Saturday, February 02, 2019

Jane Austen, Persuasion


Opening Passage:

Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed. This was the page at which the favourite volume always opened:

"Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county of Gloucester, by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, November 5, 1789; Mary, born November 20, 1791."

Summary: There is a common error (I find it often in philosophical discussions of moral testimony, and elsewhere) that, if you just have the right moral understanding, you have all that you need in order to make moral decisions. This is certainly not true, and Persuasion is a good argument that it is not. Prudence needs material with which to work, and it deals with things that are sometimes so uncertain that the most prudent person in the world might nonetheless stand a chance of getting them wrong. When Anne is convinced by her friend Lady Russell to break off her engagement with Captain Wentworth, she does nothing wrong, and acts with a good moral understanding. The source of advice was one that was generally reliable. Further experience and thought will show it clearly, of course, to be the wrong decision. But Anne herself concludes that its being good or bad in this circumstance probably depended more on the outcome than the advice itself Persuasion is a work that faces squarely "the uncertainty of all human events and calculations", as Lady Russell calls it at one point. Advice that should have been good turns out to be bad, and vice versa. When new evidence appears, old appearances can be shown to have deceived. Some things are only obvious in hindsight. When dealing with people, including oneself, actual experience is irreplaceable. Sometimes the solution to a problem was there the whole time, and we were just sabotaging our ability to find it, without realizing it. Everybody needs a little luck sometimes. And there will be times when we cannot make the right decision at all without the right help from the right people at the right time. There is no avoiding these truths, no matter how prudent you are.

Cat noted in the comments that, in contrast with a work like Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion is a book of experience. It is certainly true that time is a constant theme in the work: we are all running out of time, and yet we all need time in order to understand ourselves, other people, and the world, which we must if we are not to have wasted all the time we have.

Of all the Austen heroines, Anne has generally been my least favorite; she has a sort of constant melancholy reflectiveness about her that I find a little wearying sometimes. And a remarkable amount of her thought throughout the story is devoted to reflecting on Captain Wentworth, which I also find wearying. I suppose I don't really have a taste for much exposure to the thoughts of a girl in love. Nonetheless, there is much that is admirable about her; her failings are minor and entirely human, but she is in a state of improvement throughout the whole novel. It is noticeable that her fortunes start to turn when she is distracted from her melancholy, and her reunion with Mrs. Smith -- very much not a melancholy person, despite having in many ways had an even worse life than Anne's not very good one -- seems to have done her a great deal of good in making her look at the world in a new way.

Persuasion often gets criticized for its 'unfinished' quality; it's very likely that Austen would have made substantive changes had she had more time. As is often the case, however, some of the criticisms are not really justified. There are no flat characters in the work. I've largely come to dismiss any criticism that talks about flat characters; such criticism is usually based on a narrow and arbitrary notion of how characterization works. I can see to some extent how one might think some of the characters in this work are 'flatter' than those in Austen's other works, but I think a great deal of this is due to the fact that we spend so much time in Anne's head, and see so much from Anne's perspective. We certainly have more limited information about many of the characters. But this is not the same as saying that they are not well-rounded. When we are talking about Jane Austen, we are talking about someone who can pack a lot of characterization into a few sentences, and she does not in any way fall down on this here.

Virginia Woolf has a more substantive and nuanced criticism of the work:

Let us take Persuasion, the last completed novel, and look by its light at the books she might have written had she lived. There is a peculiar beauty and a peculiar dullness in Persuasion. The dullness is that which so often marks the transition stage between two different periods. The writer is a little bored. She has grown too familiar with the ways of her world; she no longer notes them freshly. There is an asperity in her comedy which suggests that she has almost ceased to be amused by the vanities of a Sir Walter or the snobbery of a Miss Elliott. The satire is harsh, and the comedy crude. She is no longer so freshly aware of the amusements of daily life. Her mind is not altogether on her object. But, while we feel that Jane Austen has done this before, and done it better, we also feel that she is trying to do something which she has never yet attempted. There is a new element in Persuasion, the quality, perhaps, that made Dr. Whewell fire up and insist that it was “the most beautiful of her works”. She is beginning to discover that the world is larger, more mysterious, and more romantic than she had supposed.

