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).

Max Beerbohm’s Charming 1950 Parody on Maurice Baring: “All Roads—” As a Christmas Garland Woven for His Gifted Friend

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                             14 August 2020

The Vigil of the Assumption of Mary

Saint Eusebius (d. 357)

Saint Maximilian Kolbe (d. 1941)

Epigraphs

“Publisher’s 1950 Note: A Christmas Garland was, when it was first published [in 1912], acclaimed by many writers as the best book of prose parodies in the English language. We venture to think that it still holds this pride of place. A parody on a certain M**R*C* B*R*NG [Maurice Baring] is now included.” (London: William Heinemann, 1950)

***

“Despite the last sentence in the foregoing [Rapallo, 1912] note, I did, in recent years, write one other parody, ‘All Roads–‘. It amused and pleased my old friend, the brilliant, the greatly gifted Maurice Baring. Had he not liked it [Baring was to die on 14 December 1945], I would not include it in this later [1950] edition.” (Max Beerbohm’s own 1949 Rapallo Postscript to the 1950 Heinemann London edition—my emphasis added.)

***

Maurice Baring [d. 1945] had already variously presented his own subtle and multiple talents in writing charming parodies, and it may be seen even in his set of what he called “diminutive dramas.” One may see it, for example, in the deft ironic domestic discourse between an earnest, sometimes shrewish, wife and her meditative, ironical philosopher husband, such as Socrates. That little drama is to be found (and to be read aloud and likely further cherished) in the drama of “Xantippe and Socrates” which is still to be highly recommended to everyone. One may see its subtle presentation in the final chapter of a larger collection in Baring’s 1925 versatile book, entitled Diminutive Dramas (London: William Heinemann LTD., 1925—in Chapter XXIII, on pages 177-183, will be found that timely and timeless little gem, “Xantippe and Socrates.”)

***

As a literary gift to his friend Maurice Baring, Max Beerbohm decided to tell a tale about a young man in the British diplomatic service in Rome who, with the help of a haunting young woman he never spoke to, overcame his longstanding displeasure with Christmas. He was then never to see her again.

Here is how Beerbohm’s narrator, partly aware of Baring’s earlier biography, begins his tale:

Michael Forster reached Rome in the first week of December and drove straight to the Embassy. Every one there was very kind to him. It was rather like being a new boy at a public school and not being bullied. All the same, he could not help wishing himself back at Copenhagen, or at Berne, where he had felt life-sized. Rome dwarfed him. She seemed to say to him, “If you want monuments, look around you! You will know that though you are twenty-five years old you are nobody—and never will be anybody though you live to be a hundred.” But at any rate he was not dreading the advent of Christmas.

Year after year, he had dreaded it ever since his childhood.1

Beerbohm’s hyphenated title, “All Roads–”, may well evoke the saying that “All Roads Lead to Rome”—and maybe also implicitly to the Catholic Faith. However, Beerbohm is more enigmatic when, right under the parody’s title is a chapter heading, namely “Chapter V.” as if there are earlier parts of the prose parody, as well as later ones, too. But let us pass on now to some other and more vivid matters.

After describing an ambiguous (partly unhistorical) set of incidents with Michael’s specially cherished German governess, “Fräulein Schultz” (57, 58), “and though he forgot all about her soon after she went to be a governess somewhere else, he never lost his dislike of Christmas.” (58—my emphasis added)

Nonetheless, “he was glad to be transferred to Rome” (58), but it was:

Not that he had yet felt any definite wavering in regard to the Church in which he had been baptised and confirmed. He was still a Protestant. But he had long since ceased to protest day in, day out, and the prospect of seeing a Christmas passed over lightly was one of the things that cheered him on his journey south….and it was a blow to him when one day Sainson, the Second Secretary, said, “Of course, the Chief will be giving the usual beano [noisy, festive] dinner on Christmas night.” (58—my emphasis added)

“Michael, at this news,” realized that he lacked a born and “real vocation for diplomacy, but he did manage to think out a plausible excuse, and on Christmas night, after he had dressed, he slipped out and dined in an obscure little restaurant in the Via Golfango.” (58—italics in the original)

A new character now comes into the tale, “a friend of his family,” the one who had recommended to him the little restaurant and he will now introduce him to a remarkable woman in her seventies:

When he [Michael] was half-through his meal [Pierre] Frénard himself came in and joined him at his table. Later, while they sat over their coffee, Frénard said he thought of going on to Mme. Yakovlev’s [still on that Christmas night].

Michael asked, “Who is Mme. Yakovlev?”

Frénard laughed and said, “Oh, she’s one of those women who know everybody. Fancy anyone not knowing her. You had better come with me. This is one of her Soirs. She has two a week….”

“Tell me about her,”said Michael.

“There’s not much to tell,” answered Frénard….“Her father was very poor, an Irish landowner, living mostly at home in a tumble-down castle, but sometimes travelling. From one of his journeys he brought back a bride—a young Turkish lady, a niece of Mustapha Pasha. There was one child of the marriage, a daughter; she was christened Clara. Both parents died when she [Clara] was twelve years old. She was then brought up by an aunt in Scotland. The aunt had been a devout Catholic, but there was some kink in her, and she was now a Presbyterian. The girl was not at all happy with her. She ran away when she was sixteen [four years later] and became a postulant in an Ursuline Convent near Glasgow. But she found she had no real vocation.” (59-60—my emphasis added)

After the narrator presents a wide range and variety of her mixed international life (60), we are then told that “Sergius Yakovlev, her third husband, was a trusted adviser of [Tsar] Alexander the Third….She and he [Sergius] are said to have been quite happy while he lived. Anyhow, she never married again. She settled in Rome….She was seventy-three last June. She knows a great deal but seldom says very much. What she says has point.” (60—my emphasis added)

Later at Mme. Yakovlev’s salone, “Michael was piloted by Frénard to Mme. Yakovlev and presented to her. Somehow he had expected her to be tall, but she was quite short.” (61) She asked him a question about a certain “Septimus Forster whom she had known in Algiers” (61), but:

