19 February 2014

Quotation of the Day

“Political Correctness” is a catchphrase which today means one of two things. The first is, “I have done no substantial thinking on this topic in at least twenty years and therefore anything I say past this point cannot be treated with any seriousness.” The second is “It is more important for me to continue my ingrained bigotry than it is for you not to be denigrated or offended by my bigotry, because I am lazy and do not wish to be bothered.” If in fact you do not intend to convey either of these two things, you should not use, nor sign on to a document which uses, the phrase “political correctness.”

17 February 2014

Washington’s Birthday Reading: from Lost Diaries by Maurice Baring

[Maurice Baring imagines what a passage from George Washington’s schoolboy diary might have looked like]

Bridges Creek, 1744, September 20.—My mother has at last consented to let me go to school. I had repeatedly made it quite plain to her that the private tuition hitherto accorded to me was inadequate; that I would be in danger of being outstripped in the race owing to insufficient groundwork. My mother, although very shrewd in some matters, was curiously obstinate on this point. She positively declined to let me attend the day-school, saying that she thought I knew quite enough for a boy of my age, and that it would be time enough for me to go to school when I was older. I quoted to her Tacitus’ powerful phrase about the insidious danger of indolence; how there is a charm in indolence—but let me taste the full pleasure of transcribing the noble original: “Subit quippe etiam ipsius inertiæ dulcedo: et invisa primo desidia postremo amatur”; but she only said that she did not understand Latin. This was scarcely an argument, as I translated it for her.

I cannot help thinking that there was sometimes an element of pose in Tacitus’ much-vaunted terseness.

September 29.—I went to school for the first time to-day. I confess I was disappointed. We are reading, in the Fourth Division, in which I was placed at my mother’s express request, Eutropius and Ovid; both very insipid writers. The boys are lamentably backward and show a deplorable lack of interest in the classics. The French master has an accent that leaves much to be desired, and he seems rather shaky about his past participles. However, all these things are but trifles. What I really resent is the gross injustice which seems to be the leading principle at this school—if school it can be called.

For instance, when the master asks a question, those boys who know the answer are told to hold up their hands. During the history lesson Henry VIII. was mentioned in connection with the religious quarrels of the sixteenth century, a question which, I confess, can but have small interest for any educated person at the present day. The master asked what British poet had written a play on the subject of Henry VIII. I, of course, held up my hand, and so did a boy called Jonas Pike. I was told to answer first, and I said that the play was in the main by Fletcher, with possible later interpolations. The usher, it is scarcely credible, said, “Go to the bottom of the form,” and when Jonas Pike was asked he replied, “Shakespeare,” and was told to go up one. This was, I consider, a monstrous piece of injustice.

During one of the intervals, which are only too frequent, between the lessons, the boys play a foolish game called “It,” in which even those who have no aptitude and still less inclination for this tedious form of horse-play, are compelled to take part. The game consists in one boy being named “it” (though why the neuter is used in this case instead of the obviously necessary masculine it is hard to see). He has to endeavour to touch one of the other boys, who in their turn do their best to evade him by running, and should he succeed in touching one of them, the boy who is touched becomes “it” ipso facto. It is all very tedious and silly. I was touched almost immediately, and when I said that I would willingly transfer the privilege of being touched to one of the other boys who were obviously eager to obtain it, one of the bigger boys (again Jonas Pike) gave me a sharp kick on the shin. I confess I was ruffled. I was perhaps to blame in what followed. I am, perhaps, inclined to forget at times that Providence has made me physically strong. I retaliated with more insistence than I intended, and in the undignified scuffle which ensued Jonas Pike twisted his ankle. He had to be supported home. When questioned as to the cause of the accident I regret to say he told a deliberate falsehood. He said he had slipped on the ladder in the gymnasium. I felt it my duty to inform the head-master of the indirect and unwilling part I had played in the matter.

The head master, who is positively unable to perceive the importance of plain-speaking, said, “I suppose you mean you did it.” I answered, “No, sir; I was the resisting but not the passive agent in an unwarrantable assault.” The result was I was told to stay in during the afternoon and copy out the First Eclogue of Virgil. It is characteristic of the head master to choose a feeble Eclogue of Virgil instead of one of the admirable Georgics. Jonas Pike is to be flogged, as soon as his foot is well, for his untruthfulness.

This, my first experience of school life, is not very hopeful.

October 10.—The routine of the life here seems to me more and more meaningless. The work is to me child’s play; and indeed chiefly consists in checking the inaccuracies of the ushers. They show no gratitude to me—indeed, sometimes the reverse of gratitude.

