Saturday, July 16, 2022

David Taylor, Farewell to Valley Forge


Opening Passage:  

Captain Kimball, Continental Army, slowed his horse to a walk and turned off the dusty highway into the cobbled High Street of Port Chatham. A group of happy, mud-splashed children were sailing their toy boats in the refuse gutter that ran down the center of the street, and a fastidiously dressed merchant, his silk stockings and black breeches shiny new, gave the laughing children a wide berth as he hurried past. Halfway up the street a servant wench, with her sleeves rolled up to her plump elbows, was kneeling on the front steps of an oyster-shell-plastered house, scouring the pink marble threshold with handfuls of fine river sand. (p. 11)

Summary: Captain Jonathan Kimball is on an intelligence mission for General George Washington. It is 1778. Jonathan is supposed to meet up with Elizabeth Ladd, who is the daughter of a prominent Philadelphian ship owner, and pose as a family servant in order to gather information about the British army that is occupying Philadelphia. Jonathan and Elizabeth have to work out some friction because, despite both supporting the American cause, they have very different perspectives on the war. Jonathan, a solider in the army, sees himself as a die-hard Rebel; Elizabeth, however lives in an occupied city, in which day-to-day life requires an attitude of cautious courtesy and deal-making toward the British. Both kinds of people are in fact essential to the war effort, although it takes some time for Jonathan fully to grasp how, and he only really begins to do so when Elizabeth risks her life at a masquerade ball hosted by the British soldiers in order to gather information that will save General La Fayette from an ambush at Barren Hill. Elizabeth, for her part, having lived in a city in which the British soldiers are primarily a police presence, does not fully appreciate the complications of war, and it's only exposure to its difficulties and dangers that brings her around. 

George Washington was in general a competent commander, but in the area of military intelligence, he was ahead of his time. Faced with a larger and much, much better-supplied enemy, Washington made extensive use of his primary advantage, which was the ability to obtain information about the other side. The Continental Army under Washington used and often pioneered an extensive array of espionage practices; while it was nothing on the scale and sophistication of modern military intelligence, it was nonetheless often quite ingenious. Thus making the tale primarily a spy story rather than a battle story works very well; two major battles -- Barren Hill and Monmouth -- play a significant role in the story, especially the second, but the primarily plot is carried by the spy games.

The British were also not slouches at military intelligence, and one of the major problems faced by the Continental Army is the difficulty of knowing who is a traitor and who is not. A significant portion of the book is concerned with the possible treason of General Charles Lee, at this point the second-in-command. Historically, it's unclear whether and how far he was actually a traitor; when he was captured once, he gave the British a plan for defeating the Continental Army, but some have argued that it was a clumsy attempt to feed the British misinformation. What is very certain is that he did not like Washington. Lee had been widely regarded as the preferred choice to lead the Continental Army; the reason the command went to Washington was that Washington, unlike Lee, was born in the colonies, and Lee, a proud man, seems to have resented Washington for the rest of his career for it. The book takes a dark view of him, and it is clear from almost the beginning that he is selling out the Continental Army to the British. The difficulty Washington faces with regard to him has multiple aspects: first, he has no certainty of Lee's treachery; second, even if he had, he has no evidence of it; third, even if he had some evidence, Lee's political connections and general support are so good that any evidence would need to amount to proof; and fourth, Washington himself, constantly having to fend off character assassinations from other sources, and not particularly well supported in Congress at this point, has to move very cautiously. Thus Washington ends up having to build his strategies both on the assumption that Lee is loyal and on the assumption that he is not. 

The book is a very smooth read; both the spycraft and the battles are described well. It does an extremely good job in portraying how divided the Americans were, and also in showing how often significant events were affected by the right person in the right place making the right choice. The title, Farewell to Valley Forge, is at first a bit odd, because remarkably little of the book has anything to do with Valley Forge. But I think the point of it is that the book describes a transition point, from the American army being a large revolt with Valley Forge as one of its holing-up places as it tried to pull itself together, to an army capable of winning a major battle at the Plains of Monmouth against a superior army. It's not just a farewell to the encampment; it's a farewell to being the kind of army it was in the encampment.

