Literature, Poetry, and Books
May 1, 2009
If you've visited Jefferson's Monticello lately, you might see displayed there a small chip of wood, with this humorous note from Jefferson:
A chip cut from an armed chair in the chimney corner in Shakespeare's house at Stratford on Avon said to be the identical chair in which he usually sat. If true like the relics of the saints it must miraculously reproduce itself.That TJ--no monkish superstition or irrational pieties for him. His little note contains the essential ingredients of countless Mark Twain gags. As the "Shakespeare and the Presidents" NYT piece you sent me mentions (thanks for that), Jefferson visited Stratford-upon-Avon with John Adams in the spring of 1786, while their countrymen back home were heading toward constitutional crisis. The only contemporary record he left of the visit was hardly sentimental: he jotted down the price of admission to Shakespeare's birthplace and tomb! But Abigail Adams many years later adds color to the picture. In an 1815 letter, she writes that when Jefferson got to Stratford, he kissed the ground. (I don't have access to the letter here.) I fall innocently a little in love with Abigail for that charming gesture, even more so if she is just teasing. As a young bride, remember, she used to quote Shakespeare quite a bit in her letters to John as he was off putting his life on the line for the Revolution. At some point, in those dangerous days, she took to signing herself Portia, making it hard not to fall a little more in love with her. She was just seventeen to John's twenty-six when they began courting--speaking of young hearts. Adams left a more engaging account of the Stratford visit in his diary. I quote it below for three of its attractions: it invites you to dwell on the magic of the English names and the thought of traveling those dirt roads in a carriage pulled by horses; it shows you what a crusty freedom fighter Adams was (Worcester was the site of Cromwell's victory in the last battle of the English Civil War); and it describes the Stratford visit, including some wood-chipping.
Mr. Jefferson and myself, went in a Post Chaise to Woburn Farm, Caversham, Wotton, Stowe, Edghill, Stratford upon Avon, Birmingham, the Leasowes, Hagley, Stourbridge, Worcester, Woodstock, Blenheim, Oxford, High Wycomb, and back to Grosvenor Square.You can read Adams's diary (and see the images of his written manuscript) at the electronic archive: Adams Electronic Archive
Edgehill and Worcester were curious and interesting to us, as [scenes] where Freemen had fought for their Rights. The People in the Neighbourhood, appeared so ignorant and careless at Worcester that I was provoked and asked, "And do Englishmen so soon forget the Ground where Liberty was fought for? Tell your Neighbours and your Children that this is holy Ground, much holier than that on which your Churches stand. All England should come in Pilgrimage to this Hill, once a Year." This animated them, and they seemed . . . much pleased with it. . . .
Stratford upon Avon is interesting as it is the [scene] of the Birth, Death and Sepulture of Shakespear. Three Doors from the Inn, is the House where he was born, as small and mean, as you can conceive. They shew Us an old Wooden Chair in the Chimney Corner, where He sat. We cutt off a Chip according to the Custom. A Mulberry Tree that he planted has been cutt down, and is carefully preserved for Sale. The House where he died has been taken down and the Spot is now only Yard or Garden. . . . There is nothing preserved of this great Genius which is worth knowing -- nothing which might inform Us what Education, what Company, what Accident turned his Mind to Letters and the Drama. His name is not even on his Grave Stone. An ill sculptured Head is sett up by his Wife, by the Side of his Grave in the Church. But paintings and Sculpture would be thrown away upon his Fame. His Wit, and Fancy, his Taste and Judgment, His Knowledge of Nature, of Life and Character, are immortal.
Generally, Republicans and conservative activists do a poor job of advocating their sensible and constitutionally necessary position. Matt Franck does outline a coherent strategy designed to change public opinion.
Unfortunately, those on the right tend to argue like lawyers, while Obama had (probably justified) contempt for his law school education (see his autobiography)--hence his emphasis on "empathy" as a judicial credential, which has attracted the ire of conservatives. If the right took to heart the Constitution's basis in the Declaration of Independence, they would sing a different song and interrupt the leftist appeal to the passions.
