Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Black Spot

Sometimes things work out this way. My university is sending me to Italy in January to teach for a semester. And five years ago, as I first pieced together my reading plan for the decade, I decided to read in December of 2011 – just now, as we start to concentrate on getting ready for this trip – Charles Dickens's Pictures from Italy. But as I started the short travelogue yesterday, I was reminded not only of my coming adventure, but also of a favorite documentary film, a favorite adventure novel, and a favorite history book.

In Ken Burns's Baseball film, commentator Daniel Okrent calls Ty Cobb the Black Spot on baseball's history. To me, the phrase "Black Spot" calls up memories of Treasure Island and the mysterious omen of a pirate death sentence, and those overtones of lawlessness, evil, and fate certainly seem appropriate for the bitter man so filled with misanthropy he once left the playing field to stomp a hectoring fan repeatedly with his spiked shoes.

I thought of both works again a couple of months ago as I was reading Durant's account of the medieval Inquisition; he called the Inquisition the black spot on humanity's history, and his description of the horrors convinced me that the Inquisitors outdid either Ty Cobb or Long John Silver in their viciousness. I avoided blogging about it, partly because I didn't really care to concentrate on the cruel subject long enough, and partly because I'm sure I wouldn't have found the right words to express my disgust, shame, fear, and bewilderment. But this whole disturbing, frustrating nexus of thoughts came up again yesterday and finally found its expression in Dickens's masterly phrasing. Visiting the torture rooms in Avignon (on his way to Italy), Dickens pronounced his judgment on the Inquisition in a poetic passage full of vivid onomatopoeia and devastating irony:
Mash, mash, mash! An endless routine of heavy hammers. Mash, mash, mash! upon the sufferer's limbs. See the stone trough . . . for the water torture! Gurgle, swill, bloat, burst, for the Redeemer's honour! Suck the bloody rag, deep down into your unbelieving body, Heretic, at every breath you draw! And when the executioner plucks it out, reeking with the smaller mysteries of God's own Image, know us for His chosen servants, true believers in the Sermon on the Mount, elect disciples of Him who never did a miracle but to heal, [and] who never struck a man with palsy, blindness, deafness, dumbness, madness, any one affliction of mankind.
I could nitpick on the accuracy of the statement about miracles, but I can neither add to nor detract from the spirit of these words.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

More Latin from 2011

A few months ago, I wrote a post about all the Latin phrases I had encountered in Thackeray's Henry Esmond. Ever since then, with my mind on the possibility of blogging about Latin, the number of phrases I've seen from the Romans' tongue has amazed me. I knew and understood some of the phrases, knew but didn't completely understand others, and understood but didn't recognize yet others. And of course, there were the phrases I had never seen and had to look up.

Williams's War in Heaven offered several phrases. Locum tenens was familiar to me: one holding (tenens) or taking the place (locum) of another, i.e. a placeholder. But I'm glad I looked it up, because I found out that the word "lieutenant" comes from this phrase. Anybody with more military understanding than I have is welcome to help me out from there. I think a lieutenant isn't in charge of a group of soldiers himself but acts as a subordinate mouthpiece for the captian. True? Another phrase in Williams that I recognized but didn't fully understand comes from Tertullian: certum quia impossibile. Tertullian's reference is to the doctrine of the resurrection: it is certain, he said, because it is impossible. In other words, widespread first-hand testimony to a miracle can be convincing where testimony to the mundane can easily be a lie; "I saw Jesus walking after being buried" is much more convincing than "Jesus slept here."

Stoker included several Latin phrases in Dracula, including the old Roman proverb festina lente: make haste slowly. In other words, the steady, careful strategy of the tortoise will beat the reckless abandon of the hare.  Essential to Kant as he sets out to prove the possibility of synthetic judgments is the idea of the tertium quid: a third something. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts in most cases. A marriage, for instance, is something more than just the concatenation of the man and the woman: there's also a third something, a relationship and a unity. The pitches C and G played together produce a tertium quid: harmony. The tertium quid came up again in William James later in the year; I believe that his description of the tertium quid in mathematical propositions essentially agrees with Kant, but he expressed it in terms so much clearer than Kant's, I really can't be completely sure.

In Waugh's Men at Arms, I encountered Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris: Remember, O Man, that you are dust, and to dust you will return. Looking up a reference in Bonhoeffer's Creation and Fall, I found Aquinas's tenet, De Deo scire non possumus quid sit, sed quod non sit: We cannot know of God what He is, but what He is not. (Recalling that sentence now reminds me of a phrase I read in Ephesians just this morning: that the love of Christ surpasses knowledge.)

