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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

— 1 —

Today is the feast of St. Bruno – here’s last year’s post on him, and an image you may feel free to use:

 

…and a sentiment I hope you will take to heart….

 — 2 —

This evening (Thursday), the teen was working at the grocery store, so the 12-year old and I headed over to Samford University and listened to a simply marvelous concert played by Vadym Kholodenko. 

M’s piano teacher had been encouraging us to go, but I hadn’t really considered it until this afternoon, when it finally registered in my brain who the performer was – I went to his website and saw that was the 2013 Van Cliburn Competition winner, but then I noted elsewhere a tragic event in his recent past – a tragedy I realized I’d read about at the time: his two young daughters were murdered, in 2016 by their mother, Kholodenko’s estranged wife. 

Well, it was a marvelous concert – three pieces: Mozart’s Sonata No.8, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 2 and then – after an intermission that was almost as long as the Mozart, he returned to play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Sonata in G Major, Op. 37. 

The first two were lovely, with our vote going for the Beethoven, naturally, but the Tchaikovsky was at a completely different level. Vigorous, lush, strong, clear –  a little quirky – even the 12 year old was completely engrossed.

Engrossed, I must say, by the music, and a little bemused by the fact that this marvelous pianist was playing the instrument that he plays himself at recitals. I’m hoping he’s a little inspired by that.

Two observations. It had been a while since I had attended a professional solo piano performance, and I was intrigued by the atmosphere of the moments in between movements. As the performer finishes, the notes of the just-completed section fade away and he sits on the bench, hands at rest, head bowed, readying himself for the next movement. In those seconds, I was at once drawn to observe, curious at what could be discerned of his inner preparation for what was ahead, but at the same time, a little uncomfortable, as if I were privy to something quite private, that was really none of my business.

And then, of course, the context of the performer’s life, which is not the defining context, but is still there, and you can’t but let it be a part of your listening, to consider loss and sadness and finding the strength, not to just go on, but to go on bringing beauty into a wrecked world out of a wrecked heart.

This week, especially, I could not help but think of that as I listened. I could not help but be grateful for strength like his and so many others and pray, in the midst of such mystery and pain, for the kind of healing that music points to, but is even more.

 

 

— 3 —

 

This week I read Men at Arms, the first in Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy. I have read so much Waugh, but never this, partly because I don’t have a huge interest in war-themed fiction and secondly because I’ve always read mixed takes on it – it’s his masterpiece, no, it’s boring…who knows?

But I was digging around in some boxes downstairs and discovered that someone, at some point in time, had acquired a copy, so why not?

Well…I really enjoyed it. For some reason, I had been under the impression that the books were quite serious and solemn, but no, they are…Waugh.  Which means that the satire factor is high, as is the autobiographical aspect – the novels are based on his journals of his own military experience during the war.

Some choice quotes:

Lately he had fallen into a habit of dry and negative chastity which even the priests felt to be unedifying. 

A Catholic character jokes mildly about Confession, and a listener reacts.

Box-Bender looked self-conscious, as he still did, always, when religious practices were spoken of. He did not get used it – this ease with the Awful. 

The main character’s military group has been living in what had been a boarding school.

And yet on this dark evening, his spirit sank. The occupation of this husk of a house, perhaps, was a microcosm of that new world he had enlisted to defeat. Something quite worthless, a poor parody of civilization, had been driven out; he and his fellows had moved in, bringing the new world with them; the world that was taking firm shape everywhere all about him, bounded by barbed wire and reeking of carbolic.

Near the end of the book there’s a particularly horrific event. When it first occurs, I had to read through it twice because the first time through, I’d thought Waugh was being…metaphorical in the scene, but then I realized…no….it really is a *******. Yikes. Since so much of the book is based on Waugh’s experiences, I wondered if this was too, but a cursory search hasn’t turned up anything. If you’ve read the book you know what I’m talking about, so if you have any insight, let me know.

There are actually many of Waugh’s books available at the Internet Archive now, including this one. 

 

— 4

 

Looking for books by a lesser writer? You know I have many out there – and some of them for sale via my bookstore here. Check it out. 

Are you shopping around for St. Nicholas things for your school or parish? Remember that Creative Communications has republished my St. Nicholas booklet. It’s available here, and also through the St. Nicholas Center – a great resource – the best resource for all things St. Nicholas whom, of course, we celebrate two months from today – but if it’s your job to plan, you know that two months isn’t too soon.

 

 

— 5 —

 

For every thing there is a season…and now’s the season for In Our Time to begin again. If you haven’t yet obeyed my hectoring on this program…as I said…now’s the season. The first program was on Kant’s Categorial Imperative, and after listening I can say that I actually do understand it a bit more than I did before. The second was on Wuthering Heights, which I’ve never read, a fact about which I’ve felt guilty, but no longer. I enjoyed the program a great deal and learned a lot, but it absolutely wiped out my curiosity about or interest in reading the book, although I am more curious about Emily Bronte and what was in her head and heart. Today’s program was on Constantine – I’ll listen to it tomorrow, I’m thinking.

A related program I listened to this week was a recent episode of Start the Week – the BBC4 program that airs (of course) on Mondays during which a few guests with various books to sell or other cultural achievements to tell us about deal with each other’s work in the context of a greater theme. I don’t listen to it every week because of the reliably smug political views on display, but this particular episode centered on Les  Miserables, so I listened, and was glad I did. The participants were the author of a book about the book, then the actor Simon Callow, who’s written a book on Wagner, then a literature scholar and finally an opera singer and director. The conversation centered on Hugo, Wagner and the contemporary opera Written on Skin. The big questions were the role of fiction in culture and social change and  the writer as public intellectual as well. Good, meaty stuff.

— 6 —

Only a bit of Lost has been watched since last week. The older son’s work schedule and then school have taken precedence, as they should. We’re up to the beginning of season 3 – another spectacular season-opening scene – and might be able to squeeze in an episode this weekend. But football of all types is also happening, so maybe not.

 

— 7 —

Well, the Bearing Blog family is about to head back to the US after several weeks in Europe – if you haven’t been keeping up with Mom’s very thorough travel blogging that puts anything I’ve ever attempted to shame – go over there and catch up. For sure if London is in your future, her blog will be a very handy guide. It looks like it has been a wonderful trip and perhaps it will inspire readers to save up vacation time and money – no matter how long it takes – and plunge into that Big Trip – where ever the destination might be – the lake over in the next county, the region across the country, the mountains halfway across the world. There will be bumps along the way and when you look back, you might think that you’d do some things differently if you could, but chances are slim to none that you’ll look back and say, “Yeah, that was a mistake. We shouldn’t have done that trip at all – ” 

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Ferrara, June 2016

 

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— 1 —

Guys, this is not a page from my  book of Bible stories.

amy-welborn

In case you are confused the narrator is Adam, and the “thing I love most” that “God made just for me” is the Bratz doll  Eve.

