Saturday, November 16, 2019

Charlotte M. Yonge, The Heir of Redclyffe

Introduction

Opening Passage:

The drawing-room of Hollywell House was one of the favoured apartments, where a peculiar air of home seems to reside, whether seen in the middle of summer, all its large windows open to the garden, or, as when our story commences, its bright fire and stands of fragrant green-house plants contrasted with the wintry fog and leafless trees of November. There were two persons in the room—a young lady, who sat drawing at the round table, and a youth, lying on a couch near the fire, surrounded with books and newspapers, and a pair of crutches near him. Both looked up with a smile of welcome at the entrance of a tall, fine-looking young man, whom each greeted with 'Good morning, Philip.'

'Good morning, Laura. Good morning, Charles; I am glad you are downstairs again! How are you to-day?'

Summary: Guy Morville is from a family that has always had a greater share of competence than morals. Intensely and sometimes darkly passionate, the main line of the family has a long history of wrongdoing. Guy's grandfather repented in his old age of some of his wild deeds, and, as Guy's father is dead, he takes him in and makes something of an effort to raise him appropriately on the family's remote estate of Redclyffe. When his grandfather also dies, Guy, now a quiet, bookish boy who feels that his family heritage guarantees his moral doom, comes to live at Hollywell with the Edmonstone family, who are distant cousins through Mrs. Edmonstone. The family includes Charlie, crippled from a diseased hip-joint, sarcastically intelligent and frank, qualities that he gets from the combination of mild bitterness and over-pettedness given to him by his illness; Laura, who is mature for her age, intelligent and levelheaded; Amabel, often called Amy, who is young for her age, and often thought soft and silly by herself as well as others, although, as it turns out, there is much more to her than meets the eye; and Charlotte, the youngest, who is perhaps getting a little too much of Charlie's influence. Although the adjustment is awkward, many of the family come to like Guy, who, once he begins to be comfortable brings a great deal of joy to others. Guy also meets his cousin Philip Morville, who happens to be the second in line for Redclyffe if Guy has no male children, and their personalities immediately clash. Philip is cool, levelheaded, inclined to take charge, and insufferably aware of his own reasonableness. (You get a lot of what he is when you know that he thinks Le Morte d'Arthur is a poor piece of literature nobody could seriously enjoy, and that this is something that any reasonable person could discover just by a cursory skimming of the book, a position that brings one of his early clashes with Guy.) It doesn't help that Guy is born to wealth and Philip is not, and very aware that, however close to being wealthy by being in line for Redclyffe, he never will be. Philip, worrying that Laura might get caught up with Guy, who is, after all, from the dangerous and sometimes violent line of the Morvilles, realizes that he loves her, and they both come to an agreement that constitutes an almost-but-not-quite engagement, one that they keep secret.

The work is extremely good in terms of its characterizations; almost everything at every step contributes to giving us a better understanding of characters, sometimes in clever ways. At one point all the cousins play a game in which everyone has to write on a strip of a paper their favorites for the categories of historical character, fictional character, flower, virtue, and time. They then have to guess who wrote it. Much is made of the fact that Philip's (Lavender—steadfastness—Strafford—Cordelia in ‘King Lear’—the late war) and Laura's (Honeysuckle—steadfastness—Lord Strafford—Cordelia—the present time) share three of the same entries, which leads to a great deal of teasing. But the teasing hides something from the characters that the perceptive reader might catch, namely, that Guy's (Heather—Truth—King Charles—Sir Galahad—the present time) shares two entries with Amy's (Lily of the valley—truth—Joan of Arc—Padre Cristoforo—the present time), and that his fictional character has a sort of affinity with her historical character. Guy and Amy in fact become somewhat sweet on each other.

Trouble begins dividing the family when Guy goes off to Oxford and Philip begins collecting evidence that Guy is dissipating his funds through gambling, which comes to a head when Guy asks Mr. Edmonstone for a thousand pounds and will not say what it is for. It's his own money, but it seems to clinch the argument: Guy is following in the dissipated footsteps of his ancestors. In fact, he is not; Guy wants the money to fund a school, but needs to do it quietly, and Philip is getting some of his information through his sister, who is jealous of the young women who would be running the school. Guy is not allowed to return to Hollywell and Amy is told she must give him up. This will eventually work itself out, but when Guy and Amy meet up with Philip while on their honeymoon things become darker; Philip gets into an argument with Guy about whether the peasants are exaggerating the danger of an epidemic in a particular part of Italy they had originally planned to visit (guess which of the two is certain that superstitious Italian peasants must be exaggerating), and Philip goes and visits anyway, falling terribly ill because of it.

