Friday, July 31, 2015

Reformation, Counter-Reformation and St. Ignatius of Loyola

“THAT SEVERANCE of England from Europe and from Christendom was, I have said, the pivotal matter of the Protestant advance. On it the partial success of the religious revolution everywhere depended. Hence the necessity for beginning by an understanding of the English tragedy, failing which the disruption of Europe and all our modern chaos would never have appeared.

“It was coincidentally with the beginning of the turn over in England, with the second half of the sixteenth century, that there began that effort against the shipwreck, which I have said, is generally called “The Counter-Reformation.”

"Vigorous Popes undertook, unfortunately too late, the reforms of abuses; the Franciscans took on a new missionary activity for the recovery of districts lost to the Faith; a General Council (which Popes before the Reformation had especially avoided because only a little while before, General Councils had proved so dangerous to unity) was summoned and is known to history as “The Council of Trent.”  The most important single factor in the whole of this reaction was the militant and highly disciplined body proceeding from the genius of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It came to be known by the name which was first a nickname, but later generally adopted, of “the Jesuits.” These, by their discipline, singleness of aim and heroism, were the spearhead of the counter-attack. They were nearly successful in England, they had very great effect on South Germany, and later in Poland. All these forces, combined, made for a general restoration of Catholicism."

~Hilaire Belloc: Characters of the Reformation, Chap. I.—Nature of the Reformation.

St. Ignatius Loyola (detail), by Juan Martínez Montañés.
Polychromed wood, c. 1610; Chapel, Seville University.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

On a Piece of Rope

THE OTHER DAY as I was sailing down channel at dawn I contemplated a piece of rope (which was my only companion) and considered how many things attached to it, and of what sort these were.

I considered in the first place (as it has become my unhappy custom to do about most things) how mighty a theme this piece of rope would be for the modern rubbish, for the modern abandonment of common sense. I considered how many thousand people would, in connexion with that bit of rope, write that man had developed it through countless ages of upward striving from the first dim savage regions where some half-apelike creature first twisted grass, to the modern factory of Lord Ropemaker-in-chief, which adorns some Midland Hell today.

I considered how people made up history of that kind entirely out of their heads and how it sold by the wagon-load. I considered how the other inventions which I had seen arise with my own eyes had always come suddenly, with a burst, unexpectedly, from the oddest quarters. I considered how not even this glaring experience was of the least use in preventing fools from talking folly.

Next I considered, as I watched that bit of rope, the curious historical fact of anonymity. Someone first thought out the bowline knot. Who was it? He never left a record. It seems that he desired to leave none. There would appear to be only two kinds of men who care about leaving a record of themselves: artists and soldiers. Innumerable other creators since the world began are content, it would seem, with creation and despise fame. I have often wondered, for instance, who invented forming fours. I very much doubt his being a soldier. Certainly he was not a poet. If he had been a soldier he would not have let you forget him in a hurry—and as for poets, they are good for nothing and could no more invent a useful thing than fly.

Note you, that forming fours is something which must have been invented at one go. There is no "Development" about it. It is a simple, immediate and revolutionary trick. It was not—and then it was. Note you also that until the trick of forming fours was discovered, no conversion from line into column was possible, and therefore no quick handling of men. So with knots and so with splicing. There are, indeed, one or two knots that have names of men attached to them. There is Walker's knot, for instance. But Walker (if Walker it was who invented it) made no great effort to perpetuate his fame, and all the common useful knots without which civilization could not go on, and on which the State depends, were modestly given to mankind as a Christian man, now dead, used to give his charity without advertisement.

And this consideration of knots led me to another, which was of those things which had been done with ropes and which without ropes would never have happened. The sailing of the sea, the execution of countless innocent men, and now and then, by accident, of somebody who really deserved death. The tying up of bundles, which is the solid foundation of all trade; the lasso for the catching of beasts; the hobbling of horses; the strengthening of man through pulleys; the casting of bridges over chasms; the sending of great messages to beleaguered cities; the escapes of kings and heroes. All these would not have been but for ropes.

As I looked at the rope I further considered how strange it was that ropes had never been worshipped. Men have worshipped the wall, and the post, and the sun, and the house. They have worshipped their food and their drink. They have, you may say, ceremonially worshipped their clothes; they have worshipped their headgear especially, crowns, mitres, ta-ra-ras; and they have worshipped the music which they have created. But I never heard of anyone worshipping a rope. Nor have I ever heard of a rope being made a symbol. I can recollect but one case in which it appears in a coat-of-arms, and that is, I think, in the case of the County or City of Chester, where, as I seem to remember, the Chester knot is emblazoned. But no one used it that I can remember in the Crusades, when all coats-of-arms were developing. And this is odd, for they used every other conceivable thing—windmills, spurs, boots, roses, staffs, waves of the sea, the crescent moon, lions and leopards and even the elephant, and black men's heads, birds, horses, unicorns, griffons, jolly little dogs, chess boards, eagles—every conceivable thing human or imaginary they pressed into service; but no ropes.