 

  — 2 —

For some reason mentioning Bratz dolls reminded me of an old post I had on an old blog about a Bratz Advent calendar, which in turn reminded me of something I saw recently about a Trader Joe’s Wine Advent Calendar that’s apparently only available in the UK. I am usually very, very, very scrupulous and unbearably purist about Advent, but this one gave me pause. It’s pretty.

Now back to your regularly scheduled links.

(I have been blogging this week – mostly on homeschooling, but it’s something, folks. Just scroll back and you’ll see the posts.)

— 3 —

Here’s a great interview with Daniel Mitsui, the marvelous religious artist:

As a religious artist, Mitsui sees his efforts firmly planted within the tradition. 

“I want to make things that have this liturgical, traditional, patristic order,” he says. “I want to be able to say that this work of art would be approved of by the council fathers who laid down these principles in the Council of Nicea.”  

Taking the Second Council of Nicea as his north star, Mitsui refers to himself as “a Spirit of Nicea II Catholic.”  

“That is a joke,” he says. “Its point being that I keep that ecumenical council at the forefront of my mind, living as I do in a time similar to the iconoclastic crises. I do not seek to interpret its doctrine regarding art and tradition beyond what its words actually say; indeed, what they actually say is bold enough.” 

I recently received a copy of Daniel’s most recent coloring book for adults: Christian Labyrinths. You can read the introduction and see samples here – and I’d encourage you to do so. It’s really beautiful, as is all of Daniel’s work.

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Daniel Mitsui’s website.

 

— 4

Speaking of art, and speaking of the Reformation, which we will be doing a lot of (unfortunately) over the next few weeks, Elizabeth Lev has an excellent article here about women, art and the Catholic Reformation:

In the Counter Reformation, women were not only exalted after their death as saints, but there was also room for women to lead in society. Beyond the stateswomen such as Mary Tudor of England and Mary of Scots, Catherine de’ Medici and Jeanne d’Albret, St. Angela Merici founded the Ursulines to offer solid Christian education for girls and young women, Victoria Colonna composed renowned poetry and debated theology, and art produced its first celebrated female painters.

On one hand, technological advances had opened the door for women painters. Oil painting permitted women to work alone (not with a team of male fresco artists) in an inexpensive and slow-drying medium. The Catholic Church, however, was looking for new ways to evangelize through art and was unafraid to give women a chance. Sofonisba AnguissolaElisabetta Sirani and Artemisia Gentileschi all had very successful careers working for both private and ecclesiastical patrons, but it was Lavinia Fontana who would burst the canvas ceiling when she was commissioned to produce the first Italian altarpiece to be painted by a woman.

(Here’s a link to my earlier CWR article on women and the Reformation.)

— 5 —

Speaking of history…and hurricanes, which we’ve been doing a lot of lately, here’s an interesting article about a hurricane that struck North America almost five hundred years ago this week, with a profound impact.

During the evening of Tuesday, September 19, 1559, some 458 years ago, strong winds from the north heralded the arrival of a great hurricane in Pensacola Bay.  The storm was not the first to assail the bay, nor would it be the last, but the 1559 hurricane did manage to change the course of human history by destroying a fleet of Spanish colonial ships riding at anchor off the newly-founded settlement called Santa María de Ochuse.

More links about the Spanish in the Southeast:

A website devoted to the missions of La Florida – with a comprehensive list. 

A recent article about a mission on a Georgia barrier island:

The Santa Catalina de Guale mission on St. Catherine’s Island was one of the oldest Catholic church sites in North America, founded more than 150 years before St. Junipero Serra arrived in California and just a few years after the founding of the mission at St. Augustine, Florida. In spite of this distinction, its history is not well known because, for centuries, the mission site on Catherine’s Island was considered “lost.”

The story is a tragic one – in 1597 all five friars living at the mission were brutally murdered by the Guale Indians. After the friars learned the Guale language, preached the Gospel, and lived peacefully with the native population, a rebellion was sparked when Friar Pedro de Corpa refused to allow a baptized Guale man to take a second wife.

Friar Pedro was slain on September 14, 1597, and his head was displayed on a pike at the mission landing. The four other Franciscans were killed in similar fashion. They have been proposed for sainthood, and cause for their canonization is underway.

By the mid-18th century, all traces of the mission’s existence had disappeared. Some 300 years later, a team of archaeologists began to excavate the area. In addition to Indian pots and arrowheads, researchers found rosary beads and Christian medals. Excavations revealed a rectangular plaza surrounded by the mission church and friary. By 2000, when excavations ceased, archaeologists had found over 2 million artifacts at the site.

— 6 —

An excellent article about the excellent Cristo Rey school network from City Journal – of which we have one in Birmingham.

When assigning internships, the school takes students’ long-term career goals into account, especially in their junior and senior years. Unlike traditional career and technical education programs, Cristo Rey’s is more about opening students’ eyes to the world of work than providing training in specific fields: the goal is not to produce, say, a technician or skilled tradesperson but to inspire poor kids to expand their horizons.

The schools’ board members make the work-study partnerships possible. Robert Catell is chairman of the board of Cristo Rey Brooklyn. He is a Brooklyn native raised by a single mother and attended public schools, including the City College of New York. Catell took a job at Brooklyn Union Gas in the meter-repair shop and rose to become CEO of National Grid. He sees parallels between his story and those of today’s students, and he cherishes the annual graduation ceremony. “You want to cry,” he says. “You see the families and their joy over their children going to the best schools in the country. . . . It’s a labor of love for me.”

— 7 —

Please take a look at Emily Stimpson Chapman’s searing, heartbreaking and prayer-inspiring blog post on infertility:

And, for a little while, I live in that hope. I start to relax. For a week or two, the sight of pregnancy announcements in my newsfeed and random babies and pregnant women on the street don’t make me burst into tears. Because maybe this month, God heard those prayers.

Then, on Day 28, the bleeding starts again. And hope dies. On that day, barren isn’t just the state of my womb. It’s the state of my soul.

The days that follow are my worst days. Those are the days all my years of waiting and longing for a baby really never prepared me for. They didn’t prepare me for the cruel 28-day cycle of trying, hoping, and failing. Simply desiring a baby and not being able to have one didn’t prepare me for monthly mourning. And it definitely didn’t prepare me for throwing all our efforts, all our prayers, and all our hopes, into the garbage can every few hours.

The initial cold shock of grief, of course, doesn’t last much longer than the false hope. At some point, it too passes and becomes something else. I’m not sure what it becomes for others, but for this redhead, it increasingly turns into a hot mess of flaming rage.

 

 

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— 1 —

As I mentioned last week, The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories is available. Amazon doesn’t have it shipping until next week (and by next week, it will probably be…the next week) But you can certainly order it from Loyola, request it from your local bookstore, or, if you like, from me – I have limited quantities available. Go here for that.

— 2 —

Bible stories? For kids? Aren’t there plenty of books like that out there already? Well, yes and no.

Here’s the niche I want to fill with my book:

When do most Catholics, adult and children, encounter Scripture? During Sunday Mass. So it made sense to me to offer a book that would reflect that reality and build on it.

