Sunday, November 03, 2013

Physiologus's Salamander

THIS time the literary text discussed on this 'Alexandrian' site does, in fact, come from Alexandria. Last year in university, the teacher of a Byzantinian folk literature course started his semester by presenting three tales from Physiologus.

One fable reminded me particularly of end of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the healing sun berries that are carried to the old star by the firebird) and C.S. Lewis's other Narnia books, and in retrospect the Wikipedia article clarifies that Physiologus, written apparently before the final downfall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century A.D., is in fact the origin of Christian beast myths which are present throughout Europe even in these centuries.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Little Bear's Visit

One of the staples of early childhood literature in the English tongue, which perseveres into the current generation and across country borders as my experience in a Berliner bookshop proves, is the Little Bear series by the American, Else Holmelund Minarik.
"Top of Zürich on Uetliberg Uto Kulm (Switzerland)",
January 10, 2010
By Roland zh
A random yet atmospheric picture of bears which is meant to invoke topical beariness whilst not clashing with our mental recollection  of Sendakian beariness. The cover of Little Bear's Visit, with Sendak's bear, can be found at Google Books.
Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Accompanied by the illustrations of Maurice Sendak, it has a gentility, a warmth and serenity which are heartening. In the sparing use of colour in the illustrations and of verbiage in the text, it is an endorsing example of the modernist tendency to pare away fuss and feathers. In this case it achieves, in the end, a truthful-feeling simplicity.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Holly and Ivy

[A little out of season, but atmospheric, from the English folklore, and presented without further comment:]
From Book of Hours of Anne of Brittany,
Queen of France,
by Jean Bourdichon
(Painted 1503-1508)
From Wikimedia Commons

Holly stands in the hall, fair to behold:
Ivy stands without the door, she is full sore a cold.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.

Holly and his merry men, they dance and they sing,
Ivy and her maidens, they weep and they wring.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.

Ivy hath chapped fingers, she caught them from the cold,
So might they all have, aye, that with ivy hold.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.

Holly hath berries red as any rose,
The forester, the hunter, keep them from the does.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.

Ivy hath berries black as any sloe;
There come the owl and eat him as she go.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.

Holly hath birds a fair full flock,
The nightingale, the popinjay, the gentle laverock.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.

Good ivy, what birds hast thou?
None but the owlet that cries how, how.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is. 


Recorded by Cecil Sharp in Gloucestershire, UK
From "The Holly and the Ivy" on Wikipedia.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Enemy Books: The Scottish Chiefs

Part of a series of thus far fairly one-sided discourse on the merits and demerits of certain books which have the ill fortune to fall afoul of me.

My relationship to this novel is fairly ambiguous in that when I first read it, I was fairly taken by it though I had the uneasy feeling that it was a wee bit trashy in its melodrama.


Imperfectly Remembered Synopsis:

Surprisingly, it is set with the same characters and in the same time as the film that led Mel Gibson to prominence in his role as a roughly clad 13th century barbarian with powder-blue strips across his cheekbones — by which of course I mean Braveheart.

But the William Wallace of the author Jane Porter's imagination is rather an overgrown extrapolation (with extra muscles) of the ideal 18th-century hero, the pure and magnanimous enthusiast of the clear and civilized passions and no discernibly individual character.

Her plot and treatment of history still tip her into Romantic territory in my view. The literary nationalism, interest in medieval history and the fact that her hero is at home in the outdoors and the rough-and-tumble of military campaigning help position it. At the risk of perpetrating humbug, her book fits the age of the young Kosciuszko and George Washington but makes itself even more at home in the age of Byron and the French Revolution. The book was first published in 1810, so there is really not much need to estimate this chronology. Sir Walter Scott she is not, and still I for one am glad that her simpler ambitions steer her clear of the unfortunate proclivities of Scott's, e.g. prologues.

At the centrepoint of the book, the chief heroine is Helen of Mar. She is a noblewoman who meets the Scottish hero by way of being rescued by him from the clutches of the dastardly foe. Had Helen been born six hundred years later, on a continent across the seas, she would surely have been plucked off the railroad tracks of the Wild West, still struggling in a coil of restrictive rope in which the villain has fettered her, by some doughty cowboy or Army officer. She comes to idolize William Wallace as a freedom fighter — all the inglorious deeds of the historical William Wallace are expunged from the novel with a Victorian-esque disregard for truth when it impedes a good moral lecture — and then comes Love. Her beloved is pretty busy with the English and must besides possess some grain of Inscrutability to impress the reader, so his sentiments are unknown even though his chivalrous esteem for the fair damozel is indubitable.