One would have thought that the rope would have been a basis of measurement, but there are only two ways in which it comes in for so obvious a purpose, and one of these is lost. There was the old Norman wrap, which was vague enough, and there is the cable, the tenth of a sea mile. But the rope does not come into any other measurement; for you cannot count the knots on a log line as a form of measurement with ropes. The measurement itself is not drawn from the rope but from geographical degrees.

Further, I considered the rope (as it lay there) on its literary side. No one has written verses to ropes. There is one verse about ropes, or mainly about ropes in a chaunty, but I do not think there is any poem dedicated to ropes and dealing mainly with ropes. They are about the only thing upon which verse has not been accumulated—bad verse—for centuries.

Yet the rope has one very important place in literature which is not recognized. It is this: that ropes more than any other subject are, I think, a test of a man's power of exposition in prose. If you can describe clearly without a diagram the proper way of making this or that knot, then you are a master of the English tongue. You are not only a master—you are a sign, a portent, a new discoverer, an exception among your fellow men, a unique fellow. For no one yet in this world surely has attained to lucidity in this most difficult branch of all expression

I find over and over again in the passages of those special books which talk of ropes, such language as—"This is a very useful knot and is made as follows: a bight is taken in the standing apart and is then run over right handedly, that is with the sun or, again, the hands of a watch (only backward), and then under the running part and so through both times and hauled tight by the free end." But if any man should seek to save his life on a dark night in a sudden gust of wind by this description he would fail: he would drown.

Take the simplest of them. Take the Clove Hitch. Write a sentence in English which will explain (without a picture) how to cast a Clove Hitch. I do not think you will succeed.

Talking of this literary side of ropes, see how the rope has accumulated, like everything else, a vast army of technical terms, a whole regiment of words which are its family and of which it is very jealous. People who write of ropes are hardly able to keep off these words although they mean nothing to the reader and are but a darkening and a confusion. There is stranding and half-stranding and there is parcelling, serving and whipping, and crowning and all the rest of it.

How came such words there? Who thought them to the point? On what possible metaphors were they founded? In nearly all other groups of technical words you can trace the origin, but here you cannot. Nor can you find the origin of the names for all the hundred things that are made of ropes. Why is a gasket called a gasket? Why is a grommet called a grommet ? Why is a true lover's-knot called a true lover's-knot? or a tack a tack? Now and then there is a glimmering of sense. Halyard is obvious and sheet is explicable. Outhaul and downhaul might be Greek or German so plainly do they reveal their make-up. But what are you to make of bobstay, parrel, runner and shroud? Why are ratlines ratlines? What possible use could they be to a rat? They are no good for leaving a sinking ship, though excellent for running up out of the rising water. "Springs" I half understand, but whence in the name of Chelsea came "painter"? Reef points might pass. That is if you admit reef—which, I suppose, is the same as "reave" and "rove"—but, great heavens, where did they get "earrings"—and why do you "mouse" hooks, and what have cats to do with anchors?

A ship is a little world, a little universe, and it has a language of its own, which disdains the land and its reasons.

~Hilaire Belloc (1921)

On The Return Of The Dead

THE reason the Dead do not return nowadays is the boredom of it.

In the old time they would come casually, as suited them, without fuss and thinly, as it were, which is their nature; but when such visits were doubted even by those who received them and when new and false names were given them the Dead did not find it worth while. It was always a trouble; they did it really more for our sakes than for theirs and they would be recognised or stay where they were.

I am not certain that they might not have changed with the times and come frankly and positively, as some urged them to do, had it not been for Rabelais' failure towards the end of the Boer war. Rabelais (it will be remembered) appeared in London at the very beginning of the season in 1902. Everybody knows one part of the story or another, but if I put down the gist of it here I shall be of service, for very few people have got it quite right all through, and yet that story alone can explain why one cannot get the dead to come back at all now even in the old doubtful way they did in the '80's and early '90's of the last century.

There is a place in heaven where a group of writers have put up a colonnade on a little hill looking south over the plains. There are thrones there with the names of the owners on them. It is a sort of Club.

