Friday, December 9, 2022

“Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day”

 From The Imaginative Conservative:

William Sandys (1792-1874) was an antiquarian by hobby—a “person who collects or studies old things” or “a student of the past,” according to Webster’s. The things Sandys happened to collect were Christmas songs. His 1833 publication Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern helped to launch the Victorian revival of the holiday, a revival that followed centuries of puritan neglect.[*] Sandys claimed in his book to have unearthed English yuletide songs dating back four centuries. Making their first appearance in print were many carols we now take for granted, such as “The First Noel,” “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”

Although it hasn’t soared to those heights of popularity, “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day” is richly fascinating nonetheless. The text has turns of phrase redolent of the Middle Ages or Renaissance, yet no source for the song prior to Sandys has been found. What is most remarkable about “Dancing Day” is that it narrates the entire story of Christ’s life in Christ’s own voice, and that it describes the story of salvation with the image of a dance:

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to the dance.


Sing, oh! My love, oh! My love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

Most scholars agree that the text goes back far earlier than 1833, with the phrase “legend of my play” a possible clue that the carol was connected to the medieval mystery plays. Musicologists Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott write:

It seems possible that ‘Tomorrow shall be’ was devised to be sung and danced at the conclusion of the first day of a three-day drama . . . The actor portraying Christ would have sung the verses and the whole company and audience the repeats of the refrains.

Hymn texts in which Christ himself speaks—a device one commentator refers to as vox Christi—are rare, making a theatrical origin for “Dancing Day” even more likely.

Mystery plays were one of the three distinctive medieval forms of theater, the other two being miracle plays and morality plays. All three types evolved out of short scenes performed in church by the clergy as an adjunct to the liturgy and depicting biblical subjects such as the Creation, Adam, and Eve, or the Last Judgment. Mystery plays eventually moved out of church premises into the village square, often traveled from town to town on wagons, and became increasingly elaborate.

As the plays traveled to various locales, they were often advertised by the players in a song called a “banns.” If our carol originally formed part of a mystery play about the life of Christ, the “dancing day” on the “morrow” might refer to the subsequent part of the play, treating the Redemption.

Most striking is the relationship between Christ and humanity being likened to that of a lover and his “true love,” with the refrain’s expressive repetitions of “my love.” This motif hearkens back to the love poetry of the Song of Songs, in which the lover and beloved are traditionally interpreted as representing Christ and the church or Christ and the soul. The idea of Christ and humanity being united as bridegroom and bride is a classic Christian motif, but we are surprised to find it in a popular Christmas carol, and even more to find the image extended to depict Christ as our dancing partner. There is a good amount of theology and scripture in “Dancing Day,” such as the treatment of the Incarnation:

Then was I born of a virgin pure;
Of her I took fleshly substance.
Thus was I knit to man’s nature
To call my true love to the dance.

In a manger laid and wrapped I was,
So very poor; this was my chance,
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass,
To call my true love to my dance.

(Read more.)


The Burden of Tradition

 From The Catholic Thing:

What Bernini’s statue reminds us of though, is that the burden we bear is not some meaningless sack of baubles. He carries his father who gave him life, who raised him up, who made him the man he came to be. More than that, he carries the man who gave him faith in his gods, who taught him respect for the divine protector, who taught him to value the long line of ancestors, who shared that faith and handed on from time immemorial the way of life by which he has persevered.

He carries a burden of tradition, but a burden which is also the source of his strength.

Perhaps today our Church needs that reminder. The weight of tradition, as burdensome as it may be, is not something to toss aside lightly. Over 2,000 years, men and women of faith have studied, prayed, taught, and sacrificed much, even their very lives, to build up and hand on that burden we bear.

It is this rich tradition that has carried our Church through the trials of the past and allowed her to emerge triumphant against seemingly impossible odds, whether in the catacombs of Rome, at Lepanto, or under the shadow of the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.

As much as in our youth we may resist the wisdom of our elders, as we are all inclined to do, we can only truly take our place in this procession of history when we surrender in humility and take up that gift and burden being offered to us.