One day, in the English class, one of the ushers grossly misquoted Pope. He said, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” I held up my hand and asked if the line was not rather “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” adding that Pope would scarcely have thought a little knowledge to be dangerous, since all knowledge is valuable. The usher tried to evade the point by a joke, which betrayed gross theological ignorance. He said: “All Popes are not infallible.”

One of the boys brought into school a foolish toy—a gutta-percha snake that contracts under pressure and expands when released, with a whistling screech.

Jonas Pike, who is the most ignorant as well as the most ill-mannered of all the boys, suggested that the snake should be put into the French master’s locker, in which he keeps the exercises for the week. The key of the locker is left in charge of the top boy of the class, who, I say it in all modesty, is myself. Presently another boy, Hudson by name, asked me for the key. I gave it to him, and he handed it to Pike, who inserted the snake in the locker. When the French master opened the locker the snake flew in his face. He asked me if I had had any hand in the matter. I answered that I had not touched the snake. He asked me if I had opened the locker; I, of course, said “No.” Questioned further as to how the snake could have got there, I admitted having lent the key to Hudson, ignorant of any ulterior purpose. In spite of this I was obliged, in company with Pike and Hudson, to copy out some entirely old-fashioned and meaningless exercises in syntax.

October 13.—A pretty little episode happened at home to-day. The gardener’s boy asked me if he might try his new axe on the old cherry-tree, which I have often vainly urged mother to cut down. I said, “By all means.” It appears that he misunderstood me and cut down the tree. My mother was about to send him away, but I went straight to her and said I would take the entire responsibility for the loss of the tree on myself, as I had always openly advocated its removal and that the gardener’s boy was well aware of my views on the subject. My mother was so much touched at my straightforwardness that she gave me some candy, a refreshment to which I am still partial. Would that the ushers at school could share her fine discrimination, her sound judgment, and her appreciation of character.

06 February 2014

Quotation of the Day

…if you believe in freedom of expression of some people, but not of all people— you do NOT believe in freedom of expression at all.
Taslima Nasreen (“Misogynistic book fair committee…”)

02 January 2014

Xmas Reading: On the Theophany, by Gregory of Nazianzus

[St. Gregory of Nazianzuz was Archbishop of Constantinople during the fourth century; his feast day is 2 January]

Christ is Born, glorify ye Him. Christ from heaven, go ye out to meet Him. Christ on earth; be ye exalted. Sing unto the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him Who is of heaven and then of earth. Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope. Christ of a Virgin; O ye Matrons live as Virgins, that ye may be Mothers of Christ. Who doth not worship Him That is from the beginning? Who doth not glorify Him That is the Last?

Again the darkness is past; again Light is made; again Egypt is punished with darkness; again Israel is enlightened by a pillar. The people that sat in the darkness of ignorance, let it see the Great Light of full knowledge. Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new. The letter gives way, the Spirit comes to the front. The shadows flee away, the Truth comes in upon them. Melchisedec is concluded. He that was without Mother becomes without Father (without Mother of His former state, without Father of His second). The laws of nature are upset; the world above must be filled. Christ commands it, let us not set ourselves against Him. O clap your hands together all ye people, because unto us a Child is born, and a Son given unto us, Whose Government is upon His shoulder (for with the Cross it is raised up), and His Name is called The Angel of the Great Counsel of the Father. Let John cry, Prepare ye the way of the Lord: I too will cry the power of this Day. He Who is not carnal is Incarnate; the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, Jesus Christ the Same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. Let the Jews be offended, let the Greeks deride; let heretics talk till their tongues ache. Then shall they believe, when they see Him ascending up into heaven; and if not then, yet when they see Him coming out of heaven and sitting as Judge.

Of these on a future occasion; for the present the Festival is the Theophany or Birth-day, for it is called both, two titles being given to the one thing. For God was manifested to man by birth. On the one hand Being, and eternally Being, of the Eternal Being, above cause and word, for there was no word before The Word; and on the other hand for our sakes also Becoming, that He Who gives us our being might also give us our Well-being, or rather might restore us by His Incarnation, when we had by wickedness fallen from wellbeing. The name Theophany is given to it in reference to the Manifestation, and that of Birthday in respect of His Birth.

This is our present Festival; it is this which we are celebrating to-day, the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God-that putting off the old man, we might put on the New; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him. For I must undergo the beautiful conversion, and as the painful succeeded the more blissful, so must the more blissful come out of the painful. For where sin abounded Grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more doth the Passion of Christ justify us? Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own but as belonging to Him Who is ours, or rather as our Master’s; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation.

