Monday, February 28, 2011

Tench Tilghman of Maryland

Washington, Lafayette, and Tilghman at Yorktown
And so, as the dawn of that day grew bright
Was the dawn that followed the dreary night
Of trouble and woe and gloom and fear
That broke at last to a morning clear,
Brought by Tilghman over away
From Yorktown and Gloucester, far below
To the South, one hundred and twenty-five years ago.
~ Howard Pyle on Tilghman's Ride
 In the above painting the lily banner of royal France flies beside the American flag even as George Washington and Colonel Tench Tilghman, Washington's trusted aide-de-camp, stand with the Marquis de Lafayette, sent by King Louis XVI to help the Americans in their struggle for independence. The painting is after the Battle of Yorktown where the British were defeated by the French and American forces in October, 1781. Tilghman holds in his hands the dispatches with news of the victory which he would personally take to Congress in Philadelphia. According to Revolutionary War Archives:
Additionally, it was Tench Tilghman who brought the news of the surrender of General Cornwallis and the British on October 19th, 1781 following their defeat at Yorktown, to Congress. Tilghman, in his journey to notify Congress in Philadelphia, first stopped in Annapolis, Maryland and informed Maryland Governor Thomas Sim Lee of the surrender. However, Governor Lee had already been informed of the news, and as a result, sent the State House messenger, Jonathan Parker, to Philadelphia with the news. But, since those in Philadelphia were used to hearing information in the past that turned out to be rumors, and afraid to celebrate too soon, they waited anxiously for the official word; those dispatches that Tilghman carried. From Annapolis, Tilghman boarded a ferry at Rock Hall, Maryland, and after stopping to rest and see his family, continued on his journey to Philadelphia, arriving on October 24th, 1781. He first delivered the news to the President of Congress, Thomas McKean, then later that afternoon, attired in his full uniform and dress sword, Tench delivered the news to the members of Congress, as well as answered the numerous questions about the Battle of Yorktown. In appreciation for his faithful service, Congress awarded Tilghman a horse and another dress sword. That evening, a celebration by torchlight was held in Philadelphia in honor of Colonel Tilghman and the victory at Yorktown. In preparation for this celebration, the following was written and distributed to those in Philadelphia, saying, "those citizens who chose to illuminate on the Glorious Occasion, will do it this evening at Six, and extinguish their lights at Nine o’clock , and decorum and harmony are earnestly recommended to every Citizen, and a general discountenance to the least appearance of a riot."
 Dr. William H. Wroten, Jr. of Salsbury, Maryland wrote the following in the Salisbury Times in 1962:
Tench Tilghman's ride has become somewhat of a legend; therefore, various accounts have been given of his journey between Yorktown and Philadelphia. In some accounts, where that facts are not known, writers have attempted to picture what it must have been like as he crossed the Chesapeake Bay, rode through Kent County, etc. But for this story we will use Esther M. Dole's "Maryland during the American Revolution."
"By the terms of the surrender Cornwallis gave up 7,247 regular troops besides 840 sailors. One hundred and six guns were taken. The land forces and stores were assigned to the Americans and the ships and marines to the French who had ably assisted with their fleet. Maryland troops deserve a full share of the honor of this achievement for they have given material aid in the field under Gist and the State had exerted every effort to furnish the necessary supplies for the combined armies to maintain the siege."

ON THE surrender of Cornwallis, Col. Tench Tilghman of Maryland, aide-de-camp, was selected by Washington to carry the news to Congress at Philadelphia in the form of an official dispatch. Taking boat in York harbor he went to Annapolis which had received the news the day before from the Count do Grasse. He crossed the bay to Kent County, landing at Rock Hall, where he found a horse waiting for him. he then took the old post road to Edesville to Chestertown, thence north to Georgetown where he crossed the Sassafras River. When a horse would tire he would stop at a farmhouse so the account goes, and would shout, 'Cornwallis is taken, a fresh horse for Congress,' and one he would go."

He passed through Wilmington, and on to Philadelphia. It took him four days to make this memorable trip, and he arrived at midnight Oct. 23, 1781.

He knocked on the door of Thomas McKean's house (the President of the Continental Congress) told him of the glad tidings. Soon watchmen throughout the city were proclaiming the hour and shouting "All is well and Cornwallis taken." Within minutes most of the citizens were awake and in the streets celebrating the happy news. The State House bell rang out "Liberty" for the new American nation.

...Of more interest to us was the celebration that took place on Oct. 22, after Tench Tilghman rode into Chestertown. "This great event was no sooner announced to the public, than a large number of worthy citizens assembled, to celebrate the signal victory, (in a high degree auspicious to the cause of freedom and virtue) which was done with a decency and dignity becoming firm patriots, liberal citizens, and prudent members of the community-amidst the roaring of cannon, and the exhibition of bonfires, illumination, et., the gentlemen (having repaired to a hall suitable for the purpose) Drank the following toast, viz., 1. General Washington and the Allied Army; 2. Count de Grasse, and the Navy of France; 3. Congress; 4. Louis the 16th; a friend to the Rights of Mankind; 5. The United States; 6. General Greene and the Southern Army; 7. Count de Rochambeau; 8. The Memory of the illustrious Heroes who have fallen in the defense of American liberty; 9. King of Spain; 10. The United Provinces; 11. The Marquis de la Fayett; 12. The northern Arm; 13. The State of Maryland-the last in order but not the last in Love."
Tench Tilghman was the son of one of Maryland's oldest families. As the Maryland State Archives tell:
Tench Tilghman, one of Maryland's great patriots, was born on December 25, 1744 in Talbot County on his father's plantation. He was educated privately until the age of 14, when he went to Philadelphia to live with his grandfather, Tench Francis. In 1761, he graduated from the College and Academy of Philadelphia, which later became the University of Pennsylvania, and then went into business with his uncle Tench Francis, Jr. until just before the Revolutionary War. 

Tench Tilghman's public service began with his appointment by Congress to a commission established to form treaties with the Six Nations of Indian tribes. In 1776, Tilghman was commissioned captain in the Pennsylvania Battalion of the Flying Camp. In August 1776, he joined George Washington's staff as aide-de-camp and secretary. He served without pay until May 1781, when Washington, calling him a "zealous servant and slave to the public, and faithful assistant to me for nearly five years," procured for him a regular commission in the Continental Army....

