Maurice Baring’s Proposed Addition to The Romance (and Tragedy) of Tristan and Isolde

Dr. Robert Hickson

11 June 2021

Sacred Heart of Jesus

Saint Barnabas (d. 60)

Epigraphs:

September 19.—To-day I was on the beach with Tristram and he asked me [Isolde of Brittany] if I saw a ship. I said I did. He asked me if the sail was black, and as the doctor had told me to humour him, I said it was. Upon which he got much worse, and I had to call the doctors. They said he was suffering from hypertrophy of the sensory nerves.

September 20.—Tristram unconscious. The Queen of Cornwall [i.e., Isolde the Fair] just arrived [in Brittany and she had come on the ship with two colors of sail, after all]. Too busy to write.” (Maurice Baring, Lost Diaries (1913), page 20—my emphasis added—Chapter II—“From the Diary of Iseult of Brittany.”)

***

“Standing by the wall [listening to the candidly intimate conversation between her husband Tristan and already his close confident and friend, her own brother, Kaherdin], Isolde of the White Hands had overheard everything. How much she had loved Tristan! [She had just recently married Tristan and she was his legal wife.]…At last she learned of his love for another [Isolde the Fair of Cornwall]. She kept every word in mind: if only some day she could, how she would avenge herself on her [i.e., on Isolde the Fair of Cornwall] whom he loved most in the world. But she hid it all; and when the doors were open again she came to Tristan’s bed and served him with food as a lover should….but all day long she thought upon her vengeance.” (The Romance of Tristan and Isolde (1945 and 1950, pages 165-166—the Hilaire Belloc translation.)

***

“And Tristran trembled [both from his poisoned wound from a hostile spear in battle, together with his yearnings for his beloved soon to arrive from Cornwall, as he still hoped] and said: ‘Beautiful friend, you are sure that the ship is his [brother Kaherdin’s] indeed?’

“’I saw it plain and well. They have shaken it out [the sail] and hoisted it very high, for they have little wind. For its colour, why, it is black.’

“And Tristan turned him [himself] to the wall, and said [to his wife Isolde]: ‘I cannot keep this life of mine any longer.’ He said three times: ‘Isolde, my friend.’ And in saying it the fourth time, he died. ….Near Tristan, Iseult of the White Hands crouched, maddened at the evil she had done [her acts of vengeance], and calling and lamenting over the dead man [her husband]. The other Iseult [the Queen arrived just now from Cornwall] came in and said to her [Tristan’s wife]: ‘Lady, rise and let me come by him; I have more right to mourn him that you have—believe me. I loved him more.‘” (The Romance of Tristan and Isolde (1945, 1960), page 171-172—my emphasis added.)

***

On the premise that contrast clarifies the mind, this brief essay will attempt to present Maurice Baring’s own ironic parody, entitled “From the Diary of Iseult of Brittany,”1 and thereby help us raise many worthy questions about the substance and tone and emotion and seeming omissions of Joseph Bédier’s larger and elaborate composite French text (a narrative poetic tale of some 170 prose pages)—and as largely translated into English by Hilaire Belloc.2 Maurice Baring’s freshly brief and intentionally incomplete excerpt also gives us an alternate version of the end of the romance and tragedy. The longer and variously important last chapter of this poetic “high tale of love and of death” (pages 162-173) presents to us a shuddering (and yet reflective) one-word title: “Death.” Then what?

By reading closely Maurice Baring’s nuanced (and characteristically magnanimous) ten-page literary parody, an attentive reader of The Romance of Tristan and Isolde will see and understand much more about the famous and unmistakably tragic medieval (largely Celtic) legend. And such a reader will also be better able to raise informed questions about what is not present and to be accounted for! There are loose ends in the longer romance, as well: for example, the virtuous character and conduct of King Mark of Cornwall and the Irish Mother’s consequential Irish Potion which she intended for her daughter and her vowed future husband!

Maurice Baring compactly imagines and depicts the reflections of young Isolde of Brittany as a docile daughter and harp-player who will soon be married to the unexpected visitor, Tristan of Lyoness. Baring presents the whole domestic atmosphere and increasing commentary of Isolde over five months from spring to early autumn:

May 1—Mamma sent me up a message early this morning that I was to put on my best white gown with my coral necklace, as guests were expected. She didn’t say who. Nurse was in a fuss….I can’t think why, as there was no hurry. I came down punctually at noon….I was told to get out my harp, and to sit with my back to the light….I was to play only Breton songs. I said I didn’t know any. She [Mamma] said that didn’t matter; but that I could say anything I knew and call it a Breton song. I said nothing, but I thought, and I still think, this was dishonest. (10-11—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

After waiting “a long time” during which “Papa and mamma were fidgety,” (10) the seneschal, Morgan, announced the arrival Sir Tristan with his squire, Kurneval. Isolde’s first perceptive impressions of Tristan were expressed in her diary, as follows—about the man who will very soon now be her husband:

Rather an oldish man walked in, with a reddish beard, and many wrinkles. One of his front teeth was broken and the other was black. He was dressed in a coat of mail which was too tight for him. He had nice eyes and seemed rather embarrassed. (12)

Isolde innocently continues her candid descriptions:

Mamma and papa made a great fuss about him and brought me forward [in my white gown and with my cleansed white hands] and said: “This is our daughter Isolde,” and mamma whispered to me: “Show your hands.” I didn’t want to do this….

Sir Tristan bowed deeply, and seemed more and more embarrassed. After a long poise he said: “It’s a very fine day, isn’t it?”

Before I had time to answer, mamma broke in by saying: “Isolde has been up by six with the falconers.” This wasn’t true and I was surprised that mamma should be so forgetful. I hadn’t been out with the hawkers for weeks.

Then dinner was served. It lasted for hours I thought, and the conversation flagged terribly. Kurneval, Sir Tristan’s Squire, had twice of everything and drank more cider than was good for him. After dinner, mamma told me to fetch my harp. (12-13—italics in original; my bold emphasis added)

After Isolde complied with her mother’s request for her “to sing a Breton song,” Isolde admitted:

I was just going to say I didn’t know one, when she frowned at me so severely that I didn’t dare. So I sang a Provençal orchard song about waking up too early….Sir Tristan said: “Charming, charming, that’s German isn’t it; how well taught she is. I do like good singing.” Then he yawned, although he tried not to, and papa said he was sure Sir Tristan was tired, and he would take him to see the stables. Sir Tristan then became quite lively and said he would be delighted. (13-14—my emphasis added)

Sir Tristan, after then reliably learning her name, said to her papa as to his daughter’s name– “Isolde”–“Oh! What a pretty name!” (14)

Five days after the first entry of 1 May, Isolde of Brittany makes another entry in her diary:

May 6—They’ve [Tristan and his Squire Kurneval] been here a week now and I haven’t seen much of them; because Sir Tristan has been riding with papa nearly all day, and every day. But every day after dinner mamma makes me sing the Provençal song, and every time I sing it, Sir Tristan says: “Charming, charming, that’s German, isn’t it?” although I’ve already told him twice now that it isn’t. I like Sir Tristan, only he’s very silent, and after dinner he becomes sleepy directly, just like papa. (15—my emphasis added)

One day later, on 7 May, Isolde was suddenly told by her parents something unexpected:

Then mamma cried and papa tried to soothe her and said: “It’s all right, it’s all right, and then he blurted out that I was to marry Sir Tristan next Wednesday….Sir Tristan [on 8 May one day later!] has gone away—to stay with friends– he is coming back on Tuesday night [on 11 May, shortly before their marriage [on 12 May]….

May 12—. The wedding went off well….After Mass we had a long feast. (15-16—my emphasis added)

Now we come a little closer to conflict and confusion:

Tristan made a speech [at the marriage feast] and got into a muddle about my name [Isolde], and everyone was silent. Then he said I had beautiful hands [“Isolde of the White Hands”] and everybody cheered. After supper we were looking out on the sea, and just as Tristan was becoming talkative I noticed that he wore another ring, besides his wedding ring, a green one made of jasper. I said, “What a pretty ring! Who gave it you?” He said, “Oh, a friend,” and changed the subject. Then he said he was very tired and went away. (17—my emphasis added)

Tristan thus crudely left his marriage feast. Unasked, he just “went away” (17).

What kind of man, after all, is he now increasingly showing himself to be? (That is to say, especially in Maurice Baring’s ironic parody and subtle depiction here!)

In this context, Baring’s Isolde goes on to say, as follows, in her diary entry of 13 May:

In any case Tristan, who has been very gloomy ever since he’s been here, has got to go and fight in a tournament. He says he won’t be away long and that there’s no danger; not any more than crossing the sea in an open boat [such as the sailing from Cornwall to Brittany?], which I do think is dangerous. He starts tomorrow at dawn [14 May]. (17-18—italics in original; my bold emphasis added)

In her 17 May entry, she says: “Tristan was brought back on a litter in the middle of the night” (18) and she is “very anxious” (18). Moreover;

Papa and mamma arrive to-morrow with the doctor. Tristan insists on sleeping out of doors on the beach. The doctor says this is a patient’s whim and must be humoured. I’m sure it’s bad for him, as the nights are very cold. (18-19—my emphasis added)

Isolde added on 1 July that “The doctors say there is no fear of immediate change” (19), but over a month later—on 10 August—“Mamma says that the Queen of Cornwall (whose name is Isolde the same as mine) is coming for a few days, with her husband [King Mark of Cornwall] and some friends.” (19—my emphasis added)

Furthermore, mamma is reported to have said about this untimely and sudden visit:

I do think it’s very inconsiderate, considering how full the house is already; and Tristan being so ill—and insisting on sleeping on the beach—it makes it very difficult for everyone [as of 10 August]. (19—my emphasis added)

Isolde of Brittany, Tristan’s wife, wrote on 1 September in her diary: “Tristan is no better. He keeps on talking about a ship with a black sail.” (19—emphasis added)

Almost three weeks later (on 19 September), with the other Isolde of Cornwall not yet having arrived with her husband and warmly landed, Isolde of the White Hand wrote the following entry:

To-day I was on the beach with Tristan and he asked me if I saw a ship. I said I did. He asked me if the sail was black, and as the doctor told me to humour him, I said it was. Upon which he got much worse, and I had to call the doctors. They said he was suffering from hypertrophy of the sensory nerves. (20—my emphasis added)

One day later—on 20 September — the ship from Cornwall landed safely in Brittany after many dangerous and delaying storms (as some scholars have said, and have written, such as Joseph Bédier). Isolde of the White Hands has this brief and final entry on 20 September: “Tristan unconscious. The Queen of Cornwall [Isolde the Fair] just arrived. Too busy to write.” (20—my emphasis added)

The reader, it is hoped, will now also fittingly read and contrast and savor the tragic end of the famous tale in the longer poetic version in prose: the Bédier-Belloc version and translation. It would also help us appreciate more adequately the evocative tones and allusions and artfulness of our beloved Maurice Baring.

CODA

A Glimpse of the Other Isolde and of Her Husband, King Mark of Cornwall, as quoted from the end of The Romance of Tristan and Isolde (172-173):

And when she [Isolde of Cornwall] had turned to the east and prayed God, she moved the body [of Tristan] a little and lay down by the dead man, beside her friend. She kissed his mouth and his face, and clasped him closely; and so gave up her soul, and died beside him of grief for her lover.

When [the magnanimous and forgiving] King Mark heard of the death of these lovers, he crossed the sea and came into Brittany….And he took their beloved bodies away with him upon his ship to Tintagel, and by a chantry to the left and right of the apse he had their tombs built round….Thrice did the peasants cut it down [the growing, twining “green and leafy” briar], but thrice it grew again as flowered and as strong [“in the scent of its flowers”]. They told the marvel to King Mark, and he forbade them to cut the briar any more.

–FINIS–

© 2021 Robert D. Hickson

1Maurice Baring, Lost Diaries (London: Duckworth & CO., 1913), Chapter II: “From the Diary of Iseult of Brittany,” pages 10-20. The Diary covers the five-month interval from May 1 to September 20, but the year is not given nor otherwise specified. All future references will be to this text and placed in parentheses above in the main body of this short essay.

2The longer literary text that will occasionally be referred to or cited is: The Romance of Tristan and Iseult —as retold by Joseph Bédier and as translated from the French by Hilaire Belloc– (New York: The Heritage Press, 1960; and also the earlier published in 1945—with a copyright in 1945 by Pantheon Books, Inc., from whom permission has been obtained here. All further variant spellings of the name of ISEULT will be henceforth standardized, if possible, as ISOLDE. For example: The Romance of Tristan and Isolde—and both Isoldes will be so written, one of them being from Ireland and then Cornwall, and the other one being of Brittany. The Heritage Press format and text of 173 pages will also be placed in parentheses above, if needed for a convenient reference of comparison. Given the varieties of spellings in use, Tristan will also, when feasible, stand as a preferred spelling and replacement for Tristram.

“And You Cannot Build Upon a Lie” (H. Belloc) – When the Humbug Has Broken Down and the Sham Exposed (Learning from English History)

Author’s Note on 18 May 2021: Hilaire Belloc’s 1920 book, while enduring the aftermath of World War I, will be a helpful political education for us as we study the instructive British history and apply it to our own situation in the United States. Belloc’s book on Kingship and Oligarchies and Aristocracy will include the 1649 English Regicide and the gradually corrupting consequences of that act upon an oligarchic, sometimes aristocratic institution, such as (and especially) the English House of Commons of which Belloc was once himself a member. This current essay was originally completed on 16 April 2013.

“And You Cannot Build Upon a Lie” (H. Belloc)—

When the Humbug Has Broken Down and the Sham Exposed

Dr. Robert Hickson

16 April 2013

Saint Bernadette Soubirous

Saint Benedict Joseph Labre

Epigraphs:

“But the answer to all this [“sort of hopeless feeling”] is that these growing evils (and they have almost reached that limit after which the State breaks down) are not inevitable and are not necessary—save [i.e., except, unless] under an anonymous system.” (Hilaire Belloc, The House of Commons and Monarchy, p. 181—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

***

“It is [in this context] far more important for us to see and admit what has happened than to discuss why it has happened. It is much more important to find out that your rudder has dropped off in the deep sea than to discover how it dropped off. Yet it may be of service to mention causes briefly before we proceed to the chances of the future.” (Hilaire Belloc, The House of Commons and Monarchy, p. 115—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

***

In 1920, ten years after Hilaire Belloc had stepped down from his four maturing years of publicly elected service in the House of Commons, he published a lucid book-length essay, entitled The House of Commons and Monarchy.1 It is a forthright and equitably proportioned work with a clearly stated thesis; and the development of Belloc’s presented evidence and argumentation will help us still better understand—even in the United States—many timely and timeless things of political and moral moment. For example, the reality of power, especially the formation, sustained moral authority, and gradual decay of a “new governing class” (39): indeed, a wealthy Oligarchy that had indispensably become a well-rooted Aristocracy, “after a sufficient tradition has confirmed them,” (47) even so as to become “a sacramental thing.”(39) Regrettably then, but truly, Belloc says, “one of the causes of the decline of Aristocracy” (179) is “the accumulation of…corruptions.” (179) Thus, Trust is broken; the earlier “general respect” (47) and the “ reverence upon which Aristocracy reposed,” vanish.

For it is so, he says, that

The characters [those enduring qualities] which keep an Aristocratic body in the saddle are easily recognized, though difficult to define. The first, undoubtedly, is dignity. The second, closely related to dignity, is a readiness in the individual to sacrifice himself for the good of the whole. The Aristocratic spirit demands in those who govern a readiness to suffer personal injury and loss for the sake not only of the State…but [for the sake] of the Aristocratic quality of the State, and in particular of the special Aristocratic organism [i.e., the House of Commons] to which the individual belongs. (85-86—my emphasis added)

However, when then later speaking of the growing “ineptitude” (88) of a governing class, and its selfish, even “ardent passion” to serve “personal safety” (89) rather than the larger Common Good (Bonum Commune), Belloc, by way of sharp contrast, also says:

When a governing clique ceases to be Aristocratic you feel it not only in specific indignities and particular buffooneries, or petty thefts; you feel it in a sort of insecurity [as well as an insufficiency]. The frantic efforts to conceal, the silly blushing denials, the haste to get away with the swag—all of these are the symptoms: and worst of all is the incapacity for sacrifice. (88-89—my emphasis added)

Furthermore, in Belloc’s words:

Lastly, from two most powerful sources, the Aristocratic State tends to suffer from Illusion, especially in its old age—and illusion is the most dangerous of all things. The two sources whence Illusion insinuates itself into the mood [or “atmosphere” (82)] of an Aristocratic State are, first, its internal security; and second, the legendary nature of the moral authority which the governing class exercises. (55—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

Belloc also came to believe that, in the House of Commons, there is “a lack of machinery for recuperation” (57) and, so: “They nourish Illusion to protect their decay.” (58—emphasis added) However, although it is so that “Parliaments must be Oligarchies;” (63) likewise “it is universally true of oligarchies that they cannot govern unless they are Aristocratic.” (64) Moreover, an “Aristocratic State demands Aristocratic Action and Temper both in those who govern and in those who are governed.” (63—my emphasis added) Such must be, in good times, the reciprocally nourishing political culture.

Belloc’s main thesis, in the light of earlier English history (especially since the Regicide of 1649) is, as follows: “The House of Commons was formed by, and is essentially part of, an Aristocratic State. England having ceased to be an Aristocratic State the House of Commons is ceasing to function.” (This clear formulation is repeated three times at the outset of his argument, i.e., on pages 4, 7, and 9.)

For, “the central institution of that Aristocratic England which the Reformation had made was [and still is] the House of Commons.” (63—my emphasis added) Speaking of the mid-seventeenth century in England and the contention between the newly strengthened vested interests and the Stuart King, he says:

The rising quarrel (confused in its eddies but clear in its main stream) produced the Civil Wars and the destruction of English kingship. The new Oligarchy [with the help of the martial Calvinist, Oliver Cromwell] put to death the last true Monarch in 1649 [Charles I]. His son [Charles II] came back eleven years later, but only as a salaried official…. But why was all this? Why should the supplanting after civil war of one form of government by another, of Monarchy by Oligarchy, have produced so large an effect and one of such advantage to national greatness and glory?….The masses grew more dependent, the rich more powerful and even immune; but of the external growth and wealth and dominion, and all that of which patriotic men are proud, there can be no doubt. (37-38—my emphasis added)

Belloc considers his own terse answer to the question (“And why?”) to be so important to his overarching argument that he puts his brevity in emphatic italics:

Essentially because the Oligarchy, which had thus seated itself firmly in the saddle after the destruction of the Monarchy, was growing (through the national sentiment and through the new religion on which that sentiment was based) into an Aristocracy. That is the point. That is the whole understanding of modern English history. As an ultimate result of the Reformation the Kings were broken and replaced by a Governing Class, of which the House of Commons was the [“sovereign”] organ. But that new governing class was not a mere clique, not a small minority merely seizing power. Men have never tolerated such usurpation. They have never allowed an irresponsible few to rule without moral sanction. It would be an insupportable rule….What had come, in the place of kingship, was an Aristocratic State, a State governed by an Oligarchy indeed, but by an Oligarchy which received the permanent and carefully preserved respect of its fellow-citizens. (38-39—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

Throughout the later parts of his book, Belloc shows how and why that indispensable and cherished respect gradually (and very consequentially) decayed—while emphasizing the stark fact that it had indeed happened!