Favorite Passage: 

Washington leaned back in his chair; pushing his long legs under the table, he folded his arms and spoke seriously. "You and I, William, have no desire other than to live under a civil authority free from military domination. But to win that freedom by means of military domination of the Congress is to admit that the goal we seek is unattainable."

"Even so, sir, others, besides the English, wonder how long it will be before you say, 'Satis superque!'"

"It will not be said by me." Washington's eyes glittered and his jaw firmed. "The Congress my request, nay, demand, my sword, but I will be neither taunted nor insulted nor wheedled into saying, 'It is enough.'" The Commander-in-Chief reached out and tapped the pile of correspondence tied with the tape and daubed with the sealing wax that proclaimed it came from the Congress. "This is a symbol, William. If ever we expect to establish a government of these separate states that will be answerable only to the people -- the acceptance of public censure will be necessary for its continuance. Who am I then, to escape it? Since I have accepted the trust thrust upon me, I must needs accept the criticism that it brings -- merited or otherwise." (p. 136)

Recommendation: Recommended.


David Taylor, Farewell to Valley Forge, J. B. Lippincott Company (New York: 1955).

Friday, July 15, 2022

Doctor Seraphicus

 Today is the feast of St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, Doctor of the Church. From the Breviloquium, Part I, Chapter 8, Sections 2 & 3:

Not only does this wisdom imply the power of knowing: it actually is the very principle of knowing. Therefore, it is called LIGHT as being the principle of knowing all that is known; MIRROR as being the principle of knowing all that is seen and approved; EXEMPLAR as being the principle of all that is foreseen and disposed; BOOK OF LIFE as being the principle of all that is pre-elected and reproved. In respect to things as they return to Him, God is the Book of Life; as they proceed from Him, He is the Exemplar; as they follow their course, He is the Mirror; and from all viewpoints together, He is the Light. To the Exemplar pertain idea, word, art, and purpose: IDEA, as regards the act of foreseeing; WORD, as regards the act of proposing; ART, as regards the act of carrying out; and PURPOSE, as regards the act of completing, for it adds final intention. Since all these acts are the same in God, one is often understood for another.

Because of the distinction between the objects of knowledge and their various connotations, divine wisdom is given a variety of names. Yet it is not diversified for any intrinsic reason, for it knows the contingent infallibly, the mutable immutably, the future presently, the temporal eternally, the dependent independently, the created uncreatedly; and all things that are not itself, it knows in itself and through itself. And since it knows the contingent infallibly, freedom and indetermination of the [created] will are compatible with pre-election and foreknowledge.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Links of Note

 * Myisha Cherry, On the Cultivation of Civic Friendship (PDF)

* The Five Books list of Best Books for 2022

* Helen DeCruz, The cosmic sublime, at "Wondering Freely" -- discusses Kant's views of the universe

* Dana Gioia, Christianity and Poetry, at "First Things"

* Ljiljana Radenović, Misunderstanding the Human and the Divine, at the "Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective"

* Andrea Iacona, Valid Arguments as True Conditionals (PDF)

* Larissa M. Katz, Ownership and Offices: The Building Blocks of the Legal Order (PDF) -- this was a fascinating paper, one of the most interesting arguments I've read recently.

* James Grant, Creativity as an Artistic Merit (PDF)

* Alice Murphy, The Aesthetic and Literary Qualities of Scientific Thought Experiments (PDF)

* Mariangela Priarolo, Love and Order: Malebranche and the Feeling of Natural Law

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Logres VI

Book I continued

 Chapter 15

When the morning came and King Uther Pendragon learned that the Duke of Trevena had fled, he was sad and ashamed, but held himself wronged. He called his counselors, asking them if they knew why he had left despite the king's command, but they had no answer.