The book on occasion pulls out all the emotional stops, and the illness and its aftermath is one of those occasions. In Alcott's Little Women there's a scene in which Meg comes across Jo crying over The Heir of Redclyffe, and anyone who has read the latter knows exactly what scenes made Jo cry.

Being something of a Charlie by temperament, I, like Charlie, often wanted to strangle Philip, but this is a book without villains. Precisely the problem is that Philip is a generally decent, generally intelligent, generally reasonable man. He is the kind of man on whom you can rely. It's just that, like every other generally decent, generally intelligent, generally reasonable person, he has a dangerous capacity to argue himself into believing that he is being decent, intelligent, and reasonable, when his choices are really being distorted by his emotions, in this case a kind of sense of inferiority to the wealthy and surprisingly charming Guy that he can't stand feeling. The desire to show your superiority to another is dangerous in general; combined with a feeling that you might actually be inferior, it can lead to horrible things done with (one convinces oneself) the best of intentions. And it results also in an abundance of excuses. Philip's secret agreement with Laura is wrong, but of course, he would be open about it if he had the kind of money Guy will have. It is also made worse by the fact that, because he is the kind of person who is well-educated, intelligent, and reasonable, nobody can really outargue him. Sarcastic Charlie, for instance, who takes Guy's side, will always sound, to Philip's own ears and occasionally to the ears of others, more petty and less sensible than Philip. Philip's disaster comes step by step, every single step avoidable, and yet each one comes with a kind of inevitability, because this is what happens when you are smart enough to convince yourself of the falsehood that you are always right.

Guy is an extremely admirable and sympathetic character, and Charlie, Amy, and Charlotte all start out likable and have grown more so by the end. It is a powerfully moving book, because it's a book in which the author clearly cares for her characters, and in such a way that the reader can come to care for them, too.

Favorite Passage:

They went to the strangers’ corner of the grave-yard, for, of course the church did not open to a member of another communion of the visible church; but around them were the hills in which he had read many a meaning, and which had echoed a response to his last chant with the promise of the blessing of peace.

The blessing of peace came in the precious English burial-service, as they laid him to rest in the earth, beneath the spreading chestnut-tree, rendered a home by those words of his Mother Church—the mother who had guided each of his steps in his orphaned life. It was a distant grave, far from his home and kindred, but in a hallowed spot, and a most fair one; and there might his mortal frame meetly rest till the day when he should rise, while from their ancestral tombs should likewise awaken the forefathers whose sins were indeed visited on him in his early death; but, thanks to Him who giveth the victory, in death without the sting.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Poor, Unfortunate Souls

It's always hilarious when people try to rationalize their aesthetic likes as moral excellences on the basis of purely arbitrary associations. "The Little Mermaid Was Way More Subversive than You Realized", in the Smithsonian:

While teaching young Ariel how to “get your man,” Ursula applies makeup, exaggerates her hips and shoulders, and accessorizes (her eel companions, Flotsam and Jetsam, are gender neutral)—all standard tropes of drag. “And don’t underestimate the importance of body language!,” sings Ursula with delicious sarcasm. The overall lesson: Being a woman in a man’s world is all about putting on a show. You are in control; you control the show. Sells added, “Ariel learns gender, not as a natural category, but as a performed construct.” It’s a powerful message for young girls, one deeply threatening to the King Tritons (and Ronald Reagans) of the world.

In short, Ursula represents feminism, the fluidity of gender, and young Ariel’s empowerment....