Many common phrases peppered my reading from the year: imago dei, tabula rasa, prima facie, memento mori, vice versa, non sequitur, requiescat in pace, and others (or in Latin, et cetera). But I'll close with a phrase I read in Boswell that, as far as I could determine, Dr. Johnson came up with himself: Quid tentasse nocebit? What harm does it do to have tried?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Off the Beaten Path

While driving off the beaten path yesterday, my thoughts wandered astray, as well. Nancy and I, traveling to St. Louis for the holiday, took a detour off the interstate to see Springfield, Missouri, and as we were driving through town, I saw a psychic's shop. The sight got me thinking about what kinds of people might bring their custom to the establishment. Of course believers in a generic "spirituality" would come, as would the skeptics, pranksters, and thrill-seekers. But in this Bible-belt town, I would also expect many Christians to confer with the psychic; while some of their neighbors no doubt think the Tarot deck sinful, I'm sure others approach with trusting heart, open mind, and a sincere faith in a Lord Who works in mysterious ways.

Wandering from tangent to tangent, my thoughts went next to various sects I had encountered in my reading this year. The first that came to mind were the Sethians, who show up in Patrick O'Brian's Letter of Marque. Sethianism has some relation to gnosticism, although the exact nature of this mystery religion certainly remains mysterious to me. Apparently they believe that Seth was a divine emanation, or an avatar of Christ, or something like that. According to O'Brian, they survived into nineteenth-century England, where they believed that painting the name of Seth in large letters on their homes (or ships) would ensure protection, and that erasing the name (so as, perhaps, to sail the Atlantic without revealing any unusual identifying marks to every enemy ship that passes) would bring destruction.

In Durant this year, I read about the Waldensians and Albigensians of medieval southern France. The Waldensians, in Durant's telling anyway, primarily attacked the practices of the Church and not tenets of Christology: they translated the Bible into their current language and rejected the authority of the worldly priesthood. The Albigensians, again according to Durant's clear-cut categories, shared these traits but also denied the deity of Christ. Although I have much less sympathy for the second group than for the first, I relate to both far more than I can relate to the Church hierarchy that started killing them. On this Thanksgiving morning, I thank God once again for Dominic, who, sharing the sects' disdain for riches, preached Christ to them in a simple robe and with gentle words, and cleared many towns of heretics by conversion rather than by immolation.

This past month, I left the path of my planned list to read Edward Rutherford's Russka. There I encountered Russian Orthodox believers who, like my imagined Springfieldians, mix their Christianity, some with belief in the firebird and water spirits and some with socialism. And of course I read in Williams, Trollope, and the Father Brown stories about many types of Christians, heretical or otherwise. I also read some books by fringe Christians: Wordsworth, for instance, who left and returned to the Anglican Church but didn't believe in the divinity of Christ, and Hegel, who styled himself a Christian but seemed to have viewed God as an entity whose mind evolved along with the universe. And then there's Dickens, who kept his faith mostly hidden, perhaps even from himself, but who once famously claimed to have written every book for the purpose of proclaiming the Lord "who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see" (to quote Tiny Tim).

It's very easy for me to judge the practitioners of these various sects. To my human eyes, some seem completely reasonable, and others sound utterly hopeless. But I can't shake the image of Dominic, who tried not to view the world with human eyes and who humbly spoke the truth to people whose beliefs lay off the beaten path. And I have to remember that only God can judge whether a person's life lies off the crucified Way.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Kindle Goes to Italy

I posted my reading plan for next year here on the blog under the tab "2012 Calendar." I have a typical annual plan that I try to fit each year's books into. For instance, I usually devote the winter and spring to (1) works that are harder to read for one reason or another, (2) books I take extensive notes on, (3) and some dessert reading as reward for the tough work. Shakespeare goes in the summer just because that's the way I've been doing it. And so on.

But I didn't follow my usual routine in setting up the schedule for 2012, because I had a special consideration to keep in mind: my university is sending me to Arezzo, Italy, for the spring semester, January to May. A trip to Italy and an extensive, particular reading plan don't necessarily go together easily, and I thought about it for several months before hitting on the solution to the problem.

