Friday, February 29, 2008

Dining Rooms

Genevieve has an interesting post on dining rooms, which are seen by some as being incompatible with modern life. The dining room should be one of the most important rooms of the house, the family evening meal being a sacrosanct time. Manners should be about showing kindness and love. For instance, it is not charitable to cause disgust for others by talking with one's mouth full. Share

The Other Boleyn Girl

Barbara Nicolosi has a review of the latest film rendition of the life and loves of Henry VIII. (Via Feminine Genius) I am glad to hear that it does not bash the Catholic Church in the way that the Cate Blanchett films do, which is a shame, since Cate is perfect for the part of Elizabeth. Share

Thursday, February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley, R.I.P.

William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of The National Review, died yesterday. I never understood why he dissented from Humanae Vitae. God rest his soul. Joe Sobran has some charitable thoughts, written a couple of years ago. (Via Laudem Gloriae)

According to The Washington Post:
He was the Connecticut millionaire's son trained to despise affectation and love modesty -- and yet . . . he had the gifts of a great comedian, gifts that are irresistible to anyone in this land that so honors the perpetual undergraduate. And such a vortex of contradictions: the Roman Catholic prep-school Skull and Bones Yalie heir to an Irish family's Mexican oil fortune. (He spoke Spanish before he spoke English.) Foe of anti-Semites, advocate of tattooing AIDS carriers on the buttocks, champion of McCarthyist Communist-hunting, and of the legalization of marijuana. His outrageousness immunized him against effective condemnation.

In 1986, he wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "I asked myself the other day, 'Who else, on so many issues, has been so right so much of the time?' I couldn't think of anyone." A monster, or, as the French say, a monstre sacré, one whose grandeur puts him beyond criticism.

One imagines him in his rooms at Yale, winking at onlookers while he enwrapped some hapless one-world liberal in the python grip of prose worthy of an 18th-century political philosopher such as Edmund Burke, an Englishman who supported the American Revolution and also deeply grieved the execution of Marie Antoinette. (At the age of 8, Buckley wrote a letter to the king of England demanding payment of a war debt to America.)


Housewife vs SAHM

There a difference between being a housewife and a "Stay-at-Home-Mom," according to the insights provided HERE. (Thanks, Jennifer!) To quote:
Completely focused on my children, I was forgetting that my husband also needed me. I was dressed like a slob when he got home from work, if I was dressed at all. That first year of marriage, I was frequently still in my pajamas when he got home.

Now, as a housewife first, I try to think of my husband first when planning meals. After all, he goes out and uses his valuable time and effort to support us. Shouldn't we, in turn, use our valuable time and effort to support him? Yes, he is supporting monetarily. Since we cannot return that favor, shouldn't we do all that we can to support him emotionally?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Madness of King George (1994)

"You do me wrong to take me out o' the grave:

Thou art a soul in bliss; but I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
Do scald like moulten lead."
~ King Lear, Act 4, Scene 7

The words of Shakespeare's Lear, when murmured by Nigel Hawthorne in his haunting performance as George III, contain within them all the agony of the mad king. George III, separated from his family, bereft of power, stripped of all dignity, sits in a meadow and reads Shakespeare with his doctor.
The Madness of King George is, in my opinion, one of the top ten, must-see films about royalty, along with The Queen, The Lion in Winter, The Last Emperor, Anne of the Thousand Days, and Young Bess. Not that every single aspect of such films is totally historically accurate, but the essence of the lives of the persons in question is captured so vividly that the past is brought to life.

The Madness of King George
is flawlessly cast. Nigel Hawthorne thoroughly becomes the dedicated, irascible, highly moral and temporarily deranged George III, fondly called "Farmer George" by his people. Helen Mirren is perfection as Queen Charlotte, the devoted wife and mother of fifteen children. Her role as a helpmate, friend and advisor to her husband give her an incalculable influence which is suddenly taken away. It is hilarious when she scolds the Prince of Wales: "Smile and wave, you lazy hound, it's what you' re paid for!" Yet her heartbreak over her husband's illness, and her unflinching determination to be with him again, would elicit tears from a stone. The depiction of the two oldest princes, rascally and conniving, and of all the royal children for that matter, is straight out of a Copley or a Reynolds painting. Costumes, wigs, manners, gestures are as authentic as a film can provide. Humor and tragedy, politics and family feuding, are woven together amid the music of Handel. I wish someone would make a film of such quality about Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.

The Madness of King George beautifully depicts marital fidelity and love, especially on the part of the queen, who will not abandon her husband no matter how bizarre his behavior grows. When the head of a family, who happens to be the head of a kingdom, loses his reason, the earth is shaken to its foundations. Also shown are the primitive and often inhumane ways of treating the mentally ill. The prejudice against Catholics, deeply ingrained in the British monarchy, is summed up especially in the final scene, as Mrs. Fitzherbert, the Prince of Wales' Catholic wife, waves from the crowd. She knows that she will never take her place with the royal family as they accept the homage of the crowd on the stairs of the cathedral.

History's Mysteries

There are many. Here are a few, all of which were on Lew Rockwell this morning, except for the article on Beethoven, which was sent to me by the author, Martin Blythe.

The Pyramids of Giza

The Mayan Temples

The Kikuyu

Beethoven's Immortal Beloved

Robert Kennedy's Assassination Share

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

He Who Is

Christine has an extensive post on the new tests performed on the Shroud of Turin. Fr. Blake is hosting a lively discussion on the same topic as well. I have always found Shroud studies to be intensely interesting. While my faith in Christ and the Resurrection certainly does not depend upon the Shroud being authentic, I do believe it to be genuine. Relics such as the Shroud are intended to boost our faith and inspire devotion, rather than forming the basis of belief. Share

He Who Is Not

Daniel Mitsui quotes Fulton J. Sheen on the Antichrist:
The Antichrist will not be so called; otherwise he would have no followers. He will not wear red tights, nor vomit sulphur, nor carry a trident nor wave an arrowed tail as Mephistopheles in Faust. This masquerade has helped the Devil convince men that he does not exist. When no man recognizes, the more power he exercises. God has defined Himself as I am Who am, and the Devil as I am who am not.
The third temptation in which Satan asked Christ to adore him and all the kingdoms of the world would be His, will become the temptation to have a new religion without a Cross, a liturgy without a world to come, a religion to destroy a religion, or a politics which is a religion - one that renders unto Caesar even the things that are God's.

In the midst of all his seeming love for humanity and his glib talk of freedom and equality, he will have one great secret which he will tell to no one: he will not believe in God. Because his religion will be brotherhood without the fatherhood of God, he will deceive even the elect. He will set up a counter-church which will be the ape of the Church, because he, the Devil, is the ape of God. It will have all the notes and characteristics of the Church, but in reverse and emptied of its divine content. It will be a mystical body of the Antichrist that will in all externals resemble the mystical body of Christ.