The only response to this is: LOL. I suppose, if anybody had actually been thinking about this at the time, that making feminism the villain of the story, feeding a young girl lies in an attempt to steal her voice and destroy her family, from whom the girl needs to be saved by her father and her potential husband, would indeed have been a subversive story; I somehow doubt that this is exactly what Sells has in mind, though.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Samuel Drew

The soul of man must either be material, or it must not. If it be material, it must be capable of divisibility; and if with this capacity it be divided, I would ask, Does consciousness survive this division, or expire? If it survive, then the adhesion of the different parts of the soul is not necessary to its existence; and we are led to this absurd conclusion, that consciousness is dependent for its being, on a concrete substance, which is not necessary to its existence. But if consciousness expire, then it must have depended for its existence, not upon the component parts of the soul, but upon the adhesion of these component parts, because nothing but adhesion is now destroyed: but in admitting a mere adhesion of parts to be capable of producing what the parts themselves had no power of communicating, is to ascribe agency to mere adhesion. It therefore must follow, that consciousness, volition, &c. cannot inhere in any adhesion of a material substance; and if so, a substance which is immaterial must necessarily be admitted.

[Samuel Drew, An Original Essay on the Immateriality and Immortality of the Soul, p. 89.]

I was reminded of this work by Edith Hall's fine essay on the extraordinary historical importance of classical education and self-education in the classics to the British working class. Samuel Drew (1765-1833) was a shoemaker from Cornwall from a dirt-poor family who was known by his friends as a good-natured man who would be glad to argue any topic. When he published An Original Essay on the Immateriality and Immortality of the Soul, it became a worldwide bestseller, and for the best of reasons -- it is without any doubt the single best examination of the titular topic in the early modern period, and still holds up quite well today as a model of philosophical analysis. The widespread popularity of the work eventually allowed him to retire from the cobbler shop and devote his time to philosophical and theological writing.

It is perhaps worthwhile to get some advice from the admirable Drew; from a letter he wrote to a friend in 1816 (emphasis in the original):

When you write me, let me know what books you have been reading, and what proficiency you have made in metaphysics. Your last letter was written with too much hesitation, diffidence, and perplexity. You must not be afraid of me. You saw me a plain, blunt fellow, in London, who was mistaken for a blacksmith. Do not be afraid of committing yourself. Remember this rule—The person who never made a blunder never made a discovery. If you always tread near the central parts of a circle, you will never obtain much accurate knowledge of its circumference; and, consequently, you will never widen the horizon of knowledge. It is on the extremity of the circle that metaphysicians must walk; and they must not be terrified, if they sometimes slip their feet, and fall.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Evening Note for Tuesday, November 12

Thought for the Evening: The Internal Moralities of Law and Medicine

In the 1950s and 60s, the philosopher of law, Lon Fuller, attempted to find a middle road between natural law theory and legal positivism, or at least find a version of either that committed one to much less than the usual forms, and his book, The Morality of Law (1964), became a significant influence in the field. Technically, what Fuller presents could be considered a natural law theory (and often is), but it is an extremely minimalist one that is missing standard components usually associated with natural law theories. A natural law theorist could easily incorporate it and a legal positivist generally would have more difficulty, but Fuller's theory does not appeal to a more fundamental law than positive law, nor does it root anything directly in reason or common good. Rather, it attempts to identify the intrinsic moral conditions of law, principles of legality, without which you can have no law at all.

Fuller proposed eight principles of legality. To work as a law at all, a law must be (1) sufficiently general, (2) promulgated, (3) applicable to the future rather than the past, (4) in a basic way intelligible, (5) coherent, (6) stable, (7) such that it can be obeyed, (8) applied in a way that can be determined from its meaning. Hart criticized this as not any sort of morality at all, since it all has to do with the appropriate of means to ends, but this criticism seems never to have been widely accepted and, indeed, seems to show a common problem with legal positivism, namely, that their view is often based on a very narrow understanding of how morality works, in this case assuming that efficacy of means to ends in matters of choices is not any kind of moral question. (It may, of course, be a relatively minor one, as we find in etiquette, but many questions of morality clearly are concerned with choosing appropriate means to ends in matters directly touching on choice.)