It is essential we do so, not only that we may persevere ourselves, but that we may have something to hand on to the young people on our heels who carry that eternal light forward into the future. Yes, the traditions of the past must be “brought up to date,” but only so that they may be received in their entirety by our children who so desperately need them.

How many young people are so lost today because they have been severed from a tradition, because they have been denied that wisdom of the past, by a generation who benefited so greatly from it?

The ongoing challenge of the Church is to trust the words of the Lord, “My yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Like Aeneas, we must bear up on our shoulders the past, not as a regrettable burden, but as a gift that guides us and gives us strength for the battle.

We do not cast away that which makes us who we are, but we embrace the Catholic tradition that grounds us and is the means to draw others to the truth we live by. Rather than allow in the Trojan horse of the times that betrays, we must, like Aeneas, bear up our parents and lead our children in the truth.

We must take part in that perpetual refounding of Rome in holiness, by which she sanctifies each age unto the end of time. (Read more.)


Royal Patronage of Illicit Print: Catherine of Braganza and Catholic Books in Late Seventeenth-Century London

 Catherine of Braganza, the Catholic Queen of Charles II, had to deal with many of the same issues as her mother-in-law, Henrietta Maria. From Brill:

In 1662, the English Parliament passed An Act for preventing the frequent Abuses in printing.1 Among its many provisions, the act prohibited the printing or importation of any texts opposed to the Church of England, including books with Catholic content. Proscribed works were confiscated and either destroyed or ‘damasked’ (i.e., over-printed) for waste paper, while the printers and booksellers faced fines, confiscation of equipment and imprisonment.2 That same year, Catherine of Braganza, newly arrived in London, appointed Theodore Sadler as her bookseller-in-ordinary, instructing him to procure for her a list of Catholic devotional books.3 He submitted receipts to the exchequer for seven Roman breviaries, two psalters of Beata Maria hymns, a Roman missal, fifty ‘bookes for a night hearing of mass’ and an Iberian rubric.4 Even more books arrived from France.5 These orders served to set up Catherine’s Catholic chapel, which had been promised to her in her marriage contract to Charles II.6 Together with books ordered by Henrietta Maria, the Queen Mother, a significant number of Catholic books entered into these sanctioned Catholic spaces of London.7

The new queen occupied a grey area with regard to the laws governing religion in Restoration England, including those concerning print. Unlike other Catholics in England, she could legitimately order Catholic books for her chapel and private use, just as she had done in the spring of 1662. Yet, on at least two occasions, the activities of Catherine’s booksellers linked her to networks of illicit Catholic printing. She also directly intervened to protect an unlicensed printer from prosecution. Moreover, by the mid-1670s, her residence at Somerset House had become the centre around which the illicit Catholic book trade organized itself. Catherine operated as the heart of a grand network of Catholic print. She leveraged the power afforded her by her status and her marriage treaty to foster and protect the English Catholic population of London through print.

While much scholarly work has been devoted to the relationship between the state and the London book trade, it has focused on Charles II’s censorship activities, particularly the suppression of nonconformist and Whig print.8 In contrast, his queen’s activities in relation to the book trade have not been given their full due.9 This parallels the general historical treatment of Catherine of Braganza as both passive and ineffectual, particularly with regard to her barrenness. However, Adam Morton has qualified this view by arguing that, while her role as a political agent was less overt than that of Henrietta Maria, it was in no way non-existent. Both Morton and Edward Corp seek to give Catherine agency by emphasizing her promotion of a ‘Baroque Catholic culture’.10 Other studies have looked at how she attempted to assert her identity through her chapel music.11

While these arguments often focus on high court culture, this article looks instead towards the wider population. After all, recusants of all ranks attended London’s Catholic chapels.12 Catherine had been sent to England with the understanding that she should serve as the ‘focal point’ for all English Catholics, not just those in the court.13 For the majority of this Catholic population, recusant and church papist alike, their faith required breaking the law.14 Therefore, the queen’s role in illegally providing for this illicit population must be considered. Catherine’s goals and her willingness to trespass against the statutes approved by her husband emerge from this analysis of the power relationship between the queen and print. (Read more.)


