Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Michael Jennings on Big Things blocked by the trees of Southwark Park
Cheapest price for The Protein Works on The ups and downs of English
priscila on The ups and downs of English
Simon Gibbs on Wedding photography (4): Preparations
6000 on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Darren on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Michael Jennings on Wedding photography (2): Signs
MarkR on Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
MNB Achari on Google Nexus 4 photos
MNB Achari on The ups and downs of English
Most recent entries
- Big Things blocked by the trees of Southwark Park
- Wedding photography (4): Preparations
- Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
- Reflections on a strange coincidence involving an Android app and a malfunctioning bus stop sign
- Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
- Rothko Toast
- Wedding photography (3): Technology as sculpture
- And another posting from my smartphone
- Posted from my new smartphone
- Google Nexus 4 photos
- Wedding photography (2): Signs
- Wedding photography (1): The superbness of the weather
- A Fleet Street lunch
- So painters also used to “take” pictures
- Funniest run out ever?
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Category archive: Literature
As has already been reported here, I have been reading Pride and Prejudice on my Google Nexus 4 ultra-mobile computer-with-phone. And, in Chapter X of this book, I read this:
My highlighted version of that last sentence being:
“As for your Elizabeth’s picture, you must not attempt to have it taken, for what painter could do justice to those beautiful eyes?”
So, in Jane Austen time, painters “took” pictures.
I thought that was only photographers. There does seem, does there not?, to be something peculiarly apt about a photographer “taking” a picture. After all, you could only “take” a picture with one click of a mechanical button, as I just did of my Google Nexus 4 with my Panasonic Lumix FZ150, if the picture was in some basic sense already there for the taking, in its entirety. “Take” gets across the difference between photoing someone and painting a portrait of them, by which I mean “making” a portrait.
Perhaps this “take” usage, to describe portrait painting, declined when the painters stopped claiming to produce what we now call photographic likenesses, and, under the competitive influence of actual photography, began to “make” pictures of people, the whole point ofand the whole justification of which was that a mere camera could absolutely not “take” such pictures. Such paintings are made, not taken. To accuse a painter of “taking” a picture would be to accuse him of adding nothing.
So far, for me, one of the most impressive or a great many impressive things to be found in Steven Pinkers new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, is his description of The Enlightenment. (I mentioned this huge volume, in passing, in my latest Samizdata posting, and at greater length in an earlier posting.)
So. The Enlightenment. This is a word I have heard all my life. But what did it, does it, mean? It is assumed that all educated people know what The Enlightenment means, and that it was and is a noble and fine thing, and why it was and is a noble and fine thing. But why, exactly? I guess that, until now, I was not educated.
What makes Pinker’s exposition of the ideas behind The Enlightenment so excellent is that he explains how the scientific project at the heart of The Enlightenment was joined at the hip to a new moral vision of mankind. This was not merely a couple of vaguely benevolent quests, for scientific truth on the one hand, and for moral excellence on the other. For, as Pinker asks, why did the quest for scientific truth necessarily imply a quest for moral improvement (as we now regard it), for greater “humanity” in our treatment of other humans? Pinker answers this question.
I found that picture of Pinker here.
Whenever I scan in a great gob of verbiage from a book into this blog, I warn readers that the posting may disappear without warning, in the event of the slightest objection from the author, or from the publisher, or from anyone else connected with upholding the intellectual property in question. There is no way that me reproducing this relatively tiny fragment of Pinker’s huge book will damage its sales, quite the reverse. But, if those charged with overseeing such things inform me that, in their view, a line has been crossed by this posting, a line they consider worth defending, this excerpt (from Chapter 4, “The Humanitarian Revolution”, pp. 216-221 of my Penguin paper edition) will immediately vanish.
In other words, if, having read the above, you decide that you will be wanting to read what follows, best to do that now.
Bringing people and ideas together, of course, does not determine how those ideas will evolve. The rise of the Republic of Letters and the cosmopolitan city cannot, by themselves, explain why a humanitarian ethics arose in the 18th century, rather than ever-more-ingenious rationales for torture, slavery, despotism, and war.