More interesting is Hart's claim that by the same standards you could have an 'internal morality' of poisoning, but contrary to what he claims, this is not absurd at all. We would have to be considering poisoning not as a solitary act, but as a kind of practice, but if you do, to talk about its internal morality is entirely comprehensible. Indeed, fantasy stories are filled with 'guilds of assassins' and people are endlessly fascinated by the deadly games of Renaissance courts for precisely this reason. If you are poisoning not in a random act but in a practice of poisoning, there are indeed principles of poisoning structuring it. We don't take poisoning itself to be moral, of course, because poisoning, even as a practice, is not standalone, but part of a larger system with its own internal morality, one with which poisoning tends to conflict. Now, this is true of positive law, as well, that it has a larger context, despite Fuller's attempt to work around that, but this doesn't affect the question of whether law has an internal morality, and in any case, a legal positivist is of all people the one who can least afford to make this criticism of Fuller.

The relative success of Fuller's account has led some to try to see if you could come up with an internal morality of medicine; the attempt to do this has, I think, been much more unevenly successful. Part of the problem is that sometimes philosophers of medicine just use 'internal morality' to mean 'morality based on the actual phenomena of medicine', which is a somewhat broader notion than we are dealing with here. More of the reason, I think, is that there is a sense in which calling Fuller's account an internal morality of law is in English misleading: it is not an internal morality of all legal actions but of a specific one, legislation. As legislation is the principal legal action, it affects everything else, but you could also have an internal morality of ruling on law, an internal morality of enforcing law, etc. And likewise, you would really not want to talk about the internal morality of medicine, if 'medicine' here is taken to cover everything we usually to take it to cover, but the internal morality of diagnosis, the internal morality of clinical treatment, the internal morality of prescription, etc. When philosophers and practitioners focus on these kinds of typical activities, they often get accounts of the internal morality of medicine that are more substantive and fruitful than when they stay at too general a level.

Since you can have internal moralities for for law and for medicine, one could on the same principles work them out for clerical ministry, education, and the like, although I don't know anyone who has actually done this explicitly. This all, in fact, closely relates to previous posts I have done on humanitarian traditions in general.

Previous Evening Notes on Humanitarian Traditions
- Humanitarian Traditions
- Prima Facie Duties and Humanitarian Traditions
- Humanitarian Traditions and Cliental Privilege
- Perversion in the Context of Humanitarian Traditions


Various Links of Interest

* Craig Stern, A Mistake of Natural Law: Sir William Blackstone and the Anglican Way (PDF)

* Oscar Schwartz discusses Leibniz and Llull

* Marnie Hughes-Warrington, Wonder Works

* Thomas Moynihan, Enlightenment and the Discovery of Human Extinction

* David Chapman, The probability of green cheese. The subject reminds me to some extent of St. Olaf's Miraculous Thirteen.

* Liam Kofi Bright on intellectual humility.

* Bright has another post on Peter Boghossian and the correspondence theory of truth that is interesting, but I think fails completely in its intended argument; much of the post reads like Bright needs to go back and re-read Fumerton (Realism and the Correspondence Theory of Truth). While positions like it have fallen out of general favor in recent years, and Boghossian tends toward blunt and un-nuanced formulations, Boghossian's understanding of the correspondence theory is not (pace Bright) 'idiosyncratic', and such views are not uncommon (although probably not common enough to be counted as 'typical') among correspondence theorists, and never have been. The discussion of what Bright finds appealing in deflationary theories, though, is quite interesting.

* SFAudio's Public Domain PDF page for science fiction works in the public domain

* Marilynn Johnson, Must We Mean What We Wear? (I meant to put this link in the last set of links)

Currently Reading

Charlotte Yonge, The Heir of Redclyffe
Kevin Flannery, Cooperation with Evil
John Henry Newman, Discourses to Mixed Congregations
Michael Trapp, Philosophy in the Roman Empire

Benevolence and Righteousness

Mencius went to see king Hui of Liang. The king said, 'Venerable sir, since you have not counted it far to come here, a distance of a thousand li, may I presume that you are provided with counsels to profit my kingdom?'

