Saturday, November 11, 2017

Music on My Mind

Faith No More, "We Care A Lot", after all these years still the single best song that mocks posturing over moral matters, especially by celebrities. Chuck Mosley, the front man, died Thursday at the age of 57.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Lion of the Latin Church

Today is the feast of St. Leo the Great, Doctor of the Church. From Sermon 63, on the Passion:

There is no doubt therefore, dearly-beloved, that man's nature has been received by the Son of God into such a union that not only in that Man Who is the first-begotten of all creatures, but also in all His saints there is one and the self-same Christ, and as the Head cannot be separated from the members, so the members cannot be separated from the Head. For although it is not in this life, but in eternity that God is to be "all in all," yet even now He is the inseparable Inhabitant of His temple, which is the Church, according as He Himself promised, saying, "Lo! I am with you all the days till the end of the age."

From the opening of his most important work, the Tome of Leo:

Having read your letter, beloved, at the late arrival of which we are surprised , and having perused the detailed account of the bishops' acts , we have at last found out what the scandal was which had arisen among you against the purity of the Faith: and what before seemed concealed has now been unlocked and laid open to our view: from which it is shown that Eutyches, who used to seem worthy of all respect in virtue of his priestly office, is very unwary and exceedingly ignorant, so that it is even of him that the prophet has said: "he refused to understand so as to do well: he thought upon iniquity in his bed. " But what more iniquitous than to hold blasphemous opinions , and not to give way to those who are wiser and more learned than ourself. Now into this unwisdom fall they who, finding themselves hindered from knowing the truth by some obscurity, have recourse not to the prophets' utterances, not to the Apostles' letters, nor to the injunctions of the Gospel but to their own selves: and thus they stand out as masters of error because they were never disciples of truth. For what learning has he acquired about the pages of the New and Old Testament, who has not even grasped the rudiments of the Creed? And that which, throughout the world, is professed by the mouth of every one who is to be born again , is not yet taken in by the heart of this old man.

A Mimic Sky about Their Feet

November Blue
by Alice Meynell

The golden tint of the electric lights seems to give a complementary colour to the air in the early evening.—Essay on London

O heavenly colour, London town
Has blurred it from her skies;
And, hooded in an earthly brown,
Unheaven’d the city lies.
No longer, standard-like, this hue
Above the broad road flies;
Nor does the narrow street the blue
Wear, slender pennon-wise.

But when the gold and silver lamps
Colour the London dew,
And, misted by the winter damps,
The shops shine bright anew—
Blue comes to earth, it walks the street,
It dyes the wide air through;
A mimic sky about their feet,
The throng go crowned with blue.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Mildred Cranston on Teleological Arguments in the Gifford Lectures

Mildred Welch Cranston's 1930 dissertation for Boston University, The Teleological Argument in the Gifford Lectures is an excellent little work worth reading by anyone who, like myself, is interested in the anatomy and physiology of arguments. I don't know much about Cranston beyond the basics and that she had been a Methodist missionary prior to getting her doctorate in philosophy, and I imagine the unassuming little work has, like most dissertations, rarely been read. But it's a nice discussion of the teleological argument based on actual date of argument rather than, as is usual, assumptions and the imagination (or sometimes lack of imagination) of the person analyzing it. It looks at the Gifford Lectures (from all four lectureships) up to the late 1920s and classifies what the various positions relative to the teleological argument is.

(There are some interesting points in her general discussion of the Gifford Lectures. For instance, she says (pp. 12, 17) that Robert Flint should be listed as a lecturer for Edinburgh in 1907 because he was identified on the official calendar of the lectureship, even though he doesn't seem to have published his lectures. This is very interesting because Flint is still not on any of the lists I have seen, which all seem to follow the list by Davidson that Cranston is criticizing. The current Gifford Lectures website doesn't include him. However, the Dictionary of Natural Biography confirms that he delivered the Gifford Lectures for 1908-1909 -- the discrepancy of dates being just that between when he was appointed and when he actually delivered the lectures, as Cranston herself notes. She also rejects as unproven the common notion that Fairbairn's The Philosophy of the Christian Religion and Boutroux's Science and Religion in Contemporary Philosophy contain portions of their Gifford lectures, and notes that E. B. Tylor's lectures, while never published, are abstracted in Balfour, et al., Anthropological Essays Presented to Edward Burnett Tylor.)

