Thursday, March 31, 2011

Monsignor Alfred Gilbey

Eric Hester, a retired head master, who now writes some Catholic journalism, sent me the following:
A recent post on the noble Tea at Trianon website about a distinguished Oxford University Catholic Chaplain, Monsignor Ronald Knox, has led me – to be fair – to put something about a great chaplain at the other place: Monsignor Gilbey who was chaplain, to the Catholic undergraduates in the University of Cambridge from 1932 to 1965 – 100 terms. When he died, aged 97, in 1998, one obituary said he was “the best loved priest of his generation.”

Alfred Gilbey, having been educated at Beaumont, (a Jesuit boarding school on the Thames near Eton, which the order later closed) he then went to Trinity College, Cambridge, subsequently, after his ordination, returning to Cambridge as chaplain. He remained there for 33 years. He then lived in London, “ in retirement” for 32 years.  His leaving of the chaplaincy was a disgrace. Those who know what happened can hardly bring themselves to mention it: it was concerned with his not wishing to integrate the men’s and women’s chaplaincies into one. In retirement he was granted the singular privilege of living in a famous London club, the Travellers’, in Pall Mall where the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Heenan, gave him permission to say the old Mass in his room.  He also went to say Mass at the London Oratory, often known as the Brompton Oratory.

His time as  Cambridge chaplain was a fruitful one and one of joy.  The obituary in the London  Daily Telegraph said: “His extraordinary influence as chaplain was due in part to his piety, his rock-like faith and his ability to explain Catholic beliefs in clear and simple terms; and party to his kindness and friendliness, his sympathy, his courtesy and charm.” This is a man who appreciated good food and wine – especially claret from his family firm, which still imports gin and claret into England.   He was a member for years of the Trinity Foot Beagles – an organisation who hunt with dogs but follow on foot rather than riding.   But he was no snob or neglecter of his duty.  Professor Eamon Duffy, Professor of the History of Christianity, former President of Magdalene College (and whose book The Stripping of the Altars is a classic) said of him:  “Alfred Gilbey was a man of disarming simplicity, in whom social decorum blended indistinguishably into the life of grace.” In his retirement, even as a very old man he still responded to sick calls and was at the side of the dying.

Then there are all his converts. To change slightly Mark Antony’s famous words, “He hath brought many converts home to Rome…” In our days when an individual convert is amazing news, it is difficult to grasp that Monsignor Gilbey instructed hundreds of converts. He was clear what he was about. He once told a journalist; “Conversion? No, I’ve never done that. I receive.  I instruct.” One of the most distinguished is  Professor David Watkin former fellow of Peterhouse (one of the oldest Cambridge colleges) and Professor of the History of Architecture, the author of such fine books as Morality in Architecture Revisited. Professor Watkin has written with a real love of the man who received him into the Church in 1963. He expressed sadness at Gilbey’s resignation from the chaplaincy before he had intended to go: “a victim of Vatican II, though he would not have put it like this.”

Trinity College, Monsignor Gilbey’s college, vies with King’s as the grandest of the Cambridge colleges. A member of the aristocratic Lambton family in the early 1900s is said,  when asked at Newmarket (the racecourse near Cambridge) which college he attended, to have replied: 'Don't know. Trinity, I suppose. But it was the college of  inter alios, Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore and Wittgenstein not to mention Isaac Newton who discovered the law of gravity when an apple hit him on the head in Trinity gardens and he speculated as to why it fell down and did not go up. Trinity claims to have been the home of more Nobel Prize winners than Japan.

Monsignor Gilbey was always faithful to the Church, though one who knew him says that “Of the many changes in the Society of Jesus after the Second Vatican council and the closure of Beaumont, his old school, he could hardly bring himself to speak, so painful he found them.”  His views on education were sensible and, therefore, are now very unfashionable. Nicholas Lorriman wrote of him: “Alfred’s view of education was necessarily ‘vertical’ and hierarchical, the duty of the educator being to draw those in his charge up towards the highest values, not degrade them to some socially engineered common denominator.” He wrote a book of instruction called We Believe, now out of print, I fear, but if you come across one buy it because it is better on the beliefs of the Catholic Church than anything produced by the committees of bureaucrats for the last thirty years, though this is faint praise. His Monsignor Gilbey’s Commonplace Book is a mine of fine and delightful passages and again should be snapped up if a copy is found.  A wonderful book, edited by David Watkin, is Alfred Gilbey: A Memoir by Some Friends  but it was published privately and copies are very rare; I keep mine under lock and key.

Monsignor Gilbey gave good advice not just about spiritual matters but about life, such as about how to order from a menu: always choose your main course first and then your first course to go with it and not the other way round.  It is, however, the piety of the man that made the greatest impression on all who knew him.  RIP.    
Monsignor Gilbey's obituary, HERE.

The Ghosts in Sarah Palin's Book

A review of America by Heart by David Chambers, grandson of Whittaker Chambers, who says:
Her reason for quoting Chambers, Palin states, is that “by reminding us that we are fallible and fallen, families show us in concrete, everyday terms that which is not.”

