Saturday, February 23, 2019

Fruitful Martyr

Today is the feast of St. Polycarp, whose name means 'many-fruited'. He was bishop of Smyrna. Tertullian notes (De praescriptione hereticorum 32) that the church of Smyrna recorded him as being installed in the see by the Apostle John, and St. Irenaeus confirms his connection to the apostles (Adversus haereses III.3.4):

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true.

He is generally thought to have been martyred in his eighties or nineties, somewhere around AD 155 or so. From his Epistle to the Philippians:

For I trust that ye are well versed in the Sacred Scriptures, and that nothing is hid from you; but to me this privilege is not yet granted. It is declared then in these Scriptures, "Be ye angry, and sin not," and, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." Happy is he who remembers this, which I believe to be the case with you. But may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest, build you up in faith and truth, and in all meekness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, forbearance, and purity; and may He bestow on you a lot and portion among His saints, and on us with you, and on all that are under heaven, who shall believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in His Father, who raised Him from the dead. Pray for all the saints. Pray also for kings, and potentates, and princes, and for those that persecute and hate you, and for the enemies of the cross, that your fruit may be manifest to all, and that ye may be perfect in Him.

Poem Retrospective XXIII

The Isles

Your reason is a snowdrift-reason,
icy in and out of season,
cold and sharded frost with flakes,
a floe no grace nor fervor wakes --
but what of reason's South Sea isles,
flush and warm with solar smiles?
Golden-hearted breeze-winds sway
to charge the night and warm the day
as, by the currents warm and clear,
the joys go dancing without fear
and, on the beach-sand wet and fair,
a sunrise gilds the scented air.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Dashed Off IV

This finishes the notebook that was complete in January 2018.

"The working of our power to know is the same in whatever course of experience as it is in reading a book. The early part of the course throws light on the latter; it does not have to be kept in mind, but our grasp of incident or argument as it comes depends on the grasp of what has gone; we know by means of what we have known." W. Mitchell (The Place of Minds in the World)

At A249 Kant practically defines noumena/intelligibilia as things which are *merely* objects of understanding. (Cp. A251-2: "an object independent of sensibility".)

Nobody has an unrestricted obligation to show hospitality under all circumstances.
Hospitality is by its very nature a highly structured thing; it is very different from 'openness', which is less structured (and involves fewer obligations).

The narcissism of modernity is to look in everything as in a mirror and see one's own righteousness.

All counterexamples can be interpreted as a subset of challenges.

internal consistency challenges; external consistency challenges; evidential provision challenges (e.g., search-challenges)

One can have counterexamples for particular propositions, but they work structurally more like undercutting defeaters than like refutations. ('These typical examples show that 'Some A is B' is unmotivated' rather than 'is false'.)

Our sense of space is not an abstract coordinate system but a perception of relation-to-body.

There seems no doxastic equivalent of the sure loss in the Dutch Book argument.

Proposing to measure well-being is like proposing to measure a rock; what that means depends on your ends.

In most situations there are many possible reasonable bases for informed, unforced, general agreement.

In disputes between church and state, the stance taken by the state has always been, "Look what you made me do!"

Materially, faith is believing about God; formally, it is believing God; finally, it is believing in God. An act of faith that is not all of these at once is not an act of the true faith; the true faith is believing true things about God by believing God who is Truth, so as to believe truly in God.

In matters of great importance, it is human to want external assurance even of things we know very well.

Human beings naturally develop gratitude toward beneficial inanimate objects, but we may do this either by taking them to be our benefactors, or to manifest our benefactors, or to be instruments of our benefactors.

Without virtue, ethics is thin; without moral law, it is timid.

We are grateful for attempts, and still more for successes, at doing us good, as at incomplete and complete good.

One does not have a right to what another cannot provide.

Human rights law is an oddity in that it involves no unified concept of 'rights', no unified concept of 'human', and no unified concept of 'law'.

garment as veil and revelation
garment as refuge and restraint
garment as self and other

Academia works on anti-eremitic principles; it actively opposes eremitic reflection, demanding that reflection continually be socialized in specific ways, and penalizing those who do not socialize it in these ways.