In the remainder of this essay, I propose to give special accent to Hilaire Belloc’s articulate insights about general moral matters, to include the importance of virtuous, as well as vicious (or subtly degraded), moral character in members of a ruling Elite. For moral character also has social consequences, and, as Belloc has incisively written: “The statement that Parliaments are, or can be, democratic is a lie; and you cannot build build upon a lie.” (177—my emphasis added) Reform of a long-traditional Governing Class must come from deeper sources, from within and from without. In any case, it must be based on reality, on truth presented fully and in its proper proportions—even though, as Belloc knows well, there are always “critics of too much truth-telling,” (82) in spite of a “known internal breakdown” (82) of an “existing organ of government,” (82) such as the House of Commons. For, he had said: “It is always so when an institution breaks down. The crust survives by a few years the rotten interior.” (81)

Despite its special strengths, an Aristocratic State—in Belloc’s view—has its own special vulnerabilities:

An Aristocratic State is less able to reform itself than any other, and if its essential principle [deserved mutual respect, and even reverence] grows weak, it has the utmost difficulty in finding a remedy for its disease…. An Aristocratic State attacked in its vital principle has no medicinal rules, no formulae upon which to fall back for its healing. Its diseases [in the face of “civil dissension” and distrustful disrespect] are profoundly organic, never mechanical; for the whole action [and “temper”] of an Aristocracy is less conscious and less defined than that of a Democracy or Monarchy. (55)

There is “another element” in this matter of the “old age” of an Aristocratic State: the factor of “weariness” (97):

The weakening of contempt [for moral baseness, and for coarse and cunning “adventurers and rapscallions” (97)], this new intimate companionship with financial powers, not only ephemeral but base, comes in part from fatigue. And this we see in a process everywhere observable: which is the admixture of apology and impudence…. [For example,] to find a man or woman of the governing type (they no longer possess the governing power) apologizing for their frequentation of such and such a [plutocrat’s] house, for their acceptation of such and such an insult, and accompanying the apology with a phrase which admits their incapacity to stand firm. It is an attitude of drift and of lassitude in luxury: of a tired need for money. It is the very contrary of that atmosphere of discipline which all governing organs, Monarchic, Democratic, or Aristocratic, must maintain under peril of extinction. Next to this abandonment of principle, this loss of a stiffening standard round which the governing body could rally, and to which it could conform, we note [now, indeed, as of 1920] the disintegration of the governing body. That process has not yet gone very far, but it is going very fast. (97-98—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

As to another important quality of Elites, Belloc piquantly observed that, “at the time when the Aristocratic spirit was most vigorous,” (99) “we have seen, not only in our own, but in every other country,” that a “ ‘Representative’ Assembly” itself “does only work” (98-99) when it is

A body slowly renewed, and renewed largely by its own volition; that is largely co-opting [selecting and recruiting] its own membership as elder members drop out through age, glut of loot, fatigue, tedium, disgrace, or pension. But an organism of this kind, an instrument of government of this kind, a body comparatively small, in the main permanent, and continuous in action, is an Oligarchy by every definition of that term. (68—my bold emphasis added, italics in the original)

As such an Oligarchy itself develops slowly into a more “rooted” Aristocracy, “there is an aristocratic way of doing it and an unaristocratic way of doing it” (87), thus properly without any “undignified mountebank tricks” (85):

For instance, it is in the Aristocratic spirit that a member of the Government caught taking a bribe, or telling a public lie, should resign: and until quite lately such resignations were the rule. Another subtle character, and one very little recognized because it is so difficult to seize (yet its presence is powerfully felt), is the representative character of the Aristocrat properly so called…. A living Aristocracy is always very careful to be in communion with, actually mixed with, the mass of which it is itself the chief. It has an unfailing flair for national tradition, national custom, and the real national will. It has, therefore, as a correlative, an active suspicion of mere numerical and mechanical tests [and even mere financial tests?!] for arriving at that will. To take a practical example: an English governing class, which in the middle of the nineteenth century had given up riding horses or playing cricket, would have ceased to govern; but the extent of the franchise was indifferent to it. (86-87—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

On the premise that contrast clarifies the mind, we may see how our Belloc will first have us appreciate the earlier composite of Aristocratic qualities and dispositions, so as to enhance his insights about the drab or monochromatic sequels:

Under the old order the governing class maintained a certain hierarchy, and had a regular process of digestion and support [i.e., of incorporating recruitment and as patrons of a richer artistic culture]. The best example of this function in the old Aristocratic organism, the gentry, is its old attitude toward intelligence and creative power (intelligence and creative power are between them the mark of the arts)…. In an Aristocracy, while it still has its vigour, the Aristocratic organism recognizes and selects (though itself is not for the most part creative) true creative power around it. It recognizes above all proportion and order in creative power. It has an instinct against chaos in the arts. When what remains of a governing class seeks only novelty and even absurdity, or, what is worse still, a mere label, in its appraisal of creative power, it is a proof that the Aristocratic spirit has declined. The disintegration of the class that should govern is to be seen in another fashion: the substitution of simple, crude, obvious, and few passions for a subtle congeries of appetites. (98-99, 101-102—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original).

Acutely aware as he is of the (seductively specious, but deeply corrupt) Vitality of Mammon in the Decline of a State—as some of his richly differentiated essays also confirm—Belloc exemplifies in this 1920 book what these crude and coarse passions, or isolated and inordinate desires, actually mean:

Consider the passion for money. The necessity for wealth, position through wealth, the digestion of new wealth, all these are indeed native to the governing class of an Aristocracy. But they are native only as part of a much larger whole. Wealth thus sought in a strong governing class is subject to many qualifications, the desire is balanced against many other desires. When the attitude towards wealth becomes at once a principal thing and an isolated thing it is a proof, and a cause, of disintegration in a governing class; for instance, when wealth is divorced from manners, or is accepted or sought for at the expense of a grave loss of dignity. And what is true of the appetite for wealth is true of many other things, the appetite for physical enjoyment, the appetite for change, the appetite for new sensation (an appetite born of fatigue and accompanying not strength, but weakness). (102-103—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original).

Among “the Governed,” (107) there has also been “a portentous change” (118), as a result of the Industrial and French Revolutions:

These masses [of the Governed] have been born and have lived their lives utterly divorced from the remnants and even the tradition of the old Aristocratic organism….The new wealthy classes which might have imitated the [landed] squires of an older time, and which at first were largely assimilated into the governing class, do not live with their workmen. They fled the towns. They established colonies, as it were,…of luxurious houses [not yet “gated communities”] standing miles away from the workshops…., and the proletariat lived, grew, formed (or half formed) its political desires, nourished its bitterness, apart. No social condition more directly contrary to that of aristocracy can be imagined. And this is the immediate as well as the major cause of the phenomenon we are studying. This it is, the substitution of the new great towns for the old country sides as the determining body of society which has transformed the political [form] of England and of the Lowlands of Scotland. (118-119—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

Belloc, very importantly, then says that it was “not, indeed, anything material,” but “it was a spirit; the religion and philosophy of Industrial Capitalism” and “the outward effects of that religion acted as I have said.” (119) One stark result was that:

The great mass of the populace was left with no bands [no bonds] attaching it any longer to the form of the Aristocratic State….There you have the final condemnation to death of Aristocracy as a principle in this country, and with it a corresponding condemnation to death of the House of Commons. Side by side with the loss of the Aristocratic spirit in those who should have governed there has gone the loss of any desire for, and even the mere knowledge of, Aristocratic government in the mass who are governed. (119—my emphasis added)

Another result of this “binary” combination is that it “has left the House [of Commons] to-day bereft of moral authority.” For it is fundamentally true, as the Catholic Church well knows (and as Belloc himself often elsewhere quotes) that “without authority there is no life” (“sine auctoritate nulla vita”). Furthermore, says Belloc with a sense of irreversibility and even of a sort of tragic finality:

Even though the House of Commons were to become as clean as it is now corrupt, as nice as it is now nasty, as noble as it is now mean and petty, or as dignified as it is now vulgar and contemptible, this factor alone, the loss of the popular desire to be ruled by a few, would be fatal to its continued power. (120)

Even if the House of Commons “might (in part) revive its moral authority,” (132) “who on earth believes that such things will ever be done by the authority of the culprits themselves?” (132) For,

Though miracles certainly happen, yet the rarest of all miracles is a moral miracle of this kind. A rotten institution reforming itself, and not only reforming itself but being aided in its reformation by all its own corrupt members, servants, parasites, and masters [or “paymasters”], is a thing that history has never seen. History has seen plenty of men raised into the air, many walking on the water, and a few raised from the dead. But it has never seen an institution in the last stages of decay and still possessing nominal power, using that power to chastise and to reform itself. (132-133—my emphasis added)

Without having any utopian expectations, and knowing well the problems with historic or actual kingship, Belloc does nevertheless believe that a substantive improvement could be attained amidst this cumulatively grim state of affairs if a strong, virtuous, and intimately personal Monarchy were to be restored and again to control the Money Power, inasmuch as

The leading function of the Monarch is to protect the weak man against the strong, and therefore to prevent the accumulation of wealth in a few hands, the corruption of the Courts of Justice and [the corruption] of the sources of public opinion [ thus, the full range of “the Media”]. (178—my emphasis added)

As a counterpoint to this monarchical preference, Belloc admits that

A Democracy also, where it is active and real, can do all these things.2 You may see every one of these functions at work in a Swiss Canton, for instance. There you may see [legal] tribunals which dread public opinion, judges who are afraid of giving false judgments, laws which forbid too great an inequality of wealth, and the absence of any vast or sudden profits acquired through the cunning of one against the simplicity of many. But where very great numbers are concerned [as in a “numerous democracy”] all these functions are atrophied if you attempt to make them Democratic in their working; and in the absence of an Aristocratic spirit there is nothing but a Monarch to exercise them [the essential “functions” of just and equitable Governance]….He [the Monarch] knows that he is responsible. He cannot shift the burden to some anonymous or intangible culprit. (179-180—my emphasis added)

Earlier in the book, Belloc had especially noted, as one of the potential weaknesses of an Aristocratic country (even in its commendable vigor) is to see “how strangely deep in such a country is the worship of powerful men, and how rooted is the distaste in the masses for the responsibilities of government.” (79—my emphasis) He later adds a complementary reinforcement to his earlier wise insight:

Out of citizens who have always been passive of their nature [especially about the burdensome responsibilities of governance], and whose passivity was the very cause of Aristocracy among them, you will never get the Democratic spirit of corporate initiative, and of what is essential to Democratic institutions, a permanent, individual interest in public affairs. (176—my emphasis added)

After then returning to the matter of monarchy and briefly considering some of the prominent Kings (or Emperors) of history, our Belloc then tries to imagine any of these men in action today, if they were to be “placed at the head of the modern State,” (182)—and yet “not through their [virtuous] character, but [only] through the powers granted them by the constitutions of their times.” (181-182) Asking and happily (or impishly) answering his own question, he says:

What do you think would happen to the corrupt judges, to the politicians who take bribes, to the great trusts that destroy a man’s livelihood, to the secret financiers boasting that they control the State [“Le pouvoir sur le pouvoir”—in the oft-quoted words of Jacques Attali]? Their blood would turn to water. (182—my emphasis added)

Belloc often accents the danger of unaccountable finance and its corrupting Oligarchical power, especially to mislead “the remaining inheritors of the old Aristocratic position” (103) in “their now irretrievable mixture with international finance and consequent degradation of blood.” (104—my emphasis added) A few pages later, Belloc even says that, for the governed populace, as of 1920, “the [old] gentry no longer means anything to them,” (112) and even the idea of “one governing class is no longer within the vision of the governed” (112)—and “What may be left of such a class they merge in a general vision of excessive, unjust, and indeed malignant wealth.” (112—my emphasis added) That is to say, they are seen as if they were all merely detached and frigid Plutocrats or selfishly Squalid Oligarchs—inaccessible and also still immune from any just accountability in this world.

Hilaire Belloc always combated “an anonymous system,” and its evasive diffusion of personal responsibility and accountability, and he argued, instead, for the return of a Popular Monarchy as was known in historic Christendom, but now, as is just, in prudent view of unique modern conditions and technologies.

The House of Commons and Monarchy, by way of summary, began by showing how Kingship in England was first weakened by the monarchs themselves, to include Henry VII’s sly usurpation of the throne, and then especially the spiritual and temporal actions of Henry VIII, who more or less unwittingly helped create a new and powerful Oligarchy which materially profited from the general loot of the monasteries and monastery lands. That new landed Oligarchy gradually incorporated the merchant and professional elements—the lawyers and the financiers, for instance—and that Oligarchical power increasingly worked to weaken (and have leverage over) the Sovereign King, culminating in the Regicide of 1649: the execution of the Stuart King, Charles I. As the new Oligarchy—or somewhat differentiated, and rival, oligarchies—grew in power and influence, they also became more rooted and stable and continuous, until the Oligarchy became an Aristocracy and the Parliament effectively became the Sovereign, Aristocratic House of Commons. The gradual decay of that House of Commons showed once again the coarser qualities of an Oligarchy, now also containing various alien elements from the outside, as it were—to include the leverage and power of “the Money Power” (as Belloc elsewhere calls it): the Elements and Organs of Finance, to include International Finance—and the Power of the Public Media of Communications (the Press, as it was then known). Then came the further (often anonymous) Oligarchic Manipulations of what was increasingly (but misleadingly) called Democracy—a coarsening and deceptive and drifting development, for sure, which thereby called out, once again, for a restoration in principle, and establishment in actuality, of a sound and strong Personal Monarchy which was attentive to, and finally responsible for, the whole Bonum Commune—as a good Father would care and sacrifice for the common good of his whole family, for which he will finally be held strictly accountable, coram Deo. Before God, in the Final Verdict of Truth—at least in the Faith of a Catholic. And not only Belloc’s. “To whom much has been given, much will be required; to whom much has been entrusted, more [even more!] will be required.” (Luke 12:48)

In any case, Belloc saw the humbug and sham of so much of Modern Democracy, as did the honest French intellectual historian, François Furet, who also (like Belloc) wrote books on the French Revolution, one of which contained an important chapter, near the end of his text, on Augustin Cochin (1876-1916), the young French Catholic historian of the French Revolution who was killed on the battlefield of World War I. In that chapter, Furet said with unexpected candor: “Modern Democracy is based on [depends upon] a hidden oligarchy [“oligarchie cachée”], which is contrary to its principles, but indispensable to its functioning.”3 That is to say, though in even more trenchant words: “Modern Democracy is based upon a Deception.”

Moreover, since there are always “civil wars within the Revolution itself,” as the French Catholic scholar, Léon de Poncins, often noted, François Furet’s insight would be rendered even more perfectly if we put his singular “oligarchie cachée” into the plural, “oligarchies cachées.” For, there are, indeed, rivalries among the variously manifold and active oligarchies in their quests for advantage and power (as was so, historically, between the Girondins and the Jacobins and their respective Financiers), especially when it is for “Power without Grace.” (An acute phrase said more than once by Saint Helena in her candid, cautionary guidance to her own beset and perplexed (and as yet unbaptized) son, Emperor Constantine, amidst the deficiencies and delusions of his burdensome Rule, as so eloquently presented by Evelyn Waugh in his highly differentiated historical novel, Helena (1950). )

When we also recall the title of this essay, we may now appreciate a further nuance of meaning. To the extent that Modern Democracy itself is based upon Deception—indeed a deliberate deception of rival and often anonymous oligarchies—it is based upon a Lie. (And the greatest social effect of a Lie is that it breaks Trust, even the deepest Trust—as in an intimate Perfidy—and that deeply shattered trust is so hard to rebuild. Even with mercy and grace and “forgiveness from the heart,” wholehearted forgiveness.)

When the Humbug has broken down and the Sham exposed—whether about Democracy or Oligarchy or an Ecclesiastical Sophistry—we must still remember, in our sustained and faithful efforts at reconstruction, Hilaire Belloc’s own recurrent words: “And you cannot build upon a lie.” (177)

“The Moral is, it is forsooth: You mustn’t monkey with the Truth.”4

Finis

© 2013 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, The House of Commons and Monarchy (London: George Allen & Unwin LTD.,1920), 188 pages. References to this text will henceforth be in parentheses in the main body of this essay. See also H. Belloc’s “The Decline of a State”( in First and Last, 1912); and “A Few Kind Words to Mammon”( in On, 1923).

2In an earlier footnote, on page 113, Belloc himself says: “The test of the Democratic temper is a popular craving to possess public initiative, and the test of Democratic government is the exercise of that initiative. Chance consultation by vote has nothing to do with Democracy.” The American Founding Fathers, in The Federalist Papers, also disapprovingly spoke of the instability and irresponsibility of mere “numerous democracy.” A rule by mere number and quantity, that is.

3François Furet, Penser la Révolution française (Paris: Gallimard, 1978), Part II, Chapter 3 (Augustin Cochin: la théorie du jacobinisme), p. 241. Another rendition of the French original is: “There is in all democratic power, a fortiori in all pure democratic power, a hidden oligarchy, which is at the same time contrary to its principles and yet indispensable to its functioning.” Augustin Cochin himself especially, and famously, studied those active leavens of the Revolution: the so-called associations or societies of thought (Sociétés de Pensée). These intellectually and operationally active groupings would also be properly considered as networks of little, though disproportionately influential, “oligarchies.”

4This is a close paraphrase of the two concluding lines from one of Hilaire Belloc’s own buoyant verses, entitled “The Example.” See, for example, Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Verses (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941), pp. 402-407. The last two lines of that sprightly, cautionary verse are: “The Moral is (it is indeed!)/ You mustn’t monkey with the Creed.”

On Hilaire Belloc and a Great Wind

Author’s Note, 5 May 2021 (Feast of Pope Pius V (d. 1572)): This reflection on Hilaire Belloc’s 1911 essay about sailing and the wind, and about how they become a special symbol for his life, and for the life of others, was first written some 8 years ago, in 2013. This Belloc essay captures so much of his abiding spirit and his hopes, and this not long before he would have the shock of suddenly losing both his wife Elodie (on 2 February, 1914) and his eldest son Louis, who was an aviator and who died in World War I with his body never to have been found.

Dr. Robert Hickson

11 February 2013

Our Lady of Lourdes

When Hilaire Belloc was a vigorous forty years of age, and three years before his life was shaken and shattered by the death of his wife Elodie on Candlemas 1914, he wrote an intimately evocative essay, entitled “On a Great Wind.” This brief and vivid piece—characteristically combining concrete intimacy and sacred mystery in his inimitably poetic “sacramental prose”—leads us also to the contemplation of God’s Natural Creation and to man’s resourceful uses and appreciations of the wind, especially with his manifest sense of beauty in the use of the sail upon the seas.

“On a Great Wind” was first published in 1911 in his collection of essays entitled, First and Last.1 For those who have read Belloc’s comparably beautiful essays, “The Missioner” and “The Mowing of a Field,”2 will also respond with grateful wonder at his resonant versatility in the presentation of fundamental components of human life, and the things of moment to man.

Belloc makes us at once receptive and attentive by how he begins his reflection on the Wind:

It is an old dispute among men, or rather a dispute as old as mankind, whether Will be a cause of things or no….The intelligent process whereby I know that Will not seems but is, and can alone be truly and ultimately a cause, is fed with stuff and strengthens sacramentally as it were, whenever I meet, and am made a companion, of a great wind. (285)

Belloc’s companion and beloved friend, G.K. Chesterton, also touches upon this profound matter, and shows his uniquely “reverential memory” and pietas when he later wrote: “Will made the world; Will wounded the world; the same divine Will gave to the world for the second time its chance; the same human Will can for the last time make its choice.”3

Cheerfully guarding himself against the imputation of Pantheism, Belloc goes on to say:

It is not that this lively creature of God [namely, the Wind] is indeed perfected with a soul; this it would be superstition to believe….but in its vagary of way, in the largeness of its apparent freedom, in its rush of purpose, it seems to mirror the action of a mighty spirit. (285)

Then our Belloc gets more specific and illustrative, as he did later in his great book, The Cruise of the Nona (1925). (We also see him sailing as a boy in his little sailboat!)