~Communism and the Conscience of the West

Eat Spinach

It is one of the top nutritional foods in the world, and so versatile. It has quite a history, too.
Spinach is thought to have originated in ancient Persia (Iran). Spinach made its way to China in the 7th century when the king of Nepal sent it as a gift to this country. Spinach has a much more recent history in Europe than many other vegetables. It was only brought to that continent in the 11th century, when the Moors introduced it into Spain. In fact, for a while, spinach was known as "the Spanish vegetable" in England.

Spinach was the favorite vegetable of Catherine de Medici, a historical figure in the 16th century. When she left her home of Florence, Italy, to marry the king of France, she brought along her own cooks, who could prepare spinach the ways that she especially liked. Since this time, dishes prepared on a bed of spinach are referred to as "a la Florentine."


Monday, February 25, 2008

Christians Enslaved

The harsh enslavement of Christians by Muslims which is occurring in some countries today has unfortunately been going on for a long time. Over the centuries, many Christian women and girls were kidnapped for harems. Entire families were auctioned off, divided forever. Christians and Jews living in Muslim countries often suffered from discrimination and terror. An article in The Brussels Journal discusses an aspect of history that tends to be forgotten.
Robert Davis' methodical enumeration in Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters indicates that perhaps one and one-quarter million white European Christians were enslaved by Barbary Muslims from 1530 through 1780. In his book White Gold, Giles Milton describes how regular Jihad razzias in Europe extended as far north as Iceland. Even during the time of Queen Elizabeth I, while William Shakespeare was writing his plays and poems, young Englishmen risked being surprised by a fleet of Muslim pirates showing up at their village, or being kidnapped while fishing at sea:

"By the end of the dreadful summer of 1625, the mayor of Plymouth reckoned that 1,000 skiffs had been destroyed, and a similar number of villagers carried off into slavery." Such events took place across much of Europe, also in Wales and southern Ireland: "In 1631…200 Islamic soldiers…sailed to the village of Baltimore, storming ashore with swords drawn and catching the villagers totally by surprise. (They) carried off 237 men, women, and children and took them to Algiers…The French padre Pierre Dan was in the city (Algiers) at the time…He witnessed the sale of the captives in the slave auction. 'It was a pitiful sight to see them exposed in the market…Women were separated from their husbands and the children from their fathers…on one side a husband was sold; on the other his wife; and her daughter was torn from her arms without the hope that they'd ever see each other again'."

Englishman Thomas Pellow was enslaved in Morocco for twenty-three years after being captured by Barbary pirates as a cabin boy on a small English vessel in 1716. He was tortured until he accepted Islam. For weeks he was beaten and starved, and finally gave in after his torturer resorted to "burning my flesh off my bones by fire, which the tyrant did, by frequent repetitions, after a most cruel manner."


In the essay Andalusian Myth, Eurabian Reality, Bat Ye'or and Andrew G. Bostom examine the myth of the supposed "tolerance" enjoyed by Christians and Jews in the Iberian Peninsula: "Segregated in special quarters, they had to wear discriminatory clothing. Subjected to heavy taxes, the Christian peasantry formed a servile class attached to the Arab domains; many abandoned their land and fled to the towns. Harsh reprisals with mutilations and crucifixions would sanction the Mozarab (Christian dhimmis) calls for help from the Christian kings. Moreover, if one dhimmi harmed a Muslim, the whole community would lose its status of protection, leaving it open to pillage, enslavement and arbitrary killing."

This humiliating status provoked many revolts, punished by massacres. Insurrections erupted in Saragossa in 781 and 881, Cordova (805, 818), Merida (805-813, 828 and the following year, and in 868), and again in Toledo (811-819). Many of the insurgents were crucified, as prescribed in the Koran 5:33:
"The revolt in Cordova of 818 was crushed by three days of massacres and pillage, with 300 notables crucified and 20 000 families expelled. Feuding was endemic in the Andalusian cities between the different sectors of the population: Arab and Berber colonizers, Iberian Muslim converts (Muwalladun) and Christian dhimmis (Mozarabs). There were rarely periods of peace in the Amirate of Cordova (756-912), nor later. Al-Andalus represented the land of jihad par excellence. Every year, sometimes twice a year, raiding expeditions were sent to ravage the Christian Spanish kingdoms to the north, the Basque regions, or France and the Rhone valley, bringing back booty and slaves. Andalusian corsairs attacked and invaded along the Sicilian and Italian coasts, even as far as the Aegean Islands, looting and burning as they went. Thousands of people were deported to slavery in Andalusia, where the caliph kept a militia of tens of thousand of Christian slaves brought from all parts of Christian Europe (the Saqaliba), and a harem filled with captured Christian women."


Turn It Off

Too much television is bad, as common sense should tell us. (But common sense is a rare commodity nowadays.) To quote from a very insightful article:
The point of this is to show that television is a form of hypnosis. Hypnosis is described as "suspension of the critical factor" which expands on the idea of "increased suggestibility." A person who is hypnotized may accept statements as true that he or she would normally reject.


As I stated in my article (and confirmed by Marie Winn's book The Plug-In Drug) it is not what is on television that is bad, it is not the content that is damaging; it is the mere act of watching television that is harmful. Television is a displacement of time. It is a huge waste of time – in a hypnotic state – that implants other people's messages into the viewer’s head. This makes for a bizarre state of "reality" where frequent television viewers no longer have the common sense to understand our world and true reality. One such reader made an absurd claim that "There is no scientific proof that watching television is harmful." The reader then went on to explain that scientists had not proven that digital images moving at 44.1kHz were harmful to the human eye. I won't go into it too much, but this kind of thinking is just plain ridiculous. Here’s why:

Television puts people in a trance and offers up an alternate reality. People waste time watching TV and when they do, the time spent is time lost that could have been used for gaining real-life experiences. As Gary North once wrote, "Time is the only non-renewable resource." The utter notion that radioactive waves (lights) – in an unnatural color spectrum – flashing on a screen in front of someone for four to six hours a day, or more, every day, and that not having any negative effects on the human body or mind is ridiculous on the face of it. It would only take a person who has lost touch with reality and common sense, or one who watches too much TV to even consider that this practice could not be doing something, quite possibly very harmful, to the human body.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Slavery at Mount Vernon

The Washington Post has a review of a book about Mount Vernon that looks immensely interesting.
While innumerable books have been written in recent years about the Founding Fathers, it's refreshing to read one in which slaves play a central part. Washington may have helped create our republic, but slaves built and upheld its economic infrastructure. In Sarah Johnson's Mount Vernon, Casper reminds us that they were founders, too.

Anyone who visits Mount Vernon invariably learns that America's first president stipulated in his will that all his slaves should be freed upon the death of his wife, Martha, who outlived him by three years. But visitors may not realize that Washington's descendants -- including his great-grandnephew, Confederate army officer John Augustine Washington III -- continued to keep other slaves on the estate for decades.