So the stories in the book – written for a 5-11 age reading/read aloud level – are arranged according to the liturgical season during which you would most likely hear them in the context of Sunday  or a feastday Mass. That means, of course, that it’s not comprehensive – if you don’t hear it at Sunday Mass, it is most likely not in the book, although I did make a couple of exceptions for readings that are strongly associated with a particular season and might be heard during a weekday Mass.

The stories are retold, faithful to Scripture – I am a stickler about that. Some re-tellings of Scripture impose, for example, emotions or thoughts on figures in the narrative that aren’t actually explicitly in Scripture. I don’t do that.

Following the narrative of each story are thoughts relating the story to either the particular feast or liturgical season or some other spiritual or theological point (sacraments prayer, virtues, and so on), and then finally, a question for reflection and a very short prayer.

— 3 —

The book includes lovely maps as endpapers, a basic liturgical calendar, wonderful illustrations, of course, and an introduction that will hopefully help families and catechists use the book in meaningful ways.

What I hoped to do was to bring children and families more deeply into the dynamic of reading the Scriptures as a Catholic– that is, in unity with the Church. We hear the Scriptures in a liturgical context, we apply them to our own lives, we return to the liturgy with new insights – and we’re always part of that weOf course reading Scripture as an act of individual devotion and study is good and important, but even that must be in the context of our awareness of Revelation as a reality that’s for and about the cosmos, not just our little microcosm in one corner of it, and so to situate our hearing of the Word in the Church, the Body of Christ.

— 4 —

Speaking of books, I am finally getting around to “publishing” some of my out-of-print books for Amazon Kindle. There are other means of epublication, of course, but I can only handle one formatting effort at a time. You can find it here:

I’ll be doing Mary and the Christian Life next. Just as soon as I finish some actual other work this coming weekend.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post on this, I have taken the free version of Mary Magdalene down for the moment – just until I give it some time on Amazon. Then the free pdf will be back up at my website. I’ll do the same with Mary and the Christian life and the others: remove the free version for the first few weeks it’s on Amazon, and then offer it free again as well.

— 5 —

So how’s the homeschooling going? Thanks for asking! Well, if a bit scattered. I am not sure how the “unschooling” part is coming – we’ll see at the end of September – at that point, we’ll take a look at all of the daily and weekly record sheets (which are being maintained) – look at topics read about, books read, trips taken, and see what that looks like. What I keep telling him is that he needs to think about nine months from now – what does he want and hope to see when he looks back over the whole year?

Decent advice for the rest of life, I think.

— 6 —

So no big changes from what I’d said we’d be doing: Komen Pre-Algebra math review pages every day (fractions and decimals so far), Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra – finished chapter 1 and are beginning chapter 2. He’s been reading various magazines (National Geographic, National Geographic History, Archaeology) and non-fiction books on topics that interest him. He’s currently memorizing the list of US Presidents as a framework for History Bee prep. We do our daily liturgical prayer/Saint of the Day/poem reading. The Spanish curriculum arrived yesterday, so he’ll start that next week (his choice).  He had some heavy duty music theory this week – learning about the different kinds of minor keys/scales, which is all new to me, too. We had to do some supplementary video-watching for that. He’s watched various science/nature related videos – this on Daddy Long-Legs, for example.   Various videos from The Kids Should See ThisWe went to the zoo.  The homeschool boxing class got underway.  Piano lesson.

Another trip to Moss Rock Preserve. He climbed, made the acquaintance of a stick bug:

 

September will be very busy. His science center classes will be on Tuesday mornings. Photography class Thursday mornings. Boxing Tuesday afternoons. Piano Thursday afternoons. Getting two teeth pulled. Piano recital in mid-September. Our zoo does a “Zookeeper for a day” thing – really half a day, and of course, it ain’t free, but I justify the cost by saying…well, I’m not paying $600/month tuition any more, so I think I can swing this.  He’ll be doing that – in the reptile house – one afternoon in September, as well.  I thought they only allowed his age group to do this zookeeper for a day thing in either the children’s zoo (farm animals) or with birds, but when I contacted them, they said they’d just added the reptile house as an option – which is of course, our favorite. Although he likes birds quite a bit, too. But given the chance to hang out with the big snakes and lizards for an afternoon? Much more exciting.

— 7 —

I have taken some reins from the unschooler, though…you knew that would happen, didn’t you?

He reads a lot, but it’s very much leisure reading, which is just fine, but I did think…well, maybe I should be a bit more directive on this….so we agreed that he’d always have a “school-type” book going as well, of either his or my choice. So we’re starting with Animal Farm – which will be a good way for him to dive into various areas of history as well.

Then I read this article – “Memorize That Poem!” which is very, very good. 

It’s so good, I’d invite you to share it with any educators in your life or circle. We have done quite a bit of poetry memorization around here over the years, but it really fell by the wayside last school year with both of them in school. This was the nudge I needed for revival.

By the 1920s, educators increasingly questioned such poetry’s “relevance” to students’ lives. They began to abandon memorization in favor of teaching methods that emphasized self-expression, although the practice remained popular until about 1960 — and still endures in some foreign language classes (to pass a college Russian course, I had to memorize some Pushkin).

The truth is that memorizing and reciting poetry can be a highly expressive act. And we need not return to the Victorians’ narrow idea of the canon to reclaim poetry as one of the cheapest, most durable tools of moral and emotional education — whether you go in for Virgil, Li Po, Rumi or Gwendolyn Brooks (ideally, all four).

How does memorizing and reciting someone else’s words help me express myself? I put this question to Samara Huggins, 18, the winner of the 2017 national Poetry Out Loud contest, in which high school students recite poems before a panel of judges. She performed “Novel,” by the avant-garde 19th-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud — not an author who, at first glance, has much in common with Ms. Huggins, a teenager from the Atlanta area.

Yet every good poem grapples with some essential piece of human experience. “Rimbaud wrote that poem when he was young, and he was talking about love. I related to him,” Ms. Huggins said. (He writes: “We talked a lot and feel a kiss on our lips/Trembling there like a small insect.”)

“Reciting a poem will help you express what you’re trying to say,” she told me. “It’s like when I need to pray about something, I’ll look into a devotional, and those words can start me off.” Ms. Huggins grew up Episcopalian, but even the resolutely secular need to borrow words of supplication, anguish or thanks every now and then.

Susan Wise Bauer, a writer whose best-selling home-school curriculums are based on classical and medieval models and stress memorization, told me that “you can’t express your ineffable yearnings for a world that is not quite what you thought it was going to be until you’ve memorized three or four poems that give you the words to begin.” She learned William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood” when she was 8. “Every decade I grow older, I understand a little more what he means about that sense of loss of wonder,” she said.

Understanding a good poem is hard — all the more reason to memorize it. Ask students to write a paper on Wordsworth, and once they turn it in, they consign the text to oblivion. But if they memorize his lament, years from now — perhaps while they are cleaning up their child’s chocolate-smeared face after birthday cake — they may suddenly grasp his nostalgia for “Delight and liberty, the simple creed/Of Childhood” and the bittersweet truth that “Our noisy years seem moments in the being/Of the eternal Silence.”