The king said, "You can all bear witness that I showered him with favors more than any other." They all assented to this and wondered aloud why the duke had acted so dishonorably. Then King Uther said, "Unless you deem some other way better, I will send after him to return, both him and his wife, and make amends, and if he does so, we will have done with it." They agreed on this plan, and King Uther sent two reliable men to Trevena with his message.

When the messengers came to the duke, however, Sir Gorlois refused utterly to return, saying, "I will not return to one who has done to me and to mine in such a discourteous and dishonorable manner." Then he sent them back to Cardoel with his refusal. 

The duke, however, was pensive a long while after, and then called his own counselors together. He told them everything that had happened, and the reason for his flight from Cardoel. "I beg you, and charge you by the fealty you owe me, to aid me in defending my lands. For as Uther is a man used to having his will, he will come against me; and as he is neither fool nor coward nor weakling, I do not know how he shall be held off. Then they all swore to defend him and his, even if it put all their lives and goods in jeopardy.

When the messengers returned to Cardoel and gave Duke Gorlois's answer, everyone was astonished, for they knew nothing more than what had been said out loud, and could not imagine what could cause such a lack of courtesy. Then King Uther Pendragon said to all his counselors and barons, "This impudence cannot stand. I beg you, and charge you by the fealty you have worn to me, to aid me in redressing this dishonor that the duke has done."

They swore to support him, but some of the cooler heads begged him first to send formal warning to the duke and give him forty days to make some sort of reparation. To this the king, who perhaps did not wholly wish to go war over this, agreed. The messengers were sent back with this message.

Duke Gorlois in the meantime had been considering the options available to him. He only had two castles that were sufficiently fortified and prepared against the kind of force that the king could muster, the castle of Dimilioc and the castle of Tintagel at Trevena. Of the two, Castle Tintagel was the greater and had the more defensible location, and therefore he put his wife and his daughters there, with a special bodyguard of ten knights, while he prepared to defend his lands from the forward castle of Dimilioc; lands that neither Dimilioc nor Tintagel could adequately defend, he regarded as if they were already in Uther's hands, for he could not stretch his forces so thinly as to defend them all.

At the end of the forty days, having received no answer, the Pendragon gathered his forces in the Duke's territory and began to lay it waste. The key question of strategy, however, was whether Dimilioc or Tintagel should receive the brunt of the invading force. Most of the barons agreed that Dimilioc was the better choice, but the king, still unsure, asked Sir Ulfius.

"I do not understand," said Sir Ulfius. "Do you think that we would fare better if we seized Tintagel first, perhaps because the duke will not expect it?"

"I think that I do not know what I will do if I do not see Igraine," said the king, for his scouts had brought him the news that Igraine was at Tintagel.

Sir Ulfius replied, "Men must endure not having what they cannot have. Our concern in this present matter is the Duke of Trevena, and you must let nothing distract you from the aim of defeating him."

With a sigh, the king agreed to this, and his forces assaulted the fortress of Dimilioc.

Chapter 16

While Dimilioc was not so advantageous a position as Tintagel, it had been built well and was well stocked. The king assaulted it many times with sappers and siege towers, but each time the defenders were able to repulse the assault. The king grew furious, and distressed from the fact that it seemed that meeting Igraine again was farther and farther away. At times, when alone in his pavilion, he would weep. He attempted to hide it from his men, but such a thing cannot be wholly hid in a camp, and the people around him were greatly puzzled. Finally Sir Ulfius came to him and demanded to know his sorrow.

"You already know it, my friend," said the king; "I am so full of love for Igraine that I am now dying. I cannot eat, I cannot drink, I cannot do anything."

"You would have to have an extraordinarily weak heart to die from love for only one woman," said Sir Ulfius. "Nonetheless, I will tell you what you must do, if you are so serious about it. Send for Merlin and if you promise to give him whatever he wishes, he will no doubt give you the solution to your problem."