After John Augustine Washington was publicly scorned for neglecting Mount Vernon in the 1850s, he sold the land and buildings to a group of women that became the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. Although the Ladies Association raised the money to restore Washington's home, it was the labor of African Americans that maintained the property for many more years.

Casper builds his narrative largely around Sarah Johnson, who was born a slave at Mount Vernon in 1844 to a teenage mother and was trained as a domestic servant. After emancipation, she was employed by the Ladies Association as a cook and maid, keeping the estate ready for its daily visitors. She "drew upon lessons from slavery days," Casper writes, and "played a featured role in the Mount Vernon that visitors saw, as she courteously sold them milk for five cents a glass."

On Sarah Johnson's death in 1920, the flags at Mount Vernon flew at half mast. The superintendent who ordered this gesture "meant no statement about racial equality," Casper notes. "In his words, the flag commemorated a 'faithful ex-servant of M.V.,' a woman who had earned respect by knowing her place." But during her lifetime, she went from slave to landowner and even took on some managerial duties at Mount Vernon.


The Death Warrant of Mary Stuart

The recent news of the purchase of the death warrant of Mary Queen of Scots has been circulating cyberspace. One can see upon it the signature of Mary's cousin, Queen Elizabeth, who by all accounts, signed reluctantly. In fact, the usual claim is that the warrant had to be hidden in a stack of documents which Elizabeth was routinely signing, so that she would not be overcome with scruples about sending the captive Queen of Scots to her death.

The love/hate relationship between the two cousins, who never actually met face-to-face, has been studied by many historians. There is no doubt in my mind that Elizabeth had always been jealous of Mary on some level. Mary had the beauty and admiration which Elizabeth coveted. Mary's reign was a disaster, but she had men falling in love with her right and left; Elizabeth was never really certain if she was truly loved or not. Elizabeth's anguished cry when the news came of the birth of Mary's son is indicative of a great deal: "The Queen of Scots is lighter of a fair son but I am barren stock!"

On the other hand, Mary was one of the few people in the world who was Elizabeth's peer, not only because she was a queen regnant but she was an intelligent and accomplished woman. I think they both tried to be friends, in the beginning, but it was an impossible friendship. Not only was Mary an heir to the English throne, but in some ways she had a better claim than Elizabeth did, especially in the eyes of the Catholic Church. Only a person whose parents had been married could inherit the crown. Elizabeth's parents were not validly married when she was born, since her father's first wife Queen Katherine was living at the time, and the decree of nullity had never been granted. Even Henry VIII eventually declared his marriage to Anne Boleyn to be null and void, right before he had her beheaded.

Elizabeth had a difficult childhood and youth. She learned early on to rely on her wits and make necessary compromises in order to survive. She had many inner conflicts, many demons which afflicted her for a lifetime.

There are people who think that Mary should have sat peacefully in her prison without any attempt to escape. However much she may have been involved in the Babington plot in an effort to regain her freedom, Mary insisted that she never endorsed Elizabeth's assassination. In Elizabeth's heart she knew that the only way to remove the threat of Mary was to destroy her, although she detested the idea of killing an anointed sovereign, her own cousin. There is a wealth of pain, despair, anger and sorrow in the signature on the death warrant. Share

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A New Trilogy, an Opera, and an Explanation

October 2008 will see the release of the first installment of a trilogy of historical novels about Marie-Antoinette by André Romijn. The first novel is called Vive Madame la Dauphine and it sounds promising. Although, I don't understand why Count Fersen has to be brought into it. "What effect did the Swedish Duke[?] Alex von Fersen have upon her young heart and mind?" Well, not much, since at that period of her life she saw him once, for ten minutes at the masked ball.

A new theatrical production is in the works as well. It is not yet clear whether it is an opera, a Broadway show, or a combination of both. Stay tuned.

People frequently ask me why I wrote Trianon. One of the reasons is that I kept encountering educated people who really thought that Marie-Antoinette said "Let them eat cake." I kept running into Catholics, including priests and nuns, who thought that Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were killed as punishment for some egregious wickedness or, at least, for unforgivable stupidity. Having read books about Louis and Antoinette since I was nine years old, I knew that not to be true; it was only after a great deal more research that I came to see how completely false is the common belief about the king and queen. But the demonization of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette in the popular mind is necessary in order to justify the excesses of the French Revolution. When people have a false and distorted view of history, then it is difficult for them to grasp the present, and almost impossible to meet the future with any kind of preparedness.

The French Revolution was not necessary, simply because it is never necessary to murder tens of thousands of people. Reform certainly was needed, but reform can happen without death. Louis XVI was an intrepid reformer. He was not afraid to break with the past and abolish outdated customs, while introducing new ways of doing things. Louis was not resistant to change, although that is how he is usually portrayed. The changes were slow but over time might have been effective, had the violent upheavals not swept everything away. Too often the violence is represented as a sad but unavoidable means of achieving freedom and democracy. For the French Revolution overturned not only the social order but it was ultimately an attack on the Church. Many Catholics were killed, especially those peasants who did not want their religion taken away.

I started writing the novel about twenty years ago, while finishing graduate school. It was put aside for a long time, but after a trip to Vienna in 1995 the inspiration came to take it up again. It was never my intention to write Marie-Antoinette's complete life story but rather a series of vignettes from various points of view. The spiritual struggle in the lives of Louis and Antoinette became the focus. They were ordinary, flawed human beings who showed great fidelity and courage in a way that should never be forgotten. Where did they find strength and courage? Where does any Christian find it? It is such questions that I sought to explore in Trianon. Share

The Tea Table

Somehow in the course of the last fifty years, tea-time has come to be seen as belonging to the domain of the wealthy and privileged. How odd this is, since "high tea" was at one time the principle evening meal for working class families, "low tea" being comparable to an afternoon snack. Yes, tea parties can be formal affairs, but tea-time can also be a cozy gathering of family and a few close friends. Sometimes, it is pleasant to talk to people face-to-face, rather than merely on the phone or over the internet. Unfortunately, so much of our human relations are focused on the computer or television. At tea-time, it is nice to turn off the television, close up the lap-top, and give our undivided attention to those whom we like and love. At tea-time, the emphasis is on the conversation rather than on the food, unlike regular meal times.

Here are some instructions on how to arrange the tea table. Invitations are mentioned but it is possible for friends to gather informally.

Here is a selection from the writings of the original Emily Post concerning tea parties. Mrs. Post provides detailed advice on how to arrange the table. Very entertaining, in a quaint sort of way. Share

Friday, February 22, 2008


As part of her quest for art which depicts women performing domestic tasks, Linda has come across some paintings by the Dutch masters. They were not averse to showing women doing housework. To quote:
Thinking about the Dutch interiors of the 17th century was prompted by trying to find a housecleaning scene as a subject of art--for the most part unsuccessfully. It was the Dutch artists of the 17th century who were not afraid to paint a woman with a broom. Such art was a celebration of the domesticity pioneered by the families of the Dutch Golden Age. I consulted the fascinating study by Witold Rybczynski, Home: A Short History of an Idea, to find out the story behind the beautiful paintings and spic-and-span interiors of Dutch homes.