I first thought of just delaying my reading for half a year or even a whole year. But I realized I couldn't go five months without reading, and I might as well read books on my plan as something else. So then I thought about taking only the longest, densest books to get the most reading time out of the least suitcase space. The Great Books volumes would work well in this way, but I started balking at the thought of checking all that weight.

And then I remembered the Kindle and all the internet sources for classic literature, and my plan started to coalesce. After typing out the complete list of works to read next year and looking online at manybooks.net, gutenberg.org, etc. to see what I could find, I ended up downloading and installing on the Kindle 34 files, all absolutely free. Well, OK, the Kindle, the computer, the electric power, and the internet service are far from free, but the files themselves cost nothing. Then it was just a matter of arranging the list so the Kindle works all came in the first half of the year.

The Greek classics stay in their usual place at the beginning of the year: plays by Euripides and Sophocles, Platonic dialogs, and various books by Aristotle. The translations available online are as old-fashioned as they are free, but then so are the translations in the Britannica set. For Virgil, I downloaded two translations, one verse and one prose, so I'll have a choice. Dickens stays in the winter as the perfect palette cleanser to some of the tough reading, but I moved Trollope up from his usual place in November. I also moved up some Christian theological works since they were available online. I usually like to spread out Aquinas, the Church Fathers, early modern Christian authors, and Augustine over the year so I'm always within sight of reading theology at any time in the schedule, but Dionysius and Edwards reside now in the public-domain etherworld, so they ended up on my Kindle and on my schedule for February and May.

I will take a small number of physical books with me. I write a lot of notes in the pages of the Summa Theologica as well as on my large computer file (well over 200 pages now), so one volume of Aquinas will take the trip with me. I also want to take the Oxford edition of Bleak House: besides the excellent editorial notes, each volume in the Oxford series of Dickens's works includes the transcription of the author's working notes for the book and reproductions of all the glorious original illustrations that did so much to give the reading world its collective idea of how Dickens's characters look. And I'm thinking of taking one other large book just to help occupy fourteen hours of airports and flights on the way home.

But for the most part, I'll read on my Kindle for five months. It's small and light, holds 1500 books, and casts a clear image without much glare, even under the Tuscan sun.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dickens's Second-Best Historical Novel

Three years ago, after an interim of about twenty years, I reread Charles Dickens's second-best historical novel, Barnaby Rudge. OK, so he only wrote two pieces of historical fiction, and A Tale of Two Cities is exquisitely beautiful, so calling BR the second best doesn't really say much. But half of it is really, really good.

Like A Tale of Two Cities, the book tells the story of an interconnected group of characters who get caught up in mob riots in the 1780s in a major European capital, only this time it's London instead of Paris, and it's the Gordon Anti-Catholic Riots as opposed to the Jacobin Anti-Catholic (and Anti-Other Things) Riots. Also, like its more famous counterpart, Barnaby Rudge spends about half its pages establishing the domestic setting of the main characters before getting into the major historical events, and this first half is as joyful and funny as anything Dickens ever wrote. Sadly, the historical part gets dreary and probably is to blame for the novel's general neglect.

It amazes me how much power a simple list can wield. The master of the rhetorical list is surely Rabelais; his lists in Gargantua and Pantagruel go brazenly on and on until you have to laugh, and then get sick of laughing, and then start laughing all over again in spite of yourself. He lists, for instance, about two hundred games played by Gargantua. A few chapters later, some village cake-makers call visiting shepherds forty-three insulting names including “prattling gabblers, lickorous gluttons, freckled bittors, mangy rascals, . . . blockish grutnols, doddipol-joltheads, jobbernol goosecaps, foolish loggerheads, . . .woodcock slangams, ninny-hammer flycatchers, noddypeak simpletons, . . . and other suchlike defamatory epithets.” Dickens’s lists may not be as long (no one’s are), but where Rabelais’s lists satirize human pretensions and convey pure silliness, Dickens has a much greater range of expression that he accomplishes. Consider the joy in this description of the offerings of a happy village inn:
All bars are snug places, but the Maypole's was the very snuggest, cosiest, and completest bar, that ever the wit of man devised. Such amazing bottles in old oaken pigeon-holes; such gleaming tankards dangling from pegs at about the same inclination as thirsty men would hold them to their lips; such sturdy little Dutch kegs ranged in rows on shelves; so many lemons hanging in separate nets, and forming the fragrant grove already mentioned in this chronicle, suggestive, with goodly loaves of snowy sugar stowed away hard by, of punch, idealised beyond all mortal knowledge; such closets, such presses, such drawers full of pipes, such places for putting things away in hollow window-seats, all crammed to the throat with eatables, drinkables, or savoury condiments; lastly, and to crown all, as typical of the immense resources of the establishment, and its defiances to all visitors to cut and come again, such a stupendous cheese!
Who wouldn’t want to visit such a richly appointed establishment? The Maypole’s owner, John Willet, is one of Dickens’s most unjustly unfamiliar comic masterpieces. Poor John only wants a little peace and comfort and is never happier than when smoking a pipe with a group of compatriots from the town of Chigwell. He constantly amazes his neighbors (and readers) with how much he seems to say without speaking a word – sometimes even while sleeping!

