Friday, November 05, 2010

Links for Thinking

* The beatification process of architect Antoni Gaudi is proceeding along smoothly. And Sagrada Familia will be consecrated Sunday.

* Organized Christianity may soon be legal in Bhutan. (Currently you can be Christian, but only if it is kept strictly private.)

* The angels invade Macy's for a few minutes.

* Another Honus Wagner baseball card (the Grail of baseball card collecting) was found when it was donated to the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who will be auctioning it off for an expected $150000-$200000.

* A paleontologist attending Mass at the Cathedral of St. Ambrose in Vigevano, near Milan, noticed that the marble communion rail contained horizontal sections of a dinosaur skull.

* "The Lion and the Cardinal" has a post on the discovery of mezzotint engraving.

* Jimmy Akin discusses the relationship between Greek philosophy and the Church Fathers.

* Matthew Alderman discusses whether it's possible to build a truly successful modernistic church?

* Chris Roberts has a nice discussion of a passage in Jonathan Edwards on the endurance of the world through time as an act of God.

* Arsen Darnay tries his hand at translating Goethe's "Wanderers Nachtlied". (Michael Gilleland has other translations here).

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Harriet and John

Anthony Daniels has what I can only call an extraordinarily silly-headed essay on Mill at The New Criterion. In it he indulges in a lot of vague psychoanalysis about Mill's relationship with his wife, Harriet, on very limited evidence.

Harriet Taylor Mill was a controversial woman in her own lifetime. Mill's own praise of her is effusive and consistent; the Autobiography is not atypical in having passages about Taylor like this:

Up to the time when I first saw her, her rich and powerful nature had chiefly unfolded itself according to the received type of feminine genius. To her outer circle she was a beauty and a wit, with an air of natural distinction, felt by all who approached her: to the inner, a woman of deep and strong feeling, of penetrating and intuitive intelligence, and of an eminently meditative and poetic nature....
In general spiritual characteristics, as well as in temperament and organisation, I have often compared her, as she was at this time, to Shelley: but in thought and intellect, Shelley, so far as his powers were developed in his short life, was but a child compared with what she ultimately became. Alike in the highest regions of speculation and in the smaller practical concerns of daily life, her mind was the same perfect instrument, piercing to the very heart and marrow of the matter; always seizing the essential idea or principle....

One could expand the list of such passages at an astonishingly great length.

Other people seem not to have been so impressed by Taylor. The Carlyles initially liked her, but Jane Carlyle eventually came to consider her an attention-seeking hypocrite and Thomas Carlyle eventually came to regard her as genuinely stupid. Of course, the Carlyles were quick to find anything they could mock someone with.

Deciding between these two depictions is complicated by the fact that the story of the relationship is surprisingly murky given how much we know about it. Harriet Taylor was born Harriet Hardy; she got the name 'Taylor' from her first marriage, to John Taylor. It was while Harriet was still married that the two met, and their behavior for the next twenty years was something of a scandal: it was never sexual, but they constantly ignored what were at the time seen to be the necessary bounds of propriety when it came to an unmarried man interacting with a married woman. Indeed, they stretched even what would be the bounds of propriety for today, since when John Taylor went out to his club each night, Mill would come by and visit Harriet. That would get people talking even today, when we are much more tolerant of adult male-female friendships outside of marriage. John Taylor eventually died from cancer in 1849 and Harriet and John Stuart were married in 1851. Despite Daniels's claim in the article that the reasons for Mill's break with the family was due solely to Harriet's harridan-ness, it seems pretty clear that the reason was that Mill's family had never been entirely thrilled at the way he and Harriet had carried on while John Taylor was alive; and Mill took their behavior as slights against Harriet. They both suffered from tuberculosis, and on a trip to the continent Harriet died at Avignon in 1858, where she was buried. Mill bought a house near the cemetery and spent most of the rest of his life there until his own death in 1873. He was buried in the same cemetery, the Cimetière de St. Véran.