When a great wind comes roaring over the eastern flats towards the North Sea, driving over the Fens and the Wringland, it is like something of this island that must go out and wrestle with the water, or play with it in a game or battle; and when upon the western shores [e.g., of Cornwall], the clouds come bowling up from the horizon, messengers, outriders, or comrades of a gale, it is something of the sea determined to possess the land. The rising and falling of such power, such hesitations, its renewed violence, its fatigue and final repose—all these are symbols of a mind; but more than all the rest, its exultation! It is the shouting and hurrahing of the wind that suits a man. (285-286)

Then with a poignant note about friendship as well as companionship, Belloc takes us to consider deeper analogies and proportions:

Note you, we have not many friends. The older we grow and the better we can sift mankind, the fewer friends we count, though man lives by friendship. But a great wind is every man’s friend, and its strength is the strength of good-fellowship; and even doing battle with it is something worthy and well chosen. (286)

With some conditional sentences and sharp contrasts, Belloc leads us to the threshold of enlargement and maybe also of fear:

If there is cruelty in the sea, and terror in high places, and malice lurking in profound darkness, there is no one of these qualities in the wind, but only power. Here is strength too full for such negations as cruelty, as malice, or as fear; and that strength in a solemn manner proves and tests health in our souls. (286—my emphasis added)

Then, he will try to explain himself a little:

For with terror (of the sort I mean—terror of the abyss or panic at remembered pain, and in general, a losing grip of the succours of the mind), and with malice, and with cruelty, and with all the forms of that Evil which lies in wait for men, there is the savour of disease…..We were not made for them, but rather for influences large and soundly poised; we are not subject to them but to other powers that can always enliven and relieve. It is health in us, I say, to be full of heartiness and of the joy of the world, and of whether we have such health our comfort in a great wind is a good test indeed. (286-287—my emphasis added)

As is to be expected, he supports his contention with vivid specificities:

No man spends his days upon the mountains when the wind is out, riding against it [on horseback] or pushing forward on foot through the gale, but at the end of his day feels that he has had a great host about him. It is as though he had experienced armies. The days of high winds are days of innumerable sounds, innumerable in variation of tone and intensity, playing upon and awakening innumerable powers in man. And the days of high wind are days in which a physical compulsion has been about us and we have met pressures and blows, resisted and turned them; it enlivens us with the simulacrum of war by which [in manly self-defense] nations live, and in the just pursuit of which men in companionship are at their noblest. (287—my emphasis added)

In his consideration of traditional and rooted things, Belloc considers the objections and pretensions of progressive innovators, especially in the new technologies:

It is pretended…that certain pursuits congenial to man will be lost to him under the new necessities; thus men sometimes talk foolishly of horses being no longer ridden, houses no longer built of wholesome wood and stone, but of metal; meat no longer roasted, but only baked; and even stomachs grown too weak for wine. There is a fashion [as of 1911] of saying these things, and much other nastiness. Such talk is (thank God!) mere folly. For man will always at last tend to his end, which is happiness [or “beatitude,” as he also often added], and he will remember to do all those things which serve that end, and especially the using of the wind with sails. (287-288—my emphasis added)

For the remainder of his essay, he will take us to the sea and to the sails in the wind, and his words are instinct and resonant with reality, as all of those who have sailed will immediately and gratefully recognize. Here is the salt of reality with the savor of goodness:

No man has known the wind by any of its names who has not sailed his own boat and felt life in the tiller. Then it is that a man has most to do with the wind, plays with it, coaxes or refuses it, is wary of it all along; yields when he must yield, but comes up and pits himself against its violence, trains it, harnesses it, calls it if it fails him, denounces it if it tries to be too strong, and in every manner conceivable handles this glorious playmate. (288)

Can we not see young Hilaire Belloc sailing his little “cranky” dinghy off the Sussex coast, and hear him singing, too, his festive sea chanties? Then he becomes more sternly protective of the true art and plenitude of sailing:

As for those who say men did but use the wind as an instrument for crossing the sea, and that sails were mere machines to them, either they have never sailed or they were quite unworthy of sailing. It is not an accident that the tall ships [like the Eagle, the U.S. Coast Guard barque and current training vessel for the cadets] of every age of varying fashions so arrested human sight and seemed so splendid. The whole of man went into their creation, and they expressed him very well; his cunning, and his mastery, and his adventurous heart. For the wind is in nothing more capitally our friend than in this, that it has been, since men were men, their ally in the seeking of the unknown and in their divine thirst for travel which, in its several aspects—pilgrimage, conquest, discovery, and, in general, enlargement—is one prime way whereby man fills himself with being. (288-289—my emphasis added)

Once again, our beloved Belloc takes us back in history, and imagines what it was like in the early Spring for those whom he has often, less affectionately, called “the Scandinavian pirates”:

I love to think of those Norwegian men who set out eagerly before the north-east wind when it came down from their mountains in the month of March like a god of great stature to impel them to the West.4 They pushed their Long Keels out upon the rollers [i.e., rolling logs], grinding the shingle of the beach at the fjord-head. They ran down the calm shallows, they breasted and they met the open sea. Then for days they drove under this master of theirs and high friend [“the wind called Eager”], having the wind for a sort of captain, and looking always out to the sea line to find what they could find. It was the springtime; and men feel the spring upon the sea even more surely than they feel it upon the land. They were men whose eyes, pale with the foam, watched for a landfall, and that unmistakable good sight which the wind brings us to, the cloud that does not change and that comes after the long emptiness of sea days like a vision after the sameness of our common lives. To them the land they discovered was wholly new. (289-290—my emphasis added)

We can feel the empathetic Belloc indentifying with these Nordic sailors, and with their quickening and their enlargement. Then he surprises us with a concluding reflection and an evocation of his own childhood, as he invites us to an enticing and accessible adventure still:

We have no cause to regret the youth of the world, if indeed the world were ever young. When we imagine in our cities that the wind no longer calls us to such things, it is only our reading that blinds us, and the picture of satiety [or comfortable complacency] which our reading breeds is wholly false. Any man today may go out and take his pleasure with the wind upon the high seas. He also will make his [enlarging] landfalls to-day, or in a thousand years; and the sight is always the same, and the appetite for such discoveries is wholly satisfied even though he be only sailing, as I have sailed, over seas that he has known from childhood, and come upon an island far away, mapped and well known, and visited for the hundredth time. (290—my emphasis added).

Once, during a deep theological discussion with Father John A. Hardon, S.J. about “the Analogy of Being” and “Analogical Predication,” he memorably and succinctly suddenly said to me: “The highest function of Nature is to provide Analogies for the Supernatural Mysteries,” so as to lead us to “the Beatific Vision” where “Beatitude” means that “we shall be made happy by God.” Similarly, but now in Josef Pieper’s own earlier-related words, Hilaire Belloc’s vividly presented sense of refreshment and adventure and enlargement will thus help us en route in “learning how to see again.” And perhaps recognizing what we then see, as if for the first time, and yet more deeply.

O how much, even in this brief essay, the great-souled Belloc can teach us, and especially the young. To include those who, like Belloc himself, aspire, sub Gratia, to Spiritual Childhood.

CODA

Near the end of his deeply meditative and very great maritime narrative of adventure, The Cruise of the Nona (1925), Hilaire Belloc will modestly reveal to us even a little more of his heart:

We slept under such benedictions, and in the morning woke to find a little air coming up from the south like a gift, an introduction to the last harbour. We gave the flood [flood tide] full time (for they do not open the gates, and cannot, until high water); then, setting only mainsail and jib, we heaved our anchor up for the last time, and moved at our pleasure majestically between the piers, and turned the loyal and wearied Nona toward the place of her repose. ‘And now good-by to thee, /Thou well-beloved sea,’ as John Phillimore [his friend, a Classics Professor] very excellently translates the Greek of other landed sailors dead.

The sea is the consolation of this our day, as it has been the consolation of the centuries. It is the companion and the receiver of men. It has moods for them to fill the storehouse of the mind, perils for trial, or even for an ending, and calms for the good emblem of death [a “bona mors”]. There, on the sea, is a man nearest to his own making, and in communion with that from which he came, and to which he will return. For the wise men of very long ago have said, and it is true, that out of the salt water all things came. The sea is the matrix of creation, and we have the memory of it in our blood. But far more than this is there in the sea. It presents, uponthe greatest scale we mortals can bear, those not mortal powers which brought us into being. It is not only the symbol or the mirror, but especially is the messenger of the Divine.

There, sailing the sea, we play every part of life: control, direction, effort, fate; and there we can test ourselves and know our state. All that which concerns the sea is profound and final. The sea provides visions, darknesses, revelations. The sea puts ever before us the twin faces of reality: greatness and certitude; greatness stretched almost to the edge of infinity (greatness in extent, greatness in changes not to be numbered), and the certitude of a level remaining forever and standing upon the deeps. The sea has taken me to herself whenever I sought it and has given me relief from men. It has rendered remote the cares and wastes of the land; for [as Homer once also said in The Iliad, and cherished by Belloc] of all the creatures that move and breathe upon the earth, we of mankind are the fullest of sorrow. But the sea shall comfort us, and perpetually show us new things and assure us. It is the common sacrament of this world. [And its consoling, restorative waters, as with the waters of Our Lady of Lourdes, also make Sacramental Baptism in Grace now even more accessible for the receptive and the resolute.] May it [this Sacramental Mystery, a vivid Mysterium] be to others what it has been to me.5

May Hilaire Belloc also be for others—especially for the young—what, for so many years, he has been to me.

–Finis–

© 2013 Robert D. Hickson

© 2021 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, First and Last (London: Methuen & Co. LTD., 1912—the second edition; first published in 1911), pp. 285-290.

2These essays are to be found, respectively, in On Everything (1909) and in Hills and the Sea (1906), “The Missioner” in the former collection, and “The Mowing of a Field” in the latter collection of Belloc’s varied essays.

3G.K. Chesterton, The Common Man (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1950), p. 236—in his essay, entitled “The Outline of Liberty,” pp. 233-237. The ironic “apologetic” sentence immediately following the above quotation is also characteristic of our Chesterton: “That [i.e., that world-view or conviction] is the real outstanding peculiarity, or eccentricity, of the peculiar sect called Roman Catholicism.” (p. 236)

4In his essay, “The Missioner,” Belloc even gives the Norse name for the wind, which was actually called “Eager”! About that gifted Christian missioner to Norway who is also called “the Flute Player,” Belloc wrote: “In this way the oath was done [i.e., the promise to return the Missioner to his Homeland unmolested]. So they took the Flute Player for three days over the sea before the wind called Eager, which is the north-east wind, and blows from the beginning of the open season; they took him at the beginning of his fourth year since his coming among them, and they landed him in a little boat in a seaport of the Franks [and, once again,“in the vineyard lands”], on Roman land [in Normandy]….The Faith went over the world as a very light seed goes upon the wind, and no one knows the drift on which it blew; it came to one place and to another, and to each in a different way. It came, not to many men, but always to one heart, till all men had hold of it.” See the last page of “The Missioner, pp. 261-269, in Hilaire Belloc, On Everything (London: Methuen & Company, 1909), p. 269—my emphasis added.

5Hilaire Belloc, The Cruise of the Nona (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925), pp. 328-329—the last two pages of the book, which was dedicated to his beloved friend, Maurice Baring—my emphasis added. Belloc also shows again his deep-hearted friendship and “reverential memory” when he composes an additional inscription to his long-time sailing companion, and places it at the very beginning of his adventurous narrative: “To the Memory of Philip Kershaw My Brave and Constant Companion upon the Sea: But Now He Will Sail No More.”

A 1903 French Novel’s Unexpected Insights Concerning the Sorrows of Mary

Dr. Robert Hickson

25 March 2021

Feast of the Annunciation: the Incarnation

A 1903 French Novel’s Unexpected Insights Concerning the Sorrows of Mary: J.K. Huysmans’ The Oblate of St. Benedict

Epigraphs

“What a strange part, great and yet limited, did Sorrow play in the life of the Virgin!” (J. K. Huysmans, The Oblate of St. Benedict (1903, 1996), page 241—my emphasis added)

***

“She [Sorrow] now ruled supreme and, from the fury of he onslaught, it might have been thought that Our Lady had drained the cup to the last dreg. But it was not so.” (J.K. Huysmans, The Oblate of St. Benedict (1903), page 243—my emphasis added)

***

J.K. Huysmans’ 1903 novel The Oblate of St. Benedict begins his Chapter VIII with the following words:

The Feast of the Assumption [15 August] was over….The church, now empty, exhaled the soothing perfume….the scent symbolized the sepulchre whence the Virgin rose to take her place beside Her Son….

All day the heat had been overwhelming. Benediction had been preceded by the solemn Procession which [King] Louis XIII instituted in memory of the consecration of his kingdom to Our Lady, and Durtal [the novel’s protagonist and himself a gradual convert to the Catholic Faith], on reaching home, sat down in the shade of the great cedar tree.

There he [Durtal] meditated upon the Festival which was for him a Festival of Liberation from pain and the chief Festival of Our Blessed Lady. The day prompted him to contemplate the Madonna from a special point of view, for it brought him face to face with with the dreadful problem of Pain and Sorrow.1 (241—my emphasis added)

Huysmans admits his yearning “attempt to understand the reason for the existence of sorrow” (241), and himself going all the way “back to man’s beginning, to Eden, where Sorrow was born, the moment Adam became conscious of sin.” (241)

But for those who remain loyal to irreformable Catholic doctrine, the mystery of the original and abiding Purity (and Sinlessness) of the Blessed Virgin Mary always presents itself, often amidst Sorrow, and then almost always knowingly evokes our special love. Huysmans’ words also come to touch upon this mysterious matter:

Sorrow had held the Son [Jesus] in her grip for some hours. Over the Mother [Virgin Mary], her hold was longer, and in this longer possession lies the strange element.

The Virgin was the one human creature whom, logically, she [Sorrow] had no right to touch. The Immaculate Conception should have put Mary beyond her [Sorrow’s] reach, and [Virgin Mary,] having never sinned during her earthly life, she [Mary] should should have been unassailable, and exempt from the evil onslaughts of Sorrow.

To dare to approach her [Mary], Sorrow required a special leave from God and the consent of the Mother herself, who, to be the more like unto her Son and to co-operate as far as she [Mary] could in our Redemption, agreed to suffer at the foot of the Cross the terrors of the final catastrophe. (243—my emphasis added)

Now we shall go with the Narrator—and with the fresh perceptions of Durtal—into some other deeper matters of moment:

But in dealing with the Mother [Mary], Sorrow at the outset does not have full scope.

She [Sorrow] indeed set her mark on Mary from the moment of the Annunciation when Our Lady in a Divine light perceived the Tree of Golgotha. But after that, Sorrow had to retire into the background. She [Sorrow] saw the Nativity from afar, but could not make her way into the cave of Bethlehem. Only at the Presentation in the Temple, at Simeon’s prophecy, did she [Sorrow] leap from her ambush and planted herself in the Virgin’s [Mother Mary’s] breast. From that moment she took up her abode there, yet she [Sorrow] was not an unchallenged mistress, for another lodger, Joy, also dwelt there, the presence of Jesus bringing cheerfulness to His Mother’s soul. But after the treachery of Judas Iscariot, Sorrow had her revenge. She now ruled supreme and, from the fury of her onset, it might have been thought that Our Lady had drained the cup [chalice!] to the last dreg. But it was not so.

Mary’s excruciating grief at the Crucifixion had been preceded by the long-drawn anguish of the Trial; it again was followed by another period of suspense, [a period] of sorrowful longing for the day when she should rejoin Her Son in Heaven, far removed from a world that had covered them with shame. (243-244—my emphasis added)

In such words, we may see and cherish another heartful presentation of how the Blessed Mother uniquely co-operated with—and mediated for—the Humility of God in the Hypostatic Union: i.e., for Her own beloved and nourished Son, Christ Jesus. (But there are still those who say that, despite her perfections, Mary is No Co-Redemptrix, Nor a Mediatrix of All Graces.)

CODA

Because it came only from a small, incomplete fragment of a footnote, it may be of some interest to the reader to know how I recently, and so unexpectedly, discovered (and but partly read) the writings of Joris-Karl Huysmans (1847-1907), especially his novel, The Oblate of St. Benedict (1903).

Reading the Epilogue of D.B. Wyndham Lewis’ 1959 book, A Florentine Portrait: Saint Philip Benizi (1233-1285), I came in contact (at the bottom of page 133) with an abbreviated and rather arcane footnote: “L’Oblat, 1903.” Deciding then to locate, if I could, who it was who wrote these stirring words (and where), I went on an adventure and search. Here, without any original French pagination, are the later English words on the Blessed Mother that I found—as translated by D.B. Wyndham Lewis, himself a Catholic scholar, and written from his heart on page 133 in his own 1959 Epilogue about the Servites of Our Lady’s Sorrows:

It needed God’s special permission and the consent of the Mother, who, to make herself more like her Son and to co-operate, according to her capacity, in our redemption, accepted at length, under the Cross itself, the frightful agonies of the Consummation.

FINIS

© 2021 Robert D. Hickson

1J. K. Huysmans, The Oblate of St. Benedict (Cambridge, UK: Dedalus European Classics, 1996—first published in in French in 1903; first English edition was in 1924.) The current edition, moreover, contains XVI chapters, ending on page 303. All further references will be to this Dedalus edition. For convenience, the page references will be placed above in parentheses in the main body of this short essay and commentary.

St. Philip Benizi (1233-1285) and the Servite Order of the Sorrows of Mary

Dr. Robert Hickson

7 March 2021

Saint Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274)

Epigraphs

Chewing in exile his bitter cud of memories, Dante had plenty to say in The Divine Comedy about his native city of Florence. Even amid the splendours and alleluias of Paradise, he [Dante] permits the ex-troubadour Falco to flame suddenly into denunciation [from Heaven!] of the City of the Flower [Florence, Italy], the devil’s own weed, ‘planted by him [Satan] who first turned his back upon his Creator‘….

“Fined and banished [from Florence] under the pain of death in 1302,….the sombre poet [Dante, d.1321] neither forgave his city nor forgot. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that he never deigns to mention, in the Commedia or elsewhere, a very noble and saintly contemporary with whom he probably brushed shoulders in the streets [of Florence] more than once. Born [in 1265] thirty-two years after Fra Filippo Benizi, who became the fifth General of the Servite Order and was canonised at length in 1671, Dante must, like any other Florentine of his day, have known the eminent friar [Philip Benizi] at least by sight and repute for some time [d. 1285].” (D. B. Wyndham Lewis, A Florentine Portrait: Saint Philip Benizi (1233-1285) (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1959), page 1—my bold emphasis added.)

***

There are saints in the calendar of many kinds, some born in sanctity in every century and some achieving it, in some cases after half a lifetime of storm and stress. The huge, rough, tough, violent-tempered soldier who became St. Camillus de Lellis, and has been called the father of the Red Cross and the field-ambulance, is an outstanding example at one end of the scale; examples of the ‘cradle-saint’ at the other end [of the scale] are plentiful enough. Saint Philip Benizi is one of these latter, clad through life in that invisible armour which the Enemy is powerless to penetrate. Prayer came naturally to him from the beginning. Hold Writ was his normal reading, and a special devotion to the Mater Dolorosa drew him inevitably into a new order inspired by it [i.e., the religious order of the Servites].” (D. B. Wyndham Lewis, A Florentine Portrait: Saint Philip Benizi (1233-1285) (1959), page 24—my emphasis added.)

***

“Many of them [these psychological and cultural theories] omit the point that Servite devotion to the Sorrows of Mary—which are the Prophecy of Simeon, the Flight into Egypt, the Loss of the Child Jesus in Jerusalem, the Meeting on the Way to Calvary, the Witnessing of the Crucifixion, the Taking-Down of Christ from the Cross, and the Burial [i.e., with the Feast of the Seven Dolours, now celebrated on 15 September]—is neither morbid nor morose. There will be few men of his age [the 13th Century] radiating a serener joy all his life than Fra Filippo Benizi.” (D. B. Wyndham Lewis, A Florentine Portrait: Saint Philip Benizi (1233-1285), page 25—my emphasis added.)

***

In 1959 a book was published in English on the Thirteenth Century in Europe, and especially on a lesser known saint in the Marian Servite Order—which is also called the Servants of the Sorrows of Mary. That modest saint was Saint Philip Benizi (1233-1285).1

My brief essay now proposes to accentuate Saint Philip’s good influence upon a wide variety of men and women, despite the abiding inattentiveness of one often bitter exile, namely his famous fellow Florentine: the poet Dante (1265-1321).

By way of contrast, our learned and sympathetic author, D. B. Wyndham Lewis, recurrently presents for us “that pre-eminently [Philip] Benizian blend of serene simplicity and holy obstinacy which foils the world.” (134-135—my emphasis added) We, too, shall now try to be more attentive and grateful, as well.