Being small, the Dutch home could be cleaned by one person--the woman of the house. "Dutch society discouraged the hiring of servants and imposed special taxes on those who employed domestic help," Rybczynski reports. Dutch married women, regardless of their station or wealth, did most of their own household chores.

On the cleanliness of the Dutch homes, he writes the following:
"As every homemaker knows, the less furniture there is, the easier it is to keep a room clean, and this too may have had something to do with the relative sparseness of the Dutch interior, for these houses were spotlessly, immaculately, unbelievably clean. The well-scrubbed Dutch stoop is famous and has come to serve as an example of public exhibitionism and bourgeois pretentiousness.... but it was no pretense; the interiors of the Dutch houses were equally scrubbed and scoured. Sand was scattered on the floor, recalling the medieval practice of covering floors in rushes. Pots were shined, woodwork varnished, brickwork tarred."
More paintings here.

February is also quilting month. The making of quilts is a frugal and practical way in which women have long created beauty for their homes and families.

Speaking of cleaning the house, Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day is a wonderful line of household products, pleasant as well as effective. (People make fun of aromatherapy, I know. But let us remember that many herbal remedies originated in monastery gardens.) Share

Vintage Illustrations

Alexandra offers a link to vintage illustrations, ideal for blogging and any other creative projects. Click here. Share

Thursday, February 21, 2008

More about Mary: The Casket Letters

I came upon a fascinating critique of the infamous "Casket Letters" which were used to condemn Mary Queen of Scots. I have read elsewhere that perhaps portions of Mary's actual letters were taken and tampered with by forgers in order to incriminate her with Darnley's murder. At any rate, the originals are missing; only copies remain. As the article observes:
The only things we have to study the Casket Letters are copies made by clerics and the descriptions given in the court logs of the Westminster debacle. This considerably complicates matters since it makes it completely impossible to avail ourselves of modern hand writing analysis techniques. That the documents may have been false but also able to fool the eyes of sixteenth century analyzers is not odd. For one thing, the documents where scrutinized not by experts but by government officials, most of whom where not familiar with Mary's penmanship. Secondly, amongst the prosecutors there were many who where capable of forging Mary's signature, who where very well acquainted with her writing, and extremely familiar with her writing style. In short, there are a number of men who could have forged the documents and who had motive to have done so. Additionally, it is odd indeed that the court journals describe the letters as being written in the Roman hand when Mary was known to write only in the much differing Italian style. It is impossible to tell if this was merely clerical error or very strong evidence that Mary did not author the documents. Moreover, to add further to the confusion, it seems that the twenty one documents in the casket at the time of the trial originally numbered twenty two, leaving generations to wonder exactly what happened to the extra document and why.

There are other curiosities about the documents. For example, none of them were dated. None of them had proper introductions or endings; Mary was known for taking great care to find the perfect endings for her letters. The sonnets (officially counted as separate documents, but generally thought of as one long poem) where so ill written as to be nearly painful to read; Mary was known as a talented poet and the existing verse known to be hers is of a much superior quality. The letters make little to no sense, flowing in odd patterns and often completely disjointed. However, Mary was an intelligent woman and her other writings do make sense. It is hard to see how Mary could have written some of the documents if one assumes that Mary remained sane throughout the time they were written.

Here are some quotations from actual letters and sayings of Mary Stuart.
"I will be plain with you, the religion which I profess I take to be the most acceptable to God; and, indeed, neither do I know, nor desire to know any other. Constancy becometh all folks well, and none better than princes, and such as have rule over realms, and specially in matters of religion. I have been brought up in this religion; and who aught would credit me in anything if I should show myself lighter in this case."

"He who does not keep faith where it is due, will hardly keep it where it is not due." (Maxim quoted to her half-brother James Moray during her forced abdication at Lochleven)

"I have endured injuries, calumnies, imprisonment, famine, cold, heat, flight not knowing wither, ninety two miles across the country without stopping or alighting, and then I have had to sleep upon the ground and drink sour milk, and eat oatmeal without bread, and have been three nights like the owls." (To her uncle in France about her escape from Lochleven)

"Dear Son, I send three bearers to see you and bring me word how ye do, and to remember you that ye have in me a loving mother that wishes you to learn in time to love know and fear God." (To her son James - the note never reached him)

"Tribulation has been to them as a furnace to fine gold - a means of proving their virtue, of opening their so-long blinded eyes, and of teaching them to know themselves and their own failings". (Mary Queen of Scots on the lives of rulers, Essay on Adversity, 1580)

"I do not desire vengeance. I leave it to Him who is the just Avenger of the innocent and of those who suffer for His Name under whose power I will take shelter. I would rather pray with Esther than take the sword with Judith." (At her trial)

"Well, Jane Kennedy, did I not tell you this would happen? I knew they would never allow me to live, I was too great an obstacle to their religion." (At her death)

New Blog

Coffee Catholic has a new blog. One of her first posts is about head coverings for women at Mass, a rich part of Catholic Tradition, based on Sacred Scripture. Head coverings may no longer be mandatory, but I have noticed that when people discard time honored traditions of showing reverence to God, they come up with other practices, innovations which may or may not be in accord with Roman Catholic rubrics. The sacred liturgy, of any approved rite, is not a free-for-all that people can make up as they go along. Share

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

History in the Making

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC is hosting a provocative exhibit.
A new exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library called "History in the Making" is an episodic survey of how history and current events were managed, manipulated and mythologized in the years before and after the career of William Shakespeare. It also surveys the politicized and even tendentious historical works that Shakespeare drew upon in his plays, works that were often convenient, dynastic fictions in favor of the Tudor ruling family. And it continues well past the death of Shakespeare, through the middle of the 17th century, ending with the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666.

Organized by guest curators Alan Stewart and Garrett Sullivan, the new show is presented as a series of vignettes. The curators, mercifully, have not drawn superficial connections between the political mythmaking of four centuries ago and the rapid-fire spin wars of the current political campaign. But the contents of almost every one of the display cases in this engaging show might easily be reduced to a familiar, topical theme: origin myths, scapegoats, God's will, internal enemies, favored sons.

You are left with the sense that while it's dangerous to draw too many connections, the basic strategies of propaganda remain much the same.