Before he could think of an answer, he had to make way for another fresh arrival. He felt that he had not made a good impression. But afterwards Frénard told him that Mme. Yakovlev had liked him very much. (61-62)

Michael was now suddenly to glimpse the haunting young woman who was to influence him so greatly:

In one of the groups [of “fresh arrivals”] nearest to him he saw a young woman whose face was familiar to him, though he was sure he had never seen her before, and though she was unlike any one he had ever seen….She seemed utterly remote from the group she stood in….How was she here? How could she be? That she was a musician, and an exquisite one, Michael was sure. Her eyes and her hands proclaimed that. (62)

As part of Beerbohm’s deft artfulness, our minds are then presented with a contrasting human form, the robust Jorton himself, another family relation and indeed another “fresh arrival”:

While Michael gazed and wondered, the vast bulk of Professor Jorton suddenly interposed itself between him and the unknown [young woman], and he was affectionately hailed in the booming voice of the famous Alpine climber and Egyptologist, who was an old friend of the [Michael Forster] family and one of his Godfathers. That Jorton should be here was natural enough, for in spite of all his peaks and papyri he was the most social of men, and no capital city was complete without him. Michael felt sure he could learn from Jorton something about the identity of the young woman. (62-63—my emphasis added)

Now we are to hear a part of Professor Jorton’s biographical report on young Eleanor d’Urutsia:

“I don’t wonder that you’re struck by her. Eleanor d’Urutsias don’t grow on every bush….She married out of the schoolroom, as it were. She was only sixteen when young Fernand d’Urutsia came over to London….He was quite poor, and so was she, but they were ideally happy. He died on the first anniversary of their wedding, at Qualva, a fishing-village near Biarritz. It was feared that she would lose her reason. But she is ‘of the stuff that can affront despair.’ She withdrew into solitude for three years—no one knows where. Probably in some conventual [religious] institution, for she became passionately dévote when she was received into the Roman communion. She is now twenty years old….She is very musical. She used to sing charmingly. She plays her own accompaniments. I hope she will sing to-night. Shall I present you to her?

Ah, not to-night,” said Michael. “Not here in this crush.” (63—my emphasis added)

But Michael Forster could not keep his eyes off her, and he began to have some affectionate illusions: “With his eyes fixed on her again, he knew in his heart that somehow, mysteriously, not yet, but not a long while hence, his life would be linked with hers.” (64—my emphasis added)

How will Max Beerbohm now deftly, and even elegiacally, present the three concluding paragraphs of his tale, while keeping in mind the large corpus of Maurice Baring’s prose and verse?

After speaking with some of the new arrivals, Michael became more at ease as he spoke to an international set of expressive visitors:

Then he was aware that something was happening. There was movement in the group around Mme. [Eleanor] d’Urutsia, and a murmur of excitement throughout the room, and then a deep hush, as she passed slowly to the pianoforte.

Michael had known that if she sang it would be unlike any singing that he had heard. But he had not known how utterly unlike it would be. The song itself [touching upon the Nativity] was one he had often heard, and had not cared for—Weber’s setting of Bérenger’s “Noel.” She transported it into some sphere of unconjectured beauty in which one could only hold one’s breath, and marvel as best one might. (64—my emphasis added)

The last paragraph of the nuanced prose parody is well worth our repeated savoring and our poignant ironical reflections which distil some of Maurice Baring’s own deeply elegiac themes and also his noble perceptions of human sorrows:

The [musical] notes came and went without melancholy as one knows it, without gaity as one could recognise it, but with an ethereal mingling of both these moods. And they seemed to come not from in the room. One seemed to hear them wafted from a great distance, across the waters of a great lake. This made Michael all the more certain in his heart that his future was indissolubly one with the future of Eleanor d’Urutsia. As it happened, he never saw her again. But she had entirely conquered his dislike of Christmas. He was destined to love it ever after. (65—my emphasis added)

CODA

In his own 1935 novel Darby and Joan, Maurice Baring has memorably said, first through the words of a Catholic priest, that “the acceptance of sorrow is the secret of life.” (Our Lady must have deeply known that intimate wisdom– also at that first Christmas.)

Let us consider what Maurice Baring himself wrote in 1935, in Darby and Joan:2

“One has to accept sorrow for it to be of any healing power, and that is the most difficult thing in the world.”

“I didn’t think about it in that way. I don’t think I rebelled against it, because I thought my father was happier dead and at peace, than alive and in pain; but I was just stunned. Apart from that, I have not experienced real sorrow; only disappointment and disillusion.”

“A priest once said to me, ‘When you understand what accepted sorrow means, you will understand everything. It is the secret of life.’”

For our sake now at the end of Max Beerbohm’s warm, often comic, partly exaggerated parody of a friend’s writing and literary style, we may now appreciate, a little, what comes from Maurice Baring’s own sincere heart and its depth.

Such are also the graceful and subtly allusive developments in Max Beerbohm’s interwoven 1950 Christmas Garland, especially his artful parody, “All Roads–” by M**R*CE B*R*NG.

–FINIS–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Max Beerhohm, “All Roads–”, one of eighteen portraits in A Christmas Garland (London: William Heinemann, 1950), page 57—my emphasis added. Henceforth, all references will be to this text of “All Roads–” and placed above in parentheses in the main body of this brief essay and commentary. Moreover, G.K. Chesterton has a parodic portrait entitled “Some Damnable Errors about Christmas” starting on page 47; and Hilaire Belloc is also parodied by Beerbohm in a portrait merely entitled “On Christmas”–by “H*l**r* B*ll*c starting on page 147. Baring, Belloc, and Chesterton are together once again!

2Maurice Baring, Darby and Joan (London: William Heinemann, 1935), page 178—italics are in the original.