If reminding us of our own fallibility was her intent in quoting from Witness, Palin should first have read the chapter called “The Story of a Middle Class Family.” Fallibility runs rampant here. Whittaker Chambers’ parents were unhappily married. His paternal grandfather drank. His maternal grandmother went mad, amidst the comforts of home. His father left the comforts of home to explore his bi-sexuality (actually, that tidbit appears in a biography). His brother committed suicide.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Alexander Palace

There are plans in  motion for the last house of the last Tsar to be restored. According to The Voice of Russia:
The residence of the last Emperor of Russia Nicholas II in Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin), which is one of the St. Petersburg suburbs, is gradually turning into a museum. The St. Petersburg authorities have approved a concept for the restoration of the Alexander Palace, which earlier was used as the residence of the Russian Emperor. 

700 to 800 people can simultaneously visit the museum complex, which is being re-created in the Alexander Palace, from where the Bolsheviks took him away into exile. In 1918 they killed him and all of his family members in Yekaterinburg in the Ural Region, as the director of the museum-estate Tsarskoye Selo Olga Taratynova said in an interview with the Voice of Russia. 

“This is a tragic and in a way a beautiful story, which serves as a point of interest for visitors. They want to learn more about the life of the royal Romanov family. There’s a feeling of suffering and doom in the Alexander Palace where the family of the last emperor of Russia lived. The private rooms of the members of the family of Tsar Nicholas II, which were furnished by Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna according to her tastes, are situated in the eastern wing. It seems to me that they were very comfortable,” the director says.
Many members of the royal family loved the Alexander Palace. Built at the end of the 18th century by the order of Cathrine II for her grandson whom she loved very much, the Alexander Palace is a 2-story building with wings on both sides. There’s a Corinthian colonnade of two rows, and on the park side the façade of the building is shaped as a semi-rotunda with a spherical cupola. The great Italian architect Jacomo Quarengi, who designed that palace, also created the interiors of the Majestic Suite of Rooms. Although during the Second World War the territory on which the Alexander Palace was located was occupied by the German fascists, all the rooms are well preserved. And if the luxurious Cathrine Palace, which was part of the Tsarskoye Selo architectural ensemble - Rastrelli’s baroque masterpiece – was destroyed in compliance with the fascists’ plans, the Alexander Palace survived because the fascists’ headquarters was housed in its premises. After the war the palace was given to the disposal of the Soviet Naval Department.

Many things, including  paintings, furniture pieces, icons, porcelain items, and carpets, which the Romanov family used  after the collapse of the Russian monarchy, waiting for the decision on their fate,  are well preserved too. For example, the coloured clothed image of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, will be again put on display in the new exposition. Her tragic fate resembles the fate of the Russian Empress: during the Great French Revolution Marie-Antoinette was beheaded, the keeper of the Alexander Palace Yelena Artemyeva says.

The Gobelin tapestry, “Marie Antoinette”, is what the Russian Empress received as a present from the former French president Emil Lube. The point is that at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century Tsar Nicholas II and his wife often visited Paris. In Versailles in France the Russian Empress saw this portrait of Marie-Antoinette, which was made by Vigee-Lebrun. Another portrait, produced by a Gobelin tapestry manufacture, was brought to Russia by Emil Lube and given to the Russian empress as a present. She didn’t qualify his gesture as a sinister sign, and instead of putting it in the farther corner of her room, she hung the portrait in her main room. 

According to the present-day plan, the reconstruction of the Alexander Palace will continue for 3 years. Of course, its exterior outlook will not change, and all technical devices will stay in the basement floor and in the roof space.
More HERE. Share

Les Bastides

Here is an article on the medieval towns of the south of France, originally built to house the poor, as I mention in the novel The Night's Dark Shade. In time they became thriving centers of trade. To quote:
During the 11th and 12th centuries in France, a small community huddled for protection at the foot of a fortified feudal castle was known as a castrum, or bourg astral, or castellan. A settlement clustered around a church or monastery was called a sauveté—a place of safety. But in the early 13th century a new kind of village appeared on the scene, particularly in the southwest, known as a bastide. The word derives from bâtir, to build, and in no way suggests a bastion. It’s not to be confused, either, with a Provençal bastide, which is a large farmhouse....

There are far too many bastides to cover all at once, but Villefranche-de-Rouergue, in the Aveyron, is a good starting point for a tour. It was built in 1252 by Alphonse de Poitiers, who became count of Toulouse when Raymond VII died in 1249, and was a mainstay of bastide development. He set the new town at the intersection of the Aveyron River with major roads leading to nearby silver and copper mines. Choosing the northern riverbank, he made the town an outpost on the border with Aquitaine.

The Thursday morning market in Villefranche is one of the region’s best. Climb to the top of the Collégiale church for a bird’s-eye view of the town’s checker-board layout. Inside the church, André Sulpice’s 15th-century woodcarvings on the underseat ledges of the choir stalls depict delightful scenes from daily life. (Known as miséricordes, from the word for mercy, the ledges offered a support to lean against while standing through long ceremonies.) Similar carvings are found in the beautiful Chartreuse, or Charter House, on the outskirts of town. The 17th-century Chapelle des Pénitents Noirs boasts a splendid Baroque ceiling, and both the Maison du Président Raynal and the extraordinary Maison Dardennes-Bernays with its sculpted stairway tower are grand examples of wealthy homes.

