Archives for March 2015

Weather report

(Hat tip to Wendy S. Delmater.) [Read more…]

Modern Thought

These philosophers, like so many modern philosophers, do not possess the patience to see what they are taking for granted.  Have you ever seen a fellow fail at the high jump because he had not gone far enough back for his run? That is Modern Thought.  It is so confident of where it is going to that it does not know where it comes from.

—G. K. Chesterton, The Uses of Diversity

Neighbours and enemies

The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.

 —G. K. Chesterton, The Uses of Diversity

Finishing sentences

I have been reading G. K. C.’s autobiography, and here and there having flashes of fellow-feeling where I least expected them. It is common enough with me to feel that I understand something that Chesterton understands, but an entire surprise to find that one of those things, even in small part, should be William Butler Yeats.

Here one master of English rhetoric remarks upon another, with, I believe, exquisite and approving justice:

I can still remember old Yeats, that graceful greybeard, saying in an offhand way about the South African War, ‘Mr. Joseph Chamberlain has the character, as he has the face, of the shrewish woman who ruins her husband by her extravagance; and Lord Salisbury has the character, as he has the face, of the man who is so ruined.’ That style, or swift construction of a complicated sentence, was the sign of a lucidity now largely lost. You will find it in the most spontaneous explosions of Dr. Johnson. Since then some muddled notion has arisen that talking in that complete style is artificial; merely because the man knows what he means and means to say it. I know not from what nonsense world the notion first came; that there is some connection between being sincere and being semi-articulate. But it seems to be a notion that a man must mean what he says, because he breaks down even in trying to say it; or that he must be a marvel of power and decision, because he discovers in the middle of a sentence that he does not know what he was going to say. Hence the conversation of current comedy; and the pathetic belief that talk may be endless, so long as no statement is allowed to come to an end.

—G. K. Chesterton, Autobiography

Finishing schools

There used to be, and possibly is, a mysterious institution for young ladies known as a finishing-school. The chief case against it was that, in certain instances, it meant finishing an education without ever beginning it. In any case, this is what is the matter with a great many modern institutions…. The curse of nearly all such judgements is the journalistic curse of having heard the latest news; that is, of having heard the end of the story without having even heard of the beginning. We talk of people not knowing the A B C of a subject, but the trouble with these people is that they do know the X Y Z of a subject without knowing the A B C.

—G. K. Chesterton, All I Survey

I draw just one distinguo. The latest news, in such affairs, is seldom or never the last news. Journalists, and the sort of people who take their opinions from journalism, are much more likely to walk into the middle of a conversation, hear the L M N of the subject, and suppose that it ends there; or project its ultimate outcome without ever inquiring about its grounds or origins, and hastily conclude that it will end with something like Ayin, Psi, Wum. The eventual arrival of X Y Z, so predictable to those few sensible people who inquired into the whole of the subject, nearly always leaves the journal-minded in a state of indignant surprise.


That which is filthy can be washed, and made clean, and redeemed. But that which is filth itself cannot be made clean: for if it is washed, all of it will be removed and nothing remain. It is fit only to be cast into the midden, or consumed by fire.

On a lighter note…

From 1968, George Coe does Ingmar Bergman, and only one of them comes out alive.

If you watch closely, you’ll see Madeline Kahn in her first film role. If you listen closely, you’ll hear the Swedish language dying of embarrassment, eight years before the Muppets disinterred the corpse for their own nefarious purposes.

‘After the real world has passed away’

After the death of his wife, Edith, J. R. R. Tolkien wrote to his son Michael:

I do not feel quite ‘real’ or whole, and in a sense there is no one to talk to.… Since I came of age, and our 3 years separation was ended, we had shared all joys and griefs, and all opinions (in agreement or otherwise), so that I still often find myself thinking ‘I must tell E. about this’ – and then suddenly I feel like a castaway left on a barren island under a heedless sky after the loss of a great ship. I remember trying to tell Marjorie Incledon this feeling, when I was not yet thirteen after the death of my mother, and vainly waving a hand at the sky saying ‘it is so empty and cold’. And again I remember after the death of Fr Francis my ‘second father’ (at 77 in 1934), saying to C. S. Lewis: ‘I feel like a lost survivor into a new alien world after the real world has passed away’.

(Letters no. 332)

I am sad to report that these descriptions of feelings fit me rather exactly. My mother was a difficult person to deal with, and nearly impossible to talk to; she had the fixed habit of listening to the first half-dozen words that you said, ignoring the rest, and then responding to what she imagined you might have said; and she had a short and fearsome temper. Our relationship could be charitably described as ‘fraught’; yet one has, as a rule, only one mother, and whatever she may be, one feels the loss when she is gone. My father was my chief friend, supporter, and confidant for many years, and I still miss him terribly. Now that I have lost them both, and in rapid succession, I feel rather like the little girl from London in the Second World War, who was interviewed by a reporter after losing her home and family in the Blitz: ‘Now I am nobody’s nothing.’ It is a disorienting and indeed frightening feeling.


A postscriptum about practical matters: It will probably take some months to settle my parents’ affairs, but once that is done I can expect to come into a small inheritance, which if used frugally, will keep the wolf from the door for some time while I get my bearings and (I hope) find a way to make my work pay my bills. I thank all those generous donors who have helped me through my recent difficulties with gifts of money (and still more, of time, attention, and care). I believe I shall be all right for the time being.

Maria Auxiliadora Shearer, 1927–2015

I am sad to report that my mother died about 4 p.m. (MDT) yesterday. I managed to pay her a short visit before the end; she was drifting in and out of consciousness, unable to speak, and I am not sure whether she recognized me. She seemed to have suffered a stroke or some other cerebral catastrophe, for all the muscle tone had gone out of her face, and her lower lip had curved back in on itself to cover her gums. Her face was unrecognizable; it was the characteristic pattern of the arthritis in her right hand (the left was under the bedclothes) that proved to me that I was in the right room.

She had been married to my father for 52 years, and had no desire to outlive him; and indeed she took such poor care of herself (being a fairly heavy smoker and drinker for as long as I can remember, and disdaining to eat regular meals) that we were surprised she lived as long as she did. Once my father was gone, she went into what soon proved to be a terminal decline. At any rate she is at peace now, for the first time in many years; God rest her soul.

Thanks very much for all the prayers and messages from my 3.6 Loyal Readers and other friends.

The other shoe drops

I have just been notified that my mother has received Extreme Unction and is expected to die at any time. A family friend is picking me up shortly to go and see her.

I will be grateful for the prayers of my 3.6 Loyal Readers.