Saturday, July 15, 2023


 Today is the feast of St. Bonaventure, Doctor of the Church. From the Breviloquium, Part V, Chapter 10:

Therefore it should be noted that Holy Scripture proposes for our consideration a sevenfold series of sevens: the capital sins, the sacraments, the virtues, the gifts, the beatitudes, the petitions, and, as will appear later, the endowments of glory -- three of the soul and four of the body. First, the seven capital sins, from which we must withdraw; secondly, the seven sacraments, by means of which we must grow; last, the seven endowments of glory, to which we must aspire; next to the last, the seven petitions, with which we must seek; and, as intermediary stages, the groups of seven virtues, gifts, and beatitudes through which we must progress. Thus, praising the name of the Lord and praying to him seven times a day, we may obtain the sevenfold grace of these virtues, gifts, and beatitudes, thereby overcoming the sevenfold assault of the capital sins and so attain the sevenfold crown of the endowments of glory, with the aid of the sevenfold sacramental medicine divinely instituted for the restoration of humankind.

[Bonaventure, Breviloquium, Monti, ed. and tr., Franciscan Institute Publications (Saint Bonaventure, NY: 2005) pp. 209-210.]

A Legitimate Ambition

And, if it be in your power, bear serenely with imitators. My Jungle Books begat Zoos of them. But the genius of all the genii was one who wrote a series called Tarzan of the Apes. I read it, but regret I never saw it on the films, where it rages most successfully. He had ‘jazzed’ the motif of the Jungle Books and, I imagine, had thoroughly enjoyed himself. He was reported to have said that he wanted to find out how bad a book he could write and ‘get away with,’ which is a legitimate ambition.

Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself, Chapter VIII.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Dashed Off XXIII

 Plausibility is not linear, there are different modes of plausibility.

True and false are not species of probability.

interplay of immanent and transitive acts in art

An ecclesia is not a happenstance grouping but a formally constituted body to which people are summoned.

persons as known by relations and removal of relations (thi sis proper, i.e., identifying knowledge)
kinds of these proper notions
-- (1) removal of relation
-- (2) to and from relations (orderings)
-- (3) with relations (sharings)

Trinitarian appropriation is based on the reduplication of essential acts as notional acts. (White has good discussion of this reduplication.)

pantheism as confusing the divine moral, jural, and sacral personality (in dominion and the referentiality of creation to the divine) with the divine person metaphysically considered.
-- thus the confusion of sign and thing, exemplate and exemplar, effect and cause, expresser and expressed

spark -> network -> instrumentalities
(growth of a movement in the most basic form)

material quasi-exemplar
-- we appeal to this when dealing with remains and traces. Imagine a wall with writing on it that lasts for centuries; the original wall and writing is the material quasi-exemplar. As time goes on, it deteriorates; the different stages of this are material quasi-exemplates. They aren't literally exemplates because they are the same thing. But we can treat them like exemplates because of the analogy betwene continuity and transmission -- the original state is like the original manuscript that results in a series of copies; the later states are like increasingly deficient copies.

Given connections in our experiences, we seek deeper connections. We are always with a connection-ward momentum.

constellations as beings of reason conventionally constituted by particularly selected apparent spatial relations organized by the relation of likeness

unconditional love requires an object unconditionally lovable

"A consent of ages and nations, of the learned and vulgar, ought, at least, to have great authority, unless we can shew some prejudice as universal as that consent is, which might be the cause of it." Reid

Signs are of objects in a respect, objects are things in a respect.

Human reason requires not merely arguments but narrative plots.

understanding as a kind of acting on behalf of (in the name of) the thing understood

Pop music is dominated by C major, D major, and G major, because of their use of use for both piano and guitar, the two dominant pop instruments. Digital music, however, has begun a flattening process : more indifference to key, fewer dramatic key changes.