From Villefranche, take a detour to the storybook village of Najac to visit its formidable château fortress, also built by Alphonse de Poitiers. On clear days panoramic views from the top extend as far as the Pyrenees.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Betrothed

I Promessi Sposi by Alessandro Manzoni is one of the earliest historical novels as well as a great love story of Italian literature. According to The Wall Street Journal:
The tale is set in Lombardy in 1628 during the oppressive Spanish occupation and the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). There is simplicity to the story, but that's deceptive. Manzoni's larger theme is the complex triumph of divine justice on earth, for the novel is religious as well as historical. In his study of history, Manzoni always felt himself drawn to the millions whom historical records utterly ignore—in his words the "gente di nessuno," "nobody's people."

The betrothed of Manzoni's title are Lorenzo Tramaligno (known as Renzo) and Lucia Mondella, two young peasants who share an undying love in their desperate attempts to marry against near-insurmountable odds. Renzo and Lucia, who live near Milan, plan to be wed by the local priest, Don Abbondio. But thugs of the local baron, the villainous Don Rodrigo, who himself desires Lucia, threaten Don Abbondio, and the weak, intimidated cleric tells the lovers that the wedding cannot be performed. The story follows the travails of the two lovers amid wars, famine, bread riots and plague. It is a journey that reveals religious hypocrisy, sainthood and such memorable historical characters as the Nun of Monza, a feared criminal known as the Unnamed, and the virtuous Cardinal Federigo Borromeo—a virtual political and social tapestry of 17th-century Italy.

Manzoni's vivid account of the 1630 outbreak of bubonic plague in pestilence-stricken Milan, amid ravages, chaos and hysteria, is superbly drawn. Discussing Manzoni's description of the Milan bread riots, a modern-day writer in a literary blog touched on the author's eye for the larger picture and the timeliness of the novel's content. "Replace," the blogger wrote, "flour with oil and bread with gasoline and Manzoni's chapter is a story for today."

Manzoni's advocacy of a united Italy made him a hero—some called him the saint—of the Risorgimento, the surge for Italian unification. Garibaldi, the leader of the movement, and Cavour paid him homage. His death at age 88 was a cause of general mourning throughout Italy. He received a magnificent state funeral with princes, ministers and nobles in the cortege. Verdi honored this patriarch of Italian literature with his great memorial, the "Manzoni" requiem.

Saint Catherine and Saint Joan of Arc

St. Catherine of Alexandria is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. To quote:
Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret had rich crowns on their heads. They spoke well and fairly, and their voices are beautiful--sweet and soft. The name by which they often named me was Jehanne the Maid, Child of God. They told me that my King would be restored to his Kingdom, despite his enemies. They promised to lead me to Paradise.~ Jehanne La Pucelle

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Records of La Pérouse

The fascinating blog BiblioOdyssey has collected some of the illustrations based upon the travels of La Pérouse. La Pérouse was sent by Louis XVI to explore the Pacific Ocean. More on the voyage if La Pérouse, HERE and HERE. Share

Wedding Preparations

 Being a bride is a full-time job, especially when you’re getting married on a tight budget. Getting married on a tight budget means being your own wedding planner and florist. It means that everything else in your life is going to fall by the wayside as you get ready to be a wife, including your husband-to-be. It means making a zillion phone calls, sending a zillion emails and wishing you had a private secretary to help you keep up with it all. It means hardly having time to eat, and being glad for an occasional can of Slim-Fast to keep you going. (Read More.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Duchess of Angoulême in Mourning

Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte at the tomb of her parents.

A lithograph of Madame Elisabeth of France, sister of Louis XVI. Share

Victoria and Abdul

A review by Genevieve Kineke. To quote:
 Much has been made of the companionship between Queen Victoria and gillie John Brown, not the least of which was the movie Her Majesty, Mrs Brown. But recently recovered letters add depth to the already curious story concerning another man who significantly impacted her life. That would be an Indian fellow brought to the palace from overseas (though “intense relationship” may overstate the case somewhat).
 More HERE and HERE.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

La Peregrina

The pearl that belonged to both Mary Tudor and Elizabeth Taylor. (Via Mary Tudor, Renaissance Queen.) To quote:
...Many (if not most) visitors to the National Portrait Gallery, London will never know that Elizabeth Taylor (and her then husband, Richard Burton) were also great lovers of the arts. And it was because of this love that today the NPG has in its collection a small but beautiful portrait of Queen Mary I of England by Hans Eworth.
The portrait--NPG 4861--is a small picture, diminutive even at 8.5 x 6 5/8 inches. It may have been a cabinet picture of the kind that was kept in a small 'cabinet' or cupboard in an owner's private chambers [1]. It could also be that its small size allowed for portability so that it could easily be moved during travel. Within the picture Mary stands in front of a green banner of state. In front of her is a carpet-covered ledge, reminiscent of the kinds found in Giovanni Bellini's depictions of the Virgin Mary.

In her proper right hand Mary holds a red English rose and in her left a leather glove. She is wearing a purple velvet gown with an undergown of cloth of gold with gold embroidery. Her hands are covered with rings, eight in total. And around her neck she wears a necklace of pearls and diamonds, with a large square diamond pendant. Below this pendant hangs a large tear-drop shaped pearl that is probably "La Peregrina" (The Incomparable), a pearl made famous by its being given to Mary I by Philip II in 1554, the same year that the portrait was created.