H. Belloc’s 1910 Sense of “Sacramental Things”: The Revival of the Past as a Vivid and Abiding Presence

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                  29 June 2020

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (d. 67 AD)

Hilaire Belloc’s Final Arrival Afoot in Rome (1901)

Epigraphs

“But whatever prompts the adventure [in the night] or the necessity, when the long burden [of the night] has been borne,…while all the air, still cold, is full of the scent of morning;…when in the end of that miracle the landscape is fully revealed,…then the great hill before one,…towering at last into the peaks and crests of the inaccessible places, gives a soul to the new [newly revealed] land….The sun, in a single moment and with the immediate summons of a bugle-call, strikes the spear-head of the high places [as in the Alps!], and at once the valley…is transfigured, and with the daylight all manner of things have come back into the world….

Livelihood is come back with the sunlight, and the fixed certitudes of the soul; number, and measure and comprehension have returned, and a just appreciation of all reality is the gift of the new day. Glory (which, if men would only know it, lies behind all true certitude) illuminates and enlivens the seen world, and the living light makes of the true things now revealed something more than truth absolute; they [these very providential things] appear as truth acting and creating.” (Hilaire Belloc, “On Sacramental Things,” from his 1910 anthology, On Something, pages 260-261—my emphasis added.)

***

“And there lies behind it [i.e., “the first shaft of the sun”], one is very sure, an infinite progress of such exaltations [after “the long night” (265)], so that one begins to understand…what has been meant by those great phrases which still lead on, still comfort, and still make darkly wise, the uncomforted wondering of mankind. Such is the famous phrase: ‘Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor can it enter into the heart of man what things God has prepared for those who serve Him.’” (Hilaire Belloc, “On Sacramental Things,” in On Something, pages 261-262—my emphasis added)

***

“To consider such things is a sacramental occupation. And yet the more I think of them the less I can quite understand in what elements their power consists….There is a resurrection, and we are refreshed and renewed. But why all these things are so neither I nor any other man can tell.” Hilaire Belloc, “On Sacramental Things,” page 257 and 265—my emphasis added)

***

While still an adventurous young man in his thirties, Hilaire Belloc wrote a moving and grateful short essay on the mediation and mystery of “sacramental things.” His vivid perceptions of the manifold world of the senses so often led him to deeper and abiding contemplative insights and sustaining nourishments.

For example, here is how, with examples, Belloc begins his grateful essay “On Sacramental Things”1:

It is good for a man’s soul to sit down in the silence by himself and to think of those things which happen by some accident to be in communion with the world….They will comfort him; they will prove a sort of solace against the expectation of the end….

A woman smiling at a little child, not knowing that others saw her, and holding out her hands towards it, and in one of her hands flowers; an old man, lean and active, with an eager face, walking at dusk upon a warm and windy evening westward towards a clear sunset below dark and flying clouds;….a deep, strong tide running back to the sea, going noiselessly and flat and black and smooth, and heavy with purpose under an old wall; the sea smell of a Channel [an English Channel] seaport town; a ship [under sail] coming up at one out of the whole sea when one is in a little boat and is waiting for her, coming up at one with her great sails merry and every one doing its work, with the life of the wind in her, and a balance, rhythm, and [a] give in all that she does which marries her to the sea….(257-258—my emphasis added)

Belloc then decides to add some technical sailing details and, with it, some implied history:

Whether it [the arriving sailboat] be a fore and aft rig and one sees only great lines of the white, or a square rig and one sees what is commonly and well called a leaning tower of canvas, or that primal rig, the triangular sail [the lugsail], that cuts through the airs of the world and clove a way for the first adventurers, whatever its rig, a ship so approaching an awaiting [small] boat from which we watch her is one of the [sacramental] things I mean.

I would that the taste of my time [around 1910 and just before world War I] permitted a lengthy list of such things: they are pleasant to remember! They do so nourish the mind! (258—my emphasis added)

Among others of Belloc’s more intimately and allusive wishes to have now openly recalled, he includes now some of his special, personal combinations, namely:

A glance of sudden comprehension mixed with mercy and humour from the face of a lover or a friend;…[also a] chief and most persistent memory, a great hill when [as on his 1901 long foot-path to Rome] the morning strikes it and one sees it up before one round the turning of a rock after the long [mountain] passes and despairs of the night.

When a man has journeyed and journeyed through those hours in which there is no colour or shape,…and when, therefore, the waking soul is bewildered or despairs, the morning is always a resurrection—but especially when it [the morning] reveals a height in the sky.

This last picture I would particularly cherish, so great a consolation is it, and so permanent a grace does it lend later to the burdened mind of man. (258-259—my emphasis added)

After his additional descriptions of, for example, “so many rivers crossed, and more than one of them forded in peril” (259), Belloc also acknowledges more broadly the fuller proportions and accents of human communion:

So much, then, is conveyed by a hill-top at sunrise when it comes upon the traveller or the soldier after the long march of a night, the bending of the shoulders [with a heavy rucksack], and the emptiness of the dark.

Many other things put one into communion with the whole world….

Apart from landscape other things belong to this contemplation [of sacramental things]: Notes of music, and, stronger even than repeated and simple notes of music, a subtle scent and its association, a familiar printed page [verse or prose]. Perhaps the test of these sacramental things is their power to revive the past [to include the sacred, inasmuch as Belloc had also just candidly spoken of “the Faith, the chief problem of this world.” (263—emphasis added)].

There is [for example also] a story translated into the noblest of English writing by Dasent [Sir George Webbe Dasent, circa 1860]. It is to be found in his Tales from the Norse. It is called “The Story of the Master Maid.” (263—my emphasis added, to include those additional emphases placed inside the subordinate, clarifying brackets.)

It is now fitting, I believe, to present Hilaire Belloc’s entire eloquent summary of this poignant Norse tale of loyalty and deep love and the final fruits of a sincere vow, once forgotten and broken, but touchingly later restored:

A man had found in his youth a woman on the Norwegian hills: this woman was faëry, and there was a spell upon her. But he won her out of it in various ways, and they crossed the sea together, and he would bring her to his father’s house, but his father was a King. As they went over-sea together alone, he said and swore to her that he would never forget how they had met and loved each other without warning, but by an act of God, upon the Dovrefjeld. Come near his father’s house, the ordinary influences of the ordinary day touched him; he bade her enter a hut and wait a moment until he had warned his father of so strange a marriage; she, however, gazing into his eyes, and knowing how the divine may be transformed into the earthly, quite as surely as the earthly into the divine, makes him promise that he will not eat human food. He sits at his father’s table, still steeped in her and the seas. He forgets his vow2 and eats human food, and at once he forgets [his vow].

