Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Passing of Arthur

One of the most stirring passages from Tennyson's Idylls of the King are the last stanzas of "The Passing of Arthur," in which the wounded king is spirited away to the "island-valley" of Avalon.

And slowly answered Arthur from the barge:
‘The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfills himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within himself make pure! but thou,
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of....

Thereat once more he moved about, and clomb
Even to the highest he could climb, and saw,
Straining his eyes beneath an arch of hand,
Or thought he saw, the speck that bare the King,
Down that long water opening on the deep
Somewhere far off, pass on and on, and go
From less to less and vanish into light.
And the new sun rose bringing the new year. Share

America's Decade of Decline

Looking back at the first ten years of the new millennium. (Via Joshua Snyder) Share

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Here is some historical background on the pagan plant which has long been pleasantly associated with Christmas.
In Greek mythology, Persephone unlocked the gates to the underworld with a wand of mistletoe. The ancient druids venerated mistletoe for its powers and held that when the plant was growing on oak trees, as opposed to apple, it was particularly sacred. The tradition of kissing beneath it, based loosely on Celtic lore, became popular in the 19th century along with other yuletide rituals.

(Thanks to Abbey Roads for the picture.) Share

Strengthening the Immune System

In order to avoid the flu. Share

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


The natural antiseptic. (Via LRC) Share

Monday, December 28, 2009


Here is a history of Christmas wreaths (artwork from Karen):

Evergreen wreaths at Christmas time are a familiar sight on doors, above fireplaces, and on homes. Wreaths have been in use for many hundreds of years, even before the birth of Christ. Many historians believe that the first wreaths date back to the Persian Empire, when royalty and members of the upper class wore diadems, or fabric headbands adorned with jewels. Other cultures would later become fascinated with this tradition, picking it up and adapting it for themselves.

About 800 years before the birth of Christ, Greeks began to recognize the winners of their Olympic games by crowning them with wreaths made of laurel tree branches. Years later, when the games moved from city to city, branches from local trees were used to make these victory wreaths for the winners. During the Roman Empire, military and political leaders wore crowns of leaves and greenery. For example, Julius Caesar was crowned with a wreath made of fresh laurel branches and leaves. The transition of the wreath from a head adornment to a wall decoration is believed to have occurred when athletes (or perhaps victorious military leaders) returned home, and they would hang their headbands on their walls or doors, as a trophy of their victory.

The Egyptian, Chinese, and Hebrew cultures were known to have used evergreen branches as a symbol of eternal life, because the conifer trees stayed green throughout the winter months. After the birth of Christ, the Christmas wreath made of evergreen branches came to symbolize the triumph of life over the long winter months.

The Advent wreath also became a popular holiday tradition after the birth of Christ. This decoration was usually placed flat on a table and was used to count down the four weeks immediately preceding Christmas. Traditionally the wreath was constructed with four candles in a circle and one candle in the middle. The four outside candles were purple or violet, and the center candle was white. Four weeks before Christmas, the first violet candle would be lit. The following week, an additional candle would be lit, and so on, until the white center candle is lit on Christmas Eve or day, signifying the arrival of Christ. A brief prayer was said to accompany the lighting of each candle. The reason for the final candle being located in the center is to symbolize that we should keep Christ at the center of our lives and the center of the Christmas celebration.

Based on drawings and paintings, most historians believe that the use of evergreen wreaths at Christmas time spread across Northern Europe, Spain, and Italy during the early 19th century. The greenery was used as a symbol of life persevering through the cold winter months, and the holly berries that were often used as an adornment were a symbol of the blood of Christ.

It is also believed that Europeans also used wreaths on their doors to represent their family identity, much like a family crest. These wreaths were made from products grown in their own gardens, such as grapevines, fresh flowers, or other produce. The crafting of these wreaths was a family ritual that followed the same general pattern year after year.

Today, wreaths are still widely used around the world. In the U.S., wreaths are a traditional decoration for Christmas, as well as many other holidays throughout the year. Wreaths now adorn doors for Halloween, Valentine's Day, the Fourth of July, and Easter. Furthermore, wreaths are no longer limited to only evergreen branches. Many craft stores, books, and television shows feature unique wreaths made of a variety of unusual materials and decorations for almost any occasion.


Fifteen Failed Predictions

About the future. (Via my husband's blog) Share

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Golden Life

Diane de Poitiers and her penchant for drinking gold. Share

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Good King Wenceslaus

Actually, he was a duke, not a king. The saintly Wenceslaus, Duke of Bohemia, held fast to the faith in the face of intransigent paganism. He was killed at the instigation of a family member while going to church to assist at the matins of Michaelmas. He is the patron saint of the Czech people. According to an old Slavic legend:
At the death of Vratislaus, the people of Bohemia made his son Wencelsaus their king. He was by God's grace a man of utmost faith. He was charitable to the poor, and he would clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and offer hospitality to travelers according to the summons of the Gospel. He would not allow widows to be treated unjustly; he loved all his people, both rich and poor; he also provided for the servants of God, and he adorned many churches. The men of Bohemia, however, became arrogant and prevailed upon Boleslaus, his younger brother. They told him, "Your brother Wenceslaus is conspiring with his mother and his men to kill you." On the feasts of the dedication of the churches in various cities, Wenceslaus was in the habit of paying them a visit. One Sunday he entered the city of Boleslaus, on the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian, and after hearing Mass, he planned to return to Prague. But Boleslaus, with his wicked plan in mind, detained him with the words, "Why are you leaving brother?"

The next morning when they rang the
bell for matins, Wencelaus, on hearing the sound, said, "Praise to you, Lord; you have allowed me to live to this morning." And so he rose and went to matins. Immediately Boleslaus followed him to the church door. Wenceslaus looked back at him and said, "Brother, you were a good subject to me yesterday." But the devil had already blocked the ears of Boleslaus, and perverted his heart. Drawing his sword, Boleslaus replied, "And now I intend to be a better one!" With these words, he struck his brother's head with his sword. But Wenceslaus turned and said, "Brother, what are you trying to do?" And with that he seized Boleslaus and threw him to the ground. But one of Boleslaus' counselors ran up and stabbed Wenceslaus in the hand. With his hand wounded, he let go of his brother and took refuge in the church. But two evil men struck him down at the church door; and then another rushed up and ran him through with a sword. Thereupon, Wenceslaus died with the words, "Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit."
An old English Christmas carol celebrates "King Wenceslaus," as the following describes:

The carol tells about a miracle said to have happened on December 26 wherein the good king sees a poor man gathering wood for his fire. Learning from his page where the man lives, he bids the page:

Bring me flesh and bring me wine; Bring me pine logs hither; Thou and I shall see him dine When we bear them thither.

And without ado he tucked his royal robes into his boots and trudged through the cold to the hut underneath the mountain.