Then, of course, the English are uncharacteristically successful. They manage to capture the Scottish hero, and I probably needn't reveal the ending and its squicky martyr-fest. The author's comfort is that Robert the Bruce still became King of Scotland and so The Cause prevailed, or so I remember.

As a yarn the tale isn't half bad, but it hits on archetypes (like a wicked stepmother, too) so well that one is tempted to call them clichés. Its world and in particular its characterization are not healthy or natural.

The reason for determining The Scottish Chiefs to be an Enemy Book is, however, its indigestible — dyspepsia-provoking, if you prefer — freight of sentiment, sugar and sap.

Completeness of Ordeal: Read at least 2 times, entirely.
Birthdate of Enmity: ca. 2003. Previous reading perhaps 3 or 4 years earlier.
Likelihood That Enmity Is Justified: 90%


Evidence for the Prosecution:
when at the age of twenty-two the enraptured lover was allowed to pledge that faith publicly at the altar, which he had so often vowed in secret to his Marion, he clasped her to his heart, and softly whispered: "Dearer than life! part of my being! blessed is this union, that mingles thy soul with mine, now, and forever!"

Edward's invasion of Scotland broke in upon their innocent joys. Wallace threw aside the wedding garment for the cuirass and the sword. But he was not permitted long to use either—Scotland submitted to her enemies; and he had no alternative but to bow to her oppressors, or to become an exile from man, amid the deep glens of his country.

The tower of Ellerslie was henceforth the lonely abode of himself and his bride.

Source: The Scottish Chiefs, Jane Porter []


Illustration: "Die Schicksahlskönigin erscheint Prinz Arthur," (c. 1769), Johann Heinrich Füssli
Ink and aquarell on card, 38.2 × 50 cm; via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Enemy Books: Her Father's Daughter

Part of a series: "I thought it would be nice to begin featuring books which I cannot stand for whichever reason. (...) But the main point of an Enemy Books series is to invite readers to leave a comment to describe the beauties which they find in the work. (Even if the Enemy Book blog post in question is months old.)" — "suggestions for a next enemy book" are also welcome. But while the idea is generally for kinder readers to point out the good sides of the book in the comments beneath, perhaps that is not possible this time! Edit: What is the most awful book you have encountered?

This time the 'enemy book' is not a notably familiar one, but Her Father's Daughter (by Gene Stratton-Porter) is sensationally awful and bears the distinction of instantly coming to mind when I think about the worst book I have ever read.

Its young heroes cast in an early gung-ho, conventional Hardy Boys/Bobbsey Twins tradition, its plot outrageous, its events absurd, the most distinctively horrid element in it is still its author's hatred of the Japanese.

Set in California, it is about a fatherless young American woman, Linda Strong, who realizes that there is Something Wrong about a Japanese pupil in her friend Donald Whiting's high school senior class. The classmate is, in fact, a middle-aged man pretending to be an 18-year-old so that he may spy on his country of residence. I was going to write more about her racial theory but it's so upsetting that I'd rather not. Aside from these semipolitical threads in her work, the author's ideas on human psychology and nouveau riches and other phenomena are generally strange, so there is a great deal of bemusement to go around.


Completeness of Ordeal: Could not finish, at first. But I skimmed through all of it for this post, and it's corking reading if done ironically.
Birthdate of Enmity: ca. 2008.
Likelihood That Enmity Is Justified: on sociopolitical grounds, 100%


Evidence, Pro-Enmity:
[Linda:] "There is nothing in California I am afraid of except a Jap, and I am afraid of them, not potentially, not on account of what all of us know they are planning in the backs of their heads for the future, but right here and now, personally and physically. Don't antagonize Oka Sayye. Don't be too precipitate about what you're trying to do. Try to make it appear that you're developing ideas for the interest and edification of the whole class. Don't incur his personal enmity. Use tact."

