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

Clickety Claque

“We have what Frenchmen call a ‘cliqué,’
Who entertain a sort of pique
Against all sacrilegious wights
Who meddle with their sacred rights.”

The Mysteries of Charleston (1846)

Humans naturally follow the crowd and assume that popularity arises from some merit in that which is popular, and unpopularity from some demerit in that which is not.  While it is true that the food in a crowded restaurant is often better than the food in a restaurant where listless waiters lean against the bar and flick flies with stained towels, those who follow the crowd are usually following what the crowd follows.  And the crowd is usually following a clique or a claque. Continue reading

The Envy of the World

“There is America, which at this day serves for little more than to amuse you with stories of savage men and uncouth manners, yet shall . . . show itself equal to the whole of that commerce which now attracts the envy of the world.”

Edmund Burke, Speech on Conciliation with America (1775)

I recently crossed Louisiana on Interstate 10, and by close reading of the passing billboards formed a clear idea of the state’s economy.  The foundation of Louisiana’s economy appears to be the fees and settlements connected with lawsuits against homicidal trucking companies.  Although I did not notice too many Louisianans squashed on the roadway, “big rigs” were out in plenty, and their drivers did not look like men who were inclined to swerve.  Thus, from half of the billboards along the highway, there glared the square-jawed faces of legal bulldogs who promised to mulct these truculent teamsters to the enrichment of squashed Louisianans. Continue reading

A Very Brief Anatomy of Worship

“‘I declare, your worship, there is nothing you don’t know.”

Cervantes, Don Quixote (1605)

When a Sancho Panza addressed Don Quixote as “your worship,” the salutation was meant to acknowledge the knight’s superiority in status, rank or worth. When a lawyer addresses a judge as “your honor,” or a courtier addresses a monarch as “your majesty,” they do exactly the same thing. Worship was originally the state of possessing extraordinary worth, and only by extension became the words, acts, and other rites by which this extraordinary worth is acknowledged by lesser beings. Continue reading