But everything wonderful about this first part of the novel disappears when the riots start. John Willet and his funny friends disappear for several chapters, and the originally hilarious popinjay Sim Tappertit becomes a pale, ineffectual puppet leader of the masses once the protests begin. Where A Tale of Two Cities has the fascinating deFarges and their knitting companion, The Vengeance, to carry our interest through the Revolution, Barnaby has only the sad, predictable Lord George Gordon.

The first time I read the book, I thought Barnaby himself, described as “simple,” suffered mental retardation. But this last time he seemed more mad or addled. I don’t know what real-life model Dickens had in mind; he may just have had a romantic notion that developmentally disabled people can nevertheless be eloquent and even poetic (like, for instance, Smike from Nicholas Nickleby). But thinking of Barnaby as mad helped me understand why Dickens named the book after a character that has so little impact on the plot. The novel constantly explores issues of control: Can John Willet control his own peaceful environment? Can SimTappertit control his chapter of protesters? Can the mob control the laws of England? Can Gordon control the mob? The answer seems always to be “no.” In this context, Barnaby’s pitiable inability to control his own thoughts becomes symbolic of the theme. Maybe Dickens found that he himself lost control of his beautiful domestic comedy to the rioters that wreck a huge part of the second half of the book almost as badly as they do the Maypole.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wordless Summary Glimpses

I enjoy two different writers named William James. One goes by Bill James and writes on baseball. Inspired by his statistical methods, I've invented a superstat for position players that takes both hitting and fielding into account. I call it simply "value," and according to my calculations, the Stephenson Value Awards for 2011 go to Matt Kemp in the NL and Jacoby Ellsbury in the AL. I invented another stat for pitchers: upon the year's highest in each league, I bestow the Grover Cleveland Alexander Award. The AL winner this year was Justin Verlander, the NL winner, Roy Halladay. None of this has anything to do with the books I've been reading, but I wanted to take advantage of the coincidence in names to mention it.

More pertinent to this blog is American philosopher and psychologist William James. In the previous post, I talked about James's theory of the "fringe" of our consciousness. Just as we can't identify one specific gallon of fluid in a rushing stream of water, most of our stream of consciousness flows in such a way that the parts can't be distinguished from the whole. James's best example of this fringe in operation involves the nagging sense we have of a word or name we can't remember. We seem to feel its shape, but can't describe it. We know whether suggested names are right or wrong; so clearly we have an idea of that illusive word. We can even tell if a wrong suggestion is close or on the right track. This ineffable sense comes, James says, from all the context with which we surround a concept. He sometimes calls this contextual fringe by other names as well: halo, suffusion, wordless summary glimpses, psychic overtone. It seems that the idea of the fringe was itself somewhere in the fringe since James couldn't decide on a name.

James contends that the most important thing about a train of thought – both the undifferentiated stream and the identifiable, concrete objects flowing in the stream – is its end. When trying to remember that name, for instance, obviously only the conclusion satisfies. But all trains of thought work this way, he says. We have an idea and then work to put it in words, satisfied only when the whole compound has been expressed. (Parenthetical aside no. 1: I need to look over my notes on Wittgenstein again; he maintains that only the external expression means anything, not any vague internal intention to speak. Aside no. 2: Writing a blog has exercised my patience in dealing with the innumerable times I've published a post unconvinced that I have expressed my idea.) James provides another couple of everyday examples to test his claim. First, he says, we normally cannot repeat verbatim a sentence of any appreciable length once we have spoken it; we speak with the conclusion in mind, not the means of reaching that end. Second, he says that sometimes after reading a book, we retain only the gist without being able to quote a single sentence. I experience both of these situations routinely. How about you?