After the War, Tilghman returned to Maryland where he resumed his career in business in Baltimore and married his cousin, Anna Marie Tilghman. They had two daughters, Anna Margaretta and Elizabeth Tench. Tilghman died on April 18, 1786 at the age of 41.
Tench Tilghman's Grave in Oxford, Maryland
In the words of George Washington (from a letter to Richard Tilghman, the brother of Tench Tilghman):
As there were few man for whom I had a warmer friendship or greater regard for your brother Colonel Tilghman—when living; so, with much truth I can assure you that there are whose death I could have more sincerely regretted—And I pray you and his numerous friends to permit me to mingle my sorrows with theirs on this unexpected and melancholy occasion. June 5, 1786 ...none could have felt his death with more regard than I did, because no one entertained a higher opinion of his worth.
 More HERE. Share

A Fairy Tale Wedding

Grace Kelly and the Prince of Monaco.
Grace Kelly had a seven year contract with MGM at the time of her marriage, which was irksome as Prince Rainier was insisting that she give up acting as soon as she was married. This wasn’t unusual at all – it was still generally accepted at this time that women should give up work when they became wives and the duties of a Princess of Monaco would be particularly time consuming. Okay, maybe Rainier went a bit far when he banned Grace’s films from being shown in her new country but it was important to him that his wife should be fully respected by his people. Remember how Marie Antoinette’s harmless amateur theatricals with her closest friends harmed her reputation and dignity in France?

As part of the conditions of her release from MGM, Grace had to agree to the wedding being filmed for distribution worldwide as a film. Grace hated the intrusion of dozens of cameras filming what was supposed to be the best day of her life, but I am sure cinema goers of the time and the estimated thirty million people who watched on television loved the spectacle of celebrities turning up to the star studded event before the bride herself appeared, followed by her husband.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Tudor Secret

Everyone has a secret. Like an oyster with its grain of sand, we bury it deep within, coating it with opalescent layers, as if that could heal our mortal wound. Some of us devote our entire lives to keeping our secret hidden, safe from those who might pry it from us, hoarding it like the pearl, only to discover that it escapes us when we least expect it....
~from The Tudor Secret by C.W. Gortner
As I perused the opening lines of The Tudor Secret (above) chills ran down my spine; I knew then and there that whatever I had planned for the next twenty-four hours was going to be in major competition with reading. C.W. Gortner's newly released historical novel about sixteenth century espionage is a thriller, a mystery, and a startlingly vibrant portrait of the Tudor princesses. Young Elizabeth Tudor, who is an old friend to most readers of historical fiction, is at the center of the drama, as is her wont. She is the Bess we know and love and yet Mr. Gortner in his artistry makes her as enigmatic as never before. I appreciated the balanced portrayal of Princess Mary, bearing the heartache of being unloved for so long, yet every inch a granddaughter of the great Isabella.
According to the author's website: 
Summer 1553: A time of danger and deceit. Brendan Prescott, an orphan, is reared in the household of the powerful Dudley family. Brought to court, he finds himself sent on an illicit mission to the King's brilliant but enigmatic sister, Princess Elizabeth. But Brendan is soon compelled to work as a double agent by Elizabeth's protector, William Cecil--who promises in exchange to help him unravel the secret of his own mysterious past. A dark plot swirls around Elizabeth's quest to unravel the truth about the ominous disappearance of her seriously ill brother, King Edward VI. With Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting at his side, Brendan plunges into a ruthless gambit of half-truths, lies, and murder. Filled with the intrigue and pageantry of Tudor England, THE TUDOR SECRET is the first book in the Elizabeth I Spymaster series.
Robert Dudley and his entire family are shown as being wretches, always at odds with each other, thinking they can win by lies and brute force. Meanwhile, Brendan, a young man of hidden origins, uses his quick wits to learn the ways of espionage, mentored by Master Cecil, the best in the game. The reader is given a glimpse into the secret world by which thrones were gained and lost. Brendan overcomes his initial fears to take whatever risks he must to save the princesses from betrayal and death. With spies and counterspies canceling each other out, The Tudor Secret makes it clear that neither force nor gold can buy a faithful heart, rather genuine loyalty is inspired and retained by indefinable qualities, qualities which Elizabeth Tudor possessed. Such a gift is at the mysterious center of The Tudor Secret. As the first in the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles, the book offers us much to look forward to in the future.

Some insights on The Tudor Secret from a Tudor historian, HERE.

Book Trailer, HERE.

Q&A with Mr. Gortner, HERE and HERE.

(*NOTE: The Tudor Secret was sent to me by the author in exchange for my honest opinion.) Share

The Queen of Naples

Marie-Antoinette's most beloved sister.  According to the Mad Monarchist:
One of those royals who was famously converted to conservatism after being confronted with the harsh realities of revolution was Maria Carolina of Austria who was the Queen of Naples. She was born Archduchess Maria Carolina in Vienna, the thirteenth child of the prolific power couple Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Her godfather was King Louis XV of France and she was said to look the most like her mother who was a very formidable and outstanding woman. Her favorite sibling was her ill-fated sister Marie Antoinette and the two girls got up to such mischief that their mother had to separate them because they were always causing trouble. Empress Maria Theresa, who was a very astute stateswoman, wanted a marriage alliance with the Bourbon Royal Family of southern Italy (the Spanish branch that ruled Naples & Sicily) to keep Austria and Spain allied. Originally it was Archduchess Maria Josepha who was supposed to marry King Ferdinand IV of Naples but when she died of smallpox the duty fell on young Maria Carolina because the only other choice was considered too old.

Maria Carolina was not too happy about this and threw a fit, saying that no good ever came to those who married into the House of Naples. Personal preference, of course, did not come into these things and Maria Carolina and Ferdinand IV were married by proxy on April 7, 1768. When husband and wife met they seemed quite different. Ferdinand was a rather simple man, more comfortable talking to a workingman on the street than elites in the palace. Queen Maria Carolina on the other hand was a very complex and complicated person. She was very kind, very intelligent, curious, generous and compassionate but she could also be imperious and ruthless toward enemies and she knew how to hold a grudge. However, in spite of their problems, the new King and Queen of Naples had 18 children so Maria Carolina was made of tough stuff, though not all of them survived, an army nonetheless. Many people sympathized with her, thinking the king rather crude and it was true that Maria Carolina was often unhappy but she did her duty like the professional royal she was, no matter how upset she would get at her husband eating spaghetti with his fingers in the royal box at the opera.

I have blogged about Maria Carolina before, HERE and HERE. Share

Rosalie Lubomirska

A Polish princess in the Terror. Share

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sophie Piper

A wonderful post about the sister of Count Axel von Fersen. Share

The French Royal Martyrs and Monaco

The Mad Monarchist has an intriguing offering about Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and the House of Monaco, saying:
I have often been asked about the relationship between the ill-fated French royals King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette and the Principality of Monaco. I have been hesitant in addressing this subject for a number of reasons but wanted to for others. In the first place, there is not much to tell. The short answer is that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had practically nothing to do with Monaco or the Grimaldis aside from the occasional social meeting....