My own view is that the two developments really are linked. When a large enough community of free, rational agents confers on how a society should run its affairs, steered by logical consistency and feedback from the world, their consensus will veer in certain directions. Just as we don’t have to explain why molecular biologists discovered that DNA has four bases - given that they were doing their biology properly, and given that DNA really does have four bases, in the long run they could hardly have discovered anything else - we may not have to explain why enlightened thinkers would eventually argue against African slavery, cruel punishments, despotic monarchs, and the execution of witches and heretics. With enough scrutiny by disinterested, rational, and informed thinkers, these practices cannot be justified indefinitely. The universe of ideas, in which one idea entails others, is itself an exogenous force, and once a community of thinkers enters that universe, they will be forced in certain directions regardless of their material surroundings. I think this process of moral discovery was a significant cause of the Humanitarian Revolution.
I am prepared to take this line of explanation a step further. The reason so many violent institutions succumbed within so short a span of time was that the arguments that slew them belong to a coherent philosophy that emerged during the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment. The ideas of thinkers like Hobbes, Spinoza, Descartes, Locke, David Hume, Mary Astell, Kant, Beccaria, Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, and John Stuart Mill coalesced into a worldview that we can call Enlightenment humanism. (It is also sometimes called classical liberalism, though since the 1960s the word liberalism has acquired other meanings as well.) Here is a potted account of this philosophy - a rough but more or less coherent composite of the views of these Enlightenment thinkers.
It begins with skepticism. The history of human folly, and our own susceptibility to illusions and fallacies, tell us that men and women are fallible. One therefore ought to seek good reasons believing something. Faith, revelation, tradition, dogma, authority, the ecstatic glow of subjective certainty - all are recipes for error, and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge.
Is there anything we can be certain of? Descartes gave as good an answer as any: our own consciousness. I know that I am conscious, by the very fact of wondering what I can know, and I can also know that my consciousness comprises several kinds of experience. These include the perception of an external world and of other people, and various pleasures and pains, both sensual (such as food, comfort, and sex) and spiritual (such as love, knowledge, and an appreciation of beauty).
We are also committed to reason. If we are asking a question, evaluating possible answers, and trying to persuade others of the value of those answers, then we are reasoning, and therefore have tacitly signed on to the validity of reason. We are also committed to whatever conclusions follow from the careful application of reason, such as the theorems of mathematics and logic.
Though we cannot logically prove anything about the physical world, we are entitled to have confidence in certain beliefs about it. The application of reason and observation to discover tentative generalizations about the world is what we call science. The progress of science, with its dazzling success at explaining and manipulating the world, shows that knowledge of the universe is possible, albeit always probabilistic and subject to revision. Science is thus a paradigm for how we ought to gain knowledge - not the particular methods or institutions of science but its value system, namely to seek to explain the world, to evaluate candidate explanations objectively, and to be cognizant of the tentativeness and uncertainty of our understanding at any time.
The indispensability of reason does not imply that individual people are always rational or are unswayed by passion and illusion. It only means that people are capable of reason, and that a community of people who choose to perfect this faculty and to exercise it openly and fairly can collectively reason their way to sounder conclusions in the long run. As Lincoln observed, you can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
Among the beliefs about the world of which we can be highly confident is that other people are conscious in the same way that we are. Other people are made of the same stuff, seek the same kinds of goals, and react with external signs of pleasure and pain to the kinds of events that cause pain and pleasure in each of us.
By the same reasoning, we can infer that people who are different from us in many superficial ways - their gender, their race, their culture - are like us in fundamental ways. As Shakespeare’s Shylock asks:
Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
The commonality of basic human responses across cultures has profound implications. One is that there is a universal human nature. It encompasses our common pleasures and pains, our common methods of reasoning, and our common vulnerability to folly (not least the desire for revenge). Human nature may be studied, just as anything else in the world may be. And our decisions on how to organize our lives can take the facts of human nature into account - including the discounting of our own intuitions when a scientific understanding casts them in doubt.
The other implication of our psychological commonality is that however much people differ, there can be, in principle, a meeting of the minds. I can appeal to your reason and try to persuade you, applying standards of logic and evidence that both of us are committed to by the very fact that we are both reasoning beings.
The universality of reason is a momentous realization, because it defines a place for morality. If I appeal to you to do something that affects me - to get off my foot, or not to stab me for the fun of it, or to save my child from drowning - then I can’t do it in a way that privileges my interests over yours if I want you to take me seriously (say, by retaining my right to stand on your foot, or to stab you, or to let your children drown). I have to state my case in a way that would force me to treat you in kind. I can’t act as if my interests are special just because I’m me and you’re not, any more than I can persuade you that the spot I am standing on is a special place in the universe just because I happen to be standing on it.
