Barzun: Classic, Romantic, and Modern

May 21, 2019

Classic, Romantic, and Modern
Jacques Barzun
(Little, Brown; 1961) [1943]
255 p.

“Romantic” is a complicated word. Even if we use it just in an historical sense, applying to the period covering, roughly speaking, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, what do we mean? Do we mean that it was a period that exemplified

“a return to the Middle Ages, a love of the exotic, a revolt from Reason, an exaggeration of individualism, a liberation of the unconscious, a reaction against scientific method, a revival of pantheism, idealism, and catholicism, a rejection of artistic conventions, a preference for emotion, a movement back to nature, or a glorification of force[?]”

The word has been used to mean these and many other things. (This book has an entertaining chapter in which Barzun does nothing but compile usage examples and try to tease out the implied meaning.) Barzun’s purpose in this book is to clarify our understanding of the romantic period, to defend it against its critics, and, in the process, to set forth a theory of historical development in which romanticism, whether under that name or another smelling as sweet, plays an essential part.

**

Following conventional usage, Barzun takes ‘romanticism’ to refer to a movement in European culture by a group of artists and thinkers whose births fell roughly between 1770 and 1815. We are talking about Blake, Goethe, Keats, Kant, Byron, Schiller, Emerson, Beethoven, Shelley, Schopenhauer, Thoreau, Chopin, and Scott, among (of course) many others. This was a group that was far from united, but Barzun argues that they are all justly ‘romantics’ because of two essential features: first, they understood themselves to be doing something in contrast to the “dissolving eighteenth century”, doing something constructive and creative, in search of new ideas and new institutions; and, second, that they shared a double awareness that man is simultaneous both great and vulnerable, he is “created and limited, a doer and a sufferer, infinite in spirit and finite in action”. These two characteristics Barzun argues are basic to romanticism, underlying the welter of different ideas and forms that sprung from it.

As an effort to find common ground uniting these many different figures, this is worth considering. At the same time, the idea that man is an intersection of the infinite and the finite is hardly an idea distinctive of romanticism. You’ll find it in Dante and Augustine. It is in some sense just a Christian idea. And, indeed, later Barzun argues that romantic life was basically Christian in character, “for it [combined] the infinite worth of the individual soul in its power and weakness, the search for union with the infinite, and the gospel of work for one’s fellow men.” The argument, then, must be not that this duality was unique to the romantics, but only that it exercised a particular influence over their thought.

He discerns four main phases in the career of romanticism, and it is worth sketching them. The first, from roughly 1780 to 1850, was the heyday of the romantics, during which most of the most eminent figures did their most creative work. The subsequent phases were “efforts at specialization, selection, refinement, and intensification” of the paths forged in the first phase.

The second phase Barzun calls “realism”, which he dates to about 1850-1885. This was an exploration of the political ramifications of romanticism (especially in Marx) and involved a turn toward materialism and coercion, under the tutelage of the physical sciences: “realism meant force without principle, matter without mind, mechanism without life.” It was a simplification of the original complexity of romanticism, but shared the goals of the romantics: “nationhood, social order, intellectual unity, the improvement of the human lot”.

The third and fourth phases were more properly a split, as they occurred simultaneously. One was the symbolist movement originated by the pre-Raphaelites, rooted in Coleridge and Keats, that influenced Debussy, Verlaine, Rimbaud, and Whistler. The other was what Barzun calls naturalism, exemplified by Dostoyevsky, Zola, and Huysmans; it was humanistic, and retained an interest in political and social issues that the symbolists largely lacked. Both movements lasted into the early twentieth century but were eventually displaced by “the modern”, about which more anon.

**

Barzun is keen to defend romanticism against its critics, or at least against unjust criticism. Reading between the lines, for instance, I infer that a strand of criticism at the time of writing — during WWII — was that romanticism was to blame for the rise of fascism and totalitarian politics. The idea seems to have been that with its elevation of national, local character and its revolutionary attitude toward social institutions, romanticism enabled or even abetted the revolutionary politics that produced the Russian Revolution and the Third Reich. The charge has a certain plausibility, for the romantics generally lauded both the American and French Revolutions. But Barzun argues that the romantics’ commitment to variety and innovation and their rejection of authority make a poor case for them as nascent totalitarians; for him, “the romantic style of doing things is the precise opposite of the totalitarian”. It is a fair point, yet I am reminded of Eliot’s argument that cultural movements, precisely because of the energies they release, might well tend toward a terminus that achieves the opposite of what they intend. (Eliot thought this true of liberalism.) The course of a cultural and intellectual movement sometimes overflows the bounds foreseen by its founders.