Then follows much for which I have no space, but the woman in the hut by her magic causes herself to be at last sent for to the father’s palace. The young man sees her, and is only slightly troubled as by a memory which he cannot grasp. They talk together as strangers; but looking out of the window by accident the King’s son sees a bird and its mate; he points them out to the woman, and she says suddenly: “So was it with you and me high up upon the Dovrefjeld.” Then he remembers all. (264-265—my emphasis added)

After contemplating Belloc’s deftly crafted and heart-piercing well-told-tale, we are more fully prepared for his immediately final summary paragraph on the Mediation and Mystery of Sacramental Things—perhaps even as “External Channels of Grace” as Father John A. Hardon, S.J. (d. 30 December 2000) would often solemnly say to us. Analogously, Hilaire Belloc here humbly says:

Now that [Norse] story is a symbol, and tells the truth. We see some one thing in this world, and suddenly it becomes particular and sacramental; a woman and a child, a man at evening, a troop of soldiers; we hear notes of music, we smell the smell that went with a passed time, or we discover after the long night a shaft of light upon the tops of the hills at morning: there is a resurrection, and we are refreshed and renewed.

But why all these things are so neither I nor any other man can tell. (265—my emphasis added)

The Mystery abides. Yet we also remember the words “Sapientis Ordinare”—it is characteristic of a wise man to give order to things—perhaps even unto the “sacramental things.’

With his own special gifts, and as our guide, Saint Thomas Aquinas always strove to remain proportionally attentive to both Ordo et Mysterium. He humbly believed and trusted that reality as such is knowable and intelligible, and yet unfathomable.

–FINIS–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, “On Sacramental Things,” (pages 257-265 in full), the essay being from Belloc’s own 1910 anthology, entitled On Something (London: Methuen & Co. LTD, 1910). The first passage of citation above is from pages 257-258—my emphasis added. All further citations to the Belloc essay will also be placed above in parentheses in the main body of this short essay and brief commentary.

2 Hilaire Belloc’s intimate friend, G.K. Chesterton, wrote his own profound chapter VII, entitled “The Story of the Vow,” and it is especially worthy of a savouring and close reading. It is a chapter (chapter seven) in Chesterton’s own 1920 book, The Superstition of Divorce.

“Easter” and “Spring”: Two Poems by Isabella Maria Hickson

Note: During this time of lockdown, our 12-year-old daughter Isabella has had the inspiration to write two lovely poems, inspired by the joy of Easter and of Spring. We thought they might delight the hearts of our readers and inspire them with the love of Christ and of God’s Creation. Still in this Easter Season, we hope you enjoy them.

 

Easter

Easter is a joy-full tide

When Christ Himself to Heaven He rides

On that happy morn

Our Lord was not born

But rose from the dead

To give us His Eternal Bread

With His Death He opened the Gates of Heaven

So that we also may reach Heaven

And drink Eternal Life

So we may no longer have strife

And our souls not to soil

Also no longer to toil

So on this happy morn

All our sorrow is gone

Let us be joyful

And make us for Him delightful

Also to Him our love to bring

And His glory to sing

Spring

The mild spring, the season most beautiful

Is a season who feels dutiful

To come every year

Or the world could not bear

Not to witness that season

For so many a reason

The mild weather

With the animals eating grass from their tether

The fresh blossoming trees

And the busy bees

The fresh young grass

That let the animals pass

I love the spring

And all the joys it brings

This is my favorite season

For many a reason

Insights on the Philosophical Mixture of Truth and Error: Louis de Wohl’s 1950 Historical Novel The Quiet Light

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                    1 April 2020

Saint Hugh of Grenoble (d. 1132)

Saint Theodora (120 A.D.)

Blessed Karl of Austria (d. 1922)

Maike’s Nativity in Germany

Epigraphs

“The Jews of this period [12th-13th centuries] translated the writings of Aristotle and of the Arabian philosophers into Hebrew, and these, retranslated into Latin, afforded the scholastics an opportunity for becoming acquainted with Greek thought. The most famous of the scholastics, ‘men like Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas, studied the works of Aristotle in Latin versions made from the Hebrew’ [S. Munk]….At a time when the Hohenstaufen defended the cause of science against dogma, and showed themselves the protectors of Epicureanism, the Jews occupied the first place among scholars and rationalist philosophers. At the Court of the Emperor Frederick II, ‘that hotbed of irreligion,’ they were received with favour and respect. It was they, as [Ernest] Renan has shown, that created Averroism [Earnest Renan—and hence at least implicitly the subversive doctrine of ‘the double truth’ of philosophy and religion, or of faith and reason, as in Siger of Brabant]. (Bernard Lazare (1865-1903), Antisemitism: Its History and Causes (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995—originally published in 1894, in French; and later published in London in English, in 1967, of which the 1995 edition of the main text is a reprint), see page 150—Chapter Thirteen—“The Jew as a Factor in the Transformation of Society”)—my emphasis added)

***

“’Then let me ask you, my son [said the Dominican Albert the Great to his student Thomas Aquinas]: Which is the most important rational faculty of man?

The faculty to discern the truth.’ The answer [of Thomas] came at once.

‘There are those who think man is unable to discern truth….What is it that makes an error so often credible?

The amount of truth its contains in proportion to the untruth.’ ….

Aye,‘ said Albert..’truth and error mixed…that is the danger. That is the danger we are confronted with.‘” (Louis de Wohl, The Quiet Light: A Novel about Saint Thomas Aquinas (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996—originally published in 1950), pages 205-206—my emphasis added)

***

While recently reading aloud to my family another historical novel by Louis de Wohl—one first published in 1950 and entitled The Quiet Light: A Novel about Saint Thomas Aquinas1—I was especially touched by a timely and timeless conversation in Chapter X between Master Albertus Magnus and his gifted and abidingly modest student, Friar Thomas Aquinas. Therefore I have considered selectively presenting now again for the reader what had been so farsightedly depicted and politely conducted at the Dominican convent in Cologne, Germany during the mid-thirteenth century.