Politically of course, the King of France and the Prince of Monaco were very close. The political situation was pretty much the same then as it is today. Monaco was, and still is, an independent protectorate of France. The Prince of Monaco, at the time Honore III, was a sovereign monarch but King Louis XVI of France was responsible for the protection of Monaco. However, the Grimaldis were much more important in France in the time of Louis XVI than they are now since the Princes of Monaco held lands and titles in the French aristocracy and so had a high place in the French court so, naturally, there were meetings between the two at Versailles and so on. However, Honore III was about 34 years older than Louis XVI so it would not be expected that they would be buddies or anything or even nearly as close as say Honore II and Louis XIII or Louis I and Louis XIV had been. However, even with the Hereditary Prince Honore IV, he and his wife, Princess Louise, Duchess de Mazarin, did not have much in common with Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette.

The French King and Queen never visited Monaco, they rarely traveled at all and even the Princes of Monaco at that time were seldom in Monaco themselves. Prince Honore IV is something of a mysterious figure, only slightly younger than Louis XVI, since before the Revolution he was so overshadowed by his over-the-top wife and afterwards by his brother Prince Joseph who managed family affairs because Prince Honore IV was frequently ill. The marriage of Honore IV and Louise de Aumont Mazarin had been arranged and the two were completely incompatible with Princess Louise grabbing the most attention. As far as wives go, no two women were more opposite than Princess Louise and Queen Marie Antoinette. Not many people realize this because of the inaccurate portrayal of the French Queen but, as a matter of fact, the Hereditary Princess of Monaco was much closer to the way Marie Antoinette is so often accused of being.

No matter if one dismisses the most lurid tales as nothing more than court gossip there is no denying the fact that Princess Louise was a woman of rather loose morals who loved nothing more than wild and lavish parties with the most inventive costumes and diversions. Marie Antoinette is often portrayed this way but the truth is the total opposite. The King and Queen were both very religious people whereas the Grimaldis, although staunch Catholics of course, were not the most devout people in the world and Princess Louise certainly was not. Queen Marie Antoinette purposely did not associate with her because she so disapproved of her lifestyle, attitude and even her appearance. Whereas Marie Antoinette had a more delicate, childlike sort of beauty, Princess Louise was very voluptuous and bold and that type. So, Queen Marie Antoinette avoided Princess Louise specifically for behaving in ways that the Queen herself is so often accused of. It serves to illustrate how terribly unfair the popular portrayal of Marie Antoinette has been.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Early Sixteenth Century Households

What was the role of women? According to the blog Once I Was a Clever Boy:
My series of tutorials on sixteenth century women continued today by looking at women in two somewhat different households. The first was that of Thomas More at Chelsea, and in particular his eldest daughter Margaret Roper (1505-1544) and her sister-in-law Anne Cresacre (1511-1577). the other was that of the Dowager Duchess of Norkolk at Horsham St Faith and Lambeth, which produced Katherine Howard (c.1521-1542), Henry VIII's fifth wife.

They are interesting as households in that we have internal evidence of the way they functioned and in the lives of the women formed within them. More was in many ways exceptional in his interests and appreciation of the possibilities of female education. It was a serious, learned,pious household. As a friend once pointed out to me it anticipates the Puritan households of thelater decades of the century and of the next. Indeed another similar one might be the Ferrer household at Little Giddings in the 1630s and 1640s. With its humanist educational ideals it was unusual for its date in England apart from the Court and the circle around Queen Katherine of Aragon and her daughter, Princess Mary.

Requiem for Friendship

Anthony Esolen discusses in a poignant and disturbing manner how our society's obsession with sexuality will taint our perceptions of the most basic and natural relationships. To quote:
So far, I have lamented the attenuation of male friendships, which suffer under a terrible pincers attack: The libertinism of our day thrusts boys and girls together long before they are intellectually and emotionally ready for it, and at the same time the defiant promotion of homosexuality makes the natural and once powerful friendships among boys virtually impossible.
Anyone can count up the resulting cases of venereal disease and teen pregnancies. A few social analysts of more penetrating insight can note what is unquantifiable, the despair among our young people, the dullness in the eye, the feeling that people are never to be trusted, that to fall in love is to be a contemptible fool.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Canterbury Manor

Another grand old Talbot County, Maryland plantation is Canterbury Manor. Originally known as "Tilghman's Fortune" it was yet another land grant made by Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore in 1659The plaque on the front gates reads thus:
1000 Acres Patented 17 January 1659/60 to Richard Tilghman, citizen and chirurgeon of London, later Maryland planter. On this manor was first seated Dr. Richard Tilghman, who was granted by the Lord Baron of Baltimore the prerogatives of a "Court Baron and all things thereunto belonging by ye law or custome of England". He was the great-grandfather of Colonel Tench Tilghman, Aide-de-Camp to General George Washington in 1665 Dr. Tilghman conveyed the manor to Richard Preston, commissioner for the Province of Maryland under Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth of England for whom it was resurveyed and granted by Lord Baltimore with full manorial privileges of a Court Baron. Erected and dedicated April 23, 1950 The Descendants of Lords of the Maryland Manors through the good offices of W. Alton Jones.
More about the famous Tench Tilghman in another post. The present structure of Canterbury is described by Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage:
Canterbury Manor is a colonial revival mansion on Bailey’s Neck, overlooking Trippe Creek, the main block built by Colonel F. Carroll Goldsborough in 1906. The majestic two-and-one-half story home was expanded by the Wheeler Family who lived in the house from 1915 until 1945. The grand foyer with original glass extends through to the water side of the house. The master bedroom has views of the entire property and a large porch overlooks the formal gardens and the pool. Featured on the third floor is a teddy bear-filled grandchildren’s dormitory tucked under the front facing eave.

I understand the house is currently in a state of disrepair but am still researching the matter. There is not much online so I am going to have to do some footwork, come springtime. Share

Liberty's Exiles

What became of the Tories and Loyalists? A new book explores the question.
What became of the Americans who remained devoted to the crown—sometimes called Tories but more accurately described as loyalists—after the triumph of George Washington's Continental Army? It is a relatively neglected subject, now handsomely addressed by Maya Jasanoff in "Liberty's Exiles." Basing her work on far-flung archives, Ms. Jasanoff takes us on a global voyage from North America to Europe, Africa and even India—and back again—as her subjects cross and recross the Atlantic in search of an elusive utopia. The loyalists were a multifarious group, including Virginia grandees, New York tradesmen and former black slaves, many of whom had won their freedom through service in George III's forces. Ms. Jasanoff's ability to blend structural analysis with engrossing accounts of personal experience makes "Liberty's Exiles" a highly readable book as well as an informative one.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Marie-Antoinette: Her Personal Style

Gareth Russell offers some reflections on fashion and the court of Marie-Antoinette, saying:
The personal style of Marie-Antoinette and her confidantes is something often misrepresented. Like earlier queens, such as Anne Boleyn and Henrietta-Maria, Marie-Antoinette was genuinely interested in fashion for fashion's sake - she enjoyed the touch and sight of gorgeous fabrics and daring, fashion-forward gowns. Unlike other sovereigns, such as Elizabeth I or Louis XIV, the Queen did not enjoy dressing for the sake of grandeur or political display. Her decision, in the 1780s, to patronise the movement for simpler, elegant lawn dresses was one of her more controversial, but is also indicates that the Queen preferred style to splendour and innovation to tradition when it came to fashion.