Romantics, in part because of their interest in fable and supernaturalism, were sometimes charged with “escapism”; in the twentieth century Tolkien met with a similar criticism for similar reasons. Barzun vigorously contests the charge; he sees them as unprejudiced realists, like explorers and scientists who opened up new vistas and experimented with different possibilities, all in an effort to adopt forms and subject matter which could convey their meaning. “They tried to meet the claim of every existing reality, both internal and external” and “they admitted the widest possible range of experience as real”. For them, life was the test of thought, not the other way around, and they were willing to stress accepted conventions and push boundaries of good taste in order to clear space for adequate expression of lived experience. With the benefit of hindsight, I think we understand this better today than did their critical contemporaries.

*

The book is not called simply “Romantic”, so let me say a word about the two foils: Classic and Modern. Classicism is the (if I may so say) classic foil for romanticism. Where romanticism is restless, iconoclastic, and questing, classicism values stable norms and social unity, for “no matter how arbitrary, conventions are useful and can be relied upon in proportion as they are held inviolable”. If Berlioz is a romantic, Haydn, I suppose, could be an exemplar of classicism. Societies with a strong classicist tendency are strong on hierarchies and clear social conventions. Barzun is sensible of the appeal and very real strengths of classicism:

It calls for intelligence, discipline, unselfish renunciation of private desires, a sense of social solidarity, and punctilious behaviour towards other members of one’s own caste.

At the same time, classicism has a kind of brittleness that makes it vulnerable. The unanimity it presents can be more apparent than real, imposed by social expectations rather than organically grown. Tumult may be concealed beneath a smooth exterior. When new problems arise classicism has a difficult time adapting.

Romanticism, too, has its weaknesses of course: it is turbulent, disorienting, and disruptive. It may be irrational. Societies which feel a need to break free of the constraints of a classical order may soon enough come to wish it back again. For this reason, Barzun sets forth in this book a theory of social change in which classical periods and romantic periods alternate, like the boom and bust cycle of an economy:

Periods of absorption alternate with periods of elimination; after diversity, simplification. Though both tendencies are at times present together, one dominates. Man explores and is romantic; man wants repose and becomes classical.

The nineteenth century was romantic; the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe were classical; the Renaissance was romantic, the late middle ages were classical. I think we could argue that the High Middle Ages — say, the 12th and 13th centuries — were romantic by Barzun’s definition, with many innovations in literature, architecture, and music. It’s an intriguing theory with a certain prima facie plausibility.

If it were true, it raises a question about our own times: is modernism a romanticism or a classicism? If modernism has yielded to something else — call it postmodernism — is that classical or romantic? Or has something happened to disrupt the cycle?

Barzun was writing in the 1940s, and at that time modernism was still in full swing. It seems he saw it is a defective species of classicism: elite and perfectionist, as classicism often is, but unable to tolerate solidification of any conventions, morbidly self-conscious and distrustful of its own desires, and skeptical. “It looks for certainties, guarantees of permanence and safety without, often, believing that they exist.” It searched for new, unassailable grounds on which to build, but was afflicted by a sense of universal purposelessness. Hardly promising material on which to found a stable social order.

This second edition of the book also includes, however, an epilogue written in 1960, a vantage point which allowed Barzun more perspective on cultural and social developments after WWII. He discerned two principal lines of development worthy of comment: first, the wholesale rebellion of artists against the Western inheritance, and, at the same time, nearly the opposite movement in the general public, who evinced a fresh desire for “the classics”. Rather than counterbalancing one another, Barzun saw them as working together to destroy the artistic tradition of the past five centuries. The artists were revolutionary, aiming “to produce in man a wholly new consciousness — not a new outlook upon the old makings of life, but a life made of a new substance.” They looked on the artistic heritage with contempt, as an obstacle rather than an inspiration. And the public — well, the public has bad taste, and when their appetite fixes on “the classics” it can only corrupt them. One problem is the cheapening effect of promulgating art through the channels of middle class commerce:

All the new media make arbitrary demands on the materials fed through them… To see the works of the Impressionists twisted into backgrounds for advertising perfume; to hear the melodies of Bach, Mozart, Berlioz, and Chopin rehandled by Tin Pan Alley; to listen to absent-minded hacks giving the lowdown on high art, not solely in blurbs for books and discs, in mass media, or over the air, but also on the walls of museums and in the glass cases of propagandistic libraries — all this is destructive in the same measure that it is communicative.

and another is the sheer abundance of material and ease of access, which sickens and sours the aesthetic sensibility:

Too much art in too many places means art robbed of its right associations, its exact forms, its concentrated power. We are grateful for the comprehensive repertoire which modern industry for the first time puts within our reach, but we turn sick at the aggressive temptation, like the novice in the sweetshop.