Master Albert (the future Saint Albert the Great), while visiting Thomas’ small cell, started their gradually deepening discourse with a searching question: “Which is the most important rational faculty in man?” (205)

After hearing Thomas’ prompt reply (“The faculty to discern the truth” (206)), Albert continues their ongoing exchange of insights, where they soon come to detect some self-refuting propositions, as it were:

“There are those who think that man is unable to discern the truth.”

“They are to be refuted [said Thomas] by the fact that they cannot make such a postulate without contradicting their own hypothesis. If man cannot discern truth, then they cannot state as true that man is unable to discern the truth.”

“Besides, we would never be able to recognize an error as an error,” said Albert, “though at times it can be difficult to recognize it. What is it that makes an error so often credible?”

“The amount of truth it contains in proportion to untruth.” (206)

While Thomas remained serene, Albert proceeded to surprise him, but only after he had reinforced Thomas’ earlier comment in slightly different words:

“Aye,” said Albert, nodding his heavy head, “truth and untruth mixed…that is the danger. That is the danger we are confronted with. That is what threatens to overcome the world, smash all our new [Gothic] cathedrals, and drive the Faith back into the catacombs. Unless…we liberate the giant.”

“Liberate the giant, my Father?” (206)

We again see Thomas’ sincerity and modesty as he proceeds to learn more about the giant.

Magister Albert, O.P. now further reveals his meaning concerning this formidable giant:

“None of those alive in the flesh…not even [Emperor] Frederick the Second, however powerful he may appear [just before 1250] to those whom he is crushing at the moment. He is roaring up and down Italy like a mad beast, seeking whom he can devour. But he and his little wars will be forgotten soon enough….except by those whose kith and kin have lost their lives through his cruelty. I hope this does not concern you, my son? Your family is still in Italy, as far as I know….

“I did not mean Frederick, the soon forgotten. I did not mean Louis of France either [i.e., the reigning King (Saint) Louis IX], though he will not be forgotten. My giant is not flesh and blood, though he was that, once. And those who lured him out of limbo are not flesh and blood either, though once they were, too.” [He was thinking about both Aristotle and his later Moslem interpreter, Averroes, as well as the derivative and subversive phenomenon of “Averroism.”].

Thomas waited, patiently.

“I’ll tell you a fairy tale, my son,” said Albert grimly. (207—the emphatic italics are in the original; my bold emphasis added)

Albert then gave Thomas a compact history of the rise and progress and gradual strategic encirclement of Islam (207-208), ending his summary introduction with these words:

“But still today [circa 1250] the green banner of the prophet Mohammed is raised over Spain, as it is at the very doors of the city of the great Constantine [Constantinople, to be finally conquered in 1453]. The emblem of the new religion is the crescent…and, shaped like an immense crescent, the Mohammedan lands are encircling Christendom, ready to strike at any moment. And some time ago [first in the 12th century], a new danger arose.”

“Now,” thought Thomas. He knew the story of Islam, of course. And he sensed at least some of what was coming. But he knew also that the Master was not telling him this “fairy tale” without good reason.

“The crude faith of Moors and Saracens,” went on Albert, “could never be a spiritual danger for Christendom. But then came the new danger. First Al Kindi in the ninth, then Al-Farabi in the tenth, and Avicenna in the eleventh century of Our Lord began to invoke the shadow of a giant who had died three centuries before Our Lord walked on earth. There was, at the time, no idea of claiming Aristotle as a forerunner of Islam. Al Kindi, Al-Farabi, and Avicenna wanted to know. Nevertheless, under their magic touch the giant [Aristotle] began to change, to be transformed….Then, just about a hundred years ago [in the 12th century], Averroes made his appearance….With Averroes…the birth of Mohammedan philosophy was completed. It was not an original philosophy. It was, to put it bluntly, a garbled and orientalized Aristotelian philosophy.” (207-208— emphasis added)

Still approaching his special and nuanced meaning and proposal—and his hoped-for mission with Friar Thomas, as well—Albertus Magnus repeats himself, nonetheless, for an important emphasis:

“But…but it was a philosophy. And it contained enough Aristotelian truth to carry oriental errors right into the heart and intellect of Christendom. At last, at long last, Islam [now] had a weapon against the Christian Faith, a weapon of such sharpness that it drove our own [Christian] philosophers [such as Siger of Brabant (see page 313—Chapter XVI)] to the terrible admission that there must be two truths …that of revealed faith and that of philosophy [namely, the claim that there is a truth of reason; and an incommensurate, parallel, and often contradictory truth of faith—along with its purported prior revelation!]. (208-209—my emphasis added)

It will be further helpful to our understanding of these grave claims and their implications (even today in the Catholic Church), if we now allow Albert to present with more detail his own fuller understanding of the enduring issues of moment, and his ardent encouragement to Thomas’ own further and fitting projects:

“And in the souls of intelligent Christians doubts are [thus] being raised for which theology has only the one answer: ‘Leave philosophy alone and stick to the faith.’ In other words: the Trojan horse is within our walls, and its name is the philosophy of Islam. What the vast armies of the camel driver could not do may be accomplished from within by the Trojan horse, by the spirit of the giant Aristotle, led by the spirit of Averroes. They say [Holy Roman Emperor] Frederick the Second is aping oriental customs in many ways, swearing by Mohammed and the Caaba, and making all things oriental [even Hebraic?] a fashion. It is a sorry sight. But it isn’t a tenth as dangerous as oriental [hence also Hebraic?] fogging our best ecclesiastical brains. And why is it that they are captivated by this thing? Because because the Averroist error is Aristotelian truth. Truth and untruth mixed…that is the danger. Unless…we liberate the giant.”