And how shall this be? Let us not adorn our porches, nor arrange dances, nor decorate the streets; let us not feast the eye, nor enchant the ear with music, nor enervate the nostrils with perfume, nor prostitute the taste, nor indulge the touch, those roads that are so prone to evil and entrances for sin; let us not be effeminate in clothing soft and flowing, whose beauty consists in its uselessness, nor with the glittering of gems or the sheen of gold or the tricks of colour, belying the beauty of nature, and invented to do despite unto the image of God; Not in rioting and drunkenness, with which are mingled, I know well, chambering and wantonness, since the lessons which evil teachers give are evil; or rather the harvests of worthless seeds are worthless. Let us not set up high beds of leaves, making tabernacles for the belly of what belongs to debauchery. Let us not appraise the bouquet of wines, the kickshaws of cooks, the great expense of unguents. Let not sea and land bring us as a gift their precious dung, for it is thus that I have learnt to estimate luxury; and let us not strive to outdo each other in intemperance (for to my mind every superfluity is intemperance, and all which is beyond absolute need),-and this while others are hungry and in want, who are made of the same clay and in the same manner.

Let us leave all these to the Greeks and to the pomps and festivals of the Greeks, who call by the name of gods beings who rejoice in the reek of sacrifices, and who consistently worship with their belly; evil inventors and worshippers of evil demons. But we, the Object of whose adoration is the Word, if we must in some way have luxury, let us seek it in word, and in the Divine Law, and in histories; especially such as are the origin of this Feast; that our luxury may be akin to and not far removed from Him Who hath called us together. Or do you desire (for to-day I am your entertainer) that I should set before you, my good Guests, the story of these things as abundantly and as nobly as I can, that ye may know how a foreigner can feed the natives of the land, and a rustic the people of the town, and one who cares not for luxury those who delight in it, and one who is poor and homeless those who are eminent for wealth?

We will begin from this point; and let me ask of you who delight in such matters to cleanse you mind and your ears and your thoughts, since our discourse is to be of God and Divine; that when you depart, you may have had the enjoyment of delights that really fade not away. And this same discourse shall be at once both very full and very concise, that you may neither be displeased at its deficiencies, nor find it unpleasant through satiety.



Now then I pray you accept His Conception, and leap before Him; if not like John from the womb, yet like David, because of the resting of the Ark. Revere the enrolment on account of which thou wast written in heaven, and adore the Birth by which thou wast loosed from the chains of thy birth, and honour little Bethlehem, which hath led thee back to Paradise; and worship the manger through which thou, being without sense, wast fed by the Word. Know as Isaiah bids thee, thine Owner, like the ox, and like the ass thy Master's crib; if thou be one of those who are pure and lawful food, and who chew the cud of the word and are fit for sacrifice. Or if thou art one of those who are as yet unclean and uneatable and unfit for sacrifice, and of the gentile portion, run with the Star, and bear thy Gifts with the Magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, as to a King, and to God, and to One Who is dead for thee. With Shepherds glorify Him; with Angels join in chorus; with Archangels sing hymns. Let this Festival be common to the powers in heaven and to the powers upon earth. For I am persuaded that the Heavenly Hosts join in our exultation and keep high Festival with us to-day … because they love men, and they love God just like those whom David introduces after the Passion ascending with Christ and coming to meet Him, and bidding one another to lift up the gates.

One thing connected with the Birth of Christ I would have you hate … the murder of the infants by Herod. Or rather you must venerate this too, the Sacrifice of the same age as Christ, slain before the Offering of the New Victim. If He flees into Egypt, joyfully become a companion of His exile. It is a grand thing to share the exile of the persecuted Christ. If He tarry long in Egypt, call Him out of Egypt by a reverent worship of Him there. Travel without fault through every stage and faculty of the Life of Christ. Be purified; be circumcised; strip off the veil which has covered thee from thy birth. After this teach in the Temple, and drive out the sacrilegious traders. Submit to be stoned if need be, for well I wot thou shalt be hidden from those who cast the stones; thou shalt escape even through the midst of them, like God. If thou be brought before Herod, answer not for the most part. He will respect thy silence more than most people's long speeches. If thou be scourged, ask for what they leave out. Taste gall for the taste's sake; drink vinegar; seek for spittings; accept blows, be crowned with thorns, that is, with the hardness of the godly life; put on the purple robe, take the reed in hand, and receive mock worship from those who mock at the truth; lastly, be crucified with Him, and share His Death and Burial gladly, that thou mayest rise with Him, and be glorified with Him and reign with Him. Look at and be looked at by the Great God, Who in Trinity is worshipped and glorified, and Whom we declare to be now set forth as clearly before you as the chains of our flesh allow, in Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom be the glory for ever.

Amen.

[the opening and closing of Oration XXXVIII, c380]

31 December 2013

Quotation of the Day

You cannot call yourself pro-liberty, even including the word in your name, if you are unwilling to recognize that the greatest oppressive force opposing freedom in America is unregulated greed. Libertarianism is a philosophy for the well-off, the privileged, and those who dream someday of being a wealthy boss with power over the peons. When capital is the measure of success, those who have it thrive at the expense of those who don’t; when we don’t have redistribution of wealth, we do not have equality of opportunity.