Then King Uther said, "It is true that there is nothing that the child cannot do. But he surely knows my distress already, and I am afraid his angry at me for having given permission to try the perilous seat at the Round Table. Nor do I know where he is. And will he not be angry at me for loving the wife of a liegeman? I cannot send for him."

To which Sir Ulfius replied, "I do not know whether Merlin is angry or not, but I know that he has in the past shown love and favor toward you. I am certain you will soon hear tidings of him."

The knight left the king, wondering whether he might not find Merlin himself. As he was riding on another errand, he came across a man by the side of the road, who shouted, "Sir Ulfius, I would like to speak to you."

Sir Ulfius looked at him closely, but did not know him. But the knight went over beside the man and dismounted, asking him what he wished to say.

"I am an old man," said the man, "a very old man, an ancient man, as you see with your own eyes, but I was considered wise even when I was a child, and I think I am no fool now. Not long ago I was near Tintagel and I met someone who told me that your king loves the duke's wife, and is now destroying the country for her. If you will aid me, I will acquaint you with this person, who I believe can aid you."

Sir Ulfius was surprised, and, wondering somewhat, he asked that the man acquaint him with this person who knew something so secret.

The old man said, "Well and good, but I wish first to hear what gift the king would offer in return."

"I will ask," said Sir Ulfius. "Where shall I find you when I have his answer?"

"In this vicinity," said the old man; "if you return soon, either I or my messenger will be here."

Sir Ulfius returned to the king with what haste he could, and told him everything that had happened.

"Do you know this man?" asked the king.

"No," said Sir Ulfius, "but I suspect that the person of whom he speaks might be Merlin."

Then, after Mass in the morning, the king and Sir Ulfius rode out together, and the king was merrier than he had been in a long time. 

They had not ridden long when they passed a man both lame and blind on the road, who shouted after them, "Sir King! I beg you, give me something, so that I may pray in thanks for you, and, God willing, you may accomplish all your heart's desire."

Then King Uther Pendragon laughed and, looking at Sir Ulfius, he said, "They do say that the prayers of those in need go up to God. Will you do me a favor, Sir Ulfius?" Sir Ulfius of course assented, and the king continued. "Then go back to that cripple and sit beside him; tell him I have sent you to him to assist him, if he thinks he can accomplish my desire."

So Sir Ulfius did as he was asked, turning back to go and sit beside the man both blind and lame. When the man heard and felt Sir Ulfius sit near, he asked him what he wanted.

"The king has sent me to assist you," said Sir Ulfius, "so that by your prayer he may accomplish his heart's desire."

The lame man laughed. "The king is swifter of mind than you are," he said. "I was sent by the old man that you met before. Go back to the king and say that he will meet him soon."

When Sir Ulfius returned to the king, the king said, "Have I not sent you to the crippled man, to assist him?"

"And so I do," said Sir Ulfius. "He has sent me to tell you that you will soon meet the old man I had met before."

"I have no doubt of it," said the king, "for it is clear that the lame man and the old man you met before are the same man, and both are Merlin, going and coming as he pleases."

While the knight and the king were out riding, the child Merlin came to the king's tent and asked where he was. So they sent out messengers to let the king know that Merlin awaited him at his tent, and King Uther Pendragon therefore returned to camp. And the king ran to Merlin with great joy, arms open wide, and embraced the child. 

Merlin said to Sir Ulfius, "You see that, as I said, he is swifter of mind than you, since he knew so quickly that I was both the old man and the lame one."

Sir Ulfius did not respond, but said to the king, "You should let him know of your problem."

And the king replied, "Do you think he does not already know my heart?" But he said to Merlin, "I beg you, help me to have the love of Igraine, for without it I will die."

"I do not understand this," said the child. "Such a desire is surely not good and should just be cast aside. That way you may avoid the snares of the devil."