In 1969 Sir Richard Burton purchased a pearl said to be La Peregrina for his then wife, Dame Elizabeth, at Sotheby's of London. Soon thereafter, and with the help of Cartier, Elizabeth designed a necklace for the pearl based upon jewels depicted in a [now unknown] portrait of Mary Queen of Scots [2]. Two years later, in December 1971, the Eworth portrait was offered for sale at Sotheby's, where it was eventually purchased by the Leggatt Brothers for £28,000. The Leggatt Brothers were fine art dealers and often acted as the go-between for high profile buyers and various auction houses, ensuring that the buyer would not have to pay a premium based upon their celebrity status. The Leggatts also occasionally acted on behalf of the National Portrait Gallery, and many other national collections, in order to assist in valuation and also in order to ensure that important pictures remained in the national collections [3].

From the NPG files it seems clear that from the beginning the Gallery expressed interest in the picture, hoping to add it to their collection. Life portraits of Queen Mary were then and continue to be very rare and although this Eworth portrait is small, it would have been an important and valued picture for the nation's collection. At the same time, Sir Burton was a great lover of history and his wife may have owned the pearl seen in the picture, making their reasons for wishing to purchase the picture obvious. Burton and Taylor could have quite easily purchased the picture and kept it in their private collection. Often pictures purchased in such a fashion make it unlikely that they are ever seen again, or at least for many, many years [4]. Instead, Taylor and Burton chose to help the National Portrait Gallery buy the picture, ensuring that it would remain with the nation forever.


A mountain in Barcelona. In the words of William Newton:
The city of Barcelona occupies a plain surrounded by a natural amphitheater of hills and mountains, known as the Sierra de Collserola. Its highest point, more than 1600 feet above sea level, has been known as the Monte de Tibidabo since early Christian times. The name “Tibidabo” comes from the following passage in the Vulgate translation of the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 4 verse 6, in which the Devil takes Jesus up to a high mountaintop, and offers Him the rule of all of the kingdoms of the world if He will bow down and worship Satan: “…et ait ei tibi dabo potestatem hanc universam et gloriam illorum quia mihi tradita sunt et cui volo do illa” [emphasis added.] Fortunately for us, of course, Christ refused so to do.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Tribute to Dame Elizabeth

Monsignor Robert Vitillio of Caritas International remembers the day the late Elizabeth Taylor visited the hospice in Rome.
The news of Elizabeth Taylor's death brings back vivid memories of the day that she visited Caritas Rome's 'Villa Glori' residence  for people living with HIV and AIDS.

In the late 1980s, Caritas  Romana was among the first organizations in Italy to set up such a  residence. It was a time when people living with AIDS were feared and rejected, often by their own family members. Fear and rejection were  not within the vocabulary - or heart - of Msgr Luigi Di Liegro, then- Director of Caritas Romana.

One night I accompanied 'Don Luigi' on a walk through his  neighbourhood to check on the street people who camped out near his  house; he knew each by name and was interested in what they might need  and encouraged them to go to the shelter, another service maintained by Caritas Romana.

On this particular evening, Don Luigi informed me that "Liz" was  coming to visit the Villa Glori residence and invited me to be  present, since I had helped to set up and organize the residence. Ms. Taylor  was accompanied by a famous Italian fashion designer; he stayed only a  few minutes, but she made it clear that she had come to visit and  remained for almost two hours.

As soon as she started to speak  English, Don Luigi realized that he had not provided for translation -  she he shouted across the room to me, "Bob, lo fai tu! (Bob, you do the translation!)" and thus I became the  personal interpreter for this famous actress.

At first, I was transfixed by her eyes - they really were lavender in colour! But then I quickly realized that I had to pay attention to her words if I did not want to make a fool of myself but also because she  was speaking in such an affirming and caring manner to the residents.

They were well aware of her fame, but they put on no 'airs' with her -  they wanted her to feel at home, as they truly felt in this residence.  Of course, they asked her for autographs. She had no pen with her and  borrowed mine (then almost took it away with her, so I had to remind  her that the pen was my property!).  She showed how comfortable she was  with the residents by accepting a plastic cup filled with Fanta and some of the cake that was served on paper plates.

But she also listened with much respect as they recounted their  stories of drug use, life in prostitution, and various other personal  problems experienced in the course of engaging in risk behaviour that  ultimately resulted in HIV infection. Her compassionate, non-judgemental attitude was one that those of us who are HIV educators try to inculcate in trainees preparing to do counselling with persons living with or vulnerable to this virus.

Liz lived long and fully enough to cover several spans of life, but  she maintained her commitment to promote the rights and dignity and  full access to treatment for people living with HIV. May God take this  into account when she faces her Creator and, through God's loving  mercy, may the welcome she received at Caritas in Rome be repeated in eternal life.

The Real Lincoln

 I have no interest to introduce political and social equality between the white and black in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary.
~Abraham Lincoln, 1858 from The Real Lincoln by Thomas J. DiLorenzo.
 Every nation has its myths; we Americans certainly have our share. I think that national myths fulfill the purpose of making people feel better about ugly episodes in history, especially their own history. In dealing with the horrors of the French Revolution, for instance, it is easier for us to believe that the entire fiasco was triggered by Marie-Antoinette saying, "Let them eat cake." Then we can sympathize with her death (and those of thousands of others) but otherwise console ourselves with the knowledge that she brought it all on herself. The fact that Marie-Antoinette never uttered such words is an uncomfortable truth, too uncomfortable for many to process because it conflicts with a certain world view.