The Supreme Court is too important to be left to the lawyers--something Bush probably realized in his unfortunate initial pick of Harriet Miers. But he didn't have the skill (or the proper weapon) to make his point. The language of "judicial restraint" has no political cache and in fact is a secondary point. We want jurists who are zealous in their defense of the Constitution, while realizing the moderation essential to their office.
Interesting reflections follow. Read the whole thing.
The average age of American men marrying for the first time is now 28. That's up five full years since 1970 and the oldest average since the Census Bureau started keeping track. If men weren't pulling women along with them on this upward swing, I wouldn't be complaining. But women are now taking that first plunge into matrimony at an older age as well. The age gap between spouses is narrowing: Marrying men and women were separated by an average of more than four years in 1890 and about 2.5 years in 1960. Now that figure stands at less than two years. . . .
Literature, Poetry, and Books
April 29, 2009
As promised on arrival, I have been stimulating the Global Economy like no tomorrow. This is easy to do in a place where your hotel breakfast sets you back forty bucks, if you skip the orange juice. If I understand the approved G-20 recovery program, the principle is spend, spend, spend. Especially spend what you haven't got. This puts you in debt, and debt is the key. Once everyone gets comfortable being in debt up to their eyebrows again, there will be confidence. Then people will lend, lend, lend, and Bob's your uncle. Useless spending, if I've grasped the essential idea, is best. People will keep buying useful things despite the crisis--they have no choice. It's the buying of useless things at exorbitant prices with money you haven't got that really falls off in a crisis like this. Government's role is to assist you in not having the money you must spend, by raising your taxes.
The second prong of the travel campaign is juicing up the Special Relationship, and a pleasant trip to Oxford the other day provides a great opportunity for some juicing up. P.G. Wodehouse, of course, was not able to go to Oxford because, though "Plum" was a cracker-jack student of Greek and Latin, his father couldn't afford to support him in university. Unlike Shakespeare, however, who despite earning the title of America's Greatest Poet also did not attend Oxford, Wodehouse actually became an American. Put it on your patriotic calendar: he made it official on 16 December, 1955, if I've got my facts straight. On the joyous occasion, with his usual keen syntactical sense, he wrote a friend: "Thank God for being an American (I don't mean God is, I mean I am)." Anyone who knows Wodehouse knows what an effusion of strong passion is expressed in the title of his memoir of gratitude to his adopted country: America, I Like You.
Plum's biographers say that as a lad he could write Greek and Latin sentences as rapidly as he could write sentences in English, and Wodehouse acknowledges that his boyhood study of Greek and Latin shaped his writing. This is a good advertisement for the classical languages, because Wodehouse's English sentences are wonderful works of art. Sometimes they entertain just by making you keenly interested in seeing how they are going to turn out. No matter what roof he throws them off of, they always land on their feet. Before winning fame for his Jeeves and Bertie stories, he was a great lyricist for American musical comedies in their golden age. You might be interested to learn, if you hadn't heard it in some bar already, that Wodehouse once said that Harry Leon Wilson's Ruggles of Red Gap "made a great impression on me and ... may have been the motivating force behind the creation of Jeeves." No small contribution to Western Civilization!