[Donald:] "You think I am afraid of that little jiu-jitsu?" he scoffed. "I can lick him with one hand."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Master Drawings VI — Landscape With An Obelisk

The Master Drawings series of pictures paired with poems, essays, etc. — drawing from the works in the Ashmolean Museum's present exhibition in Oxford — continues. The next painting was supposed to be one of William Blake's of a scene from Dante's Divine Comedy, but being whelmed beneath the depths of Dante's argle-bargle I threw in the metaphorical towel today.

Preliminary note: Caspar David Friedrich's Landscape with an Obelisk is not on Wikimedia Commons, so here it is (if the link fails us not) at the Ashmolean Museum and in the Guardian's digital pages. Second note: Unfortunately I have forgotten everything about dynasties and time periods and archaeological sites I have ever learned, so this is not written with a solid background on Ancient Egypt. The reader beware, and all that.


It would be remiss not to bring up Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias" in connection with Caspar David Friedrich's "Landscape with an Obelisk." They are both charming works in their way, both possessing an Ancient Egyptian element, and both — dare I allege it — art-historically speaking, a trifle inauthentic.

Imbued with a fascination with Ancient Egypt, by grace of school, films and Agatha Christie TV adaptations, and weekends at one's grandfather's and great aunt's homes (they were subscribers to National Geographic, and my grandfather was highly interested in Ancient Egypt himself), one might find "Ozymandias" catchy when one first came across it in school; but one could not fail to consider it a shock to the system.

It was impossible to meld mental images of Ramses, Amenhotep, Nefertiti and cohort together with the fantasy landscape of the poem. From a very personal perspective, and also because I have no idea what Assyrian sounds like and if 'Ozymandias' is intelligible in it, it has always seemed to me more Assyrian than Egyptian. Partly, the poem makes me think of grey stone, whereas somehow the engrained tan and roast-red colours of the Egyptian landscape and ancient art, and the steely sun, are so remarkable that I think the poem should have made reference to them. Edward Lear's delightful series of watercolours from modern Egypt in 1867 (and 1847) certainly does.

By coincidence or design, the sepia-like colours of Caspar David Friedrich's drawing (which incidentally seems to hail from 1803, so before the peak of his production) in my view really does do justice to the Egyptian link. In the meantime the landscape itself seems a tame and indubitably European one — the possible likeness to the agriculture-patched plains of the Egyptian valley being fairly shallow — but it isn't clear at all that Friedrich even meant to portray a southerly setting. (A good researcher would doubtless find this out.)

What I also like about the painting is its coincidentally reflecting the arbitrary way in which obelisks are dispersed around the world these days: near the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, in front of St. Peter's Cathedral with a crucifix on the tip, in joyous Paris, in an Istanbul hippodrome, or of course in modern Egypt; and, as an artificial recreation inspired by the real thing, even in front of the dome in a strangely pluriedificed square in Potsdam. (Whether this cosmopolitan placement has become a monument to pirating tendencies or to the ego of the imperially-minded person like Napoleon or to a western love for Egyptian history and art, as much as to whoever originally had it built thousands of years earlier, may well be inquired.)

In Friedrich' setting of the monument, it also seems to have a pleasing modesty about it. Someone thought an obelisk would be pretty, he put it out on a grassy little knoll or what-have-you, and the cows will continue to graze and the lapwings will continue to fly past with scarcely any care of this addition to their haunts.

Illustration: Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840): Der Sommer (Landschaft mit Liebespaar), 1807 71.4 cm x 103.6 cm; oil on canvas; in the Neue Pinakothek, Munich
[via Wikimedia Commons]

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Enemy Books: Clarissa

WHILE the much more challenging effort of achieving the next 'Master Drawings' blog post grinds onward very slowly, I thought it would be nice to begin featuring books which I cannot stand for whichever reason.

Having the feeling that I can only embarrass myself by hurling serious invective at books which are classics and whose virtues are clearly too lofty for me to understand; having the feeling that perhaps when I am older my opinions will change diametrically; and having the feeling that these books at least enjoy originality or a certain distinction at the crest of a burst of literary fervour and Zeitgeist; I have decided to avoid proper 'posts' and only introduce them briefly and as inaccurately as mood suggests.

But the main point of an Enemy Books series is to invite readers to leave a comment to describe the beauties which they find in the work. (Even if the Enemy Book blog post in question is months old.)