"How can I cast aside what is part of my very depths?" asked King Uther.  "Tell me how to have the love of Igraine and I will give you whatever you want."

"You should promise no one to give what they want until you know what they want," replied Merlin. "But you are the King David of this age, and I will accept your offer. You shall have Igraine's love, and I shall have in return what I want. You must swear it by a holy oath."

So King Uther Pendragon had the reliquaries and Gospels brought, and the king and the knight swore on relic and book that they should honor the agreement.

Then the child said, "Your lady is true to God and to her lord. But get your armies ready for battle, which they will surely fight tomorrow without you, for we shall ride out, and I shall give you an appearance of the duke, so perfect in resemblance that his own mother would swear that you are he. And Sir Ulfius and I shall take the form of his closest counselors; I shall be Sir Brastias and Sir Ulfius shall be Sir Jordanus.  In that guise we will find easy entry; it will lie with you to convince the lady, which is an art I do not have. If you do not succeed at it, we will have to take more tangled paths, but you will have the lady's love in the end."

Chapter 17

In the morning, King Uther, Sir Ulfius, and Merlin rode out, and when they were near to Tintagel, Merlin gave to the king and the knight each an herb they had never seen. "Rub this on your face and hands," he said. They both did so, and when they were done, lo! King Uther Pendragon looked exactly like Duke Gorlois and Sir Ulfius looked exactly like Sir Jordanus. Merlin, too, in the twinkling of an eye took on the appearance of Sir Brastias. Then they waited until the night was near to falling and rode to the gates of Tintagel. Merlin shouted to the ostiary, and when the ostiary peeked out, he saw Sir Brastias and Sir Jordanus accompanying the duke, so they opened the gates.

"We are on a mission of secrecy," Merlin in the form of Sir Brastias said to the porters. "Do not let the report of the duke's return be rumored abroad."

The King Uther Pendragon in the form of Duke Gorlois went up to the chambers of Igraine, where they made merry with wine and dinner, and Igraine was greatly delighted, because she thought the king to be her duke.

But late in the night, news spread around that the Duke of Trevena had died in battle, and came soon to the town. When the porters of the castle Tintagel heard about it, they passed it on to the stewards, who ran up to the bedchambers.

"Arise, lord!" they said. "There is a rumor going around that you have died, and you must quickly make clear that it is false."

And King Uther in the form of Duke Gorlois leaped up and took leave of Igraine, and with Merlin in the form of Sir Brastias and Sir Ulfius in the form of Sir Jordanus rode out of the castle.

Then Merlin said to the king, "Do you agree that I have kept my part of the covenant?"

And the king replied, "I do, and I will keep my own part, on my crown."

"You have engendered a son on Igraine by your actions," said the child, for he took his own form again. "You will give him to me at the time I ask him of you."

"So be it," sad the king.

They soon came to a river where Sir Ulfius and the king washed off the semblances of Sir Jordanus and Duke Gorlois,. Then they returned to camp, which was in a state of excitement because Duke Gorlois, having received information from an unknown source that the king was not with his army, had assaulted them, thinking that they would be unprepared, and had died in the battle. He had fought well, but been thrown from his horse into the midst of the infantry and was overwhelmed, for while the mounted knights would have spared him for his noble office and person, the foot soldiers did not know who he was.

And King Uther Pendragon, having thus defeated the Duke Gorlois of Trevena, was somber and pensive at the news of the duke's death. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

When Sometime Lofty Towers I See Down-Razed

 Sonnet 64
by William Shakespeare 

 When I have seen by Time's fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

A Poem Draft and a Poem Re-Draft


Down the wilderness ways of life
the northeastern wind is blowing;
crowned with light, it shows the way,
the path to paradise glowing.

Winds that stand at the final gate
with back-and-forth are flowing,
bending through the labyrinth paths,
bright beacons for the knowing.

