Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Pennies for the Black Babies


Well, said the Bishop, visiting our school “How many here are collecting pennies for the black babies?” I piped up (some things don’t change), “My mammy says we have enough black babies at home”.

The bishop talking to my mother later laughed over this. What though were those pennies for the black babies? It was a fund raising idea by the African missions. You got a card with the picture of a rosary on it and for for every penny you donated you punched a hole on a bead. After you had completed a card you sent it off with your donation and a suggestion for an African baby’s baptismal name. That would be now regarded as spiritual colonialism but it built hospitals and provided educational facilities for very poor places.

What are we to say to the Merciless sisters on a deputation from Ireland’s parliament to Nairobi, Kenya - Catherine Noonan, Frances Fitzgerald, Katherine Zappone, dr. Rhona Mahony. They were promoting the legalisation of abortion on demand in African countries at a conference.

Is this pennies for the no black babies?


Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Some Novels


So I’ve finished The Day the Call Came by Thomas Hinde. Excellent deep died noir about which I can say nothing lest I come to the attention of the spoiler police. And rightly so.

Reading The Idiot by Dostoyevsky in the translation by David Magarshack (Penguin). It’s many years ago since I last read it and of course I remember very little only that I thought it a lesser work than ‘Crime’ and ‘Devils’. However lesser Dostoyevsky is greater almost anybody. I realised that when I finished Part 1 208 pages long that it all transpired within a single long day culminating with an outrageous scene of commotion, tumult and money on the fire.

They all want Natasia whom Totsky the libertine is done with after seducing her as a young woman and keeping her from society for his personal pleasure. He wants to marry the General’s daughter and forego the dowry, a splendid scheme in the view of the prospective father-in-law. The General sees that this gives him a chance to take over this beauty if they can only marry her off to Ganya his secretary. Rogojin also wants the proud wounded Natasia. He has brought 100,000 roubles to the party – her birthday party to persuade her to come with him. She accepts it and to taunt Ganya throws it on the fire saying:

"Well, look here, Gania. I wish to look into your heart once more, for the last time. You've worried me for the last three months—now it's my turn. Do you see this packet? It contains a hundred thousand roubles. Now, I'm going to throw it into the fire, here—before all these witnesses. As soon as the fire catches hold of it, you put your hands into the fire and pick it out—without gloves, you know. You must have bare hands, and you must turn your sleeves up. Pull it out, I say, and it's all yours. You may burn your fingers a little, of course; but then it's a hundred thousand roubles, remember—it won't take you long to lay hold of it and snatch it out. I shall so much admire you if you put your hands into the fire for my money. All here present may be witnesses that the whole packet of money is yours if you get it out. If you don't get it out, it shall burn. I will let no one else come; away—get away, all of you—it's my money! Rogojin has bought me with it. Is it my money, Rogojin?"
"Yes, my queen; it's your own money, my joy."
(Eve Martin trans.)

There’s a succession of such marvellous ‘skandaly’ (Ru. ‘scene’) and darkly comic speeches from a dying consumptive.

Mrs. Yepachin, the general’s wife, and her daughters. Here they are:

All three of the Miss Epanchins were fine, healthy girls, well-grown, with good shoulders and busts, and strong—almost masculine—hands; and, of course, with all the above attributes, they enjoyed capital appetites, of which they were not in the least ashamed……..

Mrs. Epanchin had a fair appetite herself, and generally took her share of the capital mid-day lunch which was always served for the girls, and which was nearly as good as a dinner. The young ladies used to have a cup of coffee each before this meal, at ten o'clock, while still in bed. This was a favourite and unalterable arrangement with them. At half-past twelve, the table was laid in the small dining-room, and occasionally the general himself appeared at the family gathering, if he had time.
Besides tea and coffee, cheese, honey, butter, pan-cakes of various kinds (the lady of the house loved these best), cutlets, and so on, there was generally strong beef soup, and other substantial delicacies.

I suspect or at least it’s a theory of interest that at some point these young women will meet their fallen sister Natasia in another skandaly.


Sunday, 8 December 2019

Hair Raising


I opened the book at random and read in a description “a shock of white hair”. I took it to be a translation and therefore possibly a forgivable cliché but from an American, native born it’s just lazy writing that should be excised on a second pass. As an image it appears to have been generated via the sheaves of corn set upright and leaning against each other to dry. The Scots and Irish varient ‘stook’ refers to the same practice. ‘Samuel Beckett had a stook of white hair’has a freshness for those who know what a stook was. Did that author who wrote ‘shock’ have a clue where the image came from? Probably not.

How would one retain the surprise of a grand head of white hair.

His white hair seemed too abundant for the size of his head. Over the pulpit of his serene pale brow it stood alert bristling with counsel. ‘The O’Haras always kept their hair’ he would say as if that were an opt in favour to the clan.

His white hair stood up like the pelt of a white cat menaced by a terrier.

He was vain of it. Like a patch of scutch grass it stood thick, white, ineradicable rejecting macassar oil, brylcreem, gel, and that concoction known as brinjal (eggplant) oil from India which he gave up after too many ‘I’d love a curry’ remarks.

I blame the editor really, you know.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Keep Going, no Philosophy to see here.


Life is continuously surpassing old positions. To qualify: there are stages at which you pause maybe for years and then move forward. The sage’s way is to view these stations ironically. There is no terminus, the movement is an illusion. What then is the point of teachings, techniques and theory.