You and I ought to reach this moral understanding not just so we can have a logically consistent conversation but because mutual unselfishness is the only way we can simultaneously pursue our interests. You and I are both better off if we share our surpluses, rescue each other’s children when they get into trouble, and refrain from knifing each other than we would be if we hoarded our surpluses while they rotted, let each other’s children drown, and feuded incessantly. Granted, I might be a bit better off if I acted selfishly at your expense and you played the sucker, but the same is true for you with me, so if each of us tried for these advantages, we’d both end up worse off. Any neutral observer, and you and I if we could talk it over rationally, would have to conclude that the state we should aim for is the one where we both are unselfish.
Morality, then, is not a set of arbitrary regulations dictated by a vengeful deity and written down in a book; nor is it the custom of a particular culture or tribe. It is a consequence of the interchangeability of perspectives and the opportunity the world provides for positive-sum games. This foundation of morality may be seen in the many versions of the Golden Rule that have been discovered by the world’s major religions, and also in Spinoza’s Viewpoint of Eternity, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, Hobbes and Rousseau’s Social Contract, and Locke and Jefferson’s self-evident truth that all people are created equal.
From the factual knowledge that there is a universal human nature, and the moral principle that no person has grounds for privileging his or her interests over others’, we can deduce a great deal about how we ought to run our affairs. A government is a good thing to have, because in a state of anarchy people’s self-interest, self-deception, and fear of these shortcomings in others would lead to constant strife. People are better off abjuring violence, if everyone else agrees to do so, and vesting authority in a disinterested third party. But since that third party will consist of human beings, not angels, their power must be checked by the power of other people, to force them to govern with the consent of the governed. They may not use violence against their citizens beyond the minimum necessary to prevent greater violence. And they should foster arrangements that allow people to flourish from cooperation and voluntary exchange.
This line of reasoning may be called humanism because the value that it recognizes is the flourishing of humans, the only value that cannot be denied. I experience pleasures and pains, and pursue goals in service of them, so I cannot reasonably deny the right of other sentient agents to do the same.
If all this sounds banal and obvious, then you are a child of the Enlightenment, and have absorbed its humanist philosophy. As a matter of historical fact, there is nothing banal or obvious about it. Though not necessarily atheistic (it is compatible with a deism in which God is identified with the nature of the universe), Enlightenment humanism makes no use of scripture, Jesus, ritual, religious law, divine purpose, immortal souls, an afterlife, a messianic age, or a God who responds to individual people. It sweeps aside many secular sources of value as well, if they cannot be shown to be necessary for the enhancement of human flourishing. These include the prestige of the nation, race, or class; fetishized virtues such as manliness, dignity, heroism, glory, and honor; and other mystical forces, quests, destinies, dialectics, and struggles.
I would argue that Enlightenment humanism, whether invoked explicitly or implicitly, underlay the diverse humanitarian reforms of the 18th and 19th centuries. The philosophy was explicitly invoked in the design of the first liberal democracies, most transparently in the ‘self-evident truths’ in the American Declaration of Independence. Later it would spread to other parts of the world, blended with humanistic arguments that had arisen independently in those civilizations. And as we shall see in chapter 7, it regained momentum during the Rights Revolutions of the present era.
Don’t usually do poems here (and don’t have a category called “poetry"), but this brought back happy memories:
Stumbled upon it here.
And at least as much for what children are not called as for what they are called.
Why is nobody in the Anglosphere called Jesus, apart from James Jesus Angleton, when in the Hispanosphere, Hayzoose (sounds like) is ubiquitous?
And why are no kids ever called Sherlock? I am now watching the new TV Sherlock Holmes rehash. Usually I despise Sherlock Holmes rehashes, but this one, more than usually rehashed, I am enjoying. Why? Finally, I’m hoping that Watson, cool twenty first century Watson, will say to Holmes, at some point during this, when Holmes says something rather obvious: ”No shit Sherlock”.
I would rather not be called Brian. Whenever someone is a bit goofy or stupid or unsatisfactory, in unreality TV dramas or in the movies, he’s liable to be a Brian. But I would rather be called Brian than Jesus.