This spirit of serving is one of the things that needs to be restored to our society. Money is needed, and the needy are thankful for it; but the givers of the money need to do more for their own spirits than sign checks. Like King Wenceslaus, they would refresh their vision of Christ by the experience of serving, by the experience of looking into Christ's face in His poor and feeding Him, changing His sheets, bathing His sick body, shopping at the grocer's for His food. And for every act done with love for Him, He repays a hundredfold.

So this day the children may imitate both St. Stephen the deacon, who served, and St. Wenceslaus the king, who served, and set aside some of their Christmas toys or dollars to take to other little Christs less fortunate than themselves. This is hard, but there is an inner joy that children as well need to experience if they would know what we mean when we talk of serving. It is one thing to hear your parents talk about the blessedness of giving. It is quite another to part with something you do not very much want to part with, and then taste the peace and joy and contentment that come to the souls who have given up their own will for love of Christ.

This act of serving was hard for the little page too, but the carol tells what a marvelous reward was his:

In his master's steps he trod, Where the snow lay dinted. Heat was in the very sod That the saint had printed.

Children love especially to sing this carol while walking outdoors in the snow. If there are enough who know it (do help them learn all the verses: it makes no sense otherwise) they can take parts, one being king, one page, one the poor man, the rest "voices." And afterward bid them remember, whenever they see footprints in the snow, the saint-king who journeyed to the poor man on the feast of St. Stephen, and bid them help someone that day in imitation of him.


Challoner's Book of Martyrs

Christine reports on the work of Bishop Richard Challoner, who gathered the accounts of the English missionary priests from the days of persecution.
The national history would have you believe the English Reformation was a movement supported by the great majority of the populace happy to throw off the yoke of the papacy, when in fact the truth is far different: a strong and vocal minority of dissidents voiced their complaints to a monarch at first opposed to their rebellion, but who later, for political expediency, embraced their cause and brutally forced it on an unwilling people. Through intermittent persecution and suppression over the next century or so, the Catholic faith slowly died out until, only generations later, one could truly say that England was a Protestant nation. But it was a slow, painful, unhappy process, despite what revisionist historians would have us believe.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Victory of Christmas

A true leader shares the condition of those whom he leads. Share

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Three Masses of Christmas

When speaking of Holy Communion in the Way of Perfection (Ch. 34), St. Teresa of Avila said: "This is something that is happening now." In the Christmas liturgy, the Church teaches us that the birth of Jesus is not just something that happened two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. Our Lord's nativity is something that is happening now, especially through participation in the Mass, and in the liturgy of the hours which radiate from it. In The Church's Year of Grace, Fr. Pius Parsch explains that this is why the word hodie or "today" is repeated again and again in the Christmas Masses and offices. The Invitatory for December 24 proclaims: "Today you will know the Lord is coming, and in the morning you will see His glory." We are called to Midnight Mass with this antiphon: "The Lord said to me: You are my Son. Today I have begotten you." At Morning Prayer (Lauds) we say: "Today the Savior of the world is born for you." The antiphon for the Canticle of Mary closes the most joyful of feasts with the words: "Christ the Lord is born today; today the Savior has appeared...."

Dom Gueranger comments: "...This today is the Day of eternity, a Day which has neither morning nor evening, neither rising nor setting." (The Liturgical Year, Vol. II) Through the sacraments, especially through the Eucharistic sacrifice, we already belong to that Day of eternity. At Christmas Mass, we truly and mystically assist at His birth.

Christmas is celebrated with three Masses. At Midnight Mass, the angels marvel at the Word made flesh, born of the Virgin Mary. The Dawn Mass sees the shepherds hurrying to the stable to adore the newborn King. The third Mass celebrates the Eternal Word, Who is the Son begotten of the Father from all eternity.
Jesus, Who is born tonight, is born thrice. He is born of the Blessed Virgin, in the stable of Bethlehem; he is born by grace, in the hearts of the shepherds, who are the first fruits of the Christian Church; and He is born from all eternity in the bosom of the Father, in the brightness of the saints: to this triple birth, therefore, let there be the homage of a triple Sacrifice! (Dom Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, Vol. II)

The Joy of Entertaining

Some Virginia innkeepers give advice on how to give great dinner parties.
Invite a crowd. Have people who know each other and people who don't. Mix age groups. It will make for more interesting dinner conversation.

Forget ironing. If you have a nice wood table, invest in some attractive woven straw mats or some matelasse place mats that require a minimum of upkeep.

Set up your music in advance. Start the evening with something lively, hip and fun. Then, for dining, switch to classical background music.

Keep centerpieces simple. The flowers should not distract from the food or the setting. And you should not have to remove a fancy, large arrangement from the center of the table so guests can see one another. Place several small, low vases in the middle, filling each with a cluster of peach roses or one pale green orchid.

Create party traditions. The Willeys have an annual Christmas party where everyone sings "The Twelve Days of Christmas" at the piano. It started as a hot-chocolate-and-cookies party for their daughters' friends 20 years ago. Now, they invite 150 friends for a major bash with oyster bars and red and green cosmos. Friends start lobbying to sing solos of their favorite parts of the song months in advance.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Art of Slander

Lauren reviews a new book entitled The Devil in the Holy Water, or The Art of Slander from Louis XIV to Napoleon by Robert Darnton. There is a great deal about Marie-Antoinette in it and how slander and calumny were systematically spread in order to destroy the Queen and the monarchy. As Lauren says:
Author Robert Darnton investigates the process of spreading slander during the 18th century, from harmless riddles to full libels, as well as the motives which led authors to do so, whether they be entertainment for friends or means of a quick fortune.

The book is written in four parts, each packed with fascinating material, mini biographies, police follies, and descriptive passages that open up an underground world. Darnton uses vivid examples of the gossip in print at the time, however, you will find the process of actually porducing those illegal texts and having them succesfully circulate just as intresting. It is a full and comprehensive study of a specific world within 18th century France, where libel was created, shared, sold, and hunted.

The duchesse de Bouillon was faced with a particularly incriminating libel called Les Petit Soupers et les nuits de l’Hôtel Bouillon. Filled with deliberate details of an intriguing and depraved private lifestyle, the libel paints the duchesse and her associates in the most unflattering light. Such libels were policed, but when money and bargains can be made, who could anyone really trust? Treachery abounds and the various sides of underground publishing are exposed Keyplayers are introduced, including their motives in the game.

Darnton’s objectives are history first, followed by devices used and effects of production. Who were the fathers of eighteenth century slander? We are introduced to La Gazetier cuirassé, (a best-seller) the author of which stands behind the safety of "anonymous". Later authors would use anonymity for extortion of the noblesse. The libels were filled with amusing features such as puzzles, obscure codes for names and even lewd images of well known personages. The resulting publications were often very crude in language yet hours of entertainment for the audience.

As pointed out in the chapter Royal Depravity, there were many in the audience who believed fabrications they read. In the case of Antoinette, the results were far from favorable. Even when the topic was about the duchesse de Polignac and Colonel C___, the effect produced was a general feeling of disgust toward the Queen!