The US is already a libertarian paradise, and look what it gets us: a widening gap between rich and poor, a rotting infrastructure as the exploiters look for short term gains while neglecting services vital to those who can’t afford a limousine service, a corrupt and decadent privileged class, and thriving new political parties that are simply nuts. To use one of Ayn Rand’s favorite words, this country is infested with looters: only they’re not the poor, they’re not the mythical “welfare queens”, they’re bankers and obscenely overpaid executives and corporations that demand the right to buy elections.

And there stand the libertarians, the useful idiots who cheer them on.

A Xmas Tale (repost)

[[Eight years ago I launched Rational Rant with this post. Here it is again.]]

I must have left the windows open last night, as I see that news from the outside has somehow blown in and is lying in drifts on the rug this Seventh Day of Xmas of the Two Thousand Fifth year of the Common Era. The Seventh Day of Xmas (for all you Xians out there) … let’s see, what is that? Seven geese a-laying? Seven swans a-swimming? I know it’s not seven rings; those went to Tolkein’s dwarf-kings. According to folklore these seven, uh, geese or swans or whatever—birds, anyway, yeah, these seven birds stand for the seven deadly virtues or something. The seven sacraments. The seven evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, George and Ringo? No, that can’t be right. The seven churches the Elder John wrote to in his Apocalypse? They stand for something, anyway. It’s all a sort of cipher. Let me tell you how it all came to pass.

You see, back in the old days of once upon a time after Good King Wenceslas was no more, there came a king who knew not X and the ways of the Lord. And he sent a decree to all the land forbidding the practice of Xianity in all its glory, except for the one festival of Xmas. And Xmas, he decreed, must be celebrated with no mention of X, except in the word Xmas itself. And all the people groaned, for they felt sore oppressed.

How can we teach our children the true meaning of Xmas? the people cried. How can we teach them of the four evangelists, the twelve apostles, the two testaments, and the one X Himself? How indeed can we keep Xianity alive?

And a wise man among them rose and said, “If Santa and Frosty can boldly go forth this Xmastide, and only X dare not show His face, then we must craft a mask for Him. Let it be made of the fluffiest of Xmas nonsense, the nose of Rudolph, the kiss of the mistletoe, the lights of the Holiday Tree. But that will be only the outer face; inside will be the apostles, the evangelists, and even X Himself!”

“But how can that be?” exclaimed all the Xians in unison.

“Well,” said the wise man, “let us consider the twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed, one for each of the twelve apostles. These are the points we must drum into the children. And what could be more exquisitely symbolic of these points than twelve drummers, each drumming away to beat the band?”

“Well, uh, maybe...” all the Xians said.

“And the eleven faithful disciples who carried the word to the eleven corners of the earth, are they not exactly like eleven pipers piping?”

And the people were silent, amazed by the words that came out of his mouth.

Now, somewhat nettled by the peoples’ refusal to understand, the wise man demanded of them, “Now, what about lords? What do they suggest to you?”

“The payment of taxes?” ventured one Xian cautiously.

“Loud drunken parties at night?” suggested another.

“No,” said the wise man impatiently, “Something to do with Xianity.”

“Our Lord and Savior Jesus X?” said another Xian.

“No no no no no,” said the wise man, “not at all. Lords, plural. Ten of them. Ten leaping lords.”

And there was a blank silence upon the crowd, and some began edging quietly away.

“The ten commandments,” said the wise man. “Do they not suggest the ten commandments, the lords of our conduct, leaping out like flames of fire to caution us?”

“Uh, yeah, okay,” said all the Xians in unison.

“Now think of ladies, nine of them, dancing—what do they suggest to you?”

“A Xmas ball!” exclaimed a Xian woman.

“No! Isn’t it obvious?” said the wise man, visibly striving to control his temper. “Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the spirit.”

“The what?” exclaimed the crowd, and some of them left quickly by the back way, for they were beginning to feel sore oppressed again.

“The nine fruits of the spirit—look it up,” snapped the wise man. “It’s in Galatians 5:22-3: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.”

“This is a key doctrine?” asked a Xian doubtfully.

“It’s in the good book, isn’t it?” replied the wise man.

“Now I get it,” called out one Xian. “When Rudolph and Frosty and Santa go forth, we will send with them twelve drummers and eleven pipers and ten lords and nine ladies to set forth the points of the apostles creed and the nine fruits of the spirit and they will drown them out with their noise and bedlam.”

And the wise man groaned and held his head, for now he was feeling sore oppressed. “No, I’m not suggesting street theater,” he said. “What I’m talking about is a simple Xmas song, a song we can teach the children, a song that only they will know embodies the most sacred principles of Xianity.”