It is now fitting for me to select and present a few representative passages from the book which vivify the principles and character of Saint Philip Benizi, often with his older mendicant companions:

It is not difficult to picture them trudging very slowly along the dusty highroad in their black woollen habits shouldering their sacks. An hour or so after leaving Bologna they reached the site of a considerable portent, to which there is sufficient testimony.

At a point of the road near Castroleone, about five miles out of Bologna, a large solitary tree standing in the baking fields [in August of 1269] a little distance off the highroad offered the only shade for miles. A knot of figures could be seen already under its branches. In compassion for his two elders [of his Servite Order], now lagging and weary, Fra Filippo [the elected General of the Marian Order, as of 1267] turned of the road for a rest. As they approached the tree they were welcomed by raucous laughter and rude japes, and perceived that the group was composed of soldiers and women of the lowest type, possibly drunk. The roughest company was unlikely to daunt a medieval friar, who was well used to it, but this collection proved even worse than the tavern-company which waylays Glutton in Piers Plowman [William Langland’s fine and rhythmical 14th-Century long-line poem] on his way to confession….

Under a fusillade of obscenities and blasphemous raillery Fra Filippo spoke up, rebuking the offenders, firmly but without heat, in the name of Christ and His mother, and bidding them amend their language for their souls’ sake. They received the reproof with viler insults and louder and uglier blasphemies, the women doubtless being far more fluent than the men. As they bellowed and screamed and laughed a premonition came to St. Philip. “My dear brethren,” he said, facing them during a pause with tears in his eyes, “there are some of you here who, unless they repent, are due to die this very day. Almighty God is very kind and pitiful. Turn you to Him and He will have mercy on you—He has sent me even now to call on you for this. Be certain that if you turn to Him He will forgive, but if you refuse you may well tremble. His bow is bent, His arrows are sharp, the weapons of death are ready. Give up this vicious life and trust in His mercy who does not desire the death of a sinner, but that he may turn from his wickedness and live.

The words in their quiet earnestness had some effect. The majority sobered down in shame, as the typical medieval ruffian was always liable to do when so addressed; but a blackguard minority turned angry, belching horrid blasphemy and menacing the friar with consequences if he did not shut his mouth and go. Fra Filippo continued unmoved to plead with them. (63-65—my emphasis added)

The reader may now better appreciate further the provocations and responsive warnings that took place before “the Judgment of Castroleone” (65) condignly and fearfully soon took place (65-66).

Another set of revealing incidents occurred in Florence, and then in Pistoia, while Philip was still the revered General of the Servite Order, and it all started after the death of the Bishop of Florence and the resultant acclamations on behalf of Philip spontaneously:

Since the death of…[the] Bishop of Florence, in December 1274, the see had been vacant [and it would remain so “till 1286, the year after St. Philip’s death” (83)], and violent-faction quarrels even over the question of a successor were frequent. Preaching daily at the Annunziata Fra Flippo harangued his fellow-citizens, noble, bourgeois, and proletarian, with eloquence and point. If they were incapable of making peace for themselves, he cried one evening, they might at least unite in praying the Holy See to give Florence a bishop capable of settling their foolish and murderous quarrels.

This seems to have penetrated. As the preacher [Philip] continued, a buzz went around the crowd. The Annals preserve the gist of it. Vivacious Tuscan gestures and flashing dark eyes may be easily supplied in imagination. (82—my emphasis added)

As Philip Benizi heard the gathering acclamations to have him as their bishop, he slipped hastily out “and quitted Florence then and there for some refuge unknown, and probably Monte Senario, to emerge a week or two later at Pistoia.” (83)

He was to encounter further disorders at Pistoia too:

In Pistoia the citizens were brawling politically and socially as elsewhere—Guelf against Ghibelline….In Pistoia likewise the generosity of the municipality and private citizens towards religious orders, and the mendicants [such as the Servites] in particular, in the matter of alms for building and endowment, demonstrates that typically medieval blend of ungovernable passions and unstinted charity which is so baffling to the modern world. Guelf and Ghibelline, having listened to the same Mass and sermon and given alms in the same dish, would whip our their swords again outside the church door and resume the fight. In his exhortations from the pulpit Fra Filippo minced no words….The city [of Pistoia], like Florence and others, is an accursed and wretched Babylon and its citizens are men of blood, creatures with neither sense nor reason, sacrificing human lives and souls to the Evil One their idol; calling on the Lord only in blasphemy, inviting His terrible judgment. Yet if they will but seek peace, the God of Peace will forgive and be with them all. ‘Meanwhile we, servants of the Most Blessed Virgin, implore her to obtain for you from Almighty God the blessings of peace, unity, and concord….’ (83-84—my emphasis added; and Philip’s own words are, at the end, partly quoted.)

Once again we may see how Saint Philip’s own words have also touched the sincere hearts of some men, even bravos and ruffians:

His [Philip’s] words had considerable effect. Many conversions are spoken of by the early chronicles; many scenes of reconciliation between enemies, many returns to religion, not a few recruits to the Servants of Mary. Among these in Pistoia was a leading Ghibelline bravo named Vanni Buonaccurso, noted for impiety, ferocity, and bloodlust. Having heard a sermon by St. Philip, he followed him afterwards into the priory and fell on his knees, saying that God’s word had pierced his heart and begging to be heard in confession. Soon afterwards he was admitted into the novitiate of the Servants of Mary. He turned out as passionate in good work as he had been [passionate] in evil doing. The cultus [public veneration] of Blessed Bonaventure of Pistoia was approved in 1828.(84—my emphasis added.)

Now we may consider Saint Philip’s influence on a prominent Guelf in Florence:

A more gratifying reward than anything the Republic could offer had come to Fra Filippo. Among the chief disturbers of Florentine peace was a member of the leading Guelf clan of the Adimari, a huge, quarrelsome swashbuckler of immense strength named Ubaldo, now in his late thirties. Brought up from childhood in an atmosphere of flaming pride and vengeance, twice exiled with his fellow-Guelfs, he had long since become a formidable duellist and a portent in Florentine affrays. Equipping him instinctively with an eagle beak and fierce hawk-like eyes, one may very well see Messer Uboldo degli Adimari stepping with his lackeys across a piazza in his steel hauberk and bassinet and particoloured hose, had on sword-hilt, ready to spring as a tiger. He too was powerless against the arrow of grace. Accidental (as the world would say) contact with Fra Filippo Benizi during the late peace-negotiations changed Ubaldo’s life. Not long afterwards, having made all possible reparation to his enemies, Ghibelline and other, he took the Servite habit and, after many penances and vigils, Holy Orders. A few months after his elevation to the priesthood Fra Filippo took Fra Ubaldo for his confessor, which speaks sufficiently for his new character, and he remained one of the best beloved of disciples until the General’s [Philip Benizi’s own] death [in the Autumn of 1285]. After thirty-five years of religious life Fra Ubaldo died in the odor of sanctity. His impressive remains rest in the [Servite] chapel on Monte Senario, not far from the [seven holy] founders’ shrine. (88-89—my emphasis added)

All of the seven original 1233 Holy Servite Founders—Servants of the Seven Sorrows of Mary—were canonized together by Pope Leo XIII, in 1888.

The last portion of A Florentine Portrait memorably presents Saint Philip’s preparation for death, as well as his gradual farewell to his Servite brothers. One representative aspect of this depiction is worthy of our consideration now, with the hope that the reader might slowly read and savor the last thirty pages or so of the book.

Here begins, as follows, that one aspect of his life and farewell, as above proposed:

So Fra Filippo returned to Florence [after seeing, in May 1285, the Pope in Rome], to work and wait in prayer and patience as before…. It was while he was thus engaged that Fra Filippo was informed by an interior voice, one day or night during prayer, that he had not very much longer to live.

Thanksgivings for this good news offered, Fra Filippo [as the Superior General] at once set about winding up affairs in hand with the assistance of Fra Lottaringo, whom he had long since designated as his successor. This concluded, he retired for a space to the Monte Senario cave of former years [8 miles north of Florence] to equip his soul for the final journey….

Fra Filippo [then] had no other ties with Florence outside the Annunziata. He had, moreover, decided already where to live his last days. The smallest and poorest of all the Servite houses of Italy was the priory of San Marco at Todi of Umbria. Where could a General of the Servants of Mary, after a lifetime of evangelical poverty and humility, more fitly die? ….

Fra Filippo, with his two friars in attendance, took the road to Umbria, sighting the red-tiled roofs of Todi in the late afternoon of August 9, 1285. (109-112—my emphasis added)

Now we go with Philip in approach to Todi and San Marco:

There was a great bustle towards sunset in the streets of Todi. An exuberant populace was streaming down to the southern gate, carrying flowers and flourishing leafy branches…. Some horsemen passing St. Philip and his brethren on the road had announced their approach, and a spontaneous mass-reception was afoot….Having perceived, to his dismay and horror, that the crowd ahead was already strewing the road with leaves and flowers, as if he had been some person worthy of honour, Fra Filippo hoped to escape round the walls and take refuge in San Marco undetected. As he and his companion-friars made their way round to the Orvieto gate two women stepped out of the shadows at a lonely part of the way and accosted them. These were prostitutes, it appeared; but, they sobbed as St. Philip questioned them with compassion, unwilling ones, driven to this shame by hunger and despair. One of the friars carried a little unexpended alms in the common purse, just enough for three days’ bare subsistence. Handing it to the women, Fra Filippo implored them to leave off their trade for the next three days at least, and meanwhile to pray hard and commit themselves to God’s pity and providence. On their own accord they promised, weeping, to go to confession, and turned away. “What punishment, do you think, my brothers,” asked Fra Filippo indignantly as the friars went on, “has Almighty God in store for those of the heartless and hypocritical rich who drive the poor into slavery like this?”

As he spoke they reached the Orvieto gate, to be met by a considerable crowd surging out with cries of “Ecco Flilippo! Evviva il santo!” ….

The two penitent prostitutes encountered by Fra Filippo and his companions near the Orvieto gate [came again]. According to…an eye witness, these women came to San Marco next day to make their confession to St. Philip in person. At their second visit Fra Filippo recommended total withdrawal from the world…. and the women, destined to figure on the Servite rolls as Blessed Helena and Blessed Flora, took him at his word. (115-117—my emphasis added)

Such is another abiding presentation of the character and manner and sanctity of Saint Philip Benizi. Moreover, “the essence of St. Philip’s message for the Atomic Age [as of 1959], as for any other, [is expressed by]: love, humility, patience, compassion, self-sacrifice, self-effacement, the sharing of the sufferings of the Mother of Sorrows with the seven swords in her heart.” (133—my emphasis added)

FINIS

© 2021 Robert D. Hickson

1 D. B. Wyndham Lewis, A Florentine Portrait (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1959), 137 pages. All further references to this brief essay will be to this 1959 text, and placed above in parentheses in the main body of our comments for convenience.

Archbishop Viganò: Restore Christianity with Good Literature

Note: this essay has first been published at LifeSiteNews.com and is re-printed here with kind permission.

by Dr. Maike Hickson

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has recently written a preface for a book, Gratitude, Contemplation, and the Sacramental Worth of Catholic Literature, a collection of essays written by my husband Dr. Robert Hickson over the course of several decades. Being a distillation of his life work, this new book aims at presenting to the readers a whole set of inspiring books – most of them Catholic – that can help us restore a Catholic memory. That is to say, these books can help us revive a sense of Catholicity that comes to us from time periods and regions where the Catholic faith was an integral part of the state and society, from a lived faith.

We are very grateful to Archbishop Viganò for his preface, which highlights the importance of culture – and importantly, literature – for the revival of Christianity, and therefore we decided to publish it here (see full text below). His comments aim at turning our minds to the future, preparing the ground for a time where Christ again will reign in the heart and minds of man. His preface is therefore a sort of manifesto of faith and hope, and a wonderful instruction for us on how to go about preparing the ground for Christ.

The Italian prelate and courageous defender of the faith points to the importance of having a memory of our Catholic culture. “Memory,” he writes, “is a fundamental element of a people’s identity, civilization and culture: a society without memory, whose patrimony consists solely of a present without a past, is condemned to have no future. It is alarming that this loss of collective memory affects not only Christian nations but also seriously afflicts the Catholic Church herself and, consequently, Catholics.” The lack of culture among Catholics today, he adds, is “not the result of chance, but of systematic work on the part of those who, as enemies of the True, Good and Beautiful, must erase any ray of these divine attributes from even the most marginal aspects of social life, from our idioms, from memories of our childhood and from the stories of our grandparents.”

Describing this cultural tabula rasa that has taken place among Catholics, Archbishop Viganò goes on to say that “Reading the pages of Dante, Manzoni or one of the great Christian writers of the past, many Catholics can no longer grasp the moral and transcendent sense of a culture that is no longer their common heritage, a jealously guarded legacy, the deep root of a robust plant full of fruit.”

On the contrary, he explains, “in its place we have a bundle of the confused rubbish of the myths of the Revolution, the dusty Masonic ideological repertoire, and the iconography of a supposed freedom won by the guillotine, along with the persecution of the Church, the martyrdom of Catholics in Mexico and Spain, the end of the tyranny of Kings and Popes and the triumph of bankers and usurers.”

Archbishop Viganò clearly shows us that he understands the concept of a “cultural revolution” as developed by the Communist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, who aimed at winning the minds of the people by influencing and dominating their culture.

This cultural – and with it spiritual – empoverishment among Catholics, according to the prelate, “has found significant encouragement also among those who, within the Catholic Church, have erased 2,000 years of the inestimable patrimony of faith, spirituality and art, beginning with a wretched sense of inferiority instilled in the faithful even by the hierarchy since Vatican II.” It was the very hierarchy of the Church – together with many simpler clergymen – who helped promote such a devastation of the art within the realm of the Catholic Church. Let us only think of the modern churches, altars, and of modern church music!

With powerful words, Archbishop Viganò describes how this destruction is ultimately aimed at God Himself: “Certainly, behind this induced amnesia, there is a Trinitarian heresy. And where the Deceiver lurks, the eternal Truth of God must be obscured in order to make room for the lie, the betrayal of reality, the denial of the past.” In light of this analysis, it nearly seems to be a counter-revolutionary act to revive Catholic literature, Catholic music, Catholic architecture.

Explains the prelate: “Rediscovering memory, even in literature, is a meritorious and necessary work for the restoration of Christianity, a restoration that is needed today more than ever if we want to entrust to our children a legacy to be preserved and handed down as a tangible sign of God’s intervention in the history of the human race.”

It is in this context that he kindly mentions the “meritorious work” of this new book, praising its “noble purpose of restoring Catholic memory, bringing it back to its ancient splendor, that is, the substance of a harmonious and organic past that has grown and still lives today.” He adds that “Robert Hickson rightly shows us, in the restoration of memory, the way to rediscover the shared faith that shapes the traits of a shared Catholic culture.”

Dr. Hickson’s new book was published last month and contains 25 essays on many different Catholic authors, such as Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, Maurice Baring, Evelyn Waugh, Josef Pieper, George Bernanos, Ernest Psichari, Father John Hardon, S.J., L. Brent Bozell Jr., and, last but not least, the Orthodox Christian authors Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The themes of this book are war and peace, justice, the Catholic vow, saints, friendship, chivalry, martyrdom and sacrifice, just to name a few. The essays of the book were written from 1982 until 2017, the first being an essay where Hickson developed the concept of “sacramental literature” and the importance of “restoring a Catholic memory.” Anthony S. Fraser, the son of the famous Catholic convert and traditionalist, Hamish Fraser, kindly had edited the essays for his friend, before he so suddenly died on August 28, 2014, the Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo. May his soul rest in peace. We thank you, Tony!

Here is the full preface written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò:

Memory is a fundamental element of a people’s identity, civilization and culture: a society without memory, whose patrimony consists solely of a present without a past, is condemned to have no future. It is alarming that this loss of collective memory affects not only Christian nations, but also seriously afflicts the Catholic Church herself and, consequently, Catholics.

This amnesia affects all social classes and is not the result of chance, but of systematic work on the part of those who, as enemies of the True, Good and Beautiful, must erase any ray of these divine attributes from even the most marginal aspects of social life, from our idioms, from memories of our childhood and from the stories of our grandparents. The Orwellian action of artificially remodeling the past has become commonplace in the contemporary world, to the point that a class of high school students are unable to recognize an altarpiece depicting a scene from the life of Christ or a bas-relief with one of the most revered saints of the past. Dr. Robert Hickson calls this inability “deficiency of dogmatic understanding”, “Catholic illiteracy of pestilential proportions”.

Tabula rasa: millions of souls who only twenty or thirty years ago would have immediately identified the Baptism of the Lord in the Jordan or Saint Jerome or Saint Mary Magdalene are capable of seeing only two men along a river, an old man with a lion and a woman with a vase. Reading the pages of Dante, Manzoni or one of the great Christian writers of the past, many Catholics can no longer grasp the moral and transcendent sense of a culture that is no longer their common heritage, a jealously guarded legacy, the deep root of a robust plant full of fruit.

In its place we have a bundle of the confused rubbish of the myths of the Revolution, the dusty Masonic ideological repertoire, and the iconography of a supposed freedom won by the guillotine, along with the persecution of the Church, the martyrdom of Catholics in Mexico and Spain, the end of the tyranny of Kings and Popes and the triumph of bankers and usurers. A lineage of kings, saints, and heroes is ignored by its heirs, who stoop to boasting about their ancestors who were criminals, usurpers, and seditious traitors: never has falsification reached the point of such incomprehensible perversion, and it is evident that the desire to artificially create such ancestry is the necessary premise for the barbarization of the offspring, which is now practically accomplished.

We must also recognize that this removal has found significant encouragement also among those who, within the Catholic Church, have erased two thousand years of the inestimable patrimony of faith, spirituality and art, beginning with a wretched sense of inferiority instilled in the faithful even by the Hierarchy since Vatican II. The ancient apostolic liturgy, on which centuries of poetic compositions, mosaics, frescoes, paintings, sculptures, chiseled vases, illuminated chorales, embroidered vestments, plainchants and polyphony have been shaped, has been proscribed. In its place we now have a squalid rite without roots, born from the pen of conspirators dipped in the inkwell of Protestantism; music that is no longer sacred but profane; tasteless liturgical vestments and sacred vessels made of common material. And as a grey counterpoint to the hymns of St. Ambrose and St. Thomas, we now have poor paraphrases without metrics and without soul, grotesque paintings and disturbing sculptures. The removal of the admirable writings of the Fathers of the Church, the works of the mystics, the erudite dissertations of theologians and philosophers and, in the final analysis, of Sacred Scripture itself – whose divine inspiration is sometimes denied, sacrilegiously affirming that it is merely of human origin – have all constituted necessary steps of being able to boast of the credit of worldly novelties, which before those monuments of human ingenuity enlightened by Grace appear as miserable forgeries.

This absence of beauty is the necessary counterpart to an absence of holiness, for where the Lord of all things is forgotten and banished, not even the appearance of Beauty survives. It is not only Beauty that has been banished: Catholic Truth has been banished along with it, in all its crystalline splendor, in all its dazzling consistency, in all its irrepressible capacity to permeate every sphere of civilized living. Because the Truth is eternal, immutable and divisive: it existed yesterday, it exists today and it will exist tomorrow, as eternal and immutable and divisive as the Word of God.

Certainly, behind this induced amnesia, there is a Trinitarian heresy. And where the Deceiver lurks, the eternal Truth of God must be obscured in order to make room for the lie, the betrayal of reality, the denial of the past. In a forgery that is truly criminal forgery, even the very custodians of the depositum fidei ask forgiveness from the world for sins never committed by our fathers – in the name of God, Religion or the Fatherland – supporting the widest and most articulated historical forgery carried out by the enemies of God. And this betrays not only the ignorance of History which is already culpable, but also culpable bad faith and the malicious will to deceive the simple ones.

Rediscovering memory, even in literature, is a meritorious and necessary work for the restoration of Christianity, a restoration that is needed today more than ever if we want to entrust to our children a legacy to be preserved and handed down as a tangible sign of God’s intervention in the history of the human race: how much Providence has accomplished over the centuries – and that art has immortalized by depicting miracles, the victories of the Christians over the Turk, sovereigns kneeling at the feet of the Virgin, patron saints of famous universities and prosperous corporations – can be renewed today and especially tomorrow, only if we can rediscover our past and understand it in the light of the mystery of the Redemption.