Similarly, African slavery being a shameful part of American history, we hearten ourselves with the image of Abraham Lincoln, a man of the people, the Great Emancipator, doing whatever he had to do in order to free the slaves, even to the fighting of a long and terrible war, which was worth all the blood, because it freed the slaves. Such is the tale which every American child is taught in school; it is a glorious and inspiring one except for the fact that it is not true. The fact that it is not true is extremely well-documented in Thomas J. DiLorenzo's book The Real Lincoln. To quote from the Foreword by Walter E. Williams:
As DiLorenzo documents – contrary to conventional wisdom, books about Lincoln, and the lessons taught in schools and colleges – the War between the States was not fought to end slavery; Even if it were, a natural question arises: Why was a costly war fought to end it? African slavery existed in many parts of the Western world, but it did not take warfare to end it. Dozens of countries, including the territorial possessions of the British, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, ended slavery peacefully during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries....

Abraham Lincoln’s direct statements indicated his support for slavery; He defended slave owners’ right to own their property, saying that "when they remind us of their constitutional rights [to own slaves], I acknowledge them, not grudgingly but fully and fairly; and I would give them any legislation for the claiming of their fugitives" (in indicating support for the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850).
Later in the book DiLorenzo asks:
Why didn't America do what every nation on earth did with regard to slavery...and end it peacefully?...We may never know the answer to this question, but the monetary costs of the war alone would have been enough to purchase the freedom of every last Southern slave (and give each forty acres and a mule). Lincoln failed to use his legendary political skills to achieve compensated emancipation. He did, however, attempt to colonize all of the freed blacks in Haiti, Africa, and elsewhere....The large majority of Northerners feared emancipation because it might have meant that the freed blacks would have come to live among them. This is an ugly fact but a fact nonetheless. (p.175)
 Lincoln's agenda was not freeing the slaves but consolidating the power of the federal government. To quote:
Perhaps the answer to the question of why Lincoln did not take the path to emancipation taken by every other nation on earth...lies in his own words—namely, that he was not particularly supportive of emancipation. He viewed it only as a tool to be used to be used in achieving his real objective: the consolidation of state power, something that many Americans had dreaded from the time of the founding....Lincoln sugarcoated the centralization of governmental power by repeatedly referring to it as 'saving the Union.' But the union could only be "saved," according to Lincoln by destroying the highly decentralized, voluntary union of states that was established by the founding fathers at the constitutional convention and replacing it with a coercive union that was kept in place, literally, at gunpoint. (p.33)
 Contrary to popular legend, Lincoln was not an abolitionist. In 1847 he even defended a slaveowner Robert Matson before the Illinois Supreme Court. Matson had brought some slaves from Kentucky to work his farm in Illinois even though Illinois was a free state. The slaves ran away and Matson, with Lincoln at his side, brought suit for the slaves to be returned. The court ruled against Lincoln and Matson and the slaves were liberated. (pp.15-16) He was, however, against extending slavery into the territories because of the 3/5 clause in the Constitution gave more political power to the slave holders. As the author explains: "The extension of slavery into the new territories would exacerbate this congressional imbalance in favor of the Democratic party, which is why Lincoln led the Republican Party's opposition to it—it was an opposition to slavery, but not on moral grounds." (p.24) Lincoln himself said in 1854: "The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these [new] territories. We want them for the homes of free white people." (p.10)

DiLorenzo discusses the brutality of the War Between the States, which ended up being a greater horror than anyone had ever imagined. Not only were many men killed and maimed but women and children were made to suffer by having their homes burned and their food supplies plundered. (pp.184-185)  The loss of life and damage to private property is sickening to read about. It was not only in the South that injustices happened; many Northern journalists and politicians who were against the war were imprisoned without trial at Lincoln's command. Indeed, the entire Maryland House of Delegates were imprisoned without being charged; they were merely suspected of being secessionists. (pp.138-139)

Sadly, the injustice and harshness of the following Restoration era created  problems that lasted for generations. The author explains it thus:
Thirty years before the war Tocqueville had observed that race relations seemed to be even worse in the North than in the South. But that changed during the Reconstruction as the ex-slaves were used as political pawns by Northern Republicans....Southerners venting their frustrations on the ex-slaves....Had the Republican party not been so determined to recruit ex-slaves as political pawns in its crusade to loot taxpayers of the South, the Klu Klux Klan might never have come into existence. (p.218)
I learned more about the political and economic background of the War Between the States from this concise and fascinating study than I had ever known before. What is more is that I gained insight into the present state of our government and how we got to where we are now. The Real Lincoln should be required reading for all high school and college history students. Even if one does not agree with the author's view of Lincoln, a many-faceted topic is pulled together in a coherent manner. 