“How would that work?” asked all the remaining Xians.

“Like this.” And the wise man found his pitch with a tuning fork and sang, “On the first day of Xmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.”

“And this has a secret meaning the children will recognize?”

“Yes, of course. For the outsiders this will be an ordinary secular love between one man and one woman, but the children will know that it is the love of X for the Church.”

“And the partridge?”

“The partridge is obviously Jesus X Himself.”

“And the pipers will play this and the drummers drum along with it, and the lords and ladies will sing it?”

“No, they’re part of the song. There’s more.” Again the wise man sang, “On the second day of Xmas, my true love gave to me, two turtle-doves and a partridge in a pear tree.”

“Oh, I see!” exlaimed a Xian. “The dove represents the Holy Spirit, and there are two of them to represent the two descents of the Spirit, at X’s baptism and at Pentecost!”

“Seems to me,” said another, “the two doves could just as well represent the two shoes we put on every morning before going to work.”

“No,” said the wise man, “the two turtle-doves are obviously the Old and New Testaments.”

“And the partridge?”

“I told you, that’s X Himself.”

“But that was the partridge on the first day—this is a second partridge. Are you suggesting that there are two Xs?”

“The partridge is always Jesus X. Now,” and once again the wise man sang, “On the third day of Xmas my true love gave to me three French hens, two turtle-doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.”

“Are you calling the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost three French hens?” asked one Xian incredulously.

“No, the three French hens are faith, hope, and love, out of First Corinthians 13,” said the wise man.

“You know, we’re going to need a special underground school to teach the kids all of this.”

“On the fourth day of Xmas,” sang the wise man doggedly, “my true love gave to me four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle-doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.”

“And the four colly birds are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?” asked a Xian.

“Now you’re catching on,” said the wise man, and he sang again, “On the fifth day of Xmas my true love gave to me five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle-doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.”

“And the five golden rings are?”

“The five books of the Pentateuch.”

“Oh, of course,” said a Xian. “And we’re going to keep this up for twelve verses?”

“Exactly.”

“So what about six, seven, and eight?”

“Well, obviously, we’ll have eight maids a-milking to represent the eight beatitudes, seven swans a-swimming for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and six geese a-laying to stand in for the six days of creation. What could be simpler?”

“Well, maybe setting up underground schools to secretly teach the kids the true meaning of Xmas and Xianity without all these geese and drummers and partridges. And by the way, I still don’t get how all twelve partridges can stand for Jesus X.”

“The point is,” said the wise man, “that this simple seemingly-innocent Xmas song will help drum the true meaning of Xmas into the children’s heads, and thus save Xianity from oppression by the secular overlords.”

And so it came to pass that every year when Xmas came, the little children sang of the twelve days of Xmas, and none but they knew of the secret theological significance that lay inside the twenty-two pipers piping, the forty-two geese a-laying, or the twelve partridges in pear trees.

29 December 2013

Xmas Reading: General Cessation Day by H. G. W*lls

[Max Beerbohm imagines how H. G. Wells might have written of a Christmas-like holiday celebrated in some utopian future. This version appeared in The Saturday Review on 29 December 1906. It is described as being Chapter V of “Sitting Up For the Dawn”.]

The re-casting of the calendar on a decimal basis seems a simple enough matter at first sight. But even here there are details that will have to be thrashed out….

Mr. Edgar Dibbs, in his able pamphlet “Ten to the Rescue”,† advocates a twenty-hour day, and has drawn up an ingenious scheme for accelerating the motion of this planet by four in every twenty-four hours, so that the alternations of light and darkness shall be readjusted to the new reckoning. I think such readjustment would be indispensable (though I know there is a formidable body of opinion against me). But I am far from being convinced of the feasibility of Mr. Dibbs’ scheme. I believe the twenty-four hour day has come to stay—anomalous though it certainly will seem in the ten-day week, the fifty-day month, and the thousand-day year. I shouid like to have incorporated Mr. Dibbs’ scheme in my vision of the Dawn. But, as I have said, the scope of this vision is purely practical….

Mr. Albert Noaks, in a paper‡ read before the South Brixton Hebdomadals, pleads that the first seven days of the decimal week should retain their old names, the other three to be called provisionally Huxleyday, Marxday, and Gorkiday. But, for reasons which I have set forth elsewhere,§ I believe that the nomenclature which I had originally suggested||—Aday, Bday, and so on to Jday—would be really the simplest way but of the difficulty. Any fanciful way of naming the days would be bad, as too sharply differentiating one day from another. What we must strive for in the Dawn is that every day shall be as nearly as possible like every other day. We must help the human units—these little pink slobbering creatures of the Future whose cradle we are rocking—to progress not in harsh jerks, but with a beautiful unconscious rhythm….

