Addendum to Pity Me Not When the Pop-Guns Pop

When the essays and addresses of Robert L. Dabney were being prepared for publication in the late 1880s, his editors asked the old Virginian whether he would like to suppress or revise some statements of theological and political opinions that had fallen out of fashion.  Dabney’s creed of pure Calvinism had been on the wane for decades, and even the South was washing its hands of Confederate apologia, so a politic man of Dabney’s years might have chosen to fudge the record and pass into history as a vaguely venerable worthy.  But Dabney was the exact opposite of a politic man.  In the words of his biographer, “he would not be swept . . . by the strongest winds and waves of the zeitgeistand “was consequently at war with much in his age.”  Dabney therefore scorned the proposal and answered his editors with this stinging rebuke:

“Do you like the plan of trimming a man whose life and work you would perpetuate, to suit your notions, and then handing the resultant down as if it were real?”*

What the editors had proposed was to preserve the name of Robert L. Dabney while they remodeled the man in their own image. Dabney was, no doubt, especially offended by the proposed swindle because it is precisely what Calvinists said politic men had done to the life and work of Jesus Christ.  They wanted to keep the brand but change the product, and Robert L. Dabney would have none of it.

The defenders of Laurence Sullivan Ross are also politic men, and they hope to save the brand by fudging the record, trimming the man, and setting up a sanitized simulacrum that suits their own needs and notions.  They need a vaguely venerable worthy to set in the center of vaguely meaningful traditions, and they are confident that some heavy editing can trim old Sully down to their own notions.

This will fail because trimmed Sully is really just a hunk of bronze, and yet his trimming will not in the least appease those who wish to tear him down.  There is only one trimming by which they will be appeased, and that is trimming away everything. After all, this is the essence of their implacable creed: 

If you feel uncomfortable around us, it is because you are a hateful bigot.  If we feel uncomfortable around you, it is because you are a hateful bigot.

Any questions?


*) Thomas Cary Johnson (ed.), The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney (Richmond, Va.: The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1903).

15 thoughts on “Addendum to Pity Me Not When the Pop-Guns Pop

  1. You can either accept that men are complex and have great virtues and great vices or you cannot.

    If you don’t accept it you also are miring yourself in a lie and will be confused about your own self and your own mind.

    Our enemies are basically mad. To that extent they are to be pitied. Because they are mad we also can’t play into their madness ever, not once. We don’t need to be cruel about it but eventually debate ends and the answer is no. They don’t want to debate anyway.


    • Some are mad, some are simpletons, and some realize that they have discovered a new form of power. It’s not really new, but it’s a new variant on manipulation through the exploitation of pity and guilt. At present there is no sure-fire defense against this manipulation, since the people who answer no are eventually forced to back down, not by the complainers, but by non-complainers wracked by pity and guilt.

      • Absolutism in human relationships is idiotic. I once had to watch a training video in which the managing director (looking very uncomfortable – as well he might) recited the mantra written for him that: “Discrimination will not be tolerated in this company. Anyone practising any form of discrimination whatsoever will face disciplinary action and is liable to instant dismissal.”
        Now, if we are a railway company, how long are we likely to survive if we fail to discriminate between passengers who pay their fares and passengers who do not?

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  3. Here is the opening sentence from a recent report in the (Glasgow) Herald in Scotland: “A man has been arrested after a person is believed to have been electrocuted to death on the tracks near Dumbreck train station early this morning.”

    Notice the usage: ‘person’ electrocuted, but ‘man’ arrested.
    What message are we intended to draw from this?

    • We’ve grown used to this ambiguous construction, but a literalist would respond: “I am sure many men have been arrested after than poor person was electrocuted.” The man in question was arrested because of the electrocution. Our newspaper goes back and forth on information about perps still at large, but it always tells us the sex (which is, of course, almost always male). The argument about reinforcing stereotypes never applies to the male sex, the criminal violence of which is on daily display.

      • “Our newspaper…always tells us the sex (which is, of course, almost always male).”
        The sex? Why not the gender? Which brings me to a Very Important Person in literary history: Coleridge, newly awakened from an opium dream with a complete vision of the stately pleasure dome of Kubla Khan in his mind and writing of himself in the third person notes: “On awakening he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter!”
        Now, while Coleridge uses the male pronoun to indicate the masculinity of the Person, how are we to know that said Person was not biologically female and merely identifying as male? After all, such has not been unknown. Consider the career of Dr. James Miranda Steuart Barry, for which see:
        Without generally agreed terminology, who knows? I don’t.

      • I’ve always had doubts about this story. Drug-induced inspiration is fleeting, but it is also, in most cases, illusory. I realize this was not exactly a case of writing while under the influence, but what STC wrote before the fatal knock at the door seems crafted and not spontaneous. Its basic character is very similar to the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, with a great density of allusion and (to my ear) a very tight meter. If I were to guess, I would say that C knew this was a great start to a poem. He didn’t know where to take it as a poem, but he did know how to use it to (a) built the myth of STC and (b) advance his theory of imagination.

      • I don’t agree. Here’s why. Think of musicians who can sight read. Take Nicholas Kynaston for example – one of the greatest English organists of the twentieth century. He was the top organist in Westminster Cathedral when he was nineteen. That’s how good he is. Kynaston could (sorry: can – he’s still going) play anything that is put in front of him, there and then, whether he has seen it before or not. How? He knows all the techniques. He doesn’t need to think about it. His eyes see the music (the picture), his fingers hit the keys. You want Bach? You want Vidor? You want the latest stuff written this morning? It doesn’t matter to him. Kynaston can play it and play it superbly.
        Now take Coleridge. He was a gifted poet. He was well-read and possessed a huge stock of stories (whether historical or literary or folk-tales or nursery-rhymes etc) and words, words and phrases in abundance. He knew all the techniques: metre, rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, allusion, assonance…the lot. Now, he wakes out of his opium dream with a picture (a complex picture, probably more visual than verbal) of the pleasure dome of Kubla Khan in his mind. He starts to write it down but is interrupted for over an hour by the Person from Porlock. Once this business is dispensed with, he returns to his writing, only to discover that the vision in his mind is fragmented beyond repair. He cannot recover it. He does not have a physical copy of the picture (like Kynaston would have a sheet of music) in front of him to work from. So, it is lost. Gone with the wind? Blowin’ in the Wind? Choose your allusion.
        Now think. How many of us have woken up out of sleep with clear remembrance of a dream – which remembrance was then shattered by engaging with waking life – the spouse, the children, the dog…etc. The dream is lost. Lost in Space? Thus Coleridge’s account is perfectly credible.
        In any case, I have had a similar experience (not with opium but with booze). Not being interrupted, I produced the finest poem I have ever written. Yes. I believe Coleridge.

  4. The Legion of Men cast their eyes towards them and wait for the answer. Are they Texicans or Texicant’s?

    Death by a thousand cuts, with none large enough to draw attention. Young men grow old waiting for the horn.

  5. Pingback: No Country for Old Crackers – The Orthosphere


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