Saturday, May 05, 2018

Sir Walter Scott, Waverley


Opening Passage:

The title of this work has not been chosen without the grave and solid deliberation which matters of importance demand from the prudent. Even its first, or general denomination, was the result of no common research or selection, although, according to the example of my predecessors, I had only to seize upon the most sounding and euphonic surname that English history or topography affords, and elect it at once as the title of my work and the name of my hero. But, alas! what could my readers have expected from the chivalrous epithets of Howard, Mordaunt, Mortimer, or Stanley, or from the softer and more sentimental sounds of Belmour, Belville, Belfield, and Belgrave, but pages of inanity, similar to those which have been so christened for half a century past? I must modestly admit I am too diffident of my own merit to place it in unnecessary opposition to preconceived associations; I have, therefore, like a maiden knight with his white shield, assumed for my hero, WAVERLEY, an uncontaminated name, bearing with its sound little of good or evil, excepting what the reader shall hereafter be pleased to affix to it. But my second or supplemental title was a matter of much more difficult election, since that, short as it is, may be held as pledging the author to some special mode of laying his scene, drawing his characters, and managing his adventures.

Summary: Waverley is often criticized for having a very gradual build-up, but I think Sir Walter Scott knew what he was at. He is trying to tell a story sympathetic to Jacobite Scots without drawing on sympathy for the Jacobite cause. Scott, of course, is a very pro-Union author, and he is writing for an audience that would itself have largely been pro-Union. So how does one convey the events of the Forty-Five in such a way that the reader can love the characters even when thinking them seriously wrong? So we start with Waverley, an Englishman, and we get a sense of why he would eventually throw his lot in with the Jacobites: the peculiarities of his education that lead him to be a more idealistic sort, his romantic reading and poetic sensibilities, the strongly traditional character of his family with its Anglo-Saxon traditions that are in some ways so very like Highland traditions, the association with a harmless bunch of mild pro-Jacobites. This provides a bridge whereby a reader, if only they share some of this, may get a line of sympathy regardless of their actual view of the politics. He is then put in a situation in which he has an apparently serious grievance against the English army that he has joined for treating him unreasonably simply due to his family connections. And of course we get the usual sweeteners -- funny and goofy characters, beautiful and marriageable women, Highlanders acting with honor and rough charm, depictions of unshakable loyalty. The slow build is exactly what the story needs.

The Highlands, and, indeed, all of Scotland, are at the opening of the novel in considerable disarray. The British attempts to pacify the Highlands and disarm potential troublemakers have, of course, backfired, with the result that Scotland is basically run by organized crime. The disarmament has left Lowland Scots relatively defenseless against the Highland Scots. And attempts to enforce it and other laws has in essence just turned the Highland clans into a tartaned mafia, with an extensive network of smuggling operations and protection rackets, as well as outlaws roaming about making temporary alliances with clan chiefs who are each half warlord and half magistrate, scraping by but having dreams of more. On the Lowland side, there are the Lowland gentry, preserving the tatters of honor that have been left to them. And into the mix comes Charles Edward Stuart, the charming Prince Regent, waving the banner to restore the Stewart throne and the pride of Scotland. The Forty-Five will fail, of course, but it will be effective enough to frighten the English like few other things could have, with the result that the aftermath will be an extraordinary crackdown on Scotland. The Scots will be disarmed, systematically this time. The tartan plaid will be banned. The military will press down hard on the Highland chiefs to comply until they have only a choice between that and death. And for all the talk of Scotland as benefiting from the Union, it is a partner under continual suspicion, as is seen when Scottish requests much later to build a militia like that of England are denied. To be sure, real benefits did accrue. But part of Scott's intent in this novel is to suggest to all involved that perhaps things should be done on a more amicable principle than the national prejudices that governed 'sixty years since'.

The characters, of course, are the great attraction, especially the pedantic Baron of Bradwardine, who can hardly go a sentence without throwing out a Latin quotation or classical allusion. In the eighteenth century, a bit after the time of which Scott is writing, a number of literary Scots went to great lengths to purge their written English of Scotticisms, and several of the most successful, like Hume and Beattie, published lists of expressions to avoid, for the benefit of those who were also trying to crack into the English literary market. If you look at those lists, it's noticeable that the difference of the Scots was not due to the influence of Gaelic, as we might naively expect, but to the influence of Latin and French. Scots English was massively more latinate than the English of England, Latin still retaining more of its place as the language of learning; and because law had a much more central place in Scottish life than in English, it was also threaded throughout with all sorts of legalese, which itself was largely adapted forms of Latin and French. Thus the Baron's elaborate and complicated form of Latin-English is, while certainly exaggerated for comic effect, very much what you would expect from an educated member of the gentry, immersed in the law of his country. And I, at least, found the most charming and endearing scene in the book to be the Baron, homeless after the failure of the Forty-Five, but still with a sort of resigned good cheer, curled up in a tiny cave, reading Livy and collecting loci communes. That, more than anything else in this very Scottish book, says 'Scottish' to me.