Woolf might well be right that Austen is at an in-between stage with the book. I am immensely skeptical of the idea that this is because she is discovering "that hte world is larger, more mysterious, and more romantic than she had supposed"; Woolf goes on to suggest that there is a "new sensibility to nature", for instance, while I think this is obviously an extension of previous picturesque interests that here interact more directly with broader Romantic topics. Austen may or may not be bored; the satire is certainly harsh, but the comedy is not in fact crude -- it is, if anything, considerably more ironic in character. Comparison with the sadly unfinished Sanditon suggests that Austen's satirical and comic interests were heading in a harsher direction, but there's nothing about the harshness that we have not in some way seen before. Woolf rightly notes that Austen is trusting in this work more to reflection than to dialogue, and private thought is always a harsher medium than conversation.

The most common criticisms of the work are the handling of the revelations about Mr. Elliott, which seems to come suddenly, by chance, and very indirectly. I cannot say that Austen would not have modified it in any respect had she had more opportunity, but there is in fact something fitting about the fact that Anne has to piece together the key conclusions by comparing indirect evidence with her own experience, and has to think through the matter critically (which she certainly does; the entire scene is an excellent example of good critical thinking). In many ways it shows Anne at her best, and shows how far she has come from the girl of nineteen who had to rely so heavily on the advice of others. One can complain about the fact that so much of this information comes to Anne by mere chance, but, as I have noted, a subtheme of the work is that even prudent people are sometimes at the mercy of chance. If there's anything to the criticism, I think it may just be the suddenness with which we discover everything. It's clear from the few things we know about Austen's late changes to the work that she had been reworking how Anne gets information about other things, so it can perhaps be argued that Austen still had some work to do in setting up, and then using, the big reveal about Mr. Elliott in a way that meshed with everything else.

I found this reading that I really enjoyed Charles Musgrave. Mary Musgrave on her own comes across as intolerable, but the Musgrave marriage actually seems to work because of Charles. It's probably true that a better wife would have improved Charles, as Lady Russell and Anne think, but there are certainly worse marriages. It's also remarkable how often things take a turn for the better just by Charles being his good-natured, uncurious, hunting-crazy self -- even though he himself is always oblivious to it. Whatever may be said about his failings, he doesn't make the world any worse, and he does make it at least a little better. There's something charming about that.

Favorite Passage:

"Oh! Charles, I declare it will be too abominable if you do, when you promised to go."

"No, I did not promise. I only smirked and bowed, and said the word 'happy.' There was no promise."

"But you must go, Charles. It would be unpardonable to fail. We were asked on purpose to be introduced. There was always such a great connexion between the Dalrymples and ourselves. Nothing ever happened on either side that was not announced immediately. We are quite near relations, you know; and Mr Elliot too, whom you ought so particularly to be acquainted with! Every attention is due to Mr Elliot. Consider, my father's heir: the future representative of the family."

"Don't talk to me about heirs and representatives," cried Charles. "I am not one of those who neglect the reigning power to bow to the rising sun. If I would not go for the sake of your father, I should think it scandalous to go for the sake of his heir. What is Mr Elliot to me?" The careless expression was life to Anne, who saw that Captain Wentworth was all attention, looking and listening with his whole soul; and that the last words brought his enquiring eyes from Charles to herself.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended, of course.

Balm-Bearing Bough

A Candlemas Dialogue
by Christina Rossetti

'Love brought Me down: and cannot love make thee
Carol for joy to Me?
Hear cheerful robin carol from his tree,
Who owes not half to Me
I won for thee.'

'Yea, Lord, I hear his carol's wordless voice;
And well may he rejoice
Who hath not heard of death's discordant noise.
So might I too rejoice
With such a voice.'

'True, thou hast compassed death: but hast not thou
The tree of life's own bough?
Am I not Life and Resurrection now?
My Cross, balm-bearing bough
For such as thou.'

'Ah me, Thy Cross! – but that seems far away;
Thy Cradle-song to-day
I too would raise and worship Thee and pray:
Not empty, Lord, to-day
Send me away.'

'If thou wilt not go empty, spend thy store;
And I will give thee more,
Yea, make thee ten times richer than before.
Give more and give yet more
Out of thy store.'

'Because Thou givest me Thyself, I will
Thy blessed word fulfil,
Give with both hands, and hoard by giving still:
Thy pleasure to fulfil,
And work Thy Will.'

Poem Retrospective II

A great many of my poems start during a walk. Unsurprisingly, this one started while walking at night; if I recall correctly, it was a bit damp and the slight fogginess to the air made the lights halo out, and so it started with the phrase, "cast like stars / their asterisks upon the night".