And thereby pulls the ladder up behind him?
There are two delightful quotes at the end of this (definitely my favourite piece of Instapundit linkage lately), concerning someone called Snooki.
There was this:
Snooki portrayed Obama as out of touch with the reality TV community.
I’m guessing that means “the general public” minus those few freaks (like me) who prefer unreality TV, i.e. drama, sport, the news etc.
Clearly, Obama can’t relate to Snooki’s problems, she added, commenting on Obama’s skin color, ‘Obama doesn’t have that problem. Obviously,’ she said.
Snooki has been complaining about Obama taxing tanning salons, which means Snooki won’t be going to them any more. Snooki will consequently become totally white. The horror.
It’s interesting how being brown is a state to which you now aspire. I’ve long felt that white coffee is at least as nice a colour for humans as milk or as coffee without milk. Yet, I am old enough to remember the phrase “half caste” being used to describe the white coffee tendency. Half castes, poor wretches, were not full members of either “community” and hence totally on their own, and liable, at any rate in a Somerset Maugham short story, to commit suicide. I guess in an ethnically segregated colonial world that would be about right, but not in a country like Britain now. Is the US like Britain in this respect? I’m guessing yes. And they’ve just elected a mongrel President. You think that’s a tasteless word? He used it first.
See also the comments on this.
Here’s to melting pots.
I like books. For years I have haunted remainder shops and charity shops. Now that my nearest proper bookshop has just shut (the big one in Victoria Street) I have also taken to buying books from Amazon. For years I resisted this, along with all other internet buying, on account of my suspicion that Amazon, or whoever, would know all it needed to know to steal all the money in my account. Why would they stop at two pounds seventy nine, merely because they have promised to? Yet clearly, they do, or I would have heard about such dramas. If Amazon had had a plan to steal everyone’s money and run away to Brazil, they would surely have done this by now, and are now making far more money by resisting this temptation.
Did anyone predict beforehand that one of the great business successes of the early years of the internet would be, at a time when the world has been awash with predictions of the book’s inevitable demise and replacement by something more ethereal, bookselling? Amazon is now busily destroying book shops. Now that “my” bookshop has closed, I have wasted no time seeking another, because the obvious alternative is Amazon. Which means that you can now, if you are lucky, keep a bookshop going, but you can’t any longer start one. Nobody needs a new bookshop, because the entire world already has one, just as soon as the old one shuts. So, bookshops are presumably doomed, by the Amazonian ratchet effect. But books will be hanging around for quite some time yet, it would seem, again, because of Amazon.
One of the reasons I prefer the fact of books to the idea of electronic books is that when I am reading a book, I like to know where I am. What stage in this story or argument have I reached? How near am I to the end of the story or to the conclusion of the argument? When I am reading a book, I always know the answers to such questions, but my fear about electronic books is that all I will be able to do is read the current page, without knowing whereabouts in the book as a whole I am. That may be quite wrong. Maybe on Kindles, there is some kind of toolbar which tells you how far you are into the book and how far there still is to go, just as when you are reading a regular book and you can compare how much you’ve read with how much remains. You can do the electronic equivalent of flicking through. Maybe, on every page it says: this is page so much of a total of so much.
Not my point here. Which is: that I have just been experiencing what I have just been imagining the Kindle (or whatever) experience to be like, but with a regular book, or nearly a regular book.
I have recently become a Rebus fan. After a false start reading Rebus books at random and not being grabbed, I started reading them in chronological order of their writing and of the events they describe. Much better. Now I know approximately all there is to know about Rebus at any particular point, it all makes far more sense and for a far better yarn. When, for instance, a passing mention is made of a Rebus past in the Parachute Regiment, I know what is being referred to, insofar as any mere Rebus reader can.
However, snag. For some reason, I was unable to obtain a cheap, charity shop or remainder shop, separate and small paperback copy of Strip Jack, and had to be content to read it as part one of a remaindered trilogy of novels, grouped together under the heading “The St Leonard’s Years”. Very inconvenient. In particular, despite being a paperback, far too big and heavy to lug around London in any comfort. Even rather heavy and cumbersome to read in bed, which I like to do on my back, holding the book up in front of my face.