A Question of Faith

Here is an excerpt of a review of The Night's Dark Shade from Gricel of Things She Read:

A historical romance set in 13th century France, The Night’s Dark Shade is an engrossing tale about faith, honor, and courtly love....

This novel drew me in from the very first page and put me in mind of the Lais of Marie de France. Raphaëlle is a charming character whose innocence and strong opinions make her a worthy lady and a wonderful protagonist. The history of the Cathari is fascinating and lends a darkness to the tale that adds a thrilling sense of mystery to Raphaëlle’s journey.

I highly recommend this novel for readers interested in fiction about medieval women’s lives and courtly love. (Read entire review.)

The Night's Dark Shade is available HERE. (Signed copies are available as well~ see the right sidebar.)


A Scholar Among Rakes

R.J. Stove reflects upon the genius of the historian Thomas Macaulay. To quote:
No historian has aroused a greater range of emotions, from deep love to wild hate....

No other writer in the English pantheon has surpassed Macaulay for sheer learning. Milton alone came close. Macaulay knew firsthand all the surviving productions of the leading Greek and Roman authors and felt bound to study them in the original languages. He also knew every major French author, contemporary or ancient. Later, he acquired enough German to read Goethe and Schiller. On the Elizabethans and their Italian contemporaries, he had wider expertise still....

The miracle is not that Macaulay made mistakes, or that he glorified King William III with a zest incredible to us today who know more about William’s political corruption and erotic perversions than Macaulay ever knew or we ever wanted to know. Rather, it is that despite his weaknesses, Macaulay remains compulsively readable and at times profound.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Polite Conversation

Here is a fascinating excerpt from a 1921 Book of Etiquette by Lillian Eichler. It is extremely quaint and obviously the relic from a distant era of world history. However, there are some points which might be useful. I wonder if the talking heads of news shows, constantly interrupting each other, have damaged our ability to carry on polite conversations.

It is strange, but true, that the spirit of conversation is often more important than the ideas expressed. This is especially true in social circles. Since speech is never used in solitude, we may take it for granted that the spoken word is an expression of the longing for human sympathy. Thus, it is a great accomplishment to be able to enter gently and agreeably into the moods and feelings of others, and to cultivate the feelings of sympathy and kindness.

Early in the seventeenth century the /causerie/ (chat) was highly esteemed in France. This was a meeting, at the Hotel Rambouillet, of the great nobles, literary people, and intelligent and brilliant women of France, gathered together for the definite purpose of conversation--of "chatting." Among these people, representing the highest intellectual class in France at the time, there developed the taste for daily talks-the tendency of which was toward profound, refined and elegant intercourse according to the standards of that day, and the criticisms offered by the members had a certain influence on the manners and literature of the epoch....

There is a certain charm in correct speech, a certain beauty in correct conversation. And it is well worth striving for.


Courtesy is the very foundation of all good conversation. Good speech consists as much in listening politely as in talking agreeably. Someone has said, very wisely, "A talker who monopolizes the conversation is by common consent insufferable, and a man who regulates his choice of topics by reference to what interests not his hearers but himself has yet to learn the alphabet of the art." To be agreeable in conversation, one must first learn the law of talking just enough, of listening politely while others speak, and of speaking of that in which one's companions are most interested....

One should never interrupt unless there is a good reason for it and then it should be done with apologies. It is not courteous to ask a great many questions and personal ones are always taboo. One should be careful not to use over and over and over again the same words and phrases and one should not fall in the habit of asking people to repeat their remarks. Argument should be avoided and contradicting is always discourteous. When it seems that a heated disagreement is about to ensue it is wise tactfully to direct the conversation into other channels as soon as it can be done without too abrupt a turn, for to jerk the talk from one topic to another for the obvious purpose of "switching someone off the track" is in itself very rude.

Let your proverb be, "Talk well, but not too much."

Conversation should be lively without noise. It is not well-bred to be demonstrative in action while speaking, to talk loudly, or to laugh boisterously. Conversation should have less emphasis, and more quietness, more dignified calmness. Some of us are so eager, in our determination to be agreeable in conversation, to dominate the entire room with our voice, that we forget the laws of good conduct. And we wonder why people consider us bores....

Another mistake to avoid is rapid speaking. To talk slowly and deliberately, is to enhance the pleasure and beauty of the conversation. Rapidity in speech results in indistinctness, and indistinctness leads invariably to monotony.


How often, here in our own country, even in the most highly cultivated society, do we hear a man or woman carelessly interrupt the conversation of another, perhaps an older person, without so much as an apology! It is bad form, to say the least, but it is also distinctly rude. No person of good breeding will interrupt the conversation of another no matter how startling and remarkable an idea he may have. It will be just as startling and remarkable a few minutes later, and the speaker will have gained poise and confidence in the time that he waits for the chance to speak.

Whispering in company is another bad habit that must be avoided. The drawing-room or reception room is no place for personal secrets or hidden bits of gossip. The man or woman commits a serious breach in good conduct by drawing one or two persons aside and whispering something to them....

If you are forgetful, and somewhat shy in the company of others, it might be well to jot down and commit to memory any interesting bit of information or news that you feel would be worthy of repetition. It may be an interesting little story, or a clever repartee, or some amusing incident-but whatever it is, make the appeal general. It is
a mistake to talk only about those things that interest you; when Matthew Arnold was once asked what his favorite topic for conversation was, he answered, "That in which my companion is most interested."

Make that your ideal, and you can hardly help becoming an agreeable and pleasing conversationalist.

Pregnancy ban

Forced abortion and contraception in the military? Share

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Sacred Made Real

There is a superb exhibit of seventeenth century Spanish painting and sculpture at the National Gallery in London. I have heard that it is worth the nine pounds. According to The Telegraph:

Apart from royal and aristocratic portraiture, the imagery in most Spanish painting and sculpture during the Counter Reformation is religious. It is therefore not 'art’ in the modern sense because it was made neither for visual delight or aesthetic contemplation but as an aid to devotion.

Stimulated by the 'Spiritual Exercises’ of St Ignatius Loyola, the faithful sought in prayer to form mental images of Christ, the Virgin and Saints. The painter or sculptor’s aim was to make the figure so realistic that it is as though the person to whom the prayer is addressed is standing there before our very eyes.


A Review by Sarah Johnson

Sarah Johnson, editor of Historical Novels Review, the journal of the Historical Novel Society, has reviewed The Night's Dark Shade on her blog, Reading the Past. To quote:
In her third work of fiction, both a richly detailed historical novel and a dark morality tale, Elena Maria Vidal takes readers deep into the heart of the 13th-century French Pyrenees – a war-torn land whose verdant mountains conceal adherents of the mysterious Cathar religion.