Interview with Author Susan Higginbotham

Susan is an expert on the Wars of the Roses and this interview of her by author Christy English is particularly interesting and enjoyable. Share

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Madame Royale Interview

Catherine Delors and I recently discussed the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette as I portrayed her in my novel Madame Royale.


Defending the Wittelsbachs

They had their weaknesses; they also had their strengths. According to The Cross of Laeken:
The Wittelsbachs also produced an array of admirable ladies, such as the sisters of Empress Elisabeth, Maria Sofia (above), the last Queen of Naples, and Sophie Charlotte, Duchesse d'Alençon (below). Maria Sofia is famed for her fearlessness in trying to defend the falling Kingdom of the Two Sicilies from Garibaldi's forces; her valor and devotion won her the respect even of her political foes. Even more moving is the tale of Sophie Charlotte, who died heroically in a terrible fire. Her self-sacrifice is poignantly related in a worshipful biography of her niece, Queen Elisabeth, who was only 21 at the time of the tragedy.

The New Adventures of Baby Jesus

February being the month of the Holy Family, I thought that this essay in Touchstone by my friend Becky Sicree would be most appropriate. Share

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mourning the Empress

Here is a fashion print of une Dame de Qualité in mourning for Marie-Antoinette's mother, Empress Maria Theresa. Share

The Duchesse de Navailles

A strong lady who took a stand against the predatory habits of Louis XIV.
The king’s heart was filled with the human follies which in youth make the false happiness of many an honorable man. He let himself be gently led by his passions, and chose to satisfy them. He was then at Saint-Germain, and had taken a habit of going to the apartment of the queen’s maids of honor. As the entrance to their chamber was forbidden by the sternness of the lady of honor, he often talked with Mademoiselle de La Motte-Houdancourt through a hole in the partition, which was made of pine boards.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Massacre at Glencoe

They came in the night when the men were asleep
This band of Argyles, through snow soft and deep
Like murdering foxes amongst helpless sheep
They slaughtered the house of MacDonald

Chorus: O, cruel was the snow that sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave o' Donald
O, cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house of MacDonald

Some died in their beds at the hand of the foe
Some fled in the night and were lost in the snow
Some lived to accuse him who struck the first blow
But gone was the house of MacDonald


Scientism and Progressivism

It is error to believe that science has the only truth, as well as to confuse novelty with truth. To quote Dr. Zmirak:
 For Progressivism and Scientism, the past is dross, a burden, a decaying mass of unfounded theories, primitive prejudices, and deadening authorities -- the "idols" Francis Bacon sought to smash. Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus was the first eloquent spokesman for this rejection. In The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus's opening scene, the good doctor runs through the whole body of received knowledge -- logic, medicine, law, and theology -- naming the fathers of each field and rejecting them. Aristotle, Galen, Justinian, and Jerome are all invoked and dismissed, in favor of the more "practical" art of magic....

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Both Gareth Russell and Stephanie Mann provide accounts of the tragic death of the Nine Days Queen. Share

The Decline of Male Space

Why man caves are important. (But don't become a Mason, as the article recommends!) Share

Friday, February 18, 2011

"A Gripping Portrait"

A magnificently insightful review of Madame Royale by author Catherine Delors. To quote:
Thérèse alone lends dignity, and legitimacy, to these surviving Bourbons. Her allegiance to her uncle Louis XVIII silences those who raise questions about the fate of her brother, who may, or may not, have died in the grim embrace of the Temple prison. But this does not quell the demands of her conscience nor her the longings of her heart. She is racked by doubt and never abandons her quest for her lost brother.
We see Thérèse from the inside, and also as her contemporaries perceived her: a handsome, majestic woman, but also one whose demeanor is outwardly aloof, whose voice is hoarse and croaky, maybe from her long silence during her years at the Temple.

Some passages in the novel make an unforgettable impression, in particular Thérèse’s meeting with Jeanne Simon, the widow of the cobbler Simon, who had been appointed “tutor” to Louis XVII at the Temple. One could have expected a hateful description of the old lady, but Vidal, in addition to doing impeccable research, never lets us forget that revolutionaries too are human. In Mère Simon, she shows us an outwardly harsh, but uncannily perceptive woman.  She and Thérèse, across the chasm that sets them apart, are united by their love of the lost child.

There are other highlights, in particular Thérèse’s almost nightmarish return to Versailles after the Restoration, when she finds the ghosts of her loved ones haunting the gilded palace of her childhood.
The novel is a work of utmost subtlety, a quality that is nowhere more apparent than in the evocation of Thérèse’s union to her cousin, the Duc d’Angoulême, heir to the throne. Like every marriage, this one is a mystery to outsiders, but we feel Thérèse’s ongoing struggle to breathe life and love into it. Readers looking for romance or lurid bedroom scenes will be disappointed, but I found the complexity of the couple’s relationship entrancing.
 Madame Royale available HERE. Share

John Zmirak on Lying and Mental Reservation

I think this is one of the best posts of all on the Lila Rose/Live Action story over which Catholics are picking each other apart. To quote:
 When we speak to each other, conveying accurate information back and forth is one legitimate goal, but it is neither exhaustive nor absolute. When a wife asks her husband, "Do you think I look fat?" she isn't always even asking for a literal answer to her question. What she wants to know is often, "Do you still love me? Am I still attractive?" A puritanical, legalistic answer to such a question is often an act of cruelty, masked by self-righteous "honesty."

If we viewed information as a good, one that must be traded fairly like any other, we would see that a question asked by someone with no right to the truth -- like a Nazi murderer, or a professional abortionist -- is like a demand made at gunpoint by a robber. If someone holding a gun in your face insists you write him a check for your life savings, is it wrong for you to sign the check "Mick E. Mouse"? He has no right to your money, so you've no business signing it over to him. There is no legitimate expectation of honesty in that context, so telling the truth in fact is a violation of justice on your part. A sin. If silence isn't an option, you have an active duty to confuse, mislead, or say something untrue. It doesn't amount to lying, any more than killing a robber in self-defense amounts to murder. Such literalism is as much, and the same kind, of heresy as pacifism.