Since the topic involves verbal expression of ideas, James refers several times in the chapter to language. The clear objects in our consciousness, the things we have images of and definite names for, we express with concrete nouns and verbs and adjectives. The undifferentiated stream, i.e. all the relationships between these concrete things and actions, we represent by means of prepositions and other such words as well as by grammar and word order and the use of words that conventionally go together. At one point, almost in an aside, James shifts his focus for just one paragraph off of the psychology and onto the implications of his theory for language and provides a handy recipe for good writing. (1) Express the concrete by using the right words. (2) Express the fringe by fulfilling grammatical expectations. (3) Make sure each word has "the psychic 'overtone' of feeling that it brings us nearer to a forefelt conclusion." And (4) "let the conclusion seem worth arriving at." It all seems so simple! Use the right words and the right grammar, lead to a point, and say something worth saying. Students, take note! Bloggers, take note! Self, take note!

Hegel, take note! In the most surprising and delightful passage of the chapter, James explains what's wrong with the philosopher that tried my patience this last spring. He begins his explanation by pointing out that the grammar and the order of a sentence can flow according to expectations without actually saying anything. Some speakers and writers, he says, rave on like "lunatics" with strings of sentences that sound plausible but ultimately communicate nothing. The danger becomes especially likely the more a writer stays on a subjective, abstract level. At this point in the explanation, James lifts my burden and lights my darkened heart by using Hegel as an example. In many passages, he says, the only sense to be found lies solely in their form: the words come from a related vocabulary and the grammar follows familiar patterns. "Yet there seems no reason to doubt that the subjective feeling of the rationality of these sentences was strong in the writer as he penned them, or even that some readers by straining may have reproduced it in themselves." My straining last spring often proved unfruitful.

Monday, November 7, 2011

William James's Fringe

In the last post, I wrote about adventure and our need to make the most of whatever comes our way. Even after planning something as detailed as a ten-year reading list, I still follow it with a sense of adventure: the plan is full of authors and works I've never read before, and I never know how they'll strike me or what I'll have to do to learn from them. Even with familiar authors, I wonder sometimes as I approach a new section whether I'll find a tempest or following winds. I schedule William James's Principles of Psychology in the late months each year because I've enjoyed him so much in the past and need exciting, enjoyable reading during my busiest semester of teaching. But each year, I think, "Surely it won't be as good this year as last." Yet James comes through every time.

I've complained in earlier posts about philosophers who try to explain away the human individual; James never worries me in this way. The chapter I'm reading, for instance (chapter IX, "The Stream of Thought"), begins with a defense of individual personhood, proven by the absolute separation of different streams of thought:
Each [mind] keeps its own thoughts to itself. There is no giving or bartering between them. No thought ever comes into direct sight of a thought in another personal consciousness than its own. Absolute insulation, irreducible pluralism, is the law. . . . The breaches between such thoughts are the most absolute breaches in nature.
Later, James points out that these separate unities preserve their integrities even after the interruptions of sleep or other forms of unconsciousness. If two people sleep and then wake up together, "each one of them mentally reaches back and makes connection with but one of the two streams of thought which were broken by the sleeping hours." Just what this personal entity is that unifies each stream of thought is hard to define. Like Augustine trying to define time, James says, "Its meaning we know so long as no one asks us to define it." Nevertheless, he says, "No psychology . . . can question the existence of personal selves. The worst a psychology can do is so to interpret the nature of these selves as to rob them of their worth." Hmm. That worst is bad enough, actually.

Besides his defense of the personal self, another reason I like James is that he constantly provides everyday thought experiments. In the second section of the chapter, he posits two related statements: (1) that thought is in constant change, and (2) that the "simple ideas" discussed by Locke and others do not exist. I imagine that my thought of a rock is always the same, he says, because the rock always appears to be the same no matter the conditions under which I view it. But these changing conditions are precisely what makes my thought of the rock different every time I encounter it. Everything from the lighting and my relative position with the rock to how sleepy I am and what I've been thinking about in the previous minute colors my thought of the rock. I have no thought without this contextual fringe, he says. So here's experiment 1: pick an object you're likely to encounter more than once today and notice what you think about it each time you come to it. Can you imagine ever having exactly the same state of mind twice? At the very least, the first time you see it, you'll be thinking, "I should pay attention so this experiment will work," and the second time you see it, you'll be thinking, "This is the second time, so I wonder how my frame of mind is different."