But we were in Oxford. ... (Maybe some of the stuff above, and certainly some of the stuff below comes from the recent Robert McCrum biography and David Jasen's 1974 portrait, and I apologize for muddling the quotations--I don't have a Kindle so I can't carry all my books with me.) Wodehouse was awarded an honorary doctorate of literature (D.Litt) by Oxford University on 21 June, 1939. The annual ceremony for these awards was called an Encaenia. The university's Public Orator (PO) customarily delivered a Latin salute to the honorands on these occasions. The PO, Cyril Bailey, had never read Wodehouse, and was given some of his writings to prepare him for the salute. According to Wodehouse's recollections of the ceremony, his fellow honorands received "tepid applause" while he "had to stand for quite three minutes while thousands cheered." (McCrum)
The Public Orator saluted Wodehouse with
a brilliant and witty celebration of Wodehouse's gifts composed in faultless Latin hexameters after Horace. Having made ingenious reference to Bertie Wooster, Jeeves, Mr. Mulliner, Lord Emsworth, the Empress of Blandings, Psmith and Gussie Fink-Nottle, Bailey concluded in prose that Wodehouse was 'our Petronius, or should I say, our Terence?' (Petroniumne dicam an Terentium nostrum?) a tribute that provoked more wild applause. (McCrum)
Terentium nostrum, indeed! Vice-Chancellor of the University, George Stuart Gordon, presented the degree to Wodehouse with these words:
Vir lepidissime, facetissime, venustissime, iocosissime, ribidundissime te cum turba tua Leporum, Facetinarum, Venustatum, Iocorum, Risuum, ego auctoritate mea et totius Universitatis admitto ad gradum Doctoris in Litteris honoris causa.
Which meant more or less:
Wittiest of men, most humorous, most charming, most amusing, full of laughter, by the authority vested in me and the entire university, I hereby admit you and your whole crowd of witty, humorous, charming, amusing, uproarious creations to the degree of honorary Doctor of Letters.
(Jasen, McCrum, and a bit of Flannery)
Now there is an honorary degree worth having! At formal dinner for four hundred at Christ Church afterwards, the undergraduates began "to bang the tables, chanting 'We want Wode-house ... we want Wode-house.'" Amen.
But isn't it most wonderful to think of those thousands of undergrads bursting into wild applause at the Latin jokes?
As a beginning young writer in London at the turn of the 20th century, Wodehouse dreamed of sailing to America, to the New World. His dream came true in 1904, when he was just 22. As Robert McCrum says, he "fell in love with Manhattan at first sight." Wodehouse:
To say that New York came up to its advance billing would be the baldest of understatements. Being there was like being in heaven, without going to all the bother and expense of dying.
When he returned to London several weeks later, he found that he was regarded as an expert on America (a very different kind of Tocqueville, no!?), and his writing on the subject of America was in great demand: "After that trip to New York, I was a man who counted. ... My income rose like a rocketing pheasant." So, it's not just that his American readers love his idyllic England; his English readers are charmed by his mythical America! (McCrum) What could be better for the Special Relationship?
Wodehouse lived the last 30 years or so of his life in America--Long Island--and died on Valentine's Day 1975. The names of Psmith, Lord Emsworth, Mr. Mulliner, Bertie Wooster, and Jeeves are inscribed on his tombstone, the way Jefferson had inscribed on his tombstone his greatest accomplishments. I gather tourists can have a rough time finding Wodehouse's grave, but it is behind the Remsenburg Community Church in Long Island.
Oh yes, Oxford. It takes you only 50 minutes to get there from Paddington Station in London on a perfectly pleasant train. And if you haven't packed your four course lunch as half the veteran passengers seem to do, and you're especially peckish when you arrive, stop by the Brasserie Gerard 5 minutes into the 10 minute walk into town from the train station. Try the croque madame or the quiche Lorraine. It's not Anatole's best, but you won't regret it.
You know, the -- my view on -- on abortion, I think, has been very consistent. I think abortion is a moral issue and an ethical issue. I think that those who are pro-choice make a mistake when they -- if they suggest -- and I don't want create straw men here, but I think there are some who suggest that this is simply an issue about women's freedom and that there's no other considerations. I think, look, this is an issue that people have to wrestle with, and families and individual women have to wrestle with.
The reason I'm pro-choice is because I don't think women take that -- that position casually. I think that they struggle with these decisions each and every day, and I think they are in a better position to make these decisions, ultimately, than members of Congress or -- or a president of the United States, in consultation with their families, with their doctors, with their clergy.