City Light and Darkness

Beneath the moon-sphere city lights
in foggy halos cast like stars
their asterisks upon the night
and make the concrete glow, and cars
in speed, unheeding moving scene
like blur upon the movie screen,
make motion, growling, headlights bright,
and slice their way through starlit night.

Beside the road, and unremarked,
a sidewalk-walker travels home,
with step on step through rushing dark
that he may shed his long-spent roam
like shoes on floors of well-lit rooms
and, reading, bunker from the gloom
until, now tired, a card to mark
his page, he thence to dreams embarks.

And weary now, with aching feet,
and all the world like to a dream,
I walk with steady march of beat
to final glimpse of homely gleam;
Of lights I see, what light can shine
upon my heart? They none are mine.
But yet I march without retreat
for window-shine and light most sweet.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Poem Retrospective I

I started putting up poems here, both those of others and drafts of my own, in part as a philosophical activity; I had become exasperated at the tendency of philosophers of language to say things that were obviously inconsistent with the existence and character of poetry, despite the fact that poetry is one of the most important and universal forms of real language use. By a sort of heterogony of ends, it has served other functions since, but it has been going on for quite a while now. All of my own poems are, as I sometimes say, drafts until I die, but there are a number of them that are probably fairly close to their final form. There is usually room for some tweaking here and there, and you can never really predict when you'll have an idea that transforms a poem significantly, but allowing for this, there are a few that probably are approaching where they should be. So I thought I'd take some stock of them this February, to see where I'm at with them, and I might as well put them up.

'Luthany' is a fictional country that was invented in The Mistress of Vision by Francis Thompson in order to write poems about.

Where is the land of Luthany,
Where is the tract of Elenore?
I am bound therefor.

Tolkien borrows it as an Elvish name for the island of Britain in his early Book of Lost Tales myths; his original idea was that it meant 'friendship', to signify friendship between Men and Elves. But, as words tended to do in Tolkien's work, it took on a life of his own, and became better known as a name in the Elvish form he made for it: Lúthien.

In Luthany the Shadows Fall

In Luthany the shadows fall
on ruins of deserted halls
that, great of beam, still rise on high,
that, strong of stone, yet stand and wait.
The earth may fade, the sun may die,
but Luthany will stand and wait.

In Luthany the birds yet trill
with song of lark and whippoorwill;
sad nightingales remember days
as mockingbirds recall the years
when merchants traveled Luthan ways;
but only birds recall those years.

Yet someday soon will woods awake,
the hopes undie and hearts unbreak;
and then the dreaming souls will rise
to wake the sleeping land with dance.
When lives again the thing that dies,
then you and I once more will dance.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Music on My Mind

Lauren O'Connell, "Heart of Gold". A Neil Young song, of course.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Evening Note for Wednesday, January 30

Thought for the Evening: Baptism of Desire

Boniface over the Christmas break recommended a number of works criticizing the notion of baptism of desire. Having looked them over, I'm afraid I was even less impressed than I was expecting to be. I'd have very little problem with these Feeneyite arguments except that in their eagerness to argue that they are orthodox, which they are perfectly free to do, they regularly overshoot and end up attacking what is in fact that standard Thomistic view of the matter, apparently under the delusion that Thomism is a newfangled liberal Modernist theology that is adulterating Church doctrine with a tendency toward universalism. The ultimate reason for it, of course, is that the Feeneyites themselves share more assumptions with the liberals they oppose than they generally realize. One sign of it: they, like the liberal theologians, regularly slip into talking about baptism of desire as if it weren't baptism, despite the fact that its being baptism is the entire point. The reason for this is that they share the modern Protestant-originated notion that you can only participate in something if you perfectly possess it; this is something that (for instance) Calvinists sometimes assumed in arguing against the Catholic conception of sacramental baptism; liberals hyperextend the idea and Feeneyites turn it on its head. But no Neoplatonist or Aristotelian can accept the assumption, and most major Catholic theologians prior to the Reformation are Neoplatonists or Aristotelians. In any case what I want to do is lay out what seems, as far as I can say, to be the basic, standard Thomistic position on baptism of desire, particularly focusing on the points that have generally been agreed among Thomists.