Of course, this writer’s evangelizing on behalf of poetry brought to mind all of my own evangelizing about the role of literature – and sacred literature, prayer, liturgy and yes, faith – in bringing us out of our own small narrow worlds and situating us in reality – which is much bigger than we are, and bigger than we  know.

So yes, poetry. We’ll be back at it –  next week. One good poem a month, that’s all. Now to figure out which one…

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— 1 —

It’s the feastday of St. Clare! I’ll refer you to last year’s post on her, with links to biographical material and her letters, as well as photos from our own trip to Assisi.

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If you read nothing else, take a look at her letters, especially those to Agnes of Prague.  

From last year’s post: 

Agnes was the daughter of a king and espoused to the Emperor Frederick, who remarked famously upon news of her refusal of marriage to him, “If she had left me for a mortal man, I would have taken vengeance with the sword, but I cannot take offence because in preference to me she has chosen the King of Heaven.”

She entered the Poor Clares, and what makes the letters from Clare so interesting to me is the way that Clare plays on Agnes’ noble origins, using language and allusions that draw upon Agnes’ experience, but take her beyond it, as in this one. 

 

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There are no photographs allowed inside the Basilica of S. Chiara in Assisi, which is where the original San Damiano cross is now kept. Here’s Ann Engelhart’s lovely painting of the San Damiano cross from Adventures in Assisi. 

 

9. Santa Chiara basilica - spread 8 copy

— 2 —

And….the first week almost done. Driving to and from school has happened several times. I am loathe to say too much about that because, I admit, I’m superstitious. Or, as I prefer to say it, I believe there is wisdom and truth in old adages like “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

So all I’ll say is that for me, my level of tension has decreased as the week as progressed. The fact that the new anti-texting-while-driving law took effect on 8/1 has helped. Not that I don’t see people still studying their phones on the road, but I’m hoping those numbers will, indeed, decrease and the risk to others decrease as well.

 

— 3 —

Speaking of Alabama….this is for you, in case you need to be amused. I guess it’s basically the same crew that does SEC Shorts – I don’t care a wit about football, but I find any kind of subculture – including fandom – fascinating, and always enjoy some precision satire and observation. These are hit and miss, but when they’re on, they’re really funny.

So they’re doing these. Some are weaker than others in both writing and acting, but my favorites are:

 

And the one on “southern” accents in movies…and bless your heart is okay, too. 

It’s just fun because they’re filmed in Birmingham, and the sights and sounds are familiar – there’s one about the challenge of eating healthy in the south that has a snip of the guy running in the park, distracted by an ice cream truck, which is very funny because he’s in Railroad Park where there’s always an ice cream song driving the world mad with its tunes….

Also – in one of the videos, “Things you never hear people saying in the South” – there’s reference to a wedding being scheduled on a football weekend. A few years ago, when I was living in the front-porch neighborhood (still missed – but we just needed a different space…), I was walking and overheard a woman talking on the phone on her front porch very loudly: 

“Okay, I know  the game will be on, but no, I am not putting a TV in the room during the reception.  There’s sports bars down the street – you all can just leave and go down there if you want….”

 

]— 4 —

This is a site to which I used to refer readers all the time: Aid to the Church in Need. It’s a good place to find projects to help and also provides helpful insight into the life of the Church around the world.

— 5 —

Edited – I miscopied the template and have been skipping #5 – thanks for noticing!!

Homeschooling is slowly getting rolling. We had a friend over on one day, and have had various other appointments, but next week looks clear. We’ve gotten going on math, and yesterday, he had his first good morning of “unschooling” – that is just reading and talking, and then recording what he’d read about. This won’t be a “comprehensive” education, but it will be…something.

— 6 —

The Jungle: It was my older son’s summer reading, so I joined in…the fun. Well.

On one level, it’s an “easy” read (for most of the book), because Sinclair was a journalist and tended to get right to the point and had great descriptive skills. It didn’t hurt that what he was describing was so vivid and visceral and the story of unrelenting misery so compelling, if…unrelenting.

For those of you who don’t know, The Jungle was the fruit of a couple of months Sinclair spent in Chicago in the early 20th century, examining the meatpacking industry and the lives of the immigrant workers in that industry. The focus of the story is an extended Lithuanian family and the young man who marries into that family, named Jurgis.

It’s all pretty devastating. The slaughterhouses and packing facilities are brutal and filthy. The workers’ lives are miserable and that misery is unrelenting. It’s all described quite vividly and, spoiler alert: No, things don’t get better. It’s just one thing after another.

Sinclair has a point in this, though. He was a strong socialist, and while most people associated The Jungle with the story told about the industry and the resultant formation of the FDA as a result of the outcry raised by the book, Sinclair’s main intention was to raise sympathy for the workers.  He was always a little distressed that the social activism inspired by the book was focused on the industry rather than the fundamental equation of American capitalism of the time – as he saw it – that made workers nothing more than cogs in a machine (or pigs on a killing line) for the purpose of enriching a relatively few.

It’s a mostly interesting book – until the last sixth, or so, when Jurgis discovers socialism and does so mostly by listening to speeches. Speeches that we are privileged to share in, also. Page. After page. After page. Thousands of words of socialist uplift, Comrade.

It’s important and interesting to encounter even that part of the book, in my mind, because of the spiritual associations. Jurgis experiences no less than a spiritual conversion that gives his life a transcendent meaning and binds him to others.

But still….it’s very boring.

As a whole, though, a book worth reading, even for young people. I quibble with a lot of school assignments, but I think this was a good choice as an introduction to the study, this year, of the second half of American history and literature. It vividly brings you into another world and lays out issues that gather up the promises of the first half of history that you studied last year then sets them in this new situation and demands you answer the question, What now? 

— 7 —

And, oh my heavens, speaking of immigration and American hopes and dreams – on a more positive note –  if this article has passed your various newsfeeds by, take a look and catch up. And then, if you’re like me, make the decision (again!) to stop the griping, be grateful, and jump back into this life business full-tilt, creating and giving what you can:

In 1956, blood spilled as Hungarians revolted against Soviet control. Hideg and his wife, a pianist, risked execution as they fled Budapest under cover of darkness. They sneaked past Russian infantry and escaped first to Austria and then New York City in early 1957. Hideg got a job as a janitor, and after work he’d race to Birdland and other Manhattan jazz clubs to see his heroes.

In 1961, he and his wife loaded up their old DeSoto and headed west, flat broke, stopping at bars along the way to play for food and gas money, Hollywood or bust….

 

….“I did not come to this country to be a burden on the state,” says Hideg, who has resisted signing up for many entitlements available to seniors.

He chose the musician’s life, he says, and has no regrets. If he has a message for others, Hideg tells me, it’s that doing something you love will serve you well. And another thing: Don’t hesitate to ask friends for help if you need it.

“He’s not a shy guy, but it’s not easy for him” to accept money, says Hideg’s longtime buddy Laszlo Cser, a retired musician and L.A. City College professor. “Lately he’s more willing to go along.”

Louis Kabok, a local bass player who knew Hideg in Hungary, fled at about the same time. He says his friend’s high spirits in the face of hardship and advancing age don’t appear to be an act.