There must be nothing corresponding to our Sunday. Sunday is a canker that must be cut ruthlessly out of the social organism. At present the whole community gets “slack” on Saturday because of the paralysis that is about to fall on it. And then “Black Monday”!— that day when the human brain tries to readjust itself—tries to realise that the shutters are down, and the streets are swept, and the stove-pipe hats are back in their band-boxes! No writer has yet done justice to the horror and the deleteriousness of Sunday….

Yet, of course, there must be holidays. We can no more do without holidays than without sleep. For every man there must be certain stated intervals of repose—of recreation in the original sense of the word. My views on the worthlessness of classical education are perhaps pretty well known to you, but I don't underrate the great service that my friend Professor Ezra K. Higgins has rendered by his discovery¶ that the word recreation originally signified a re-creating—i.e.** a time for the nerve-tissues to renew themselves in. The problem before us is how to secure for the human units in the Dawn—these giants of whom we are but the foetuses—the holidays necessary for their full capacity for usefulness to the State, without at the same time disorganising the whole community—and them.

The solution is surprisingly simple. The community will be divided into ten sections—Section A, Section B, and so on to Section J. And to every section one day of the decimal week will be assigned as a “Cessation Day”. Thus, those people who fall under Section A will rest on Aday, those who fall under Section B will rest on Bday, and so on. On every day of the year one-tenth of the population will be resting, but the other nine-tenths will be at work. The joyous hum and clang of labour will never cease in the municipal workshops….

You must figure the smokeless blue sky above London dotted all over with aeroplanes in which the holiday-making tenth are re-creating themselves for the labour of next week—looking down a little wistfully, perhaps, at the workshops from which they are temporarily banished. And here I scent a difficulty. So attractive a thing will labour be in the Dawn that a man will be tempted not to knock off work when his Cessation Day comes round, and will prefer to work for no wage rather than not at all. So that perhaps there will have to be a law making Cessation Day compulsory, and the Overseers will be empowered to punish infringement of this law by forbidding the culprit to work for ten days after the first offence, twenty after the second, and so on. But I don’t suppose there will often be need to put this law in motion. The children of the Dawn, remember, will not be the puny self-ridden creatures that we are. They will not say “Is this what I want to do?” but “shall I, by doing this, be (a) harming or (b) benefiting—no matter in how infinitesimal a degree—the Future of the Race?”

Sunday must go. And, as I have hinted, the progress of mankind will be steady proportionately to its automatism. Yet I think there would be no harm in having one—just one—day in the year set aside as a day of universal rest—a day for the searching of hearts. Heaven—I mean the Future—forbid that I should be hide-bound by dry-as-dust logic, in dealing with problems of flesh and blood. The sociologists of the past thought the grey matter of their own brains all-sufficing. They forgot that flesh is pink and blood is red. That is why they could not convert people….

The five-hundredth and last day of each year shall be a General Cessation Day. It will correspond somewhat to our present Christmas Day. But with what a difference! It will not be, as with us, a mere opportunity for relatives to make up the quarrels they have picked with each other during the past year, and to eat and drink things that will make them ill well into next year. Holly and mistletoe there will be in the Municipal Eating Rooms, but the men and women who sit down there to General Cessation High Tea will be glowing not with a facile affection for their kith and kin, but with communal anxiety for the welfare of the great-great-grandchildren of the great-great-grand-children of people they have never met and are never likely to meet.

The great event of the day will be the performance of the ceremony of “Making Way”.

In the Dawn, death will not be the haphazard affair that it is under the present anarchic conditions. Men will not be stumbling out of the world at odd moments and for reasons over which they have no control. There will always, of course, be a percentage of deaths by misadventure. But there will be no deaths by disease. Nor, on the other hand, will people die of old age. Every child will start life knowing that (barring misadventure) he has a certain fixed period of life before him—so much and no more, but not a moment less.

It is impossible to foretell to what average age the children of the Dawn will retain the use of all their faculties—be fully vigorous mentally and physically. We only know that they will be “going strong” at ages when we have long ceased to be of any use to the State. Let us, for sake of argument, say that on the average their faculties will have begun to decay at the age of ninety—a trifle over thirty-two, by the new reckoning. That, then, will be the period of life fixed for all citizens. Every man on fulfilling that period will avail himself of the municipal lethal chamber. He will “make way”….

I thought at one time that it would be best for every man to “make way” on the actual day when he reaches the age-limit. But I see now that this would savour of private enterprise. Moreover, it would rule out that element of sentiment which, in relation to such a thing as death, we must do nothing to mar. The children and friends of a man on the brink of death would instinctively wish to gather round him. How could they accompany him to the lethal chamber, if it were an ordinary working-day, with every moment of the time mapped out for them?