St. Erkenwald 

Erkenwald was bishop, under Augustine, of London;
a holy man, he taught Christ's path and high truths of New Law.
The Christians in his day tore down a temple of old ways
to build a fair church in which they, Christ's Temple, might worship.
Rough and merry masons gladly sang hymns as they hewed stones.
The pick-men in plenty bent their backs without stopping.
As they mined, a swift murmur went up at a great marvel:
their picks found an ancient tomb and a coffin of marble,
like for a king, lettered around with strange script in bright gold.
Astonished, a great crowd gathered and grew to catch a glimpse,
laborers, lads, maidens, the mayor and the sacristan,
all amazed at this ancestral splendor brought to their sight.
Curious but cautious, they carefully lifted the lid,
eager to see what splendor might under that cover lay.
All the sides were gold, but at the bottom was a body,
a man in suit of gold and pearl with a bright golden belt,
a miniver mantle, and on his head a crafted crown.
He held a scepter, and the cloths were of brightest colors.
But the greatest wonder was that his flesh was clear and fresh,
ruddy with life as if he had just lain down or fallen.
The people said, "A king he must be, but what is his tale?
We have not heard it told; it is not in our traditions."
Erkenwald, hearing the story, soon came down to that place;
beside the body, all night, the primate knelt in prayer.
The next morning the holy man prepared to sing the Mass,
then after holy Mass he processed with the town's mayor
and a great mass of people to the great ancestral tomb.
"By ourselves we surely cannot know the truth of this tale,"
the bishop said; "we must to God, whose wisdom knows no bounds."
Then he spoke to the corpse, that it would answer as he bade.
The body stirred, responding with a reply deep and sad:
"Bishop, you adjured me by Christ; His command I will serve.
I was but a lawyer who spoke the law; I was made judge,
then master of judges. I sought to render true justice
according to the pagan laws of my pagan people,
though a mighty war arose between powerful princes.
I kept the forms and held the rites; I sought to teach virtue.
Many vile harms I endured when the people turned vicious.
My conscience I would not corrupt for any mortal man,
but tried for rich and poor to judge each case on its merit.
At my death, the people of New Troy with bitter tears wept,
and they clothed my corpse like a relic to honor my ways:
gold cloth for honesty, crown for eminence, and for right
they set in my hand a scepter like that of one who rules."
"This is not the whole tale," said the bishop; "the cloth remains,
pure and untattered, while your skin is glowing and ruddy,
and the colors in your coffin are like none we have seen."
"You know, O bishop, that this is God's work," the body said,
"for God loves a just man greatly, and thus has let me last."
"This is not the whole tale," said the bishop; "what of your soul?
The just and incorrupt rise to God, says the Psalmist,
and surely to the just he will give some measure of grace,
so tell us what was given to your pagan soul by God."
Then the man moaned, and said, "O God, great is your mercy!
Heathen in a heathen age, I did not know your sweet might.
The Lamb's holy blood did not redeem me; I lacked Christ's help,
could only hold to the right with a strength merely human.
When Christ harrowed hell, I was left to wander in limbo,
rewarded but damned, and pining in never-ending dark,
unilluminated by baptism in life and in death."
The people wept, and, unspeaking, sobbing, the bishop wept.
Then after prayer, he said, "I will bring holy water
and baptize you with proper rite and form and holy words;
perhaps God has kept you that you might now enter his way,
and if not, there is no harm; at least you have our prayers."
Sprinkling the corpse with water and word, the holy primate
continued to weep; his tears also baptized the body.
Then the corpse said, "O holy Erkenwald, may you be blessed!
By word and water and tears a sacrament was given,
and from the first drop I received the endless grace of God."
With that, he spoke no more, as he crumbled to dust.
The people marveled that God had manifested this deed;
they lifted praise and sweet worship to God with hands held high
and, weeping but merry, they returned to their own houses.
In honor of the new stone in Christ's Temple they rejoiced
and in thanks the bells of the city were loud and ringing.