The Church Father who most explicitly affirms a form of baptism of desire is St. Ambrose in his eulogy for Valentinian. The Emperor Valentinian II had been a catechumen; he had arranged to be baptized by Ambrose, but was killed before that could happen. In the eulogy Ambrose consoles those who are distressed by the fact that he had not received baptism before death by arguing that just as catechumen-martyrs cease to be catechumens when they die due to their blood and piety, so someone like Valentinian can cease to be a catechumen at death due to his pious desire to be baptized, because the pious resolve to be baptized is the aspect of baptism that is entirely in our power. It's worth pointing out, because it is regularly missed by liberal theologians, that Ambrose does not say that catechumens can be saved, whether they are martyrs or not; his argument requires that their death be a form of baptism. In any case, probably due to the influence of Ambrose, the idea entered into the Gloss tradition that there were three kinds of baptism, baptism of water, baptism of blood, and baptism of repentance (later called baptism of desire), and thus it became a part of one of the standard theological sources in the medieval period, which is how it comes to Aquinas.

St. Thomas explicitly affirms the Gloss position in ST 3.66.11. Baptism of water, of course, is the primary form of baptism, but he takes both baptism of blood and baptism of repentance to be affirmed in Scripture explicitly (in Rev. 7:14 and Is. 4:4, respectively), and, based on a claim attributed to Cyprian, puts forward as an obvious example St. Dismas, the Penitent Thief. The thief, despite the fact that we have no indication that he ever received the baptism of water, and despite the fact that he is not a martyr, receives salvation; Christ tells him that that very day he will be with Christ in paradise.

Aquinas is very clear about a number of things. No one -- no one -- is saved without baptism in some sense; but sacramental baptism is not always required (cf. ST 3.68.2). Baptism of blood and baptism of repentance are baptism. Baptism of water is baptism in the full and primary sense; it is the form of baptism that gives a sacramental seal. Baptism of blood and penitential baptism are not sacraments; they are effects of that of which baptism of water is the sacramental sign, and thus they are indirect extensions of the efficacy found directly in the baptism of water.

The standard view of Thomistic theologians follows Aquinas, extending him in certain respects. Drawing from Aquinas's theology of baptism overall, one can identify a few essential elements of baptism: baptismal intention (usually called 'desire' in this context), water, Christ's blood, and the Holy Spirit. All of these are operative in all of the three kinds of baptism, they are just not operative in exactly the same way. They are most perfectly found in baptism of water, which is a direct sign of both the Passion of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and, of course, involves water. Baptism of blood and baptism of desire also involve these, but not so perfectly encapsulated; martyrs are united to Christ by the Holy Spirit, and therefore benefit from the water and blood that flowed from Christ's side through that union, and those who receive baptism of desire are even more imperfectly united to Christ's sacrifice on the Cross through their having the correct intention. St. Dismas continues to be the primary Thomistic example, but reflecting further on the subject, it becomes quite common to take at least many of the Old Testament saints to have been saved by a kind of baptism of desire. No one, remember, is saved without baptism; and it's a standard view that the patriarchs and prophets are saved by their anticipation of Christ, so it's natural to connect the two.

The standard Thomistic view becomes fully completed with Cajetan, who notes that if you take the standard Thomistic view of baptism of desire, then the standard arguments for infant baptism apparently also apply. Infant baptism, like adult baptism, requires baptismal intention; but the baptismal intention for infants is not proper but vicarious -- the parents and the Church have the intention for the infant. This would mean, though, that in cases where parents intend to baptize their infant, but the infant dies before baptism of water, the baptismal intention is there, and thus that such infants receive a kind of baptism of desire. This is what has usually come to be called baptism of vicarious desire; it is the idea that infants who die before baptism of water and (probably) those who are miscarried, whose parents nonetheless had the pious intent to baptize them, receive the grace of baptism in their death. Other infants, of course, go to limbo. Cajetan does note that there are a number of uncertainties here. As we move from water to blood to desire to vicarious desire, the kinds of questions that are raised are increasingly complex, so it's entirely possible that the Church might at some point make some correction to this position. However, Cajetan is exactly right that something like a baptism of vicarious desire is made highly probable by other Thomistic claims about baptism, and if the Church ever did issue a correction, it would likely require a massive revision of the entire Thomistic theology of the sacrament of baptism.