On General Cessation Day, therefore, the gates of the lethal chambers will stand open for all those who shall in the course of the past year have reached the age-limit. You must figure the wide streets filled all day long with little solemn processions—solemn and yet not in the least unhappy…. You must figure the old man walking with a firm step in the midst of his progeny, looking around him with a clear eye at this dear world which is about to lose him. He will not be thinking of himself. He will not be wishing the way to the lethal chamber were shorter. He will be filled with joy at the thought that he is about to die for the good of the race—to “make way” for the beautiful young breed of men and women who, in simple, artistic, antiseptic garments, are disporting themselves so gladly on this day of days. They pause to salute him as he passes. And presently he sees, radiant in the sunlight, the pleasant white-tiled dome of the lethal chamber. You must figure him at the gate, shaking hands all round, and speaking perhaps a few well-chosen words about the Future….

† Published by the Young Self-Helpers' Press, Ipswich.

‡ “Are We Going Too Fast?”

§ “A Midwife For The Millennium.” H. G. W*lls. 1905.

|| “How To Be Happy Though Yet Unborn.” H. G. W*lls. 1903.

¶ “Words About Words.” By Ezrah K. Higgins, Professor of Etymology, Abraham Z. Stubbins University, Padua, Pa., U.S.A. (2 vols.). 1906.

** “Id est”—“That is.”

[Note: This also appears in a different form in A Christmas Garland (1912).]

28 December 2013

Xmas Reading: How Mr. Chokepear Keeps a Merry Christmas by Douglas Jerrold

[Mr. Chokespear is thought by some [whom?] to be an inspiration for Ebenezer Scrooge]

Mr. Chokepear is, to the finger-nails, a respectable man. The taxgatherer was never known to call at his door a second time for the same rate; he takes the sacrament two or three times a year, and has in his cellar the oldest port in the parish. He has more than once subscribed to the fund for the conversion of the Jews; and, as a proof of his devotion to the interests of the established church, it was he who started the subscription to present the excellent Doctor Mannamooth with a superb silver tea-pot, cream-jug, and spoons. He did this, as he has often proudly declared, to show to the infidel world that there were some men in the parish who were true Christians. He has acquired a profound respect for Sir Peter Laurie, since the alderman’s judgments upon “the starving villains who would fly in the face of their Maker;” and, having a very comfortable balance at his banker’s, considers all despair very weak, very foolish, and very sinful. He, however, blesses himself that for such miscreants there is Newgate; and more—there is Sir Peter Laurie.

Mr. Chokepear loves Christmas! Yes, he is an Englishman, and he will tell you that he loves to keep Christmas-day in the true old English fashion. How does he keep it?

It is eight o’clock, and Mr. Chokepear rises from his goose-down. He dresses himself, says his short morning thanksgiving, and being an economist of time, unconsciously polishes his gold watch-chain the while. He descends to the breakfast parlour, and receives from lips of ice, the wishes of a happy Christmas, pronounced by sons and daughters, to whom, as he himself declares, he is “the best of fathers”—the most indulgent of men.

The church-bell tolls, and the Chokepears, prepare for worship. What meekness, what self-abasement sits on the Christian face of Tobias Chokepear as he walks up the aisle to his cosey pew; where the woman, with turned key and hopes of Christmas half-crown lighting her withered face, sinks a curtsey as she lets “the miserable sinner” in; having carefully pre-arranged the soft cushions and hassocks for the said sinner, his wife, his sons, and daughters. The female Chokepears with half the produce of a Canadian winter’s hunting in their tippets, muffs, and dresses, and with their noses, like pens stained with red ink,—prepare themselves to receive the religious blessings of the day. They then venture to look around the church, and recognising Chokepears of kindred nature, though not of name, in pews—(none of course among the most “miserable sinners” on the bare benches)—they smile a bland salutation, and—but hush! the service is about to begin.

And now will Tobias Chokepear perform the religious duties of a Christian! Look at him, how he feeds upon every syllable of the minister. He turns the Prayer-book familiarly, as if it were his bank account, and, in a moment, lights upon the prayers set apart for the day. With what a composed, assured face he listens to the decalogue—how firm his voice in the responses—and though the effrontery of scandal avows that he shifts somewhat from Mrs. Chokepear’s eye at the mention of “the maid-servant”—we do not believe it.