Mencius replied, 'Why must your Majesty use that word "profit?" What I am provided with, are counsels to benevolence and righteousness, and these are my only topics. 'If your Majesty say, "What is to be done to profit my kingdom?" the great officers will say, "What is to be done to profit our families?" and the inferior officers and the common people will say, "What is to be done to profit our persons?" Superiors and inferiors will try to snatch this profit the one from the other, and the kingdom will be endangered. In the kingdom of ten thousand chariots, the murderer of his sovereign shall be the chief of a family of a thousand chariots. In the kingdom of a thousand chariots, the murderer of his prince shall be the chief of a family of a hundred chariots. To have a thousand in ten thousand, and a hundred in a thousand, cannot be said not to be a large allotment, but if righteousness be put last, and profit be put first, they will not be satisfied without snatching all. There never has been a benevolent man who neglected his parents. There never has been a righteous man who made his sovereign an after-consideration. Let your Majesty also say, "Benevolence and righteousness," and let these be your only themes. Why must you use that word - "profit"?'

[Mengzi 1A1]

Monday, November 11, 2019

Natural Vaticination

There is a certain analogy, constancy, and uniformity in the phenomena or appearances of nature, which are a foundation for general rules: and these are a grammar for the understanding of nature, or that series of effects in the visible world whereby we are enabled to foresee what will come to pass in the natural course of things. Plotinus observes, in his third Ennead, that the art of presaging is in some sort the reading of natural letters denoting order, and that so far forth as analogy obtains in the universe, there may be vaticination. And in reality he that foretells the motions of the planets, or the effects of medicines, or the result of chemical or mechanical experiments, may be said to do it by natural vaticination.

[George Berkeley, Siris, #252.]

Abyss & Sea 4

Let's see if I can get this started again. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

The High King sat, and then Disan across from him, and then, in a flowing motion, Elea next to the High King. Disan had to suppress a smile; the Princess's manner was as artless as her artfulness could make it. Antaran leaned forward.

"I am told that King Envren visited you recently. How is he? Last I saw him, he seemed to be behaving oddly."

"Jumpy, too quick to startle," the Princess put in.

"He seemed well enough," said Disan, and he paused, trying to assess the room. "Of course, he did have a complicated story about Tavra and Tala building a large fleet that could be used against other kingdoms."

Antaran and Elea glanced at each other, and Antaran relaxed back with a smile, as if Disan had passed a test. "Well," he said, "he is right about the fleet, although not about the purpose. When you were away, we started building a fleet with the Andrans. We have run into a problem with it, however. A month ago, an Andran ship was caught by a storm and it sank."

"That's not possible," said Disan. "The Andrans have the secrets of the unsinkable ship; they stole them from Sorea several generations ago."

"So we were told, as well. Yet the loss of the ship is certain, and we are worried that the Andrans have been playing us for fools, promising ships that won't sink, which are not at all cheap, and skimping on the actual building so that they could pocket the profit. You know what they say. To make wire, give two Andrans one coin."

"That is their reputation, but surely they would have the sense to know that they would be found out."

"Which leads to the second theory, which is that they are simply incompetent. I will be honest with you, my friend. My first impulse when we began to think of building the new fleet was to go to the Soreans. But you were away across the sea and some people"--here he glanced with meaning toward Elea, who ignored him--"thought that your Queen might be hesitant to agree to such a large undertaking in your absence. But ever since we have been plagued by complications and delays and now this egregious failure of an unexpected test, and while you've returned, we have made little enough progress and and what gains we have made are plunged into certainty. We should have waited for your return. You were always the person we needed. Besides, the Andran royal court is cramped and unimaginative. For a bold undertaking, we need someone bold."

"You still have not told me what this 'bold undertaking' is."

"You have been out in the world," said Elea. "You have met the barbarian tribes in treaty and in battle, not through emissaries, but in person. You have tramped across a significant portion of the Great Continent. And as the King of Sorea you have more news about all the rest of the world than any of us combined. Is there any society on the face of the earth that rivals ours in strength and prosperity."

"None. That is, in fact, why Envren said that you must be planning conquest of the other kingdoms."

Antaran laughed. "Why would I try to conquer the Great Realm? I already rule it."

"King Envren has become paranoid in his old age," said Elea. "He excels everyone in observation, but he is no longer as swift to the right interpretation as his legend would suggest. You need a fleet not merely to conquer armies but to ensure prosperity as your power expands."

"Surely you are not going through all of this trouble to hunt pirates and smugglers? We could do that simply by providing occasional support to our allies."