So police officers interrogating criminals, spies infiltrating conspiracies to fly airplanes into skyscrapers, soldiers using deception (rather than torture -- which Aquinas, alas, allowed) need not emulate the subtlety of the Serpent in the Garden in order to deny the truth to those who don't deserve it. We don't need to pervert our image of God such that we believe He is pleased at our Pharisaical observance of the law, even when it results in the death of the innocent. To picture God that way really is a lie, of the kind that kills the soul.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wye House

Wye House is the Talbot County, Maryland plantation which figured prominently in the memoirs of author Frederick Douglass as one of the places where he lived as a slave. Lately, Wye house and the slaves who lived there have figured prominently on the news, due to excavations at the old orangerie and at the site of the greenhouse. According to Discovery News:
In his eloquent autobiographies, abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass described the cruelty he experienced as an African-American slave in Maryland during the early 19th century. But Douglass' descriptions may have been missing some important details about the richness of slave culture at the time.

In a greenhouse on a centuries-old estate where Douglass lived as a young boy, archaeologists have dug up a variety of both mundane objects and strategically placed symbols of spirituality. These artifacts show for the first time that slaves lived in the greenhouse and that they sustained African religious traditions, even as they probably outwardly practiced Christianity.

By analyzing grains of fossilized pollen from the site, researchers were also able to show that the slaves used a corner of the greenhouse to experiment with plants for food, medicinal and household purposes -- beginning what would become an African-American gardening tradition.

Together, the wealth of new discoveries paints the broadest picture yet of the people who slaved away on a well-known plantation for centuries. "African-American religion in the form of African traditions gave this building a second identity, one that was not described or not known by Douglass," said Mark Leone, an archaeologist at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"This is African-American culture here, both in terms of religion and agriculture, that has traditions that are still alive today," he said. "There was a whole set of concepts, ideas and practices that kept the community whole. That isn't something that could be destroyed through brutality."

The greenhouse, known as the Wye Orangery, was built in 1785. Today, it is famous for its architectural beauty, its rarity and its notable history. It is the only 18th-century greenhouse that remains in North America. It sits on a plantation, which was founded on Maryland's Eastern Shore by the Lloyd family in the 1650s and has been passed down through nearly a dozen generations of the same family since.

The plantation has been immortalized by the writings of Frederick Douglass, who lived there for a few years around the age of seven. In his 1845 book "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass," the author, an ex-slave and famous orator and abolitionist, describes his time on the Lloyd plantation as full of fear and outrage. With horror, the young Douglass witnessed beatings and bloody whippings.

Now more than 150 years later, Leone and colleagues are trying to gain a deeper understanding of the slaves who kept the plantation running. For six years, the researchers have been digging on the land and probing its buildings. In their latest endeavor, they plunged into the greenhouse. As well known as the structure is, its secrets have been long hidden.
"This building has always been known to be a greenhouse and anybody could guess that slaves probably ran the heating system, but nobody could tell if slaves lived in the building or what they did beyond stoking the fire and being the laborers for the enormous surrounding garden," Leone said. "That was how we started."

As they dug below a north-facing back room, the researchers found dishes, teacups, cutlery, buttons and other objects. Those objects identified the area as a slave quarter that was occupied between about 1785 and 1820. About two inches beneath the doorstep outside the quarter's threshold, they also discovered two projectile points and a coin -- signature objects used in African religious traditions to control the coming and going of spirits. Inside, they found another religious symbol: A stone pestle mortared into the framework of the furnace by the slaves who built it.

In addition to the religious and everyday objects, the researchers were able to document an extensive series of agricultural trials conducted by the slaves who lived there. Their experiments began with medicinal plants, including Seneca snakeroot, ginger root and buckbean. They also grew broccoli, bananas and wild greens, as well as shrubs and flowering plants. By the 1820s, they were cultivating more exotic plants, including lemon and orange trees, irises, lilies and members of the rose and nightshade families. As they labored with seeds and clippings, the slaves gained a wealth of gardening knowledge that they held onto as they gained freedom and left the plantations....
The greenhouse at Wye House
More HERE. Share

Charm School for Delta Agents

An airline has finally admitted that their employees need to learn basic social skills. According to The Wall Street Journal:
In its training program, Delta emphasizes these five ways to 'wow' fliers with customer service:
  • Make it personal. Focus on the person in front of you, not the long line of people. Greet each one memorably.
  • Be empathetic. Put yourself on the other side of the counter.
  • Listen, ask, listen again. Customers tune out routine announcements. Agents tune out customers.
  • Solve together. Involve customers in solutions by offering choices.
  • Be there. It's a lot easier to check out than check in. 'If you don't remember your last three customers, you are just processing,' said Delta facilitator Michael Hazelton.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lila Rose: Is She Lying?

Fr. Angelo has compiled most of the key posts which both critique and defend the methods of Lila Rose and Live Action. I am flabbergasted that anyone could accuse Lila Rose of "lying" because members of her organization pretend to be pimps and prostitutes in order to entrap Planned Parenthood workers who are aiding those involved in child exploitation. By such rationale, it would be a mortal sin for undercover policemen to pretend to be drug dealers or teenagers on the internet or all the other things they have to pretend to be in order to catch criminals.

And what about spies? Even the Vatican has employed a number of spies over the years, some of the better spies, I might add. And what about all the Jesuits who went to England in disguise in order to minister to the English Catholics? Was St. Edmund Campion supposed to walk up to the local magistrate and say: "I am a Jesuit priest and I am here to convert you." NO. He pretended to be a jewel merchant. Why? Because St. Edmund, like Lila Rose, was dealing with unjust laws and criminal behavior, albeit the criminals had (and have) government approval. In a Catholic Church in southern Maryland there are several priests buried under the sacristy floor. They had come in disguise in the 16 and 1700's to help the Maryland Catholics who under British law were not allowed to practice their faith. Some of the priests are buried under their aliases because no one knew their real names. They had come pretending to be merchants and traders.

What about the brave souls who work in the underground in Communist countries? You can be sure a lot of role-playing and mental reservation goes on there. What the Live Action people do in order to entrap murderers and child abusers is brave and should be commended. I do not see how any pro-life Catholic person could think otherwise. I think there might be is a bit too much hair-splitting going on in some quarters. Scrupulosity is not a virtue. It never ceases to amaze me what Catholics will find to pick on each other about.... Share

Princess, Bastard, Queen

Stephanie Mann reviews a new biography of Queen Mary I. More on Mary from Stephanie, HERE. To quote:
Anne Whitelock does much to address some of the commonplace characterizations of Mary and her reign. The biography comprehensively covers Mary's life beginning with the circumstances of her conception and birth, the marriages arranged for her while still a little child, her education, and all the trauma of separation from her parents, the years of tension over "The King's Great Matter", culminating in Katherine of Aragon's death and later the oaths Mary was forced to swear, her conflict with Anne Boleyn and relations with other stepmothers up to Henry VIII's death (Part One: A King's Daughter). In Part Two, A King's Sister, Whitelock focuses on Mary's determination to practice her Catholic faith freely in spite of pressure from her much-loved half-brother and his council--and then covers her tremendous victory over Northumberland, demonstrating her determination and her ability to rally supporters to her cause.

