Tuesday, January 8, 2019

It’s All Latin to Me: John Webster Edition

I just finished reading John Webster’s The White Devil. There’s a lot of scheming and killing in the play, and as to the question, Who precisely is the white devil? several characters provide compelling cases for themselves. According to Webster’s own preface, the play didn’t go over so well at its premiere. The problem may be due to the lack of any appealing characters whatsoever, but also perhaps to the drama’s generous use of Latin. Here’s a little quiz for you today on several classical Latin phrases found in The White Devil.

Latin phrases
1. "Casta est quam nemo rogavit."
2. "Flectere se nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo."
3. "Haec hodie porcis comedenda relinques."
4. "Haec fuerint nobis praemia, si placui."
5. "Inopem me copia fecit."
6. "Manet alta mente repostum."
7. "Nec rhoncos metues maligniorum, nec scombris tunicas dabis molestas."
8. "Nemo me impune lacessit."
9. "Non norunt, haec monumenta mori."
10. "Non potes in nugas dicera plura meas, ipse ego quam dixi."
11. "Nos haec novimus esse nihil."
12. "O dura messorum ilia."
13. "Quae negata grata."

a. Anything you leave behind is just going to be eaten by the pigs.
b. Chaste is she whom no one asks.
c. If I can't bend the heavens, I will move Hell.
d. It remains deep in my mind.
e. My work will be my reward, if you have enjoyed it.
f. No one provokes me without punishment.
g. These reminders did not know how to die.
h. We know these things are nothing.
i. Wealth has made me poor.
j. What is denied is pleasant.
k. What strong stomachs these farmers have!
l. You can't say more about my trifles than I have said myself.
m. You shall not fear the snoring of the wicked nor become stinky wrappings for mackerals.



1: b. This one is from Ovid. It’s part observation and part advice, I suppose.
2: c. The Acheron is one of the rivers in mythological Hades.
3: a. Don’t cast your pearls before swine; don’t even leave them where the swine can find them!
4: e. Many of these quotations came from Martial, writing about his own writing.
5: i. So many examples come to mind.
6: d. This one is from Virgil. I didn’t look up what exactly was deep in his mind.
7: m. Again Martial, this time speaking to the papyrus he has written upon.
8: f. Oh, tough guy, eh?
9: g. I knew we should have burned the evidence!
10: l. Martial was a humble self-critic.
11: h. And yet they are things . . . .
12: k. Horace could praise anything!
13: j. Didn’t know I wanted it until you took it away!

Hoping you enjoyed today’s quiz. The next post will be about a more pleasant piece of reading, so I’ll have more to say about the work itself.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Book Awards – 2018

Because Americans love awards, on this last day of 2018, as I have at the end of each of the last several years, I offer you my list of encomiums on the highlights of my twenty-second year of planned reading.

Most Deserving of His Own Category: Charles Dickens
Yes, once again, I enjoyed Dickens so much (The Old Curiosity Shop on this circuit of the merry sun), it just wouldn’t be fair to others in the fiction category if they had to compete with the Inimitable.

Best Reread, Fiction: White, The Once and Future King
And since Dickens has his own category, E. B. White is able graciously to accept this well deserved award. When I first read this Arthurian work, I thought White made up a lot of the zanier material to keep it all a little irreverently weird. After all, in the first part, “The Sword in the Stone,” Merlin lives backwards, turns Wart into a fish, and transports himself by accident to Bermuda. Oh, yeah: and Arthur is called “Wart.” So naturally I thought White made up episodes like Lancelot rescuing a girl from a bath that she had been unable to get out of for five years. But now that I’ve read so many of the original Arthurian sources, I can say, Nope, that’s right from Malory. It just hadn’t been in the children’s version by Lanier that I had read.

Best New (to me) Poetry: Horace, Odes
Speaking of Sidney Lanier, I had assumed for years that I would enjoy all of his poetry as much as I did his King Arthur and the handful of his poems I had read before. But on the whole they disappointed me and certainly didn’t stand up to the Odes by the ancient Roman. Whether singing to the gods themselves, country life, drinking, or a lowly fellow whose girlfriend no longer likes him, the activity and character and presence of the gods is always in Horace’s mind, as are geography and flora and fauna and weather. Here is a man whose mental world is made constantly richer by the ever-present context of both nature and supernature.