"We are not doing it specifically to fight anyone at all, although there will doubtless be some fighting. But you have been out in the world. Is there not already too much fighting among all these barbarian nations."

"There is a vast amount," Disan admitted.

"And that raises a question. What would stop it?"

"The fighting? Nothing, I imagine." Disan paused. "But you are suggesting that we would stop it."

"Exactly," said Antaran. "Look around us. We are overflowing with an abundance that the outer realms could not possibly imagine. The magnaneries of Tala produce finer silk for farmers than the kings of the barbarians can afford for themselves. Compare the finest palaces of their wealthiest chieftains to Neyat Sor, or Neyat Andar, and they are shown to be little more than barns. We are arts of which they have never even dreamed, resources which are to them but whispers in a legend. Do they have a city than compare to Talamir or to Mir Ezrym? We sit here in the light, and there is a world out there huddling in the darkness.

"And yet, though we are in the light, we rot. It is all stagnant. We are built for great deeds, but what great deeds are there to do? Our ancestors did things of wonder. Our grandparents fought the Court of Night and won. How can we match them? But to enlighten the world -- is that not a great deed? Is it not something that none of our ancestors ever did, or ever dared to do?"

Disan looked thoughtfully across the balcony to the dome of the Oracle of the Sun, which had lost its gleam and was growing more shadowy under a purpling sky. "Is it even possible?" he said slowly. "The Orikhalh Tablets forbid the founding of any empire beyond the shores given to us by the Powers."

"The Orikhalh Tablets are ancient. Can any law be valid that long? All other things change. The Great Realm is a living thing; it cannot be governed by a rigid rule forever. As for the Powers, who has seen them in any recent years. They came to our grandparents and asked for help, and our grandparents helped them, and who has spoken to them since? And that is one time in centuries. When was the last time anyone heard the Voice of Fath? We have been children under the Powers, but some day we must become adults, throwing our tutelage. How is this not the time? We have grown so powerful, we could overthrow the Court of Night. What is there that we cannot do?"

"We had help against the Court of Night."

"Yes, we but we have only grown in power since," said Elea. "And throughout the world, you would look in vain to find anyone who is our peer, much less our superior."

It was growing dark. Antaran snapped his fingers, said, "Light!" and pointed, and a brazier lit and glided over to where he pointed. "Is there anything more splendid than being able to make light? We three could enlighten the world. Think about that."

"It has a certain fascination to it," said Disan. "How many ships would you need?"

Antaran smiled broadly. "It is a big world. As many as you could make. The agreement with Andra was for three hundred fifty, but if you can do more, we will take more."

"Our forests cannot supply anything like the timber for a fleet that size. And somehow I suspect that in this case the Andrans would be reluctant to let us cut down theirs."

"They may have little choice in the matter," said Antaran. "But my thought is actually that if we are going to build a fleet for the world, there is a world of forests out there. There are bound to be places that are suitable for new shipyards."

Disan nodded slowly. "We have thought at times of building outposts for ship repair, to service the other kingdoms allies and those handful of foreign allies who have fleets of their own. What you are suggesting is on another scale entirely, but there are places that might be right for it."

The High King seemed very pleased. "You have the right idea." He thought a moment, then looked at Elea. "Obviously there is a great deal to consider in this. Perhaps we can give you time to think about it, and then we can start formalizing the agreement to build the ships, the shipyards, everything."

"We have been quiet about this so far because we do not wish to bring the full plan before the Ten and Two without having the essential elements in place," said Elea, "Tala, Tavra, Andra, Sorea: these are the only Houses who have knowledge of the fleet and its purpose..."

"Frankly, we should have found some way to keep the Andrans out of more of it," interrupted Antaran; "Zalan is an idiot and has no doubt let out more than he should...."

Elea, ignoring him, continued: "...and we have sounded out a few of the other Houses about smaller details in the plan..."

"...like extending elsewhere what you've done with the Chipou tribes..."

Elea, continuing as if the High King had not spoken: "...but the essentials need to be held close to the chest. With something this size, everyone will know something is happening, as Envren does, but not everyone can know everything until the time is right."

"Besides, it will impress more if they have spent a while puzzling over it before we lay it before them at the Great Council," said Antaran.