Preparation for Death

The following is an excerpt from Preparation for Death by St. Alphonsus Liguori:

King Ezechias said with tears: "My life is cut off as by a weaver; while I was yet beginning, He cut me off." (Isa. 38, 12) Oh, how many have been overtaken and cut off by death, while they were executing and arranging worldly projects devised with so much labor! By the light of the last candle, all things in this world, applause, diversions, pomps, and greatness vanish. Great secret of death! It makes us see what the lovers of this world do not see. The most princely fortunes, the most exalted dignities, and the most superb triumphs lose all their splendor when viewed from the bed of death. The ideas that we have formed of certain false happiness are then changed into indignation against our own folly. The black and gloomy shade of death then covers and obscures every dignity, even that of kings and princes.

At present, our passions make the goods of this earth appear different from what they are in reality. Death takes off the veil, and makes them appear what they really are - smoke, dirt, vanity, and wretchedness. O God! Of what use are riches, possessions, or kingdoms at death, when nothing remains but a wooden coffin, and a simple garment barely sufficient to cover the body? Of what use are the honors, when they all end in a funeral procession and pompous obsequies, which will be unprofitable to the soul if it be in hell? Of what use is beauty, when after death nothing remains but worms, stench, and horror, and in the end a little fetid dust?

"He hath made me," says Job, "as it were a byword of the people, and an example before them." (Job 17,6) The rich man, the captain, the minister of state, dies: his death is the general topic of conversation; but if he has led a bad life he will become "a byword of the people, and an example before them." As an instance of the vanity of the world, and even of the divine justice, he will serve for the admonition of others. After burial his body will be mingled with the bodies of the poor. "The small and great are there." (Job 3, 19)

What profit has he derived from the beautiful structure of his body, which is now but a heap of worms? Of what use are the power and authority which he wielded, when his body is now left to rot in a grave, and his soul has perhaps, been sent to burn in hell? Oh, what misery! To be the occasion of such reflections to others, and not to have them for his own profit! Let us then persuade ourselves that the proper time for repairing the disorders of the soul is not the hour of death, but the time of health. Let us hasten to do now what we shall not be able to do at that hour. "Time is short." Everything soon passes away and comes to an end: let us therefore labor to employ all things for the attainment of eternal life.

The French Antigone

Ernest Daudet's biography of Madame Royale includes some prints from the early nineteenth century portraying the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette supporting her gouty uncle Louis XVIII during their exile in the Russian empire. She was nicknamed the "French Antigone." The same book includes a description which Louis XVIII wrote in 1799 of his niece to his brother Artois, calling her "our daughter" and comparing her to their sister Madame Elisabeth. Share

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fruit Juice vs. Fresh Fruit

Fresh fruit is healthier, of course. The "pulp" they add to some orange juices in not always the real thing. And there is so much more in whole fruit that is immensely beneficial.
The edible skins of many of the World's Healthiest Fruits - including apples, apricots, blueberries, figs, grapes, pears, plums, prunes, raisins, raspberries, and strawberries - are all sites of important biological activity in the life of the fruit. The skin is one of the places where the fruit interacts with sunlight, and forms a variety of colored pigments that absorb different wavelengths of light. These pigments, including carotenoids and flavonoids, are well researched as nutrients that protect our health and nourishment. The skins of whole fruits like grapes have actually been studied for their ability to help lower risk of cancer and help provide protection from ultraviolet light.

Unfortunately, when fruits are juiced, we don't always get to enjoy the fruit's skin. That is because many juicing processes remove the skin, and do not allow for its full benefits to get into the juice.


Monday, February 18, 2008

The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots

February 8 was the anniversary of the execution of Mary Stuart in 1587. The Queen of Scots, having been unjustly imprisoned by her cousin Queen Elizabeth of England for twenty years, was beheaded after a sham trial. According to an eye-witness account:
Then she, being stripped of all her apparel saving her petticoat and kirtle, her two women beholding her made great lamentation, and crying and crossing themselves prayed in Latin. She, turning herself to them, embracing them, said these words in French, 'Ne crie vous, j'ay prome pour vous', and so crossing and kissing them, bad them pray for her and rejoice and not weep, for that now they should see an end of all their mistress's troubles.

Then she, with a smiling countenance, turning to her men servants, as Melvin and the rest, standing upon a bench nigh the scaffold, who sometime weeping, sometime crying out aloud, and continually crossing themselves, prayed in Latin, crossing them with her hand bade them farewell, and wishing them to pray for her even until the last hour.

This done, one of the women have a Corpus Christi cloth lapped up three-corner-ways, kissing it, put it over the Queen of Scots' face, and pinned it fast to the caule of her head. Then the two women departed from her, and she kneeling down upon the cushion most resolutely, and without any token or fear of death, she spake aloud this Psalm in Latin, In Te Domine confido, non confundar in eternam, etc. Then, groping for the block, she laid down her head, putting her chin over the block with both her hands, which, holding there still, had been cut off had they not been espied. Then lying upon the block most quietly, and stretching out her arms cried, In manus tuas, Domine, etc., three or four times. Then she, lying very still upon the block, one of the executioners holding her slightly with one of his hands, she endured two strokes of the other executioner with an axe, she making very small noise or none at all, and not stirring any part of her from the place where she lay: and so the executioner cut off her head, saving one little gristle, which being cut asunder, he lift up her head to the view of all the assembly and bade God save the Queen. Then, her dress of lawn [i.e. wig] from off her head, it appeared as grey as one of threescore and ten years old, polled very short, her face in a moment being so much altered from the form she had when she was alive, as few could remember her by her dead face. Her lips stirred up and a down a quarter of an hour after her head was cut off.
There is a great deal of similarity between Mary of Scotland and her descendant, Marie-Antoinette. Both possessed immense beauty, charm, and joie de vivre, along with the ability of inspiring either great love or great hatred. Both are icons of romance and passion, when, in all probability, they had very little actual romance or passion in their personal lives, especially when compared to the sorrows they had to bear.

Mary and her first husband, Francis II of France, seemed to have a deep and genuine affection for each other, in spite of the fact that he was afflicted with health problems (like most of the Valois.) Her other two husbands, however, were total and complete wretches, who made Mary's life a living hell. Antonia Fraser, in her stellar biography of Mary, conjectures that the Scottish queen fell in love with her cousin Darnley, before she found out what he was. Other biographers, such as Alison Weir and John Guy, believe that she married Darnley not out of love but to solidify her claim to the English throne, since Henry Stewart was also an heir.

At any rate, Darnley was abusive in every way, and unfaithful. He plotted against her, threatening to declare her child illegitimate, telling the Pope and the King of France that she was a bad Catholic, while participating in the murder of her secretary David Rizzio before her eyes. (I might have been tempted to put gun powder under his bed, too.) However, there is overwhelming proof that Mary had nothing to do with Darnley's death, as Fraser, Guy, and Weir all describe in detail. I would especially recommend Alison Weir's excellent Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, in which the events of Kirk o'Field are retraced with precision, exonerating Mary beyond all doubt. Weir shows how Mary was planning to reconcile with Darnley and live with him again, for their son's sake, when the Scottish lords had Darnley strangled, before blowing up his house.