This book proposes the noble purpose of restoring Catholic memory, bringing it back to its ancient splendor, that is, the substance of a harmonious and organic past that has grown and still lives today, just as the hereditary traits of a child are found developed in the adult man, or as the vital principle of the seed is found in the sap of the tree and in the pulp of the fruit. Robert Hickson rightly shows us, in the restoration of memory, the way to rediscover the shared faith that shapes the traits of a shared Catholic culture.

In this sense it is significant – I would say extremely appropriate, even if only by analogy – to have also included Christian literature among the Sacramentals, applying to it the  same as action as that of blessed water, the glow of the candles, the ringing of bells, the liturgical chant: the invocation of the Virgin in the thirty-third canto of Dante’s Paradiso, the dialogue of Cardinal Borromeo with the Innominato, and a passage by Chesterton all make Catholic truths present in our minds and, in some way, they realize what they mean and can influence the spiritual life, expanding and completing it. Because of this mystery of God’s unfathomable mercy we are touched in our souls, moved to tears, inspired by Good, spurred to conversion. But this is also what happens when we contemplate an altarpiece or listen to a composition of sacred music, in which a ray of divine perfection bursts into the greyness of everyday life and shows us the splendor of the Kingdom that awaits us.

The author writes: “We are called to the commitment to recover the life and full memory of the Body of Christ, even if in our eyes we cannot do much to rebuild that Body”. But the Lord does not ask us to perform miracles: He invites us to make them possible, to create the conditions in our souls and in our social bodies so that the wonders of divine omnipotence may be manifested. To open ourselves to the past, to the memory of God’s great actions in history, is an essential condition for making it possible for us to become aware of our identity and our destiny today so that we may restore the Kingdom of Christ tomorrow.

+ Carlo Maria Viganò
Titular Archbishop of Ulpiana
Apostolic Nuncio

28 August 2020
Saint Augustine
Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church

“The Fall”: A Poem by Isabella Maria Hickson

Note: This poem was written this fall by our 12-year-old daughter, Isabella Maria. As a sort of a short respite in these difficult times, we hope you will enjoy it, at the end of this season and on the last day of November.

***

The cool and beautiful fall

Is like a different color in the season’s hall

It has a change in the weather

That alteration comes like a feather

The leaves all turn yellow, orange, and red

And softly fall upon the earthen bed

***

All the animals get ready for the winter cold

And take all the food their homes can hold

All can sense the oncoming chill

That comes in a hurry over every hill

They make their homes stronger

To help them last much longer

***

Every being of any kind

Does not want to be left behind

In the preparation for the winter’s frost

For they know the very great cost

If they do not take heed to hurry

The winter will come in like a flurry

***

So when it changes from warm to cool it is the fall

It is like a new attire for Queen Season’s ball

So it is the time the many leaves to rake

And harvest and all kinds of things to bake

The time to slowly stay at home

And get ready to build out of snow a dome

***

So let us thank God for this lovely season

He gave us for a great reason

The Psycho-Cultural Effects of Biological Terrorism And Warfare: A 1998 Strategic Perspective

Author’s Note: This essay is the third essay in a sequence of strategic studies on biological and psychological warfare (see footnote 1 below). The earlier articles were written on 15 November 1997 and 8 July 1998, this third one being dated 22 August 1998. We plan to re-publish these studies in light of the current situation in the world with the Coronavirus and the psychological effects on mankind.

22 August 1998

THE STRATEGIC DECEITS AND THREAT OF BIO-TERRORISM AND LONGER-RANGE PSYCHO-BIOLOGICAL WARFARE:

THE NEW BATTLE FOR THE MIND

IN CULTURES OF UPROOTED HOPE AND BROKEN TRUST

Unprecedented Risks In The Defense Of The Common Good And

The Need For Heroic Virtue

Where does one find his hope in a culture of broken trust? How does one abidingly form a well-rooted and sustaining culture of hope amidst a political and financial or religious milieu of deceit and sophistry? Even more specifically, in a medical and military culture of broken trust and deception, how should one form a homeland defense-in-depth against short-range or long-range biological warfare and terrorism?i Given their needed protection against even graver biological agents (in light of the still mysterious “Gulf War Syndromes”), what does it mean and portend, for example, when American military and naval officers and men refuse to take even the newly required, but, in their perception, untrustworthy vaccines, which are, moreover, purportedly effective only against anthrax? It appears to be the case, and not otherwise, that fear and mistrust abound. Gravely consequential and certainly true it is that the greatest social effect of the lie – deliberate falsehood, and even apparently deliberate falsehood – is the breaking of trust.

But, even before resolute corrective action, how should one think and speak about intimately insidious, immediate as well as indirect (and longer-range) forms of biological warfare and strategic bio-terrorism, without thereby inducing what we are attempting to prevent, namely: paralyzing mistrust, apathy, futility, and despair? The eloquent and wise, ancient Greek historian, Thucydides, also faced this challenge, but with respect to a purely natural calamity, namely: how to speak the stark truth without breaking people down into despair, or without numbing them into cold callousness and slothful indifference; or how to discern the proper poise and relation between fear and hope, between true knowledge and despair. Speaking of the plague in Athens during the crowded summer of 430 BC, Thucydides, who himself had been actually present and had contracted the disease, said:

Indeed, in the end people were so overcome by their sufferings that they paid no further attention to such things [i.e., prayer or the consultation of divine prophecy]…. The most terrible thing of all was the despair into which people fell when they realized they had caught the plague; for they would immediately adopt an attitude of utter hopelessness, and, by giving in this way, would lose their powers of resistance. (The Peloponnesian War: 431-404 BC, Book II, 47-54) ii

A modern epidemic of virulent and disfiguring smallpox (which can even leave a survivor permanently blind!) or a more intimate outburst of pestilential venereal disease, even if it were not maliciously introduced or manipulated, would also likely produce terror and maybe also despair. Moreover, under the increasingly demoralizing conditions of modern cultural fragmentation and oligarchically manipulated “mass democracy” (or “people’s democracy”), and especially under the self-dramatizing mass media’s deceptive “perception management” and more subtly infectious sophistry, many good and sensitively intelligent people might also be “overwhelmed by the weight of their calamities” and by the cumulative effects of intimately broken trust. And they, too, could, in their vulnerability, so easily lose their powers of moral resistance, and give up. This is truly a terrible thing to think upon. The subject matter – the concept and the reality of biological warfare and pestilence – is intrinsically fearsome, intractably elusive, and subversively (often deliberately) ambiguous. One may not know what the truth is, what to trust, or whom to trust. Thus, one will be drawn, or more forcibly taken, to the foundations of his strength – his fortitude and his hope. The ambiance of biological warfare will be a test and measure of his intimate and ultimate world-view, and of our own intelligently responsive, but now often equivocal, strategic culture.

Therefore, in dealing with this intimidating topic, we must ourselves also embody and resolutely live, from the outset, the virtue of prudenceiii – the first of the four cardinal virtues, all of which (i.e., prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) are voluntarily perfected human capacities and prompt human dispositions: objective perfections of deeply human, intellectual and moral faculties, and not mere “values,” nor preferentially subjective “tastes.” We must, of consequence, be truly prudent in this matter of biological warfare and not overwhelm people who are already overburdened and perhaps even feverishly expectant of further, altogether intractable catastrophes in our disordered world. Such sadness or moroseness can also be cruelly and destructively manipulated by an adversary, as a part of psychological warfare. The realm of biological warfare is itself so easily productive of fear and panic, both of which can be resentfully and maliciously – and strategically – manipulated, as an unmistakably diabolical instrumentality making use of deception and conducing to despair.

Nevertheless, although we may impulsively, and delusively, try to run, we cannot finally hide from the risks of biological warfare, nor from the more encompassingly contagious, circumambient culture of death. Nor can we hide from the unprecedented risks of defending the common good (bonum commune) against such intimate dangers. We shall need, and we shall need to cultivate, truly heroic virtue – especially the virtues of fortitude and hope – or we shall soon ourselves fail to implement even the most far-sighted strategic prudence or winsome practical wisdom, or the other, higher, intellectual virtues. Without robust fortitude and hope-full perseverance, even the slow fruitfulness of true wisdom, strategic wisdom, will be in vain. Thus, I shall return to this topic at the very end of my reflections on the concept and reality of strategic psycho-biological warfare, both in its indirect forms and its direct forms, to include “selective” as well as “mass-scale” bio-terrorism.

Moreover, it should be remembered and freshly considered that the more indirect, and at least initially non-lethal, forms of “bio-weapons” and “high-tech weaponization,” which could use biological toxins and subtler bio-agents, may be even more disruptive and destructive and psychologically shattering than the more obvious and direct “mass-scale” uses of biological agents like bubonic plague, inhalational (pulmonary) anthrax, or smallpox (whether it be genetically engineered or in more virulently unmodified and “purer” strains). If the targeted minds are only partly and gradually modified – poisoned, deformed, demented – the effects are likely to be more cumulatively dislocating and, when recognized, also more suddenly shocking and paralyzing or numbing. It must suffice, for this paper, not to be more specific or explicit; but some of the technologies may be usefully imagined in light of the modern scientific revolution in molecular biology, genetic engineering, and other forms of bio-technology.

An analogy with modern “absurdist” literature and drama might be helpful, in this context, to bring out my meaning more vividly and forcefully. In contrast to the more blatantly absurdist of the modern nihilist dramatists, the subtlety of the English dramatist, Harold Pinter, for example, in his play, The Homecoming, is much more disorienting, demoralizing, and dislocatingly subversive of order, meaning, and purpose. In this mentally unsettling play, Pinter takes a deeply resonant archetypal theme, a homecoming – as with Homer’s Odysseus or the other “nostoi” (returns) of the Greek heroes, like Aeschylus’ Agamemnon – and artfully makes things seem “almost right,” almost human, but subtly modifies and gradually reveals bizarre and inappropriate expressions of language and conduct. Given that the deep vibrational and emotional intensity of a homecoming touches upon many intimate and ultimate matters – to include matters of trust and possible betrayal – the subtle “absurdist” manipulations of such a theme and of such a touching scene are even more psychologically devastating, and abidingly staining. So, too, would be the case, if a person were gradually and but partly modified by bio-agents that affected his endocrine system or the neuro-physiology of his brain, or by subtly destructive “psycho-tropic” drugs which slightly modified a spouse’s intimate behavior or emotions. The sudden or gradual recognition of such malicious insidiousness would be very destructive indeed. Consider also, as treacherous forms of “biological warfare,” the gradual or partial contamination of food or medicine and other “soft targets,” or the insidious and deliberate introduction of “sterility serums” or “population-control agents” into a broader class of ostensibly humane and merciful “public health inoculations” against real infectious diseases (as distinct from neo-Malthusian or Manichaean views of “pregnancy” and “managed reproductive health”). Given the increasingly controversial issues of “forced sterilizations” in Peru and “forced abortions” in China (especially against female babies), and the controversy of making foreign “developmental aid” to a country contingent upon that country’s “population-control measures,” to what extent, therefore, are these indirect manipulations and deceptions not also a form of biological warfare, and even a form of biological terrorism, at least from the point of view of the “target country” or the mind of the “target mother”?

How does one properly, prudently, and courageously discuss such explosive topics? How does one honestly examine such explosive strategic topics, which have deep and long-term consequences that are not easily altered or corrected, even if one – or his “progressive country” – is willing to make the humble “course correction”? If the “lesser developed countries” perceive that a country like the United States is deceitfully mixing into its vaccination programs certain perverse agents that sterilize a woman, either temporarily or permanently, what might be the range of repercussions? What might be the desperate reprisals and the terrible vengeance? When other countries, moreover, see the further deceits and effects of the American state of Oregon’s now “legal” and purportedly “public” and “open” lethal actions to “assist the suicide” or “euthanasia” of its own citizens, persons old or young, and especially the poor, what will they fittingly expect from us? What will they suspect of us – and how will they react or take strategic counter-initiatives of self-protection? Moreover, against such frankly intimate evils of deception and broken trust, how will we deliberately, if at all, make a true “course correction”? Or, will we, rather, then be unable or unwilling to do so. Or, have we come to such a point, like the ancient Romans, where we can tolerate neither our vices nor their remedies? Would not that moral condition of paralysis also be a “provocative weakness” to others? Is it not the case that, sunk in such sloth, we may also thereby help bring about the very things we are purportedly trying to insure against: the unjust and insidious culture of death and craven terrorism? Or, do we subtly and willfully (and shamelessly) promote, at home and abroad, the despairing and increasingly desperate “culture of death” against children?

Moreover, how does one not inattentively or unwittingly bring about the very thing that we were, once at least, trying to insure against: the destruction of physical, moral, and spiritual life? Such is our new vulnerability, such is the added risk. That is the meaning of “moral hazard.” That is our moral risk, especially when countries like America are increasingly perceived (and resented) as a hubristic culture of “engagement and enlargement” or a tumescence of self-aggrandizement and corruption.iv

There is also the moral risk of having any such rational discourse about such a sensitive and precarious topic, namely the often subtly ignored or denied forms of our own indirect and deceptive biological warfare against others, and their grave psychological effects, also on ourselves. By speaking too much disingenuously about it, or even unwisely, we may actually provide further incentives to others to perpetrate and perpetuate the evils of biological warfare or vengeful bio-terrorism – if only by way of reprisal and the embittered rage that comes from broken trust.

Let us now consider further the concept and reality of “moral hazard.” What happens, for example, when, in its generous arson insurance against the risks of fire-damage, an insurance company over-remunerates an owner (and policyholder) for a loss due to accidental fire or malicious arson? Such “over-insurance” may provide an incentive or temptation for the insured person himself to burn down his own building, under certain conditions of personal difficulty or desperation. Hence, an imprudent insurance company, insufficiently attentive to certain aspects of human nature, could thereby help bring about the very situation it was purportedly trying to insure against! The proper proportion and inter-relation between risk and insurance, fear and hope, danger and trust, must always be wisely considered, not only in “actuarial” or “fiducial” structures of insurance companies and legal bequeathals or trust funds, but within the entire moral realm and long-range strategic arena, as well. As it were, when one is either over-insured or under-insured (either over-assured or under-assured) against risks, one is vulnerable and often dangerously tempted. Wise leadership, however, understands this inherent fragility of the human condition and human nature’s selfish propensities to disorder; and it also understands the need for the proper proportion between risk and insurance (or assurance) – hence the proper poise of alacrity and “regenerative equilibrium” – lest man, or his uprooted and unsustaining culture of broken trust, fearfully despair or too comfortably de-compose by way of complacency and sloth.

This essay, as proposed, has designedly concentrated on the psychological and intimately cultural – hence spiritual – aspects and consequences of biological warfare and bio-terrorism, especially as they may effect, along with natural, not man-made, epidemics, various human cultures of broken trust. Over the last several years, my thought has often focused more broadly on the immediate and long-term consequences of broken trust. For, it is a sad fact of the human condition and the vulnerable human heart that trust, once broken, is so hard to repair. It is so difficult to restore an intimately betrayed and broken trust, even for the most magnanimous and forgiving of men, and even with the help of grace (which, some people believe, actually heals and elevates our wounded nature). This psychological fact, of course, is one of the most vivid and poignant themes of world literature. And to the extent that one’s larger circumambient culture, or essential way of life, is also characterized by deception and broken trust, a man under the threat of bio-weapons is very vulnerable, indeed, especially under the actuality of metastasizing biological warfare, or under the psychological shock-traumas of subtle and ambiguous bio-terrorism.

Moreover, to the extent that our nominal Western democracies themselves have increasingly become “narco-democracies” or more deeply permeated by various kinds of “narco-cultures,” to include those forms of entertainment and advertising, or “mass education” and the pampered “cult of athletics” (and steroids) that “narcoticize” the mind and “dull, dim, and dumb it down,” we shall be even more vulnerable to the varieties of biological warfare, such as genetic engineering, eugenics, and other forms of bio-technology which propose to “develop” a “superman” and “superwoman.” Even to have adequate diagnostics to detect naturally occurring, or maliciously manipulated, biological agents, one must have a very discerning intellect, an unbenumbed intelligence, and much intellectual and moral discipline, lest panic or futility overwhelm one or one’s “tribal sub-culture.” Would our “mass media” or our “Internet Culture” have such discipline or restraint? Under hostile “bio-weaponized” attack or amidst a mutable public health crisis, to what extent are we spiritually prepared or morally ready to live by even the most foundational elements of chivalry as an ethos of honor, namely the principle that “the more defenseless someone is – women, children, the elderly, the broken and despairing – the more that person calls out for our defense. Chivalry was essentially the code of the Christian soldier (miles Christi). For Christian soldiers, Christ Himself was the Good Samaritan – a despised man himself reaching out to the misery of another, even to a Jew, to alleviate and to heal. Christian chivalry was formed to imitate their Founder, to sacrifice oneself out of love. For, love is the willingness to suffer for the beloved, with the beloved, and – most painfully – from the beloved, and even a neighbor who might infect you with a virulent disease. Chapters 34 and 35 of Alessandro Manzoni’s, The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi), like the conclusion of Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, memorably depicts such an ethos in action, embodied in actuality, not merely in idealistic fantasy.

Furthermore, according to the testimonies and the lives of those most widely considered to be men and women of great, if not heroic, virtue, the imagination, though not a cognitive faculty, is the hardest thing to discipline, much less to mortify, especially under the press and stress of the passions – the passions of erotic pleasure, protective anger, and fear. Imagine how human imaginations could be strategically manipulated in view of their tremulous expectations or actual subjection to unmistakably repulsive biological warfare or to the diabolical cravenness of the bio-terrorist themselves. Only a deep culture of virtue – of strategic and heroic virtue, to include the virtue of trust – is likely to resist, much less alleviate or overcome, such intimately destructive forms of warfare which could even be able to alter the genes of one’s own progeny, irreparably. And, this, too, is a terrible thing to think upon! Even to think about it, much less to face it. When, in our growing moral and cultural relativism and cynicism (or frigidity of heart and the congealment of lovelessness), we trivialize evil and deny even the reality of temptation (i.e., attractive incentives to evil), we may more easily be overcome by sloth and hopelessness. Is this not so? Do we not need the virtue of fortitude and fiducia spei (the trust – the confidence – that comes from hope). Is this not also to be considered in our realistic counter-strategy and integrated defense-in-depth? Our homeland – our home – is likely to be the future battlefield.

But what is the way of life we are defending? What is the true homeland we are protecting – and transmitting?

Even when we discount the over-fevered imaginings about the “Y2K” (Year 2000) Problem involving our cyberspace computers, and even when we rationally mitigate the forecasts of chaos to come in “cyberculture” and to our national and international life, the predicted disruptions of essential services will likely also be exploited by the malevolent, to include bio-terrorists, who might thereby have more anonymity and maneuverable undetectability – or less accountability. Concerning “information warfare” itself, especially strategic information warfare, it is very difficult to know even whether you are actually under attack, especially if you are under a subtly and gradually prepared information-warfare attack.

What, for example, are the “indications and warnings”? Since “information warfare” is essentially defined as inflicting “disruption, destruction, and [most difficultly] deception in information systems,” it can also be fittingly understood as a form of psychological warfare, as well as a more technical form of “command-and-control warfare,” which targets an adversary’s leadership cadre, his “command-and–control apparatus.” Consider how such “information warfare” could be combined with actual (or feigned) bio-terrorism or longer-range biological warfare, in order to attack and dislocate the mind, and to paralyze the will. If, therefore, we do not have – and continually cultivate – a public culture of trust (and of the fiducia spei), we shall be even more vulnerable to these fearsome effects upon the human soul, especially despair, to include what Sören Kierkegaard called “the despair of the weak,” or “sloth.”

Given their own premises and operative principles, can the Western liberal democracies themselves sufficiently resist their own internally growing and spreading “cultures of broken trust”? What will be the prerequisites for such a strategic “course correction” against the culture of sophistry, sloth, and broken trust – for such a moral, spiritual, and innermost cultural transformation?