While Lincoln was undoubtedly a brilliant political prodigy, his policies could be ruthless and he had no scruple about trampling the constitutional liberties of those who disagreed with him. Yes, the slaves were eventually freed after the war. The Emancipation Proclamation did not free any slaves at the time, since it did not apply to slave states like Maryland which were under Lincoln's power, but only to those within the Confederacy.) (p.35) Furthermore, the Industrial Revolution would have made slavery obsolete within a few years. (p.277) Both blacks and whites suffered and died during the War. Lincoln may have preserved the Union but in doing so was the catalyst of the great tragedy of an immense loss of human life.

Alexis de Tocqueville and the Old Regime

Dr. Fleming discusses the intellectual origins of the French Revolution. (Via The New Beginning.)
In the third book of his Ancien Régime, Alexis de Tocqueville takes up the intellectual origins of the French Revolution.  AT notes the at first sight strange phenomenon, that in absolutist France intellectuals were free to challenge the most fundamental political, social, and religious institutions and beliefs.   While each “philosopher” had his own system and axes to grind, they all agreed that “it was right to replace the complex and traditional customs which guided the society of their time with simple and elementary rules borrowed from reason and natural law.  Although he does not quite say so, the Enlightenment is the triumph of the Cartesian method, which is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature and science.  The truest observation Aristotle ever made was that deductive reasoning was as out of place in ethical studies (morals, politics, the arts) as passionate rhetoric would be in a scientific demonstration.   On this terrifying error of Descartes, all the intellectual heresies of the past three centuries depend.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Heretics and Preachers

The Cathars believed that the world lies in tension between two eternal realities, Good and Evil; between God, who rules heaven and the world of pure spirit, and Satan, who reigns on earth and over all muddy reality. They believed that Jesus, the one who walked among us, was literally an apparition. God would never descend into our physical world. As a pure spirit, he had not really died and had offered no actual redemption, but only ethical instruction. For them, salvation, which was unity with God, came through renunciation of the flesh and the repudiation of material structures such as civil authority and, especially, the Catholic Church, which the Albigensians considered Satan’s right arm. Suicide was a popular form of Catharist self-denial, as were pacifism and vegetarianism. You may pause now to consider how many friends and neighbors favor the same darn things today.

But there were actually two kinds of Cathars: the “perfect” (perfecti) and the “believers” (credentes). From the former group came the sect’s leadership, and they were aspirants to purity: chaste, serene, ascetic. The credentes, however, were often libertines. The path to purity for them ran through a dominion of excess, the paradoxical notion being that earthly desires may be extinguished through debauchery! At the end of his drunkenness and fornication (adultery and even incest were tolerated), a believer might (and should) embrace perfection in the consolamentum (or “consolation”), a ritual that compressed baptism, confirmation, ordination, and last rites into a single ceremony. Deathbed consolamenta were common, since most credentes figured they couldn’t handle the perfecti’s rigid rule except in life’s last, precious moments. Indeed, if a dying believer recently elevated in extremis to lofty perfection were to recover his health, his concerned brethren might lovingly poison or suffocate him in order to prevent backsliding.

 My novel on the Cathars is HERE. Share

Edward Jenner and Smallpox

How a vaccine changed the world. Share

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Death of a Legend

Elizabeth Taylor has died. I have always loved her films. Two of my favorites are discussed HERE and HERE.
They say in Raintree County there's a tree bright with blossoms of gold.
But you will find the Raintree's a state of mind, or a dream to enfold.
~"The Song of Raintree County"

Bernard of Clairvaux and the Knights Templar

The new knighthood as a solution to violence in Christianity.
When Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux (1090-1153) in the Cistercian order and noted scholar, was asked to write about the newly formed knights Templar, he went out of his way to condemn the normal life of the knightly class of his time, while exalting the idea of knights who fought for God alone. In this new order, Bernard saw a way of escaping the evils of the military life, and a worthy aim that would not only further the cause of the Church and of God, but would also serve as a way of redemption for the many sinful soldiers that would enter the order.

Dressing Like a Slut

Do we REALLY want our daughters to dress and act like prostitutes? Jennifer Moses explores the question in the Wall Street Journal, saying:
Why do so many of us not only permit our teenage daughters to dress like this—like prostitutes, if we're being honest with ourselves—but pay for them to do it with our AmEx cards?

I posed this question to a friend whose teenage daughter goes to an all-girls private school in New York. "It isn't that different from when we were kids," she said. "The girls in the sexy clothes are the fast girls. They'll have Facebook pictures of themselves opening a bottle of Champagne, like Paris Hilton. And sometimes the moms and dads are out there contributing to it, shopping with them, throwing them parties at clubs. It's almost like they're saying, 'Look how hot my daughter is.'" But why? "I think it's a bonding thing," she said. "It starts with the mommy-daughter manicure and goes on from there."

I have a different theory. It has to do with how conflicted my own generation of women is about our own past, when many of us behaved in ways that we now regret. A woman I know, with two mature daughters, said, "If I could do it again, I wouldn't even have slept with my own husband before marriage. Sex is the most powerful thing there is, and our generation, what did we know?"


In recent years, of course, promiscuity has hit new heights (it always does!), with "sexting" among preteens, "hooking up" among teens and college students, and a constant stream of semi-pornography from just about every media outlet. Varied sexual experiences—the more the better—are the current social norm.