Best New Read, Fiction: Anthony Trollope, The Prime Minister
This novel of wealth and ethical dilemma in the highest political offices seemed terribly relevant.

Best History: Christopher Duggan, The Force of Destiny
I learned amazing things on every page about the last two-hundred years in Italy. My only disappointment is that alongside Napoleon, schools, rebels, the Cosa Nostra, bandits, kings, railroads, poetry, Fascists, economics, and football, Duggan didn’t have much to say about food.

Weirdest Drama: Charles Williams, Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury
You’d think that Tom Stoppard would win this award with his multiple timelines sharing the stage simultaneously and his plays-within-plays that aren’t really plays. But Williams’s unique (and uniquely opaque) poetic vision coupled with a personified death wins out. In fact, it received 14 of 19 votes in this category, many of which were cast in the Stoppard plays.

Best New Read, Religion: Justin Martyr, “Hortatory Address to the Greeks”
Justin read the classics and taught Greek philosophy. Then he became a Christian and continued to teach philosophy, even opening up his own school in Rome. His basic point in the Address is that no ancient follower of Greek philosophy should have any trouble accepting the truth of Christianity since Plato and company lead us right to the brink. The Roman authorities did have trouble, though, and killed him for his faith.

Best New Read, Nonfiction: C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism
Since it changed the way I think about reading, I should actually just call it the best new book, period.

Three Others Who Need to Be Mentioned Without Unfairly Competing for Prizes
(1) Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers: Beautiful, heart-wrenching, funny, exciting, and inspiring.
(2) Jane Austen, Mansfield Park: Beautiful, heart-wrenching, funny, exciting, and inspiring, except here all the swashbuckling adventure takes place within Fanny Price’s heart.
(3) Dante, The Divine Comedy: Beautiful, heart-wrenching, funny, exciting, and inspiring, except here all the adventure takes place literally everywhere in the physical, spiritual, and moral universe.

Who will receive awards in the coming year? Robert Louis Stevenson? Isaac Asimov? Evelyn Waugh? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow? Abu ‘l-Qasim Firdowsi Tusi? Come back in a year, and we’ll find out together!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Troll the Ancient Yuletide Carol – 2018

Most years around this time, I’ve shared some thoughts about the words to some of my favorite Christmas carols – which is to say, some of my favorite things in this world. (Click here to see posts from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.) But in my enthusiasm, I set out to write about two different carols a year, and now I’m running out of material!

This year, it’s not a carol that I’ve been concentrating on anyway, but the first chorus of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3HLVzNO5mM]. Here are the original words (possibly by Christian Friedrich Henrici) in German:
Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage,
Rühmet, was heute der Höchste getan!
Lasset das Zagen, verbannet die Klage,
Stimmet voll Jauchzen und Fröhlichkeit an!
Dienet dem Höchsten mit herrlichen Chören,
Laßt uns den Namen des Herrschers verehren!
And here’s a translation to English:
Celebrate, rejoice, rise up and praise these days,
Glorify what the Highest has done today!
Abandon despair, banish laments,
Sound forth full of delight and happiness!
Serve the Highest with glorious choruses,
Let us honor the name of the Lord!
It is a glorious chorus indeed that Bach serves the Highest with here, one full of the delight and happiness it calls for. The trills and the fanfares and the insistent, repeated tones in the choir, like the merry chiming of a church bell, banish all laments and give us the courage to celebrate and rejoice. The chorus accomplishes what it can of its own injunction and leads us to complete the rest of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

As one whose black humour outflows the red, yellow, and white, I tend toward the melancholy in almost things. I feel justified by sober Bible passages like Solomon’s “With much wisdom comes much sorrow,” and I find great comfort in somber lines from carols such as “Rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing!” But what the angels sing to me is this: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!” Yes, there is a season for everything, and Christmas – I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know – is a season for joy. If it doesn’t come naturally to me, then I need to listen to those angels, and to Bach’s chorus, and rejoice.

But look how beautifully this chorus, with at first glance no tinge of dust from the weary road, speaks to those like me. Its own celebration doesn’t come naturally, either. It tells me to get up (Auf!) and to abandon despair. Why tell me this if I have no despair to banish? (And why, the Scrooge in me asks, tell me this if I am past all hope!)

So this December I will honor Christ in two ways. Yes, I will treasure the pungency of the four minor chords on “Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angel voices!” And I will still secretly find satisfaction in the few versions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” that dare use the lyric “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.” But I will set these blue shades aside when I hear Bach’s clarion call and with him will praise these gladsome days.