Rabelais was quarrelling with some fool who had missed fire with a medium and was saying that the modern world wanted positive unmistakable appearances: he said he ought to know, because he had begun the modern world. Lucian said it would fail just as much as any other way; Rabelais hotly said it wouldn't. He said he would come to London and lecture at the London School of Economics and establish a good solid objective relationship between the two worlds. Lucian said it would end badly. Rabelais, who had been drinking, lost his temper and did at once what he had only been boasting he would do. He materialised at some expense, and he announced his lecture. Then the trouble began, and I am honestly of opinion that if we had treated the experiment more decently we should not have this recent reluctance on the part of the Dead to pay us reasonable attention.

In the first place, when it was announced that Rabelais had returned to life and was about to deliver a lecture at the London School of Economics, Mrs. Whirtle, who was a learned woman, with a well-deserved reputation in the field of objective psychology, called it a rumour and discredited it (in a public lecture) on these three grounds:

(a) That Rabelais being dead so long ago would not come back to life now.

(b) That even if he did come back to life it was quite out of his habit to give lectures.

(c) That even if he had come back to life and did mean to lecture, he would never lecture at the London School of Economics, which was engaged upon matters principally formulated since Rabelais' day and with which, moreover, Rabelais' "essentially synthetical" mind would find a difficulty in grappling.

All Mrs. Whirtle's audience agreed with one or more of these propositions except Professor Giblet, who accepted all three saving and excepting the term "synthetical" as applied to Rabelais' mind. "For," said he, "you must not be so deceived by an early use of the Inducto-Deductive method as to believe that a sixteenth-century man could be, in any true sense, synthetical." And this judgment the Professor emphasized by raising his voice suddenly by one octave. His position and that of Mrs. Whirtle were based upon that thorough summary of Rabelais' style in Mr. Effort's book on French literature: each held a sincere position, nevertheless this cold water thrown on the very beginning of the experiment did harm.

The attitude of the governing class did harm also. Lady Jane Bird saw the announcement on the placards of the evening papers as she went out to call on a friend. At tea-time a man called Wantage-Verneyson, who was well dressed, said that he knew all about Rabelais, and a group of people began to ask questions together: Lady Jane herself did so. Mr. Wantage-Verneyson is (or rather was, alas!) the second cousin of the Duke of Durham (he is—or rather was, alas!—the son of Lord and Lady James Verneyson, now dead), and he said that Rabelais was written by Urquhart a long time ago; this was quite deplorable and did infinite harm. He also said that every educated man had read Rabelais, and that he had done so. He said it was a protest against Rome and all that sort of thing. He added that the language was difficult to understand. He further remarked that it was full of footnotes, but that he thought these had been put in later by scholars. Cross-questioned on this he admitted that he did not see what scholars could want with Rabelais. On hearing this and the rest of his information several ladies and a young man of genial expression began to doubt in their turn.

A Hack in Grub Street whom Painful Labour had driven to Despair and Mysticism read the announcement with curiosity rather than amazement, fully believing that the Great Dead, visiting as they do the souls, may also come back rarely to the material cities of men. One thing, however, troubled him, and that was how Rabelais, who had slept so long in peace beneath the Fig Tree of the Cemetery of St. Paul, could be risen now when his grave was weighed upon by No. 32 of the street of the same name. Howsoever, he would have guessed that the alchemy of that immeasurable mind had in some way got rid of the difficulty, and really the Hack must be forgiven for his faith, since one learned enough to know so much about sites, history and literature, is learned enough to doubt the senses and to accept the Impossible; unfortunately the fact was vouched for in eight newspapers of which he knew too much and was not accepted in the only sheet he trusted. So he doubted too.

John Bowles, of Lombard Street, read the placards and wrought himself up into a fury saying, "In what other country would these cursed Boers be allowed to come and lecture openly like this? It is enough to make one excuse the people who break up their meetings." He was a little consoled, however, by the thought that his country was so magnanimous, and in the calmer mood of self-satisfaction went so far as to subscribe L5 to a French newspaper which was being founded to propagate English opinions on the Continent. He may be neglected.

Peter Grierson, attorney, was so hurried and overwrought with the work he had been engaged on that morning (the lending of L1323 to a widow at 5 1/4 per cent., [which heaven knows is reasonable!] on security of a number of shares in the London and North-Western Railway) that he misread the placard and thought it ran "Rabelais lecture at the London School Economics"; disturbed for a moment at the thought of so much paper wasted in time of war for so paltry an announcement, he soon forgot about the whole business and went off to "The Holborn," where he had his lunch comfortably standing up at the buffet, and then went and worked at dominoes and cigars for two hours.