Philosophy in its cosmopolitan mode tends to abstraction and vagueness; in its locally rooted mode, to concretion and narrowness. Philosophy as such requires both.

Each of the Five Ways can be done with respect to the physical, the intellectual, the moral, and the supernatural. (There are already some elements of this in Aquinas: deliberation & the First Way, natural law & the Fourth Way.)

The redemption of humanity requires that all be made meritorious in some way.

"When a man's will is ready to believe, he loves the truth he believes, he thinks out and takes to heart whatever reasons he can find in support thereof; and in this way huamn reason does not exclude the merit of faith, but is a sign of greater merit." Aquinas

All sexual expression ought to be consistent with the spirit and meaning of marriage; all Christian sexual expression with the spirit and meaning of sacramental matrimony.

The temptation of the political moderate is to focus on means to the exclusion of ends; this results in dangerous shallowness.

If truth is possible, truth exists.

(1) The world is possible (=X).
(2) X requires a truthmaker (XT) that is an actuality.
(3) XT is either the world itself or something else.
(4) If XT is the world itself, the world or some part essential to it is necessary.
(5) If XT is something else, the truth capturing this has as its truthmaker either that something or something else again, and so forth.
(6) But it is not possible to regress infinitely.
(7) Therefore there is some actuality for which the corresponding truth would have the actuality as its truthmaker.
(8) Such an actuality or some essential part of it is necessary.
(9) Therefore there is a necessary actuality.

If anything is possible, something exists.

Love is not beyond good, but it is itself beyond -- although not inconsistent with -- obligation.

The man who conscientiously does his duty has not done enough to be a saint.

satisfactory vs exemplary goods

"The movement of thought is at once the expansion of a system and the differentiation of its internal structure." W. G. DeBurgh

The general capacity for pain is not an evil.
A felt pain is a positive sensation but not a 'positive evil'.

symmetry breaking -> some particular actualization -> some particular cause.

Akrasia establishes that the relation between strength of motivation and chance of decision is not straightforward. There is a drag on decision that has little to do with motivation as such, that motivation must overcome, and it seems to vary.

"People are far more readily influenced by the plea to do what is right than by the plea to do what will promote good." DeBurgh

moral arguments for theism can be based on
(a) obligation (law)
(b) ideal
(c) teleology
(d) capacity

freedom in itself, as a capacity for immortality, as an orientation to God

Kant seems to be on to something in thinking that morality considered structurally is ultimate law, that considered in terms of consent it is personalist, and that, considering how its structure organizes its content, it is concerned with the social unity of free (and thus rational) beings.

Bellarmine's 3rd and 4th Notes (long duration, extent) as evidences of the working of divine promises.

The Nicene Notes of the Church are found in the Church as such, whether Militant, Patient, or Triumphant, whether considered universally or in particular form.

'jostle' as part of creativity

"A God in whom there is variability and shadow of turning is surely not a God who can be worshipped." DeBurgh

the existence of holiness as a precondition for the possibility of human morality

love in the will : love in the sensibility :: soul : body

To have one's moral discipline only from oneself is to act at a disadvantage.

The attempt to have something like Christian charity without Christianity always leads in the end to monsters.

The same moral rule looks different depending on the ideal to which it is thought to be related.

An ethics is attractive in proportion as it happens to capture something of the image of God to which we are made, as Kant captures in a way the legislative aspect, as Mill to an extent the providential aspect.

Omnes oportet transire per ignem.

The solidarity of prayer being part of penitential life, that the souls of purgatory intercede generally for the Church Militant seems assured. The more difficult question is particular intercession.
No: Aquinas ST 2-2.83.11ad3
Yes, in such a way that it is superfluous to invoke them: Suarez, De poenit 47s2n9
Yes, in such a way that invocation might not be superfluous: Bellarmine, De Purg 2.15; Alphonsus Liguori, Great Means of Salvation 1.3.2

"On God's part, I see paradise has no gate, but that whosoever will may enter therein." St. Catherine of Genoa

purgatory as immaculation

the liberty, equality, and fraternity of the French Revolution as license, levelling, and collective usurpation

natural theology broadly considered --
natural theology strictly speaking : demonstration & dialectic ::
civil theology : rhetoric ::
poetic theology : poetics

rhetorical persuasion as like turbulent flow

It is remarkable how hard commentators work to make texts obscure.