May your days be merry and bright as you honor den Namen des Herrschers.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Authority and Index

In some end-of-year off-list reading, I just finished Gary Scott Smith’s Religion in the Oval Office. A couple of years ago, I read Smith’s Faith & the Presidency, in which the author goes to heroic lengths to detail the religious positions of eleven American Presidents (Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, and others), their relationships to religious groups, and the influence of their faith on their policies. After finishing that first book, I thought, “I wish he had included John Quincy Adams, William McKinley, Nixon, and Clinton.” And then I found that Smith had written a second book that included those very Presidents and seven more! Smith is a better researcher than writer: after tracking down hundreds of quotations from speeches, letters, diaries, conversations, and even junior high English essays (!) by each of his subjects, Smith seems to think that the goal of writing a chapter is to get every last note card represented in the text one way or another. Organization, flow, analysis, and reader wakefulness suffer as a result. But the information is extremely interesting and typically neglected in standard biographies, so I’m grateful to Smith for sharing the fruits of his labors with me.

One curious detail in Smith’s commentary on Barack Obama caught my eye and reminded me of something I had read two other times in the last year. After noting President Obama’s statement that his interpretation of the Bible could conceivably change based on what other Christians might tell him, Smith says that Obama’s position implies that conversation has authority equal to or higher than the Bible. I had read a very similar view earlier this year in Gregg Allison’s Historical Theology, and last year in Mark Noll’s America’s God: in those two versions, changing one’s interpretation of some piece of Scripture based on someone else’s argument ascribes to reason an authority higher than that of God’s Word. (The point was Allison’s own; Noll was reporting the position of historical personages.) The idea sounded obviously wrong to me the first two times I came across it, but the way Smith worded it, I can’t see how anybody could believe it. What does Smith think Sunday School lessons or sermons or Bible commentaries are for if not potentially to change one’s mind about what the Bible means? Does he think that once he has an understanding of any given scriptural passage, it is necessarily the right understanding and can never be corrected?

I think the problem comes down to a misunderstanding of authority. If authority simply means the reason you think something, then many factors compete with the Bible in authority for a believing Christian: reason, grammatical fluency, the dictionary, memory, eyesight. I believe that in the beginning, the Word was with God and the Word was God, because the Bible says so. But I know the Bible says this because I’ve read it and remember that it says it. And I believe this doctrine that I remember reading partly because I have an understanding of what those words mean and how they go together grammatically – even if I wonder at the mystery of the Divine Being involving at least two Persons who are at the same time separated (“was with”) and unified (“was”). If these factors determine my understanding of the Scripture and that makes them authorities, then I must recognize many authorities for my beliefs.

But the word authority doesn’t denote any and all things that provide reason to believe and submit. There’s authority, and then there’s recognition of authority. Suppose you’re a child living in fairy-tale land, and you hear there’s a big parade coming through your town. Your mother takes you out to see the spectacle, and as a fine-dressed man on a splendid horse passes by, your mother points and says, “Look! There’s the king!” Now let’s say this man stops, looks your way, and tells you to come near. Your mother has told you never to talk to strangers, and yet kings demand and deserve obedience. So you go, knowing that, as the king, he has the authority to command you. But how do you know he has this authority? Only because your mother told you. So does that make her the actual authority? Ridiculous! Her pointing out the authority to you doesn’t give her higher authority than the king. He is the authority; she is an index to the authority. And, yes, you see your mother as an authority, but clearly it’s possible for one authority to point to a higher one.

Similarly I have my reasons for recognizing authority in the Bible. That the Bible is authoritative to life is not a self-evident truth like “The whole is greater than or equal to any of its parts.” If it were, every sane person would acknowledge it as soon as the idea is presented to the mind. But they don’t, so believers must have reasons for believing. These reasons indicate the authority (which is why I’m calling them indices); they don’t trump the authority.

Now if a fairy tale makes this distinction clear, how can so many American Christians get confused by it?