Agreement with my invective is also welcome, however, and so are suggestions for a next enemy book.


Context and Rating

FOR the dubious honour of the first Enemy Book, I hereby name Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.

Completeness of Ordeal: Did not finish.
Birthdate of Enmity: ca. 2005.
(It was part of a largely unwise attempt to search amongst Jane Austen's contemporaries and favourite books

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Master Drawings V: Cain and Abel

The fifth part of a series, exploring literature which springs to mind when looking at works in the Master Drawings exhibition which is running in England from May 25 to August 18, 2013. This time the arts-and-literature pair is Francisco Goya's Cain and Abel and an American author's "Woodman, Spare That Tree!" The painting is not apparently much written about, though I was able to read* that it was created around 1817-20, and not much photographed. So other paintings will have to suffice for this blog post.

To begin, a potted biography of the artist:

Goya's earliest paintings, like La cometa from 1777 or 1778, are residue of the Rococo era in their peaceful boisterousness, but his style changed considerably and with conviction. Not as successful as he had hoped at first, he lived and worked in Italy as well as in Spain; then he gained recognition in the 1780s and at last became a court painter in 1789. Despite his comfortable situation he was clearly by no means complacent; according to the wisdom of Wikipedia, "His portraits are notable for their disinclination to flatter, and in the case of Charles IV of Spain and His Family, the lack of visual diplomacy is remarkable.[Footnote: Licht, Fred: Goya: The Origins of the Modern Temper in Art, page 68. (...)]." Around 1793 he lost his hearing and this seems to have been a watershed for the mounting darkness in his artistic efforts, too. With the turmoil of politics and armed conflict as Spanish subjects became fodder to the juggernaut of the Napoleonic Wars in 1807 and until 1814, war scenes began to be a focus. Even before that he had drawn tortuous scenes of prisoners. Nevertheless he had continued as a painter under the French occupation — though one of his projects at the end of these years was a uniformed oil-on-mahogany of Wellington — and harboured some sympathies for the Revolution; and apparently relations to the royal family were lastingly strained. He died in the year 1828 in Bordeaux.

Illustration: Colossus by Francisco de Goya (1746–1828)
(Painted 1808-1810, oil on canvas, 116 × 105 cm; in the Museo del Prado [via Wikimedia Commons])

ON the one hand,

Friday, June 07, 2013

Master Drawings IV: A Seated Girl

Amongst the paperbacks which were once kept in the basement of our house, and which belonged to the collection which my father and uncles and aunts had read when they were little, there is a book, first published in 1957, by Gillian Avery, entitled The Warden's Niece

It is what first came to mind when I looked at the drawing "A Seated Girl" by the Welsh painter Gwen John, amongst the other works in the Ashmolean Museum's Master Drawings exhibition.

The book is, fittingly enough, set in Oxford, and describes it quite as reverentially and as much in the absorbing fourth dimension [i.e. time in the sense of its historical states of being, which are tied into its contemporary presence] as, for instance, Elizabeth Goudge's Towers in the Mist. Though published after the Second World War, it is set in the 1870s and begins by exploring the heroine's unpleasant stay at a boarding school for young ladies, then following her escape to Oxford and specifically to her uncle's home at the university college where he is Warden. His neighbour and friend, Professor Smith, has three sons around Maria's age; the youngest of these, who is something of a troublemaker, is about to embark on Greek and Latin under a tutor, and so Maria joins him. At the time women in higher education were a rarity, as the book emphasizes without diverging into comment; but whether it is through progressive convictions or through indifference to matters outside the sphere of their own scholarly research, no one bothers to throw up serious impediments to Maria's learning. (At least, no one consciously does; prohibitions on straying from home for any purpose do interfere a little with scholarly exploration.)

Setting the plot — which is well described elsewhere, so I will content myself with the general adumbration above — in the Victorian Age seems to have been a rather peripheral element in the novel, since aside from its prolific traditionalist detail of cucumber sandwiches, dragonlike housekeepers, pre-Daimler travel, and the singularity of feminine education, it could fit quite as well into the 20th century.

Illustration: "Portrait" (c. 1915) by Gwen John (1876-1939)
From Wikimedia Commons.