Taylor does seem to have been a somewhat uncompromising woman; Mill himself says that she had "the utmost scorn of whatever was mean and cowardly, and a burning indignation at everything brutal or tyrannical, faithless or dishonourable in conduct and character". But Daniels tries to read into the whole matter a great deal for which we have no evidence whatsoever. There is no evidence at all for claims like, "Terrorized, masochistic admiration for James Mill had been replaced by terrorized masochistic admiration for Harriet Taylor," which is more like a bad novel blurb than a reasonable judgment. Mill was indeed effusive, going on and on about how much he owed her and how much he learned from her; he was in love with her, and remained in love with her all his life. Beyond that, we really don't know. One can argue that Mill was so foolishly in love with her that he never saw her accurately; but one can on the same evidence argue that he so loved her that he soon understood her better than anyone else. Either way, there is no need for the absurd histrionics of Daniels's essay.

Dale Miller's article on Harriet Taylor Mill at the SEP, by the way, is a very good introduction to the subject.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Institutionalizing Feminist Philosophy

I have a huge number of posts that I have largely worked out in my head and just need to type out (e.g., on Whewell's theory of inductive epochs, on the conditions under which faith is and is not a virtue, on Edith Stein's discussion of communal grief, on a passage in Tyerman's God's War, on potential Thomistic arguments for Palamism, on the convertibility of being and good, on Kant's account of Judaism, &c.) but this is one killer week for me, so things will probably be pretty light around here for a while. And tonight I am very, very tired and want just to settle down into bed with some rooibos and watch a movie and read Maritain or something. But I did want to say something about this post at the blog What Is It Like to be a Woman in Philosophy:

The University got nervous, hired Nancy Tuana as the department chair, and she worked with the faculty to institute feminist philosophy as a primary part of the program. We are the only program in the nation that requires all graduates students to take two courses in feminist philosophy, including men who don’t want to. Institutionalizing feminist philosophy like this was a stroke of genius, and though Tuana moved on, her legacy is appreciated enormously.

I think this is actually a very, very good idea: requiring at least one course in philosophy as part of the philosophy program. This is because (1) despite the claims of certain people who obviously don't read much feminist philosophy, it's a field in which a lot of excellent work is done; (2) there are so many erroneous claims made about feminist philosophy that people really do need to be exposed to it more if we're ever to get rid of them; and (3) it would, frankly, massively improve a great many philosophy programs, which are sometimes designed in such a way that one would barely have any inkling that ethics or politics were actually things that philosophers talk about.

Election Day Prediction

With the power in the House of Representatives having shifted away from the Inutility Party to the Uselessness Party, we can now fully expect to seea greater emphasis in government policy on the maximization of uselessness, and a concomitant reduction in emphasis on the previously dominant policy of the maximization of inutility. However, since the Inutility Party still retains basic control of the Senate, even if only by a hair, we can also expect that bipartisan projects that spend money maximizing both uselessness and inutility will play a significant role in the Congressional agenda of the next two years.

Also, since some people we usually forget about lost to some people we don't really know, we can expect a significant change in which people get rich from government pork.

The real victory tonight, however, is for the Inexpedience Movement, which is partly responsible for the Uselessness Party's major gains in the House; you can be very sure that people in both parties will take it seriously in the future, and we may even see some of its ideas for greater inexpedience pushed through, at least in a more diluted form.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

All Souls

All Souls hides in the shadow of All Saints, but it is actually one of my favorite days in the liturgical year, because it makes clear the point that even nonheroic virtue is worthy of remembrance. Even saints have flaws and lapses -- there is not a one in the calendar who did not sometimes fail to do the right thing -- and the rest of us go farther and just bungle things on every side: our resolutions often broken, our vices recurring, our virtues unimpressive, our faith not even a mustard-seed, our campaigns of self-reform less conquest than fiasco, and the moral life a long, hard slog. But so it goes, and there is no room for despair; though at times we crawl through the mud like worms, there still may be victory in the end. It is fitting for there to be a Feast for All Ordinary People who Muddle Through: we too have victory, we too witness, and we too are to be commemorated. Little virtues are virtues nonetheless, and little triumphs triumphs; and though we sometimes scarcely transcend farce, even the farcical may live for the good and the true.

That's a joshing way to put it, but the point is actually rather serious: one of the serious moral failings encouraged by our culture seems to be the inability to see a fault without seeing a smear. But not all faults smear everything else; not all failings corrupt the whole; not all flaws are reasons to repudiate the rest. It is entirely possible to recognize the flaws and faults of someone, frankly and honestly, without taking those flaws and faults to depreciate the person; entirely possible to see that someone is not a saint but a moral bungler and love them whole-heartedly nonetheless. And most of us should be very thankful for that. All of us, actually; even those we call saints are just those who have bungled but had some splendid successes.