The year is 1227. After her father and brother are killed fighting alongside the French king against the Cathars, seventeen-year-old heiress Raphaëlle de Miramande realizes she needs a male protector. As appropriate for a woman in her position, she arranges for her betrothal to the son of her uncle, the Baron de Marcadeau. With her small party and an accompanying group of pilgrims, she makes her way from her home in Auvergne to her uncle’s chateau, taking a treacherous mountain route overrun by dispossessed Cathar noblemen turned brigands. Upon arrival, she receives a peculiar welcome, and discrepancies in the family’s behavior put her on guard. Curiously, she finds no outward trappings of Catholicism, the family doesn’t celebrate mass, and her uncle’s wife, Lady Esclarmonde, declares Raphaëlle’s brightly colored clothing too ornate to be proper.

Raphaëlle soon comes to realize that the castle is full of Cathar sympathizers, and that Esclarmonde is a Cathar Perfecta, a member of their spiritual elite. An ascetic and vegetarian who believes too many children are born in the world, Esclarmonde tells Raphaëlle to expect a celibate marriage. Seeking escape from her betrothal to a heretic, Raphaëlle writes in desperation to Sir Jacques d’Orly, an officer of the king’s seneschal who later seeks to marry Raphaëlle himself. However, Raphaëlle’s uncle and cousin refuse to give up her dowry. Raphaëlle also finds her heart torn between her loyalty to Jacques and her overwhelming love for Martin, the flirtatious Knight Hospitaller and troubadour who had brought her safely to her uncle’s chateau. Jacques offers her stability, but Martin presents a romantic image that’s difficult for her to resist.

Denounced as a heresy by the Roman church, which saw it as a major threat, Catharism was a dualistic sect believing in the purity of the spirit and the sinfulness of the material world. Raphaëlle’s travels back and forth through the Pyrenees showcase the interplay of light and shadow against the beauty of the mountains, a symbol of the theological troubles raging in the land. These lyrically written passages, a highlight of the book, will likely inspire thoughts of travel to southern France. Raphaëlle, a fervent Catholic, can’t understand how the Cathars would disdain these beautiful sights because of their earthly origins, but even she is initially taken in by the sincerity of their beliefs and their surface similarity to her own.... (Read entire review.)

The Night's Dark Shade
is available HERE. Share

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Review from Irenikon

Mary Lanser of Irenikon has written the following review of The Night's Dark Shade:
The story of Raphaelle, Vicomtesse de Miramande, is a ripping good chapter tale! If Elena Maria Vidal is anything at all, as an author, she is marvelously gifted as a yarn-spinning, bell-toned story teller. Ordinarily, I tend not to be a fan of the romanza, but I thoroughly enjoyed the pace and people of this story and will read it again. In fact the next time, I will read it aloud, for all good tales should be told in front of a leaping fire to as many ears as will listen.

In her previous books Trianon and Madame Royale, Elena Maria Vidal crafts her characters directly from the pages of history, giving voice and depth and potency of thought and action to a King and a Queen who left many of their own words behind for her to peruse as she unfolded vignettes of their story for us to become lost in for a time.

In this most recent offering from Elena Maria, The Night's Dark Shade, she draws the characters in the story directly from her own fulsome imagination, from a bit of regional travel perhaps, but primarily from her own experience of life and love, from universal truths and their consequences, from the vagaries of good and evil, invoking God and struggling with mankind as despair is overshadowed by hope. This is the real joy of the story. It is hopeful to its core. Not a saccharine unrealistic yearning, but a solid substantial expectation that in spite of the evils of the world, there is space in our lives for light and love and heart-felt laughter.

In order to find these spaces, however, one must climb through the flinty detritus of human weakness as the wicked are celebrated and the good are driven out to fend for themselves alone; children are left to starve, or murdered in the womb, while sexual excess, cruelty, and license are inconvenient, but expected and tolerated aspects of a totally corrupt humanity. In this abased darkness of human nature, true chivalry comes at the price of creature comforts, and true loves bloom as a false love lies dying.

The story is set in the wonderland of the French Pyrenees in Languedoc, south of the Dardogne, north of Gascony, and east of Hautes Pyrenees and Lourdes. The mountain passes are high and treacherous, with brooding monasteries perched among the peaks. The towns and villages huddle beneath massive fairy-tale fortresses and are graced by Romanesque cathedral churches built to match the forbidding face of the castle walls and buttresses. The call of eagles answer the cry of newborn lambs and the peoples are strong mountain folk, rugged but sometimes far too easily led astray.

The Night's Dark Shade is the story of a woman of the petite nobility of the region, who is bound, by inheritance and title, to the land and to the people. She is bound to a marriage of familial convenience and it is in the breaking of those bindings and the consequential disposition of her heart and soul that the story reaches its climax and unpredictable denouement. The pace is fast, the language formal but clipped and clear and as sharp as the cliff edges that frame the story. Thoroughly delightful change of time and place. Thoroughly recognizable to the contemporary heart.

The Reckoning (2003)

I had not even heard of Paul McGuigan's The Reckoning (2003) until I stumbled upon it one Christmas on a cable channel. I was intrigued by the plot involving a medieval troupe of players and a fallen priest. Last night we rented the DVD and were genuinely impressed by the levels of meaning and mystery in this morality play within a morality play. Paul Bettany stars as the lapsed cleric, whose career as a wise pastor and brilliant preacher are destroyed by an affair with a woman parishioner and the subsequent, unintended murder of her indignant husband. Bettany conveys the inner torment of guilt and struggle for redemption of one anointed to God's service. Even in his defrocked state, Father Nicholas strives for truth, justice, and the salvation of others. He cannot escape the Divine call.

The movie opens with the words from Romans 8: 21: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose. God can bring good out of the worst situations, as Father Nicholas' discovers when he is adopted by the band of traveling players, with Willem Dafoe as the gifted leading actor. Dafoe is a master of his craft, as always. The film shows how medieval theater was an extension of religious worship, as the Bible stories are dramatized in "mystery plays" at festivals. In this case, as in Hamlet, the play becomes a means of solving a brutal murder, a deed which has traumatized the inhabitants of an English village. The heart of the mystery lies in the imposing Norman fortress on the mountain, and Father Nicholas will not rest until justice is done, hoping to expiate his own crime.

The Reckoning boasts of authentic sets and costumes, many examples of wholesome Catholic piety (as well as some exaggerated ones), and the not-so-wonderful examples of medieval bawdiness, blasphemy, disease, and dirt. My main criticism of the film is that in the beginning it states that Church and state were united in oppressing the masses, when we know that there were many, many times that various saints of the Church defended the people from tyrants. There were good priests, bishops, and kings in the Middle Ages; even in the movie it shows the king's officers being the arbiters of justice, investigating reports of abuses. In our own enlightened times, we are not without oppressive barons, and innocent lives are still sacrificed to lust.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Maria Eleonore, Queen of Sweden

The Sword and the Sea has an intriguing post about Queen Christina of Sweden's crazy mother. Share

Avatar (2009)

Here is a thought-provoking review from The Brussels Journal.
I have just watched the most expensive B-movie ever made, the US$ 237 million Avatar by director James Cameron, famous for having produced films such as The Terminator, Terminator 2, Aliens and Titanic. Briefly summed up I would say that while it is visually spectacular, as is everything Mr. Cameron makes, Avatar has to be one of the most anti-Western and especially anti-white Hollywood movies I have seen in a long time.