God as universal pertinent

Every proposition that is Box is free from error to the extent that it is Box, in the way that it is Box. Thsu Box that is temporal is free from time-based deviation as a source of error, etc., and Not-Box-Not is the introduction of ways the proposition can be wrong.

verum factum as the foundation of all liberal arts

liability for intentional harm involves four things
(1) duty
(2) causation
(3) damages
(4) breach of duty

the 'reasonable person' is a legal 'diagram', related to what can be accounted for in a decision

Despite what some may think, cost-benefit analysis is often highly dependent on intuitive feel for assessing what is a cost and what is a benefit. These are determined relative to our model of a reasonable person's judgment of cost and benefit.

legislatures as customary ways of modifying custom

a reasonable person (as a legal construct)
(1) acts legally
(2) acts safely
(3) acts effectively
(4) acts adaptively
(5) acts in view of the perspective of other reasonable people

Annunciation: Mary as metaphysical, moral, jural, and sacral Mother of God, moral Mother of the Church
Crucifixion: Mary as jural Mother of the Church
Assumption: Mary as sacral Mother of the Church

reconciliation : removes sin from sinner :: eucharist : removes sinner from sin

Symbolic means of guidance and persuasion are not very precise but over a long period they can be very powerful.

It is an important lesson of physics that you can establish something as true even if you don't know what it means or what its qualifications/limitations are.

'It is probable that what is true is probable' vs. 'It is probable that what is probable is true'

"We can never conceive that a man's duty goes beyond his power, or that his power goes beyond what depends upon his will." Reid
"Every indication of wisdom, taken from the effect, is equally an indication of power to execute what wisdom planned."

Every medical issue is also a moral issue, sometimes indirectly but often directly.

the aleatory aspect of education

Pr 13:22 as a principle of tradition

Something is called 'potentia', power or capability, relatively; when that which is called so is not contrary to act, it is called active power, and when it is contrary to act, it is called passive power.

the schools of prophets as the incorporation of the shamanic into the dispensation of Torah

the human person as having by nature a shamanic quality

Fr. Peter Totleben on 'evangelizing catechesis'
(1) propaedeutic: opening people to transcendence
(2) evangelizing catechesis proper
--- (a) proclamation
--- --- (1) kerygmatic proclamation
--- --- (2) apologia
--- (b) participation
--- --- (1) meeting the mystery in adoration, contemplation, worship, and liturgy
--- --- (2) meeting the mystery as lived out in Christian community
--- (c) mystagogy

the forms of bad influence: corruption of character, obfuscation of truth, separation from good

You cannot do legitimate cost/benefit analysis unless you ahve first calibrated on how a reasonable person would assess costs and benefits.

"Society in judgment, of those who are esteemed fair and competent judges, has effects very similar to those of civil society: it gives strength and courage to every individual; it removes that timidity which is as naturally the companion of solitary judgment, as of a solitary man in the state of nature." Reid

Reasoning is fundamentally co-reasoning.

fandoms as constructed microcultures (but notice that fans pre-exist fandoms)

churches in the US as modes of religious freedom (in the context of civil society)

church edifices and liturgical gospels as moral persons (in particular, each is a persona moralis non-collegiales)

About 3/4 of Matthew has parallel in Luke; about 3/4 of Luke has parallel in Matthew, roughly.

the human being as relatively primary mover; as relatively primary maker; as relatively necessary being; as relatively a source of being, goodness, nobility, and other perfections; as relatively directing intelligence

We construct counterfactuals by considering causal powers.

Democratic politics is the politics of distraction.

Every age lauds some vices and condemns others; the best societies we make are not saintly, having a strong vicious streak, like any other; what makes them best is a sense of proportion, not lauding terrible vices and not treating minor vices as great evils. There are societies that will encourage depravity and depradation, but treat rudeness or the like as damnable offenses that give others a permission to destroy; those are the societies to avoid most.

All higher animals in some sense see the future, in that they are always already anticipating what is not yet, and acting in light of it; present action forms in a pond of extrapolations.

arguments as vocations to a greater coherence

the principiation that is one with procession

People often confuse love-with-reasonable-conditions and unconditional love.

"Culture is shared analogies." Guy Davenport

Society is not built merely on trust but on shared trust.

Charity does not subserve the purpose of dialogue; it is not a rhetorical tactic.

Whether something should be legal or illegal is always context-dependent.

Highly influential technologies tend to be cheap and multi-use, facilitating adoption in a lot of different populations.

the privity of a promise and mediated privity

Negligence is always relative to what is reasonable.

There has never been a time in which medicine has not had a religious tinge.

"When the State gives, it will always take. The Quid pro quo in Christian Legislation is Imperial Prerogative." Newman

The State, unlike the Church, is very temporally and locally bound; the Church does not play opposite to or as the complement of the State, but interacts with many different States at many different times/places.

Matthew 5:20 explains the point of the sections that follow it, which give examples, rather than an exhaustive checklist.