But also, another oddity. Throughout my reading of Strip Jack I had no clear idea of when Strip Jack would end, and novel number two (The Black Book) would cut in. When the final scene, of great drama and violence, did finally erupt, I only realised about two thirds of the way through the scene that this was indeed the final scene, and was only absolutely sure when I turned over a page and confronted a shortened page of text to the left, and on the right a page empty of all words other than the words “The Black Book”. Oh, this is it. Right. The End. Hm.
Odd. I prefer the regular system, where you know where you are.
A further point about those Kindles, etc.. My attitude to them is really much the same as my attitude was to Amazon itself, for a long time. I’ll let others do it first, and clear out the bugs. Then when it is so ubiquitous that it obviously does work well, and when it is finally, obviously, working the way it actually will go on working, and very cheaply, far cheaper than regular books, then maybe I’ll give it a go too.
Few things alarm the experienced reader more than the prospect of a science fiction, fantasy, or mystery book that involves - or worse, fetishizes – cats.
But the good news is:
This reprint anthology is the exception, ...
In the mail, but not to me. To him.
Although, I do remember enjoying this, which I suspect falls seriously foul of the above rule. Along with this, which probably fetishises geese, although I can’t recall the details. It was a long time ago.
Susan Hill writes, in connection with celebrity authors, or to more exact in connection with the opposite kind, this:
… in the last few years it has become very common for good novels to sell under 100 copies.
If I ever try to write a novel, (a) shoot me, and (b) I’ll just give it away on the www, probably as a series of blog postings, probably here. And if a hundred people read it, I’d probably rate that a success.
If you want thousands to read your novel, then surely getting a few hundred to like it to start with, who are in a position to recommend it to others without those others having to pay anything, to the point where people who like to read their books in book form (assuming there remain any such people after you’ve written your novel) hear about your novel, from quite a lot of people who liked it, would seem like an obvious first step. In short, try to become a mini-celebrity novelist.
If you want to make money as a novel-writer, then here is my career advice: get a job, and write in your spare time, following the above plan (i.e. buying the above quite cheap literary lottery ticket). That way, you will make money as a novelist, although I agree not in the way you may have meant. Make that: make money and be a novelist. (When I career counsel, I often suggest that. It makes a change from “find a job doing what you love”, which is often disastrous, not least because there is no rule that says you will be any good or any use to anyone else doing what you love. Worse, you may just end up hating what you used to love. Often “keep your work and what you love separate” proves to be the catalytic suggestion which sorts everything out a treat.)
Or, instead of writing a “good novel”, you could try writing the kind of story people in their thousands like to read, like a crime story with plausibly virtuous policemen and implausibly villainous villains.
Bite-sized pieces of drama that you can enjoy with a drink. At London Bites, experience some of our best British talent from new and established actors.
So there you go. And there I will go tonight, because a friend of mine has written and is performing a solo piece in it. Last night, the first night, it apparently went well and she got lots of laughs.
I enjoyed Ian Hislop’s recent TV show about the history of the Poet Laureate. Who they were, how good they were, which poem was the best (this one apparently), and so on. All kinds of vaguely remembered names were fleshed out, all sorts of dots joined, and pieces added to the semi-complete puzzle that is my knowledge of history. Given that I don’t much care for poetry, it helped a lot to have the story summed up in a comfortably middle-brow manner.
But at the very end, Hislop made a definite error. He declaimed a poem of his own, addressed to the latest Poet Laureate, Carol Anne Duffy, and he ended his poem by rhyming “sorry that” with “Laureate”. But it should, quite obviously, have been “sorry at”. So obviously so that I had to check my recording to be sure that he had indeed neglected this obviously superior word choice to the choice he actually made. Sorry at the idea of having a Poet Laureate. That would have worked just as well as: Sorry that we still have a Poet Laureate, or whatever it was. Why did nobody tell him? If they did, why didn’t he listen?
Otherwise, it was a very good show.
Here is a review of Richard Blake’s “Terror of Constantinople”. It was published in The Daily Telegraph on the 21st March 2009. Mr Blake has been a good friend of the Libertarian Alliance over the years, and anything that enriches him can be taken as a benefit to the libertarian cause in England.
Ah, that happy feeling you get when private interest and public duty align themselves so precisely.