In Part Three, A Queen, Whitelock even more dramatically depicts Mary's achievement in becoming the first Queen Regnant of England, dealing with a council of men who doubted her ability as a female to rule, who had supported Northumberland's coup against her or who even had bullied her to give up the Catholic Mass. Mary's courage and rousing rhetoric to persuade Londoners in support against the rebellion led by Thomas Wyatt are clearly a high point in this section, as she wins her people over again to defend her. She clearly states that her first loyalty is to her people and that she would not marry if she thought such a relationship would endanger England. They rally round her and support her, based on her expressed care and concern for them. After Wyatt's rebellion is defeated, Mary cannot afford the mercy she had shown Jane Dudley and her spouse, especially when Jane's father had taken part in the attempted coup.

In Part Four, A King's Wife, Whitelock covers the most delicate territory: the heresy trials and subsequent burnings at the stake of bishops, preachers, lay evangelicals, those who committed sacrilege in their opposition to Catholicism, heretics (by any Christian standard), and Thomas Cranmer, Mary's bete noire. She also addresses one of the saddest episodes of Mary's life when she believed, in error, that she was pregnant, preparing to deliver a child, having prayers said, anticipating that she would have an heir to succeed her. Chapter 58 is a remarkable chapter, describing Mary's wholehearted participation in bathing the feet of 12 poor women and touching the ill. Otherwise, Whitelock effectively presents details about Mary's relationships with Reginald Pole, her cousin and Archbishop of Canterbury--whom she protects from the Pope; Elizabeth, her half-sister--whom she does not completely trust and yet, preserving orderly succession, must acknowledge as her heir; and Philip, her husband--to whom she would not submit as Sole Queen of England, even though he wanted to reign equally with her.

The New Statism

Jeffrey Tucker on the economics of Keynes. To quote:
Keynes is like Marx in that he has been refuted again and again, and every generation of thinkers declares the body of ideas dead from the neck up. It was this way with Marx in the 1890s, when German thinkers were already dismissing his ideas as defunct. But it was all premature. So with Keynes: Economists in the late 1930s wrote him off, and again in the 1940s. By the late 1950s, economists were already apologizing in advance for refuting him yet again. And yet here we are, 75 years after the General Theory appeared, and Keynes is still the man.

It's about time that someone with a voice in the Catholic world actually spoke about Keynesian theory, for this is indeed the source for just about every crazy scheme of governments to wreck the functioning of markets throughout the world. The naming of Keynesianism here falls in a great tradition, too. Popes from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI have condemned Marxism time and again, but it is not Marx who is the muse behind the current fiasco among developed economies on both sides of the Atlantic.

Keynes was neither Marxist nor socialist but rather a pragmatist who had an upside-down way of viewing the functioning of markets. He saw all problems of recession as reducing to a single problem: Resources were still instead of active. This was true for labor, capital, and even money, which is why he was so intent on schemes that get people off their feet and work, get consumers spending instead of saving, and get factories coughing up products rather than waiting it out.

W. H. Hutt had it right in 1939 with his book called The Theory of Idle Resources. He argued that there are rational reasons for consumers to save and not spend, rational reasons for factories to pull back rather than squander their resources, and even rational reasons for people to hold high cash balances. Even unemployment masked an underlying rationality: Businesses might not be hiring at present wage rates, and workers are either not inclined or not permitted to lower the asking price for their labor.

Keynes would have none of it. He wanted action, busyness, production, labor, spending -- these were the key. If the public wouldn't do it, his prescription for prosperity involved a vast increase in government control over economic life using fiscal and monetary planning to "stimulate demand" and discourage saving, while believing that prosperity could be generated out of a printing press if necessary. In other words, Keynes wanted a vast coercive apparatus to goad markets into doing what he believed they should be doing, and never mind the cost.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ratcliffe Manor

The sign above can be seen along a road near my mother's house in Easton, Maryland. I heard that it pointed the way to one of the few "baronies" to be found in America, one of the earliest land grants on Maryland's eastern shore. I decided to explore a bit more. The "Robert Morris of London, Mariner" mentioned in the sign was a sea captain who was the great grandfather of Robert Morris the financier and signer of the Declaration of Independence. The Morris family eventually settled in Oxford, Maryland. The land grant was from Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore. Oliver Cromwell died in 1658 and that is when Cecil Calvert began to make land grants again. The land grants were begun by his father, George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, who was so highly favored by Charles I that he was on the Privy Council yet not required to take the Oath of Supremacy, which as a Catholic Calvert could not in good conscience do. King Charles gave George Calvert a patent in America called "Mary's Land" in honor of Queen Henrietta Maria. And so in 1659, Robert Morris received a patent of land from George's son, Cecil Calvert. Such are the origins of Ratcliffe Manor.

An Old Postcard of Ratcliffe Manor
In 1749, the Morris family sold the land to Henry Hollyday who built the manor house for his bride. As described in Hammond's Colonial Mansions of Maryland and Delaware:
It is situated in Talbot County, on the banks of the beautiful Tred Avon River, and is not far from the busy little Eastern Shore metropolis of Easton. The site of Ratcliffe Manor is such that it has a charming outlook. One sees the windings of the Tred Avon and the fine farms of this rolling, fertile country. To approach the house one drives through a long avenue of trees set in rows about one hundred feet apart, and this avenue is bounded by white bar fences of oldtime appearance. The home grounds are encircled by a fence of this same fashion and in back of the house the land is terraced, falling away to the river in graceful green sweeps. Here, too, are shrubs and flowers, while giant trees give a grateful shade from summer's sun. In exterior view, Ratcliffe Manor has a great atmosphere of comfort and content. It is not large but very well proportioned. In design it follows the Maryland convention, consisting of a central building with a wing, and the middle of the central portion is distinguished by a simple and beautiful portico and doorway.
In the interior of the house, one is again impressed with an air of comfort and good taste. The hall is small and does not continue to the back of the house. To the right of the door as you enter is the stairs. In the back of the house are two rooms,—a dining and a living room,—the latter of which opens upon the terraced garden, its avenue of ingress and egress being a doorway of exactly similar design to that in front of the house. To the left of the front door as you enter, is a little office, or study, wherein the master of the plantation in the old days interviewed his overseer and attended to the many small details of management of the place.