“To tell you the truth, I never met another person in my life who has his kind of attitude,” says Kabok. “He just has an idea of the way he wants to live his life, and he’s doing it.”

Indeed, for all his troubles, Hideg glows. His silver hair is as thick as his Hungarian accent. His grin is young, timeless and broad, the grin of a man who’s in on a secret.

Whatever day it is, the weekend is coming soon, and Hideg lives for Friday and Saturday.

He can’t bang the skins in the quiet environs of his apartment building, so every Saturday, he stays drummer fit with a two-hour workout at Stein on Vine in Hollywood, the legendary music shop where he jams with gray-bearded buddies and it’s the 1950s all over again.

In the video attached to the story – worth a few minutes of your time – Mr. Hideg says, “I live alone…and I don’t have a family. But I am not lonely because I have my friends, I have God, I have my drums….when I play, I concentrate on the music. I don’t care about anything else…”

(The Go Fund Me campaign has raised a bunch for Mr. Hideg.)

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Last year, as part of our three weeks in Italy, we visited Ravenna.

 

There, in the Mausoleum of Gallia Placidia, is a wonderful mosaic of St. Lawrence. Above is my photograph, but you can find better ones elsewhere, such as this excellent site unpacking the iconography of St. Lawrence. 

From the Vatican website, a good article on today’s saint in the context of the permanent diaconate:

In his De Officiis (1, 41, 205-207) we have Ambrose’s particularly eloquent account of the martyrdom of St Lawrence. It was subsequently taken up by Prudentius and by St Augustine. Hence it passes to Maximus of Turin, St Peter Chrisologus and to Leo the Great before emerging again in some of the formularies of the Roman Sacramentals, the Missale Gothicumm and in the Caerimoniale Visigoticum (Bibliotheca Sanctorum, …..1538-1539).

Ambrose dwells, firstly, on the encounter and dialogue of Lawrence and Sixtus. He alludes to the distribution of the Church’s goods to the poor and ends by mentioning the grid-iron, the instrument of Lawrence’s torture, and remarks on the phrase which the proto-Deacon of the Roman Church addresses to his torturers: “assum est…versa et manduca” (cf. Bibliotheca Sanctorum …., col 1538-1539).

We shall dwell on the Ambrosian text of the De Officiis (Cap. 41,nn. 205-206-207), which is very moving in its intensity and strength of expression. Thus writes St Ambrose:

“St Lawrence wept when he saw his Bishop, Sixtus, led out to his martyrdom. He wept not because he was being let out to die but because he would survive Sixtus. He cried out to him in a loud voice: ‘Where are you going Father, without your son? Where do you hasten to, holy Bishop, without your Deacon? You cannot offer sacrifice

without a minister. Father, are you displeased with something in me? Do you think me unworthy? Show us a sign that you have found a worthy minister. Do you not wish that he to whom you gave the Lord’s blood and with whom you have shared the sacred mysteries should spill his own blood with you? Beware that in your praise your own judgment should not falter. Despise the pupil and shame the Master. Do not forget that great and famous men are victorious more in the deeds of their disciples than in their own. Abraham made sacrifice of his own son, Peter instead sent Stephen. Father, show us your own strength in your sons; sacrifice him whom you have raised, to attain eternal reward in that glorious company, secure in your judgment”.

In reply Sixtus says: “I will not leave you, I will not abandon you my son. More difficult trials are kept for you. A shorter race is set for us who are older. For you who are young a more glorious triumph over tyranny is reserved. Soon, you will see, cry no more, after three days you will follow me. It is fitting that such an interval should be set between Bishop and Levite. It would not have been fitting for you to die under the guidance of a martyr, as though you needed help from him. Why do want to share in my martyrdom? I leave its entire inheritance to you. Why do need me present? The weak pupil precedes the master, the strong, who have no further need of instruction, follow and conquer without him. Thus Elijah left Elisha. I entrust the success of my strength to you”.

This was the contest between them which was worthy of a Bishop and of a Deacon: who would be the first to die for Christ (It is said that in tragedy, the spectators would burst into applause when Pilade said he was Orestes and when Orestes himself declared that he was Orestes) the one who would be killed instead of Orestes, and when Orestes prevented Pilades from being killed in place of himself. Neither of these deserved to live for both were guilty of patricide. One because he had killed his father, the other because he had been an accomplice in patricide.) In the case of Lawrence, nothing urged him to offer himself as a victim but the desire to be a holocaust for Christ. Three days after the death of Sixtus, while the terror raged, Lawrence would be burned on the grid-iron: “This side is done, turn and eat”. With such strength of soul he conquered the flames of the fire” (Ambrose, De Officiis).

…..

The principle characteristic defining the Deacon in se, and his ministry, is that he is ordained for the service of charity. Martyrdom, which is a witness to the point of shedding one’s blood, must be considered an expression of greater love or charity. It is service to a charity that knows no limits. The ministry of charity in which the Deacon is deputed by ordination is not limited to service at table, or indeed to what former catechetical terminology called corporal works of mercy, nor to the spiritual works of mercy. The diaconal service of charity must include imitation of Christ by means of unconditional self-giving since he is the fruitful witness …… (cf Ap 1, 5:13; 14).

In the case of Lawrence, as St Ambrose explains, “no other desire urged him but that of offering himself to the Lord as a holocaust” (de Officiis, 1,41, n. 207). By means of the witness borne before his persecutors, it is evident that the diaconal ministry is not to be equated with that of service to one’s neighbour, understood or reduced solely to their material needs. Lawrence, in that act which expresses a greater love for Christ and which leads to his giving up his own life, also permits his tormentors, in a certain sense, to experience the Incarnate Word who, in the end, is the personal and common destiny of all mankind. This is a theological service of charity to which every Deacon must tend or, at least, be disposed to accept.   More

A good summary of his life from a site for deacons.

Again: A short an interesting article on the iconography of St. Lawrence:

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We never refused kindness which might lead to acquaintanceship….

As travel is a topic I’m interested in, as well as being an activity which prompts not a little soul-searching on my part, I found the end of Martineau’s account of her years-long journey in America quite fascinating and even rather moving. I’m going to just reprint the whole passage here – it’s long, but it will save you a click or two.

For previous entries on Martineau see here and here.)

Her way to these final considerations of the value of travel has begun in the graveyard – comparing the American graveyard to European cemeteries, which then leads her to reflect on journeys – mind you, when she speaks of “travel” she is not speaking of If This Is Tuesday It Must Be Belgium – Bucket List Travel. She is speaking of long, slow journeys – slow because that is how one traveled in those days – during which one had ample time to experience new places with new friends.