And so it is good that on this day we consider All the Rest of Us, flawed and faulty, often failing, often foolish, rarely outstanding. And we are right to insist that our parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and neighbors, friends and foes, who never, ever would be confused with a St. Francis or St. Teresa, rub elbows with them nonetheless; and to insist equally positively that they be remembered with much the same sort of love and reverence. It is the great and heartening paradox: the Kingdom of Virtue has no snobbery, the Kingdom of Heaven is open to all, and those who are far from saintly may yet, if true-hearted, feast with the saints.

Monday, November 01, 2010

All Saints

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb."

Moses the Black of Ethiopia

In the fourth century Moses was for a short while an almost legendary bandit and murderer terrorizing travelers in Egypt and Ethiopia. A powerfully built man with a cunning mind, he had quickly become the leader of a very dangerous criminal gang. Once while hiding from local authorities near Alexandria, he stayed the night with a group of monks at Scetis, and was awed at their peace and moral strength. He never left: he was baptized and became known as a man of extraordinary prayer and gentleness.

Once, however, he was traveling to Mass with his desert brothers, a distance of several miles. A group of three bandits surrounded him, threatening to tie him up with rope and leave him in the desert sun. Thus it happened that a while later, while the brothers were just beginning to celebrate Mass that Moses came over the horizon carrying the three bandits over his shoulder. They were tied up with their own rope. He dropped them down in the midst of the surprised brothers saying, "These men attempted to waylay me; I don't know what to do with them, so I leave it to your judgment, brothers." The brothers didn't think it appropriate to have men tired up during the Mass, so, reasoning that they now outnumbered the bandits quite a bit, they untied the bandits and continued on. The bandits stayed; they very much recognized Moses now, and were astonished that he was now devoting himself to a life of poverty and prayer. They stayed and joined the brothers.

He's often portrayed in iconography holding a bag (sometimes a basket) with a hole in it, from which sand pours. It is said that once one of the brothers was accused of wrongdoing, and a council was held to determine what to do with him. Moses came with a large bag or basket of sand carried on his shoulder; it was leaking, and sand was trickling out. Asked why he was doing it, he replied, "My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but apparently I am coming here to judge the sins of another." The brothers took the point and forgave the errant monk.

St. Moses became the head of a community of monks. When he was in the seventies, his community was attacked by bandits. They had had forewarning of the attack, and some of the brothers wanted to prepare to fight, but Moses forebade it. Instead he evacuated most of the monks and then went out with seven companions to greet the bandits and offer them hospitality, as monks were supposed to offer travelers; and so died Moses and his companions. His feast is August 28.

Micae Hồ Đình Hy

Micae, or Michael, was a wealthy Vietnamese silk trader who eventually was put in charge of the royal silk mill. He became notable for helping the poor, and also for helping French and Portuguese missionaries travel safely. At one point, when a ship carrying a bishop accidentally hit another ship, causing damage, he sold his own silk robe in order to pay for the damages himself. At this time, in the Nguyen dynasty, it was illegal to engage in Christian activities, but it eventually became clear that Micae was a Christian and that he was protecting the Christian community. When he denied a local magistrate access to the royal silk mill, the magistrate brought charges of Christian activity against him, and he was beheaded in 1857. His feast is May 22.

Katherine Mary Drexel

Katherine Drexel was born into an extraordinarily wealthy family; her father was an important banker. She became interested in helping the plight of Native Americans and blacks; she began by making donations out of her trust-fund income, but came to the conclusion that this was simply not enough. So she founded a religious order, known today as the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, whose mission was to create schools for Native Americans and blacks. All of her income for the rest of her life went to the order (the trust fund was set up so that if Katherine had no children, which she never did, all of the money would at her death be donated to various institutions determined by her father, so it no longer exists). By the time of her death in 1955 the order had founded over sixty schools, tangled with the Ku Klux Klan on more than one occasion, and created Xavier University in New Orleans. St. Katherine's feast is March 3.