When we are subject to gravity, we are not refraining from levitation.

Continually doubling down in argument, as in gambling, will eventually leave you bankrupt.

Elections as measurement devices are not precise; a large election even well-run may not be accurate to more than a thousand or more, given accidentally botched ballots, confusion of names, bad instructions, judgment calls in how to count, etc.

"The real ground for the 'liberal' or 'democratic' devotion to freedom was a religious love of a God who set an absolute value on every individual human being. Free speech and free inquiry concerning political and scentific questions; free consent in issues arising out of economic activity; free enjoyment of the produce won by a man's labour -- the opposite of all tyranny and oppression, exploitation and robbery -- these were ideals based in the infinite dignity or worth of the human individual; and on the fact that God loved the human individual and Christ had died for him." Collingwood

It is a peculiarity of pseudo- and semi-intellectuals of the chatty classes that they think the book version of something is always the most authentic version of it. Regardless of what people in a movement actually believe, for instance, they'll take even a loon's version in a book as the real version, if the real version weren't also put in a book they had come across.

Harms and benefits are not all of one kind. Some are deeply personal, some closely linked, some indirect. It makes some sense to maximize deeply personal benefits for everyon, or minimize deeply personal harms; it makes no sense to maximize indirect benefits or minimize indirect harms unless deeply personal or closely linked cases are already handled. The great flaw of utilitarianisms of all kinds is not recognizing that welfare or happiness is not a mass but a structure, and thus not distinguishing the central from the peripheral, the fundamental from the superficial, the personal from the circumstantial.

Contracts get their authority and sanctity from the highest tribunal before which they exist.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Knowledge, Virtue, and Liberty

Richard Price, an important eighteenth-century moral philosopher, was born in 1723, so February was the three-hundredth anniversary of his birth. From A Discourse on the Love of Our Country:

Liberty is the next great blessing which I have mentioned as the object of patriotic zeal. It is inseparable from knowledge and virtue, and together with them completes the glory of a community. An enlightened and virtuous country must be a free country. It cannot suffer invasions of its rights, or bend to tyrants.—I need not, on this occasion, take any pains to shew you how great a blessing liberty is. The smallest attention to the history of past ages, and the present state of mankind, will make you sensible of its importance. Look round the world, and you will find almost every country, respectable or contemptible, happy or miserable, a fruitful field or a frightful waste, according as it possesses or wants this blessing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

And the Sun Sank Upon the Fallen Foe!

 The Plain of Rephidim
by Mrs. G. G. Richardson

The hosts of Amalek are on the plain;
 Israel's selected strength, by Joshua led,
 Join battle with the mighty-nor in vain!
 A mightier arm unseen is o'er them spread;-- 
Yet seem'd the issue doubtful, giant Power
 Full-fed and godless, Ruthlessness and Pride,
Were the fierce weapons of their darken'd hour,
Who there, the Chosen of the Lord defied!

 Moses, the people's priest, ascends the hill,
 Divinely taught, and as he holds on high
 The rod, Prayer's symbol, the invaders still
 Are smitten back, or dying fall, or fly; 

But long the contest-and when nature fails,
 And droop in weariness his aged hands,
 Lo! o'er the battle Amalek prevails,
 And driven like scatter'd clouds are Israel's bands;

 So Hur and Aaron, rang'd on either side,
 Like Friendship strengthening Piety, bestow
 Their kindly aid his arms to prop and guide,
 And the sun sank upon the fallen foe!

The battle of the Plain of Rephidim is described in Exodus 17 and Deuteronomy 25:17. Mrs. G. G. Richardson is the name that Caroline Eliza Richardson (whose name may actually have been Catherine Eliza Richardson) almost always used in publication. Her poems were not particularly well received by critics -- the evaluations mostly ranged from dismissal to damning with faint praise although every so often a critic would praise her -- but they sold moderately well, and quite steadily. She's almost forgotten today, but I think she's an underappreciated poet.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

On Irwin on the Eucharist

 Kevin Irwin has an article at America that gives a good example of the problems that arise when theologians do not think through what they say before they say them:

The first teaching (“canon”) about the Eucharist from the 16th-century Council of Trent states that the Eucharist contains (the Latin is “contineri”) “truly, really and substantially, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ together with the soul and divinity, and therefore the whole Christ.” The teaching from Trent never says that the Eucharist is “the real presence of Jesus.” It always uses the term “body of Christ.” 