Cranston sets aside those lectures that do not mention the argument at all; the rest range from having incidental mentions to having full discussions. She then classifies these into groups (I have simplified this somewhat, as also the one below):

(A) Those that are simply opposed to the teleological argument--
-- (A.1) because they are opposed to all theistic arguments --
-- -- (A.1.a) for reasons of pragmatist philosophy (James, Dewey)
-- -- (A.1.b) for reasons of emergent evolutionism (Alexander, Morgan)
-- -- (A.1.c) due to some conception of science (Eddington, Driesch, Whitehead)
-- (A.2) because of some feature of the teleological argument to which they are opposed (Bosanquet, Bruce).
(B) Those that simply approve it (Stirling, Stokes).
(C) Those that approve teleological considerations only as subordinated to other arguments, such as those that conclude --
-- (C.1) that God is presupposition of experience (Laurie, E. Caird, J. Caird, Wallace, Haldane, Pfleiderer, Watson, Royce)
-- (C.2) that God is manfested in laws of nature, especially human nature (E. Caird, Fraser, Gwatkin, Pfleiderer)
-- (C.3) that God is an object of religious experience (Eddington, Webb)
-- (C.4) that God is ground of moral values (Wallace, Bruce, Pfleiderer, Fraser, Farell, Sorley, Ward)
-- (C.5) that God is ground of all values (Laurie, Inge, Balfour, Jones, Pringle-Pattison, Hobson)
-- (C.6) that God is a point of convergence for multiple lines of evidence (Paterson)
-- (C.7) that God is manifested in the world as it is specifically discovered by scientific inquiry (Thomson, Haldane)

One can see that (C) is the weakest section of this classification; it's not quite like the others, which is why there are overlaps. And, too, Cranston does not sufficiently distinguish (although she does make an effort to do so) between using teleological considerations and having a teleological argument in particular.

Looking at the arguments of the objectors, she develops another classification, more useful, I think:

(A) Objections to the general method and emphasis
-- (A.1) The Kantian disproofs are final.
-- (A.2) The method breaks the rules of logic (broadly conceived).
-- (A.3) The argument is human-centered.
-- (A.4) The argument, while imitating scientific method of proof, employs an obscure transition.
(B) Objections to the conception of nature and God implied by the argument
-- (B.1) Mechanism
-- (B.2) Insufficiency of the existence of law to prove God's existence
-- (B.3) Implication of a limited God (deistic, limited by matter, impoverished in attributes, polytheistic)
(C) Objections from the field of science
-- (C.1) Natural selection
-- (C.2) Vital force, entelechy, panpsychism, or something similar
-- (C.3) dysteleology (problem of evil)

Again, it's all a nice model of how to analyze a body of arguments, of which the Gifford Lectures is a good and convenient example. There are complications -- one of the reasons for (C) in [I] above is that some of the comments about the teleological argument are in fact only in passing. It's conceivable that classification would have to shift for some of them if they had dealt with the problem more fully. Likewise, (A.1) and (B.3) in [II] potentially overlap, because one of Kant's arguments on the teleological argument is that it does not guarantee more than a limited being; but they have to be distinguished because there is a functional difference between appeal ing to Kant and giving an argument that happens to be similar to one that Kant gives. And there are other potential issues arising from the Gifford Lectures and their history, as well -- for instance, Cranston notes that a lot of the anthropological and sociological lectures have nothing to say on the subject, which is of note since anthropology of religion quite obviously plays a large role in the early lectures, and she also notes that the two she classifies as fully approving the teleological argument, Stirling and Stokes, are quite early and that there may be reason for this. The (C.1) group is mostly from the period in which a lot of the lectures were (at least broadly) Hegelian, which fell completely out of fashion, and of course, emergent evolutionism has a significant period in the lectures. Things like these may indicate philosophical fashions and interests in early twentieth-century Scotland more than any broader features directly relevant to understanding the teleological argument. And of course, we will in a few years have a sample of Gifford Lectures a hundred years larger, which might shift around how things work, if one were to try the same thing today.