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Puzzling Over the Glorious Cause

Robert Middlekauff’s The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 left me scratching my head for at least three reasons. First, it’s a long book, and Middlekauff had me wondering a few times how I was going to finish the book without putting my yearly schedule behind (again). More importantly, he leaves out strange information, as if he’s merely organizing a review outline for readers who already know everything. There are no strategic maps, for instance. He might just casually mention that the British troops are headed toward Ninety-Six, as if (a) I know that Ninety-Six is a town, (b) I know where that town is, and (c) I know why any army would want to march there. Curiously and to my great confusion on at least two occasions, he refers to a subordinate officer named James Washington by last name only. (At least I think it was James: I can’t remember since the author didn’t use his first name often enough!) A reference to “Washington” in a book about the American Revolution raises exactly one monumental figure in any reader’s mind, and any other officer unfortunate enough, historiographically speaking, to share that surname should find compensation in having his first name constantly in attendance on his last. And he dismisses Benedict Arnold’s treason, surely an important part of the story of the Revolution, to a subordinate clause: “Arnold, who had defected to the British . . . .”

But the biggest head-scratcher is that this volume in the Oxford History of the United States accepts unquestionably the epithet “Glorious Cause,” a phrase used by Washington (you know which one!) in accepting the leadership of the Continental Army. Loyalists simply could not see the “inevitable conclusion,” Middlekauff states without nuance, that Britain’s policies were intolerably destructive of liberty. My response: if taxation without representation makes subjects into slaves, then the District of Columbia is full of slaves. Well, OK, I actually sort of believe that that’s in fact the state of DC. But their condition is not intolerable to the point that those citizens have been driven to any “inevitable conclusion” of rebelling against the national government that operates in their city. Loyalists, then, were not so blind as Middlekauff would make them. And yet he offers nothing from diaries, correspondence, or journalism that might help the reader examine the motives of those who stayed true to their King.

I set up my calendar this year so that I would read another account of the American Revolution just after finishing Glorious Cause, the second being the fictional presentation by Kenneth Roberts called Rabble in Arms. Roberts’s view of the complicated struggle is much more to my taste. Here are good people tainted with evil spots and rotters with redeeming qualities. Here are the weak American generals and the mercenary militiamen and the Continental soldiers who have doubts about any cause other than protecting their homes and plenty of law-abiding Americans who just sit on the fence because they don’t want their children to be hanged as traitors by whichever side wins. In other words, this is a story about realistic human beings trying their best to make their way through a crazy world. Roberts believed in liberty as much as the next American, but he had no illusions that those who fought on the side of Independence all marched with a vision of the Glorious Cause before their eyes while the British could only field inept generals who tortured their captives every chance they got.

And Roberts has the courage to portray Benedict Arnold, before changing sides, as a great and heroic leader whose actions on Lake Champlain in 1776 probably saved the Glorious Cause for “Patriots” like General Horatio Gates, who literally ran away after losing a battle somewhere in the Carolinas (close to Ninety-Six, for all I know). Arnold’s name is synonymous with “traitor.” He is considered such a pariah that Middlekauff only follows a long tradition of minimizing his presence in history books. But surely we’re past an American historiography that must avoid Arnold’s name like the Tetragrammaton. Ours is a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. But the Conceivers and Dedicators were humans, not angels, and they didn’t enjoy a monopoly on liberty. From Oxford Press, I expected a history that let people be people, with both nobility and baseness shared all around, engaged in a conflict with not just two sides – the Right and the Wrong. But I had to turn to fiction for the vision I wanted. And now I’ll just have to hope for better things from the next volume in the Oxford series: Gordon Wood’s Empire of Liberty.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Dante, Charles Williams, and Echoes of the City

When I first read Charles Williams’s Many Dimensions, it immediately became one of my favorite books. (It remains high on my list and has grown with each rereading.) So, like all readers discovering a new favorite author, I looked at the other titles by Williams with great hope. Now, hope usually sets one up for disappointment. (I waited fifteen years to find out that young Obi-Wan needs to negotiate with a Trade Federation?!) But when I turned to other Charles Williams books, I mostly just experienced confusion. The little bits I understood, I enjoyed. But what to make of visions of masses of hands? Women who are also local hills?

A few years ago, I got a huge assist in understanding Williams through the commentary by his friend C. S. Lewis on Williams’s Arthurian poetry. (Any of you wanting insight on the relationship of this pair, Williams’s outlook on life and the the meaning of the universe, or modern takes on Welsh Arthurian legend should read Taliesin Through Logres. But start with part III, Lewis’s part, and let him be your Virgil as he guides you through the labyrinth of parts I and II all out of order.) Two revelations that stand out in my memory are Williams’s love of Dante and his view of the City as a symbol for divinely endowed human fellowship. In fact, as I read Dorothy L. Sayers’s commentary on The Divine Comedy earlier this year, I became even more aware of the connection between these two themes, as Williams seems to have picked up his idea of City directly from Dante.