A physical field is a cause known only by inference from its effects.

As mass is Lorentz-invariant and energy is not, it seems absurd to identify them.

mass as quantity of matter (Newton) -> mass as quantitative aspect of matter relating it to momentum and energy, not quantity of matter (Maxwell) -> mass as that which relates something to momentum and energy in the characteristic way

pleasantness vs rewardingness vs contentedness vs relievedness.

A classless society would only be possible in a society without differentiation; a society consisting wholly of shoemakers and farmers would, ipso facto, have a shoemaking class and a farming class.

The satisfaction for the sacrament of reconciliation, although not part of its constitution as a sacrament, is not separate: by the sacrament it is made a work of grace.

Souls in purgatory are like those who have confessed and received absolution, and are doing their penance; but their penance is to endure, to wait in hope.

Church Militant : faith :: Church Patient : hope :: Church Triumphant : love

indulgences as occasional causes (per suffragium)

Each of the sacraments seems to 'contain' grace in a somewhat different sense. (This is obvious comparing, say, the Eucharist's real presence with Baptism's spiritual presence, and with the presence, more representational, in Matrimony.)

You can have evidence a man is married before you conclude that his wife exists, despite the fact hat for a man to be married requires that he have a wife.
To prove a man is married is to prove he has a spouse, but build a proof that a man is married is not to build a proof that his spouse exists, simply considered, because proof-building is under a description.

(1) Changes in Y can wholly depend on X without implying anything about changes in X, as we see from the laws of nature, which, among other things, are grounds of variation that do not vary.
(2) Since temporal existents may have timeless properties, for two distinct things we may say they coexist, even when one is temporal and the other is not, when they are related by their timeless properties by a relation that is not itself temporal.

No one is ever an epiphenomenalist except to salvage a system.

the role of the parable of the Good Samaritan in sacramental theology

Omnis medicina est in remedium alicuius morbi.

purgatory & piacularity

questions & hypothetical/disjunctive truth values

Design in the mind and design in the thing are said analogically.

softened assertions & imperatives

the parody-straining society

Scripture clearly and explicitly attributes righteousness to Gentiles (Job & Naaman), prophecy to the enemies of Christ (Caiaphas), prophecy to unborn children (Jeremiah, John the Baptist), prophetic value to apocryphal works (Jude) and theological value to pagan poets (in Paul's quotations). It does none of this promiscuously or incautiously, but you cannot learn theological narrowness from Scripture.

All three of Kant's formulations of the categorical imperative are secularized religious concepts: providence, the image of God, and the Kingdom of God.

Some beliefs whose grounds are independent grow well together.

In belief as in other things relevant to action there is habituation and an advantage to familiarity.

the Five Ways read methodologically

Our beliefs have a great many relations to each other, some of which are anancastic, some of which are tychastic, and some of which are agapastic.

"...the painter's freedom isn't compromised by his dependence on a surface on which to paint. He would not be freer without such a surface; he simply (a conceptual truth, not a truth about his freedom) would not *be* a *painter*." G. A. Cohen

Looking at the world, it's hard not to think that Feuerbach was being optimistic in thinking that people make their idea of God by magnifying humanity; people seem rather inclined to trim down than to build up. If they magnified humanity, they would get closer to the truth, because they would not simply be making things up.

Means of production are outworkings of ideas.

People often say 'just' when they really mean some form of 'nonadverse'.

"The power of speech is sometimes defined as the capacity to express ourselves. This misses an essential point, for the power of speech is as much the capacity to understand what is said to us as it is to say things to other people. The ability to speak is then in the proper sense the capacity to enter into reciprocal communication with others." MacMurray
"The structure of a community is the nexus or network of the active relations of friendship between all possible parts of its members."
"To celebrate anything is to do something which expresses symbolically our consciousness of it and our joy in being conscious of it."