She finally glanced at him. "That is very true." And she smiled at Disan. It was a truly lovely smile, beautifully crafted.

"You need have no fear on my part, Princess," said Disan.

"Not a word of it unless Elea has cut off all possibility of eavesdropping," warned Antaran. When Disan nodded, he said, "Well, we will not keep you from your evening rest. No doubt it has been a long day."

"I will need to open a doorway for you in the shield," said Elea, rising. She went to the door, followed by Disan, and she raised her pendant again, muttering something. "You can step through."

Disan did, and turned to say his goodbye, but the Princess was already raising her pendant again, muttering whatever invocation touched off the magic of it, and Disan was startled to see the doorway, and the room beyond, suddenly hidden in an impenetrable darkness.

He made his way to his rooms.

****

Sosan came to Baia in a moment when she had a moment between morning magistracy and afternoon entertainments.

"I sent messengers to a number of villages for the inquiries you requested," he said. "There have been rumors of sightings of wolves, but nothing definite or reliable, and no one has come across other deaths like those at the farmhouse. But villages along the road near the farmhouse say that it is a route commonly taken by merchants selling honey, sugar, and flour from Tavra. Beyond that, we have found nothing. It may be all we will ever find."

"Tavra," said Baia reflectively. "That would make sense." She thought a moment. "I would like regular reports on any news we get about Tavra, paying special attention to merchants from there. Perhaps it was a singular affair, but it would be better to be prepared if there is a tainted trade source. What are we doing about the wolves?"

"I set a group of rangers to scout the area; they have found nothing."

"Increase the area; otherwise I will have nightmares of wild wolves coming upon children. And we will keep looking on both fronts until we find something, even if only a tenuous bit of evidence for an unlikely speculation. This is not something I want to stay a complete mystery."

"As you wish, my Queen."

Baia sat in thought for a long while, trying to piece everything together.

It had all begun for her when Disan had returned from his time abroad, a little older, a little wearier, but more handsome than ever, if possible, and with the same dry humor in his striking grey eyes. She had been worried that a year of battle and hard living might chase that light away, and she was boundlessly relieved to find that it had not. But after her relief had quieted, she did notice differences. He was graver, as if his responsibilities had increased, and seemed more cautious, or perhaps more wary, of everything, as if he had some grave secret in his keeping. She waited for a few days to see if he would tell her on his own, and when she concluded, exasperated (he was always slow to tell his problems to her), that he would not, asked him one night in the space between first and second sleep.

He had sighed. "I have been wondering how to tell you about it," he had said. "I myself do not fully understand what it means. But while I was away, I had an...an experience, of sorts; whether a vision or something else, I know not."

After an intense battle, he had said, he had become separated form his guard and become lost. While trying to return to his men, he came across something like a temple, far more advanced in its architecture than could be expected from any of the tribes in the area. And out of the doorway, yawning like a black mouth, came the words, "Disan, King of Sorea." Then all around vast rose bushes preventing his retreat. He entered into a long, dark passageway, sloping somewhat steeply downward. At first there was no light except what filtered past him from the doorway, but he soon became aware of a strange bluish luminescence along the walls, preventing the passage from becoming completely dark. And soon he came into a large room, still dark, but just barely lit by the luminescence.

"I say a room," he said, "but it was more like a cavern; when I hit my foot on a stone, it echoed."

Standing there a moment, he had wondered what to do, but had soon realized to his surprise that despite the dimness, he could somehow make out pictures on the wall, and, what was more surprising, that he could recognize the stories they told. Miles beyond count from home, here were stories learned by all of the children of the Great Realm, of things accomplished by forces so old their names were hardly spoken from the sanctity of them. Here were the first ancestors, huddling in a cave, visited by The Kané with the gift of fire; there Fulné and Trethin raised the Great Realm from the sea, and there again Fath and Fulné bringing the huddled men and women to their new home. There in pictures was the story of the Lady and the Old One, whose names no man knows can know, teaching the arts of civilization: the gifts of steel, of orikhalh, of loom, of neyat, of volor, of impermeable silk, of unsinkable ship, of chantment capable of mastering water, air, and fire. Here Fulné brought the Soreans of the sea, and there Trethin brought the Khaljans of the mountains, and the joining of the Two to the Ten, the building of Talamir, the cooperative work on the Porphyry Mountain to make it the greatest of all palaces imaginable to the human mind. There was the giving of the Orikhalh Tablets and the establishing of the pacts and the covenants, and the people swearing before the Powers to uphold them. Hundreds more followed, heroes and kings battling khalkhythra and dragon, and uncountable more great deeds done by his people. But when he had reached the pictures that spoke of the kings of the Great Realm for the first time leaving their island in person to fight the Court of Night, a great,deep voice spoke through the dark air, as if it were coming from all points simultaneously, even reverberating from inside and casting him down to his knees.