Sir Judson Pennefather, Cabinet Minister and Secretary of State for Public Worship, Literature and the Fine Arts—

But what have I to do with all these; absurd people upon whom the news of Rabelais' return fell with such varied effect? What have you and I to do with men and women who do not, cannot, could not, will not, ought not, have not, did, and by all the thirsty Demons that serve the lamps of the cavern of the Sibyl, shall not count in the scheme of things as worth one little paring of Rabelais' little finger nail? What are they that they should interfere with the great mirific and most assuaging and comfortable feast of wit to which I am now about to introduce you!—for know that I take you now into the lecture-hall and put you at the feet of the past-master of all arts and divinations (not to say crafts and homologisings and integrativeness), the Teacher of wise men, the comfort of an afflicted world, the uplifter of fools, the energiser of the lethargic, the doctor of the gouty, the guide of youth, the companion of middle age, the vade mecum of the old, the pleasant introducer of inevitable death, yea, the general solace of mankind. Oh! what are you not now about to hear! If anywhere there are rivers in pleasant meadows, cool heights in summer, lovely ladies discoursing upon smooth lawns, or music skilfully befingered by dainty artists in the shade of orange groves, if there is any left of that wine of Chinon from behind the Grille at four francs a bottle (and so there is, I know, for I drank it at the last Reveillon by St. Gervais)—I say if any of these comforters of the living anywhere grace the earth, you shall find my master Rabelais giving you the very innermost and animating spirit of all these good things, their utter flavour and their saving power in the quintessential words of his incontestably regalian lips. So here, then, you may hear the old wisdom given to our wretched generation for one happy hour of just living and we shall learn, surely in this case at least, that the return of the Dead was admitted and the Great Spirits were received and honoured.

* * * * *

But alas! No. (which is not a nominativus pendens, still less an anacoluthon but a mere interjection). Contrariwise, in the place of such a sunrise of the mind, what do you think we were given? The sight of an old man in a fine red gown and with a University cap on his head hurried along by two policemen in the Strand and followed by a mob of boys and ruffians, some of whom took him for Mr. Kruger, while others thought he was but a harmless mummer. And the magistrate (who had obtained his position by a job) said these simple words: "I do not know who you are in reality nor what foreign name mask under your buffoonery, but I do know on the evidence of these intelligent officers, evidence upon which I fully rely and which you have made no attempt to contradict, you have disgraced yourself and the hall of your kind hosts and employers by the use of language which I shall not characterise save by telling you that it would be comprehensible only in a citizen of the nation to which you have the misfortune to belong. Luckily you were not allowed to proceed for more than a moment with your vile harangue which (if I understand rightly) was in praise of wine. You will go to prison for twelve months. I shall not give you the option of a fine: but I can promise you that if you prefer to serve with the gallant K. O. Fighting Scouts your request will be favourably entertained by the proper authorities."

Long before this little speech was over Rabelais had disappeared, and was once more with the immortals cursing and swearing that he would not do it again for 6,375,409,702 sequins, or thereabouts, no, nor for another half-dozen thrown in as a makeweight.

There is the whole story.

I do not say that Rabelais was not over-hasty both in his appearance and his departure, but I do say that if the Physicists (and notably Mrs. Whirtle) had shown more imagination, the governing class a wider reading, and the magistracy a trifle more sympathy with the difference of tone between the sixteenth century and our own time, the deplorable misunderstanding now separating the dead and the living would never have arisen; for I am convinced that the Failure of Rabelais' attempt has been the chief cause of it.

~Hilaire Belloc: On

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Conversation With a Cat

THE OTHER DAY I went into the bar of a railway station and, taking a glass of beer, I sat down at a little table by myself to meditate upon the necessary but tragic isolation of the human soul. I began my meditation by consoling myself with the truth that something in common runs through all nature, but I went on to consider that this cut no ice, and that the heart needed something more. I might by long research have discovered some third term a little less hackneyed than these two, when fate, or some fostering star, sent me a tawny, silky, long-haired cat.

If it be true that nations have the cats they deserve, then the English people deserve well in cats, for there are none so prosperous or so friendly in the world. But even for an English cat this cat was exceptionally friendly and fine—especially friendly. It leapt at one graceful bound into my lap, nestled there, put out an engaging right front paw to touch my arm with a pretty timidity by way of introduction, rolled up at me an eye of bright but innocent affection, and then smiled a secret smile of approval.

No man could be so timid after such an approach as not to make some manner of response. So did I. I even took the liberty of stroking Amathea (for by that name did I receive this vision), and though I began this gesture in a respectful fashion, after the best models of polite deportment with strangers, I was soon lending it some warmth, for I was touched to find that I had a friend; yes, even here, at the ends of the tubes in S.W.99. I proceeded (as is right) from caress to speech, and said, "Amathea, most beautiful of cats, why have you deigned to single me out for so much favour? Did you recognize in me a friend to all that breathes, or were you yourself suffering from loneliness (though I take it you are near your own dear home), or is there pity in the hearts of animals as there is in the hearts of some humans? What, then, was your motive? Or am l, indeed, foolish to ask, and not rather to take whatever good comes to me in whatever way from the gods?"