Basic goods can only generate obligations insofar as they are part of common good.
basic goods in the context of (a) states, (b) the human race, (c) the Church

The basic articles of faith interrelate, so that if one were dropped or changed, the meaning of the rest would change.

under-ness and with-ness in study and learning

'Obligation' is an inherently communal notion.

divine covenant as:
(1) instrument -- First Way
(2) presupposing creation -- Second Way
(3) grounded on God everlasting -- Third Way
(4) concerned with truth & goodness -- Fourth Way
(5) intentional -- Fifth Way

In Acts, it seems undeniable that we are to see both similarity and contrast in Peter's sermon at Pentecost and Paul's on the Areopagus.

"The Acts narrated the movement of the gospel from Jerusalme, the religious centre of the world, to Rome, the centre of administrative and military power; and, half-way between them, the visit to Athens, the intellectual centre, could not but be significant." Barr

The Church teaches on morals in two ways: as an ideal toward which to work and as what is good and bad, required and permitted, in the working. A thing may be permitted and yet it may be good to work for its being unnecessary, as long as one does so in the right way.

Obvious hypocrisy is not a serious threat to morality; only successful, and thus non-obvious, hypocrisy is.

The modern world substituted hypocrisy-hunting for heresy-hunting, and it is far more intrusive, because hypocrisy is far less narrow a thing than heresy.

Arguments are arguments even if hypocrites mouth them.

People often say 'human right' when they really mean 'good that is especially appropriate to human beings and their developed capacities'.

consecrated virginity as part of the Church's fight against idolatry
"This then is the primary purpose, the central idea of Christian virginity: to aim only at the divine, to turn thereto the whole mind and soul; to want to please God in everything, to think of Him continually, to consecrate body and soul completely to Him." Pius XII, Sacra virginitatis
-- look into hagiographical legends linking the origin of Christian consecrated virgnity to the Apostle Matthew

Marriage by nature is society-forming; the sacrament of matrimony makes it by grace divine-society-forming.

A Little Sonnet in the House

The Poet and the Baby
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

How's a man to write a sonnet, can you tell,—
How's he going to weave the dim, poetic spell, —
When a-toddling on the floor
Is the muse he must adore,
And this muse he loves, not wisely, but too well?

Now, to write a sonnet, every one allows,
One must always be as quiet as a mouse;
But to write one seems to me
Quite superfluous to be,
When you 've got a little sonnet in the house.

Just a dainty little poem, true and fine,
That is full of love and life in every line,
Earnest, delicate, and sweet,
Altogether so complete
That I wonder what's the use of writing mine.

Poem Retrospective XXII

This began as an adaptation of part of a poem attributed to Seneca; I then detached it from the larger context and gave it a slightly more Norse twist.


Swiftly spring to winter tends,
all things hurry to their place,
but swifter far than to this end
our human hearts to nothing race.
With nothing left, no more than death,
the final goal, so swiftly found,
let craving flee with fleeing breath,
resign to fate with reason sound,
and, if you fear the heart's last beat,
then bury fear within the grave.
Time and night do not retreat.
Death will not in mercy save.
The road before is yet unknown;
who of our spirit's fate is sure?
Ask those now laid beneath the stone,
ask those who never lived nor were!
But still the battle-lines are drawn,
and still I stand, though but a husk,
and though there may not be a dawn,
I yet may have a hero's dusk.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Petrus Damianus