Philosophy that you remember by poring over it and getting it by heart has failed you. In the always new creation of the present moment it is an attention to a previous state, a fixed apotheosis. You have made an idol of it to keep on your mantle shelf.

So why do you continue to read it if not to discover traces of an energy that you can use? We do it to keep up our morale in the way that devotees read the lives of their saints. These were serious seekers. Our dilettantism is abashed, flaneurs that we are.

Friday, 6 December 2019

The Day the Call Came by Thomas Hinde (pub. 1964)



This is the oddest book I’ve read in a long time. The protagonist who seems to be an agent of some kind, deep in spy hibernation, is activated by a call. He is very well prepared with a fluid identity. Memory, which is a benchmark that we triangulate of our sense of self with, changes its shape and location.

When I joined they didn’t have to tell me that for security reasons my memories of the actual mechanics of those early contacts must be suppressed. And this didn’t mean buried where they might be dug up, but set into competition with other memories, a competition which because of their superficial improbability they would lose. I found it fairly easy.
I was able to invent incidents in my past and elaborate them and after a few weeks become genuinely unsure whether or not I was remembering what had happened or what I had thought about so carefully that I now be­lieved. And even when something seemed to obtrude as a real memory, by remembering it and rethinking it I could make it not more but less real because any real memory there might have been was obscured by the process of remembering it.

The note telling him to stand by has been typed on his own typewriter which is kept in a locked up office in the attic that he alone has the key to. How can that be? Is this a Kalfkaesque fantasy set in suburban England? And are the jovial neighbours what they seem to be? He has to keep an eye on them. Their games of golf could be a cover for sharing intelligence out of the range of electronic listening devices.

I have no idea of how this may end even 70% in. My ereader tells me this sort of thing but I keep it offline so that what I read may not disappear into a publisher’s algo or track me in any way. You can’t be too careful.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

A Possible Source of Arthur C. Benson's Animus towards John Henry Cardinal Newman


It is interesting to trace the background of Benson’ animus towards Newman. In his attempt to deal with the first of his major depressions he sought the help of John Henry Cardinal Newman. This was in 1882 while he was still an undergraduate at King’s College Cambridge then the reserve of Etonians. With some others he had gone to a Mission in the town for the lols, to sneer at Evangelical enthusiasm. The preacher must have been effective for according to Benson those that came to mock stayed to pray.
David Newsome in the biography that relies on the diaries doubts this account and seems to consider it a self-deluding legend. You can cover your tracks from yourself too. Newsome finds in an early novel by Benson Arthur Hamilton the source of the malaise in homosexual panic. This book which was essentially biographical related the shock of finding low vice lurking beneath the surface of romantic friendship.

Members of the audience, even the cynical and carefree who had come to mock, began responding to the preacher’s invitation to join him on the platform. Arthur himself got up; but he moved against the press of the others, stumbling into the night, returning dazed and sickened to the privacy of his rooms. He slept only fitfully, waking in the middle of the night to the consciousness of self-hatred and abandonment. It was the prelude to weeks of agonising depression, bordering on madness. He sought to escape by relentless academic work, all to no avail. He consulted an eminent Roman Catholic priest, and received a hard remonstrance. He tried to pray. Eventually he made his way to the one person who seemed to be able to see lovingly into his soul, and through his gentle guidance, and the assurance that he was by no means the first to suffer so, he was nursed back into sanity, although he could never entirely heal the wounds.
(from On the Edge of Paradise by David Newsome pub.1980)

Certainly there were aesthetes of Grecian hue who carried the romance to the extent that would have cost them Athenian citizenship.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Arhur C. Benson on Christina Rossetti and Newman


Arthur Christopher Benson will always take the opportunity to depreciate Newman. Christina Rossetti a favourite poet of his he places above even the divine ardour of Newman, whose technical dogmatism and paucity of human experience limited his range. The unspoken charge of tergiversation lies at the core of the ‘national church’ language also used by Matthew Arnold as though the marital difficulties of Henry VIII was a fons et origo of inspiration and the recovery of primitive Christianity.

Then was the crisis: would the wounded life creep on on a broken wing, or would the spiritual vitality suffice to fill the intolerable void? It did suffice; and the strength of the character that thus found repose was attested by the rational and temperate form of faith that ministered to the failing soul.
At such a moment the sensuous spirit is apt to slide into the luxurious self-surrender that Roman Catholicism permits. To me, indeed, it is a matter of profound surprise that Miss Rossetti did not fall into this temptation; but just as she had, with instinctive moderation, chosen the cool and temperate landscape of her adopted country, so the National Church of England, with its decorous moderation, its liberal generosity, its refined ardour, was the chosen home of this austere spirit. The other danger to be feared was that of a bitter renunciation of old delights, a sojourn in the wilderness of some arid and fantastic pietism. An elder sister of Miss Rossetti's indeed sought the elaborate seclusion of a religious house; and had D. G. Rossetti—to use the uncouth Puritan phrase—"found religion," there is no doubt that he too would have reverted to the Church of his fathers. But Miss Rossetti became, as Mr. Edmund Gosse has, in a penetrating criticism in the Century MagazineJune 1893 pointed out, the poetess, not of Protestantism, but of Anglicanism.
(from Christina Rossetti in Essays by A.C. Benson 1896)