In any case, precisely because it is very probable given other Thomistic positions, it became a standard part of the Thomistic view of baptism. Because of the collapse of Thomism by the nineteenth century, systematic discussion of the topic was left in some disarray, and reviving systematic discussion of it has not been a major priority of the Thomistic revival since, probably because the number of Catholics who take a more restrictive view of baptism than the Thomistic one is at this point very, very small, so it's just not where Thomists are going to focus their limited resources. I would suggest -- fully admitting that there is room for variation and disagreement among Thomists due to the standing disarray of systematic discussion of the topic -- that the Thomistic picture is something like this:

Baptism of Water: baptism in its full and complete form, giving a sacramental character
-- with proper intention: adult sacramental baptism
-- with vicarious intention: infant sacramental baptism

Baptism of Blood: imperfectly reflects baptism of water as union with Christ's Passion
-- with proper intention: catechumens who are martyred for the faith, very likely Old Testament saints who were martyrs
-- with vicarious intention: probably the Holy Innocents, who may be the unique case (that the Holy Innocents are martyrs and saints is undeniable given the traditions of the Church, but vicarious intention in martyrdom is an extremely difficult theological topic, filled with uncertainties)

Baptism of Desire: imperfectly reflects baptism of water as penitential union with Christ through the Holy Spirit
-- with proper intention: St. Dismas, catechumens with intention to be baptized who die before they can be baptized, Old Testament saints who were not martyrs
-- with vicarious intention: infants who die before intended baptism, including (very probably) miscarried infants whose parents genuinely intended to baptize them

There is absolutely no reason why one should regard the Thomistic account as absolutely definitive; Thomists themselves have never regarded every part of the account as such. It might very well at some point need to be corrected, and even without that, there are certainly other views of baptism you could take. But any suggestion that the Thomistic account is unorthodox, short of the Church actually, formally correcting some aspect of it, is nonsense, and any suggestion that it involves any kind of implicit universalism is nonsense to the point of being gibberish. Despite the fact that you could have other interpretations, it's quite clearly based on the evidence of Scripture and the traditions of the Church. It's a perfectly legitimate position for Catholics to take, and, barring correction from the Church, I will defend to the end their right to take it. If others want to argue for a different position, there is certainly room for it; but it entirely stands or falls on the quality of the arguments, and the cogency of the assumptions on which they are based, and nothing else.

Various Links of Interest

* Alasdair MacIntyre, Marxism and Religion -- an old one (from 1968), but very interesting.

* Susan Fowler, So You Want to Learn Physics, gives some suggestions of books to use for learning physics.

* John Irons translates Schiller's "Nänie".

* Thomas Pink, Suarez on Authority as Coercive Teacher

* MrD on Stopping the Outrage Cycle

* Franck Latty on Christine de Pizan and international law

* David H. Montgomery on what you would get if you merged North and South Dakota into a single state: Meet Megakota.

* Brian Kemple, The Continuity of Being: C.S. Peirce’s Philosophy of Synechism

* It is looking worrisomely like the Archdiocese of New York might shutdown St. Michael's Chapel over a financial dispute. Given that the little chapel is one of the historical treasures of the modern Russian Catholic Church, that would be a very grave loss.

* Derke Lowe notes that one of the longstanding mysteries of medicine, how exactly quinine works against malaria, may now be more or less solved: Quinine's Target.

* On the other side of scientific progress, Ed Yong notes that the nature of lichen may be more complicated than had long been thought.

* Eve Browning discusses Xenophon. Always good to see him get more attention; he is massively underappreciated.

* Sara L. Uckelman on the question of who Gaunilo was.

Currently Reading

Jane Austen, Persuasion
Plotinus, The Enneads
Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Ethics
Xiong Shili, New Treatise on the Uniqueness of Consciousness
James Blish & Norman L. Knight, A Torrent of Faces

'Bloom' in Austen's Persuasion

Chapter 1:
A few years before, Anne Elliot had been a very pretty girl, but her bloom had vanished early; and as even in its height, her father had found little to admire in her, (so totally different were her delicate features and mild dark eyes from his own), there could be nothing in them, now that she was faded and thin, to excite his esteem. He had never indulged much hope, he had now none, of ever reading her name in any other page of his favourite work.

It sometimes happens that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than she was ten years before; and, generally speaking, if there has been neither ill health nor anxiety, it is a time of life at which scarcely any charm is lost. It was so with Elizabeth, still the same handsome Miss Elliot that she had begun to be thirteen years ago, and Sir Walter might be excused, therefore, in forgetting her age, or, at least, be deemed only half a fool, for thinking himself and Elizabeth as blooming as ever, amidst the wreck of the good looks of everybody else; for he could plainly see how old all the rest of his family and acquaintance were growing. Anne haggard, Mary coarse, every face in the neighbourhood worsting, and the rapid increase of the crow's foot about Lady Russell's temples had long been a distress to him.