Today is the feast of St. Pietro Damiani, Doctor of the Church. Born in Ravenna near the end of the tenth century, Peter Damian became a university teacher until he gave it up to become a Benedictine monk in 1035; he entered the communal hermitage of Fonte Avellana, which was based on the pattern of the similar communal hermitage at Camaldoli: monks had individual cells but worshiped and ate communally. He became teacher, then manager, then prior of the hermitage. During his term the Camaldolese approach expanded massively. Being a reformer at heart, he also tightened the discipline of the hermitage quite severely; this was sharply criticized but also led to more people joining the order, because at the time it was widely held that the monastic orders were growing lax and corrupt. He wasn't ruthless, however; he also restrained disciplinary practices and instituted a daily nap so that monks would be better able to fulfill their duties in nightly prayer. He developed a significant correspondence with Popes, Emperors, and other significant figures, and in 1057 Pope Stephen IX made him a Cardinal -- against his will -- and appointed him apostolic administrator of Gubbio. He became the regular go-to Cardinal whenever the Popes needed a representative to send on matters related to reform; he was often effective, because he was good at thinking on his feet, but for exactly the same reason, he also had a recurring pattern of annoying the Pope and other powers by imposing his own solutions on problems. He died in 1072 or 1073. As this was a period in which formal canonization as a papal process was only just beginning to consolidate, there was never any formal canonization process, but he became almost universally regarded as one of the primary Benedictine saints, and was made a Doctor of the Church in 1828 by Pope Leo XII.

From St. Peter Damian's Letter 91 to Patriarch Constantine Lichoudes of Constantinople:

But if one should ask, "Since the Son is of the substance of the Father, and the Holy Spirit is also of the substance of the Father, why is one the Son and the other not also the Son?" it would not be inconsistent to reply as follows. The Son is from the Father, the Holy Spirit is from the Father, but the former is begotten, while the latter proceeds; and therefore the former is the Son of the Father, from whom he is begotten, while the latter is the Spirit of both because he proceeds from both. Nevertheless, this begetting and procession are not only ineffable but also totally incomprehensible. But in those things which we are unable to penetrate with the power of our mind, we apply a sure faith to those through whom the Holy Spirit has spoken, just as if the matter lay clearly before our eyes. And even though these hidden mysteries of profound depth are unknown to us, still we are not in doubt about what the Lord has spoken, we are also not uncertain about what is found in the pronouncements of the prophets.

[Peter Damian, Letters 91-120, Blum, tr., The Fathers of the Church: Medieval Continuation, CUA Press (Washington DC: 1998) p. 11.]

Poem Retrospective XXI

A Texas Hymn

The birds woke me at the sunrise hour
when grass was dewy and all was pale
beneath the light of a high white star;
it sang the message that all was well.
And I in the breeze (it trickled down
the blades of grass then quickly wound
around my legs to tickle my feet) --
I knew the light, and it was sweet.

The thirsty drink from flowing spring
and come to life, made quick by source;
as I, when I hear mornings sing
in bird, or wind in winding course,
will know, as rolling sun will rise,
a Spirit lives, God's very breath,
who lightens sky and human eyes
and raises souls like mine from death.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Legal Fictions

Jeremy Bentham famously defined a legal fiction as "an assumed fact notoriously false, upon which one reasons as if it were true." He gives as examples arguments by jurists that for certain purposes in wills the deceased and the heir are the same person, that corruption of blood from capital crimes prevents inheritances, that the king is everywhere present and can do no wrong and is immortal, that society is based on a social contract. Needless to say, he does not approve of legal fictions; he says in one place that in English law, legal fictions are syphilis, rotting the whole system. It has been pointed out (by Stolzenberg particularly, "Bentham's Theory of Fictions - A 'Curious Double Language'") that Bentham does allow some role for fiction; he thinks that language requires fiction, for instance. But in law, he is generally quite vituperative about them.

Most discussion of legal fictions derives from Lon Fuller's major discussion of it, published in three articles beginning in 1930 and in a book collecting the articles in 1967. Fuller argued against Bentham that in fact legal fictions are essential to law. He himself, however, characterizes fictions are falsehoods that are recognized as having utility. Generally people follow Fuller in regarding legal fictions as something counterfactual. I would suggest, however, that this is already to concede too much to Bentham. The root idea of 'fiction' is not falsehood but construction, and legal fictions are legal facts that are not received from an extralegal context (as non-fiction facts are) but instead constructed specifically for the purposes of law. In many situations, constructing something rather than discovering or receiving it is connected with falsehood, but this is not true with law.