It is thus Chokepear begins his Christmas-day. He comes to celebrate the event of the Incarnation of all goodness; to return “his most humble and hearty thanks” for the glory that Providence has vouchsafed to him in making him a Christian. He—Tobias Chokepear—might have been born a Gentoo! Gracious powers! he might have been doomed to trim the lamps in the Temple of Juggernaut—he might have come into this.world to sweep the marble of the Mosque at Mecca—be might have been a faquir, with iron and wooden pins “stuck in his mortified bare flesh”—he might, we shudder to think upon the probability, have brandished his club as a New Zealander; and his stomach, in a state of heathen darkness to the humanising beauties of goose and apple-sauce, might, with unblessed appetite, have fed upon the flesh of his enemies. He might, as a Laplander, have driven a sledge, and fed upon walrus-blubber; and now is he an Englishman—a Christian—a carriage holder, and an eater of venison!

It is plain that all these thoughts—called up by the eloquence of Doctor Mannamouth, who preaches on the occasion—are busy in the bosom of Chokepear; and he sits on his soft cushion, with his eyelids declined, swelling and melting with gratitude for his blissful condition. Yes; he feels the glorious prerogative of his birth—the exquisite beauty of his religion. He ought to feel himself a happy man; and, glancing round his handsomely-appointed pew—he does.

“A sweet discourse—a very sweet discourse,” says Chokepear to several respectable acquaintance, as the organ plays the congregation out; and Chokepear looks round about him airily, contentedly; as though his conscience was as unseared as the green holly that decorates the pews; as though his heart was fresh, and red, and spotless as its berries.

Well, the religious ceremonies of the day being duly observed, ChokePear resolves to enjoy Christmas in the true old English fashion. Oh ! ye gods, that bless the larders of the respectable,—what a dinner! The board is enough to give Plenty a plethora, and the whole house is odoriferous as the airs of Araby. And then, what delightful evidences of old observing friendship on the table! There is a turkey—“only a little lower” than an ostrich— despatched all the wayfrom an acquaintance in Norfolk, to smoke a Christmas salutation to good Mr. Chokepear. Another county sends a goose—another pheasants—another brawn; and Chokepear, with his eye half slumbering in delight upon the gifts, inwardly avows that the friendship of friends really well to do is a fine, a noble thing.

The dinner passes off most admirably. Not one single culinary accident has marred a single dish. The pudding is delicious; the custards are something better than manna—the mince pies a conglomeration of ambrosial sweets. And then the Port! Mr. Chokepear smacks his lips like a whip, and gazes on the bee’s wing, as Herschell would gaze upon a newfound star, “swimming in the blue profound.” Mr. Chokepear wishes all a merry Christmas, and tosses off the wine, its flavour by no means injured by the declared conviction of the drinker, that “there isn’t such another glass in the parish!”

The evening comes on. Cards, snap-dragons, quadrilles, country-dances, with a hundred devices to make people.eat and drink, send night into morning; and it may be at six or seven on the twenty-sixth of December, our friend Chokepear, a little mellow, but not at all too mellow for the season, returns to his sheets, and when he rises declares that he has passed a very merry Christmas. If the human animal were all stomach—all one large paunch—we should agree with Chokepear that he had passed a merry Christmas: but was it the Christmas of a good man or a Christian? Let us see.

We have said all Chokepear’s daughters dined with him. We forgot: one was absent. Some seven years ago she married a poorer husband, and poverty was his only, but certainly his sufficient fault; and her father vowed that she should never again cross his threshold. The Christian keeps his word. He has been to church to celebrate the event which preached to all men mutual love and mutual forgiveness, and he comes home, and with rancour in his heart—keeps a merry Christmas!

We have briefly touched upon the banquet spread before Chokepear. There is a poor debtor of his in Horsemonger-lane prison—a debtor to the amount of at least a hundred shillings. Does he dine on Christmas-day? Oh! yes j Mr. Chokepear will read in The Times of Monday how the under-marshal served to each prisoner a pound of beef, a slice of pudding, and a pint of porter! The man might have spent the day in freedom with his wife and children; but Mr. Chokepear in his pew thought not of his debtor, and the creditor at least—kept a merry Christmas!

How many shivering wretches pass Chokepear’s door! How many, with the wintry air biting their naked limbs, and freezing within them the very springs of human hope! In Chokepear’s house there are, it may be, a dozen coats, nay, a hundred articles of cast-off dress, flung aside for the moth—piles of stuff and flannel, that would at this season wrap the limbs of the wretched in comparative Elysium. Does Mr. Chokepear, the respectable, the Christian Chokepear, order these (to him unnecessary) things to be given to the naked? He thinks not of them; for he wears fleecy hosiery next his skin, and being in all things dressed in defiance of the season—keeps a merry Christmas.

Gentle reader, we wish you a merry Christmas ; but to be truly, wisely merry, it must not be the Christmas of the Chokepears. That is the Christmas of the belly: keep you the Christmas of the heart. Give—give. Q

[from Punch, 25 December 1841]
Copyright © 2005-2014