While writing I have been struck by the strong resemblance between the
retrospect of travel from home and that of life from the cemetery. In
each contemplation the hosts of human beings who have been seen acting,
suffering, and meditating, rise up before the mind’s eye as in a kind of
judgment scene, except that they rise up, not to be judged, but to
instruct. The profit of travel is realized at home in the solitude of
the study, and the true meaning of human life (as far as its meaning can
become known to us here) is best made out from its place of rest. While
martineau retrosepct western travel2busy among strangers, one is carried away by sympathy and by prejudice
from the point whence foreign society can be viewed with anything like
impartiality; one cannot but hear the mutual criminations of parties;
one cannot but be perplexed by the mutual misrepresentations of
fellow-citizens; one cannot but sympathize largely with all in turn,
since there is a large mixture of truth in all views about which people
are strongly persuaded. It is only after sitting down alone at home that
the traveller can separate the universal truth from the partial error
with which he has sympathized, and can make some approximation towards
assurance as to what he has learned and what he believes. So it is in
the turmoil of life. While engaged in it, we are ignorantly persuaded,
and liable, therefore, to be shaken from our certainty; we are
disproportionately moved, and we sympathize with incompatibilities, so
as to be sure of disappointment and humiliation inflicted through our
best sensibilities. In the place of retrospect we may find our repose
again in contemplating our ignorance and weakness, and ascertaining the
conviction and strength which they have wrought out for us.

What is gained by living and travelling?

One of the most striking and even amusing results is the perception of
the transient nature of troubles. The thoughtful traveller feels
something like wonder and amusement at himself for being so depressed by
evils as he finds himself in the midst of long-idealized objects. He is
surprised at his own sufferings from hunger, cold, heat, and weariness;
and at his being only prevented by shame from passing some great object
unseen, if he has to rouse himself from sleep to look at it, or to
forego a meal for its sake. The next time he is refreshed, he wonders
how his troubles could ever so affect him; and, when at home, he looks
through the picture-gallery of his memory, the afflictions of past hours
would have vanished, their very occurrence would be denied but for the
record in the journal. The contemptible entries about cold, hunger, and
sleepiness stand, ludicrously enough, among notices of cataracts and
mountains, and of moral conflicts in the senates of nations. And so with
life. We look back upon our pangs about objects of desire, as if it were
the object and not the temper of pursuit which was of importance. We
look back on our sufferings from disease, from disappointment, from
suspense, in times when the great moral events of our lives, or even of
the age, were impending, and we disregarded them. We were mourning over
some petty loss or injury while a new region of the moral universe was
about to be disclosed to us; or fretting about our “roast chicken and
our little game at cards,” while the liberties of an empire were being
lost or won.

Worse than our own little troubles, probably, has been the fear and
sorrow of hurting others. One of the greatest of a traveller’s hardships
is the being aware that he must be perpetually treading on somebody’s
toes. Passing from city to city, from one group of families to another,
where the divisions of party and of sect, the contrariety of interests,
and the world of domestic circumstance are all unknown to him, he can
hardly open his lips without wounding somebody; and it makes him all the
more anxious if, through the generosity of his entertainers, he never
hears of it. No care of his own can save him from his function of
torturer. He cannot speak of religion, morals, and politics; he cannot
speak of insanity, intemperance, or gaming, or even of health, riches,
fair fame, and good children, without danger of rousing feelings of
personal remorse or family shame in some, or the bitter sense of
bereavement in others. Little or nothing has been said of this as one of
the woes of travelling; but, in my own opinion, this is the direction in
which the fortitude of the traveller is the most severely tried. Yet, in
the retrospect, it seems even good that we should have been obliged thus
to call the generosity and forbearance of our hosts into exercise. They
are, doubtless, benefited by the effort; and we may perhaps be gainers,
the direct operation of forbearance and forgiveness being to enhance
affection. The regard of those whom we have wounded may perhaps be
warmer than if we had never hurt them. It is much the same with men’s
mutual inflictions in life. None of us, especially none who are frank
and honest, can speak what we think, and act according to what we
believe, without giving pain in many directions. It is very painful, but
quite unavoidable. In the retrospect, however, we are able to smile on
the necessity, and to conclude that, as we have been willing to bear our
share of the wounding from others, and should, perhaps, have been sorry
if it had not happened, it is probable that others may have regarded us
and our inflictions in the same way.

Nothing is more conspicuous in the traveller’s retrospect than the fact
how little external possession has to do with happiness. As he wanders
back over city and village, plantation and prairie, he sees again care
on the brow of the merchant and mirth in the eyes of the labourer; the
soulless faces of the rich Shakers rise up before him, side by side with
the gladsome countenance of the ruined abolitionist. Each class kindly
pities the one below it in power and wealth; the traveller pities none
but those who are wasting their energies in the exclusive pursuit of
either. Generally speaking, they have all an equal endowment of the
things from which happiness is really derived. They have, in pretty
equal distribution, health, senses, and their pleasures, homes,
children, pursuits, and successes. With all these things in common, the
one point of difference in their respective amounts of possession of
more than they can at present eat, use, and enjoy, seems to him quite
unworthy of all the compassion excited by it; though the compassion,
having something amiable in it, is of a kindly use as far as it goes. In
a cemetery, the thoughtless are startled into the same perception. How
destitute are the dead in their graves! How naked is the spirit gone
from its warm housings and environs of luxuries! This is the first
thought. The next is, was it ever otherwise? Had these luxuries ever
anything to do with the peace of the spirit, except as affording a
pursuit for the employment of its energies? Is not as vigorous and
gladsome a mind to be found abroad in the fields, or singing at the
mill, as doing the honours of the drawing-room? and, if it were not so,
what words could we find strong enough for the cruelty of the decree
under which every human being is compelled to enter his grave solitary
and destitute? In the retrospect of the recent traveller in America, the
happiest class is clearly that small one of the original abolitionists;
men and women wholly devoted to a lofty pursuit, and surrendering for it
much that others most prize: and, in the retrospect of the traveller
through life, the most eminently blessed come forth from among all ranks
and orders of men, some being rich and others poor; some illustrious and
others obscure; but all having one point of resemblance, that they have2martineau retrosepct western travel
not staked their peace on anything so unreal as money or fame.

As for the worth of praise, a traveller cannot have gone far without
finding it out. He has been praised and blamed at every turn; and he
soon sees that what people think of him matters to themselves and not to
him. He applies this to himself, and finds confirmation. It is ludicrous
to suppose that what he thinks of this man and that, whose motives and
circumstances he can never completely understand, should be of lasting
importance to the subjects of his observation, while he feels it to be
very important to his own peace and state of temper that he should
admire as much and despise as little as reason will allow. That this is
not more felt and acted upon is owing to the confined intercourses of
the majority of men. If, like the traveller, they were for a long time
exposed to a contrariety of opinions respecting themselves, they would
arrive at the conviction which rises “by natural exhalation” from the
field of graves, that men’s mutual judgments are almost insignificant to
the objects of them, while immeasurably important to those who form
them. When we look about us upon this obelisk and that urn, what matter
the applauses and censures of the neighbours of the departed, in the
presence of the awful facts here declared, that he has lived and is
gone? In this mighty transaction between himself and his Maker, how
insignificant to him are the comments of beings between whom and himself
there could exist no complete understanding in this life! But there is
no overrating the consequences to himself of having lived with high or
low models before his eyes; in a spirit of love or a spirit of contempt;
in a process of generous or disparaging interpretation of human actions.
His whole future condition and progress may be affected by it….