The rooms downstairs are panelled in hardwood and the fireplaces are very prettily carved. In the living room is a very beautiful old shell cupboard and an alcove window of rare charm. The wing of the house contains the kitchen, the servants' rooms, and the pantry.

Ratcliffe Manor, the house, takes its name from Ratcliffe Manor, a survey made in the early days of the Maryland province and part of which was purchased with other lands by Henry Hollyday, the builder, when he was making a home for himself. In his will of 1789, this Henry Hollyday leaves to his wife (Anna Maria Robins) during her life "the plantation and lands where I now live and all my lands adjoining or contiguous thereto being part of Ratcliffe Manor, part of Tilghman Fortune, Part of Discovery and Turkey Park."
Ratcliffe Manor remained in the Hollyday family into the twentieth century. The house still stands although the surrounding lands are the site of housing developments. I have not been to the house yet since it is down a wooded lane and not open to the public, but I have not given up hope of seeing it.


Egypt and the Revolution

Professor Walter R. Newell examines the patterns of past revolutions as exemplified specifically by the French and Russian Revolutions. He points out that Revolutions usually occur when conditions are improving and makes some predictions about what will happen next in Egypt. To quote:
Since the French Revolution in 1789, revolutions have shown common features that are directly relevant to what is happening in Egypt right now. Since the final outcome in Egypt after Mubarak’s ouster– a new regime — may be weeks, even months or years, away, it is worth pausing to take the long view.
In general, the initial reformist phase of such revolutions focusing on individual rights and opportunity is swept aside by radicals who want an egalitarian and collectivist political order. Thus, liberal reformers like Lafayette and Mirabeau inspired by the American Revolution with its emphasis on individual liberty were followed by true collectivists like Marat and Robespierre. In the same manner, Kerensky was followed by Lenin; BaniSadr (if not exactly a liberal, a technocrat bent on secular modernization) by Khomeini.
The second, truly revolutionary phase is usually preceded by the delusion on the part of the liberal reformers that they can form a partnership with the radicals, harnessing their populist energy to help bring about the transition to free elections,economic modernization and individual rights. The radicals, for their part, always look on these alliances as purely tactical, to be overturned when the time was right to take over. We can predict a similar outcome for Mohommad El Baradei’s and other reformers’ opening to the Mulsim Brotherhood’s leaders.

Another consistent feature is that revolutions take place, not in the most repressive of tyrannies, but more typically in despotisms whose grip is already loosening, and where both a degree of economic prosperity and liberalization are already taking place. The administration of Louis XVI was the most liberal and reformist ever known in France; it attempted to introduce a free market system and break the economic hold of the aristocracy over the masses. Similarly, Tsar Nicholas II alternated between harsh repression and encouraging the Duma to share power with the crown; during his reign, the Russian economy was one of the fastest growing in Europe, reaching levels in agricultural production that Nikita Krushchev conceded in 1956 had still not been equaled.

In the case of Egypt under Mubarak, the outbreak against his rule was preceded by a period in which modest progress was being made in Egypt’s economic prospects and standard of living, due to a small amount of oil, a lot of tourism, and increasing foreign investment. This year the economy grew by a robust 6%. Ditto in Iran, where the Shah was committed to political and economic Westernization and secularization. Ditto in Russia, where Gorbachev’s toppling of the Soviet regime was preceded by the Brezhnev era in which Russians were finally tasting some solid economic benefits.

Common to these cases is Toqueville’s thesis of the revolution of rising expectations. Fitful and semi-effective autocratic reformers whet people’s hopes for a better future, but cannot satisfy the expectations they arouse. Their own semieffective reforms unleash the forces that overthrow them. Then the liberal reform regime is in turn swept away by the true revolutionaries, who do not want a liberal “bourgeois” revolution like the American revolution, but want to revoke both traditional authority and the half-completed modernization in favor of a populist collective.

During the flash point that signals the downfall of the autocrat, there is often a moment of truth when it becomes clear that the autocrat’s own allies, especially the military, will not take the extreme measures necessary to crush the revolt, and tell the autocrat they will not fire on the people. This happened with Louis XVI, the Tsar and the Shah....

I predict that, within a few months of a transitional reformist regime taking over, headed by a coalition of largely secular reformists, we will see enormous demonstrations in the streets by followers of the Muslim Brotherhood, far better organized and militant than the ones that drove out Mubarak, a sea of banners shouting for the destruction of Israel and the expulsion of all American and western influence. Let’s make good and certain we know what we’re wishing for in Egypt. Authoritarian regimes can transition to liberal democracy, but it is an infinitely complex and potentially dangerous process.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Madame de Polignac's Lover?

Gareth Russell explores the matter of the Comte de Vaudreuil. More on Gabrielle, HERE.



It's the color of the moment. According to the Wall Street Journal:
In the Netherlands, orange is the official color of royalty. In India, the flag's saffron band represents courage, and the hue is holy in Hinduism. Orange is also having a moment in the fashion zeitgeist. Mario Batali serves a fizzy pumpkin-colored drink called an "Aperol spritz" at his restaurants. "It's bitter, tangy, and not very strong," said Mr. Batali. "So you can drink a lot of them." Like the flame-haired chef, designers this spring have a particularly high tolerance for orange's sweet-and-sour charms.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Marie-Antoinette and the Egyptian Revival

What flourished under Napoleon began with Marie-Antoinette.


Paris Underground

The tunnels beneath the City of Light reveal the layers of the past.

Paris, City of Light, really is a tale of two cities. One of them is above ground, with its beloved Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe. That’s the city the world sees. And then there’s the city very few us will ever see — an underground Paris, the souterrain. Below the city, concentrated on the south bank of the river Seine, hidden limestone quarries dating back centuries provided the stone for Paris’ great monuments like Notre Dame. The mining left behind a labyrinthine maze — at least 180 miles of abandoned tunnels, secret rooms and caverns, odd wormholes barely big enough to wriggle through, running directly below some of the best-known city streets.

Exploring the Parisian underground is, of course, a French history lesson. On stone walls, there is graffiti from the French Revolution. More recently, there are former Nazi bunkers — and a few feet from them, hideouts for the French resistance and giant columns to hold up edifices above, like the military hospital Val de Grace....

As we crawled, walked and loped, Daniel talked about possible dangers, the most serious of them being a sudden fontis, or collapse. That’s exactly what happened in 1774 — when a street called Rue d’Enfer collapsed. (Interestingly, the name of the street meant “Hell Street” and has been rechristened Denfert-Rochereau.) King Louis XVI, who would later lose his head in the French Revolution, ordered his architect to the underground to assess the damage. Horrified, Charles Axel Guillaumot reported back that much of Paris could collapse; it was built over fragile quarries that stretched for miles.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Master in a Lesser Crowd

Here is a commentary, based upon an exhibition at the Whitney Museum, about Edward Hopper and modern art. To quote:
Our best artists absorb their influences rather than simply reflect them, which is why Hopper's work rises above so much of even the most admirable other art on display here. The show puts Hopper within a context that relates him to those of his contemporaries with whom he had an affinity in reflecting the unromantic realities of their increasingly modernizing and industrializing world. But that's not what happens when you actually look at the works on view. For one thing, most of the painters are hard-core romantics whose approach suggests a kind of tenderness toward the nitty-gritty world that they ultimately must manipulate to fit with their individual representational styles of painting....

