Through a Cockeyed Gate

“Ours has been a desultory ramble, as rambles should be.”

William Senior,  By Stream and Sea (1877)

I was rambling over back roads and chanced to pass a cockeyed gate.  Over the gate there was a sign indicating that it gave way to the Hammond Colony Cemetery.  Now when I ramble over back roads, I ramble slowly, progressing when possible at about ten miles an hour; but even to the eye of so sedate a traveler, this Hammond Colony Cemetery appeared to be nothing but the usual mix of dusty thickets and rank bunchgrass.  It lays on one side of the valley at the head of Pin Oak Creek, in the sand hills of Robertson County, and in comparison to its surroundings looked like much of a muchness. Continue reading

Lay Down Your Pitchfork

“In the depths of every heart, there is a tomb and a dungeon, though the lights, the music, and revelry above may cause us to forget their existence.” 

Nathaniel Hawthorne “The Haunted Mind” (1842)

Every man carries a vision of paradise in the depths of his heart.  In this delightful dream, every woman not adorning his bed is either cooking his dinner or knitting his socks, and every man not acting on his orders is either begging, bleeding, or dead in a ditch.  Such are the warm and cheering thoughts that bring a smile to the lips of what our forebears called the Old Adam.

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Under a Profane Sky

“I love the steepled town.”

Sarah Orne Jewett, “Top of the Hill” (1916)

“At leaving even the most unpleasant people
And places, one keeps looking at the steeple.” 

Lord Byron, Don Juan, canto ii (1819)

A steeple was in Byron’s day a symbol of the pathos of leave-taking.  Owing to its unrivaled height, a traveler saw this landmark as the last piece of home to drop below the horizon, or to disappear behind a hill.  In my second epigraph, Byron’s hero is standing in the stern of an outbound ship and watching his home-town steeple sink beneath the waves.  As it does, he feels, like many before him, that “partings form a lesson hard to learn.” Continue reading

Independence Day on the Democrat Road

I spent this morning at the Democrat Crossing with my piscatorial son.  While he angled for catfish in the muddy Navasota, I looked for signs of the times on this two hundred and forty-third birthday of our republic.  The Democrat Road is unpaved, unfrequented, and bounded hereabouts by meres, mires and morasses.  It crosses the Navasota River on three bridges, the main span new, substantial and graffiti-laden.  Of this graffiti, more anon.

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Poppycock, Hate and the Sorrows of a Careless Young Man

It is said that English burglars once took the precaution of checking each other for weapons before they set out on a heist.  English courts looked with especial disfavor on armed robbers, and the whole gang might be hanged if one of them panicked and committed a hasty homicide.  Young men nowadays would do well to follow this example and check each other for cell phones when they plan to imbibe and act like idiots. Continue reading

Show Me the Crocodile

“The statesman tells you with a sneer,
    His fault is to be too sincere.”

Jonathan Swift, “The Beasts’ Confession” (1732)

“A sort of malaria that infects the soul seems to lurk among those dark, filthy passages of the theater . . . . The solemnity and reality of life disappear, the most sacred things are matter for jest, the most impossible things seem to be true . . .”

Honoré de Balzac, A Distinguished Provincial at Paris (1839)

It is generally known that the Puritans detested theatrical performances and did what they could to suppress both players and playhouses.  They could see that the stage must pander to its audience, and therefore must always tend towards ribaldry and smut.  As one Puritan detester put it in 1625:

“They teach their hearers and beholders much sin in the acting of their plays . . . to play the bawd and the harlot, with very many such other lewd lessons.”*

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Spoiled by a False Education

“An age springs up thus spoiled by education.”

Henry Sewell, The Lay of the Desert (1830)

“Strange to say, girls are sometimes spoiled by education.”

Joseph Matthews, Letters to School Girls (1853)

The root of the word spoil is found in the act of skinning an animal.  From here the word passed to the act of stripping the armor from a defeated enemy, and thence to “spoils of war” generally.  “To the victor goes the spoils” means, in a literal sense, that the victor is permitted to “skin” the vanquished.

Obviously, a city is damaged when it is despoiled, or “skinned,” so it is not surprising that, in the course of time, the word spoil came to mean damage or make worse.  Thus, we say that a picnic is spoiled by rain, or an evening is spoiled by quarrel.  Or, as Lewis Carroll explained in The Walrus and the Carpenter: Continue reading

The Three Powers

“All divines grant that the power of the Church is more noble than any power of princes or emperors.”

Matthew Kellison, The Right and Jurisdiction of the Prelate and the Prince (1621)

“There has been great controversy concerning the power of bishops, in which some have awkwardly confounded the power of the Church and the power of the Sword.”

Augsburg Confession (1530)

“The Government has been legislated into the hands of bankers and brokers, and reduced to a dependence on corporations.” 

Lewis Steenrod, Speech in the House of Representatives (April 17, 1840)

The first step in political understanding is to see that every society has a ruling class, and that the myth of popular government is an opiate of the masses.  If you need help taking this step, I suggest you consult Main’s Popular Government (1886) or Burnham’s Machiavellians (1943). Continue reading

That Terror Alone can Check the Wandering Mind

“It is that strange disquietude of the Gothic spirit that is its greatness; that restlessness of the dreaming mind, that wanders hither and thither among the niches . . . and yet is not satisfied, nor shall be satisfied.” 

John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice (1851-1853)

When Ruskin speaks of the “dreaming mind,” I believe he means the daydreaming mind, for it is the mind of a daydreamer that “wanders hither and thither” and “is not satisfied, nor shall be satisfied.”  The daydreamer loves to let his mind wander, and he nowhere finds a thought so satisfying that he is tempted to stop and dwell on it.  He is the opposite of single-minded and will not be harnessed to an obsession. His greatest wish is to wander, fancy free. Continue reading