In our own time the general public’s interest in classic literature, music, and art has subsided, eclipsed, I would argue, by new media, but the opportunities for over-saturation have only become more common and more tempting.

**

Barzun, even in his epilogue, was writing only at the beginning of the 1960s, and, astute as he was, he seems not to have foreseen the cultural upheavals just a few years in his future. How I wish that he could have written a third edition in, say, the 1980s. It’s pretty clear that the 1960s were, in his taxonomy, a romantic period, with a rapid development of new artistic expressions, and a general breakdown of norms in art, sexuality, and society. Its aftermath is all around us, though I wonder if there are, perhaps, nascent signs of a return to classicism? Many people have documented the marked contrast between the children of the 1960s and the new “millenial” generation, which is more likely to be risk averse, less tolerant of unfamiliar ideas and the free expression of them, and more narrowly moralistic, though its list of sins runs along novel lines. The efforts of the baby boomers, now occupying the heights of power, to shore up their revolution by legal means is also typical, says, Barzun, of classicism, the unanimity of which is more often imposed than grown:

To suppose that one can have classicism without authoritarianism is like supposing that one can have braking power without friction.

We shall see what we shall see. In the meantime, Classic, Romantic, and Modern is a thoughtful and learned reflection on the last quarter-millenium of our cultural history, and remains well worth reading.


le Carré: The Honourable Schoolboy

May 13, 2019

The Honourable Schoolboy
John Le Carré
(Hodder & Stoughton, 1977)
532 p.

It is fair to say that I have next to no idea what happened in this book. I do know — because I read it on the dust jacket — that the story has something to do with George Smiley’s efforts to revenge himself on the Russian spymaster Karla, whom we remember from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but what Karla has to do with what happens in the book is for someone else to answer. I can at least confirm that his name comes up a few times.

The story, insofar as I was able to discern it, concerns the infiltration of an opium smuggling operation into China. Some events take place in Cambodia, and some in Thailand, and others in Hong Kong. I gather that these smugglers are somehow working for Karla for some reason. There is a character whom Smiley is trying to capture — his name is Nelson — and it seems, from the hullabaloo that accompanies his eventual capture, that he is important in some way. Unless I am mistaken, he never appears on the page until the very end, so it is odd that he should be the novel’s focus. Actually, for much of the book I thought he was a child who had died.

There are some characters in the book. An English fellow called Westerby. A woman called Liz. Someone called Drake. Back in England there is a Circus operative called Collins, and he seemed suspicious to me, but that went nowhere. These characters did many things in the book and, by and large, I failed to understand their motives.

None of this amounts to a criticism of le Carré or his book, exactly. He is by reputation a very good spy novelist. He is comfortable with subtlety and elaborate hidden motives, and good for him. This book took the palm for crime novels in the year it was published, so others have appreciated, and presumably understood, it. Meanwhile, I am wondering if I should persist with my plans to read Smiley’s People, the final volume in the Karla trilogy. Nobody likes to feel a fool, much less twice over.


Wodehouse: Psmith II

May 7, 2019

Psmith in the City
P.G. Wodehouse
(Overlook, 2003) [1910]
208 p.

Psmith and Mike both leave school for a life of responsibility and upward mobility, and, as chance would have it, both land in the postage department of the New Asiatic Bank in London. Hilarity ensues. Befriending their excitable and meticulous supervisor by feigning to share his interest in football, they acquire the leisure to take tea and circle in the orbit of the bank’s manager, Mr Bickersdyke, on whose good will Psmith is intent on playing for his own amusement. Eventually Mike hears the call of the cricket field too strongly and, deserting his post, abandons bank life, Psmith following. In the end, Psmith is bound for Cambridge University, intent on studying law, and offers Mike an all-expense-paid berth at the same in the capacity of his personal secretary. The future is bright.

This was one of my favourite Wodehouse novels so far. Psmith is a splendid character who enlivens every page. Mike, thoughtfully, withdraws to the shadows so as not to distract. The sequence in which Psmith attends a political speech by “Comrade Bickersdyke” and rises to point out Bickersdyke’s appropriation of an episode in Three Men in a Boat was raucously funny. Really delightful.