“We…” said Thomas incredulously. “We…?” (209—my emphasis added)

Albert promptly explicates to the modest Thomas the meaning of his “we”:

“You and I. I have cast about; I have been casting about for years to find the man who can do it. My own life is dedicated to it. But one life is not enough. No single man can free Aristotle from his chains. The task is immense. It isn’t simply a translation of [the original Greek, or the often dubious later Arabic, and even Hebrew, translations] of Aristotle into Latin.”

“It couldn’t be,” said Thomas breathlessly. “For even Aristotle was not always right.”

Son,” shouted Albert jubilantly, “that sentence alone proves that you are the man to do it.” (209—my emphasis added)

Somewhat stunned by Thomas’ concise words of simplicity and insight, Albert himself not only concurs but he also replies with a warning admonition:

“Aristotle was not always right,” he repeated. “Do you know that there is probably no man alive who’d dare to say that in public? Of those who have read Aristotle, I mean. For the others, and especially a few theologians I could name, are firmly convinced that the whole of Aristotle is the work of Satan himself. Can you imagine that? Good men crossing themselves when the very name of the Stagirite [Aristotle] is mentioned. But you, son,…oh, I love you for it…you have read him, and neither do you shrink from him, nor do you bow to him without reservations.”

He stopped abruptly. “Here is where we enter the fairy story, son…you and I, with our plan to unchain the giant and bring him back to his senses.”

“The great Jews will be of help [but also with reservations?],” said Thomas eagerly. “And especially Rabbi Moses ben Maimon [Maimonides (1135-1204), himself an anti-Christian]. His Guide of the Perplexed…”

“You have read that?” asked Albert, surprised.

“Oh, back in Naples,” admitted Thomas. “They [at the Frederick II-founded secular university] had a good copy [in a language unnamed, however] at the university. Rabbi Moses was a great man and a good one.”

“And he [Maimonides] also does not regard Aristotle as infallible. Son, do you realize where this leads?”

Thomas nodded. “The Christians will be able to say: ‘By the Grace of God, I believe; I have faith. There is much in my faith that surpasses reason but nothing that contradicts it.’” (209-210—my emphasis added)

Again even though very happy to hear the words of Friar Thomas’ succinct insight, Albert still gravely decides to be more explicit in his admonition:

I warn you of one thing, Thomas: our own people are going to make things difficult for you. The most intelligent Franciscan I ever met, Friar Roger Bacon…not the best, mind you, but the most intelligent…laughed at me when I told him my idea. He said it was impossible. It couldn’t be done.”

“We shall find out,” said Thomas.

“But the worst opposition won’t come from him. It will come from the narrow-minded, the chicken-hearted, the sterile…and some of them are very powerful. They are going to besiege you like the bulls of Bashan [see Psalm 22:12, for example]. And they will speak with formidable authority. They’ll quote the great saints against you, aye, and even the Fathers of the Church themselves. They’ll crush you with [Pope] Saint Gregory, with Saint Bernard, and the greatest of all, Saint Augustine…”

“It doesn’t matter who said it,” interposed Thomas. “What matters is what he said.”

Albert stared hard at him.

“By the love of God,” he said hoarsely, “I believe you mean it.”

Thomas stared back, in blank surprise.

I could not say so, surely, unless I meant it.”

The little man [Magister Albert], before whom they all trembled, said in a muffled voice: “Tell me, son…have you ever been intimidated by anyone?

“Oh, yes,” said Thomas.

I don’t believe it. By whom?”

By Our Lord…on the altar [before, during, and after the Consecration at Mass].”

[Thus cometh the memorable conclusion of this Chapter X.] (210-211—my emphasis added)

We may now, I hope, have better come to see and savor Louis de Wohl’s own accurate and reverent presentation of the life and challenges of Saint Thomas and his sincerity and purity and gifted discernments of truth, especially important truth that is properly unmixed with untruth and error. (With his unmistakable humility, Saint Thomas also knew that, as in the case of Aristotle, his opinions were not to be regarded as infallible.)

In any case, the varied wisdom expressed in Louis de Wohl’s book on Saint Thomas and his mentors, especially in Chapter X, could be well applied against Neo-Modernism today, not just those that were afoot around 1250 or in 1950 (under Pope Pius XII).

CODA

Writing about his own life for a scholarly source entitled “CatholicAuthors.com,” Louis de Wohl (b.1903-d. 2 June 1961) said the following:

Then, in May of 1948, I went to Rome, had my first audience with that living saint, the Holy Father [Pius XII], and asked him whom he wanted me to write about next! He said “Saint Thomas Aquinas.” Two years later I gave him the finished book, The Quiet Light, and asked him for his next order. This time he said “Write about the history and mission of the Church in the world.”

Also notably occurring in 1950, Pope Pius XII additionally accomplished three major things in and for the Church and her mission: the 1 November 1950 dogmatic declaration (rooted in Divinely Revealed Sacred Tradition) on the Assumption of the Blessed Mother (Munificentissimus Deus); preceded by the 12 August 1950 propagation of the incisive Encyclical, Humani Generis (a brief, polite update, as it were, of Pius IX’s earlier 8 December 1864 Syllabus Errorum (Syllabus of Errors); and, finally, the moving 24 June 1950 canonization of Maria Goretti whom the Pope warmly called a “martyr to purity.”

–Finis–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Louis de Wohl, The Quiet Light: A Novel about Thomas Aquinas (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996—a reprint originally published in 1950). All future references will be to the 1996 edition, and the pagination placed above in parentheses in the main body of this brief essay. The excellent Chapter X itself is to be found in its entirety on pages 198-211 of the 1996 edition, and the reader would do well to read and savor the whole chapter, as well.

The 1571 Meetings of Miguel Cervantes and Don Juan of Austria: Louis de Wohl’s 1956 Historical Novel, The Last Crusader

Dr. Robert Hickson 15 March                             2020 Saint Clement Maria Hofbauer (1820)

Saint Longinus (1st century A.D)

Epigraphs

“[Admiral of the Papal fleet] Marc Antonio Colonna, Duke of Pagliana, was a handsome man of no more than thirty-five….The sight from the [conquered] Sultana’s poop deck was never to be forgotten. Colonna had a few light guns trained on the [Turkish] galleys and brigantines still hovering near, and the two nearest surrendered without a shot, the first Turkish warships ever to do so. The flag from holy Mecca in the hands of the Christians and Ali Pasha’s head on a Spanish pike seemed to be more than they could bear.