Or, are such questions themselves properly to be considered chimerical, and not only by the cynical and worldly wise and the decadent? Moreover, do we have enough love – hence animating desire for real virtue – to sacrifice for the common good (bonum commune)? Or, will we resort to various “flights from reality” – to include flights into drugs, or into “Chaos and Cyberculture” (the title of one of the last two books of Timothy Leary, who was apparently discovering in “electrons” and “electronic culture,” and the whole electro-magnetic spectrum, many more “psychedelic” (mind-expanding) possibilities than in “drugs”; Leary’s last book is significantly entitled Surfing the Conscious Net).

Along with the above-mentioned possibilities and psycho-effects of deception (or self-deception) in information warfare, we must remember that those countries and groups which themselves have worked elaborately on biological weapons (to include the proximate Cubans) have also been masters of masking their own programs – employing those techniques and capacities that are known as “D and D” (Denial and Deception). Such capacities and manipulations add to our unsettling uncertainties and “psychological mystification and dislocation.”

What is so potentially and inwardly devastating about these various forms of “psycho-biological warfare” is that “false alarms” and “hoaxes” themselves can also be effectively manipulated – and very strategically – to attack the mind and the will of an adversary, not only the leadership, but also the larger citizenry or amorphous immigrant (and “Balkanized”) populace. In a culture of broken trust, moreover, people will naturally act more selfishly and less sacrificially on behalf of the common good. And the common good (bonum commune) is much deeper and more abiding than the mere “common utility” or “public interest”  and a very demanding or arduous good (a bonum arduum).

For example, guerrilla warfare, as strategically promoted by Winston Churchill in World War II, was very effective in the short term, but in the long term very destructive – very destructive upon civilization, seen in the longer-view of the war’s aftermath, i.e., its effects on the subsequent “peace” or “deceitful peace” (the “Cold War”). Speaking candidly of the long-range evil consequences of the over-enamored, promiscuous resort to guerrilla warfare, the great strategic-minded military historian, B. H. Liddell Hart, has the following to say:

The material damage that the guerrillas produced directly, and indirectly in the course of reprisals, caused much suffering among their own people and ultimately became a handicap to recovery after liberation. But the heaviest handicap of all, and the most lasting one, was of a moral kind. The armed resistance movement [like the terrorist networks and trans-national criminal syndicates today] attracted many “bad hats.” It gave them license to indulge their vices and work off their grudges under the cloak of patriotism, thus giving fresh point to Dr. [Samuel] Johnson’s historic remark that “patriotism [like certain distorted forms of contemptuous and haughty, cultural or religious or racial “nationalism”] is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Worse still was its wider effect on the younger generation as a whole. It taught them to defy authority and break the rules of civic morality in the fight against the occupying [or usurping] forces. This left disrespect for “law and order” that inevitably continued after the invaders [or “dispossessors”] had gone. Violence takes much deeper root in irregular warfare than it does in regular warfare. In the latter it [i.e., deeply rooted violence] is counteracted by obedience to a constituted authority, whereas the former makes a virtue of defying authority and violating rules. It becomes very difficult to rebuild a country, and a stable state, on a foundation undermined by such experience. (B. H. Liddell Hart, Strategy, 2nd revised edition, pp. 368-369 – emphasis added)

In Liddell Hart’s profound understanding, therefore, the inordinate and imprudently promiscuous resort to guerrilla warfare violated the proper poise and proportion of the “moral hazard,” and thereby helped bring about what the leaders of the West were purportedly trying to insure against: the spread of lawlessness and immoral cruelty (while also seemingly blind, despite fair warning, to the Soviet Gulag System).

Even moreso is it a danger today that we, too, shall over-react to the threat and the actuality of bio-terrorism and biological warfare, both by resorting to them ourselves, or by implementing the extreme “Continuity-of-Government (C.O.G.)” “emergency measures,” and at least some, seemingly dubious, presidential “executive orders,” even to the point of creating Martial Law and its more permanent institutions (and “Praetorian Guard”) of enforcement. Such an over-reaction, however, is exactly what our intelligently strategic adversaries would seek to provoke in us, further to dislocate us mentally and morally, and to sap us spiritually. The more undisciplined and un-virtuous our citizens and imiscible immigrant populace are, and the more that our way of life and public order are perceived by our own members and others as an unlovely and cynical “culture of broken trust,” then the more likely it will be that extreme measures of rule will be needed and, perhaps, tragically, resorted to, even promiscuously. As cinema character, “Dirty Harry” (Clint Eastwood) once said, or implied, “if you can’t have law and order, you’ve got to have order without law!” – even if it is an eventually subversive “pseudo-order.” People will often prefer tyranny to open anarchy. (However, when the spiritual and moral anarchy are more concealed, and even deliberately concealed from themselves by themselves, the people often then seem to prefer sloth or enervating decadence.)

These deep matters being said, what are, if any, the stark epidemiological possibilities and realities which we must also soberly face, independent of the deliberate tactical operations of bio-terrorism or more subtle forms of strategic biological warfare? For example, what are some of “the realities of epidemic smallpox,” in the forceful (yet calm) words of the world-renowned epidemiologist, Dr. Donald A. Henderson, of Johns Hopkins University, who has himself personally dealt with this infectious and disfiguring virus – in Pakistan (in the 1960’s), in the USA (in 1962), in Yugoslavia (February 1972), and in Germany (1972)? I encourage you to read and deeply consider his sobering, eight-page paper presented at our 4 December 1997 Conference of “Bio-Defense and Urban Terrorism,” which was inspired and organized by Dr. Thomas Frazier, a modest and selfless man. Dr. Henderson’s paper – as well as his very effective oral presentation – is acutely entitled: “Biological Terrorism – Epidemiological Realities.” After your reading and deep savor of Dr. Henderson’s trenchant words and “reports from reality” – to include ineluctable historical reality – then my own special considerations in this essay will be, I believe, more cogent and forceful – and, perhaps, also a more inspiring summons to help defend the common good.

Dr. Henderson, by his own account, was also present at a meeting at the U. S. National Academy of Sciences in 1994, when Dr. Vorobyev, “a Russian bioweapons expert, presented to the Working Group on Biological Weapons Control a paper summarizing the Russian conclusions as to the most likely biological agents to be used. The top three were, in order, smallpox, plague, and anthrax” (p. 1). But, Dr. Henderson continues: “Based on experiences with inhalation anthrax at Sverdlovsk [to include their earlier deadly accident in 1979, which became a lethal (but dishonestly misrepresented) epidemic], I think that anthrax would now be rated more highly than plague” (p.1). Dr. Henderson’s interpretive views are independently supported by the testimony of the 1992 Soviet-Russian defector, Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov (now Anglicized as “Ken Alibek”), who was himself the deputy-director (second in command) of Moscow’s massive biological warfare development program, BIOPREPARAT.

Thus, throughout our reflections on man-made bio-terrorism and other forms of biological warfare, we must never forget the impact of unmistakably natural (much less ambiguous) epidemics. Furthermore, before concluding this essay with a deeper examination of the third cardinal virtue of fortitude, as a form of truly heroic virtue needed today in the face of subtly strategic forms of psycho-biological warfare, I wish to pose some potentially sensitive, but suggestive and directive questions for your further inquiry, and maybe also your illumination and consequently resolute prudential action:

  1. What are the implications of the spreading presence of the neuro-toxin, pfisteria, in the coastal waters of North Carolina, and now also in the Chesapeake Bay, an issue which is now being belatedly studied by the University of Virginia’s Medical School, among others, after much denial or trivialization?
  2. What are the implications of the Israeli Mossad’s clandestine use of the bio-toxin, ricin, in their attempted assassination, last year, of a hostile foreign leader resident in and operating out of the sovereign country of Jordan?
  3. Are the earlier and current diseases in Taiwan’s pigs and soybeans man-made or natural, and, in any event, do they not have the consequence (if not also the deliberate intention) of economic warfare? And, what are the causes and implications of the recent virus which has sadly taken a significant death toll of Taiwanese newborn babies? Were these grave afflictions only an accidental collocation of natural misfortunes?
  4. What is the nature of the various diseases that are ambiguously (or equivocally) associated with “the Gulf War Syndromes”? Who first discovered these problems honestly (and some of their causes), and then took them very seriously? And, what will be the longer-term psychological aftermath for those (military and civilian) who may have to go back into such ambiguous milieus of combat, either in the Middle East or elsewhere?
  5. To what extent do certain countries still have highly secure and “masked” “underground programs” for research and development of bio-weapons, and related chemical devices, such as powerful, psycho-tropic “synthetic drugs”?
  6. What, if any, is the “new face of terrorism” (and their deeper motivations), and to what extent might bio-terrorists now make use of trans-national criminal syndicates and dubious international “conglomerates” (e.g., Nordex); drug cartels and their cosmopolitan financial support apparatus; new “private security” and intelligence organizations (e.g., Executive Outcomes in South Africa, and elsewhere); and, finally, perhaps most demandingly, those older, “multi-purpose,” traditional Asiatic “secret societies” (e.g., the Chinese Triads and the Japanese Yakusa) operating at home and abroad, sometimes as strategic assets of foreign powers, and maybe, also, of international oligarchies?
  7. If smallpox virus is readily grown on the “chorioallantoic membrane of embryonated hens’ eggs” (in Dr. D. A. Henderson’s words, p. 4), then how difficult would it be to prepare a smallpox weapon?
  8. To what extent do we have strategic medical intelligence on such matters, or even a sufficient “Epidemic Intelligence Service,” to help us defend the common good and the public health of nations? To what extent are our new vaccines contaminated or defective, and to what extent can they be manipulated and contaminated by others?
  9. To what extent, if at all, is there a pattern or tendency for certain countries (e.g., Cuba, the USA, or other medically “progressive” countries) to export, through their research labs, very dangerous vaccine-resistant strains of diseases like resurgent tuberculosis (the greatest killer of the nineteenth century), especially among hitherto unexposed, “virgin” populations?

Such a sampling of questions, especially in light of what I have earlier presented in this paper, might further help focus thoughtful minds. Do we agree? And we may also come to discuss many other related issues and implications, should there be the interest, perspicacity, and pertinacity.

But, now for some implications – and elucidations – of the life of real virtue (not mere values), and some traits of heroic virtue, especially fortitude and the type of world-view that deeply sustains it in persevering hope.

What, after all, is “true” heroism? Do we “conceive of this mainly, or exclusively, as exceptional ability, developed through extraordinary effort in any sphere”?v Similarly, do we “demand of the ‘hero’ exceptional success, the brilliant fortune of a general, the surgeon, and the politician that captures the popular imagination” (p. 194)? My beloved mentor, Josef Pieper, will himself now help us, I believe, to think through this important matter more deeply. He says, by way of further clarification and challenge:

But what if we conceive it [i.e., heroism] otherwise? What if we recognize and accept the fact that the essence of true heroism is the virtue of fortitude – that it is through this virtue, indeed, that the hero differs from the average man?…. And if we concede that this is so, we shall understand better than we are otherwise likely to do how it is that the image of the hero in the great literature of the world (which is based to a large extent upon the idea of fortitude) is instead bewilderingly ambiguous (p. 194 – emphasis added).

As mentioned earlier, fortitude is one of the four cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance), and “for more than two thousand years these virtues have been looked upon, in the tradition of Western thought, as a kind of four-color spectrum in which the concept of the good person fans out” (p. 194). Moreover, says Josef Pieper:

The concept of fortitude will be misunderstood if the world-view that underlies it is not clearly comprehended. Fortitude, Augustine says in The City of God [c. 430 AD], is a testimony to the existence of evil – by which he means that fortitude is necessary because, in the world, evil is powerful, is even at times a superior force. In view of this, to be brave can be taken to mean that something must be risked whenever the obviously weak offers resistance to evil. And nobody who wishes to be a good human being and is unwilling to commit an injustice, can avoid this risk (p. 195 – emphasis added).

What does he then say about the nature of this necessary risk? His clarifications may also present us with a surprise, for he says:

What is risked, if the occasion arises, may be something less than life itself. It may instead be a question of immediate well-being, of daily tranquillity, possessions, honor, or face-saving. On the other hand, what is required may be the surrender of life, or more exactly, the acceptance of death at another’s hands. The martyr is the ultimate symbol of fortitude (p. 196 – emphasis added).

That is to say, in this conception, “fortitude is both a virtue fundamentally required of everyone and the essence of heroism” (p. 196 – emphasis added). The underlying world-view that supports the robust (and resilient) orientation of fortitude says, in part, as follows:

The world, along with existence itself, has lost the primordial order; but, like existence, it still remains capable of good [capax boni] and is directed toward it [toward the good, hence also to the bonum commune – the common good, which is also a “steep good” (bonum arduum)]. At the same time, the good is not realized by itself, but requires for that end the effort of an individual who is willing to struggle and if necessary to sacrifice on its behalf (p. 195).

By way of clarifying contrast, Josef Pieper adds:

It is simply a liberalistic illusion to believe that one can be consistently just, for example, without having to risk something for it. That is why fortitude is necessary (pp. 195-196 – emphasis added).

However, it must also be said that:

Fortitude is not an absolute ideal, nor is it even foremost among the cardinal virtues. Its realization is linked to several requirements. A brief adage of Saint Ambrose states: “Fortitude must not trust itself.” It matters little that we “live dangerously,” according to Nietzsche’s maxim, but rather that we live a good life. For this the virtue of prudence is the first necessity…. Sigmund Freud’s assertion that most heroism stems from an instinctive [sic] conviction that “Nothing can happen to me” is true in a sense that possibly he did not perceive – the deep sense in which it is seen that for one who loves good, death cannot be entirely evil (as Socrates, along with Saint Paul, realized and affirmed). Another requirement of true fortitude is justice. The fortitude of a criminal is a misconception; there are no criminal heroes. Our generation is aware that the fruits of fortitude can be corrupted by injustice, chiefly by the injustice of political power. We have come to know firsthand the truth of the old adage: “The praise of fortitude is contingent upon justice” (pp. 196-197 – emphasis added).

But, it is in the treatment of war that “the complexity of the relationship between heroism and fortitude comes to the fore most dramatically,” since fortitude “manifests itself in combat, though combat does not necessarily mean war” (p. 197). Moreover, says Dr. Pieper:

The surrender of one’s life, which can be demanded of a soldier in the just defense of the community, can scarcely be expected without the moral virtue of fortitude. On the other hand, we are more apt to perceive and honor the hero in the figure of conqueror than in one who merely suffers [or, even endures with nobility an injustice he cannot apparently then overcome]. And since fortitude means precisely to endure wounds incurred on behalf of justice (from loss of reputation or well-being to imprisonment or bodily harm), we are really looking, when we contemplate someone who has manifested this virtue, at the antithesis of the “conqueror.” Such a person [of fortitude] does not vanquish, he sacrifices (pp. 197-198 – emphasis added).

Then, by way of further surprise, Josef Pieper says:

In the ultimate test of fortitude, which is martyrdom, there is absolutely nothing of the victorious, though this characteristic is essential to our more usual conception of the hero as conqueror. Nor is there any [usual] supposition that fortitude or heroism will be spoken of in true cases of martyrdom (p. 198 – emphasis added).

Again, on the premise that contrast clarifies the mind, Pieper offers us a contemporary example:

When it comes to a pornographic novel, which may be hailed as “daring” or “bold,” the author in reality risks nothing. Far more courage and perhaps genuine fortitude is required to call such a product repugnant, or to say in public that purity is a fundamental element of human dignity (p. 198 – emphasis added).

Again, to the roots or heart of the matter, he adds:

In the act of fortitude itself, such a person [i.e., the apparently helpless sufferer] does not appear to be a martyr but is rather the accused, the prisoner, the crank, or the lone wolf, abandoned and ridiculed; above all, he proves himself to be mute…. Thus fortitude is, according to its very nature, not the virtue of the stronger but instead of the seemingly vanquished…. It should be remembered that in the eyes of the ancients the decisive criterion for fortitude consisted primarily in steadfastness and not in attacking…. To be sure, the…mortal steadfastness of the martyr has always been understood as a victory and celebrated as such, not only from the Christian standpoint but from that of Plato’s Socrates (pp. 198-199).

And, to bring it closer to home, we may further consider another insight of truth:

In spite of everything the martyr is truly a hero, and so is every unimposing or unknown individual who risks his life for the sake of truth and good, whether in the pointedly dramatic act of martyrdom or in lifelong devotion – in acquiescence to the absolute will of God at the cost of one’s worldly comfort (p. 199 – emphasis added).

Near the end of his discerning reflections, Josef Pieper presents a few more surprises:

Strangely enough, the great teachers of Christianity have regarded the virtue of fortitude in much the same way [i.e., “as inseparable from honor and glory”], designating as one of its fundamental elements magnanimitas [i.e., magnanimity], which seeks high honor before all else and makes itself worthy of it. [But] is this in keeping with the conception of that virtue [of fortitude], the highest act of which is supposed to be martyrdom before the triumphant force of evil? (p. 200)

Pieper answers his own question:

It is consistent with that conception, under one condition, that one is capable of realizing the idea of gloria…or “becoming acknowledged publicly,” the attainment of recognition through God Himself [thus, through the mediated ecclesiastical declaration of sainthood]…. I fear that whoever, for whatever reason, is incapable of accepting this dimension of reality – the life beyond death – will have to be on his guard against the danger of being fascinated by a pseudo-hero borne on the acclaim of the entire world…. [Perhaps] his almost irresistible allure and universal fame will overshadow all other false heroes of history, while his global tyranny will force true fortitude into the most merciless of trials. It will further render totally unrecognizable this fortitude, the essence of all genuine heroism – the virtue of martyrs (p. 200).

And such fortitude can only be sustained by the higher virtue of hope – the hope of martyrs. For, such martyrs, though apparently helpless before disfiguring evil, do not despair. They do not fall into devouring self-pity, nor cynically embrace the corrosion of hopelessness. And, despite the overwhelming evil, they never blaspheme the goodness of God or the fundamental goodness of His Creation or of His temporal world. This virtue of hope and final perseverance is itself a great gift (magnum donum), under grace (sub gratia), and also a steep good, a “demanding arduous good” (bonum arduum) which is difficult, but possible of attainment and which calls for profound gratitude, as well as magnanimous fortitude. Such hope always requires an oblation of gratitude – in life, and at the moment of death.

I believe that only by the further cultivation of such heroic virtues of fortitude and hope, wherever they may be found, will we be promptly (and strategically) ready to defend our children and the larger common good (bonum commune) against the threat and actuality of bio-terrorism and longer-range psycho-biological warfare which will incite us to despair, especially within a deep and spreading culture of broken trust, sloth, unrooted hope, and sophistry.