Robert Southwell

Robert Southwell was a Jesuit in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. At the time there was a law that forbade any of Queen Elizabeth's subjects who had been ordained as a Catholic priest from spending more than forty days on English soil. Despite this he voluntarily became a Jesuit missionary to England, where he went in secret from Catholic family to Catholic family, providing the sacraments. During this time he wrote a number of tracts and poetry to comfort and encourage Catholics under the reign of Elizabeth. His mission lasted for six years until he was finally arrested. He was in prison for several years, first at the gatehouse at Westminster and then at the Tower of London; he was tortured several times in an attempt to get him to divulge further information about Catholic priests in England. He was then tried for and convicted of treason in 1595, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn.

Life is but Loss
by Robert Southwell

By force I live, in will I wish to die;
In plaints I pass the length of ling'ring days;
Free would my soul from mortal body fly,
And tread the track of death's desired ways:
Life is but loss where death is deemed gain,
And loathed pleasures breed displeasing pain.

Who would not die to kill all murd'ring griefs?
Or who would live in never-dying fears?
Who would not wish his treasure safe from thieves,
And quit his heart from pangs, his eyes from tears?
Death parteth but two ever-fighting foes,
Whose civil strife doth work our endless woes.

Life is a wandering course to doubtful rest;
As oft a cursed rise to damning leap,
As happy race to win a heavenly crest;
None being sure what final fruits to reap:
And who can like in such a life to dwell,
Whose ways are strict to heaven, but wide to hell?

Come, cruel death, why lingerest thou so long?
What doth withhold thy dint from fatal stroke?
Now prest I am, alas! thou dost me wrong,
To let me live, more anger to provoke:
Thy right is had when thou hast stopp'd my breath,
Why shouldst thou stay to work my double death ?

If Saul's attempt in falling on his blade
As lawful were as eth to put in ure,
If Samson's lean a common law were made,
Of Abel's lot if all that would were sure,
Then, cruel death, thou shouldst the tyrant play
With none but such as wished for delay.

Where life is loved thou ready art to kill,
And to abridge with sudden pangs their joys ;
Where life is loathed thou wilt not work their will,
But dost adjourn their death to their annoy.
To some thou art a fierce unbidden guest,
But those that crave thy help thou helpest least.

Avaunt, O viper! I thy spite defy:
There is a God that overrules thy force,
Who can thy weapons to His will apply,
And shorten or prolong our brittle course.
I on His mercy, not thy might, rely;
To Him I live, for Him I hope to die.

Robert Southwell is celebrated as one of the Forty Martyrs of England Wales who were executed at Tyburn; the feast of the Forty Martyrs is October 25.

Lojze Grozde

Lojze Grozde was a young man in Slovenia. He became an excellent student, but as his studies were ending, World War II overtook his part of the world. He attempted to travel home in 1943; the train would only go so far because the rails had been destroyed, so he attempted to go the rest of the way by foot; after a while a cart overtook him, and he rode in the cart. The cart was confiscated at Mirna by communist guards; they found on him a copy of the Imitation of Christ and a tract on Fatima. Suspecting him to be an anti-communist spy in league with the White Guard, they detained, interrogated; he died at their hands at the age of nineteen. His feast is May 27.

Andrew Kim Tae Gon

Andrew was born into a Christian family under the Joseon dynasty; because of severe persecution against Christians at the time, many of his relatives died while he was young, with the result that they became so poor that his mother had to beg in order to bring in enought to eat. At 15 he traveled to Macao to study theology and eventually became the first Korean-born priest. He returned to Korea to spread the gospel. On his journey he designed maps to make it easier for missionaries to find Korea; some of these still survive. He was caught trying to smuggle missionaries past the Korean border in 1846. He was tortured and killed beside the Han river. Andrew Kim Tae Gon is celebrated with the Holy Korean Martyrs on September 20.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


The original version of the poem is by Bürger, of course; it became a Romantic classic. The most famous English rewriting ('translation' is not a vigorous enough word for what it sparked, since they are typically adaptations, restylings, and reimaginings) is that by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Sir Walter Scott tried his hand at a version, which had some influence as well. I also like Julia Goddard's version; it's much less literary and more folksy, so it's easily overlooked. If you just read it off the page you probably won't appreciate it, but it would easily be the most effective version for ghost stories around the campfire. Mine's still in draft, as usual, but it seemed fitting for Halloween.


The ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

Lenore in her bed is deeply disturbed
by nightmare-madness that shakes and unnerves,
by the terror of dream that ennervates souls,
the last horror, wanhope, that Pandora stole.
"Ah, Wilhelm," she says, in a sigh like a moan,
"have you no faith, or no strength, to come home?
Have you no means, or no will, to return,
when Ilium falls and Jerusalem burns?"

And the armies come home, the men and the boys;
the throngs of the soldiers return to their joys.
But never is Wilhelm found laughing with bliss,
arriving at home to catch Lenore's kiss.
Swiftly and often the maiden's bright eye
searches among the men who go by,
gladsome and glorious, uncaring at all
for Lenore's worried search or the name that she calls.

Her mother would ease her, as mothers will do:
"God is in heaven, His grace ever new;
seek mercy from him, and comfort you'll see."

"Mother, this God has no mercy for me."

"Her words are the words of a child distraught;
she knows not the sense of this wickedest thought!
Heaven, forgive her, and daughter, know this:
God's wisdom is endless, and mercy is his."

"Mother, my mother, your God does not care.
He who has mercy relieves all despair;
but pitiless God, he brings only night,
takes away Wilhelm, and shuts away light!"

"Heaven forgive you! The wine and the bread
show us a God who saves us from death.
The cup and the paten are mercy indeed:
reflect on their power; my daughter, take heed!"

"Mother, the lies of the wine and the bread
have no power to save or to raise from the dead;
no pity I find there, only the loss
of a man all forsaken and dead on the cross."

"And what if it's Wilhelm, not God, who's untrue?
What if your man another pursues
on some rugged mountain, on some distant plain?
Watch who you blame in your anguish and pain!"

"Mother, my mother, it all matters not
if his heart be made still or by someone else caught:
nothing at all can raise this sad head,
my life is for nothing, my place with the dead."

"Cease, my dear girl, all this moan and complaint!
Set your sweet heart on the goal of the saint:
seek you the vision of He who makes whole,
He who alone is fit groom to the soul."

"What is bliss, my sweet mother? Indeed, what is hell?
With Wilhelm is bliss, and without him I fell
down into darkness, down to the tomb.
He is my light, all else is but gloom.
Everything else God may coldly remove;
neither heaven nor hell should such providence prove.
But Wilhelm alone is my heaven and light:
she requires no other who is by his side."

The clack and the clatter of the hoof of the steed,
the clank of the steel and the voice Lenore needs,
waft through the door to meet Lenore's ear,
to bring her rejoicing and turn her to cheer.

"Are you waking or sleeping, Lenore, O my bride?
Come with me, come with me, off let us ride!
Off must we go, ere the dawn slays the night,
fast journey and far, to our wedded delights!"

"Wilhelm, my Wilhelm, eleven's the bell
that tolls in the churchyard and says all is well;
rest you within till night turns retreat;
come inside, dearest, and whisper me sweet."

"No, my Lenore, before break of day
I have many a mile to mark on my way.
Swift, at dead gallop, through storm and through night,
through rain and through gusting, before morning's light."

Without pause and unwary she raced through the door
with kiss and caress no man could ignore;
but Wilhelm straightway did lift her beside,
and settled her down, and away they did ride.
The world like poured water in rush flurried by
as bridge blurred to bridge for the slow human eye
and trees of the forest became like a wall
that flickered and rose and behind them did fall.
And shimmers and shadows alone in the dark
rose to the eye like the fire and spark,
the shapes of grim warriors who died far away;
they rush to find solace before break of day.

"What ails you, my darling, my dearest, my bride?
Why do you shudder, your head turn aside?
Are they not lovely, the shades of the dead?"
Lenore answered not as she covered her head.

Soon to a gate born of iron and fire
they came; there Wilhelm, as if in ire
threw back his hand, and the iron bolts bent,
and gently inside the two lovers went.
But see how the moonlight plays tricks on the eye!
See Wilhelm, how thin, like bones long laid by!
See now his head, like a skull reft of skin,
and how like he looks to the bones of dead men!

Now lie before them the tombs of the dead,
but Wilhelm still sings of the sweet nuptial bed,
and Lenore, who now struggles, is drawn ere she wist
into a dark grave, cold hand on her wrist.