The Baneful Sway of French Philanthropy

“A steady patriot of the world alone,
The friend of every country but his own.”*

The centenary of Armistice Day occasioned a good deal of gabble about the evils of nationalism, with the childless President of France, Emanuel Macron, going so far as to denounce it as “a betrayal of patriotism.” I do not see how one can revere the forefathers while reviling their posterity, but that may be because I am, unlike Macron, a father with posterity. What Macron calls patriotism, a more accurate politician called Philanthropy—indeed, in the poem from which my epigraph is drawn, George Canning called it “French Philanthropy.” This was, Continue reading

The Way of Decay on a Dull November Day

“Gather therefore the rose, while yet is prime,
For soon comes age, that will her pride deflower.”*

“Life with its glories glides away,
And the stern footstep of decay
Comes stealing on.”**

I turn sixty-one today, and thus am now but two years short of the momentous birthday our forefathers knew as the grand climacteric.  They said that a man arrives at the threshold of old age when he turns sixty-three.  The word climacteric literally denotes a step on a ladder (Greek climax), and therefore was used as a metaphor to denote the step changes (or paradigm shifts) that mark the four ages of a man’s life. In the old reckoning, these climacterics occur at multiples of seven (or nine) years, with the most significant steps at twenty-one, forty-two, and sixty-three (hopeful systems added a fourth climacteric at eighty-four).  The intervening ages are childhood, youth, maturity, and old-age. Continue reading

Our Meddling Intellect

“Greek civilization was undermined by a sophistical excess of speculation which, calling in question the bases of ordered human existence, proved fatal to the permanence of all public and private relations and duties.”  (William Samuel Lilly, On Shibboleths, 1892)

“They say miracles are past; and we have our philosophical persons, to make modern and familiar, things supernatural and causeless.  Hence it is we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves in seeming knowledge . . .” (Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well, 1604-1605)

That “an unexamined life is not worth living” is neither self-evident nor suggested by experience, and this is so even if we follow Socrates and stipulate “not worth living for a man.” I have known many a man whose self-examination proceeded no further than a close inspection of his reflection in the glass, but who nevertheless found life highly satisfactory and very much worth living. And I knew one man who followed the advice of the old gadfly, opened the hood, inspected the machinery, and then fell into a despair that he ended by suicide.  My poor friend fell to the mischief that is caused by what Wordsworth called the “meddling intellect.” Continue reading

John Bradford’s Grace of God

You have no doubt heard, indeed have very likely used, the expression “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”  Tradition attributes this quote to the sixteenth-century English evangelical John Bradford, who is said to have uttered the words when he saw a condemned man led to the scaffold, and who with these words disavowed any grounds for personal pride in the fact that his own neck was not about to be snapped.  As there is no written testament, some naturally doubt the tradition, but a man such as Bradford might have expressed such a sentiment if he beheld such a scene. Continue reading

On Shacking Up

A local woman was recently discomfited when police discovered the remains of her missing daughter in a little garden behind the house where she resided with a boyfriend. The daughter, age three, had been reported missing in June, and the mother, age 35, had been jailed in early August for refusing to answer the questions of Child Protective Services. Soon thereafter, the daughter’s remains were discovered and the boyfriend, a convicted felon, age 51, was arrested for possession of a firearm.  The woman and her boyfriend were just the other day indicted on charges of injury to a child by omission and tampering with a human corpse. Continue reading

Listening to Lady Macbeth

“I fear thy nature; it is too full o’ the milk of human kindness” (Lady Macbeth)

“Lady Macbeth was a tender and affectionate creature and ought to be represented as such” (Ludwig Tieck*)

Contrary to popular opinion, Lady Macbeth was a tender and affectionate creature.  There is no reason to doubt her when she tells us that she knew “how tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me,” and as a wife she was the exact opposite of a “ball buster.”  She enjoyed mothering, really had her man’s back, and all the while glided like a will-o’-the-wisp over the stinking morass of sentimental goop. Continue reading

A Room at the Road Warrior Motel

An illustration in this morning’s newspaper shows a man who might have been the father of Conan the Barbarian if the father of Conan the Barbarian had been a meth head. His locks are wispy, his skin papery, his visage gaunt. One suspects his teeth wobble and would not be up to cracking walnuts. Below his picture is that of a woman, thirty years younger, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Bonnie Parker, although I do not believe that Bonnie Parker sported a neck tattoo. Continue reading

Christian Brotherhood is Universal Charity

“What is tolerance nowadays? Is it a moral virtue in the possessor, or is it a recognition of a necessity arising from an equilibrium of parties?  It often seems to me that we speak of it as if it is the first, when actually it is the second.” (Letter of Mandell Creighton to Lord Acton, April 9, 1887)*

Mandell Creighton was an English churchman and historian, and he wrote these lines in answer to Lord Acton’s savage review of the second volume of his History of the Papacy During the Period of the Reformation.  Although Creighton was himself one sort of liberal, he had described the persecutions of the early fifteenth-century Church with an air of tolerant understanding, and this outraged Acton, who was another sort of liberal. Continue reading