The fringe is always there, even though we can't put a finger on it, picture it, or put a name to it. James's brilliant proof again rests on an everyday occurrence: forgetting a word or name. (OK, it's an everyday  occurrence for me.) We can sense the name in the distance. If someone suggests a possible name, we know if it's on the right track or not, even though before the suggestion we couldn't begin to express our vague feeling of the fringe. And here's a third reason to love James: he always uses such clear, vivid analogies. Trying to capture the fringe of our thought, he says, is like trying to catch a top to see its motion or trying to flip the lights on quickly to see what the room looks like in the dark.

If James is right (and it appears to me that he is), our stream of consciousness is like the river of Heraclitus: you can never step into the same one twice. That means that my reading list offers adventure at every turn, not just with the new authors and new books. Even an old favorite will appear differently the next time I read it. You can never step into the same book twice.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

It's Not a Job, . . .

In Sidney Lanier's book of Arthurian legend, the first version I ever read, several tales begin with the King and his knights sitting down for the feast of Pentecost, determined not to eat until an adventure has come their way. And sure enough, eventually a dwarf or a girl or a dirty young man comes into the hall asking for a boon. These stories brought together in my mind for the first time the ideas of Christianity and adventure. Later, I would read several times in Chesterton (in Orthodoxy, "On Running after One's Hat," and elsewhere) about the adventure of Christianity. Even later, thinking about many of my favorite books and movies, I would come to the conclusion that most (all?) adventure stories come from the soul's longing for Christ. The prince kissing the girl, the knight storming the castle, Frodo entering Mt. Doom, and Luke shooting a bolt down that airshaft are all types of Christ.

These ideas of adventure have popped into my head a lot again recently while reading my second Patrick O'Brian novel for the year: The Letter of Marque. I have no idea if Patrick O'Brian sees adventure in the sacred light that covers it in my view. His wonderful lead characters, Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, each have somewhat complex relationships with the faith, so I don't know that either of them see the adventures that come their way as God's Pentecostal signs. But I certainly have seen an inspiring view of life's adventure in this latest book.

Luck plays a prominent part in this series of sea yarns. The captain is referred to often as "Lucky" Jack Aubrey. Finding an enemy ship in the wide Atlantic is never a given thing. Bullets and cannonballs flying through a battle scene hit one man and miss another without apparent purpose or plan. Governments change, and stocks rise and fall with the ocean winds. The whole series seems set in a world that bounces around on the unpredictable wheel.

This setting, though, becomes theme in the previous installment, The Reverse of the Medal, which centers around the end of Jack's luck. Happily for Jack and his readers, his luck returns in the twelfth volume. But it seemed to me while reading that the lesson O'Brian offers out of all the reverses of fortune is not acquiescence in the indeterminable but a healthy view of luck as opportunity. In Reverse of the Medal, Jack may fall for a con and lose his post because of it, but Stephen takes the opportunity of an inheritance he just happens to come into, and buys Jack a ship to run as a privat . . . – oops, Aubrey looks down on that term – as an independent ship authorized by a letter of marque.

In Letter of Marque, several opportunities come Jack's way by happenstance. He hears of one French ship expecting to meet up with another that happens to be the same size as his Surprise. He hears of another ship moored in St. Martin's and loaded with valuable quicksilver. And he hears that his father has died, leaving an open seat in the House of Commons. Taking these prizes, both naval and political, will help him reach his only goal: reinstatement in the Royal Navy. But Jack has to strategize to make the most of the opportunities luck has sent his way. He paints and rerigs the Surprise to look like the expected rendevous ship, he plans a diversion for the fort at St. Martin's, and he learns what promises (all respectable) to make to which prominent politicians in order to win the place in Parliament. Success never falls in his lap. Stephen gets a little success poured into his lap when a patient unwittingly weens him from his laudanum addiction by raiding the medical supply cabinet and watering down (actually brandying down) the bottle. But that's the only free gift for Stephen: at the end of the book he has to meet an opportunity with carefully chosen action in order to make up with his Diana, which he does through generosity, humility, humor, and vulnerability.

I've been saying "luck," when of course a strict belief in luck leaves God out of control of his own world. Trying to fathom God's purpose in every roll of the dice, though, leads to endless rabbit trails. Better to say with the writer of Ecclesiastes that "time and chance happeneth to all." But these stories are about both chance and intelligent, courageous responses. In looking for God in the world and in good stories about the world, it's hard to say where the chance comes from, but I have no trouble saying where virtues come from.