**

Psmith, Journalist
P.G. Wodehouse
(Overlook, 2008) [1915]
256 p.

A year has passed, and Psmith and Mike have a term off at Cambridge. Mike and the cricket team head state-side, and Psmith follows.

The events of the story take place in New York City, with Mike mostly off-screen. Psmith encounters the Acting Editor of a homely little magazine called Cosy Moments, and, sensing an opportunity for adventure, convinces him to reboot his rag as an edgy political agitator; their cause: the degredations of New York’s tenement housing.

It’s a good premise, giving Psmith scope to talk his way into, and then out of, trouble, in his inimitable manner. The story goes places I’d not have expected, including into the world of boxing, and of gangsters, where Psmith is out of place. I enjoyed the book, but it lacked some of the sparkle of the earlier Psmith stories. It could be that I need to give him a rest for a while, to sharpen the appetite.


Regina caeli

May 5, 2019

For Eastertide, a two-voiced riff on Regina caeli, by Jacob Obrecht, and played on the organ. The video shows how fifteenth-century performers would have read their parts, and is, on that account, both fascinating and instructive.

Happy Easter to all!


Weinberg: String Quartet No.13

May 2, 2019

Weinberg’s thirteenth quartet was written in 1977, just a few years after the death of Shostakovich, and it’s reminiscent of Shostakovich’s late quartets, with an untraditional structure and a tonal, if somewhat thorny, complexion. In fact, like Shostakovich’s own thirteenth quartet, it is composed in one continuous movement, though one in which several different sections are discernible.

I listened to it this evening, and was so taken with it that I thought I’d share it here, in a performance by the Silesian Quartet, who are engaged in what appears to be a project to record all of the quartets. It begins in this way:

 


White: The Once and Future King

April 29, 2019

The Queen of Air and Darkness
T.H. White
[1939] 100 p.

The Ill-Made Knight
T.H. White
[1940] 200 p.

Candle in the Wind
T.H. White
[1940] 120 p.

When I wrote, with such great enthusiasm, about T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone, a friend cautioned me not to expect the same delights from the subsequent volumes of The Once and Future King. He was right. As I was warned, these books lack the sense of happy whimsy of the first, and are, to an uncomfortable extent, quite dark and unhappy in themselves. We know something has changed when, in The Queen of Air and Darkness, the Orkney clan — Gawain, Gaheris, Gareth, and Agravaine — dismember a unicorn, a grisly scene that is played for very dark laughs.

These Orkney knights are central to the second volume, for each is destined to become a knight in the fellowship of knights just beginning to take shape in Arthur’s mind. Arthur has grown to a youthful manhood, and has gone to war against the many intransigent lords in his kingdom, yet all the while he muses on a new ideal: a knight who fights not for conquest or gain, but for justice and goodness.

The dark shadows are brightened somewhat by a comic thread carried over from the first volume involving King Pellinore and the Questing Beast: Pellinore has fallen into unrequited love and lost his taste for questing, but is miserable, and his friends, in an effort to revive his spirits, don a Questing Beast costume which, however, is mistaken by the Questing Beast herself for the real thing, with tragicomic consequences.

The third volume, The Ill-Made Knight, follows the life of Lancelot, the Chevalier mal fet himself, and his complicated relationships with Guinever and Arthur. We know the basic story, but what I appreciated about White’s re-telling — and this was, for me, the best of these three volumes — was the very personal way in which he re-imagined the familiar tales. His is neither an “updating” — although he does allow his knights the luxury of speaking casual modern English when not fighting one another — nor an attempt to create a realistic historical setting, but something quite different: an attempt at realistic psychology within a story that retains its fantastic elements, and one that is fully aware of taking place within a tradition of Arthurian storytelling. (More than once White’s narrator remarks that Malory said X, whereas actually it was Y, or that as Malory already described A there is no need to repeat it.) This personal approach to the Arthurian legends was also there in The Sword in the Stone, but, given that most of that book related stories that Malory left offstage, it was less obvious; in these more famous tales, concerning the famous love triangle, the merits of White’s approach stood out more clearly.

Woven into the increasingly tense relationships of Arthur, Guinever, and Lancelot are increasing tensions within the fellowship of the Round Table. At this point the Round Table has triumphed; Arthur’s shining ideal of knighthood reigns; its enemies have been mostly vanquished. Yet, human nature being what it is, quarrels erupt and dissension threatens. In response, Arthur conceives the Quest of the Holy Grail, an attempt to re-focus the energy of the knights onto a spiritual ideal, an attempt that is triumphantly successful — for a time.