I wouldn't want us to return to the age of the corset or even of the double standard, because a double standard that lets the promiscuous male off the hook while condemning his female counterpart is both stupid and destructive. If you're the campus mattress, chances are that you need therapy more than you need condemnation.

But it's easy for parents to slip into denial. We wouldn't dream of dropping our daughters off at college and saying: "Study hard and floss every night, honey—and for heaven's sake, get laid!" But that's essentially what we're saying by allowing them to dress the way they do while they're still living under our own roofs.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Courts of Love

A challenge to feudalism. To quote from
Since marriage was not based on romantic love, and since romantic love had a never-flagging impetus, some way had to be found to regulate it. The answer was courtly love, a convention which turned passion, jealousy, secret admiration and assignation into (as many of its supporters hoped) a socially valuable force, a means of social control that would be peaceful, even at times wholesome.
More HERE and HERE. Share

Burgundy Wines

Food and Wine interviews a new generation of winemakers.
At the table, we started talking about Duband's experiments and the innovations of the New Burgundy scene. Richard Betts, the US-based winemaker for Betts & Scholl, argued that by subverting the rules, these winemakers were staying true to the region's tradition of greatness. "Burgundy is more Burgundy than ever before," Richard said. "In the '70s, some winemakers hid behind their vineyards' names and their grand cru labels; they said, 'We do it this way because we've always done it this way,' and they didn't even try. Now, a new generation is trying harder; they've traveled, they've seen that you can do other things and they're making wine that's as consistently good as it ever was."

Monday, March 21, 2011

"Chantons, célébrons notre reine!"

Chantons, célébrons notre reine.
L'Hymen qui sous ses loix t'enchaîne,
Va nous rendre à jamais heureux.
"Let us sing, celebrate our Queen./ Marriage which binds you under its laws,/ Will make you happy forever." The chorus from Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide quickly became Marie-Antoinette's theme song, as it was sung to praise her at the Paris debut of the opera in 1774. In the words of her biographer Imbert de Saint-Amand:
When, at the beginning of the second act of Gluck's Iphigenia, the chorus exclaims: "Sing, let us celebrate our queen," the public turns toward [Marie Antoinette] and salute her enthusiastically....How she animates by her gaiety, how she illumines by her smile, this grand palace of Versailles which, without her, would be so dismal! What life there is in the private balls which she gives every Monday in her apartments! People dance there for the pleasure of dancing, without ceremony and without etiquette. The ladies come in white dominos, and the men in their ordinary attire. Here shines one of the most poetic and sympathetic of women, the Princess de Lamballe, that twenty-year-old widow who will be Marie Antoinette's best and most faithful friend....
Paris did not cease, during the first years of the reign, to give proofs of pleasure whenever the Queen appeared at any of the plays of the capital. At the representation of "Iphigenia in Aulis," the actor who sang the words, "Let us sing, let us celebrate our Queen!" which were repeated by the chorus, directed by a respectful movement the eyes of the whole assembly upon her Majesty. Reiterated cries of 'Bis'! and clapping of hands, were followed by such a burst of enthusiasm that many of the audience added their voices to those of the actors in order to celebrate, it might too truly be said, another Iphigenia. The Queen, deeply affected, covered her eyes with her handkerchief; and this proof of sensibility raised the public enthusiasm to a still higher pitch.
The opera proved an enormous success. The beautiful Queen herself gave the signal for applause in which the whole house joined. The charming Sophie Arnould sang the part of Iphigénie and seemed to quite satisfy the composer. Larrivée was the Agamemnon, and other parts were well sung. The French were thoroughly delighted. They fêted and praised Gluck, declaring he had discovered the music of the ancient Greeks, that he was the only man in Europe who could express real feelings in music. Marie Antoinette wrote to her sister: "We had, on the nineteenth, the first performance of Gluck's 'Iphigénie,' and it was a glorious triumph. I was quite enchanted, and nothing else is talked of. All the world wishes to see the piece, and Gluck seems well satisfied."
The road to the production of Iphigénie had been a bumpy one, as the one article says:
Iphigénie en Aulide was the first of the seven operas that Gluck composed for Paris, although it was not actually commissioned by the Académie Royale de Musique. After Paride ed Elena failed to meet with success in Vienna in 1770, Gluck's thoughts turned elsewhere. He had already written and adapted several French opéras comiques for Vienna and he had admired and studied the tragédies lyriques of Lully and Rameau; their influence can certainly be seen in Gluck's three Viennese ‘reform’ operas, Orfeo ed Euridice, Alceste and Paride ed Elena. It was inevitable that, having incorporated many features of French opera into his latest works, Gluck should be drawn to the French stage itself.