In this context, and by way of conclusion, the words of Hilaire Belloc may now also have deeper and decisive meaning for us:

The corroboration by experience of a truth emphatically told, but at first not believed, has a powerful effect upon the mind. I suppose that of all the instruments of conviction it is the most powerful. It is an example of the fundamental doctrine that truth confirms truth. If you say to a man a thing which he thinks nonsensical, impossible, a mere jingle of words, although you yourself know it very well by experience to be true; when later he finds this thing by his own experience to be actual and living, then is truth confirmed in his mind: it stands out much more strongly than it would had he never doubted. On this account, it is always worth while, I think, to hammer at truths which one knows to be important, even those which seem, to others, at their first statement mere nonsense. For though you may die under the imputation of being a man without a sense of proportion, or even a madman, yet reality will in time confirm your effort. And even though that confirmation of your effort, the triumph of the truth, should never be associated with your own name, yet is it worth making for the sake of the truth, to which I am sure we owe a sort of allegiance: not because it is the truth – one can have no allegiance to an abstraction – but because whenever we insist upon a truth we are witnessing to Almighty God. (Hilaire Belloc, The Cruise of the “Nona” (1925, republished in 1956 by The Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, p.51))

Finis

© 1998 Robert Hickson

i This essay, though standing on its own insights and argumentation, builds upon two earlier studies, which were delivered at academic and strategic conferences soon after they were written. The first study, written on 15 November 1997, and twenty-two pages in length, is entitled: The Indirect Grand-Strategic Approach and Context of Biological Warfare (and Bio-Terrorism) in the Likely Near Future: A Trenchant Strategic Challenge to American Special Operations Forces and to Our Incipient Strategic Culture. The second study, written 8 July 1998, and seven pages in length, is entitled SOF [Special Operations Forces] Strategic Education and “The Indirect War”: Psycho-Biological Warfare (and Terrorism) in a Grand-Strategic Context. This third and current essay proposes to accentuate the psychological and cultural effects of biological warfare (and bio-terrorism) when it is strategically employed, both in the short-term and over the long-term and more indirectly (and often more deceitfully). This essay also proposes to consider the analogous psychological effects of natural as well as malicious and ambiguous epidemics.

iiTwo other vivid ancient depictions of plague or pestilence, both of which drew upon Thucydides’ Greek prose account, are to be found in the Latin poetry of Lucretius (c100 – c55 BC) and Virgil (70-19 BC). Lucretius concludes his elevated, epic-metered poem, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Reality, On the Nature of the Universe) with an explanation of the nature of epidemics (Book VI: lines 1090-1138) and then a highly colored and intensely charged depiction of the same 430 BC plague in Athens, to include the manifestations of fear, reckless abandon, lawlessness, and despair (Book VI: lines 1138-1286). The purpose of Lucretius’ climactic passage on the plague is to reinforce one of his own major themes as an materialist philosopher (and follower of Epicurus) who denied the immortality of the soul and of human personhood, and who saw everything in terms of “matter in motion” (to include “swerving motion,” or the “clinamen,” his metaphor for “free will” as a moral indispensability). Lucretius was compassionately trying to remove from man both the fear of death and the fear of despair, or spiritual death. Virgil, who deeply admired Lucretius and whose poem, The Georgics, has often been called by scholars “a submerged dialogue with Lucretius,” also made a vivid poetic depiction of a plague and its effects. Virgil describes the Noric animal plague at the very end of his Book 3 – on Animals, lines 475-566. The basic framework of the Georgics consists of four poetic books (Book I – Field Crops; Book II – Trees; Book III – Animals; and Book IV – Bees). In dealing with the plague, Virgil’s subject involved him in dealing chiefly with animals as “victims of contagion,” but man was also affected. In this context of the literary depiction of plague and its consequences, the reader should also consider and contrast the powerful presentation of the plague in Milan, Italy in the early seventeenth–century, as shown in Alessandro Manzoni’s great historical novel, The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi), the greatest novel in Italian literature. Rather than showing mere desolation and cruelty and despair, Manzoni uses the plague as an occasion to draw out healing mercy and human forgiveness and other forms of reconciliation, and to manifest human virtue through his characters’ various and vivid acts of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, selfless generosity and self-sacrificial charity. Manzoni affirmed a deeply Christian world-view and hence the reality of grace and gift of trustful hope as a virtue (not just a yearning passion) of the soul. Moreover, Sigrid Undset’s great historical novel of the fourteenth–century medieval Norway, Kristin Lavransdatter (a trilogy), shows another example of how a strong and willful character is transfigured by humble suffering. Helping the victims of the Black Plague which had reached Norway, Kristin, grown more selfless as a nun after the death of her husband and several of her eight children, finally shows the flowering of generous charity without self-pity or any bitter pride. The depiction is of great spiritual beauty. (See the end of the trilogy, Vol. III – entitled The Cross.)

iii Josef Pieper, the recently deceased (6 November 1997) German philosopher who spent his long life (of 93 years) illuminating the meaning and the life of the virtues, said that, in order to live a good life, “the virtue of prudence is the first necessity,” for one must move decisively and resolutely from “the knowledge of reality” to “the realization of the good,” embodied in actuality:

That is to say, we must be able to recognize the elements of life as they really are and to translate this recognition into resolution and action [unto “the realization of the good”]. Otherwise, because the fearful [or the fearsome] is encountered as a stark reality in the world, we may be fearless in a manner that should not be confused with true fortitude [the third cardinal virtue] – as, for example when we make a false evaluation of danger, or when we are reckless from an inability to love anything or anyone. (See Josef Pieper, Problems of Modern Faith – Title of the German original Über die Schwierigkeit Heute zu Glauben – Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1985, p. 196.)

Manzoni, in his above-mentioned great novel, had the following to say:

Ignorance often inspires courage at a time for caution, and caution at a time for courage. Now it [ignorance] added distress to distress, and filled men’s hearts with unfounded terrors as a poor compensation for the sensible and beneficial alertness to danger of which it had robbed them at the beginning of the pestilence. (See Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi), Penguin Classics translation, chapter 34, pp. 637-638.)

iv Sun Tzu might say that we are strategically weak, and gravely so, because our moral leadership has lost the Tao (the Way – the way of spiritual wisdom and integrity). And there is the old saying, “a fish begins to stink from the head down” or “a fish begins at the head to stink” (“Der Fisch beginnt am Kopf zu stinken”). This malodorousness is also a “provocative weakness” – provocative to others, who would use not only our vices but also our virtues against us in the exploitation of a biological weapon (“the Judo Principle”).

v Josef Pieper, The Problems of Modern Faith: Essays and Addresses (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1985, pp. 193-194). All subsequent quotes will be from his little essay entitled “Heroism and Fortitude” (pp. 193-201).

Maurice Baring’s Multi-Faceted 1912 Travelogue: Round the World in Any Number of Days

Dr. Robert Hickson

9 September 2020

Saint Peter Claver, S.J. (d. 1654)

Epigraphs

“Shortly afterwards [on 21 June 1912], he started on his tour round the world [until October of 1912], the result of which was what seems to me one of the most enchanting, also one of the most unusual travel-books ever written: Round the World in Any Number of Days.” (Dame Ethel Smyth, Maurice Baring (London: William Heinemann LTD, 1938), page 42—my bold emphasis added.)

***

“In October of the same year (1912) The Times sent him to the Balkans, where war had broken out. I think this persistence of newspaper editors in using Baring as War Correspondent is impressive and creditable to both parties….One may conclude it was not only on account of his vivid narrative style, but also because of his enterprise and reliability, that he was once more sent to the seat of war by the foremost English Journal.” (Dame Ethel Smyth, Maurice Baring (1938), pages 42-43—my bold emphasis added.)

***

“And I, for one, in any case, felt that come what might, I had had my dream. I had had a glimpse of Eden, a peep into the earthly paradise.” (Maurice Baring, Round the World in Any Number of Days (London: William Heinemann LTD, 1926), page 97—my emphasis added.)

***

It should be of worth to us yet today to see some of the nourishing perceptiveness and insights of Maurice Baring in his 1912 travel writings less than two years before the outbreak of World War I. Although Baring’s vivid and varied record of his five-month trip was first published in the United States in 1914, we shall now refer to, and often to quote, only from a later publisher’s unified and final 1926 English edition, which is still entitled: Round the World in Any Number of Days.1

From June to October 1912, Maurice Baring (1874-1945) first sailed east from England to Naples, Italy, on to India and Ceylon, then on to Australia and New Zealand, and briefly (but very movingly) through Roratonga and Papeete, Tahiti (mindful also of the beautiful Marquesas Archipelago) and onward to San Francisco, and then winding up by train coming down the Hudson River Coast into New York City (and Long Island), from which he sailed back to England, in order to begin his mission to the Balkans as a trusted War Correspondent.

After this brief introduction and partial summary, let us first consider how Baring concretely presents a fresh mango as it was recommended to him in Ceylon so as to alleviate the “damp heat that saps your very being” (38):

It is when you are dressed for dinner and you come down into the large high dining-room, full of electric fans, that you realize that it is impossible to be cool. It is an absorbing, annihilating damp heat that saps your very being.

The first thing to do is to eat a mango. Will it be as good as you are told it is? Yes, it is better. At first you think it is just an ordinary apricot and then you think it is a banana; no, fresher; a peach, a strawberry, and then a delicious, sharp, fresh, aromatic after-taste comes, slightly tinged with turpentine, but not bitter. Then you get all the tastes at once, and you know that the mango is like nothing else but its own incomparable self.

It has all these different tastes at once, simultaneously. In this it resembles the beatific vision as told of by St. Thomas Aquinas. The point of the beatific vision, says St. Thomas, is its infinite variety. (38—italics in the original)

Baring then immediately elaborates upon his unusual analogy of Beatitude’s “infinite variety” with the concurrent variety of tastes accessible to one who is savouring a fresh mango:

So that those who enjoy it [i.e., the vision of beatitude] have at the same time the feeling that they are looking at a perfect landscape, hearing the sweetest of music, bathing it a cold stream on a hot day, reaching the top of a mountain, galloping on grass on a horse that isn’t running away, floating over tree-tops, reading very good verse, eating toasted cheese, drinking a really good cocktail [or wine!]—and any other nice thing you can think of, all at once. The point, therefore, of the taste of the mango is its infinite variety. It was probably mangoes which grew in Eden on the Tree of Knowledge, only I expect they had a different kind of skin then, and were without that cumbersome and obstinate kernel which makes them so difficult to eat. (38-39—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

Such a perceptive and extended passage on beatitude and a mango fruit is a representative instance of Baring’s multi-faceted and unusual pre-World War I travelogue. And there is more to come.

For example, Maurice Baring—the Russian scholar and linguist—then freshly mentions the reliable reports or realities of “ghosts at sea” and he modestly says:

But I have spoiled that story. I have merely told the bare facts; what you want is the whole thing: the dialogue, the details; the technical terms. Ghosts at sea are more frightening than ghosts on shore, but I think the worst of all ghosts are river ghosts or, for instance, the ghosts that haunt the rivers of Russia. They have green, watery eyes, hair made of weeds, and they laugh at you when they see you and then you go mad. This naiad ghost is called Russalka. I have never seen one or any other ghost either, but I have once in the company of a friend [Hilaire Belloc] heard a ghost sing. (47—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

Baring at once adds a footnote to this passage in the 1926 edition, where he now more revealingly says: “Now that the age of reticence has gone his name [my friend] can be mentioned. It was H. Belloc.” (47—my emphasis added)

Throughout his Round the World, Maurice Baring mentions and quotes his friend Hilaire Belloc, as well as G.K. Chesterton, and even Dr. Samuel Johnson, the noted, often witty, Lexicographer. For example, Baring says:

So that one wonders [at times] how it happens that any one goes to sea [and thereby also then has “the possibility of drowning”!]; and one is inclined almost to agree with Dr. Johnson’s opinions on the subject.

“A ship,” he said, “is worse than a gaol [jail]. There is in a gaol better air, better company, better conveniences of every kind, and a ship has the additional disadvantage of being in danger [as in drowning!]. When men come to like a sea-life they are not fit to live on land.”

“Then,” said [James] Boswell, “it would be cruel in a father to breed his son to the see.”

It would be cruel,” said Johnson, “in a father who thinks as I do. Men go to sea before they know the unhappiness of that way of life; and when they come to know it, they cannot escape from it, because it is then too late to choose another profession, as, indeed, is generally the case with men when they have once engaged in any particular way of life.” (52—my emphasis added)

In view of these wholehearted and differentiated words, Baring soon again quotes Dr. Johnson who also sincerely said: “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier or not having been at sea.” (58)

Maurice Baring also shows his sincere admiration of the poet and scholar, Andrew Lang (59-61).

We thus propose to give only a selection of Baring’s thoughts. First of all, Baring gives us the context for his subsequent personal words about the Scottish poet, scholar, and translator, Andrew Lang himself, who had just died in July of 1912 (having been born in Scotland in 1844):

And yet it happens that many writers [like Belloc and Baring themselves!] write books on different subjects. Andrew Lang, for instance; at Fremantle [a port-city on the west coast of Australia] we heard the sad news of his death. Personally I knew him slightly and he had shown me much kindness. Also we had corresponded about a ghost story. I have literally fed on his books since I was fifteen. When a boy awakens to a love of literature and his enthusiasm for a number of authors is kindled to a white-hot pitch, he wishes to see that enthusiasm confirmed and justified in the writings of older men, and he turns to the critics. The critics pull his favourite poets to pieces, and sniff, and cavil, and patronize, and analyze, and damn with faint praise, and dissect, and blame, and make reservations, and deal out niggard approval. Nothing is so trying to the young as the jaded palate of elder critics. But in Andrew Lang’s criticism (so lightly and beautifully put, so unpedantic and so easy) the boy will find the enthusiasm he expects. (59—my emphasis added)

Baring then remembers other examples of Lang’s admirable qualities:

In a letter to me Andrew Lang once said he appreciated all the poets from Homer to Robert Bridges, with the exception of Byron. I’m sorry he didn’t like Byron. But I didn’t like Byron as a boy, and it was as a boy that Andrew Lang what I most needed, praise of my favourites—Shelley, Keats, William Morris, Dumas; of all the poets I had just discovered and the romantics in whom I was revelling, and of French verse into the bargain.

As a boy, when I began to read the critics, I found that they despised French verse, and I wondered. But Andrew Lang was my solace. He understood. He knew the language….You must be used to the sound of French to appreciate French verse….

Andrew Lang is an author who spent the large capital of his wit, his learning, his wide sympathies, royally and generously without stint; he was a master of English prose, and some of the best pages he ever wrote were flung into leaders in the Daily News….He had a fine and rare appreciation of the world’s good verse; he could write ghost stories, fairy tales, doggerel; he was a supreme dialectician, an amusing parodist, a prince of letter-writers, as well as a poet;—perhaps he was of all things a poet. The following translation [by Andrew Lang] of Rufinus’ lines to Rhodocleia, sending her a wreath, is a good example of his verse. He has turned an exquisite Greek poem into an exquisite English poem: [then the full poetic translation is actually provided on page 61]….

Practically I saw nothing of Australia, but I suppose there is no harm in writing these notes—the mere rough impressions of a fugitive traveller. (59-61—my bold emphasis added)

Such is Maurice Baring’s sincere forthrightness and his modesty.

In September of 1912, Baring was in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, and we hear about someone he memorably met:

One of the most interesting people I have met here is a French lady of the highest culture and education, Soeur Marie Joseph, who is at the head of a Home of Compassion for derelict children. She went out to the Crimean War [1853-1856] under Florence Nightingale and looked after the wounded on the battlefield that knew nothings of anaesthetics. She told me that sometimes the doctors, after a day of surgical operations, would be drunk with the fumes of the blood. The wounded had to be tied down to be operated on, and sometimes, where this was not practicable, people had to sit on them.

Soeur Marie Joseph is very fond of New Zealand. She came out, attracted by what she heard of the [native] Maoris, and she knew the Maoris with an intimate thoroughness. She has a great admiration for them; and she gave me many instances of their chivalry and nobility of character….This morning at one of the Catholic churches here the priest preached a most interesting sermon….I have had a glimpse of New Zealand, such as no books and no pictures could give me, and I have consequently enriched my store of experience and extended the frontiers of my outlook. (85-86—my emphasis added)

In mid-September 1912, Baring arrived first in Roratonga en route to Tahiti, and noticed, among other distinctive qualities, that the Tonga natives spoke with special tones:

Their voices are in harmony with the liquid musical quality of their language, which consists of soft open vowels. It is, I suppose, the most melodious of all human languages….

I bathed in the sea, and then…I went on board once more. From Roratonga it only takes two days to get to the island of Tahiti [in French Polynesia], and the steamer anchored at Papeete [the capitol of French Polynesia] on Friday, September 20 [1912].

Roratonga gives you a kind of foretaste of the whole charm and beauty of the South Seas. It is the appetizer, …not the whole meal. Tahiti is the whole thing; the real thing, the thing that one has dreamt about all one’s life; the thing which made Stevenson [Robert Louis Stevenson] leave Europe for ever. All tellers of fairy tales, and all poets from Homer downwards, have always imagined the existence of certain Fortunate islands [“the Happy Isles”] which were so full of magic and charm that they turned man from his duty and from his tasks, labour, or occupation in which he was engaged, and held him a willing captive, who would not sell his captivity for all the prizes of the busy world. (90-91—my emphasis added)

After Baring’s further presentations of Tahiti’s allurements (or perilous temptations?), he says:

I cannot imagine anything more ideal than to possess a schooner fitted with a small motor in case of calm, and to cruise [under sail] about the waters between Tahiti and the Marquesas [the archipelago], which, one is told, are the most beautiful of all….They are things to be seen; they are places to be seen and lived in; not to be written about. The pen can give no idea of their charm….Loath as I was to go, at the end of twenty-four hours I felt it was a good thing that I was going, otherwise I should have been tempted to remain there for the rest of my life….

We left Tahiti in the afternoon, when the greater part of the population came down to the wharf to see us off. We left feeling like Ulysses [Odysseus] when he was driven by force (or by Penelope’s letters) from the island of Calypso. And I, for one, in any case, felt that come what might, I had had my dream. I had had a glimpse of Eden, a peep into the earthly paradise. (95-97—my emphasis added)

Before leaving these varied and inviting samples of Maurice Baring’s 1912 travelogue, I propose to present one scene from his brief time in San Francisco:

The next night I left San Francisco for Chicago. Before leaving San Francisco, I had a dinner at a restaurant called the “New Franks” [run by “a Dalmatian” with “a French cook or cooks”]. It is a small restaurant, and it provides the best food I have ever eaten anywhere….I was not hungry the night I went to the New Franks. I was not inclined to eat, but the sheer excellence of the cooking there excited my greed, and bade my appetite rise from the dead….And I had never tasted anything so good in my life [not even a mango!]….

The trouble about small restaurants, when they are excellent, is, that they become well known, and are then so largely patronized that they become large and ultimately bad.

Once I was walking in Normandy with a friend [perhaps Hilaire Belloc?], and we stopped in a very small town to have luncheon at an hotel. We asked if there was any wine. Yes, there was some wine, some Burgundy, some Beaune. We tried a bottle, and it surprised us. Surprise is, in fact, a mild word to describe the sharpness of our ecstasy.

“Is not this wine very good?” we asked of the host.

“Yes, sirs,” he answered, “it is very good. It is very old, but there is not much of it left.”

Now, my friend was a journalist, who writes about French towns and French wines in the English Press.

Whatever happens,” I said to him, “if you write about this town and about this wine, which I know you will do, you must not divulge the name of the town.”

He agreed. He wrote an article about the town, he grew lyric over the wine, and looted all the poets of the world from Homer downwards for epithets and comparisons fit for it. He did not mention the name of the place.

The year after he returned to the same place and ordered a bottle of the Burgundy. There was no more left. Some English gentlemen, the host told him, had come on purpose from England to finish it.

Now, I am sure some very intelligent man, and a man who was passionately fond of good wine, read the article and guessed, from the description, the whereabouts of the little French town and the precious liquid.

The moral of this is: “Don’t tell secrets in the newspapers; don’t even tell half a secret.”

The evening I left San Francisco I had a small adventure. I asked a man the way to some street. He told me the way, and then, catching hold of my arm, he said, “You will stand me a drink.”….Then he said, “I’m a bum….I’m a booze-fighter.” He added with engaging frankness that he was half drunk: an under-statement. (114-118—my emphasis added)

Such is the richness and variety of Maurice Baring’s writing, even his travel writing on the eve of the coming and soon spreading War.

God’s good foison” – “God’s good abundance”—is what the Catholic poet, John Dryden (d. 1700), once generously said of the earlier Catholic poet, Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400).

Such an abundance also characterizes the writing and the heart of Maurice Baring, who, three years before his 1912 voyage, became a Roman Catholic. It was on 1 February 1909 that he was received into the Church, on the Vigil of Candlemas.

–FINIS–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1 See, first of all, Maurice Baring, Round the World in Any Number of Days (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company—The Riverside Press Cambridge, October 1914), 248 pages. The final 1926 edition, with longer dedications added, is published, as follows: Maurice Baring, Round the World in Any Number of Days (London: William Heinemann LTD, 1926 ), pages v-xv, and 1-140. Illustrations are by Basil Blackwood; and Dedications are now to his close friend, Dame Ether Smyth, Doctor (and Composer) of Music; and to his valorous Companion in World War I, Major Bowman, D.S.O., M.C. Henceforth, all references to and quotations of Baring’s text will be to the 1926 edition, and placed above in parentheses in the main body of this brief essay. We shall now accent a representative selection of Baring’s insights.