The mysterious pain of partings presses upon the returned traveller and
the surviver with nearly equal force. I do not know whether this woe is
usually taken into the estimate of travellers when they are counting the
cost of their scheme before setting out; but I know that it deserves to
be. I believe that many would not go if they could anticipate the misery
of such partings as those which must be encountered in a foreign
country, in long dreary succession, and without more hope than in
parting with the dying. The chances of meeting again are small. For a
time grief sooths itself by correspondence; but this cannot last, as one
family group after another opens its arms to the stranger, and gives him
a home only that he must vacate it for another. The correspondence
slackens, fails, and the parties are to one another as if they were
dead, with the sad difference that there is somewhat less faith in each
other than if they were in circumstances in which it is physically
impossible that they could communicate. To the surviver of intercourse,
in either place of meditation, there remains the heartsoreness from the
anguish of parting; that pain which, like physical pain, takes us by
surprise with its bitterness at each return, and disposes us, at length,
to either cowardice or recklessness; and each of these survivers may be
conscious of some visitations of jealousy, jealousy lest the absent
should be learning to forget the past in new interests and connexions.

The strongest point of resemblance in the two contemplations of the
life which lies behind, is this; that a scene is closed and another is
opening. The term of existence in a foreign land, and the somewhat
longer term spent on this planetary island, are viewed as over; and the
fatigues, enjoyments, and perplexities of each result in an amount of
calm experience. The dead, it is hoped, are entering on a new region, in
which they are to act with fresh powers and a wiser activity. The
refreshed traveller has the same ambition. I have surveyed my
experience, and told my tale; and, though often visiting America in
thought, can act no more with reference to my sojourn there, but must
pass over into a new department of inquiry and endeavour. Friendships
are the grand gain of travel over a continent or through life; and these
may be carried forward into new regions of existence here, as we hope
they may be into the unexplored hereafter, to give strength and delight
to new exertions, and to unite the various scenes of our being by the
strongest ties we know.

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Well, after several months of dipping, a day or two of  immersion here and there and finally a stint of sustained reading, I have finished Harriet Martineau’s Retrospect of Western Travel.  What a delight.

I had heard of the 19th century writer and early sociologist, but didn’t know much. Then I listened to the episode of In Our Time dedicated to her and I was intrigued, mostly by the fact that she had taken an extended journey to the United States and written about it.

The fruit of that travel is in two works: Retrospect of Western Travel and the more topical Society in America. 

It’s too bad de Toqueville gets all the love, because Martineau offers just as much. Retrospect is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read, an astonishing first-hand view of the United States in its early history which includes encounters with most the most eminent personages of the age, from Andrew Jackson to Emerson, from the Beechers to Garrison.

And she goes everywhere.  New England and the Middle Atlantic, all through the South "amy welborn"from Charleston to New Orleans and up to Kentucky, and throughout the Midwest. She covers everything, from a close reading of the political system, to social morays to intellectual and religious life. Her impressions of slavery are particularly acute and impassioned.

Back in March, I wrote a bit about volume 1 – go back and take a look, especially if you want to read about her irritation at this newfangled obsession called a rocking-chair. 

I highlighted so much in reading that I can just skim the surface of sharing what interested me, so skim I shall. Different points will strike different readers. What interests me in writing of this kind are the moments in which I see the present in the past – in which Martineau notices aspects of American society that are still a part of our makeup, in which she happens upon quirks or incidents that might still be familiar to us today. I’m also interested in observations she make that confound our impressions of the past. Don’t look for rhyme or reason in these quotes. I’m just going through what I highlighted in volume 2 – most recently read – as the moments struck me:

At a school program in Cincinnati (a city, by the way, she believed should be nation’s capitol.)

Many prizes of books were given by the gentlemen on the platform; and the ceremony closed with an address from the pulpit which was true, and in some respects beautiful; but which did not appear altogether judicious to those who are familiar with children’s minds. The children were exhorted to trust their teachers entirely; to be assured that their friends would do by them what was kindest. Now, neither children nor grown people trust, any more than they believe, because they are bid. Telling them to have confidence is so much breath wasted. If they are properly trained, they will unavoidably have this trust and confidence, and the less that is said about it the better. If not, the less said the better, too; for  confidence is then out of the question, and there is danger in making it an empty phrase. It would he well if those whose office it is to address children wore fully aware that exhortation, persuasion, and dissuasion are of no use in their case; and that there is immeasurable value in the opposite method of appeal. Make truth credible, and they will believe it: make goodness lovely, and they will love it: make holiness cheerful, and they will be glad in it: but remind them of themselves by threat, inducement, or exhortation, and you impair (if you do any thing) the force of their unconscious affections: try to put them upon a task of arbitrary self-management, and your words pass over their ears only to be forgotten.

(Her comments remind me of the present day in which we think if we just tell children and young people to have self-esteem and believe in themselves!  ….it will happen…)

She often comments on the generosity of Americans:

This account of our three first clays at Cincinnati will convey a sufficient idea of a stranger’s impressions of the place. There is no need to give a report of its charitable institutions and its commerce:  the details of the latter are well known to those whom they may concern; and in America, wherever men are gathered together, the helpless are aided, and the suffering relieved. 

However, she notes as well the “illiberality” of many Americans – by which she means prejudices, and right after this passage, she comments on anti-Catholicism. (Martineau was a Unitarian, and no fan of Catholic practices, but she was also committed to freedom of religion and expression. Although she does infer that one of the reasons that prejudice is bad is that it might just prompt the growth and strength of the object of prejudice….)

The Catholic religion spreads rapidly in many most of the recently-settled parts of the United States, and its increase produces an almost insane dread among some Protestants, who fail to see that no evils that the Catholic religion can produce in the present state of society can be so afflictive and dangerous as the bigotry by which it is proposed to put it down. The removal to Cincinnati of Dr. Beecher, the ostentation and virulent foe of the Catholics, has much quickened the spirit of alarm in that region. It is to be hoped  that Dr. Beecher and the people of Cincinnati will remember what has been the invariable consequence in America of public denunciations of assumed offences which the law does not reach; namely, mobbing.

To more prosaic topic – corn on the cob.

This day, I remember, we first tasted
green corn, one of the most delicious of vegetables, and by some
preferred to green peas. The greatest drawback is the way in which it is
necessary to eat it. The cob, eight or ten inches long, is held at both
ends, and, having been previously sprinkled with salt, is nibbled and
sucked from end to end till all the grains are got out. It looks awkward
enough: but what is to be done? Surrendering such a vegetable from
considerations of grace is not to be thought of.

On New England education, class, and a contrast with Old England:

Their common and high schools, their lyceums and cheap colleges, are exciting
and feeding thousands of minds, which in England would never get beyond
the loom or the ploughtail. If few are very learned in the villages of
Massachusetts, still fewer are very ignorant; and all have the power and
the will to invite the learning of the towns among them, and to
remunerate its administration of knowledge. The consequence of this is a
state of village society in which only vice and total ignorance need
hang the head, while (out of the desolate range of religious bigotry)
all honourable tastes are as sure of being countenanced and respected as
all kindly feelings are of being reciprocated. I believe most
enlightened and virtuous residents in the villages of New-England are
eager to acknowledge that the lines have fallen to them in pleasant
places.