 To describe the Eucharist as the “body of Jesus” or “the real presence of Jesus” would be too limiting to the historical body and earthly reality of the Word made flesh and the incarnate Son of God. The “body of Christ” refers to the entirety of the mystery of the totality of Christ: his whole earthly ministry and also his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand to intercede for us in heaven. The Eucharist is the real presence of this body of Christ, not Jesus only.

This, of course, is gibberish; 'Christ' is a titular name for Jesus, and therefore 'Christ' and 'Jesus' have the same referent. This is why Trent explicitly says that the Eucharist contains "the body...of our Lord Jesus Christ", which quite clearly and explicitly tells us that it is talking about the body of Jesus, who is both our Lord and the Christ. This is unsurprising, since the whole thing is based on Jesus breaking the bread and saying "This is my body", in which 'my' clearly has to mean 'Jesus's'. 'Body of Christ' does not refer "to the entire  mystery of the totality of Christ"; it very explicitly refers to the body of Christ. This is why it quite clearly has to tell us that it's not just the body but the blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Trent quite explicitly tells us, in other words, that the real presence is of OUR LORD, JESUS THE CHRIST, in BODY, BLOOD, SOUL, AND DIVINITY. It does not ever use 'Christ' in contrast to 'Jesus'; it does not use 'body of Christ' in the nonrestrictive way Irwin does to refer to the whole mystery on its own. For someone who makes a great hubbub about the importance of not changing the words of magisterial teaching, Irwin bends over backwards to try to make those words mean what they quite clearly do not mean and to deny that they mean what they quite clearly do mean. 

Irwin is correct that the Roman Missal generally avoids using the name 'Jesus' without a modifier; but that's because the Mass is a formal situation, and so we use honorific titles, especially the two titles most closely associated with our actual worship, Lord and Christ. If in a formal situation I call Kevin Irwin, "Monsignor Irwin" or "Reverend Irwin", I am not distinguishing the referent from when I call him "Kevin Irwin"; I am just referring to him honorifically.

Like many, Irwin forgets that the Council of Trent is not the only general council to speak on the topic of the Eucharist. Fourth Lateran tells us:

There is indeed one universal church of the faithful, outside of which nobody at all is saved, in which Jesus Christ is both priest and sacrifice. His body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine, the bread and wine having been changed in substance, by God’s power, into his body and blood, so that in order to achieve this mystery of unity we receive from God what he received from us.

"We receive from God what he received from us." Did He receive from us the "entire mystery of the totality of Christ: his whole earthly ministry and also his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand to intercede for us in heaven"? No, he did not. He received from us His body and blood, which is why we say the body and blood are truly contained under the forms of bread and wine, the bread and wine having been changed in substance into his body and blood. Does either Fourth Lateran or Trent tell us that the bread and wine were changed into the "his whole earthly ministry and also his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand to intercede for us in heaven"? No, they do not, and we would have no idea what they meant if they did, because we struggle enough in trying to wrap our minds around the bread becoming the body of our Lord, and don't have even the beginning of an inkling of what it would mean to say that it was changed into his earthly ministry and ascension into heaven. 

What is true, of course, is that Christ's body, blood, soul, and divinity are united in his person, so that if the body of Christ is present, the blood, soul, and divinity of Christ are also present, because all of these belong to one Christ. What is true is that the Christ who is present on the altar is the one born of the Virgin Mary, given the name 'Jesus', who preached and healed and suffered and died and rose and ascended to the Father's right hand. But neither of these have the implications that Irwin seems to be assuming. Jesus is the Christ, and when we say 'the body of Christ' we are referring to the body of Christ, who is Jesus.

Thinke on Thy Home, My Soule, and Thinke Aright

 No Trust in Time
by William Drummond 

Looke how the flowre which lingringlie doth fade,
The morning's darling late, the summer's queene,
Spoyl'd of that iuice which kept it fresh and greene,
As high as it did raise, bowes low the head:
Right so my life, contentments beeing dead,
Or in their contraries but onelie seene,
With swifter speede declines than earst it spred,
And, blasted, scarce now showes what it hath beene.
As doth the pilgrime therefore whom the night
By darknesse would imprison on his way,
Thinke on thy home, my soule, and thinke aright
Of what yet restes thee of life's wasting day:
Thy sunne postes westward, passed is thy morne,
And twice it is not giuen thee to bee borne.