Thursday, December 8, 2022

Christmas in Georgian England: The Magic and the Myths

From Nancy Bilyeau:
Some people cherish an image of Victorian Christmas as the peak of all celebrations. This was when the Christmas tree first found its way into English homes, thanks to Prince Albert, and when families gathered to "make merry" and give thanks for their good fortune, just as they did in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
Um, that's not quite right. 
While there is a strong belief that Albert brought with him from Saxe-Coburg the tradition of a Christmas tree, the honors belong to Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. She was raised in Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and it was following her marriage to George in 1761 that the tree tradition found its way to England.... 
At first Queen Charlotte confined her importing of German Christmas traditions to mounting a decorated yew branch, but in 1800 she threw a memorable party at Windsor for the kingdom's leading families, showing off an entire tree. Dr John Watkins wrote with some awe of how "from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds and raisins in papers, fruits and toys, most tastefully arranged; the whole illuminated by small wax candles." He said that "after the company had walked round and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets it bore, together with a toy, and then all returned home quite delighted." 
Before long, anybody who was anybody wanted a Christmas tree. (Read more.)

Hunter Biden ‘Suspicious Activity’ Reports

 From the Becker News:

The Biden administration is pulling out all the stops to keep the truth about Hunter Biden hidden from the American people.

“Congressional investigators are being denied access to 148 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed with the Department of the Treasury by banks concerning financial dealings of President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and brother, Jim, according to incoming House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH),” the Epoch Times recently reported.

“Most Americans have never heard the term ‘Suspicious Activity Reports.’ These are actual reports that financial institutions file with the Treasury Department when they see suspicious activity,” Jordan told Epoch TV’s Joshua Phillip in an interview for the “Newsmakers” program.

“Typically, it’s money laundering type of activity, so most Americans don’t get these. Or if they do, there is a good reason for it. But there are 150 of them on Hunter Biden and Jim Biden, the President’s brother, and that to me is a big concern,” Jordan said.

Jordan explained that only two of the 150 have been made public and the Biden administration through the Department of the Treasury is refusing to make the other 148 SARs available to congressional investigators. (Read more.)


Monastic Decline

 From Catholic World Report:

That it is most obvious in Europe is due to the sheer physical evidence of defunct monasteries left behind after so many centuries of Christian worship. As I hiked across Spain and then Portugal during what felt like an End of Days Camino to escape lockdowns during the COVID pandemic, I got used to walking out of cities in the lee of abandoned monasteries and convents high up on a surrounding hill or which had been converted to lavish hotels.

More recently, I organized and led a week-long mini-Camino pilgrimage for the Catholic Herald, one of the world’s oldest Catholic publications. Both the first and last days of hiking ended with our latter-day Canterbury Tales assembly staying in the buildings of former convents converted into holiday and hotel accommodation. This, combined with all those previous examples I’d witnessed of grand monasteries and convents either empty or containing a small religious order holding out amid crumbling and cavernous interiors, gave added resonance to the pressing words of the priest accompanying the Catholic Herald group. He spoke of the need for “spiritual fighting power”—he happened to be ex-military—to counter the sense of doubt, fear and hopelessness that seems to grip so many today.

The modern world, especially its scientific cadre, is especially good at probing and prodding in the search of answers based on empirical data. But the British writer Aldous Huxley, best known for his vivid dystopian rendering in Brave New World, warned how this process can become dangerously one-sided. Huxley argued that the modern era’s increasing obsession with the rational and what can be “proven” has occurred to the detriment of the metaphysical realm and those hidden dimensions deep inside our hearts and souls. As we lose touch with those imperceptible kingdoms—and which is a focus of those who take monastic vows—despair and rancor are often left.