The hero is the U.S. Marine Jake Sully who has been sent to the planet-like moon Pandora because humans desire the mineral resources found of Pandora, which is inhabited by a race of tall, blue-skinned aliens, the Na’vi. They have a non-industrial civilization technologically inferior to ours but apparently spiritually richer and in perfect ecological harmony with the natural environment. The hero predictably falls in love with the native culture and connects with a native girl.

“Going native” is in itself not an original theme; it resembles Dances with Wolves, only with aliens instead of Sioux. Neither is the preference for pre-industrial civilization, which was after all shared by a good man such as Tolkien in his The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien had personally experienced the meaningless horrors of trench warfare during the First World War and this naturally affected his view of industrialized society. What is different about the movie Avatar is how it portrays whites as a bunch of raging monsters, something which Tolkien never did.

According to a review from New York Press:

Avatar is the corniest movie ever made about the white man’s need to lose his identity and assuage racial, political, sexual and historical guilt.

Only children—including adult-children—will see Avatar as simply an adventure film; their own love of technology has co-opted their ability to comprehend narrative detail. Cameron offers sci-fi dazzle, yet bungles the good part: the meaning. His undeniably pretty Pandora—a phosphorescent Maxfield Parrish paradise with bird-like lizards, moving plant life and floating mountains—distracts from the inherent contradiction of a reported $300-$500 million Hollywood enterprise that casually berates America’s industrial complex.

Cameron’s superficial B-movie tropes pretend philosophical significance. His story’s rampant imperialism and manifest destiny (Giovanni Ribisi plays the heartless industrialist) recalls Vietnam-era revisionist westerns like Soldier Blue, but it’s essentially a sentimental cartoon with a pacifist, naturalist message. Avatar condemns mankind’s plundering and ruin of a metaphorical planet’s ecology and the aboriginals’ way of life. Cameron fashionably denounces the same economic and military system that make his technological extravaganza possible. It’s like condemning NASA—yet joyriding on the Mars Exploration Rover.

Christmas Puddings

The history of different foods can usually be quite interesting. Plum pudding, incidentally, has nothing to do with plums. Puddings were originally a way of preserving meat and fruit through the winter. According to Wikipedia:
Although it took its final form in Victorian England, the pudding's origins can be traced all the way back to the 1420s, to two sources. It emerged not as a confection or a dessert at all, but as a way of preserving meat at the end of the season. Because of shortages of fodder, all surplus livestock was slaughtered in the autumn. The meat was then kept in a pastry case along with dried fruits acting as a preservative. The resultant large "mince pies" could then be used to feed hosts of people, particularly at the festive season. The chief ancestor of the modern pudding, however, was the pottage, a meat and vegetable concoction originating in Roman times. This was prepared in a large cauldron, the ingredients being slow cooked, with dried fruits, sugar and spices added.

The earliest reference to the "standing pottage" dates to 1420, a dish of preserved veal, mutton or chicken, thickened with bread, reddened with sandalwood and full of currants. By the time of Elizabeth I, prunes were added to this basic concoction. This became so popular that the dish was known from this point forward as Plum Pottage.

By the eighteenth century, as techniques for meat preserving improved, the savoury element of both the mince pie and the plum pottage diminished as the sweet content increased. The mince pie kept its name though the pottage was increasingly referred to as plum pudding. Although the latter was always a celebratory dish it was originally eaten at the Harvest Festival, not Christmas. It is not until the 1830s that the cannon-ball of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices, all topped with holly, makes a definite appearance, more and more associated with Christmas. It appears that Eliza Acton was the first to refer to it as "Christmas Pudding" in her cookbook.

HERE is a recipe, and HERE. Plum pudding is something that needs to be made days in advance, so planning ahead is good. Share

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Christmas Carol

English journalist Eric Hester discusses the Christmas classic, saying:
No one is going to deny that this book is a classic but I can hear the cries that Dickens was not a Catholic. I do not claim that Dickens was a Catholic; obviously he was not. I simply claim A Christmas Carol as a great Catholic classic.

Let us examine one important piece of evidence. Everyone knows the famous first sentence of this novel: “Marley was dead: to begin with.” Marley’s ghost is famous, even to those who have not read the book but have seen one of the many film versions. So I pose this question: from where does Marley’s ghost come?” There is only one possible answer: purgatory. Now purgatory is a very Catholic idea. Marley, you may remember, is described by Dickens as having to pull a long chain of cashboxes and other impedimenta.

He has to wander the earth. Of whom does he obviously remind us? why, of Hamlet’s father’s ghost. And Hamlet’s father’s ghost was from purgatory. We know that Dickens was fascinated by all Shakespeare’s plays but especially by Hamlet. Remember in Great Expectations, where the comic character Wopsle becomes an actor and, to the jeerings and barrackings of the audience, acts the part of the Great Dane.

More that this, Dickens mentions Hamlet’s father’s ghost on the very first page of A Christmas Carol only a few sentences after telling us that Marley was dead: “If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, that there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot.”

The next obvious Catholic feature in the little novel is one of the things that everyone knows about it: its stress upon the celebration of Christmas. This was, and is, a Catholic thing to do and not a Protestant thing. We know from our history that the great villain, Oliver Cromwell, tried to ban Christmas altogether and to abolish all customs and traditions associated with it. Later puritans, like George Bernard Shaw, were to try something similar. The great rehabilitator of the Catholic celebration of Christmas was Dickens in this very book.
It has become a byword for celebrating a “Merry Christmas”, and “merry” is the word that Dickens actually uses, reminding us of “Merry England”, the Catholic England of the middle ages. Marley, and Scrooge before his conversion, are the very epitome of the Protestant work ethic: the worship of the false God money. The Cratchits represent the family celebration of Christmas with their eating of the goose and their drinking of what little liquor they had – “Some hot mixture in a jug with gin and lemons” with the Christmas pudding with its “half-a-quartern of ignited brandy”.

For Dickens is no puritanical teetotaller: he recognises, as good Catholics do, the value of alcohol used properly. It has always bewildered me how some say that to drink alcohol is forbidden to Christians when Our Blessed Lord’s very first miracle was to change water into wine. One is only disappointed that Dickens was not at Cana in Galilee to have described that wedding feats. St John does not do a bad job but Dickens would have described the idiosyncrasies of the master of the feast, and made our mouths water with the food on the table, as he does the Christmas shops in A Christmas Carol.

“The Grocers’! oh the Grocers’! nearly closed, with perhaps two shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses! It was not alone that the scales descending on the counter made a merry sound, or that the twine and roller parted company so briskly, or that the canisters were rattled up and down like juggling tricks, or even that the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest looker-on feel faint and subsequently bilious.