The exhibition is introduced with selected clips from the 1920 Charles Sheeler-Paul Strand film collaboration "Manhatta," which best encapsulates the sensibility that the show is meant to evoke: transforming the 19th century's affair with the great new land into an even more intense romance with the wonders of urban modernism. Whatever the merits of the exhibition, this doesn't really happen in most of the paintings on view—as distinct from the much more evocative photographs by, for example, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. Nowhere is this more starkly evident than in the juxtaposition of three street scenes—two fine etchings by Hopper and Martin Lewis, and a Strand photograph, in which the prints almost seem to mimic the camera's intensity. Perhaps the lesson is that as photography elbowed its way into art, a modern medium was the best means of truly describing modern life.

The City

What makes a city?
One could make a reference to Aristotle, who says that having a group of people live in the same place, under the same laws, does not yet a society make; a society requires constant, everyday, physical meetings between its members. The city is nothing without its people. Banal-sounding, perhaps, but it also means that the true form of the city is given by its members in constant interaction (or, by the constant interaction of its members?). This is why I could feel instantly comfortable, the moment I came out from the subway and unto the streets of lower Manhattan; because I instinctively and immediately recognized the atmosphere, because I knew right away how to behave on a street busy with people pursuing their own business - stepping into a deli for a sandwich, waiting for the light to change etc.; it was Novi Sad, it was Rome, it was Karlsruhe (just taller).

Friday, February 11, 2011

Eighteenth Century Children

Titillating Tidbits explores what life was life for children in the days of Marie-Antoinette. Share

A Silk Dress

Fit for a queen, worn by a merchant's daughter, it is much more elaborate than most of the clothes worn by Marie-Antoinette. Share

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Alternate States of Unreality

Fr. Angelo offers an intriguing discussion on alchemy, magic, Renaissance Christian esotericism, Wicca, and occultism in general. I am looking forward to reading his book. To quote:
The origins of Western occultism are largely connected with the Christian Gnostic writings pseudonymously attributed to a pre-Christian magician by the name of Hermes Trismegestus.  The writings are largely mythological and philosophically connected with neoplatonism, an amalgamation of both Christian and pagan ideas.

The context of my research is the formulation of a critique of the Harry Potter series, a matter about which I have thought for more than ten years.  During that time I have been reading the books, and, for reasons I will mention in my own book on the subject, have until now remained silent.

One of the principle defenses of the Harry Potter series by Christians who are thoughtful readers is based on J.K. Rowling’s assertion that her own research for Harry Potter concerned, not magic, but alchemy.  This defense goes on to assert that alchemy was not principally about the transmutation of metals or the acquisition of the Elixir of Life, but about the purification and transformation of the soul.  According to this argument, the alchemical transformational process is consistent with Christian mysticism.  I do not accept this argument and will explain why in my book....
 Wicca and gothic, postmodern, occult culture is not in the least harmless.  Good faith has nothing to do with it.  The question of overt Satanism has little to do with it either.  The choice for Christ is not compatible with contemplative experimentation and Christian esotericism, because the light is not compatible with the darkness, and Christ can have no concord with Belial (cf.2 Corinthians 6:15).  We have allowed the bruised egos of the likes of Marilyn Manson to keep us making the most refined distinctions in regard to what actually belongs to the satanic.  This is the reasoning championed by Freemasonry, because the Craft is essentially militant occultism in a popular form.  Satan is king of the convoluted.

Just for the record, I have chosen not to draw any conclusions here with respect to Harry Potter.  That will come in due time along the lines of a reasoned argument which is not the burden of this post.  For now we can just say that Rowling deals with these issues and she takes them seriously.  Harry Potter is a serious work and not just a cartoon-like children’s story.  The issues at hand are about life and death.  May we all choose life and close the door to the spirits of darkness.

On "Traditional" Marriage

Writer Eve Tushnet questions using the word "traditional" as a reason for defending holy matrimony. (Via Maggie Gallagher) I think she makes some good points, saying:
Two things have happened to contemporary marriage which all but compel traditionalist rhetoric in a non-traditionalist culture. First, one of marriage’s core purposes has been suppressed in public discourse. Marriage developed in major part to regulate sex between men and women—to regulate it not solely within marriage but before marriage. The idea that marriage as an institution should regulate whether the unmarried have sex used to be obvious. It’s not that everyone actually abstained, as the bawdy songs show! But the cultural expectation was that premarital chastity could be demanded, defended, held up as social necessity and religious virtue, and its opposite punished (as in the sadder bawdy songs) or wryly rejected (as in the funnier ones).

Ten minutes’ conversation with people in their teens or twenties, anywhere from Main Street to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, will make clear that the exact opposite of this perspective is now as obvious as the older one used to be. Premarital sex is not only practiced but assumed, and often valorized. (You should live together before marriage; don’t be stupid!)
We can debate whether this deregulation has been good for the elite, for the underclass, for men, for women, for children, etc., but I’m not here to ask who lost the sexual revolution. I’m pointing out that when a core purpose of a tradition is still acknowledged in public debate, people don’t defend the tradition for tradition’s sake. They defend it because it serves the core purpose. This approach to tradition is inadequate, for reasons I tried to draw out in my first post, but it’s an obvious rhetorical approach in a pluralist society.

Secondly, the competing authorities that used to combine to make marriage compelling have now been discredited or pitted against one another. Church and state once agreed here, even when they fought elsewhere. Yet the very idea of something simultaneously sacred and legal is now suspect—almost unintelligible, which is one reason so many people I talk to think that the optimal solution to the gay-marriage debate would be for the government to “get out of marriage,” but they think that just isn’t practical.
When a tradition is justified by its support from a beloved authority, people don’t defend the tradition for tradition’s sake. They defend it because it comes from and flows back toward the authority.
The honor and beauty that accumulated around marriage over millennia of liturgy, folk culture, and pain and grace still attract us; yet the necessities, the suffering that marriage sometimes could transform into sacrifice, are often no longer intelligible. So we fall back on a language which is all assumption and allusion. The only word we have left for marriage is “traditional.”

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth Woodville

Each refused to be a mistress so that they might be a queen, although in Elizabeth's case her king did not already have a wife (at least, not that she knew of).