If you could pass this review to your friends or add to your blog, Mr Blake will be most grateful - as shall I. It goes without saying that you are invited to buy the book or order it from your local library. Mr Blake is all signed up for public lending right.
Happy to oblige. Buy it, if you want to, for £17.99 (plus £1.25 p&p) from Telegraph Books.
This link dream posting did the trick. It remembered a whole clutch of stuff for me, thus enabling me to forget it all and get on with my life, i.e. with piling up more links on my screen. So here’s another expulsion onto the blog of the things I seem to be finding interesting just now.
Japanese mobile phone novels, continously updated, like a Dickens novel first published in a popular fiction magazine. What’s happening is that suburban angsty girls are writing stream-of-consiousness alter ego stories, which are then being hoovered up by publishers and are now selling, really selling, as books. Which has got all the publishers excited and that has got the old school book writers excited. Is that how art forms start? People start them, for their people reasons, and in their downmarket people languages. Then, after the concept has been commercially proved, the artists climb aboard, or maybe some of the original creators acquire artistic ambitions.
We now living in the age when telly soap operas are going from something liked by mere people to something done with artistic as well as commercial considerations in mind. Time was when the artists despised soaps. Only people like those! Now, artists take soaps seriously, and are doing serious soaps. Not necessarily any better, mind you.
NHS accident and emergency grief.
The Best Book on the Market, the blog.
Hit & Run on Two kinds of libertarians. Most libertarians already have this distinction in their heads, expressed one way or another. I have long thought of me and my fellow libertarians being Next Steppers and/or End Staters, with the Libertarian Alliance tending strongly towards the End State end of things. What would improve things a bit, now? Where should it all be heading? In this Hit & Run piece, it’s Policy Libertarians and Structural Libertarians. The second is an unsatisfactory expression, I think, because it does not explain itself. It has to be explained.
However you label such categories, they do tend to overlap quite a lot. One of the most valuable Next Steps is to talk, whenever you get the chance, about desirable End States. End States may not be practical politics, yet, but talking about them is, and that can even apply to regular politicians. David Cameron, for instance, is not doing as well as he might right now because all he is doing is second-guessing the government with his preferred Next Steps, and trashing the government’s Next Steps. All very well as far as it goes, but how are we all going to be rescued from this mess? Will it just be ever more depressing Next Steps for ever? Answer (see and hear here): talk also about the desired End State that these Next Steps ought all to be enabling us to reach, as soon as we can.
There is a particular benefit attached to the link dump technique of blogging as per this posting, for all bloggers suffering from blogger’s block - which is me, often. It gets you started. All you are saying is a little something about each link, and maybe not even that. But a little something can quickly then mutate into a bigger something. A couple of the blurblets above could easily have been separate out as individual blog postings. The posting immediately below this one - about Michael Flatley, God, etc. - did begin life as part of this posting and was then copied and pasted out onto its own.
From the ever dependable, quotewise, P. G. Wodehouse:
Our views on each other, Spode’s and mine, were definite. His was that what England needed if it was to become a land fit for heroes to live in was fewer and better Woosters, while I had always felt that there was nothing wrong with England that a ton of bricks falling from a height on Spode’s head wouldn’t cure.
Roderick Spode was an English fascist invented by Wodehouse, the leader of the Black Shorts. During the war, Wodehouse was accused of collaborating with the Nazis, as I recall because he did a broadcast in occupied France. But nobody now thinks he was any kind of fascist.
I got that quote not from a real Wodehouse book, but from a book of Wodehouse Nuggets. I’m at the insults chapter, and I also like this one, from Sam the Sudden, about someone or other:
He stroked his moustache fondly. It and money were the only things he loved.
Even better is the “chapter” (i.e. particular collection of quotes under that general heading) after the insults one, called: Images, which contains things like this:
He sighed like a patronising escape of steam.
From Company for Harry. Don’t know that book at all.
In a similar physics-based vein:
He oozed softly in like some soundless liquid.
From Bill the Conqueror. If not Jeeves himself, then presumably some other butler or gentleman’s gentleman.
This posting breaks one of the many Micklethwait’s Laws, in this case the one that says you aren’t allowed to recycle quotes that someone has already identified as quotes and put in a quote book. I stand by this Law. It is a good law. This is a terrible posting, and I am ashamed of it. But the rule here is: something every day, even if thoroughly shameful.