When I was little I found it an enigmatic, strange and somewhat cold book; the descriptions of old churchyards and aged portraits of dead children and fenced-in houses were menacing. Now I think it was a silly impression. The world it describes is still perhaps an insiderish one, though the book hasn't aged too badly. When I went to see Oxford at around the age of twenty in 2005, I had the impression that the heart and soul of the university campus is 'Keep Off The Grass'; whether I was imposing ill-assorted North American ideas or not, this experience is similar to the one of limitations which lies within The Warden's Niece. I suppose I also saw the magic in similar places: the Saxon tower, the façade of the Sheldonian Theatre, the lawn of Christchurch (?) College, and particularly in the courtyard and amongst the Roman busts and Saxon-remnant-filled vitrines of the Ashmolean Museum.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Master Drawings III: Noctes Ambrosianae

After the tranquillity of Turner's Tintern Abbey, Noctes Ambrosianae enters an entirely different realm. Painted in a gloom of darkness, it is a picture of expressionist spectators, whose leering is either a Hogarthian, rebuking portrait of the prurient mob; a modern variation on the demons in the background of a Renaissance-era Hades or the rabble who attack Christ once his life is about to end; or a prescient envisioning of a radical feminist's Male Gaze. Or, it can simply be an audience whose expressions are partly peacefully concentrated and partly mobile in reaction to the dramatic plot on a stage. 'What are they watching?' is a question which seems in some ways beside the point; demeaning and greedy, or absorbing, spectacles are not entirely rare and the artist's mass psychology might apply as well to any.

The painter was Walter Richard Sickert, whose long life evenly bisected itself into the late 19th century and early 20th century, beginning in Munich and ending in Bath. He was very young when his family left Germany and he was educated in England - in King's College School, which has among its alumni Charles Dickens's son, Leopold de Rothschild, Dante Gabriel Rossetti . . . and a band member from Mumford and Sons. He dabbled in acting, then finally launched himself into art, passing through impressionistic and expressionistic phases — in my opinion he tried to be Turner here, Lucian Freud (or is that vice versa) there, possibly Toulouse-Lautrec there, etc., though rarely at a slavish level of imitation — and in general being considered as an avant-gardist.

Writers have conjectured that he was Jack the Ripper. Firstly the voracious speculation on said murderer seems tawdry, and secondly I doubt the plausibility (albeit in the absence of evidence pro or contra) of the Sickert surmise. In Sickert's defence the Wikipedia article turns the suggestions against him on their heads; it describes how his prolific affairs and fascination with crime like Jack the Ripper's seem to have inspired sympathy and indignation at the vulnerability of prostitutes' existences in him, which he also expressed in his work. He was, at any rate, on excellent terms with Winston Churchill; this is perhaps a sign of final respectability.

"Walter Sickert" [Wikipedia]
"King's College School" [Ibid.]
N.B.: Due to copyright I am not posting an illustration of Noctes Ambrosianae here.


IN 1934 Virginia Woolf published Walter Sickert: A Conversation in London.[N.B. In some countries, probably including mine — I'm crossing my fingers that this heavy quoting from it is fair use —, it is not copyright-free yet.] It is not a conversation with Sickert but rather a dinner party conversation between various observers about him; and their reflections delve into his use of colour, his approach to fleshing out characters and their situations, general parallels between the thematically ambitious and socially conscious painter and the thematically ambitious and socially conscious novelist, and class problems.


Illustration: Southwark Fair (1733-34), by William Hogarth
It is intended to be a cheerful scene, at least according to an early 19th century tome in which it appears and which states, "it is sufficient to remark that it presents us with an endless collection of spirited and laughable characters, in which is strikingly portrayed the character of the times." [via Wikimedia Commons]

Master Drawings II: Tintern Abbey

On the occasion of the Ashmolean's exhibition, Master Drawings (May 25th-August 18th, 2013), in Oxford. Pictures selected from the Guardian's slideshow of May 24.

In the face of JMW Turner's portrait of the inner arches of the Cistercian abbey on the banks of the Wye river, it would seem obvious to discuss Wordsworth's poem from the dawn of English Romanticism; but since the feeling prevails that I am not in the right position to treat it justly yet, here is an alternative.