On the other hand, Gifford Lecturers have been fairly diverse, and deliberately so, and anyone who has done any serious reading on teleological arguments can recognize all the classes noted in her account of the Gifford Lectures objections. In any case, it is worth keeping Cranston's work in mind if one does any analysis of teleological arguments at all.

Harsh and Blind

by Siegfried Sassoon

When you are standing at your hero's grave,
Or near some homeless village where he died,
Remember, through your heart's rekindling pride,
The German soldiers who were loyal and brave.

Men fought like brutes; and hideous things were done:
And you have nourished hatred, harsh and blind.
But in that Golgotha perhaps you'll find
The mothers of the men who killed your son.

November, 1918.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Ring of Gyges and the Allegory of the Cave

James Chastek, in The Ring of Gyges at different resolutions:

At a sharper level of resolution one sees something very different. Gyges is a shepherd who leaves his sheep to wander into a hole leading under the earth, where he finds both treasure and corpses. In the deepest part of the pit he finds a bronze horse, and inside the horse is a corpse wearing an invisibility ring. Gyges, in other words, leaves off the care and tending to the good of others because he becomes fascinated with the underworld, and with each step he becomes more and more fascinated with death and treasure. At the center of this Hell one finds a Trojan horse, i.e. something that everyone takes as a gift from the gods but which is in reality a curse. Gyges takes the ring, i.e. he betroths himself to the totality of this underworld and in doing so becomes a ghost. He dies in the underworld and brings death back with him.

This is an excellent point, and that the underworld aspect of the story is essential is clear from other things in the Republic. It particularly links the story with the Allegory of the Cave. I've noted before that the underworld has a recurring role in the dialogue. For instance, in the beginning of Book III, one of the passages from Homer that Socrates criticizes is Homer's account of Odysseus talking to Achilles in Hades, in which Achilles says he would rather be the living slave of a poor master than king of the dead; but in the Allegory of the Cave, he quotes exactly this passage: the man who goes out of the Cave would rather be the slave of a poor master in the real world than live as people do in the Cave. The Allegory of the Cave is deliberately flipping the meaning: instead of Achilles saying that he would rather be one of us than live as a hero in the underworld, the Allegory teaches us that it is better to be a Socrates (say) living in the real world than to live in the shadowy underworld like we do. Thus the fact that Gyges enters the underworld is certainly important.

Likewise, it's commonly recognized that ascending and descending are important to the Republic, since they keep recurring (for instance, Socrates descends into the Piraeus to have his discussion with Thrasymachus), and we find here another link between the Allegory of the Cave and the Ring of Gyges. In the Ring of Gyges, Gyges descends into the underworld and then reascends; in the Allegory of the Cave, the freed man ascends out of the Cave and then redescends. These are pretty clearly mirror images: Gyges brings the underworld way to the upper world; the freed man brings the upper world way into the underworld. And James's other point about this is particularly relevant: the freed man redescends into the Cave for the good of others, to bring them real life; Gyges reascends wholly devoted to his own good rather than the good of others, bringing death.

Socrates does this kind of overturning elsewhere, too. In the Gorgias, for instance, Callicles says that Socrates will be dragged to court and, unable to defend himself against orators, will be put to death; in response, Socrates tells a story in which everyone dies and are dragged to a court in which people like Callicles and the orators cannot defend themselves. This pattern of overturning is worth considering throughout the dialogues.

Subtle Doctor

Today is the feast of Bl. John Duns Scotus. Hug a Scotist today! From Scotus's De Primo Principio (4.27-4.28):

The first nature's love for itself is identical with its nature.

I prove this as follows: The causality and causation of the final cause is simply first (from the fourth conclusion of the second chapter). Therefore, the causality of the ultimate end and its causation is completely incapable of being caused in any way. Now the causality of the ultimate end consists in this. By being loved it moves the first efficient cause, which means that the first efficient cause loves the ultimate end. For an object to be loved by a will means the same as for a will to love an object. Hence, the love by which the first efficient cause loves the ultimate end is something completely incapable of being caused. Therefore, it exists necessarily (from the fifth conclusion of the third chapter) and consequently is the same as the first nature (from the sixth conclusion of the same; and the deduction is plain in the fifteenth conclusion of the third chapter).