I recently bought and started reading The Adventure of English, Melvyn Bragg’s biography, as his subtitle calls it, of the English language. I did this because I wanted to learn more about how English mutated from being, in 1300, the mere language of the native English to being, by 1400, the language of the government of England, supplanting Norman French. But the rest of the story is pretty interesting too. This is the beginning of Chapter 9 (pp. 105-7 of the 2004 paperback edition), which is entitled “William Tyndale’s Bible”:
The prediction of the Lollards, that Wycliffe’s Bible would live on, was not a vain prophecy. Early in the reign of Henry VIII, the new king was still promising the Pope that he would burn any ‘untrue translations’. By these he meant Wycliffe’s Bible which, despite all the efforts of the court and the Church, was still relentlessly circulating in the land in hand-copied editions.
Henry VIII set his powerful and efficient Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, to hunt down heretical books. Wolsey, aware that Martin Luther had shaken the Roman Catholic Church in 1517 with the demands he had nailed on the church door at Wittenberg, and as anxious as his master to please the Pope, instituted a nationwide search. On 12 May 1521, a bonfire of confiscated heretical works was made outside the original St Paul’s Cathedral. The flames, it was said, burned for two days. The great book-burning was clearly a foretaste of what could and would happen to those who insisted on challenging the Pope’s authority.
This was the year in which William Tyndale began his public preaching on St Austen’s Green and set out on the path which was to bring about a radical change both in the English language and in English society.
It is not always easy fully to comprehend or even imagine what was at stake. It was a great power battle. The reach of the Roman Catholic Church across many countries, states, principalities and peoples was unique. It was wealthy and a sought-after ally in war. It demanded obedience through its monopoly of the one true faith. Its parish priests covered almost every acre of ground, heard confessions, had the power to absolve sins, enforced attendance at church, the paying of Church taxes ,and conformity with the Church’s rulings on all matters of public and of private morality; even sex was a Church matter. Its great cathedrals, splendid artefacts, dazzling robes, processions and festivals provided a backdrop of glamour and excitement to what was very often a bleak and meagre existence. Above all, and key, the Church had unique access to God and so to eternal life. Only through the Roman Catholic Church could anyone contact God and have any chance of resurrection.
Wycliffe, Luther and Tyndale challenged that. They wanted ordinary people to have direct access to God, and a Bible in the language of the people was the way to make that happen. The battle over language became outright rebellion against the Roman Catholic Church as the gatekeeper to God, the claim to be His sole representative on earth, whose earthly laws all Christians must obey every bit as much as they obeyed the laws of heaven. This had proved intolerable to different groups over the centuries and now the river of protest was swelling. The rebellion was led by deeply religious men and women. They too believed in the virgin birth, in the divinity of Christ, above all in the Resurrection. They were light years away from atheism or even agnosticism. They wanted the souls of the people to be saved but not through orders and sermons handed down from a central Latinate control in Rome for whose authority they found no evidence in the Bible. And to the rebels, the face of the soul was the most vital matter in life: it was worth dying for.
Centuries later there would be those who would feel much the same about liberty, but even they could not have been more zealous, even fanatical, more totally convinced of the rightness of their cause as men such as William Tyndale were of theirs. After all, Tyndale was doing no less than serve the one true God, the maker of all things, the Creator, the Almighty, the giver and taker of life, the judge of all men and women, the harvester of the good, the slayer of evil. There could be no greater service in life than to do His work.
To Tyndale, English was, in effect, the way in which God could best reach the people of that language and the way in which they could best reach Him. The fight for the English Bible was a battle for salvation through the scriptures. To a priest who challenged him, Tyndale replied, ‘Ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth a plough to know more of the scriptures than thou dost.’
Like Wycliffe, Tyndale was an Oxford classical scholar and like Wycliffe he wholly contradicts the idea that such a scholar who was also, as Tyndale was, an ordained priest, was faced to be a mild, place-seeking conformist. Tyndale took risks and lived a life comparable to that of any twentieth-century revolutionary ‘hero’, and met an end worse than most of them.
I like this, found here:
Short is in. Online Americans, fed up with e-mail overload and blogorrhea, are retreating into micro-writing. Six-word memoirs. Four-word film reviews. Twelve-word novels. Mini-lit is thriving.
But I won’t be reading the whole thing.