Nor was it that the figs were moist and pulpy, or that the French plums blushed in modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes, or that everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress: but the customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other at the door, clashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left their purchases upon the counter, and come running back to fetch them, and committed hundreds of the like mistakes in the best humour possible; while the Grocer and his people were so frank and fresh that the polished hearts with which they fastened their aprons behind might have been their own, worn outside for general inspection, and for Christmas daws to peck at if they chose.”

The Cratchits are among Dickens’s greatest creations. His pro-family and pro-life views are another Catholic feature. The unredeemed Scrooge had told those collecting money for the poor that the poor could die and “decrease the surplus population”. Just like a United Nations Commission today on the people of Africa. But the Ghost of Christmas Present throws his own words at him when Scrooge later enquires about whether Tiny Tim will live: “Oh kind Spirit! Say he will be spared.” The ghost says, “If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” This is followed by some of Dickens’s most vituperative words:

“Man, if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! To hear the Inspect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

Another Catholic characteristic of the book is its juxtaposition of humour, and sadness, almost tragedy. This is something found in Catholic English writers such as Chaucer and Shakespeare but it tended to end at the so-called reformation. The great twentieth century poet and critic, T.S Eliot, said that a “dissociation of sensibility” took place at that time. Thus every Shakespeare play, even the starkest tragedy contains humour. Consider the Porter Scene in Macbeth just after the murder of Duncan. Then consider the Protestant Milton. Certainly he is a great poet but where is the humour? The great Dr Johnson issued the most damning criticism of Paradise Lost, when he said that no one ever wished it a line longer than it is.

Now, in A Christmas Carol, Dickens has humour and sadness side by side not just in the plot but even in the same character. Scrooge is a sad character and very nearly a tragic one; however, even from the beginning he is also comic. It is worth stating that the French protestant novelists, Zola, Gide and Sartre, are all deficient in humour. Those who were Catholics, even if not very good ones like Proust and Balzac, have humour and tragedy interspersed. Henry James, American Unitarian, has no humour. Evelyn Waugh, Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton are full of humour. Not surprisingly, Chesterton has written about the greatness of Dickens.

Our book is about redemption, a very Catholic theme. Scrooge is like St Paul, St Francis of Assisi and the other great converts who change their lives. He is in the great tradition of the sinner who repents.

All this makes for a very Catholic book. I recommend it strongly for Christmas reading. Its five chapters, or “staves”, as Dickens calls them since it is a “Carol”, make for five sectional readings. And do read it aloud. Most books are good when read aloud and Dickens is the writer par excellence for reading aloud. He himself used to perform before audiences. If you are reading the book to children, then you might decide to make the occasional judicious cut. But not much. Perhaps the reference to something in the nineteenth century.

But never underestimate children and do not leave something out just because it seems to have a difficult word in it. If you have a few copies - and a good paperback can be obtained for two pounds - then you could even dramatise it with your children or grandchildren for Christmas. This is not difficult. Let one of them read the words of Scrooge, one the words of Marley’s ghost, one Bob Cratchit and so on while keeping the narrative part for yourself to hold the whole thing together.

There have been several film versions of the book, that with Alistair Sims in the old black and white one being probably the best. But a film version is never so good. How, for example, can a film producer convey this:

“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire: secret, and self-contained and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head and on his eyebrows and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it out one degree at Christmas.” No use having pictures of grindstones and oysters. It is Dickens’ words that work the magical effect.

The ability to laugh at yourself is a fine one, and one I learned with much other wisdom from Dickens. Laughter is very necessary in life alongside life’s more serious concerns. All life is to be found in Dickens, especially in A Christmas Carol. “God Bless Us, Every One.”


The Winter War

The Sword and the Sea remembers the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939 and how the heroic Finns, although they had to sue for peace, were able to retain their national sovereignty. Share

Thursday, December 17, 2009


The Marquis de Lescure was one of those brave Catholics who resisted the Revolution at the cost of his own life. According to The Mad Monarchist:
Louis-Marie de Salgues Marquis de Lescure was born on October 13, 1766 at Versailles into a noble family hailing from the Albigenses region of southern France. The struggling aristocracy often seems to produce the best loyalists and as he grew older Lescure made a good match, marrying in 1791 a cousin of another future famous royalist leader Henri de la Rochejaquelein. He attended the military academy from the age of 16 and early on was known for being very quiet, shy, brilliant and extremely religious but of the more austere type rather than the 'show-off' religious which was all too common at the time. He worked his way up to command a cavalry company just prior to the outbreak of the French Revolution.

At first, Lescure thought perhaps some good might come from the revolt, recognizing that many people were suffering. However, after the Royal Family came under attack his sacred loyalty to his Most Christian King demanded he resist. Fearing arrest he left the country for a short time as an emigre but soon returned. He defended the Tuileries from the republican mob and later sheltered many friends and family members from the horrors of the Terror. When the revolutionaries tried to conscript loyal peasants into their republican army they rose up in opposition and looked to their nobility to lead them, including the Marquis Lescure. Joining with de la Rochejaquelein he was from the outset one of the top commanders of the royalist army.

Lack of Civility

Why are people misbehaving? According to etiquette consultant Carol Bory:
  • Erosion of Authority Over the past decade or two we have seen a further erosion of respect for authority. This is partly due to the mistrust people feel based on the faltered behavior of some prominent people in the authority. With this lack of trust, people are now more aggressively questioning their decisions.
  • Strong Focus on Self While concern for self is good, an overly strong concern for self leads to self-centeredness or a strong focus on your needs, your wants, and your desires leaving little room for the awareness and concern of others. When we operate at this mode of self-absorption it is harder to show kindness, consideration or courtesy to others.
  • Excessive Drive for Achievement In the United States we place a high value on equality. While definitely a cherished value, some people derive their identity through an excessive focus on achievement. ”Doing” becomes more important than “being”. When a person becomes so focused on achieving they sometimes forgo the rules of civility. Add in stress, and there is an opportune environment for rude behavior.
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    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    In Darkest London

    A writer friend of mine who has been traveling abroad recently sent me the following letter from London, which he had not visited in over a decade. It seems that England has almost totally exhausted the cultural capital of Anglicanism. Here is the letter (my friend asks to remain anonymous):
    I've been in London for almost a week now, and I think it just might have been the longest week of my life. If you want to know what the Camp of the Saints is going to be like when it hits Pennsylvania, come to London.

    The tragedy of modern London is that if it did a Queen Isabella and expelled all its Muslims tomorrow, the situation would be no better. Peter Hitchens, the excellent Daily Mail columnist, has even argued that Muslims could be our short-term allies against the banksters and pornographers who control both major parties. He is not, of course, suggesting that any more permanent agreement should ever be made with them. He is merely paying credit where credit is due to the fact that Muslims actually believe their own stuff.