Yet Stars Shall Rise at Last

A Doubting Heart
by Adelaide Anne Procter

Where are the swallows fled?
Frozen and dead,
Perchance upon some bleak and stormy shore.
Oh doubting heart!
Far over purple seas,
They wait, in sunny ease,
The balmy southern breeze,
To bring them to their northern homes once more.

Why must the flowers die?
Prisoned they lie
In the cold tomb, heedless of tears or rain.
Oh doubting heart!
They only sleep below
The soft white ermine snow,
While winter winds shall blow,
To breathe and smile upon you soon again.

The sun has hid its rays
These many days;
Will dreary hours never leave the earth?
Oh doubting heart!
The stormy clouds on high
Veil the same sunny sky,
That soon (for spring is nigh)
Shall wake the summer into golden mirth.

Fair hope is dead, and light
Is quenched in night.
What sound can break the silence of despair?
Oh doubting heart!
Thy sky is overcast,
Yet stars shall rise at last,
Brighter for darkness past,
And angels’ silver voices stir the air.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Evening Note for Tuesday, November 7

Thought for the Evening: Martyrs under Communism

November 7, 2017 is the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution. So it is worth some time to remember those martyred under the Communist Plague. Alas, so many passed, name unknown! But here is a small selection of those who have been remembered; for every one mentioned there are hundreds and there are thousands.


Bl. Giovanni Fausti,
Bl. Danial Dajani,
Bl. Lek Sirdani,
Bl. Maria Tuci,
Bl. Luigj Prendushi,
Bl. Gjon Pantalla,
Bl. Lazer Shantoja,
Bl. Josif Mihali,
Bl. Dede Nikaj,
Bl. Pal Prennushi,
Bl. Ndre Zadeja,
Bl. Kolle Shlaku,
Bl. Qerim Sadiku,
Bl. Mark Chuni,
Bl. Gjelosh Lulashi,
Bl. Fran Mirakaj,
Bl. Alfons Tracki,
Bl. Anton Zogaj,
Bl. Mark Gjani,
Bl. Gjon Koda,
Bl. Zef Palaj,
Bl. Frano Gjini,
Bl. Dede Plani,
Bl. Ejell Deda,
Bl. Anton Muzaj,
Bl. Pjeter Chuni,
Bl. Nikolle Prennushi,
Bl. Zef Markson,
Bl. Jak Bushati,
Bl. Mikel Suma,
Bl. Jul Bonati,
Bl. Ndue Surreqi,
Bl. Ndoc Suma,
Bl. Dede Melaj,
Bl. Marin Shkurti,
Bl. Shtjefen Shkurti,
Bl. Mikel Beltoja


Bl. Yosip Mankyn,
Bl. Petar Bakalski,
Bl. Ivan Romanov,
Bl. Evgeny Bosilkov


Cyrillus Jarre


Bl. Alojzije Stepinac,
Bl. Miroslav Buleshic,
Bl. Francesco Bonifacio

Czech Republic

SvD. Jan Bula


Bl. Istvan Sandor,


Bl. Bonifacio Sauer,
Bl. Benedict Kim,
Patrick James Byrne,
Jang Jeong-eun,
Francis Borgia Hong Yong-ho


Bl. Joseph Thao Tien,
Bl. Jean-Baptiste Malo,
Bl. Mario Borzaga,
Bl. Paul Thoj Xyooj,
Bl. Rene Dubroux,
Bl. Louis Leroy,
Bl. Michel Coquelet,
Bl. Vincent L'Henoret,
Bl. Noel Tenaud,
Bl. Joseph Outhay Phongphumi,
Bl. Marcel Denis,
Bl. Jean Wauthier,
Bl. Lucien Galan,
Bl. Thomas Khampheuane Inthirath,
Bl. Joseph Boissel,
Bl. Luc Sy,
Bl. Maisam Pho Inpeng