So, in the early 1770s, with no certainty of a production, Gluck set the libretto of Iphigénie en Aulide written by Roullet, an attaché to the French Embassy in Vienna. The two men then began to plan their conquest of Paris, a matter involving artistic politics and diplomatic letters to the Académie Royale and the French press. The directors of the Académie Royale, fearing that Iphigénie en Aulide would drive existing French operas off the stage, were reluctant to accept the work unless Gluck agreed to write five more operas for them. However, with the support of the Dauphine, Gluck's former singing pupil Marie Antoinette, the composer arrived in Paris in 1773 and, after six months of strenuous rehearsals, during which Gluck's demands on his performers were exigent, sometimes abrasive, occasionally furious, Iphigénie en Aulide finally reached the stage.
The composer had also to contend with Madame du Barry, who favored the Italian Piccini over Gluck. To quote:
On the arrival of Piccini, Madame du Barry began activities, aided by Louis XV himself. She gathered a powerful Italian party about her, and their first act was to induce the Grand Opera management to make Piccini an offer for a new opera, although they had already made the same offer to Gluck. This breach of good faith led to a furious war, in which all Paris joined; it was fierce and bitter while it lasted. Even politics were forgotten for the time being. Part of the press took up one side and part the other. Many pamphlets, poems and satires appeared, in which both composers were unmercifully attacked. Gluck was at the time in Germany, and Piccini had come to Paris principally to secure the tempting fee offered him. The leaders of the feud kept things well stirred up, so that a stranger could not enter a café, hotel or theater without first answering the question whether he stood for Gluck or Piccini. Many foolish lies were told of Gluck in his absence. It was declared by the Piccinists that he went away on purpose, to escape the war; that he could no longer write melodies because he was a dried up old man and had nothing new to give France. These lies and false stories were put to flight one evening when the Abbé Arnaud, one of Gluck's most ardent adherents, declared in an aristocratic company, that the Chevalier was returning to France with an "Orlando" and an "Armide" in his portfolio.
It is said the Gluck composed "Armide" in order to praise the beauty of Marie Antoinette, and she for her part showed the deepest interest in the success of the piece, and really "became quite a slave to it." Gluck often told her he "rearranged his music according to the impression it made upon the Queen."
"Great as was the success of 'Armide,'" wrote the Princess de Lamballe, "no one prized this beautiful work more highly than the composer of it. He was passionately enamored of it; he told the Queen the air of France had rejuvenated his creative powers, and the sight of her majesty had given such a wonderful impetus to the flow of ideas, that his composition had become like herself, angelic, sublime."
 And it seems that, in the midst of the public mania occasioned by the opera, [Marie-Antoinette's] identity had somehow merged with that of the erstwhile sacrificial victim. We know from a report in the Mémoires secrets of 14 January 1775 that on the night of 10 January, when the new queen was in the audience, Le Gros, singing the part of Achille, modified the second act chorus, 'Chantez, célébrez votre reine', sung as he introduces Iphigénie to his countrymen. On this occasion, Le Gros turned to the queen and sang, 'Chantons, célébrons notre Reine,/Et l'hymen qui sous ses lois l'enchaîne/Va nous rendre à jamais heureux!' The queen reportedly wept tears of joy, and the people, 'la foule' outside the theatre, played the same part as the chorus on the stage, for, following the performance, 'l'allégresse du peuple n'a pas moins éclaté, et la foule a suivi la Princesse autant qu'elle a pu avec les acclamations ordinaires de vive la Reine, etc.'.41
In about twenty years, in 1793, this crowd would see to her execution, and this returns us to the odd ability of music to prefigure the political. Marie-Antoinette had literally patronized a revolution in music, and allowed herself from its beginning to be collapsed upon its most fragile figure. Both of them, Iphigénie and the young queen, in these early days, frustrated the structure of sacrifice. On the stage, this chorus calling for the people to celebrate their queen became a political flashpoint. At the performance of 10 December 1790 the singer Lainez apologized before beginning it: 'Messieurs, tout bon Français doit aimer son roi et sa reine; ainsi je vais commencer.' Two days later the performance was disrupted at this point and there were riots in the streets afterwards. The municipality reprimanded the singer and banished the words 'roi', 'reine', and 'trône' from the stage for ten years.42
Many years later, during the Restoration of 1814-15, the chorus from Iphigénie en Aulide was sung to honor Marie-Antoinette's daughter, as is told in the novel,  Madame Royale. Imbert de Saint-Amand describes one such see in his book The Duchess of Angoulême and the two restorations, saying:
All Bordeaux was stirring on the 5th of March. It flocked to the banks of the Gironde, at which the Princess and her husband were to land. Louis XVI's daughter had never visited this royalist city, and she was awaited with mingled feelings of curiosity and veneration. At one o'clock in the afternoon the beautiful gondola of the Duke and Duchess appeared. It was preceded and followed by a great number of boats handsomely decorated with white flags. At the moment when the daughter and the nephew of Louis XVI left their craft to take carriage, twenty young men and the same number of young girls dressed in white attached themselves to the carriage and proceeded to draw it. The streets were strewn with verdure, and the houses hung with tapestry, while flowers were scattered profusely along the path of the triumphal procession. When it paused for an instant at the Place de la Comedie, a band of musicians, placed in the gallery surmounting the peristyle of the Grand Theatre, rendered the famous chorus from the Iphigénie:
"Let us sing and celebrate our queen,"
a chorus of which Marie Antoinette was very fond and which had very often been sung in her honor.

From the Newbury collection. To quote: "The Newberry's collection of scores of operas by Christolph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) includes several dedicated to Marie Antoinette. Many of his title characters were great women of classical myth and history. This copy of Gluck's popular Iphegenia in Tauris survived the French Revolution, but both the queen's and the composer's noble titles were obliterated by a republican owner."
The Duchess of Angoulême

Eliza de Feuillide

Jane Austen's fascinating cousin. Share