    What are the two greatest horrors of London in 2009? I would say they are
    slovenliness and credulity. The slovenliness has to be seen to be credited. Almost nothing works: showers, baths, light switches, most public telephones. E-mails and phone messages hardly ever generate a response. Allegedly competent businessmen will answer the phone by saying, not "Acme Enterprises, John Doe speaking", but "Hello". Even billionaires cannot afford a decent education for their children. (Homeschooling would be punished with the full ferocity of the law.) My hostess's son, who I believe graduated from some institution optimistically called a university, grunts - one can scarcely say "converses" - in a relentless mumbled prole-speak that, during my English childhood, was totally unknown outside the vilest Birmingham public housing projects.

    Yet the slovenliness is as nothing compared with the credulity. To the spite of a Parisian concierge, the average Londoner (especially if elderly and female) adds a most un-concierge-like capacity for believing the most outrageous lies. If these lies involve blacks, Arabs, or Catholics - let alone black Arab Catholics - so much the better. Sancta simplicitas!

    I'm no greenhorn. I've visited the slums of Los Angeles and Detroit. I've been in the Washington D.C. suburb which, during the 1990s' "crack wars", had the highest murder rate in all America. But London in 2009 is different. Those other places were jungles, with the robustness as well as the vices of jungle life. With London I perceive, instead, an atmosphere of an almost palpable evil.

    I rack my brains to come up with any society in European history that could be comparable. East Germany was just as officious, just as moronic, and just as contemptuous of the sanctity of marriage, but (save to outright dissenters) less violent. The only parallel I can think of - and you might find this of interest - is ... the rise of the Cathars. From what little I know of the Cathars, I recognize the same subterranean sort of cultural and spiritual malice.

    Here is an article about the new Britain. My friend is not alone in his impressions. Share

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

    The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed is an historical epic about Thomas Jefferson and the enslaved family who served him. Anyone who has ever done research based on the letters, memoirs and records of a family will know how difficult it can be to piece the information into a coherent narrative. For this reason, Dr. Gordon-Reed's work is truly awe-inspiring, in that she pulls together scraps of information about the Hemingses from the writings by and about the Jeffersons in order to craft a moving and insightful chronicle of slave life in America. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and our third President, was quite outspoken about the rights of the man, rejoicing in the French Revolution and the overthrow of monarchy. Jefferson, however, excerized more power over his slaves than did any absolute monarch over their subjects. Jefferson chose to govern his slaves with a certain benevolent paternalism, letting the Hemings brothers James and Robert come and go pretty much as they pleased as long as they came when he called. Neverthless, the fact that his entire existence was entwined with an unjust institution from which he never sought to extricate himself is one of the great ironies of American history.

    The book delves into the origins of slavery in Virginia, and how the "peculiar institution" became deeply engrained in the culture of that time and place, not going away when free Virginians won their independence from Great Britain. Dr. Gordon-Reed relates how John Wayles, Jefferson's father-in-law, made his fortune as a lawyer who oversaw the buying and selling of slaves. Through his wife Martha Wayles, Jefferson inherited the Hemings family, many of whom were the children of John Wayles and his slave mistress, Elizabeth Hemings. Therefore, many of the enslaved servants of the Jefferson family were close relatives. When Jefferson made the teenage Sally Hemings his mistress, after Martha died, the situation became even more complicated. Even if Sally had not been enslaved, Jefferson could not have married her because under Virginia law it was illegal to marry the sibling of one's spouse. Jefferson kept a promise which he had made to Sally in Paris, where their liaison began, that he would free each of her children when they came of age, and it was a promise he kept. Most of the other Hemings and the Jefferson family slaves remained in slavery and were sold at auction after Jefferson's death to cover his enormous debts.

    One aspect of the book which I found distracting was the author's propensity to remind the reader every few pages that various injustices were the result of the "doctrine of white supremacy." With such impeccable research presented in a flowing and compelling manner, it was unnecessary to be constantly preaching to the reader about the evils of such a "doctrine." It would have been better to let the injustices speak for themselves. Furthermore, there were others besides enslaved Africans who suffered from exploitation in the early days of our country, including white indentured servants, although they, unlike the African slaves, could at least look forward to freedom. In the cemetery of the parish church in Maryland where I went as a child there is a mass grave of Irish workers who died of cholera while constructing the C&O Canal and B&O Railroad during the epidemics of 1822 and 1832. The Irish immigrants rather than the African slaves were sent to do certain dangerous jobs because the slaves cost money and the Irish cost nothing. This form of servitude still does not compare to chattel slavery, since the Irish could not (usually) be sold.

    The power of Dr. Gordon-Reed's book lies in exposing once again the sad and tragic fact that many white Americans were convinced that Africans were subhuman. Examples are given in the book of Jefferson's conviction that Africans were biologically inferior to whites. That those who framed our system of government had such an approach to other human beings is a jarring commentary. It has always been a mystery how leaders like Thomas Jefferson could cry so loud for liberty and then live off the labor of those in chattel bondage. After reading The Hemingses of Monticello my understanding of the enigmatic Jefferson has been expanded as well as my compassion for those whom he held as slaves. Share

    Monsieur Perrault and His Fairy Tales

    Catherine Delors discusses the great French storyteller. Share

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    Now Available

    The Night's Dark Shade is now available from Amazon. Share

    Lullaby for a Dauphin

    On October 22, 1781 the long-awaited heir to the throne of France was born to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. The birth of the Dauphin Louis-Joseph brought unprecedented popularity to the Queen as well as increasing her political clout. While Marie-Antoinette was not involved in politics at the time, being the mother of a future king made her more dangerous to the enemies of the crown, and therefore a target for increasingly lurid calumnies. However, the first days of Louis-Joseph's short life were those of unmitigated bliss for his parents. As Maxime de la Rocheterie reports:

    On the 22d, on wakening, the queen felt some pain; she none the less took a bath; but the king, who was to go to shoot at Sacle, countermanded the hunt. Between twelve and half-past, her pain increased; at a quarter past one the dauphin was born. In order to prevent a repetition of the accident which had occurred at the birth of Madame, it had been decided that the crowd should not be allowed to invade the royal apartment, and that the mother should not know the sex of the child until all danger was past. On learning the news at half-past eleven, Madame de Polignac had run to the queen; but the other persons who ran there with equal haste—the ladies of the palace in the greatest undress, the men as they were — had found the door closed. Only Monsieur, the Comte d'Artois, Mesdames the aunts, Mesdames de Lamballe, de Chimay, de Mailly, d'Ossun, de Tavannes, and de Guéménée, were there, passing alternately from the bedchamber to the Salon de la Paix. When the child was born, it was silently carried to the large dressing-room, where the king saw it washed and dressed, and gave it to the governess, the Princesse de Guéménée.