She [Elizabeth] had, while a very young girl, as soon as she had known him to be, in the event of her having no brother, the future baronet, meant to marry him, and her father had always meant that she should. He had not been known to them as a boy; but soon after Lady Elliot's death, Sir Walter had sought the acquaintance, and though his overtures had not been met with any warmth, he had persevered in seeking it, making allowance for the modest drawing-back of youth; and, in one of their spring excursions to London, when Elizabeth was in her first bloom, Mr Elliot had been forced into the introduction.

Chapter 4:

She was persuaded to believe the engagement a wrong thing: indiscreet, improper, hardly capable of success, and not deserving it. But it was not a merely selfish caution, under which she acted, in putting an end to it. Had she not imagined herself consulting his good, even more than her own, she could hardly have given him up. The belief of being prudent, and self-denying, principally for his advantage, was her chief consolation, under the misery of a parting, a final parting; and every consolation was required, for she had to encounter all the additional pain of opinions, on his side, totally unconvinced and unbending, and of his feeling himself ill used by so forced a relinquishment. He had left the country in consequence.

A few months had seen the beginning and the end of their acquaintance; but not with a few months ended Anne's share of suffering from it. Her attachment and regrets had, for a long time, clouded every enjoyment of youth, and an early loss of bloom and spirits had been their lasting effect.

Chapter 5:

Though better endowed than the elder sister, Mary had not Anne's understanding nor temper. While well, and happy, and properly attended to, she had great good humour and excellent spirits; but any indisposition sunk her completely. She had no resources for solitude; and inheriting a considerable share of the Elliot self-importance, was very prone to add to every other distress that of fancying herself neglected and ill-used. In person, she was inferior to both sisters, and had, even in her bloom, only reached the dignity of being "a fine girl."

Chapter 7:

"Captain Wentworth is not very gallant by you, Anne, though he was so attentive to me. Henrietta asked him what he thought of you, when they went away, and he said, 'You were so altered he should not have known you again.'"

Mary had no feelings to make her respect her sister's in a common way, but she was perfectly unsuspicious of being inflicting any peculiar wound.

"Altered beyond his knowledge." Anne fully submitted, in silent, deep mortification. Doubtless it was so, and she could take no revenge, for he was not altered, or not for the worse. She had already acknowledged it to herself, and she could not think differently, let him think of her as he would. No: the years which had destroyed her youth and bloom had only given him a more glowing, manly, open look, in no respect lessening his personal advantages. She had seen the same Frederick Wentworth.

Chapter 12:

When they came to the steps, leading upwards from the beach, a gentleman, at the same moment preparing to come down, politely drew back, and stopped to give them way. They ascended and passed him; and as they passed, Anne's face caught his eye, and he looked at her with a degree of earnest admiration, which she could not be insensible of. She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features, having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind which had been blowing on her complexion, and by the animation of eye which it had also produced. It was evident that the gentleman, (completely a gentleman in manner) admired her exceedingly. Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance, a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, "That man is struck with you, and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again."

Chapter 17:

The visit was paid, their acquaintance re-established, their interest in each other more than re-kindled. The first ten minutes had its awkwardness and its emotion. Twelve years were gone since they had parted, and each presented a somewhat different person from what the other had imagined. Twelve years had changed Anne from the blooming, silent, unformed girl of fifteen, to the elegant little woman of seven-and-twenty, with every beauty except bloom, and with manners as consciously right as they were invariably gentle; and twelve years had transformed the fine-looking, well-grown Miss Hamilton, in all the glow of health and confidence of superiority, into a poor, infirm, helpless widow, receiving the visit of her former protegee as a favour; but all that was uncomfortable in the meeting had soon passed away, and left only the interesting charm of remembering former partialities and talking over old times.

The lack of a bloom of youth plays a significant role in Persuasion, although it is not explicitly mentioned all that much. We learn from these mentions that it consists in complexion and liveliness of eye, that haggardness is opposite to it, that it is one of the beauties a woman may have (but it is definitely not the only one). This surface issue with Anne's loss of bloom serves as a contrast to Anne's character -- 'character' arguably being thematically the most important notion in the book.

'Bloom' is mentioned twice in Northanger Abbey (once of a man), once in Lady Susan (Lady Susan has kept her blooming complexion well into her thirties, and has it in greater degree than her daughter, which must make her something of a marvel), five times in Emma, three times in Sense and Sensibility (once of a man), once in Mansfield Park, and never, as far as I can see, in Pride and Prejudice.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Tortured Bones of a Perished Race

Waste Land
by Madison Cawein

Briar and fennel and chincapin,
And rue and ragweed everywhere;
The field seemed sick as a soul with sin,
Or dead of an old despair,
Born of an ancient care.