Monday, July 10, 2023

The Position of Clement

 The very first extant list of of the first Bishops of Rome that we have is that of St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 3.3.3):

The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spake with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the apostolical tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus.

We have the letter of St. Clement to which Irenaeus refers, which does say what Irenaeus says, although these things are not particularly singled out (Irenaeus is focusing on them because his point is that already with Clement we have a clear expression of the tradition that Gnostics deny or treat as a superficial guise for their views). Irenaeus had been to Rome, and had fairly good connections to it, so our best early list of the first bishops of Rome is: St. Linus, St. Anacletus, St. Clement.

Tertullian, who knew the Roman traditions, tells us this (Praescr. Haer. 32):

But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men, — a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter.

So Tertullian seems to suggest that Clement was ordained as bishop of Rome directly by Peter.

The fourth century Liberian Catalog gives us a different order: Linus, Clement, Cletus. But the Liberian Catalog does not seem to be very reliable.

Also in the fourth century, Jerome gives us the view of things as they were understood then (De Vir. Ill. 15):

Clement, of whom the apostle Paul writing to the Philippians says “With Clement and others of my fellow-workers whose names are written in the book of life," the fourth bishop of Rome after Peter, if indeed the second was Linus and the third Anacletus, although most of the Latins think that Clement was second after the apostle.

So Jerome tells us that the general Latin view was that Clement followed directly after Peter, but recognizes that there is a tradition in which he is third after Linus and Anacletus.

One of the things that probably trips us up a bit is in assuming that things were originally divided up as they are today. This is sometimes put as a denial that the primitive church had a "monarchical episcopacy", but this is an extremely misleading way of stating things; the phrase doesn't usually seem to mean anything, and we know that if we take it to mean 'one bishop to a city', this rule wasn't formally imposed until the First Council of Nicaea, although for purely practical reasons this was already the state of things by then in most parts of the Empire (and outside it).  Bishops are heads of communities, and nothing actually requires that a city have only one territorial bishop (outside of practical convenience and, after Nicaea, canon law) because nothing requires that it be organized as only one community. The reason for saying all of this is that the Liber Pontificalis (which was first compiled, probably, in the fifth century, although it seems to have been heavily revised at times since) gives us an account that includes both traditions and seems to have something like this in view. Speaking of Peter, it says:

He ordained two bishops, Linus and Cletus, who in person fulfilled all the service of the priest in the city of Rome for the inhabitants and for strangers; then the blessed Peter gave himself to prayer and preaching, instructing the people....

He consecrated blessed Clement and committed to him the government of the see and all the church, saying: "As unto me was delivered by my Lord Jesus Christ the power to govern and to bind and loose, so also I commit it unto thee that thou mayest ordain stewards over diverse matters who will carry onward the work of the church, and mayest thyself not become engrossed with the cares of the world, but mayest strive to give thyself solely to prayer and preaching to the people."

Thus the Liber Pontificalis seems to envisage a scenario in which Rome had a period in which there were at least two and possibly three bishops of Rome, not counting Peter himself, who as apostle was above them all, but that they had different functions. Linus and Cletus oversaw the spiritual needs of the people of the city (possibly with Linus devoted to residents and Cletus devoted to pilgrims and travelers), and then at some point -- it makes it sound like it was a later arrangement -- gave authority over Rome to Clement. However, while the work lists Linus and Cletus, it makes clear that it accepts the tradition that Clement was first after Peter:

Therefore Linus and Cletus are recorded before him for the reason that they were ordained bishops also by the chief of the apostles to perform the priestly ministry.

Thus, Clement is the first in line after Peter, but Linus and Cletus are bishops charged with lesser duties, who seem to get an honorary placement, presumably because they were bishops of Rome ordained before Clement, although they were not like Clement the successor of Peter.

This solves the problem of whether Clement was first or third quite neatly. It does so in a way that suggests a much earlier tradition, since if it were not based on something earlier, one might expect (as happened later) a simplification of the list without this complicated "Linus and Cletus are first, but not actually first" bit. It's even a solution that has a great deal of plausibility both in itself and insofar as it would explain the divergent traditions, but we don't know much about the sources the Liber Pontificalis used, or how far back this idea actually goes, and one could perhaps argue that this is the author's attempt to try to reconcile two different traditions.

In any case, this seems to be the lay of the land as far as the textual evidence goes.