Colonna started firing at the others [of the Turkish navy]. His ship, too, showed a good deal of damage.

Juan [overall Christian commander Don Juan of Austria himself] thought of the young man [also 24 years of age] on board there [with Colonna], what was his name? Cervas or Cervantes. Good luck, señor poet, he thought.” (Louis de Wohl, The Last Crusader (1956, 2010), pages 431 and 473)—my emphasis added

***

“Hope only becomes virtue as theological hope, however, meaning a hope moving toward salvation, which does not exist in the natural world.

Even so, Christian hope does not fail to keep our historical created world in sight as well. One can read this, too, from the character of the Christian martyr. The Christian martyr is something truly incomparable. It is not enough to look at him as a man who dies for his conviction – as if the truth of this conviction did not matter. The distinction and the uniqueness of the Christian witness lies in the fact that in spite of the terror befalling him, from his mouth ‘no word against God’s creation is heard’ (E. Peterson).

In the martyr’s hope three elements are joined together. The one thing truly hoped for is eternal life and not happiness found in the world. This is the first element. The second is the active ‘yes’ to the created world in all its realms. The third element is the acceptance of a catastrophic end to the world of history.

The connection of these three elements is, logically, filled with dynamic tension; it is not easy to hold these tensions together and endure them.” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), p. 26—my emphasis added. This excerpt is from an essay that was originally published in 1963 in Tradition als Herausforderung [Tradition as Challenge] (Munich 1963).

***

Earlier this year, after I had discussed and slowly read aloud to my wife and two young children around our glowing kitchen hearth Cervantes’ Don Quixote in its entirety, they unexpectedly requested that I then also read to them The Last Crusader: A Novel about Don Juan of Austria by Louis de Wohl.1 Approximately fifty pages before the end of that almost 500-page book, we had a good surprise. It is this nuanced and touching surprise that I wish now to share with the reader, for it shows us how the future author of Don Quixote (1605 and 1615) met, warmed, and even charmed the heart of Don Juan of Austria himself in 1571—just before and then again the day after the 7 October naval battle of Lepanto in which the courageous Miguel Cervantes was gravely wounded in action.

Cervantes is shown to have been a volunteer soldier under the immediate command of Admiral Colonna, “the papal admiral” (442).

We shall introduce the meetings of Cervantes and Don Juan by first discussing the then-recent 5 August 1571 surrender of Famagusta on the strategic island of Cyprus and the cruel aftermath of that defeat, especially the deliberate and protracted Turkish tortures of Marc Antonio Bragadino, the military governor of Famagusta.

As Captain Barola now reports the grim early August 1571 situation to Don Juan and Admiral Veniero (the close friend of Bragadino), we shudderingly hear (but only in part):

“As soon as the town surrendered Mustapha [the conquering Ottoman Turk General] broke his word. All Christian captives were chained to the galleys—those over age were killed. Bragadino was tortured for twelve days…”

“Santa Madonna,” Veniero said. He was as white as the chalked wall of the desecrated church….

“Mustapha told him [Bragadino] that the cathedral would be transformed into a mosque. He told him how he was going to die. He would have him flayed alive. Then he screamed at him: ‘Where is your Christ? Why doesn’t he free you, if he’s so powerful?’ They began to flay him then and there, and they started at his feet. He began to pray the Miserere [Psalm 51—a lamentation and prayer for mercy]. That was his whole answer….”

He died a martyr,” Juan said. He crossed himself, and the others followed his example. “I command that this story be told to every man in the fleet. I take it that you are certain about your facts, Captain Barola?”

“Quite certain, Your Excellency, I am sorry to say.”

As soon as Juan was back on board [of his flagship] again, he made sure that his last order was obeyed. Within a few hours every man in the fleet knew about the fate of Famagusta [the consequence of its surrender on 5 August 1571] and of Marc Antonio Bragadino….

Juan conferred with Colonna. Veniero had excused himself and the commander in chief respected his grief.” (441-442—my emphasis added)

Shortly after this extended and provocative presentation, Admiral Colonna said to Don Juan, his 24-year-old superior, as follows:

“You seem to be very sure that we shall get hold of the Turk, Your Excellency.”

“I am very sure. Wherever they are, I am going to look for them until I find them.”

Colonna led his commander in chief through the ship. Juan found the discipline on board faultless, equal, if not superior to that of the Spanish ships. He particularly liked the admiral’s bodyguard, twenty-five men of the Pope’s [Pius V’s] own Swiss Guards under their young commander, a giant of a man, Hans Noelle by name.

The sword of Peter,” Juan said, smiling. “Mind you Messer Noelle, this time it will have to cut off more than just an ear.”

Noelle grinned cheerfully and said something in a Italian so grimly Swiss that Colonna had to translate it to Juan. ‘He says he wants a Turkish flag to send home to Switzerland….’

“Well, I hope he’ll get his flag. Who is that man there?” (443—my emphasis added)

Now we shall come to encounter and more fully to appreciate the future author of Don Quixote:

A tall, thin soldier was standing in the gangway and somebody was trying to drag him away by his coat. He resisted stoutly and at the same time saluted; his eyes fixed on the two great commanders [both Juan of Austria and Admiral Colonna]. (443—my emphasis added)

There appears now to have occurred an unexpected commotion and Admiral Colonna promptly responds in the presence of his own superior:

“What’s going on here?” Colonna barked.

The [unnamed] man behind the [dragged and resisting] soldier emerged, saluting sheepishly. “Physician’s mate, sir. This young gentleman is ill with fever, and ought to be in bed, sir.”

“It isn’t much of a fever, Your Grace,” the soldier said eagerly. “And I just heard what happened at Famagusta. I beg Your Grace’s pardon for intruding like this—I would like to ask a favor of Your Grace.”

“What’s your name?” Colonna asked, frowning.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, at Your Grace’s service.