Bl. Teofilius Matuleonis


Bl. Jerzy Popieluzsko,
SvD. Marta Klomfass,
SvD. Maria Domnik,
SvD. Barbara Rautenberg,
SvD. Agathe Euphemia Bonigk,
SvD. Rosalia Angrick,
SvD. Clara Anna Skibowska,
SvD. Maria Schroter,
SvD. Anna Margenfeld,
SvD. Anna Pestka,
SvD. Maria Bolz,
SvD. Dorothea Steffen,
SvD. Kathe Muller,
SvD. Hedwig Fahl,
SvD. Maria Abraham,
SvD. Cacilia Mischke,
SvD. Maria Rohwedder,
SvD. Franciszek Nogalski


Bl. Janos Scheffler,
Bl. Szilard Bodganffy,
Bl. Vladimir Ghika,
Bl. Vasile Aftenie,
Bl. Valeriu Traian Frentiu,
Bl. Ioan Suciu,
Bl. Tit Liviu Chinezu,
Bl. Ioan Balan,
Bl. Alexandru Rusu,
Bl. Iuliu Hossu


Bl. Konstantin Romuald Iulianovich Budkevich,
Bl. Jan Janovich Trojgo,
Bl. Antonij Iosifovich Maleckij,
Bl. Anna Ivanovna Abrikosova,
Bl. Petr Andreevich Emeljanov,
Bl. Igor Aleksandrovich Akulov,
Bl. Kamilla Nikolaevna Krushelnishchkaja,
Bl. Frantishek Ignatevich Budris,
Bl. Anton Karlovich Chervinksij,
Bl. Pavel Semenovich Homich,
Bl. Stanislav Shulminksij,
Bl. Galina Fadeevna Entkevich,
Bl. Fabian Abrantovich,
Bl. Andrej Cikoto,
Bl. Janish Mendriks


Bl. Vasil Hopko,
Bl. Titus Zeman,
Bl. Pavol Peter Gojdic,
Bl. Metod Dominik Trcka


Bl. Lojze Grozde,
SvD. Lambert Ehrlich,
SvD. Lenart Velikonja


Bl. Leonid Fedorov,
Bl. Andrii Ischak,
Bl. Mykola Konrad,
Bl. Volodymyr Ivanovich Pryima,
Bl. Zynovii Kovalyk,
Bl. Stepan Baranyk,
Bl. Ivan Senyvskyi,
Bl. Olha Matskiv,
Bl. Volodymyr Bairak,
Bl. Hryhorii Khomyshyn,
Bl. Yosafat Kotsylovskyi,
Bl. Mykyta Budka,
Bl. Roman Lysko,
Bl. Hryhorii Lakota,
Bl. Maria Kazymyr Sheptytski,
Bl. Mykola Tsehelsky,
Bl. Olha Bida,
Bl. Ivan Ziatyk,
Bl. Levkadia Harasymiv,
Bl. Petro Verhun,
Bl. Mykolai Charnetsky,
Bl. Oleksa Zarytskyi,
Bl. Symeon Lukach,
Bl. Ivan Sleziuk,
Bl. Vasylvsevolod Velychkovskyi,
SvD. Dmytro Yaremko,
SvD. Mykola Schepaniuk,
SvD. Stepan Knysh,
SvD. Ivan Tatarynskyi,
SvD. Mykola Kosovych,
SvD. Petro Pastukh,
SvD. Yosyf Hrychai,
SvD. Marian Kashuba,
SvD. Hryhorii Kmet,
SvD. Anton Rychakivskyi,
SvD. Yaroslav Chemerynskyi,
SvD. Yosyf Buchynskyi,
SvD. Andrii Bandera,
SvD. Petro Korduba,
SvD. Roman Khomyn,
SvD. Mykhailo Martyniuk,
SvD. Avustyn Voloshyn,
SvD. Mykola Haliant,
SvD. Stefania Levtytskyi Tarantiuk,
SvD. Yosyf Yarymovych,
SvD. Hryhorii Khamchuk,
SvD. Vasyl Lonchyna,
SvD. Daniil Vasyl Kysilevskyi,
SvD. Petro Mekelyta,
SvD. Teodor Nymylovych,
SvD. Olha Kapko Nymylovych,
SvD. Ivan Rozumnii,
SvD. Yosyf Ostashevskyi,
SvD. Volodymyr Chubatyi,
SvD. Mykhailo Osadcha,
SvD. Maria Teodorovych-Polyanska,
SvD. Volodymyr Sliuzar,
SvD. Marian Halan,
SvD. Petro Lutsyk,
SvD. Mykhailo Horechko,
SvD. Mykhailo Vovchyk,
SvD. Stepan Venhrynovych,
SvD. Omelian Horchynskyi,
SvD. Stepan Chekhovskyi,
SvD. Petro Olenskyi,
SvD. Yosyf Zavadiak,
SvD. Antonii Kaznovskyi,
SvD. Anatolii Hurhula,
SvD. Irina Durbak Hurhula,
SvD. Maria Shveda