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Fortnightly Book, July 9

 James Justinian Morier (1782-1849) was a member of the British diplomatic service, involved in the diplomatic mission to Iran during the Qajar dynasty. He also spent some time serving as secretary to Mirza Abolhassan Khan Ilchi during his trip to England, and tried -- futilely -- to convince Ilchi to let him translate his journal of the trip. Morier eventually published his own journals, but his tendency toward sarcasm seems to have irritated more than few Persians, including perhaps Ilchi himself, so due to Persian objections, Morier ended up being passed over for diplomatic post for which he had hoped. (His career in the diplomatic mission was fairly unimpressive, so that may also have been a factor.) It seems to have been at this time that he wrote the work with which his name has ever since been associated, The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan (1824), which will be the next fortnightly book. It is a scathing satire of Persian culture during the Qajar dynasty, and the Iranian government lodged a formal protest over the work. It wasn't an instant bestsellter in England, but it sold, and continued to sell, and was read more and more widely. It eventually became standard reading for the diplomatic mission to Iran; Westerners are particularly susceptible to the temptation of thinking that there is some text out there that when read unlocks the secret to a foreign culture. In any case, the English-speaking world loved the book. He wrote a sequel that tried to tone down the harshness of the criticism of Persian culture and give the English themselves a bit of a satirical look, but nobody seems to have been convinced and it has never been regarded as highly. 

However surprising it may be, the book had Iranian interest; some Iranians read it in French translation, and there were attempts here and there to make a translation of it into Farsi. The Persian translation was finally published by the poet Mirza Habib Isfahani (who himself had been forced to leave Iran due to satirizing government figures) in 1905. Isfahani's translation is widely seen as a work of art in itself, and it was a big hit among reformers and westernizers in Persian society, who saw in Isfahani's version of Morier's satire a thorough critique of the things that frustrated them about the Persian culture of their day. Becoming a Persian classic is an unexpected end for a book about how Persia is filled with dishonest rascals, published by a mediocre English diplomat in fit of pique against the Persian government, but such is the history of literature.

The version I am reading is from my grandfather's library. Surprisingly, it's not a Heritage Press edition; there was one, but mine is older. It's a 1937 Book-of-the-Month Club edition by Random House. The title page gives full (and justified) honors to the artist, Cyrus Le Roy Baldridge, who designed the whole book, giving it a multitude of extremely diverse illustrations. The cover is a reproduction, printed on buckram, of what looks like an oil painting. The print is English Monotype Bell on wove paper. The book also has a preface by Christopher Morley.

Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil


Opening Passage:

That long, long path over the moors and into the forest, who has trodden it? Man, a human being, the first one who came here. There was no path before him. Later a few animals followed the faint tracks over the heaths and moors and made them clearer, and stil later a few Lapps began to nose out the path and to use it when theyw ere going from one mountain to another to see to their reindeer. This is how the path through the great common, the no-man's-land owned by no one, came into being.

A man comes walking north. He carries a sack, the first sack, containing provisions for the road and some implements.... (p. 3)

Summary: Isak heads out into the northern wilderness of Norway. The book is deliberately inexact about where, but the references indicate some remote part of Nordland, at least a day away from any standing Norwegian settlements; it is also inexact about when, but it would have to be somewhere around the mid nineteent-century. There he basically squats on a very nice piece of land and starts a farm. He is soon enough joined by a woman, Inger, who has a harelip but is exceptionally competent. Eventually the state takes notice, and the Lensmand ('Sheriff' in the Penguin translation) comes by; his name is Geissler, and he informs them that they are on state land. However, he helps them to buy it from the state, on quite excellent terms. The farm gets its official name of Sellanrå. Geissler is eventually removed from his official position, and vows to get back at those who had failed to appreciate him, but he always remains on good terms with Isak and Inger. As time goes on, more people slowly arrive and an actual community builds, but Isak, having arrived first and working hard, and thanks to Geissler having a secure possession of a very large amount of very good land as well, is the first and foremost among them. The nearby mountains turn out to have veins of copper, which brings miner and the boom-and-bust that mining inevitably brings, but Isak, like the tortoise in the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, keeps on being Isak. Again with Geissler's help, he makes a good chunk of money selling to the various mining companies, but lives almost wholly on his own hard work.