It is in the final volume, Candle in the Wind, that the darkness that has been pushed back by Arthur’s dream returns with a vengeance. Mordred, Arthur’s illicitly-conceived son, accuses Lancelot and Guinever outright of infidelity to the king, which leads to a spiralling series of conflicts, broken trusts, dead knights, and the end of Arthur’s hopes, attended by much mournful meditation on the collapse of the ideals of chivalry and of power restrained by law, ideals which had been premised on the idea that man is basically good. The unavoidable conclusion, in the face of disaster, is that that premise was false. Pelagianism, even when Arthurian, fails.

The tetralogy closes with a winsome coda in which Arthur, amid the rubble of his dreams, asks a young page, Tom Malory, to remember his story and to tell it to others. It’s a cheering finale to a series of books haunted by darkness and violence. If we were to forget for a moment the existence of The Sword in the Stone, these three books would stand as an impressive, personal engagement with the Arthurian legends, although emphatically not for children. Remembering that earlier book, however, they are thrown into contrast and appear too dour and too dark to really love. Alas!


Virgil: Georgics

April 25, 2019

Georgics
Publius Virgilius Maro
Translated from the Latin by David Ferry
(FSG, 2005) [c.29 BC]
xx + 202 p.

Virgil wrote the Georgics a few years after his Eclogues and the two sets of poems share common ground, especially an admiration for rural life. Whereas the Eclogues were structured around rustic characters, the Georgics are much more interested in the nuts and bolts — or, I suppose it would be better to say, the grapes and olives — of farm life, and could be fairly described as outright didactic poems. I was reminded, more than once, of Cato the Elder’s “De agricultura”, not on account of the form, of course, for Virgil is infinitely more elegant, but of the subject matter.

There are four poems, or, it may be better to say, four divisions of one poem. The first is about agriculture: the sowing of crops, anticipation of storms, harvesting. The second is concerned with tree husbandry: types of trees, planting of trees, types of soil, grafting, and harvesting of fruit. The third transitions to the care and breeding of farm animals, both the nobler kind (horses and cows) and the more ignoble (goats, sheep), with an extended section on plague and diseases that can beset herds and flocks. The fourth, and for me the most enjoyable, is about bee-keeping.

We all know Virgil as the author of Aeneid. I must say that few things seem more unlikely than that he, our great epic poet, should, apart from that monumental achievement, be known for writing humble farm poems. It is as though a scriptwriter for a television nature program should then write “Hamlet”. Yet it is apparently so. Probably I am underselling Virgil’s accomplishments in these earlier poems, which I expect are exquisite in the Latin, and in which there is more going on than mere exposition, but, nonetheless, the contrast between this and that is striking.

Further to that point: my handy little Student’s Guide to Classics argues that the Georgics are actually comparable to the Aeneid in their exploration of “optimism about man’s ability to create order and pessimism about the disorder caused by his passions and appetites”. I would concur, at least, with the judgment that the creation of order is a major preoccupation of the poems. I’m unconvinced that the poems are especially focused on “passions and appetites” as sources of disorder; to my mind, they represent disorder as inherent in the natural world, from which order must be wrested.

A feature of these poems that particularly attracted my attention was the interplay in them of the quotidian and the sacred. Virgil may be describing something quite concrete and ordinary, like pruning a vine, but an attending god is rarely far off. Throughout the poems, tales from Greek and Roman mythology are interwoven with technical descriptions of farm management. The effect of this is, of course, to elevate the dignity of the farmer’s work, presided over so attentively by the gods, and also to convert the poems themselves into a celebration of Roman greatness in and through the primary Roman virtues, which since at least the time of Cincinnatus had been rooted in rural exemplars.

The presence of gods and heroes in these poems is especially striking in the fourth Georgic, which contains a long section relating the tale of Aristaeus (the Roman god of bee-keeping) and Proteus, during the course of which Proteus tells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. It was here, in what is a very beautiful interlude, that I heard for the first time in these Georgics the voice of Virgil the epic poet. For all I know, it may have been on the strength of this very section that Virgil was chosen by Augustus to write the Aeneid.