So -- so that's -- that's been my consistent position.
The other thing that I said consistently during the campaign is, I would like to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies that result in women feeling compelled to get an abortion or at least considering getting an abortion, particularly if we can reduce the number of teen pregnancies, which has started to spike up again.
And so I've got a task force within the Domestic Policy Council in the West Wing of the White House that is working with groups both in the pro-choice camp and in the pro-life camp to see if we can arrive at some consensus on that.
Now, the Freedom of Choice Act is not my highest legislative priority. I believe that women should have the right to choose, but I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the -- the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we can agree on. And that's -- that's where I'm going to focus.
This is about as good a statement as you're going to get from someone who is essentially pro-choice and certainly capable of framing it differently, in a way that abortion rights groups find more congenial. But I also note that there are plenty of moral issues on which he thinks it's entirely appropriate for government to take a stand and to legislate, even though there is deep disagreement.
Actually, I used to have a nickname for him I'm not sure I can use on a family website. Let's just say I rendered his last name in a term that almost rhymes with "tincture." (Hint: Add the letters "h" and "n" in the right places, change the "e" to an "i", and . . . you'll get it.)
P.S. I think Lawler is too restrained as usual. Specter is an insult to genuine hacks.
Literature, Poetry, and Books
April 27, 2009
The world turns. Here, let it turn around the Globe, where the season of "Young Hearts" is under weigh. For a few days now, beginning with a closed rehearsal on the afternoon of Shakespeare's birthday--not even staff admitted (to reveal any truth or beauty, you must conceal some!)--the players have submitted to being the instrument twice a day of the revelation of The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.
Young hearts! It still breaks my old heart a little with sympathy to be reminded again that Juliet is ... thirteen! I mentioned that Shakespeare's brother Edmund was granted burial in what is now Southwark Cathedral, down the street from the Globe--the sort of stories told by local street musicians and jugglers say that he might have been the first boy to play Juliet. The boys, remember, still played the girls back then. He died when he was 27--still a boy!--and his big brother seems to have arranged for him to have the honor of being buried in the church, rather than outside.
I asked a local authority whether the (open air) Globe Season always opened with Shakespeare's birthday. He said no, that this had been done only the past two seasons, which opened on April 23 and ended in mid to late October, and that originally and for the first ten seasons they had opened in mid-May and ended in mid to late September. "It's too cold in April and October!" he said. "You have to wear three layers of clothes in the evenings. Sitting down is the coldest. Go to the matinee!"
I go to a matinee in a few days. In the meantime, I carry my little Yale Romeo and Juliet around London with me. My older sister Linda gave me the set when I was in college. Remember her? She was high school friends with Natalie Wood, who came over to our house one time that I remember, and stayed behind the closed door of my sister's room down the hall while the two of them giggled, and my heart broke a thousand times. Or that's how I remember it, but I was only seven, and my heart was too young for lamentable tragedy. Linda was prettier anyway!
On Saturday, I carried R & J over to Regent's Park, spread, as ever, along the northern horizon of the old haunt at 10 York Terrace East where you and I lived and listened to IRA bombs going off in those more innocent days. Lunch unfolded at an effortless pace al fresco in the park at the Garden Terrace Café, where the goat cheese and spring onion tarte with toasted pine nuts was like Anatole's best. Everything about the scene and the moment offered anecdotal proof (the only kind available!) that perfection is constantly repeated in infinite variety and irreducibly particular places and times, and always has been and always will be. The day was so stunning it stopped you in your tracks like a beautiful girl walking by, except it didn't walk by--it surrounded you and was everywhere. The temperature was probably 18 or 19 (as they say here in the world of Celsius--mid-60s Fahrenheit), gentle pampering breezes, thick white cotton clouds scudding in a celestial hush across skies so blue they make you squint, shade and sunshine rolling and breaking like silent waves across the landscape. And the park--an English paradise of spring-blooming flowers and trees arranged as if by nature's gardener on a majestic scale. OK. I won't start naming flowers. But I could! What does one do in paradise? I open my Shakespeare at random, like a man of endless leisure, a man of scholê with a timeless book, a schoolman forever.
Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
Towards Phoebus' lodging: such a wagoner
As Phaethon would whip you to the west,
And bring in cloudy night immediately.
Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,
That runaway's eyes may wink and Romeo
Leap to these arms, untalk'd of and unseen.
Lovers can see to do their amorous rites
By their own beauties; or, if love be blind,
It best agrees with night. Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron, all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match,
Play'd for a pair of stainless maidenhoods:
Hood my unmann'd blood, bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle; till strange love, grown bold,
Think true love acted simple modesty.
Come, night; come, Romeo; come, thou day in night;
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
Whiter than new snow on a raven's back.
Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow'd night,
Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
O, I have bought the mansion of a love,
But not possess'd it, and, though I am sold,
Not yet enjoy'd: so tedious is this day
As is the night before some festival
To an impatient child that hath new robes
And may not wear them. O, here comes my nurse ...
There are no clocks in the Paradise Café. Some measureless time later, still at school, maybe because of the Havana cigar that is sending rich aromas from the table next door, I put down my Shakespeare and muse of Hemingway's cafés in Paris. One café is for writing. This café is inviolable. Each writer has his own. A man who intrudes on you there is either ill bred or drunk. It is inconceivable that he would be just misinformed. Then there is the café where you meet your mistress. This too is inviolable. A man who descends upon you there is a fool. Even a beating will not improve him. Then there is a neutral café where you might go with your mistress to meet friends with their mistresses. I make this up from bad memory (note to self: re-read A Moveable Feast, after memorizing Shakespeare). Having no mistress, I need only one café. In any case, I'm in the café, without a mistress. What does one do in the Paradise Café without a mistress? I sigh and pick up my Shakespeare again and ask my wife if she would like coffee. She is reading Emma right next to me and sends her warm regards.
I happened to see Shaw's "Misalliance" over the weekend. In light of recent debates, I found this bit of dialogue interesting:
GUNNER. Ive read more than any man in this room, if the truth were known, I expect. Thats whats going to smash up your Capitalism. The problems are beginning to read. Ha! We're free to do that here in England. What would you do with me in Jinghiskahn if you had me there?
LORD SUMMERHAYS. Well, since you ask me so directly, I'll tell you. I should take advantage of the fact that you have neither sense enough nor strength enough to know how to behave yourself in a difficulty of any sort. I should warn an intelligent and ambitious policeman that you are a troublesome person. The intelligent and ambitious policeman would take an early opportunity of upsetting your temper by ordering you to move on, and treading on your heels until you were provoked into obstructing an officer in the discharge of his duty. Any trifle of that sort would be sufficient to make a man like you lose your self-possession and put yourself in the wrong. You would then be charged and imprisoned until things quieted down.
GUNNER. And you call that justice!
LORD SUMMERHAYS. No. Justice was not my business. I had to govern a province; and I took the necessary steps to maintain order in it. Men are not governed by justice, but by law or persuasion. When they refuse to be governed by law or persuasion, they have to be governed by force or fraud, or both. I used both when law and persuasion failed me. Every ruler of men since the world began has done so, even when he has hated both fraud and force as heartily as I do. It is as well that you should know this, my young friend; so that you may recognize in time that anarchism is a game at which the police can beat you. What have you to say to that?
GUNNER. What have I to say to it! Well, I call it scandalous: thats what I have to say to it.
LORD SUMMERHAYS. Precisely: thats all anybody has to say to it, except the British public, which pretends not to believe it.
These matters are connected. Follow the dots. I started reading Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir by son Christopher Buckley this weekend. As I suspected, it is a good. WFB was a thoughtful and interesting guy, spent a year (we think no more!) in the CIA, wrote great spy-books, and all the other things he is responsible for y’all already know. (The NYT Magazine runs an extract from the book, by the way.)