    The queen was in bed, anxious and knowing nothing; all those who surrounded her controlled their countenances so well that the poor woman, seeing their constrained air, thought that she had given birth to a second girl. "You see how reasonable I am," she said gently; "I do not question you." But the king could no longer restrain himself. Approaching the bedside of his wife, "Monsieur le Dauphin," he said, with tears in his eyes, — "Monsieur le Dauphin requests permission to enter." The child was brought; the queen embraced it with an enthusiasm that cannot be described, then handing it to Madame de Guéménée, "Take him," she said, — "he belongs to the State; but I shall have my daughter."

    The scene was indescribable: all constraint was thrown aside; joy broke forth freely; it was so lively and so genuine that it even silenced jealousy and hate. An eye-witness wrote: —

    "The antechamber of the queen was charming to see. The joy was overwhelming; all heads were turned. You saw them laughing and crying alternately. People who did not know one another, men and women, fell upon one another's necks; and even those who were least attached to the queen were carried away by the universal delight. It was the same when, half an hour after the birth, the doors of the queen's chamber were thrown open, and Monsieur le Dauphin was announced. Madame de Guéménée, radiant with joy, held him in her arms and traversed the apartments in her chair, to carry him to her own apartment. There were acclamations of joy and clapping of hands, which penetrated to the queen's chamber and assuredly to her heart. The crowd adored and followed him. Arrived at his apartment, the archbishop wished to decorate him with the cordon bleu; but the king said that he must be made a Christian first."

    Madame heard the news, which was to remove her forever from the throne, in an amusing fashion. She was hastening to the queen, when she encountered one of those valiant Swiss then attached to the fortunes of France, the Count of Stedingk, who could not contain his joy: "A dauphin, Madame," he blurted out, "a dauphin, what happiness!" The princess answered nothing; but she had sufficient tact to hide her feelings and to manifest, outwardly at least, great satisfaction, being more clever than Madame de Balbi, "who showed the temper of a dog."

    Monsieur, like his wife, dissembled his sentiments. Madame Elisabeth was so delighted that she could not believe it; she laughed, cried, and was almost ill from emotion. The Comte d'Artois, alone of the royal family, let fall a word which betrayed his disappointment. His son, the young Due d'Angouleme, had gone to see the dauphin. "Mon Dieu! papa," he said on leaving the chamber, "how little my cousin is!" "A day will come, my son," the prince could not help replying, "when you will find him big enough."

    As for the king, he was intoxicated with his happiness; he did not cease to look at his son and to smile at him; tears ran from his eyes; he presented, without distinction, his hand to every one; his joy overcame his habitual reserve. Gay and affable, he sought every occasion to pronounce the words, "My son, the dauphin;" and taking the child in his arms, he held it up at the window, with an expression of content which touched every one.

    At three o'clock the new-born child was baptized in the chapel of Versailles by the Cardinal de Rohan, grand almoner. He was held at the font by Monsieur in the name of the emperor, by Madame Elisabeth in the name of the princess of Piedmont, and named Louis Joseph Xavier Francois. After the ceremony, the Comte de Vergennes, chief treasurer of the St. Esprit, brought him the cordon bleu; the Marquis de Segur, minister of war, the cross of St. Louis. A Te Deum succeeded the baptism, and in the evening there were fireworks on the Place d'Armes.

    He was an exceptionally beautiful child, of surprising strength, so it was said; and when one saw him fresh and rosy in his little bed, rocked by his nurse, Madame Poitrine, a predestined name, — a robust peasant woman from the neighbourhood of Sceaux, who swore like a trooper, was surprised at nothing, not even at the lace and caps worth six hundred livres with which she was decked out, but declared that she would not put on powder because she had never used it, — one called flown upon that little head the fairest wishes for the future. The ladies of the court, admitted to look at the royal infant, found him "as beautiful as an angel; " the courtiers disputed about the choice of the future governor; and one noticed, not without malice, the disappointed mien of the Duc de Guines, who had once flattered himself that he should have that place, and whose recent disgrace had robbed him of all hope. When the President of the Court of Accounts and the President of the Court of Aid came to pay their compliments, the latter said to the dauphin, "Your birth is our joy; your education will be our hope; your virtue our happiness."

    At Paris the transports were not less lively when Monsieur Croismare, lieutenant of the guards, announced the great news at the Hôtel de Ville. People laughed and embraced one another in the streets....
    It was "Madame Poitrine" who "swore like a trooper" who made popular the tune Malbrouk s'en va-t-en d'guerre, which she sang to the Dauphin as his lullaby. What may have originated as an Arab tune, brought to Europe by the medieval crusaders, had been known in France for quite some time. According to Kitchen Musician:
    Captain George Bush (1753-1797), a junior officer in the Continental Army, carried his fiddle with him, and kept a notebook collection of his favorite tunes, songs and dances. Here is one of those tunes, "Malbrouk" or "Malbrouk s'en va-t'en guerre", known to us today as "The Bear Went Over the Mountain", or "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow". This tune has been popular in France for some 250 years, and the French words and translation can be found in Peter Kennedy's book Folksongs of Britain and Ireland. It was named after John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722), whose military exploits under James II, William III and Queen Anne were well known. (And he was an ancestor of Sir Winston Churchill.) Apparently, it was a satirical song written in 1722 when France's foe Marlborough died, beginning "Malbrouk s'en va-t-en d'guerre, J'ne sais quand i' r'vindra" (Marlborough he's gone to the war, I don't know when he'll be back.)
    As the story goes, the Queen heard the tune being hummed by Madame Poitrine, and began humming it herself. Soon the entire court, even the King, were singing the song. It soon spread to Paris, where it was sung everywhere, as an expression of the people's joy over having a Dauphin. To commemorate the national exultation, Marie-Antoinette had a small tower built in her gardens at Trianon, called the tour de Malbrouk (below). The dauphin Louis-Joseph often played there before he died at age seven in 1789. Later, the verse Madame à sa tour monte ("My Lady climbs into her tower") was used to mock Marie-Antoinette as she was imprisoned in the tower of the Temple Prison in 1792.

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    The Vampire Craze

    I don't get it.... Share

    Sunday, December 13, 2009

    The Lady in the Tower

    Alison Weir's new book on the fall of Anne Boleyn is definitely on my wish list. For one thing, I enjoy Alison Weir's perspectives on English history and, although Anne is not my favorite among Henry VIII's queens, her swift rise and catastrophic fall is more tragic than any classical Greek drama. Here is an excerpt from book blogger Marie Burton (whose review is worth reading in its entirety):
    Some interesting facts that Weir touched upon were that Anne felt that Henry's dissolution of the monasteries had gone too far, and that Anne and Henry differed in their opinions about how far the reformation should go. Anne was not as zealous as Henry was, and did not condone the stripping of all of the funds that the Church had once relied on. I also found interesting that there were mentions of three ladies who were the ones to initially stir up the trouble with the accusations of adultery on Anne's part. There were many more courtiers who were involved in the setting of the snare, moreso than I had once believed. I was also intrigued as to the Catholic traditions that Anne observed before her death.