Hail, Disan, King of Sorea. Do not fear. Do you know the Voice you hear?

And Disan had said, "It is the Voice of Fath."

Listen now, Disan, to the Voice of all Powers that guide the working of the world: For three transgressions and for four, we have borne patiently the wickedness of your people. For three transgressions and for four, we have awaited for the words of repentance. We called your grandfathers to the War of Night, to bring finally to nothing the corruptions of the terrible Court; with all the free peoples of the world we called them. And we laid this rule and this alone on them: that they should not take from the Court of Night anything unless we permitted it. But the kings of all the Houses saw the power of the Court of Night, and the greed of their hearts won out, and they took, hiding them in secret. And among the things they stole was an abomination beyond all other things, which even now sits in the darkness, rotting the heart of the Great Realm. The law we gave to your ancestors was writ in orikhalh, which neither rusts nor fades; how then has the law in your hearts rusted and faded? Do not the people of the Great Realm even now reach out their greedy hands with violence and death in their hearts? For three transgressions and for four, judgment shall surely come upon you all.

"What do you wish of me?" Disan had asked, out of breath from the forcefulness of the Voice.

For now, only this: Let your blindness fall away; let your deafness be no more; let your mind take thought to the corruption beneath the splendor. Listen and see, and be a fool no more.

Disan had then been thrown to the ground unconscious, as if a great weight had collapsed upon him, and when he awoke, he was in the sunlight, on a little grassy knoll in the wood, with the temple nowhere in sight. He found his men shortly afterward.

When he had told her all of this, Disan had put his head on her shoulder and sighed. "I do not know if you can understand," he said wearily and in a low tone, "what it is like to have the Voice that cannot be denied tell you, as if it welled up out of your very being and everything around you, that you have been a fool."

Baia, remembering all of this, and especially Disan's head upon her shoulder, said to herself, "There must be something more here, something we are missing. Twice now Tavra has been named in strange doings, so that is where we must inquire."

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Sleepless Emperor

The Emperor Justinian would apparently thrive on Twitter:

Everything was done the wrong way, and of the old customs none remained; a few instances will illustrate, and the rest must be silence, that this book may have an end. In the first place, Justinian, having no natural aptitude toward the imperial dignity, neither assumed the royal manner nor thought it necessary to his prestige. In his accent, in his dress, and in his ideas he was a barbarian. When he wished to issue a decree, he did not give it out through the Quaestor's office, as is usual, but most frequently preferred to announce it himself, in spite of his barbarous accent; or sometimes he had a whole group of his intimates publish it together, so that those who were wronged by the edict did not know which one to complain against.

Procopius, The Secret History. Of course, The Secret History is a hatchet job, so shouldn't be trusted, and, what is more, as a hatchet job is very over-the-top (there is an extensive discussion of how Justinian, who famously slept very little, was a demon whose head would sometimes float around on its own at night), so who knows whether Justinian actually went around just announcing his decrees to whomever.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Music on My Mind



Gordon Lightfoot, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". The Edmund Fitzgerald left Superior, Wisconsin on the afternoon of November 9, 1975.

Lightfoot made a serious effort to be as accurate as possible, but there are always things missed or not known at the time, or are reworked a bit to fit the song, or that aren't wrong but potentially misleading due to compression. The Edmund Fitzgerald was actually bound for Zug Island near Detroit, its last cargo run before it returned home to Cleveland for the winter. "The Maritime Sailors' Cathedral" is really the Mariners' Church of Detroit; it still holds an annual memorial service, although now it is for all lives lost in the Great Lakes, not just for the Edmund Fitzgerald.