Fred Thompson is our Annual Dinner Speaker this Friday, speaking on how the first 100 days have gone (although we have almost 600 folks coming, tickets are still available, buy one or two, for the Ashbrook Scholars’ sake). This should be fun, he is a smart fellow and amusing, speaks with a nice lilt and drawl, and was on the cover of the May issue of Cigar Aficionado); also, Thompson said yesterday that President Barack Obama is revealing his "naivete, ineptitude and arrogance" as he deals with matters of national security. And he also said that the "dogs of war have been loosed" over left-wing attempts to single out Bush-era officials for prosecution relating to the treatment of detainees.
In the current issue of World Affairs Scott McConnell writes Not So Huddled Masses: Multiculturalism and Foreign Policy. It is a good and thoughtful essay. I am prompted to bring it to your attention because I find myself reading World Affairs with more regularity. The opinions are all over the map, but never wacky, and the writing is good; no scholarly pretentiousness or, you know, that painstaking circumspection practiced by those establishment-types who think their position (or possible future position) prevents them from saying anything true or interesting. Here is essay from past issue that is worth reading by Robert Kagan and then a Exchange about it.
Alvaro Vargas Llosa disproves, with appropriate brevity, the major points in Galeano’s "Open Veins," the book Chaves gave to Obama at the recent Summit.
That’s where Dr. Pat Deneen finds himself. And so he thinks of himself as equally opposed to our two major parties. But is it really possible to return to an earlier stage in "the division of labor," when making stuff was a bigger deal and techno-cleverness less of one? I certainly do agree that America has centralized in the names of both efficiency and (egalitarian) justice, and so it’s harder than ever to experience oneself as a responsible citizen sacrificing for the common good. (It’s also true that because so much of the mental labor is done for us all in undisclosed centralized locations, people in rural areas and really small towns are probably dumber than ever.) I also agree that we shouldn’t neglect completely the connection between economic libertarianism and creeping and creepy cultural libertarianism. Big government both erodes and fills the vacuum caused by declining personal responsibility. Still, in the mind of, say, Tocqueville, big government is the bigger problem, precisely because it can be so compatible with cultural libertarianism. And so it’s easy to see why so many countercultural Americans use libertarian means to pursue nonlibertarian ends (home schoolers, for example). Maybe Pat is right, though, that without stronger local communities and authentic "cultural transmission," we’re left with no real standard of personal dignity or significance higher than productivity.
...is one fine movie, according to ME. It’s all about the problem of the homeless, which has no real solution. It’s way too simple and very lacking in compassion to say that they choose to be homeless, but it’s often true enough that they lack what it takes to choose against it. We root for the brilliant musician locked up in himself to get over being a soloist, but he really doesn’t--except in a limited way with a friend. And we’re hugely impressed with the ambitious reporter who puts the time in--finally out of love--to be his friend. Jamie Foxx is eerily convincing as a mentally ill musician, and Robert Downey Jr. does well as a reporter who becomes more than a mere liberal. If you have even a slight tendency toward personal chaos, this movie will leave you more disoriented than is comfortable.
From New York Times a mere preface to the wonder behind it all. I would also add,
No matter where; of comfort no man speak:
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills:
And yet not so, for what can we bequeath
Save our deposed bodies to the ground?....
For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,....
Maybe Flannery will make something of it.
In todays’s new York Times, an evolutionary explanation of the active intellect:
“On a very basic level, judging people by appearance means putting them quickly into impersonal categories, much like deciding whether an animal is a dog or a cat. ‘Stereotypes are seen as a necessary mechanism for making sense of information,’ said David Amodio, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University. ‘If we look at a chair, we can categorize it quickly even though there are many different kinds of chairs out there.’
Eons ago, this capability was of life-and-death importance, and humans developed the ability to gauge other people within seconds.”
This is the article in the NYT.