(There might be some errors; reporting on beatifications and the like is very poor. I have not even tried to sort through the martyrs of the Spanish Red Terror, or other such events.)

Various Links of Interest

* David Satter, 100 Years of Communism -- and 100 Million Dead

* Ian Johnson, The Conspiracy Behind the Bolshevik Revolution

* The original maps from Verne's Extraordinary Voyages books

* Chris Meyns, Why Don't Philosophers Talk about Slavery?

* Darwin, Collaborators in a Culture of Death, at "DarwinCatholic"

* The Ghent Altarpiece is being restored, and a condition that came with the grant for it was that the restoration be recorded and made available online.

* Sabine Hossenfelder, How Popper Killed Particle Physics, at "Backreaction"

* Miriam Burstein, Must They Have? discusses a common problem in intellectual history of any kind

* Alexander Pruss, Four Problems and a Unified Solution

* Nicholas Black Elk has been declared a Servant of God, thus making way for his eventual beatification, which I full support.

Currently Reading

Nathaniel Hawthorne, Twice-Told Tales
Tanith Lee, The Secret Books of Paradys, III & IV
Edith Stein, The Hidden Life: Essays, Meditations, Spiritual Texts
Jacques Maritain, The Peasant of the Garonne

But She Ne'er Came Out Again

The Spider and the Fly
A New Version of an Old Story
by Mary Howitt

“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I've many curious things to show when you are there.”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can never come down again.”
“I'm sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high;
Will you rest upon my little bed?” said the Spider to the Fly.
“There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest awhile, I'll snugly tuck you in!”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “for I've often heard it said,
They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed!”

Said the cunning Spider to the Fly, “Dear friend what can I do,
To prove the warm affection I 've always felt for you?
I have within my pantry, good store of all that's nice;
I'm sure you're very welcome — will you please to take a slice?”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “kind Sir, that cannot be,
I've heard what's in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!”

“Sweet creature!” said the Spider, “you're witty and you're wise,
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!
I've a little looking-glass upon my parlour shelf,
If you'll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself.”

“I thank you, gentle sir,” she said, “for what you're pleased to say,
And bidding you good morning now, I'll call another day.”

The Spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly Fly would soon come back again:
So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready, to dine upon the Fly.

Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing,
“Come hither, hither, pretty Fly, with the pearl and silver wing;
Your robes are green and purple — there's a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead!”

Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little Fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by;
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew,
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue —
Thinking only of her crested head — poor foolish thing!
At last,
Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held her fast.
He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlour — but she ne'er came out again!

And now dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly flattering words, I pray you ne'er give heed:
Unto an evil counsellor, close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.

It's sometimes said to have been published in 1829, but it was actually published in a work that was poems for New Year's Day 1829, and so was published in 1828 so that people could have already bought it by then.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Family Gatherings and Politics

I don't know that I would say it all exactly the same way, but this post by Aikin and Talisse is essentially right:

Rather than honing one's de-escalation skills, instead affirm that political discussion is to be avoided, not because conflict is unpleasant and agreement is unlikely, but rather because family gatherings are more important than politics. Explicitly proclaim to your loved ones that the purpose of Thanksgiving is to reflect with gratitude on the preceding year in ways that enable otherwise dispersed family members to renew their familial relations. Like the current mileage on your car or the color of the interior of your local bank, the political condition of the nation is beside the point of Thanksgiving. Politics simply doesn't matter.

Their emphasis, but I agree entirely with the emphasized claim. People, for instance, who cut ties with family over party identification or voting practice are not so much participating in political life as corrupting it. It is like lopping off the feet because they won't fit the bed; it gets the order of means and ends completely wrong. No good can come of such behavior.