Speaking of Augustus, he is everywhere in these poems. They open and close with references to him, whom Virgil portrays as the great patron of peace, and numerous deferential and laudatory remarks are made about him throughout. Thus the poems have a political dimension that sometimes feels merely sycophantic — emperors will be praised, after all — but sometimes seems more. The fourth Georgic, again, is interesting from this angle: in it, the bees are governed not by a queen but by a king, which makes me wonder whether we are to read this paean to the virtues of the hive as an allegory of the Roman empire? Or could it simply be that Augustan-age melittology was wayward in certain respects?

*

Virgil’s principal influences in these poems are Hesiod and Lucretius, both admired for their careful descriptions of natural phenomena. The Georgics have been read regularly between Virgil’s time and ours, albeit much less widely than has Aeneid. The first English translation was John Dryden’s, in 1697, and the poems enjoyed a heyday (or maybe a hay-day) of popularity in the eighteenth-century, with over 20 English translations published in that century alone. They inspired a modest echo in an English tradition of agricultural poetry, now dead, and were an influence on agrarian political and social movements at around the time of the American founding. The Wikipedia page is quite good at tracing the influence they have had.

It would have been nice to read Dryden’s translation, but for years I’ve had this David Ferry translation on my shelves and I decided the time was ripe to finally take it down. Ferry has rendered the poems into iambic pentameter, giving them a stately feel, and, like the Latin original, does not bother with rhymes. His English, however, is a good deal more verbose than the Latin (which in this edition is printed on the facing page), often running to at least 50% more lines. But this, I believe, is common in translations from Latin, and not counted a fault. I found Ferry quite good, in general, and excellent in the fourth poem, where his lines took on an aptly honey-golden sheen.


After the fire

April 24, 2019

A week on from the fire, I can uncover my eyes and see what happened. What a joy to see this:

Notre-Dame was my first Gothic cathedral. I went to Paris when an undergraduate, on my first trip to Europe. I arrived in the early morning hours, before I could check-in at my lodgings, so I walked to Notre-Dame. I remember arriving in the plaza before the church, and gazing up at her in wonder, hardly believing that she was real, and that I was really seeing her with my own eyes. I threw my backpack down on a bench and sat, simply taking in that beautiful facade. I remember that I glanced along the bench at another traveller, also toting a backpack, and roughly my age. He said to me, in English, “I had to see her again before leaving”. I simply nodded in understanding. When I heard about the fire, among the many thoughts that crowded my mind were these: where is he now, and what is he feeling this day?

The damage, thanks be to God, seems to be not as devastating as was originally feared. The firefighters of Paris are genuine heroes in this affair. The north tower was apparently threatened most nearly — threatened by the bells, which, if their wooden supports had burned, would have plunged down the length of the tower and collapsed it. The firefighters mobilized to rescue the many treasures, sacred and artistic, which the church housed. I was most touched by the story of the chaplain to the Paris firefighters, Fr Jean-Marc Fournier, who rescued the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle and the crown of thorns reliquary. I was also amused to learn that the Parisian fire brigade deployed a secret weapon against the fire: Colossus, a fire-fighting robot.

One of the treasures of the church, after its relics, rose windows, and facade, is its organ. I attended an organ recital there some years ago, and remember it fondly. Here is a short documentary featuring it:

Much has been written about the church, about what it means to Parisians and to the French nation, and about its significance for Catholics around the world. Quite a few writers have been tempted by the metaphorical potency of a burning cathedral in the center of secularized Europe. Without denying that they have a point, such reactions seem to me tactless at this point. The church burned, and that is more than enough to reckon with, without having it turned into a lecture illustration or commandeered for partisan gain.

Having said that, I admit I cannot help taking heart, under the circumstances, from images like this, which are like an Easter homily in themselves:

Macron has committed to rebuilding what was damaged, and there have been a number of absurdly large donations from absurdly rich French citizens, along with a stream of modest donations from lovers of the cathedral around the world. I made a small donation myself. We hear rumours of our cultured despisers wanting to turn this monument honouring Our Lady into a monument honouring Ourselves. I hope and pray that they are thwarted. May the beautiful church of Notre-Dame de Paris be protected from the hands of Daniel Libeskind, I.M. Pei, and all like-minded vandals. Let us love her even in her infirmity.


Easter Sunday, 2019

April 21, 2019

I got me flowers to straw thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sunne arising in the East,
Though he give light, & th’ East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many sunnes to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we misse:
There is but one, and that one ever.

– George Herbert (1633)

Happy Easter!


Notre Dame

April 15, 2019

There could be some dispute about what is the greatest church in the world. In my heart, though, Notre Dame de Paris is first. A heartbreaking day.