To address the artistic aspect first, Turner's depictions of Tintern Abbey are predominantly sown over London — in the British Museum and in the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as in the Tate. This painting may be from the Tate but the Ashmolean's (Transept of Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, which was first exhibited c. 1795) is highly similar; only the Ashmolean one is framed so that the dark interior side of an archway gives the edifice a brooding mood, plunged inside instead of portrayed from a discreeter distance. Obviously it's from Turner's most civilized early period; he revisited the subject peripherally in 1828 and produced something far more diffuse.

Illustration: The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window (1794), by J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851)
(pencil and watercolour on paper, 3.58 × 2.55 cm, in the Tate Gallery, London)
[Source: Wikipedia]

Monday, May 27, 2013

Master Drawings I: Jerome

In honour of the incipient Master Drawings exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford, I have decided to append a string of texts or books to some of the pictures which I find most striking, culled from the exhibition slideshow on the Guardian website.

The first is Lucas van Leyden's rendering of Jerome, the saint who is said — historically speaking — to have roamed the Mediterranean brink from somewhere between 347 – 420 A.D. Van Leyden was, aptly enough, of Leyden in the Netherlands; he lived from 1494 to 1533 and thus was a contemporary of Albrecht Dürer, who drew his picture.

The text is from the Golden Legend (Jacobus de Voragine, c. 1275), as it was transferred into English by William Caxton in the 15th century and edited by F.S. Ellis into the tolerably comprehensible modern tongue.

Illustration: Saint Jerome (1521) by Lucas van Leyden, from the Ashmolean [Source: Wikimedia Commons]

St. Jerome and the Lion

"ON a day towards even1 Jerome sat with his brethren for to hear the holy lesson, and a lion came halting suddenly in to the monastery, and when the brethren saw him, anon they fled, and Jerome came against him as he should come against his guest, and then the lion showed to him his foot being hurt. Then he called his brethren, and commanded them to wash his feet and diligently to seek and search for the wound. And that done, the plant2 of the foot of the lion was sore hurt and pricked with a thorn. Then this holy man put thereto diligent cure, and healed him, and he abode ever after as a tame beast with them.

Then St. Jerome saw that God had sent him to them, not only for the health of his foot, but also for their profit, and joined to the lion an office3, by the accord of his brethren, and that was that he should conduct and lead an ass to his pasture which brought home wood, and should keep4 him going and coming, and so he did. For he did that which he was commanded, and led the ass thus as a herdsman, and kept him wisely going and coming, and was to him a right sure keeper and defender, and always at the hour accustomed he and the ass came for to have their refection5 and for to make the ass to do the work accustomed.

ON a time it happed that the ass was in his pasture, and the lion slept fast, and certain merchants passed by with camels and saw the ass alone, and stole him and led him away. And anon after, the lion awoke and when he found not his fellow, he ran groaning hither and thither, and when he saw that he could not find him he was much sorrowful and durst not come in, but abode at the gate of the church of the monastery, and was ashamed that he came without the ass.

And when the brethren saw that he was come more late than he was wont6, and without the ass, they supposed that by constraint of hunger he had eaten the ass, and would not give to him his portion accustomed, and said to him: Go and eat that other part of the ass that thou hast devoured, and fill thy gluttony.

And because they doubted, and they would wit7 if he had so eaten, they went to the pastures of the town to see if they could have any demonstrance of the death of the ass, and they found nothing, and returned and told it to Jerome, and then he commanded them to enjoin him to do the office of the ass8. Then they hewed down bushes and boughs and laid upon him, and he suffered it peaceably.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

To the Young (and Catholic) Amongst Us

I wanted to translate the 'tweets' of Pope Francis's Italian Twitter account, from April 26 - May 3, 2013, copied them into Google Translate, and found that I rather liked the result in literary terms.

(Of course these tweets come in an official English version, too. Still, I assume, for no direct reason, that the Italian text is the prototype.)

In terms of the content, the virtues of prayer are a familiar theme, of course. But I like the mixing of partly quite traditional, partly not so traditional thoughts.

In any case, I am still happy about the new Pope, particularly since being baptized Catholic, and thereby associated with the Church, is an uneasy thing at times from a moral standpoint.


It would be nice, in the month of May, to recite the Holy Rosary together in the family. Prayer makes even stronger family life.