When we say, by legal fiction, that a corporation is a person, what we mean is not the false assertion "A corporation is a person" as it would be understood outside of law, but something that can only be correctly asserted withing a legal context. We might even in fact phrase it as "A corporation is a person for the purposes of law". When we say, by legal fiction, that the husband and the wife are one person, we are not speaking metaphysics but law, and in law it may be so. What makes it fiction is that we hold these things, not because we have discovered them to be facts, but because we have made them facts about law. Legal fictions are legal facts had not by practices of discovering facts independent of law, nor by practices of trying to approximate some legal measure for some extra-legal fact, but by practices of creating a fact in the legal system. Legal fictions are not false but artificial. They are not counterfactual but non-natural.

This is why legal fictions are not lies, not (as Bentham would have it) dishonest deceits. Fuller treats the difference as simply intent to deceive, but, as has been noted in the ethics of lying, one may deceive without intending deceit. But legal fictions do not deceive at all; they are the way things are, given how we have set up our legal system.

This is also why legal fictions are unavoidable. Laws have to be concerned with practical matters; their classifications must therefore be governed by practical considerations. All legal classifications are artificial classifications created for practice. Now, and again for practical purposes, we need artificial classifications to have some connection with a natural classification, but at times practical considerations will be better served by diverging from natural classification. In biology we may need whales to be mammals; in law, as Whewell noted, it may make more sense for whales to be counted as fish. In metaphysics, we need to distinguish persons and corporations; in law we may need corporations to do things that, in our legal classification, persons do. And when we have so classified them, it is not false to say that they are so classified, no matter how artificial the classification.

There is nothing in this that is different from law in general. If we make the speed limit on a stretch of road 60 mph, it is a fact that the speed limit is 60 mph, despite the fact that no physicist could discover 60-mph-ness in that stretch of road. It is not false; it is true that the speed limit, as a matter of fact, is 60 mph. It is an entirely artificial fact, but it is a fact nonetheless. While law does (and must) sometimes receive its principles from outside itself, much of law is artificial, and does not exist except for the fact that we have made it so. And when we have made it so -- lo! it is a fact that it is so.

Poem Retrospective XX


Clouds grow dark, grumble, crash;
tongues of storm, sparks of light
charge recklessly across the clouds,
bolts on black breaking night,
cracking, creasing, sky and mind
with clarity of fire.

Rushing, roaring winds inspire
rains in pouring, thoughts in streams,
endless drops that drip from heaven,
washing, wishing, on the streets.
Silence drenches rain-swept pathways;
clouds alone still have their say:

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Music on My Mind

Postmodern Jukebox (ft. Emily Goglia, Rob Paulsen, Maurice LaMarche), "Pinky and the Brain Theme". With the original voice actors, which is a very nice touch.

Poem Retrospective XIX

I don't quite remember how this poem came about, but it gelled in its stable form more quickly than my religious poems usually do.

Holy Wednesday

How gently falls the stroke of doom,
how swiftly sprouts the vice;
how quiet is the tread of gloom:
a man but asks the price --
the silver gained for traitor's guilt.
And what a paltry price!

The price for which to sell the world,
the price of devastation,
the price that soon a man will hurl
away in desolation:
for little bag of little coin,
the hope of every nation!

Yet are you any better here,
or, for that matter, I?
Too good to sell hope out of fear,
betray love lest we die?
Too wise to trade the deepest things
and some small pleasure buy?

Might someone then have caught your theft,
then caught you in a lie,
a false heart asking, sly and deft:
"Lord, how could it be I?"
Knowing well your deepest guilt:
"I ask you, is it I?"

Monday, February 18, 2019

Il Beato Angelico

Today is the memorial for Blessed Giovanni da Fiesole, better known to the world as Fra Angelico. Fiesole is just the town in which he took his vows; he was born Guido di Pietro. We know practically nothing about his early life; the earliest record we have for him is a payment for doing paintings in a church in 1417. At the time he was still operating under the name Guido, and was a member of a lay confraternity. He joined the Dominicans in 1423 and took the name Giovanni. One of the most innovative painters of his day, he is one of the greatest religious painters of all time.