As for the marriage with Bothwell, all three biographers mentioned above believe that Mary was kidnapped and raped by him; when she discovered that she was pregnant she assented to a wedding. There was no great romance. She later tried to have the marriage annulled.

Mary should have returned to France after the defeat at Carberry Hill and her subsequent escape from her initial captivity. In France, she had lands as Dowager Queen, and her grandmother was still alive. Instead, she went to England and throwing herself upon Elizabeth's mercy. Big mistake. But I think she did not want to be too far from her infant son James, with whom she hoped to be reunited, as only a mother can hope.

Mary, like Marie-Antoinette, is often dismissed as being stupid. She did make some imprudent choices, that's for certain. John Guy's biography carefully offers proofs that, in spite of everything, Mary often showed herself to be an astute politician, who successfully played her enemies against each other, avoiding some potential disasters early in her rule. The fact that her personal reign lasted as long as it did, in the turbulent era of the Scottish Reformation, when she was surrounded by those who believed she was Jezebel just because she was Catholic, is remarkable. She would have had to have been more ruthless and cruel, less merciful and tolerant, to have been a successful monarch in that particular time and place. Her abdication, and many of the disastrous decisions she made in those fateful months, happened when she was recovering from assault and a miscarriage/stillbirth. She was obviously going through some kind of breakdown.

Almost half of Mary's life was spent as a prisoner, separated from her only surviving child, who was taught to despise his mother as a harlot. When accused of plotting Elizabeth's murder, forged letters were used against her, and she was deprived of counsel. As she declared at her trial:
I do not recognize the laws of England nor do I understand them, as I have often asserted. I am alone without counsel or anyone to speak on my behalf. My papers and notes have been taken from me, so that I am destitute of all aid, taken at a disadvantage.
Before her execution, Mary was told that her life would be the death of the Protestant religion, but her death would be its life. The ultimate reason for her demise was the fact that she was a Catholic queen. With that in mind, she approached the scaffold.



Here are links to various articles which I came across this morning when perusing the internet.

Fr. Mark Kirby
has returned from Ireland with anecdotes, as well as a reflection on the Transfiguration.
To seek the Face of Christ is to place all one's trust in Him. It is to await from Him all that one needs. The contemplation of the Holy Face of Jesus
— exorcises the fears that paralyze us spiritually;
— frees us from anxiety and fills the soul with peace;
— purifies us of our sins and opens us to an infusion of grace;
— glorifies Our Lord because He desires that we should discover on His Face the glory of the Father (2 Cor 4:6), and the secrets of His Heart.

Terry Nelson offers some thoughts on priestly vestments. And today is the new feast of St. Bernadette in France.
Our Lady understands well that life on earth is indeed “a vale of tears”, as we say in her prayer, and the Blessed Virgin knows that “nothing the world affords comes from the Father.”- (Jn 2:16) The Blessed Mother also respects man’s free will, and she recognizes that man’s tendency is for good, hence the Blessed Virgin has compassion on our feeble attempts at charity, as well as our longing for love, no matter how disordered. Therefore, as she explained to Bernadette, she seeks to correct our mistaken notions of fulfillment when she told the saint, “I cannot make you happy in this world, but only in the next.” That is not to say our life on earth is joyless at all, in fact, living according to the commandments and loving God is the only source of genuine happiness on earth, as Jesus taught us.

Daniel Mitsui discusses the secret Christians of Japan, who would face indescribable tortures if discovered.

Here is a compelling review about Ruth Scurr's biography of Robespierre, Fatal Purity. (Via The Western Confucian) To quote:
Madame de Stael wrote of Robespierre in 1789 that "his features were mean, his complexion pale, his veins a greenish hue". His body language was also suspect: according to a contemporary "he never looked you in the face". This is probably because Robespierre was already wholly absorbed by his inward vision of the new state and its total democracy, a vision with which he entirely identified. When the Bastille fell on 14 July that same year he commented that "the will of the people" had sanctioned it. Yet among all the fervid activity of those months and the many other articulate voices clamouring for change, he stood out, catching the eye of Mirabeau, the one man with the personality and the influence to save the monarchy, who said of him: "That man will go far. He believes everything he says."

Mere Comments has a post entitled "The Oprah Club," with the following astute observation:
Mere literacy has no value in itself. It is worthy only as the servant of virtue. The virtues of Oprahism, however, appear to be subordinate to, and ordered by, the prime virtue of self-realization and self-actualization rather than that of finding the self by losing it in sacrificial service to others, subject to the will of God. Its heroes tend to be Prometheans injured by, and in defiance of, the Traditional Moral Order (let us all weep for them a bit), lap-christs for the entertainment of silly women. Oprahism, to be sure, is chock-full of "virtues," but the order in which they are placed relative to one another in the scheme of the whole makes the phenomenon a veil of evil.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Marie-Antoinette's Prayer Book

I just came across this interesting tidbit, via the archives of The New York Times. Share

El Cid

Last month saw the release of a deluxe DVD of Anthony Mann's 1961 epic film, El Cid, starring Charleton Heston and Sophia Loren. It is a film I have watched innumerable times on video and am looking forward to seeing the newly expanded version. According to one review:
Debuting on DVD this week as the inaugural title of Genius Products and The Weinstein Company's Miriam Collection, "El Cid's" Medieval tale of chivalry and passion is one of the rare films of its kind that actually feels passionate. More... than epics marred by the intrusion of modern sensibilities. It also has the distinct advantage of Sophia Loren as Heston's leading lady, a better-than-average script, magnificently mounted spectacle, and solid performances by a large cast united in the belief they were doing something worthy.
Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (1040-1099), also known as El Cid Campeador, was a Castilian knight who lived in a time of social chaos, Muslim incursions, religious hypocrisy, and leadership that tended to be both weak and cruel. "Mio Cid," which means "my Lord" or even "my Hero," conducted himself in such a way that he won the respect of both Christians and Moors, creating a legend of courage and chivalry which has inspired songs, poems, plays, and, in the last century, the epic film.

With a musical score worthy of a champion, Mann's El Cid draws upon the medieval ballads as well as Corneille's seventeenth century play. With an archaic but coherent dialog, the epic moves from Rodrigo's stormy marriage with Dona Jimena to his various struggles with Alphonso VI to his emergence as the savior of Christian Spain. Throughout the film, the sign of the Cross appears, marking the increasing sacrifices of Rodrigo as he seeks to follow the path of justice, in spite of the cost to himself. People often criticize the final scene as being beyond belief and it is, for it comes from a mingling of history with legend. Nevertheless, it is difficult not to agree with Rodrigo's friends, as they kneel on the shores of Valencia to pray for him, asking God to receive into His kingdom "one who died the purest knight of all."