But she has harsh words for Harvard College:

The politics of the managers of Harvard University are opposed to those
of the great body of the American people. She is the aristocratic
college of the United States. Her pride of antiquity, her vanity of
pre-eminence and wealth, are likely to prevent her renovating her
principles and management so as to suit the wants of the period; and she
will probably receive a sufficient patronage from the aristocracy, for a
considerable time to come, to encourage her in all her faults. [Almost 200 years later…has anything changed??!] She has a
great name, and the education she affords is very expensive in
comparison with all other colleges. The sons of the wealthy will
therefore flock to her. The attainments usually made within her walls
are inferior to those achieved elsewhere, her professors (poorly
salaried, when the expenses of living are considered) being accustomed
to lecture and examine the students, and do nothing more. The indolent
and the careless will therefore flock to her. But, meantime, more and
more new colleges are rising up, and are filled as fast as they rise,
whose principles and practices are better suited to the wants of the
time. In them living is cheaper, and the professors are therefore richer
with the same or smaller salaries; the sons of the yeomanry and mechanic
classes resort to them; and, where it is the practice of the tutors to
work with their pupils, as well as lecture to them, a proficiency is
made which shames the attainments of the Harvard students. The middle
and lower classes are usually neither Unitarian nor Episcopalian, but
“orthodox,” as their distinctive term is; and these, the strength and
hope of the nation, avoid Harvard, and fill to overflowing the oldest
orthodox colleges; and, when these will hold no more, establish new
ones.

When I was at Boston the state of the University was a subject of great
mourning among its friends.

Martineau was hard of hearing, and used an ear horn. She visited schools for the visually and hearing impaired in a few cities and observed:

The benevolence which undertook the care of this class of unfortunates,
when their condition was esteemed hopeless, has, in many cases, through
a very natural delight at its own success, passed over into a new and
opposite error, particularly in America, where the popular philosophy of
mind comes in aid of the delusion. From fearing that the deaf and dumb
had hardly any capacities, too many of their friends have come to
believe them a sort of sacred, favoured class, gifted with a keener
apprehension, a more subtile reason, and a purer spirituality than
others, and shut out from little but what would defile and harden their
minds.

Martineau wrote extensively on what she saw in the slave-holding South, but also gives an interesting view of the impact of abolitionist activism in New England, and includes this very wise and still very true observation:

The same delusion (if it be mere delusion) is
visible here that is shared by all persons in power, who cannot deny
that an evil exists, but have not courage to remove it; a vague hope
that “fate, or Providence, or something,” will do the work which men are
created to perform; men of principle and men of peace, like the
abolitionists; victims, not perpetrators of violence.

And what strikes her as one of America’s most telling features?

The only times when I felt disposed to quarrel with the inexhaustible
American mirth was on the hottest days of summer. I liked it as well as
ever; but European strength will not stand more than an hour or two of
laughter in such seasons. I remember one day when the American part of
the company was as much exhausted as the English. We had gone, a party
martineau retrosepct western travelof six, to spend a long day with a merry household in a country village;
and, to avoid the heat, had performed the journey of sixteen miles
before ten o’clock. For three hours after our arrival the wit was in
full flow; by which time we were all begging for mercy, for we could
laugh no longer with any safety. Still, a little more fun was dropped
all round, till we found that the only way was to separate, and we all
turned out of doors. I cannot conceive how it is that so little has been
heard in England of the mirth of the Americans; for certainly nothing in
their manners struck and pleased me more. One of the rarest characters
among them, and a great treasure to all his sportive neighbours, is a
man who cannot take a joke.

Americans love their enthusiasms as well, and for Martineau, these enthusiasms, however nutty they might be,  point to something deeper: an imaginative spirit.

When Spurzheim was in America, the great mass of society became
phrenologists in a day, wherever he appeared; and ever since itinerant
lecturers have been reproducing the same sensation in a milder way, by
retailing Spurzheimism, much deteriorated, in places where the
philosopher had not been. Meantime the light is always going out behind
as fast as it blazes up round the steps of the lecturer. While the world
of Richmond and Charleston is working at a multiplication of the fifteen
casts (the same fifteen or so) which every lecturer carries about, and
all caps and wigs are pulled off, and all fair tresses dishevelled in
the search after organization, Boston has gone completely round to the
opposite philosophy, and is raving about spiritualism to an excess which
can scarcely be credited by any who have not heard the Unknown Tongues.
If a phrenological lecturer from Paris, London, or Edinburgh should go
to Boston, the superficial, visible portion of the public would wheel
round once more, so rapidly and with so clamorous a welcome on their
tongues, that the transported lecturer would bless his stars which had
guided him over to a country whose inhabitants are so candid, so
enlightened, so ravenous for truth. Before five years are out, however,
the lecturer will find himself superseded by some professor of animal
magnetism, some preacher of homœopathy, some teacher who will
undertake to analyze children, prove to them that their spirits made
their bodies, and elicit from them truths fresh from heaven. All this is
very childish, very village-like; and it proves anything rather than
originality in the persons concerned. But it does not prove that there
is not originality in the bosom of a society whose superficial movement
is of this kind; and it does not prove that national originality may not
arise out of the very tendencies which indicate that it does not at
present exist.

The Americans appear to me an eminently imaginative people. The
unprejudiced traveller can hardly spend a week among them without being
struck with this every day. At a distance it is seen clearly enough that
they do not put their imaginative power to use in literature and the
arts; and it does certainly appear perverse enough to observers from the
Old World that they should be imitative in fictions (whether of the pen,
the pencil, stone, or marble), and imaginative in their science and
philosophy, applying their sober good sense to details, but being
sparing of it in regard to principles. This arbitrary direction of their
imaginative powers, or, rather, its restriction to particular
departments, is, I believe and trust, only temporary. As their numbers
increase and their society becomes more delicately organized; when,
consequently, the pursuit of literature, philosophy, and art shall
become as definitely the business of some men as politics and commerce
now are of others, I cannot doubt that the restraints of imitation will
be burst through, and that a plenitude of power will be shed into these
departments as striking as that which has made the organization of
American commerce (notwithstanding some defects) the admiration of the
world, and vindicated the originality of American politics in theory and
practice.

Finally, she has an interesting section on “originals” in America:

There must be many local and professional oddities in a country like
America, where individuals fill a larger space in society, and are less
pressed upon by influences, other than local and professional, than in
Old World communities. A judge in the West is often a remarkable
personage to European eyes…..

….Originals who are so in common circumstances, through their own force of
soul, ruling events as well as being guided by them, yield something far
better than amusement to the observer. Some of these, out of almost
every class, I saw in America, from the divine and statesman down to the
slave.

Martineau ends her book with a remarkable reflection on travel itself, which I’ll share in the next post. 

 

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