Waiting on Tiptoe in the Wilding Spaces

Song of the Moon
by Claude McKay

The moonlight breaks upon the city's domes,
And falls along cemented steel and stone,
Upon the grayness of a million homes,
Lugubrious in unchanging monotone.
Upon the clothes behind the tenement,
That hang like ghosts suspended from the lines,
Linking each flat to each indifferent,
Incongruous and strange the moonlight shines.

There is no magic from your presence here,
Ho, moon, sad moon, tuck up your trailing robe,
Whose silver seems antique and so severe
Against the glow of one electric globe.

Go spill your beauty on the laughing faces
Of happy flowers that bloom a thousand hues,
Waiting on tiptoe in the wilding spaces,
To drink your wine mixed with sweet drafts of dews.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Fortnightly Book, November 5

In the 1830s, Nathaniel Hawthorne's friend Horatio Bridge, who had always been a major support in his authorial career, encouraged him to pull together an anthology of short stories, and put up some money to help pay for the cost of the publication. The first volume was published in 1837, and thus was born Twice-Told Tales. The title is fairly obviously an indication of the fact that it is an anthology of prior works, but Hawthorne also had in mind a line from Shakespeare's King John (Act III, Scene 4):

There’s nothing in this world can make me joy:
Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale,
Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man;
And bitter shame hath spoil’d the sweet world’s taste,
That it yields nought but shame and bitterness.

(In a letter to Longfellow, Hawthorne explicitly refers to his book as "'twice-told' tediousness".)

The book did not sell well and the publisher went out of business (for unrelated reasons), so Hawthorne had to start again, and made a deal to publish an expanded two-volume version, which came out in 1842. It sold poorly again. When The Scarlet Letter became a hit in 1850, it was reissued and became a classic.

I will (mostly) be reading this in a Heritage Press edition (New York); despite its being a Heritage Press edition, it is not from my grandfather's library, but a later edition. I don't have the Sandglass for it, but it is illustrated by Valenti Angelo, one of the more talented and prolific book illustrators of the mid-twentieth century. The book does not include all the tales; it is a selection by Wallace Stegner, the novelist, and has twenty-four of the thirty-six original tales. The twenty-four it has are:

"The Snow-Image: A Childish Miracle"
"The Great Stone Face"
"Ethan Brand"
"My Kinsman, Major Molineux"
"Alice Doane's Appeal"
"Young Goodman Brown"
"Rappaccini's Daughter"
"The Celestial Railroad"
"The Birthmark"
"Egotism, or, The Bosom Serpent"
"Earth's Holocaust"
"The Artist of the Beautiful"
"The Wedding Knell"
"The Minister's Black Veil"
"The Maypole of MerryMount"
"Mr Higginbotham's Catastrophe"
"The Hollow the Three Hills"
"Dr. Heidegger's Experiment"
"Lady Eleanore's Mantle"
"Old Esther Dudley"
"The Ambitious Guest"
"Feathertop: A Moralized Legend"
"The Prophetic Pictures"
"Peter Goldthwaite's Treasure"

I will, however, be looking up the others, as well. CBS Radio Mystery Theater did an episode of "The Birthmark", and I think Weird Circle did an episode of "Rappaccini's Daughter", so I will, if I have time, listen to those; Hawthorne is never as easy to find in classic radio as Poe is, but there are bound to be others, so I will keep an eye out.

Jules Verne, The Mysterious Island


Opening Passage:

“Are we rising again?” “No. On the contrary.” “Are we descending?” “Worse than that, captain! we are falling!” “For Heaven’s sake heave out the ballast!” “There! the last sack is empty!” “Does the balloon rise?” “No!” “I hear a noise like the dashing of waves. The sea is below the car! It cannot be more than 500 feet from us!” “Overboard with every weight! ... everything!”

Such were the loud and startling words which resounded through the air, above the vast watery desert of the Pacific, about four o’clock in the evening of the 23rd of March, 1865.