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Behold Your Mother

Today I had the pleasure of pondering Heidi Hess Saxton's new book, Behold Your Mother. The fruit of prayer and study, this short but poignant series of meditations weaves together quotes from Sacred Scripture and Church documents with poetry and personal anecdotes. Heidi has a straightforward style which effectively communicates profound truths amid the humor and heartbreak of being a modern wife and mother. The experience of being an adoptive parent has given Heidi insight into the maternal mediation of Mary for the adopted children of God that would have been difficult to gain any other way.

Behold Your Mother
is an excellent book for quiet meditation. It is made to be shared as well; the chapters are short enough to be read aloud at the dinner table to the entire family during the month of May. Reading it led me to see the Blessed Mother through new eyes. Heidi's reflections can only help to deepen devotion and love for the Holy Mother of God. Share

Louise de La Vallière

Louise de La Vallière, one of the early mistresses of Louis XIV, is an example of how an innocent young person of conscience can suffer unspeakably when getting sucked into a certain kind of lifestyle. Louise, born in 1644, came to Versailles as a maid of honor to Louis XIV's sister-in-law, the lovely "Minette" (Henrietta-Anne of England). Louise, virtuous and devout, fell in love with the king as he fell in love with her. She tried to resist his advances but eventually succumbed. She ran away to a convent in order to get away from him; he brought her back. She was a rare mistress, for she did not seek wealth and favors for herself or her family. She bore the king four children.

The fleeting happiness Mademoiselle de La Vallière shared with Louis was nothing compared to the overwhelming humiliations and torment inflicted upon her by courtiers, by the queen, and by her own conscience. Louis gradually lost interest in her and became involved with Madame de Montespan. Because Madame de Montespan was married, Louis forced Louise to maintain the pretense of being his mistress. She had to be constantly in the company of La Montespan so that when the king came to visit his new mistress it would appear that he was visiting Louise. However, the entire court knew the truth and Louise had to bear the scorn heaped upon a fallen, discarded courtesan. She became ill and almost died, but when she recovered she went to confession and became reconciled with God. She publicly knelt before the queen and begged forgiveness. Then, she entered a Carmelite monastery as Sister Louise of Mercy.

Louise spent the rest of her life in penance and prayer, praying especially for the king's conversion, which was realized when he married Madame de Maintenon, who was a friend of Louise. Both the queen and Madame de Maintenon came to visit her at the Carmel. Later Madame de Montspan visited as well, seeking spiritual guidance. Louise de La Vallière died in 1710.

Dumas made Louise a character in his novels. Share

Friday, February 15, 2008

Getting Acquainted

Lesson No. 2 of the Ethel Cotton Course in Conversation explores how to cultivate new acquaintances in a party setting. Much of the suggestions remind me of how Carmelite nuns are taught to behave at recreation. Recreation can be a time for practicing little mortifications and self-discipline, by listening to others and talking about topics which may not be of personal interest. Here are a few excerpts:
If you go to a gathering in the right mental attitude, keeping your mind alert to the mood and reactions of each person, you can almost immediately discover the subjects in which people are interested.

First Principle: Use ideas suggested by the occasion. Consider the affair itself, the person who is being honored, the activities of the club whose new home is being dedicated, the unusual decorations or any unique feature associated with the occasion. Then try to find links for association of ideas. Mutual friends, places which several have visited, similar business interests are all good topics.

Usually elderly people enjoy reminiscences while young people like to discuss their plans for the future. Perhaps middle aged people may be classed as old or young in spirit, depending upon whether the past or the future is their greatest interest. Discuss the "old days" or the "marvelous future" and watch the reactions of your friends. In this way you will learn much of their attitude toward life.

Since, however, every gathering does not of itself inspire ideas, you must have something more definite to rely upon.

Keep Your Mind Adaptable

Don't go to any affair with a set plan in mind as to what subjects you will talk about. Be prepared in a general, not in a specific, way. Remember that no rules fit all occasions. Nothing is more deadly to spontaneity than following a set plan at all gatherings. Cultivate the ability to "sense" the moods of the people around you. Try to fit in with the spirit of the affair. If the people you meet are philosophical and serious, don't be flippant -- try to recall ideas of a similar character. If your friends are hilarious, try at least to be jovial and enter into the spirit of gaiety. Remember Kipling's adage, "Don't look too good, or talk to wise." Above all, don't create a negative atmosphere by making obvious, trite, or depressing statements. Encourage others to express their opinions. Make them feel that their viewpoint is worth considering. You please most people when you ask for an opinion. You indirectly compliment your friend when you ask his advice.

If you are well-acquainted with every member of the group, you know their interests. Then you can immediately introduce a subject with which they are familiar and which they will enjoy discussing. If, however, you are not well acquainted with the people present, you must diplomatically find their interests by asking questions or listening to casual remarks....

Refer to any local happening of current interest, and, by the remarks which follow, you will learn who is informed and interested in current events.

~ The Ethel Cotton Course in Conversation, Lesson No.2. Chicago: Conversation Studies, 1949, pp. 1-3

Between Two Fires

Making a pact with Joseph Stalin was like making a pact with the devil. No matter what the devil promises, he always triumphs over those foolish enough to bargain with him. Whatever the United States and Great Britain thought to gain by so magnanimously treating with Uncle Joe at Yalta in 1945, the only ones who gained anything of substance in the long run were the Soviets. Eastern Europe was handed over to Stalin, who was probably responsible for killing as many or more people than Hitler. The reasons why vast territory was ceded to the Communists are obvious if one has read Whittaker Chambers. Last night, by watching an insightful and poignant documentary, more pieces of the puzzle were put together for me, as well as further comprehension of the enormous toll in human suffering that was the price paid for making peace with Stalin on his terms.

Between Two Fires, an extraordinary film by Douglas Smith, chronicles the tragic events of the spring of 1945 when Russian POWs, interred on American soil, were repatriated by the United States to the Soviet Union where they faced torture, imprisonment, and certain death. To hand over prisoners of war to captors who were going to inflict death and severe punishments upon them violated the Geneva Conventions. The Russian prisoners begged for death at the hands of the Americans rather than being given to the Soviets. Some committed suicide. They were refused the ministrations of the local Orthodox clergy and so had to face their ordeals without spiritual guidance. Yes, they had been fighting for the Germans. But they did not see it so much as fighting for the Germans as fighting against Stalin and the Communists, who had inflicted untold sufferings upon the Russian people.