“A Spaniard,” Juan said. “Where from?”

“I was born in Alcalá, Your Excellency.”

“I know it well. Where in Alcalá?”

“Our house was just next to the kitchen garden of the Capuchin monastery, Your Excellency. I was christened in Santa Maria Mayor. We went to Sevilla and then to Madrid.”

“You are a volunteer, I take it?” (444—my emphasis added)

Miguel Cervantes’ immediate reply to Don Juan’s previous question robustly articulates a wise and memorable vision and motivation, especially for a man of just twenty-four years of age:

“Yes [I am a volunteer], Your Excellency. That is to say, I am the kind of madman [like a certain Don Quixote?] who still believes that nobility of heart, courage, and poetry are the three things that matter most, next to the grace of God.”

You are a poet, then?” Juan said with that grave charm that won the heart of every man. (444—my emphasis added)

Don Juan’s question and manner drew forth a larger presentation of the Spaniard’s life and abiding ethos:

“Yes [I am a poet], Your Excellency. I went to Rome in the [clerical diplomatic] retinue of the Most Reverent Guilio Acquaviva de Aragon. But what is life at the most magnificent court when the bugle calls for battle against the infidel? Poetry can remain poetry only so long as it is paired with courage and nobility of heart.”

I wish all Spaniards thought as you do,” said Juan.

Miguel de Cervantes smiled deprecatingly. “There is need for the other type as well,” he said. “Has it ever occurred to Your Excellency that there are two types of Spaniards and two only?

[At this subordinate’s perk and spunkiness] Colonna cleared his throat [once again!] impatiently, but Juan was not to be deflected. “Two types only? What are they señor poet?” (444-445—my emphasis added)

Will our poet also still now make room for a Sancho Panza? Let us now consider the implicit possibility of such a pair and companionship!

The first,” Cervantes said, “is slim and dreamy and full of enthusiasm for all things great, sacred, and brilliant. The lady he loves is invariably the most beautiful in the world, and if she is not a queen she should be. He thinks the world is the field God gave him in which to perform shining deeds in the service of a great cause and so he is a hero and a fool, a poet and a knight.”

Like you,” Juan smiled. (445—my emphasis added)

After his “expression of politely hidden irony in his dark eyes,” Cervantes unfolds for Don Juan his own vivid and charming understanding of that second of two enduring types of Spaniard:

“The second type,” he said, “is intensely practical and knows the value of a maravedí, a real and a ducat, A woman to him is a very useful creature, and if she is pretty too, so much the better. He thinks the world is a field in which he must find a small place where he can live with a minimum of discomfort. You only have to look at a Spaniard and you will always know to which of the two types he belongs.”

Once more Colonna cleared his throat.

Thank you, señor poet,” Juan said, “I will certainly think about your theory. But what about the favor you were going to ask?” (445—my emphasis added)

And here is the favor Miguel Cervantes requests from the commander and chief:

“It is, Your Excellency, that I may be freed from the well-meaning but clumsy services of the physician’s mate and permitted to command a dozen soldiers in battle—preferably at bows [at the prow, or forecastle].”

“He’ll be killed there, most likely,” Colonna said.

“But, if he isn’t, he will reach Parnassus,” Juan said, and Cervantes’ eyes lit up. “Let him have his twelve men, Your Grace [i.e., Colonna], as a favor to me.”

“Very well, Your Excellency. You’d better go back to bed, messer poet, and come out only when it’s time to fight.” (445—my emphasis added)

A short time later—now after the decisive and won naval battle—and when Juan was festively about to sail along and salute the line of his assembled victorious fleet, “Colonna accompanied the commander in chief to the gangway.” (494) But then something unexpected was again to transpire:

A tall thin soldier appeared on it [the gangway], his left armed bandaged and in a sling. Somebody, a physician’s mate, was trying to drag him away by the coat, but he resisted stoutly and at the same time saluted, his eyes fixed on Don Juan.

Señor poet,” Juan exclaimed, smiling. “Leave him alone, you there! I am glad to see you still alive, although it looks as if you’ve been fighting as you said you would.”

“He did, Your Excellency,” Colonna affirmed. “And very bravely.”

“I lost the movement of my left hand for the glory of the right,” said Miguel de Cervantes. “And I want to thank you, Your Excellency. Yesterday [Sunday, 7 October 1571] was the most beautiful day of the century.”

So he knows, too, that there will not be another, Juan thought. “I thought of you once,” he said, “during the battle.”

Deeply moved, Cervantes said, “With or without a crown—you, sir, are a true king.”….

A true king, Cervantes thought. A magnificent young king. A crusader. Perhaps…the last crusader. (495—my emphasis added)

In the last few lines of his book (on page 495), Louis de Wohl considered the likelihood of a later tragedy, perhaps also to occur in Don Juan of Austria’s own young life, but also more broadly:

But those who were shouting “Hosanna” today might well be shouting “Crucify” tomorrow. Yesterday’s conquerer was today’s victim and tomorrow’s fool….Glorious fool! Glorious folly! Was there not someone who had spoken even of the Folly of the Cross. Saint Paul, of course. To whatever height a poet [has] soared, always a saint had been there before. (495—my emphasis added)

And the saints—especially the blood martyrs—knew the importance, and lived out the reality, of the virtue of hope, the hope of the Christian martyrs. A gift of grace, a theological virtue.

Miguel Cervantes knew well and later depicted the sorrows and tragedies of life, and he also cherished a virtuous hope: the hope of eternal life. May his companion, Don Juan of Austria, also have come to that sensitive awareness and virtuous conduct by the end of his short, but heroic life.

–Finis–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Louis de Wohl, The Last Crusader: A Novel about Don Juan of Austria (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010—first published in 1956). All further references to this 495-page book will be to the paginations of the 2010 edition; and they will be placed above in parentheses in the main body of this essay. This essay will especially counterpoint the brief and graciously subtle relationship between Miguel Cervantes as a combatant volunteer soldier, and Don Juan of Austria as the Commanding General of the Fleet—both of whom are 24 years of age.