Angelico, pala di fiesole, full

Fra Giovanni was a simple man and most holy in his habits, and one day when Pope Nicholas V desired him to dine with him, he had scruples of conscience about eating meat without his prior's leave, not considering the Pope's authority. He would not follow the ways of the world, but lived purely and holily, and was a great friend of the poor. He painted constantly, and would never represent anything but the saints. He might have been rich, but did not care about it, saying that true riches are nothing else than being content with little. He might have governed many, and would not, saying it was less troublesome to obey, and one was less liable to err in obeying. It was in his power to hold dignities among the friars and elsewhere, but he did not esteem them, affirming that he sought no other dignity than to escape hell and attain to Paradise. He was most kind and sober, keeping himself free from all worldly ties, often saying that he who practised art had need of quiet and to be able to live without cares, and that he who represents the things of Christ should always live with Christ. He was never seen in anger by the friars, which is a great thing, and seems to me almost impossible to believe; and he had a way of admonishing his friends with smiles. To those who sought his works he would answer, that they must content the prior, and then he would not fail. To sum up, this father, who can never be enough praised, was in all his works and words most humble and modest, and in his paintings facile and devout; and the saints whom he painted have more the air and likeness of saints than those of any one else. It was his habit never to retouch or alter any of his paintings, but to leave them as they came the first time, believing, as he said, that such was the will of God. Some say he would never take up his pencil until he had first made supplication, and he never made a crucifix but he was bathed in tears.
[From Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists]

Poem Retrospective XVIII


Her hair is sun turned into strand,
her skin is light like cream;
by endless ocean's endless wave
she endlessly shall dream:
a lady by the salted sea,
she sleeps forevermore;
forever on the sands I walk,
her beauty to adore.
I loved her deeply in my youth,
but she my brother wed;
I wove enchantment in the air
that struck my brother dead.
I spoke a word of ancient might
that turned her soul to sleep
and cast a spell on time itself,
eternal love to keep.
Now walk I on this weary sand
for ages none can tell,
and keep my heart upon her form,
and weep, and love in hell.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Fortnightly Book, February 17

When we have to do with vice and vicious characters, I maintain it is better to depict them as they really are than as they would wish to appear. To represent a bad thing in its least offensive light, is doubtless the most agreeable course for a writer of fiction to pursue; but is it the most honest, or the safest? Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers?

Of all the Brontë sisters, Anne Brontë has perhaps had the rockiest critical reception. This is particularly true of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the next fortnightly book. Contemporary reviews show that people regarded it as interesting, and it sold well, but it was also criticized for being too coarse, too violent, too disagreeable. Charlotte Brontë refused to have it reprinted after Anne's death, and critics in the aftermath largely seem to have agreed with her -- it did not fare well in the late nineteenth century and most of the twentieth century, in which its deliberately anti-Romantic approach was regarded as lacking in fire and spirit. The novel had its defenders, but the defenses are often qualified and backhanded. In the past few decades there has been an increasing tendency to push back at this general mix of disparagement and backhanded praise and argue that Anne is doing things more subtle than the critics had granted, and that the psychology of the work is richer than has usually been recognized. It is anyone's guess whether this will stick, since critics are not always particularly reliable across time, but it is worth noting that people have continued to read it. And that is, as I've said before, the only real test of quality for a literary work: that people who enjoy reading keep coming back to it.

In any case, I have never actually read the whole work, so we'll see how I find it.

Poem Retrospective XVII

Sometimes a poem just comes together because it's very much what you believe, and so says almost exactly what you want it to say. I suspect that the rhythm of the poem is partly echoing Runrig's "One Thing".

Reason and Grace

Nothing I am
and nothing I'll be;
my footsteps are washed
by the sands of the sea.
The waves rolling in
will cover all trace
and nothing remain
but reason and grace.

Shout out my name;
the echo will die,
lost on the wind
in the silence of sigh.
My name in the air
cannot hold me in place;
nothing's forever
but reason and grace.

Conquer the world;
the borders all break,
bursting like bubbles
or dreams when we wake;
put up the bronze
of the kings of the race;
it all will fall down
except reason and grace.

My tale will be finished,
the course will be run,
and darkness will fall
with the dousing of sun;
not a bit does it matter,
though tears touch my face:
there is nothing enduring
save reason and grace.