Between Two Fires is the winner of several awards, including a Bronze Oscar in 2002. Douglas Smith weaves together the political conniving, the human despair, and the underlying spiritual struggle into a powerful documentary. He is not afraid to tackle many controversial and uncomfortable questions. Why were American soldiers being held prisoner by the Soviets after the war? How did so many Russians end up fighting on the German side? Why were the Geneva Conventions so blithely ignored? Who was ultimately responsible for repatriating the Russian POWs against their will? Such questions and many others are probed in this short but cogent film. Every student of modern European history should own a copy of it. Because it is artistically crafted and yet based upon solid historical evidence and personal testimonies, it is worth watching again and again. It is a film which sheds further light upon the compromises which free people have made with the Revolution, to the detriment of all. Share

The NIU Shooting

Is there any way to make sense of such senseless evil? Scott Richert discusses the question.
In our increasingly post-Christian nation, pride and envy and anger are in much more abundant supply than guns. We don't know yet what the gunman hoped to accomplish by his action; unless he left a note or a recording, we may never know. But we can be certain that, in his heart, the passions that we all fall prey to all too often burned white hot. Barring demonic possession, the differences between his soul and ours are a matter of degree, not of kind.

Tonight, we pray for the dead. We pray that God may grant them eternal rest, and eternal memory. We pray for their relatives and friends, who must suffer the pain of being deprived of the ones they loved and endure the regrets that inevitably arise from the words left unspoken, the wounds that now will never be healed.

And, as our Lord taught us, we pray, too, for our enemies, that God may have mercy on the soul of the man who could perform such an evil act. In doing so, we don't excuse his sin, or lessen it, or attempt to explain it away. We pray that God may have mercy on him, because, in the face of his sin, his only hope--like ours--lies in the mercy of a God Who so loved the world that He sent His Only-Begotten Son to suffer and to die, so that we may not perish, but may have life everlasting.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

General Suggestions for Conversation

Below are more suggestions from the Ethel Cotton's Course on Conversation, Lesson No. 1, some of which could apply to writing as well as to conversing, as quaint as they may seem. I would add that if a person aspires to improve their speaking and writing abilities, they must be very careful what they put into their mind. It might be good not to have a constant diet of pop culture, be it on television or the internet or printed material. Just because certain television shows, blogs, books or magazines are popular does not mean that they are worthy of imitation. There are some aspects of pop culture that are creative and inspiring, but much is infested with banality and mediocrity. So a person should be careful what they read, and what they watch, if they want want to have a unique and effective writing style, as well as become a deft conversationalist. (I say these things as one who myself seeks to learn and to improve.) At any rate, it is a good idea to read classic literature and watch clever dramas whenever possible.

To continue with Lesson No. 1:
Encourage the clever. Many very intelligent individuals purposely talk commonplace to avoid the appearance of egotism. With encouragement, however, they may contribute much of interest and value. When you know a person is particularly gifted in certain ways or has had unusual experiences, lead him to talk about them.

The place does not matter as much as the people. You will find that the dinner table, a yachting trip, or a beach picnic are all excellent places in which to discuss interesting questions. In fact, wherever there is conversational guidance, stimulating thoughts may germinate which will add to the pleasure and inspiration of the morrow....

Vocabulary: ...As your ideas become more varied and interesting your vocabulary grows apace. You acquire abundant reserve of words to clothe your thoughts fittingly.

The most interesting as well as the simplest way of increasing your vocabulary is to note words which are used too often, substituting other words for them. Take the word "nice" for instance. We have "nice" weather, "nice" people, "nice" jobs, "nice" clothes, until "nice" loses all its personality and descriptive qualities. Drop "nice" out of your vocabulary entirely. Whenever you start to use it, decide to substitute another word which clearly expresses your meaning. For example, say invigorating weather, intelligent people, creative jobs, smart clothes.

Apply this principle to all over-worked words and phrases whether you use them yourself or hear them used....

Slang expressions have no value to you unless you originate them. Create your own phrases if you would become a distinctive speaker. Above all, avoid trite, commonplace words and phrases which have long since lost their color or meaning.

Voice Culture: ...Many fine ideas have fallen on deaf ears because of a monotonous or harsh speaking voice. For this reason your voice plays a very important part in conversation....

Diction: Unless you enunciate clearly, pronounce accurately, and choose distinctive expressions for your thoughts, you suffer a needless conversational handicap....

Carve your words. Slurring speech is one of the worst habits of the average person. Especially is this true in connection with the final consonants which often are permitted to merge with the word following....

~ The Ethel Cotton Course in Conversation, Lesson No.1. Chicago: Conversation Studies, 1949, pp. 10, 19-21


The Immorality of Moral Universalism

John Laughland offers some reflections.
Pas de liberté pour les ennemis de la liberté! No liberty for the enemies of liberty has always been the revolutionary principle, ever since Saint-Just (“The Angel of the Terror”) pronounced the phrase in Paris in 1793. Because Islam is now widely seen as an existential threat to liberal values the speech by the Archbishop of Canterbury last week, saying that the introduction of sharia law was both inevitable and desirable, and that idea of a sovereign state with a single law for all was “problematic” because it is not pluralist and tolerant enough, has inevitably caused a storm.

The speech did not come entirely out of the blue. For many decades now, clerics including in the Catholic church have espoused nothing but a tepid brew of secular left-liberalism. People used to say that the danger of people believing in nothing was that they would start to believe in anything. But as Paul Gottfried argued some years ago in his excellent book, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, the secularist project merely causes theological forms of behaviour to erupt into the political realm, often in a particularly nasty and deformed way. When priests stop talking about morality, other people start talking about it instead. (Read entire article)


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Madame de Maintenon and the Education of Women

Madame de Maintenon was the morganatic, second wife of Louis XIV. As queen in all but name, she devoted a great deal of energy to establishing a free school for girls called Saint Cyr, founded in 1685. Saint Cyr was for impoverished daughters of the nobility, providing them with a solid formation in the faith as well as a thorough education. It was intended that the girls would emerge from the school as marriageable young ladies (they were each provided with a dowry), ready to make a salutary contribution to the Church and the world.

Madame de Maintenon had surely experienced during the course of her tumultuous life how dangerous it is for women to be ignorant, especially when they are the ones who will be shaping society. Children suffer, and the world suffers at large, when mothers and wives have empty minds, filled only by gossip and nit-picking. The king's wife saw how vital it is to instill culture, solid faith versus religiosity, and the ability to reason, into those who would become either nuns or the wives of important men. Their education also included musical and artistic developments, as well as homemaking skills and crafts, such as the making of fine lace.

Madame de Maintenon, born Françoise d'Aubigné, came to Versailles as the governess of Louis XIV's children by Madame de Montespan. A convert to Catholicism, Françoise was also the widow of the poet Scarron, who had left her destitute. When one of the king's children died, Françoise wept for the baby as if he had been her own; such genuine grief over another woman's child impressed Louis, who was himself saddened by the little one's death. Françoise won the king's heart, and eventually his hand in marriage, by refusing to compromise her values. She declined to become the royal mistress, unlike many other women. When Louis' wife died, he married Françoise; he could not have her any other way. Her wit, intelligence and piety, as well as her beauty and warmth, captivated his respect and admiration. She was a second mother to his children and grandchildren and insisted upon high moral standards at the court. After the king died, Madame de Maintenon retired to Saint Cyr, where she lived a life of prayer and charitable works. Share