The cricket's cry and the locust's whirr,
And the note of a bird's distress,
With the rasping sound of the grasshopper,
Clung to the loneliness
Like burrs to a trailing dress.

So sad the field, so waste the ground,
So curst with an old despair,
A woodchuck's burrow, a blind mole's mound,
And a chipmunk's stony lair,
Seemed more than it could bear.

So lonely, too, so more than sad,
So droning-lone with bees –
I wondered what more could Nature add
To the sum of its miseries . . .
And then – I saw the trees.

Skeletons gaunt that gnarled the place,
Twisted and torn they rose –
The tortured bones of a perished race
Of monsters no mortal knows,
They startled the mind's repose.

And a man stood there, as still as moss,
A lichen form that stared;
With an old blind hound that, at a loss,
Forever around him fared
With a snarling fang half bared.

I looked at the man; I saw him plain;
Like a dead weed, gray and wan,
Or a breath of dust. I looked again –
And man and dog were gone,
Like wisps of the graying dawn. . . .

Were they a part of the grim death there –
Ragweed, fennel, and rue?
Or forms of the mind, an old despair,
That there into semblance grew
Out of the grief I knew?

Monday, January 28, 2019

Aquinas on the Passion of Love

The following is a slightly revised version of a post from 2009..

You are struck by a vision, some exquisite example of beauty. Being struck, you are changed, this beautiful object introducing itself into your very disposition, so that you become, so to speak, adapted to it, so as to find satisfaction in it. You are pleased by it, and, being pleased by it, you desire it, and this desire seeks the joy and rest of its presence. Thus you have become caught up in a sort of circle: it has joined itself to you, by changing you; you are thereby driven to join yourself to it, that you may rejoice in it. You are set in motion by it, and this motion comes to rest only in that which started the motion in the first place.

Such is Thomas Aquinas's view of the passion of love. In this account, the experience of love consists in a series of changes induced in us, immutationes, the first of which, [1] complacentia, the taking pleasure in, or being pleased by, a thing, is what we most often refer to as 'love'. The beloved becomes, in a sense, a part of the lover. But this complacentia isn't the term of the change; it continues on to [2] desiderium, desire, the drive to union (of some sort) with what is loved, and the change involved in this desire continues until one finds a way to be united to what is loved, and rest in it. This rest is [3] gaudium, joy.

This is all on the supposition that everything else is equal, of course; any discussion of the changes involved in the passions has a mercurial and unstable subject. There are endless numbers of things that might intervene. But there is enough pattern to the chaos that each of these, the amor or complacentia, the desiderium, the gaudium, is a recognizable feature, as is the sense of coaptatio, adaptation to the beloved, the experience of being disposed in some way by the loved one to love the loved one.

There is much more to St. Thomas's account of the passion than this; his discussion of the effects of love is particularly interesting. Love, says Thomas, has four proximate effects: liquefactio, fruitio, languor, fervor. (1) In liquefactio our defenses are melted, our heart is softened. (2) To the extent the beloved is present to us, we have fruitio, enjoyment. To the extent the beloved is absent, (3) we have languor, sorrow or pining, and (4) fervor, the passion to possess. These effects are induced in us proportional to the severity of the immutatio. Beyond this there are other effects that may ensue: union, indwelling (dwelling upon the beloved in thought and in sympathy), zeal or jealousy (understood as the repulsing of what stands in love's way), ecstasy (in the sense of being somehow carried away, either elevated beyond or debased below our usual state of sanity), and the myriad acts of lovers.

All of this, of course, concerns the passion or sentiment of love; the acts of the virtue of love have many similarities to those of the passion, but also introduce a number of distinctive features of their own.

Angelic Doctor

This is a re-post from 2015.

Today is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church! Here's Giovanni de Paolo's painting of St. Thomas Aquinas Confounding Averroes:

Giovanni di Paolo St. Thomas Aquinas Confounding Averroës

Here's a passage from De Regno 1.13, in which he lays out the seven essential goals of good government. (My translation.)

Thus taught by divine law, [the king] should set himself especially to study how the many subject to him may live well; which study is divided into the three parts: as the first is to institute a good life in the many subjects, the second to conserve what is instituted, and the third to move what is conserved forward to what is better [conservatam ad meliora promoveat].