Favorite Passage:
'We poor Jacobites,' continued the Baron, looking up, 'are now like the conies in Holy Scripture (which the great traveller Pococke calleth Jerboa), a feeble people, that make our abode in the rocks. So, fare you well, my good lad, till we meet at Janet's in the even; for I must get into my Patmos, which is no easy matter for my auld stiff limbs.'

With that he began to ascend the rock, striding, with the help of his hands, from one precarious footstep to another, till he got about half-way up, where two or three bushes concealed the mouth of a hole, resembling an oven, into which the Baron insinuated, first his head and shoulders, and then, by slow gradation, the rest of his long body; his legs and feet finally disappearing, coiled up like a huge snake entering his retreat, or a long pedigree introduced with care and difficulty into the narrow pigeon-hole of an old cabinet. Waverley had the curiosity to clamber up and look in upon him in his den, as the lurking-place might well be termed. Upon the whole, he looked not unlike that ingenious puzzle called 'a reel in a bottle,' the marvel of children (and of some grown people too, myself for one), who can neither comprehend the mystery how it has got in or how it is to be taken out. The cave was very narrow, too low in the roof to admit of his standing, or almost of his sitting up, though he made some awkward attempts at the latter posture. His sole amusement was the perusal of his old friend Titus Livius, varied by occasionally scratching Latin proverbs and texts of Scripture with his knife on the roof and walls of his fortalice, which were of sandstone. As the cave was dry, and filled with clean straw and withered fern, 'it made,' as he said, coiling himself up with an air of snugness and comfort which contrasted strangely with his situation, 'unless when the wind was due north, a very passable gite for an old soldier.'

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Cinco de Mayo

A repost with some revisions.

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, in which Mexican soldiers, facing a much larger French army, achieved victory. It is not to be confused with Mexico's Independence Day, which is September 16; Mexican independence from Spain was achieved almost fifty years before the battle of Puebla. During the administration of Mexican president Benito Juarez, Napoleon III had sent an army, under the pretext of debt collection, to establish French rule in Mexico under the viceroy Maximilian. It was a bold plan, but the odds dramatically favored Napoleon III: the French army was one of the finest in the world at that time, and the United States, who given the chance would certainly have opposed the French incursion and assisted the Mexicans (as they would later), was embroiled in the Civil War. The French smashed through the initial Mexican defenses.

Operating under the assumption that the Mexicans would capitulate if their capital were to fall, the French set out to attack Mexico City. The Mexican army, under the leadership of Texas-born Ignacio Zaragoza (Texas, of course, was at the time of his birth still part of Mexico; Zaragoza was born in Goliad and moved with his family to modern-day Mexico after Texas independence), retreated to the fortified city of Puebla. When the French arrived, they sent their cavalry out to the French flanks; the French army made the mistake of sending its own cavalry to chase them. The Mexican cavalry was easily able to tie up the French cavalry, thus forcing the French infantry to charge the Mexican infantry unassisted. The ground was muddy from rain, making it difficult to maneuver. It is also sometimes said that the Mexicans stampeded large herds of cattle against the French; which, if true, would have no doubt been a bit disconcerting. In any case, the French were eventually forced to retreat from Puebla. Against enormous odds, the Mexicans had won the battle.

But they lost the war. The French naturally brought in reinforcements and nothing could really stop them from seizing control of Mexico. Juarez was sent into hiding, where he organized the resistance. Maximilian ruled until 1867, when he was executed by troops loyal to Juarez.

Cinco do Mayo is celebrated in Mexico, but except for perhaps Puebla and the surrounding areas, it is not particularly popular, and not even close to as popular as it is in the U.S., where it is perhaps second only to St. Patrick's Day as the most widely celebrated ethnic holiday. Part of the reason is that for a long time the only place it was celebrated, besides Puebla, was Texas, particularly around Goliad; it then spread from there throughout the U.S., largely as a side effect of the Chicano Movement.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Turkish Delight

It reminds me of the Darwins' experiment with Turkish Delight. And, of course, that is part of what makes Turkish Delight a good symbol of most temptation: sensual, sweet, decadent to look at, and, when you try it, not that great.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Pillar of the Church

Today is the feast of St. Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria, Doctor of the Church. From Part 3 of his work Against the Heathen:

For God, being good and loving to mankind, and caring for the souls made by Him — since He is by nature invisible and incomprehensible, having His being beyond all created existence, for which reason the race of mankind was likely to miss the way to the knowledge of Him, since they are made out of nothing while He is unmade — for this cause God by His own Word gave the Universe the Order it has, in order that since He is by nature invisible, men might be enabled to know Him at any rate by His works. For often the artist even when not seen is known by his works. And as they tell of Phidias the Sculptor that his works of art by their symmetry and by the proportion of their parts betray Phidias to those who see them although he is not there, so by the order of the Universe one ought to perceive God its maker and artificer, even though He be not seen with the bodily eyes. For God did not take His stand upon His invisible nature (let none plead that as an excuse) and leave Himself utterly unknown to men; but as I said above, He so ordered Creation that although He is by nature invisible He may yet be known by His works.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

L’éducation anglo-saxonne

En somme, ce programme fut rédigé en s’inspirant de ces principes, qui sont la base de l’éducation anglo-saxonne :

« Toutes les fois qu’une chose vous effraye, faites-la.