“Hell is total separation from God, and the devil is the will to that separation,” Huxley wrote in The Perennial Philosophy, his anthology of the basic tenets that he contended link all major faiths and have underlined religious inquiry throughout human history. Huxley also highlighted how human behavior has remained remarkably similar across the eons. He put this down to the “fundamental identity” of all humans, consisting of “incarnated minds, subject to physical decay and death, capable of pain and pleasure, driven by craving and abhorrence and oscillating between the desire for self-assertion and the desire for self-transcendence.” (Read more.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Marie-Antoinette’s ‘Trianon Guitar'

Madame Clotilde of France, sister of Louis XVI

Madame Clotilde of France, later Queen of Sardinia

Armand playing a guitar

I could not find a painting of Marie-Antoinette playing the instrument now called the "Trianon Guitar." Probably because she gave it as a gift. There are two portraits of Madame Clotilde, sister of Louis XVI, playing a similar guitar. There is also a picture of Marie-Antoinette's adopted son Armand playing a guitar, but not the same one, since it looks smaller. From Artnet:

A lover of music who played several instruments and sang, Marie Antoinette regularly held carefree musical and theatrical performances in her bucolic Trianon retreat in France, just outside the Palace of Versailles, while the rest of the country was heaving towards bloody revolution. In this haven from palace pressures, including her Petit Trianon, a chateau given to her by her husband, King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette also offered instruments to friends and members of her inner circle.

What is believed to be one of them, a rare “en bâteau,” or boat-shaped guitar, made by Jacques-Philippe Michelot ca. 1775, will go on sale at the Aguttes auction house in Neuilly-sur-Seine on December 9. Kept in “remarkable condition,” the so-called “Trianon guitar”—decorated with ivory rosettes depicting the “Temple of Love” from the Trianon estate—was also “at the forefront” of French craftsmanship at the end of the 18th century, said Aguttes house expert Grégoire de Thoury, speaking to Artnet News.

Thoury researched the instrument’s provenance and relied on family documents, carefully kept over centuries, stating that the queen had given the guitar to her friend, the Marquise de La Rochelambert-Thévalles (1758–1835), who survived the French Revolution by fleeing to Switzerland. No official palace records exist for the personal gift.

About the same age as the queen, the marquise was a member of the queen’s inner entourage, praised for her musical talent and voice. The two women performed together, and the marquise’s parents were regulars in the king’s court. Her godfather was Louis de Bourbon, Dauphin of France.

The marquise’s family preserved the queen’s guitar in the ensuing centuries, and one of her descendants has put it up for auction. With French institutions reportedly interested in acquiring the instrument, according to the French daily Le Parisien, Thoury said its owner “would think it wonderful…if it became available to the whole world to see” in a museum. (Read more.)

From Tatler:

Aguttes writes that ‘although to date there is no document to formally certify that this guitar was the subject of a gift from Queen Marie Antoinette… Patrick Barbier, music historian, reports in his book Marie Antoinette and Music that Marie Antoinette used to buy many musical instruments’ and ‘gladly gave them’ as gifts. With this in mind, ‘considering the attested proximity of Queen Marie-Antoinette and the Marquise de La Rochelambert, it is therefore quite probable.’ Aguttes describes the instrument as a ‘rare so-called boat guitar’, with a rosewood body inlaid with mahogany and ‘adorned with ivory and ebony stringing’. It features a ‘spruce top with a beautiful tight grain’, plus ornate decoration of ‘openwork ivory rosettes representing two doves kissing on a temple of love.’ It originally had five strings but was reassembled with six strings around 1810.(Read more.) 


From Russia with Love: Science and Ideology Then and Now

 From Heterodox STEM:

My everyday experiences as a chemistry professor at an American university in 2021 bring back memories from my school and university time in the USSR. Not good memories—more like Orwellian nightmares. I will compare my past and present experiences to illustrate the following parallels between the USSR and the US today: (i) the atmosphere of fear and self-censorship; (ii) the omnipresence of ideology (focusing on examples from science); (iii) an intolerance of dissenting opinions (i.e., suppression of ideas and people, censorship, and Newspeak); (iv) the use of social engineering to solve real and imagined problems.


In the USSR, everything and everyone was scrutinized through the lens of Marxist-Leninist ideology. Everything was critically analyzed in terms of class struggle, the struggle between the oppressors and oppressed. I literally mean everything—from hairstyle and fashion to novels and philosophy. I once got a notice for “advancing an imperialistic agenda” for showing up in jeans to an informal school event. In literature classes, we analyzed images of the oppressed people in Leo Tolstoy’s novels and the depiction of class struggle in Pushkin’s romantic poems. And the signs of corruption and decadent decay of the West in Hemingway’s books. (Read more.)