And for good life for one man two things are required, one principally, which is acting according to virtue (for virtue is that by which one lives well), the other secondarily and as it were instrumentally, which is sufficiency of bodily goods, whose use is needed to act virtuously. But the unity of that man is caused by nature; while the unity of the many, which is called 'peace', is procured through the industry of the ruler. Therefore for the instituting of good life for the many three things are required. [1] First of all, that the many be established in the unity of peace. [2] Second, that the many united by this bond of peace be directed to acting well. For just as a man can do nothing well unless a unity of his parts is presupposed, so a multitude of men, lacking the unity of peace, by fighting among themselves are impeded from acting well. [3] Third, it requires that through the industry of the rulers there be present a sufficient abundance of things necessary for living well.

So when the good life by the duty of the king is established for the many, it follows that he must set himself to conserving it. But there are three things which do not allow public good to last, of which one arises by nature. The good of the many should not be instituted for only one time, but should in some way be perpetual. Yet men are mortal; they are not able to abide perpetually. Nor, while alive, are they always vigorous, because they are subject to many variations of human life, and thus men are not able to perform their duties equally throughout their whole lives. And another impediment to conserving the common good, proceeding from inside, consists in perversity of will, in that some either are lazy [sunt desides] in performing what the commonweal requires or, beyond this, are noxious to the peace of the multitude, in that by transgressing justice they disturb the peace of others. And the third impediment to conserving the commonweal is caused from outside, in that through the incursion of enemies the peace is dissolved and sometimes it happens that the kingdom or city is scattered.

Therefore to these three a triple charge is placed on the king. [4] First, that he prepare for the succession and substitution of those who fulfill diverse duties; just as through the divine government of corruptible things, which cannot abide forever, provision is made that through generation one should take the place of another, so that the integrity of the universe is conserved, so also is the study of the king to conserve the good of the many subject to him, in that he concerns himself attentively to fill with others places that are empty. [5] And second, by his laws and precepts, penalties and rewards, he should force [coerceat] men subject to him away from iniquity and induce them to virtuous works, taking God as example, who gives law to man, favoring those who observe it, repaying with penalty those who transgress it. [6] Third, a charge is laid on the king to restore safety against enemies to the many subject to him. There would be no use in eliminating internal dangers if one could not defend from external ones.

And then for the instituting of the good of the many there is a third thing belonging to the duty of a king, [7] that he attentively move it forward, which is done when, in each thing noted before, he studies to perfect it, correcting what is disordered, supplying what is missing, and doing better what he can.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Impulsive Grounds of Morality

Those who are for ever on the look-out for moral impurities in their actions tend to lose confidence in their ability to do good and moral actions. They convince themselves that they are too weak and that morality is beyond them. We must rather believe that rectitudo moralis can be a strong impulsive ground of our actions. The human soul is not altogether devoid of all impulsive grounds of pure morality. Let, for instance, some poor wretch come to us with his tale of sorrow and we are moved to pity and help him, though a written request from him would not have achieved the same result. Again, a traveller who sees people starving by the roadside and gives them alms is not actuated by any self-interest or considerations of honour: he is a stranger to them and to the place and will soon be miles away; he does it from the inner goodness of the action....We ought not, therefore, to be on the look-out for blemishes and weaknesses in the lives, for instance, of men such as Socrates. The practice is not only useless but harmful.
[Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Ethics, Infield, tr., Hackett (Indianapolis: 1980), pp. 65-66.]

Kant's philosophy is often taught as if it were in a way inhuman and allowed no concession to human weakness; there is some truth to this, but it is also partly an artifact of looking at his account of the purity of moral law and not at his account of how he thinks human moral motivation works.

The point Kant makes about the moral harmfulness of trying to suss out the weaknesses, failings, and faults of morally admirable people is one that I have thought about quite a bit. There is a very dangerous tendency in certain strands of modern culture to try to deface the heroes of others; it is often an indirect way of trying to deface the people who regard them as heroes. It's one thing to insist on moral principle if someone is trying to hide a denial of it in the guise of someone admirable for something else, or if someone is putting forward someone as morally heroic for actions that are specifically themselves immoral; but this has to be done quite carefully because, as Kant will go on to say, fault-hunting when it comes to people regarded as excellent examples is often motivated by malice and envy, and not any genuine regard for moral principle. That a human being failed in some way is not an extraordinary revelation; that they excelled in some way may well be impressive regardless of their failing, and give an encouraging example to others who are trying to be morally good.