« Ne perdez jamais l’occasion de faire un effort possible.

« Ne méprisez aucune fatigue, car il n’y en a pas d’inutile. »

À mettre ces préceptes en pratique, le corps devient solide, l’âme aussi.

Jules Verne, Deux ans de vacances. Loosely translated (my own translation):

In short, this program was formed so as to be inspired by these principles, which are the foundation of English education:

"Whenever something frightens you, do it."

"Never lose a chance to try."

"Do not despise hard work; it is never useless."

By putting these precepts into practice, the body becomes firm, and the mind as well.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Heir of All the Ages

If the modern man is indeed the heir of all the ages, he is often the kind of heir who tells the family solicitor to sell the whole damned estate, lock, stock, and barrel, and give him a little ready money to throw away at the races or the nightclubs. He is certainly not the kind of heir who ever visits his estate: and, if he really owns all the historic lands of ancient and modern history, he is a very absentee landlord. He does not really go down the mines on the historic property, whether they are the Caves of the Cave-Men or the Catacombs of the Christians, but is content with a very hasty and often misleading report from a very superficial and sometimes dishonest mining expert....Nevertheless, there are some of us who do hold that the metaphor of inheritance from human history is a true metaphor, and that any man who is cut off from the past, and content with the future, is a man most unjustly disinherited; and all the more unjustly if he is happy in his lot, and is not permitted even to know what he has lost. And I, for one, believe that the mind of man is at its largest, and especially at its broadest, when it feels the brotherhood of humanity linking it up with remote and primitive and even barbaric things.

G. K. Chesterton, "On Man: Heir of all the Ages", from Avowals and Denials.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Fruitful Tree

Today is the memorial of St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church. From a letter to Lorenzo del Pino:

So you see that all things pass. Then, seeing that they pass, they should be possessed with moderation in the light of reason, loved in such wise as they should be loved. And he who holds them thus will not hold them with the help of sin, but with grace; with generosity of heart, and not with avarice; in pity for the poor, and not in cruelty; in humility, not in pride; in gratitude, not in ingratitude: and will recognize that his possessions come from his Creator, and not himself. With this same temperate love he will love his children, his friends, his relatives, and all other rational beings. He will hold the condition of marriage as ordained, and ordained as a Sacrament; and will have in respect the days commanded by Holy Church. He will be and live like a man, and not a beast; and will be, not indeed ascetic, but continent and self-controlled. Such a man will be a fruitful tree, that will bear the fruits of virtue, and will be fragrant, shedding perfume although planted in the earth; and the seed that issues from him will be good and virtuous.

So you see that you can have God in any condition; for the condition is not what robs us of Him, but the evil will alone, which, when it is set on loving falsehood, is ill-ordered and corrupts a man's every work. But if he loves truth, he follows the footsteps of truth; so he hates what truth hates and loves what truth loves, and then his every work is good and perfect. Otherwise it would not be possible for him to share the life of grace, nor would any work of his bear living fruit.

To-day and To-Morrow

What Are Heavy?
by Christina Rossetti

What are heavy? Sea-sand and sorrow:
What are brief? To-day and to-morrow:
What are frail? Spring blossoms and youth:
What are deep? The ocean and truth.

As you probably have heard, Alfie Evans died yesterday at 2:30 am, on the Feast of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, patron saint of pediatricians and babies. May God have mercy on us all.

Infant's First Smile II

I previously noted a passage from Rosmini's The Ruling Principle of Method Applied to Education in which he suggests that the first definite act of a human being's intellectual life is the smile of recognition that shines "from the lips and the eyes and the whole countenance of the little intelligent being". This smile is the first intellectual communication. In The Philosophy of Right he has another brief passage on the same subject:

One of the improvements which do great honour to modern times and clearly indicates progress is the way in which the insane are now treated and cared for. The maxim which has emerged is to see at last human beings in the insane, and to treat them as human beings like ourselves. The same progress, worthy of the highest accolade, is taking place in the education of children. The age of reason is being recognised at an earlier and earlier age. I have no doubts that we will eventually discern a flash of intelligence in the first smile a baby gives its mother. In this way we will greatly perfect the valuable art by which the child's and the adult's reason can communicate with each other. A common language will be attained for mutual understanding between adult and baby.

[Antonio Rosmini, The Philosophy of Right, Volume 2: Rights of the Individual, Cleary & Watson, trs., Rosmini House (Durham: 1993) p. 18n18.] This is the earlier passage, and as far as I can tell so far, the first mention of the idea. It's interesting that it is also here associated with pedagogy.