of survey of the whole universe. The fortnightly book is one of the three or four most popular books from this series (and the one that has been the best selling in English translation): Around the World in Eighty Days, originally published under the title, Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours.

The book was very cutting-edge. It was written during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), and essential links in the trip around the world include the Suez canal (completed 1869) and the American transcontinental railroad (completed 1870). Phileas Fogg's journey begins at exactly 8:45 on October 2, 1872 (a Wednesday) and ends on December 21 (a Saturday) of the same year; this was the same year it was published as a serial, and it is said that some readers thought that the journey was actually taking place.

In 1889, Nellie Bly attempted to replicate the feat in the novel. She managed to do it in seventy-two days, and wrote a book on the experience. Part of her trip was a visit to Amiens, where she met Verne himself, just shy of his sixty-second birthday. According to the summary of the trip in The Sandglass, Bly asked him how he got the idea, and he attributed it to his reading of the newspaper (Verne read newspapers extensively); Le Siècle had had a brief speculative discussion showing that it was in principle possible to go around the world in eighty days, and Verne noticed that the calculation overlooked the international dateline, which gave him not just a plan for a story, but also a solid conclusion for it. As she left, Verne said that if she managed to do the trip in seventy-nine days, he would applaud her for it, and wished her luck.

The Sandglass also has an interesting paragraph in which it notes that if you leave out air travel (which obviously shortens times considerably), you could in 1956 cut the land-and-sea trip down to about fifty-eight days; and that there were still stretches (like the train from Bombay to Calcutta) that would take pretty much exactly as long as it would have taken Fogg and Passepartout in 1872.

As you might have guessed from the mention of The Sandglass, I will be reading fromthe 1962 Heritage Press (New York) edition. It has illustrations by Edward A. Wilson and an introduction by no less than Ray Bradbury who, in typical Bradbury paradox, vehemently denies that science fiction has much to do with predicting the future, and (although much less vehemently) also denies that the book is science fiction. His own assessment of the book's appeal is well worth quoting, and as true today as it was then:

For--let us face it-- we are a spoiled people living in a spoiled time. All too often we find the new generations growing up with little sense of where they want to go, what they want to be, or even any need of asking themselves the question. We have become a little too comfortable. We have not tested ourselves for a very long time. Even during World War II, the United States, unbombed, lived in comparative luxury while its allies suffered gross destruction. We ride about amidst our two-car families, spend as much time dieting as eating, and vaguely blink around looking for our National Purpose and seemingly find none.

We live, then, in a time between, half-remembering, half-forgetting our muscle and will. In such a time it is understandable that such a person as Phileas Fogg should stand like a calm Titan before us, and his journey summon us--in imagination at least, and perhaps in reality--to action. (p. ix)

The typeface is Joanna, which I think looks a little odd on the page, at least at first perusal, and has blue vellum cloth covers with a repeated pattern of a winged globe.

Louis L'Amour, Sackett; and The Sackett Brand

Introduction

Opening Passages: From Sackett:

It wasn't as if he hadn't been warned. He got it straight, with no beating around the mesquite.

"Mister," I said, "if you ain't any slicker with that pistol than you were with that bottom deal, you'd better not have at it."

From The Sackett Brand:

Nobody could rightly say any of us Sacketts were what you'd call superstitious. Nonetheless, if I had tied a knot in a towel or left a shovel in the fire nothing might have happened.

Summary: Both of these books tell about William Tell Sackett, a Tennessee mountain boy who grew up running with the Cherokee and fought for the Union; he's brother to Tyrel, a gunslinger, and Orrin, a legislator, and all of the Sackett boys are good with a gun.

Sackett moves at a swift pace as Tell finds himself in trouble from two directions: he's being dogged by men who want revenge against him, and he discovers gold. The latter is the more perilous problem; and it is soon entangled with a third problem, perhaps less perilous, but far more complex: he discovers a woman. Like many Westerns, Sackett is a romance story almost as much as it is an adventure story.