To these questions Amathea answered with a loud purring noise, expressing with closed eyes of ecstasy her delight in the encounter.

"I am more than flattered, Amathea," said I, by way of answer; "I am consoled. I did not know that there was in the world anything breathing and moving, let alone so tawny-perfect, who would give companionship for its own sake and seek out, through deep feeling, some one companion out of all living kind. If you do not address me in words I know the reason and I commend it; for in words lie the seeds of all dissension, and love at its most profound is silent. At least, I read that in a book, Amathea; yes, only the other day. But I confess that the book told me nothing of those gestures which are better than words, or of that caress which I continue to bestow upon you with all the gratitude of my poor heart."

To this Amathea made a slight gesture of acknowledgement—not disdainful—wagging her head a little, and then settling it down in deep content.

"Oh, beautiful-haired Amathea, many have praised you before you found me to praise you, and many will praise you, some in your own tongue, when I am no longer held in the bonds of your presence. But none will praise you more sincerely. For there is not a man living who knows better than I that the four charms of a cat lie in its closed eyes, its long and lovely hair, its silence, and even its affected love."

But at the word affected Amathea raised her head, looked up at me tenderly, once more put forth her paw to touch my arm, and then settled down again to a purring beatitude.

"You are secure," said I sadly; "mortality is not before you. There is in your complacency no foreknowledge of death nor even of separation. And for that reason, Cat, I welcome you the more. For if there has been given to your kind this repose in common living, why, then, we men also may find it by following your example and not considering too much what may be to come and not remembering too much what has been and will never return. Also, I thank you, for this, Amathea, my sweet Euplokamos" (for I was becoming a little familiar through an acquaintance of a full five minutes and from the absence of all recalcitrance), "that you have reminded me of my youth, and in a sort of shadowy way, a momentary way, have restored it to me. For there is an age, a blessed youthful age (O my Cat) even with the miserable race of men, when all things are consonant with the life of the body, when sleep is regular and long and deep, when enmities are either unknown or a subject for rejoicing and when the whole of being is lapped in hope as you are now lapped on my lap, Amathea. Yes, we also, we of the doomed race, know peace. But whereas you possess it from blind kittenhood to that last dark day so mercifully short with you, we grasp it only for a very little while. But I would not sadden you by the mortal plaint. That would be treason indeed, and a vile return for your goodness. What! When you have chosen me out of seven London millions upon whom to confer the tender solace of the heart, when you have proclaimed yourself so suddenly to be my dear, shall I introduce you to the sufferings of those of whom you know nothing save that they feed you, house you and pass you by? At least you do not take us for gods, as do the dogs, and the more am I humbly beholden to you for this little service of recognition—and something more."

Amathea slowly raised herself upon her four feet, arched her back, yawned, looked up at me with a smile sweeter than ever and then went round and round, preparing for herself a new couch upon my coat, whereon she settled and began once more to purr in settled ecstasy.

Already had I made sure that a rooted and anchored affection had come to me from out the emptiness and nothingness of the world and was to feed my soul henceforward; already had I changed the mood of long years and felt a conversion towards the life of things, an appreciation, a cousinship with the created light—and all that through one new link of loving kindness—when whatever it is that dashes the cup of bliss from the tips of mortal man (Tupper) up and dashed it good and hard. It was the Ancient Enemy who put the fatal sentence into my heart, for we are the playthings of the greater powers, and surely some of them are evil.

"You will never leave me, Amathea," I said; "I will respect your sleep and we will sit here together through all uncounted time, I holding you in my arms and you dreaming of the fields of Paradise. Nor shall anything part us, Amathea; you are my cat and I am your human. Now and onwards into the fullness of peace."

Then it was that Amathea lifted herself once more, and with delicate, discreet, unweighted movement of perfect limbs leapt tightly to the floor as lovely as a wave. She walked slowly away from me without so much as looking back over her shoulder; she had another purpose in her mind; and as she so gracefully and so majestically neared the door which she was seeking, a short, unpleasant man standing at the bar said "Puss, Puss, Puss!" and stooped to scratch her gently behind the ear. With what a wealth of singular affection, pure and profound, did she not gaze up at him, and then rub herself against his leg in token and external expression of a sacramental friendship that should never die.

~Hilaire Belloc: A Conversation with a Cat, and Others

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