The Norwegian title, Markens Grøde, involves a sort of play on words; one could also translate it as 'Growth of the Frontier', since the word for 'soil' is actually related to the English words 'mark' and 'march', and like them can mean the land on the boundary of things. Isak is often referred to metaphorically as 'the margrave'. The book is a frontier novel, and is about a success story on the Norwegian frontier, one that serves as an emblem of all such success stories. Much of this aspect of the story I found particularly interesting. The frontier farmer was the modern form of the agricultural identity that was once central to Norwegian self-conception. I myself descend from Norwegian farmers, although farther south in age-old farming communities where the fields were cultivated by  Peter son of Olaf son of Peter son of Olaf -- all the way back, one would not be surprised to find, to the very beginning when even the south was a frontier. On a frontier many things can go wrong, and many do, but many things can go well, also, and there are very great successes on frontiers that serve as the foundation for civilization.

Other lines of the story I found of variable interest. There is a running them of infanticide throughout the book; two of the major events in the course of the story consist of women killing their children. I found most of this grating, in part because most of the characters in the book other than Geissler were not interesting enough in their own right, at least to me, to carry such drama. The infanticidal thread is treated mostly as if it were just part of the natural order, but the descriptions of liberal self-congratulation in their humane modern noncondemnation and even positive evaluation of the practice get very sarcastic, and they do so by means of Geissler, who is (as I note below) the one character who always sees the big picture. In Hamsun's own life, approval of infanticide was the one line he consistently refused to cross, and he shocked the literati of the day by his refusal to go along with the general sense of the sophisticated and respectable that it deserved compassion rather than condemnation. This is not a matter of compassion on Hamsun's part, as is no doubt obvious from the fact that he did not extend this attitude to any other class of person. Much of it, I think, is that Hamsun sees himself on the side of the people who actually build civilization rather than merely take advantage of it; if children die in the course of things, they die, but deliberately killing a child is throwing out everything the child can contribute to civilized life. Infanticide is literally the opposite of the growth of the frontier. Nonetheless, one also gets the impression that Hamsun sees it as just a hazard of life, in part because he seems to think that being infanticidal is one of the natural characteristics of women left to themselves.

There are many characters in the book -- which ends up extending somewhat beyond Isak and Inger to other settlers in the area -- but Geissler is easily the most interesting. He is a very clever man, although he seems a little attention deficit. One of his quirks is that in the middle of a discussion on one topic he'll stop and ask about a completely different subject, than return to the original topic almost immediately, and this summarizes his entire approach to the world. He had a reputation for being a very intelligent, very unreliable man, and he flits in and out of the story, always doing something and always doing something different, although nobody can ever figure exactly what. He seems to have an endless number of brands in the fire, and moves from one to another in the most erratic way. Nonetheless, as with his conversations, he never actually loses his way, and his revenge on the people in the district who didn't support him is as inevitable as it is slow in coming and indirect in execution. He is in fact always moving forward obliquely, and he carries along with him those, like Isak, who aren't opposed to him. He can handle so many ongoing projects, and can manage them to his benefit while constantly jumping around, because he is the only person who sees the big picture. This is indeed why nobody else can ever figure out what he is doing. Everybody else is farming for today; he makes his plans in light of what the mining company might do to the mountain years in the future. Everybody else is focusing on what goes on in their own little community; Geissler makes his plans based on what is happening with mines in Montana. There are necessarily many contributors to civilization, but the fundamental contributors to Norwegian civilization, the ones who make all the others possible, are the Isaks and the Geisslers.

Favorite Passage:

Isak understood the work, to carry on his trade. He was now a wealthy man with a large farm, but he made a poor use of the many cash payments chance had brought his way: he put them away. The backland saved him. If Isak had lived in the village, the world at large might have influenced even him a little; there were so many fine things, such genteel surroundings, that he would have bought unnecessary things and gone around in a red Sunday shirt every day. here in the backland he was protected against all excesses, living in clear air; he washed Sunday morning and bathed when he was up by the mountain lake. Those thousand dollars--well, a gift from heaven, every penny to be put away. What else? Isak could manage his ordinary expenses, and more, simply by selling the yield of his animals and the soil. (pp. 170-171)

Recommendation: Recommended if it comes your way, but you probably don't have to go out of your way for it unless you are studying the history of the novel. This book is brilliantly written, often (but unevenly) interesting, and not always particularly pleasant.


Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil, Lyngstad, tr., Penguin (New York: 2007).