As tales go, it is rousing enough, but there's more going on with the tale, as we see by the fact that Tell spends a remarkable amount of time in the book reading William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England. One passage, which originally catches Tell's eye, is explicitly quoted. It is from I.i.2 (the actual quoted part begins after "namely"), in which Blackstone is discussing the formation of government:

But, though society had not it's formal beginning from any convention of individuals, actuated by their wants and their fears; yet it is the sense of their weakness and imperfection that keeps mankind together, that demonstrates the necessity of this union, and that therefore is the solid and natural foundation, as well as the cement, of civil society. And this is what we mean by the original contract of society; which, though perhaps in no instance it has ever been formally expressed at the first institution of a state, yet in nature and reason must always be understood and implied, in the very act of associating together: namely, that the whole should protect all its parts, and that every part should pay obedience to the will of the whole; or, in other words, that the community should guard the rights of each individual member, and that (in return for this protection) each individual should submit to the laws of the community; without which submission of all it was impossible that protection could be certainly extended to any.

When he explains to Ange later in the story why he is reading it, he gives two reasons: in matters of citizenship, ignorance is as good as a crime, and he hopes to have children someday and doesn't want his children to be ashamed of their father. Westerns are typically about men living in a state that comes fairly close to a state of nature as Blackstone describes it a little later; they can at least find themselves in a situation in which they are "without any judge upon earth to define their several rights, and redress their several wrongs". But they are also about men who are involved -- sometimes successfully, sometimes not, sometimes even detrimentally -- in the civilizing of this state of nature. They might bring law to Dodge or Tombstone, or restore order where it has failed, or try to find a way of getting justice when there is none ready-made, or have to throw together a solution to chaos. But the process is not random; it has a natural direction, that of reason, toward union in society, where, as Blackstone says in the phrase that struck Tell, the whole should protect all its parts, something that requires an imitation of God, through the union of power, wisdom, and goodness. Tell, both here and in his background as a Union soldier in a bloody civil war, has to deal with the fact that the solutions to which he is forced to resort fall short of ideal. But we can recognize that a man in such a situation has something of the power, the wisdom, and the goodness required to build a true society, however much his circumstances may limit him.

However, while the process of civilization has an intrinsic direction toward the union of power, wisdom, and goodness, it is a struggle against resistance, and its progress is by no means inevitable. If Sackett is about the hope of building a society together, the hope implicit in the human need for law and order, in men pursuing their dreams, in men and women getting together to form families, then The Sackett Brand is about the endurance required to get through the chaos that tends to tear it all down. The Sackett Brand unfolds more slowly than Sackett; we don't get romance but mystery, as Tell tries to figure out who shot at him (and why), and what has happened to his wife Ange. It is about loss, and loneliness, and yet also about the power of family to get one through it, even if just by standing by you when no one else will.

Favorite Passage: From Sackett:

Ange saw my Blackstone and picked it up. "Are you studying this?" She looked at me curiously.

"Yes, ma'am. It's books like that which make a man proud of being a man." (p. 122)

From The Sackett Brand:

They would watch the likely places, and the one I'd chosen wasn't that...it offered little enough place for a man to hide. But the thing I knew was that the best place to hide was in the mind of the searcher, for all men have blind spots in the mind. They rarely see what they do not expect to see, and their minds hold a blindness to what seems unreasonable. (p. 144)

Recommendation: Sackett I have always regarded as the best Western I have ever read, and re-reading it hasn't changed my mind; I think it expresses the essence of the genre more perfectly than perhaps any other work, and it's the one I would recommend you read if you read any Westerns at all. The Sackett Brand is also good, although it is much less a standalone work than Sackett is.

****

Louis L'Amour, Sackett, Bantam (New York: 1961).

Louis L'Amour, The Sackett Brand, Bantam (New York: 1965).

Friday, April 10, 2015

Awing the World with Age or Beauty

To the Sibyls
by John Hanmer


Where are ye, Sibyls, ye who on far shores,
Persic, or Libyan, or Cumaean cave,
Awing the world with age or beauty, gave
Response that Time e'en yet fears and adores,
Still questioning; for each stroke of Charon's oars,
As ghosts of years go by his icy wave,
Sends upwards through the portals of the grave
A vague dread voice, that like an earthquake roars;
And, "when above the dust and unclean bones
Of this vile generation shall be cast
A little earth," some listening seer exclaims,
"Thus shall it be, and thus,"—meanwhile the blast
Of strife goes on; and battling codes, or thrones,
From the blue sky the quiet rainbow shames.

Baron Hanmer -- it was Baronet when he wrote this sonnet -- was better known as a politician and Member of Parliament.