Maurice Baring, One of God’s Gentlemen, Presents Xantippe: The Wife of Socrates

(Author’s Note: This 2017 essay on Maurice Baring is intended to be a fitting sequel to the recently posted essay on Max Beerbohm’s Parody of some of Maurice Baring’s subtle writings. This essay shows the deep character of Maurice Baring himself, as well as presents an instance of his gifted writing on certain personalities from the Classical Ancient World of Greece.)

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                      9 June 2017

Feast of Mary Mother of Fair Grace

Saint Columba (Saint Columbkille) (d. 597)

Maurice Baring, One of God’s Gentlemen, Presents Xantippe:

The Wife of Socrates

Epigraphs

“On the eve of Candlemas 1909, I was received into the Catholic Church by Father Sebastian Bowden at the Brompton Oratory [in London and on 1 February]: the only action in my life which I am quite certain I have never regretted. Father Sebastian began life as an officer in the Scots Guards. He had served as A.D.C. [Aide-de-Camp] under the same chief and at the same time as my uncle, Lord Cromer. He lived all the rest of his life at the Oratory and died in 1920. He was fond even in old age of riding about London on a cob [his small horse of sturdy build]. His face was stamped with the victory of character over all other elements. He was a sensible Conservative, a patriot, a prime example of an English gentleman in mind and appearance; a prince of courtesy, and a saint; and I regard my acquaintance with him and the friendship and sympathy he gave me as the greatest privilege bestowed on me by Providence.” (Maurice Baring, The Puppet Show of Memory, (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1922), pp. 395-396—my emphasis added)

***

“That night [17 May 1915]…there was a rumour that B.K. [Major Basil Barrington-Kennett] had been killed. The next day the rumour was confirmed.

If ever a man deserved a soldier’s death, to die leading his men and the men of his own regiment into battle, it was B.K. But of all the bitter losses one had to bear throughout the war, it was, with one exception [i.e., his cherished long-time friend, Auberon “Bron” Herbert, Captain Lord Lucas, d. 3 November 1916 at age 40; and to whom, in 1909, Baring had dedicated his parodic Dead Letters (1911)], this particular loss I felt most, minded most, resented most, and found most difficult to accept.

He [“B.K.”] was not an old friend of mine. I had never seen him before the war. But he was bound up with every moment of my life during the first months of the war, and I had got to know him intimately and to admire him more than others and to delight in his company more than in that of others….But when this particular piece of news [about his death] came I felt the taste of the war turn bitter indeed, and apart from any personal feelings, one rebelled against the waste which had deprived, first the Flying Corps and then the Army, of the services of so noble a character. He was the most completely unselfish man I have ever met: a compound of loyalty and generosity and a gay and keen interest in everything life has to offer.

Not long ago I heard a little boy of eight years old asked if he knew what the word gentleman meant. He said, ‘Yes, of course.’ On being pressed for a definition he said: ‘A gentleman is a man who loves God very much and has beautiful manners.’ This definition exactly fitted B.K.” (Maurice Baring, R.F.C., HQ.–1914-1918 (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1920), pp. 92-93—my emphasis added)

***

“He [General Éduard de Castelnau, 1851-1944] seemed to belong to a nobler epoch than ours [circa 1914-1918], to be [himself] a native of the age of chivalry, of that time [in the 13th Century] when Louis IX, who is known as Saint Louis, dispensed justice under a spreading oak-tree. He had the easy familiarity, the slight play of kindly irony, the little ripple of humour, the keen glance, the foresight and forethought, that politesse du cœur [that deep and sincere politeness of heart], that complete remoteness from what is common, mean, base, self-seeking, which are the foundation and substance of God’s gentlemen.” (Maurice Baring, R.F.C., HQ.—1914-1918, p. 273—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

***

This short essay proposes to consider, not only the above-mentioned Major B.K. and General de Castelnau, but also Maurice Baring himself, as “one of God’s gentlemen,” as one whose own generous and chivalrous character is marked by a sincere, deep, and guileless politesse de cœur, even as he presents to us now the volubly scolding (sometimes shrewish) wife of Socrates, Xantippe. Under her eloquent reproaches Socrates himself is shown to be a man of a few words, maybe for a good reason, inasmuch as he expectantly approaches the end of his earthly life, which is already forebodingly endangered—though seemingly unnoticed by his discouraged and hot-tempered wife. (In 399 B.C., five years after the humiliating defeat and capitulation of Athens in the devastating Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) in which he had earlier been a combatant, Socrates himself, after his trial, was to die.)

Baring first published this charming character portrayal of Xantippe and her husband in 1911, three years before the Great War of 1914-1918 was to break out, and only some two years after he had become a Catholic. The Xantippe portrayal was then again later published in his book’s set of 23 short literary presentations, entitled Diminutive Dramas,1 where Baring’s characteristic magnanimity recurrently showed itself. And he expressed it often with “a play of kindly irony” and a warmly sustained, flowing “ripple of humour”—as we may soon come to see, especially if we were–with only two reciters– to read with a fittingly swift pace the entire short play aloud. (Recently, and in the presence of our two young children at home, my German wife herself expressively read the lines and convincingly played Xantippe —with me as the taciturn, somewhat intimidated Socrates in the background as a foil—and she thereby heartily evoked the joy and smiles of the astounded children!)

Now we should present Baring’s own description of the Scene at the opening of the Play:

“A room in SOCRATES’ house. XANTIPPE is seated at a table [in Athens], on which an unappetizing meal, consisting of figs, parsley, and some hashed goat’s meat, is spread.” (177)

We should remember the goat’s meat is, purportedly, one of Socrates’ favorite dishes, at least in Xantippe’s estimation. As Socrates (S) enters his home, Xantippe (X) has the first comment (177):

X: “You’re twenty [sic] minutes late.”

S: “I’m sorry, I was kept—”

X: “Wasting your time as usual, I suppose, and bothering people with questions who have something better to do than to listen to you. You can’t think what a mistake it is by going on like that. You can’t think how much people dislike it. If people enjoyed it, or admired it, I could understand the waste of time—but they don’t. It only makes them angry. Everybody’s saying so.”

S: “Who’s everybody?

X: “There you are with your questions again. Please don’t try to catch me out with those kind of tricks. I’m not a philosopher. I’m not a sophist. I know I’m not clever—I’m only a woman. But I do know the difference between right and wrong and black and white, and I don’t think it’s very kind of you, or very generous either, to be always pointing out my ignorance, and perpetually making me the butt of your sarcasm.”

S: “But I never said a word.”

X: “Oh, please, don’t try to wriggle out of it. We all know you’re very good at that. I do hate that shuffling so. It’s so cowardly. I do like a man you can trust—and depend on—who when he says Yes means Yes, and when he says No means No.”

S: “I’m sorry I spoke.”

X: “I suppose that’s what you call irony. I’ve no doubt it’s very clever, but I’m afraid it’s wasted on me. I should keep those remarks for the market-place and the gymnasia and the workshops. I’ve no doubt they’d be highly appreciated there by that clique of young men who do nothing but admire each other. I’m afraid I’m old-fashioned. I was brought up to think that a man should treat his wife with decent civility, and try, even if he did think her stupid, not to be always showing it.” (177-178—my emphasis added)

Baring’s tonal words show Xantippe to be a more sympathetic figure than we might have originally thought to be so.

In reply to Xantippe’s last set of words, Socrates can only say: “Have I by a word or hint ever suggested that you were stupid?” The pathos now grows.

X: “Oh, of course not—never. However, we won’t discuss that. We will change the subject, if you don’t mind.”

S: “But really—”

X: (ignoring the interruption). Please give me your plate. I will help you to the goat.”

S: “None for me, thank you, to-day”

X: “Why not? I suppose it’s not good enough. I’m afraid I can’t provide the food you get at your grand friends’ houses, but I do think it’s rather cruel of you to sneer at my poor humble efforts.” (178—my emphasis added)

Socrates goes on to reveal only the fact that he is not very hungry: “I’ve really got no appetite for meat to-day. I’ll have some figs, if you don’t mind.” (179) And Xantippe immediately responds:

X: “I suppose that’s the new fad, not to eat meat. I assure you people talk quite enough about you as it is without your making yourself more peculiar. Only yesterday Chrysilla was talking about your clothes. She asked if you made them dirty on purpose. She said the spots on the back couldn’t have got there by accident. Every one notices it—every one says the same thing. Of course they think it’s my fault. No doubt it’s very amusing for people who don’t mind attracting attention and who like being notorious: but it is rather hard on me. And when I hear people saying ‘Poor Socrates! it is a shame that his wife looks after him so badly and doesn’t even mend his sandals‘–I admit I do feel rather hurt. However, that would never enter into your head. A philosopher hasn’t time to think of other people. I suppose unselfishness doesn’t form part of a sophist’s training, does it?

[SOCRATES says nothing, but eats first one fig and then another.]

X: “I think you might at least answer when spoken to. I am far from expecting you to treat me with consideration or respect; but I do expect ordinary civility.”

[SOCRATES goes on eating figs in silence.]

X: “Oh, I see, you’re going to sulk. First you browbeat, then you’re satirical. Then you sneer at the food, and then you sulk.” (179—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

Baring’s presentation now moves on to the specific discussion of food, but only after Socrates shows no larger response to his wife’s more capacious comments. The only reply Socrates chooses to make to her is somewhat impersonal, as well as brief: “I never said a word against the food.” (180—my emphasis added) Nor does Socrates ever thank her for being a good cook who tries to please him!

We may now imagine the different emphases and tones of voice that might be fittingly expressed by the actors in this continuing and somewhat one-sidedly animated dialogue, if this deftly written little domestic drama were also to be performed on stage. Xantippe now resumes (with a touch of irony) her own more loquacious and more differentiated response to her terse husband:

X: “You never said a word against the food. You only kept me waiting nearly half an hour for dinner—not that that was anything new—I’m sure I ought to be used to that by now—and you only refused to look at the dish which I had taken pains to cook with my own hands for you.”

S: “All I said was I wasn’t hungry—that I had no appetite for meat.”

X: “You’ve eaten all the figs. You’ve got quite an appetite for those.”

S: “That’s different.”

X: “Oh, that’s different, is it? One can be hungry enough to eat all the fruit there is in the house, which I was especially keeping for this evening, but not hungry enough to touch a piece of meat. I suppose that’s algebra.”

S: “You know I very rarely eat meat.”

X: “Really? I hadn’t noticed it. I always hear of your eating meat in other people’s houses; but my poor cooking is not good enough for you. I’m sorry, but I can’t afford those spicy messy dishes. If I had a husband who had a real profession, and worked, and did something useful to earn his living and support his house and home, it would be different; only I think the least you could do is not to sneer at one when one is only trying to do one’s best.” (180—my emphasis added)

To this cascade of words and spousal reproaches Socrates only says: “I very rarely eat meat anywhere now.” Perceiving this rarity of meat to be a nutritional deficiency in her husband, Xantippe finds new grounds for her sharp solicitousness:

X: “That’s why you’re looking so ill. All the doctors say it’s a mistake. Some people can do without meat. They don’t need it—but a man who works with his brain like you ought to eat nourishing food. You ought to force yourself to eat meat, even if you don’t feel inclined to.”

S: “I thought you said just now that I did nothing.”

X: “There you are, cross-examining me like a lawyer, and tripping me up. I’ve no doubt it’s very amusing for a professional philosopher to catch out a poor ignorant woman like me. It’s a pity your audience isn’t here. They would enjoy it. However, I’m afraid I’m not impressed. You can twist my words into anything you like. You can prove I meant black when I said white, but you know perfectly well what I mean. You know as well as I do that your eccentricity has made you thoroughly unpopular. And what I say is, it’s just these little things that matter. Now put all that nonsense away and have some goat.”

S: “No, thank you. I really can’t.”

X: “It’s excellent goat, and there’s some garlic in the sauce. I hate garlic, and it’s there on purpose for you—

S: “Oh!”….

X: “I suppose you had dinner before you came here [i.e. came home], or you’re going to have dinner somewhere else presently.”

S: “I haven’t touched food since I left the house.”

X: “Then it’s quite ridiculous your not eating [even if it were, perhaps, on the threshold of death?]. Let me give you some goat at once.”

S: “I couldn’t, really. Besides, I must go in a minute.” (180-182—my emphasis added)

As we approach the end of Maurice Baring’s diminutive dramatic depiction, we must also consider now the implicit presence of dramatic irony and pathos. For, without Xantippe’s adequate knowledge, Socrates may actually be preparing to leave home in order to face his stern Athenian accusers and, perhaps, never to come home again. Let us therefore consider some of Baring’s sudden hints, or subtle clues.

S: “…Besides, I must go in a minute.”

X: “There! I knew it! You’re going out to dinner.”

S: “You’re mistaken, Xantippe.”

X: “You’d far better tell me the truth at once. I’m quite certain to find it out sooner or later. You can’t think how foolish it is to tell lies and then to be found out afterwards. You can’t think how much a woman despises a man for that—you couldn’t do anything more foolish.”

S: “I promise you by all the gods that I’m not going to dine elsewhere. [A true fact; but what of import are you not telling your wife?!]

X: “I suppose you don’t expect me to fall into that trap! Swearing by all the gods, when every one in Athens knows you are a professed atheist—when you do nothing but mock the gods from morning to nightand, what’s far worse, make other people mock them too; when I scarcely like to have a slave [a possible informant or spy!] in the house because of your impiety—and your blasphemy.” (182—my emphasis added)

Maurice Baring, in this last passage, deftly has Xantippe herself make many of the same charges that are later made by Socrates’ own three accusers, who then successfully condemn him to death.

Moreover, immediately after Xantippe’s grave and bulging charges against her husband, Socrates, in an understated way, merely says to her: “I really think you are rather unfair, Xantippe. You will be sorry for this some day.” (182—my emphasis added)

X: “Then may I ask where you are going?”

S: “I’ve got an important engagement.”

X: “And with whom?”

S: “I would rather not say, for your sake.”

X: “That’s very clever and ingenious to put it on me. But I’m tired of being bullied. Even a worm will turn, and I demand to be treated just for once like a human being, and with the minimum of courtesy and frankness. I don’t ask for your confidence [trust], I know that would be useless. But I do ask to be treated with a grain of straightforwardness and honesty. I insist upon it. I have borne your sneers, your sarcasm, and your sulkiness, your irritability, your withering silence, quite long enough. I will not put up with it any longer.” (182-183—my emphasis added)

After this scorching and humiliating indictment of Socrates’ character and the very conduct of his domestic life with her (without even mentioning their three sons), Socrates decides to open up to her a little:

S: “Very well. Since you will have it, I have been impeached by Lycon, Meletus, and Anytus [Socrates’ three primary Athenian accusers] on some ridiculous [sic] charge, the result of which, however, may be extremely serious—in fact it may be a matter of life and death—and I am obliged to appear before them at once.”

X: “Oh dear, oh dear! I always said so. I knew it would come to this! This is what comes of not eating meat like a decent citizen!” [Xantippe bursts into tears.] —Curtain.—The End (183—my emphasis added)

Socrates was then to face his stern accusers at the public trial in 399 B.C., and he defended himself at some length, but in a not very conciliatory way. He was thus finally condemned to death, and, after thirty days, he drank the hemlock.

After now knowing of, and even having read large portions of, this charming diminutive drama by Maurice Baring, we might also come especially to appreciate and savor a magnificent student “blooper” on an academic test concerning Socrates: “Socrates died of an overdose of wedlock.”

Maurice Baring would have cherished this “blooper,” and I like to think that he might even have composed it himself when he was an antic young student. For, even then, he was known for his magnanimous parodies. He also had a keen sense of pathos (as in the case of Xantippe), and it is to be especially seen in his ennobling elegiac verses and in most of his later heart-searching novels.

CODA

Since Maurice Baring especially admired (and desired to imitate) the moral character and chivalrous standards of the French General Éduard de Castelnau (1851-1944), I propose to end this essay with Baring’s own slightly expanded presentation of that great and deeply admired man, part of which has already been revealed in our Epigraphs above, at the beginning of this essay; but it is worthy of our now repeating Baring’s memorable articulation of those inspiring interwoven qualities:

May 26, 1918….Headquarters, 8th Brigade [in France]….

We [General Trenchard and I] saw General de Castlenau [sic–Castelnau] too, who is charming….Our unique and undefined position [in France] depended, as far as practical results were concerned, entirely on the goodwill of the French. Luckily this goodwill was given to us in an overflowing measure by General de Castelnau, the commander of the Group of Armies of the East. He and the General [Trenchard, for whom Major Baring was the beloved and trusted Aide-de-Camp] understood each other at once after their first conversation.

General de Castelnau’s name and exploits need no comment [at least not in 1918 Europe]. They will be written, and are already written in gold, in the history of France, and in the Gesta Dei per Francos [the Epic High Deeds of God as Enacted by and through the Franks], as the victor of the Grand Couronné and the restorer of the situation at Verdun. But it is perhaps permissible to say a word or two about his personality.

He seemed to belong to a nobler epoch than ours, to be a native of the age of chivalry, of that time when Louis IX [of France], who is known as Saint Louis, dispensed justice under a spreading oak-tree. He has the easy familiarity, the slight play of kindly irony [like Baring with his depiction of Xantippe and Socrates!], the little ripple of humour, the keen glance, the foresight and forethought, that politesse du cœur, that complete remoteness from what is common, mean, base, self-seeking, which are the foundation and substance of God’s gentlemen. His white hair, his keen eyes, his features, which looked as if they had been cut by a master-hand out of a fine block of granite, radiated goodness and courage and cheerfulness, a salt-like sense, and a twinkling humour. And his smile went straight to your heart, and made you feel at home, comfortable, easy and happy. When one had luncheon with him and the orderly said luncheon was ready he used to say:

“A cheval, Messieurs [To Horse, Gentlemen!],

and throughout his conversation there was always a rippling current of good-humoured, delicate and keen chaff [reminding one of Maurice Baring’s “Xantippe and Socrates”]. To hear him talk was like reading, was to breathe the atmosphere in which classic French was born, racy, natural, idiomatic, and utterly free from anything shoddy, artificial or pretentious. He was the salt of the earth, and one felt that if [Edmund] Burke had met him he would have torn up his dirge of the death of the Age of Chivalry [to be found in Burke’s classic 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in France], for there [in May of 1918] it [the chivalry] was alive and enjoying life and making others enjoy it. (Maurice Baring, R.F.C., H.Q.—1914-1918 (1920), pages 272-274—my emphasis added)

Is it not desirable that we too try to hold ourselves to the chivalrous standards of General de Castelnau?

May we too–like the generous and magnanimous Maurice Baring himself in his own discerningly compassionate (and comic) depiction of Xantippe (and her laconic husband)—show ourselves to be “one of God’s gentlemen.” Fittingly, we should thus recall how “a little boy of eight years old” himself memorably defined a gentleman: “A gentleman is a man who loves God very much and has beautiful manners.”

Recognizing that courtesy itself is a form of charity, Baring’s beloved friend Hilaire Belloc even wrote in one of his short poems entitled “Courtesy” that “the Grace of God is in Courtesy.”

Maurice Baring’s own deep politesse du cœur was so admirably able to encounter and depict with chivalrous compassion—and with “a ripple of good humour”—the challenges of those increasingly isolated and poignantly elegiac characters: voluble Xantippe and her tersely Philosophizing Husband.

–FINIS–

© 2017 Robert D. Hickson

1Maurice Baring, Diminutive Dramas (London: William Heinemann LTD., 1925), 183 pages. The last of the twenty-three dramatic sketches is entitled “Xantippe and Socrates” (Chapter XXIII, pp. 177-183). Although the book was originally published in late December 1910-early January 1911, it was published again in 1919, and then once again in 1925, by W. Heinemann, as part of “The Works of MAURICE BARING: Collected Uniform Edition.” All further references will be to that 1925 edition of Diminutive Dramas, and the pages quoted will be placed in parentheses above in the main text. In this context, Baring’s Dead Letters—a charming 1910 set of parodies—should also be savored, especially two of them: “From the Mycenae Papers” and “Lady Macbeth’s Trouble.” Maurice Baring, Dead Letters (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company 1925), pp.1-7 and 95-99. See too Paul Horgan, Maurice Baring Restored: Selections from His Work (1970).