Summary: Captured by the Confederacy, a group of prisoners make a daring escape in a balloon during a hurricane. They are blown to the Pacific and land on an uncharted island. Together they build civilization until they are at last forced to leave by the island's awakening volcano. The prisoners represent the best that humanity has to offer:

Captain Cyrus Harding, an engineer for the Union army;

Gideon Spilett, a daring reporter with a wide experience of the world;

Nebuchadnezzar, known as Neb, a slave who had been freed by Harding and who risks his life to try to rescue Harding from Richmond;

Bonadventure Pencroft, a sailor who is trapped in Richmond during the siege, and like all sailors of long experience is something of a jack of all trades;

Herbert, Pencroft's teenaged ward, the orphan of a former captain and an enthusiast for natural history.

Robinsonades can be fairly generous or fairly stingy with what they provide their stranded travelers; Robinson Crusoe, for instance, is somewhat middling, while The Swiss Family Robinson is very generous. Verne falls on the less generous side, but he still provides his escapees with a match, two watches, a balloon, a seed, some writing materials, and so forth. This might seem like cheating (particularly the grain of corn) but Verne is not writing a survival book; he is not, contrary to what people seem to expect from a robinsonade, exploring the ability of the human mind to triumph over nature. Verne is less interested in the ability to surive than in the ability to build civilization, and the point is that the mind of man can take a little drop of civilization and turn it into a steady stream. As he says at one point:

So is man’s heart. The desire to perform a work which will endure, which will survive him, is the origin of his superiority over all other living creatures here below. It is this which has established his dominion, and this it is which justifies it, over all the world.

The same can be said for the edge they have in knowledge. Isaac Asimov has an afterword in which he notes that, despite having training as a chemist, he would expect that if he tried to make nitroglycerine from scratch the way Cyrus Harding does, he would blow himself to bits; and it's remarkable that Herbert is not just good at natural history but a walking encyclopedia. But the point is not that these are supposed to be ordinary people; they represent the whole human race insofar as we are capable of building works that endure.

It is therefore not remotely a matter of chance that Verne picked people from the Union, or had them name their island after Abraham Lincoln; it is not an accident of story that one of Verne's heroes is a freed slave; it is entirely consistent with the theme that the heroes are often called upon to exercise compassion on others, and that this book, which is a sequel to both 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Children of Captain Grant sees the redemption of two apparently unredeemable characters from those books. Freedom, and particularly the kind of freedom by which people work together for common good, plays a central role in Verne's conception of what civilization is. It ties in with the redemption arcs, too; it is the fact that the heroes are Union abolitionists that sparks compassion in the proud and misanthropic Indian prince, turned bitter from the failure of his people to win their liberty from the British. (I watched The Mysterious Island movie, and listened to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater episode. The former was just awful, and the latter not bad, but neither grasped, I think, this essential element, that Verne's interest is civilization, which requires both freedom and compassion.) Likewise, I think it is not an accident that religion plays a fairly prominent role in this work, compared to some of Verne's other works. It is not an accident that the prisoners have nothing to do but trust divine providence in coming to the island, and it is not an accident that they are left in the same state when leaving.

I don't think I ever read this one as a teenager; I would have loved it -- it's a story full of adventure that is nonetheless not afraid to stop and tell you how to make guncotton or batteries or a telegraph system.

Favorite Passage:

Everything was finished, and the settlers had only to descend Mount Franklin to return to the Chimneys, when Pencroft cried out,—

“Well! we are preciously stupid!”

“Why?” asked Gideon Spilett, who had closed his notebook and risen to depart.

“Why! our island! we have forgotten to christen it!”

Herbert was going to propose to give it the engineer’s name and all his companions would have applauded him, when Cyrus Harding said simply,—

“Let us give it the name of a great citizen, my friend; of him who now struggles to defend the unity of the American Republic! Let us call it Lincoln Island!”

The engineer’s proposal was replied to by three hurrahs.

And that evening, before sleeping, the new colonists talked of their absent country; they spoke of the terrible war which stained it with blood; they could not doubt that the South would soon be subdued, and that the cause of the North, the cause of justice, would triumph, thanks to Grant, thanks to Lincoln!

Now this happened the 30th of March, 1865. They little knew that sixteen days afterwards a frightful crime would be committed in Washington, and that on Good Friday Abraham Lincoln would fall by the hand of a fanatic.

Recommendation: Not the strongest of Verne's works, I think, but still Highly Recommended.