I grew up thinking of cities as, frankly, evil places. I saw them as ugly, dirty, poor, and full of crime. As a child, it didn’t occur to me that my vision was one of a corrupted city that could be redeemed. I simply thought it was obvious that when my family left our suburban home for a vacation, we would get away from people and go to beautiful wilderness locations. Dante and Williams, though, while of course recognizing God’s good presence in National Parks, would, if they could talk to me directly, warn me about my urge to get away from people. People are meant to interact, to be sociable, to trade and do business, to love and share with one another. For both, the emblem of the culmination of this purpose is the well working City. (Obviously, I could add Plato, Augustine, and Dickens to the crowd of favorite authors who have worked so hard to get me to see the importance of the City, but today my topic is Dante and Williams.)

This morning I started my third reading of Williams’s All Hallows Eve, my first after Taliesin Through Logres. And Dante’s presence couldn’t have been clearer. Lester Furnival finds herself newly dead (although she doesn’t know it for the first five pages) in a strangely empty London. The City (I’m following Williams’s habit of capitalizing the word) stands silent as a result of Lester’s pattern of life. She admits to herself that she has hated everyone but her husband, Richard. Lester, thy will be done. But the seeds of human compassion lie in the soil of her attitude toward Richard. It isn’t truly love, says the narrator, but at least needing and wanting are on the right road. I thought of Dante putting the illicit lovers in the highest circle of Inferno because, he says, at least their sin was directed toward others. But, as Sayers points out, Paolo and Francesca are blown about incessantly in the winds of Hell, unable to interact. (Traitors, who destroy the fellowship of the city altogether are put in the lowest circle.) Similarly, Lester sees the still-alive Richard briefly but can’t touch him.

The examples go on. Lester begins her spiritual journey of redemption in the place of the dead. She looks at the stars. She even references the famous sign on the gates of Inferno in her fears that she will find the città dolente if she goes to an Underground station. Dante is everywhere in the first chapter.

I don’t remember exactly where it all goes, but I think Lester has a Marleyesque mission of connecting with a few select people among the living as a way of spreading the light of love. In any case, the first chapter ends with Lester taking the hand of her friend, killed in the same accident, a sign that she recognizes her need for human interaction. I also believe I remember that the book involves a painter who creates a nightmarish view of the City. I’ll be interested to see if the artwork corresponds better with Dante’s Inferno or my childhood impression of cities.

By the way, the Bible begins in a garden but ends in a city. I should have seen that as a child. But the New Jerusalem has at least one park, an area of amazing twelve-fruited trees along the River. Perhaps all tastes in travel can be satisfied in Heaven.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Baseness and Nobility in G. K. Chesterton

I’ve found it difficult the last two or three years to get around to writing these blog posts. The dwindling numbers in the chart in the right column of this window tell the tale. I know several reasons the change has occurred, but a new factor recently came to mind. My third decade of scheduled reading consists mostly of (1) things I like, (2) things I liked when I was a teenager, and (3) things I believe I will like when I finally read them. And the now rather obvious idea occurred to me the other day that ideas for writing generally come much more quickly and forcefully when I disagree with what I’m reading. Perhaps the pen is mightier as a sword.

In the last week or so, essays by G. K. Chesterton have provided both catalyst and examplar of my breakthrough in self-awareness. Chesterton wrote brilliantly with the prophet’s vision, the humorist’s deft mixture of hubris and humility, and the epigrammatist’s flair for piercing new turns of phrase. But he was almost always complaining about something, arguing with an opposing critic, exposing an immoral illogic in politicians’ programs. And here I am these days reading only things that I like. I know I was scolded earlier in the year by C. S. Lewis saying that literary people don’t just read for comfort; but I find myself in a situation, perhaps merely a swing of a pendulum, in which I don’t have the patience or energy to read much of what I know I won’t agree with.