I think of those who are unemployed, often because of a selfish mentality that seeks profit at any cost.

Dear young people, learn from St. Joseph, who has had difficult times, but he never lost faith, and has been able to overcome them.

We have faith in God! With Him we can do great things, therein he will make us feel the joy of being his disciples.

How nice if each of us in the evening could say: Today I made a gesture of love for others

The Holy Spirit transforms us and really wants to transform, through us, the world in which we live.

Dear young people, don't bury the talents, the gifts that God has given you! Do not be afraid to dream big things!


In the Italian, the same quotations:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fathering in the 18th Century: Jefferson's Letters to His Daughter

Presented without comment but much boldface for emphasis.

A letter by Thomas Jefferson to his daughter Patsy, formally named Martha after her mother, who had died in the fall of 1782.

November 28, 1783
MY DEAR PATSY — After four days journey I arrived here without any accident and in as good health as when I left Philadelphia. The conviction that you would be more improved in the situation I have placed you than if still with me, has solaced me on my parting with you, which my love for you has rendered a difficult thing. The acquirements which I hope you will make under the tutors I have provided for you will render you more worthy of my love, and if they cannot increase it they will prevent it's diminution. Consider the good lady who has taken you under her roof, who has undertaken to see that you perform all your exercises, and to admonish you in all those wanderings from what is right or what is clever to which your inexperience would expose you, consider her I say as your mother, as the only person to whom, since the loss with which heaven has been pleased to afflict you, you can now look up; and that her displeasure or disapprobation on any occasion will be an immense misfortune which should you be so unhappy as to incur by any unguarded act, think no concession too much to regain her good will. With respect to the distribution of your time the following is what I should approve.

from 8. to 10 o'clock practise music.
from 10. to 1. dance one day and draw another
from 1. to 2. draw on the day you dance, and write a letter the next day.
from 3. to 4. read French.
from 4. to 5. exercise yourself in music.
from 5. till bedtime read English, write etc.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard

The fifth film in the Bruce Willis series Die Hard has not been well received by the critics whom I read, and one of them is also one of my favourite critics, Anthony Lane.

He describes a passage set in Chernobyl, and laments its wasted scenic possibilities. Martin Cruz Smith wrote a book (published in 2004) in the same setting, and "relished the outlandish details of life in the poisoned zone," while A Good Day to Die Hard concentrates on finding papers somewhere in the abandoned nuclear complex, in a naïvely implausible manner:
Any lingering radiation is dispelled with a few squirts of cleansing spray, and Irina tests the all-clear by removing her protective mask and giving a cautious sniff, as if the rich aroma of cesium 137 were akin to that of lamb stew.

From "Ways to Win: 'A Good Day to Die Hard' and 'NO'", by Anthony Lane, in the February 25, 2013 issue of the New Yorker.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Pierre: a cautionary tale

In the 1960s Maurice Sendak came out with a series of books for children which we have at home, in tiny hardback editions no larger than a school pupil's hand, as the Nutshell Library. A year later, Harper and Row published Where the Wild Things Are, whereupon metaphorically speaking the American illustrator and author's ship set sail.


One of these Nutshell Library bookins is Pierre: A Cautionary Tale. It describes the travails of a naughty boy who is fond of telling his caring parents 'I don't care.' His apathy is greatly tested, however, when a lion visits in the absence of his parents and (after a polite string of warnings) swallows him entire.

Thanks to the author's humanity Pierre is none the worse for being swallowed; and the lion is not a particularly vicious lion. Pierre's parents are, however, perturbed:

Arriving home
at six o'clock,
his parents had
a dreadful shock!
They found the lion
sick in bed

and fear that he is suffering from indigestion caused by their offspring. After a little battery,

His mother asked,
"Where is Pierre?"
The lion answered,
"I don't care!"

His father deduces, "Pierre's in there!"

Then they must figure out how to get him out again, which (*spoiler alert*) they manage to do. Out pops a  renewed Pierre who declares that he does care, and the humans once again live in harmonious relations with the noble beast.
[To see the hidden text above, use your cursor and drag past it.]


The lion took them
home to rest
and stayed on
as a weekend guest.


Illustration: Front cover of Pierre, from the Harper Collins website (edition: HarperTrophy, 1991)