(A paragraph-long parenthetical:) Actually, as I write this, another new explanation occurs to me, and the calendar bears this out. For the last two years and more I have in fact obsessively read things and read about things that I don’t agree with in reading the daily news. But I would hardly classify any of that material with the “Great Books.” Partly I’m a victim of my rubbernecking urge to view the train wreck of grammar, punctuation, rhetoric, and truth that has built up in a particularly spectacular way since 2016. While my disbelief and anger mostly point in one direction, the journalists are far from innocent in the collision. Maybe I’m just too exhausted from that reading to take on more thoughtful and eloquent writers who disagree with me or challenge me. Maybe I should congratulate myself on sacrificing my intellectual improvement out of a civic duty to try to understand the bewildering state of our nation and do my best to help. My next project for helping is going to involve reading with kids.

(Picking up the frayed thread again:) On the other hand, reading and then writing about opposing ideas isn’t always the best medicine for the soul. A few years ago I discovered that during the Great War Chesterton devoted all of his weekly columns to that conflict, and they haven’t been pleasant to read. I used to be able to count on G. K. Chesterton to get me out of depressive funks caused by insanity at my job, but these war articles (not to say Articles of War) drive me into the funk. The experience certainly did not bring out the best of him, and I’ve seen one of my idols teetering dangerously near the edge of the quite elegant pedestal I’ve installed him upon. Let’s begin with the Germans. Chesterton saw the war as a continuation of the barbarian wars that destroyed Roman civilization fifteen hundred years earlier. The Germans, he says often between 1914 and 1918, are barbarians, not Europeans. New Chesterton knew enough history to know how much those barbarians, crossing the Rhine and Danube and sailing through the Pillars of Hercules, intermingled with the peoples of the crumbling Empire and created a new Europe. Ironically (I’m sorely tempted to say “paradoxically” because it’s Chesterton, but he and I would agree that it would be an incorrect use of the epithet too often applied to him) he only launches his accusations of congenital bloodthirstiness to the descendants of the more sedentary Goths, who stayed north and east of the Roman boundaries. Going on from the Germans, I’ll only briefly say that he made me cringe often in talking about the Jewish heritage of Marx (while discussing the Russian Revolution) and about black Congressmen during Reconstruction (connected in some way that I’ve thankfully forgotten to a political situation he wished not to see after the Peace).

On the other side of this coin, I found out last week that as soon as the peace was signed and Chesterton felt the liberty to return to engaging with Shaw and Wells and English Socialists and American commercialism and “futurist” movements in drama that ignore how much they simply revive conventions of Shakespeare, he became the GKC I love once more. I read last year in the letters of Tolkien, my other favorite twentieth-century British Catholic author, that he (Tolkien) didn’t balk much when finding out the sinful side of great writers but simply acknowledged to himself that the good writing must certainly have come from more noble aspects of the author’s soul.

Today I read several pieces in a row flowing up from the more noble wellsprings in Chesterton’s soul. In one he defended a sane view of nationalism (OK, this is a different man in a different country at a different time: this word here has everything to do with love of home and nothing to do with racist history), distinguishing it on one side from a contemporary fashion of “internationalism” that seemed popular only in England (delicious) and on the other from a straw-man view that nationalism must mean that all people in a nation are alike. (Do you think the people using the word in the U.S. today could sustain a coherent analysis of the disinctions between three different definitions of the word?) No, he says, in a nation, the cultural atmosphere everyone breathes is alike and has its various effects on its citizens’ amazing and welcome variety. (I wish now I hadn’t become so excited over an essay about a word that has become extremely controversial in our times. Moving on to other Chesterton highlights now.)

He offered the wonderful thought experiment of watching Randolph Hearst and an English publisher (whose name I could look up if you insist) walk down a sidealk arm-in-arm and asked if I wouldn’t know immediately which was the Englishman. And I believe I would! In my mind, while both deport themselves confidently, dress smartly, and smile at passersby condescendingly, I see Hearst walking more urgently, more aggressively. Now I don’t know the appearance of Hearst any better than I know the appearance of the English publisher whose name I can’t even recall (I assume he looked no more like Welles’s Kane than old Kane looked like old Orson Welles). But the fact that they do differentiate themselves so quickly in my mental picture shows that I have an idea of national identity, a notion of nation, and I don’t think that that notion comes from nowhere. In any case, this article was fun and instructive, took down irrationalities taken seriously by people who should know better,  and demonstrated that cultural identity and individuality are both real and can both be dignified. This is the best of Chesterton.

Another reason I quit blogging so much in 2016 is the discouragement I felt when I found out that most of my blog’s hits came from Russian bots – and I learned this months before hearing about other nefarious activities of Russian bots that year. Some national traits are not dignified.