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Monday
May042015

Maundy Thursday

"Maundy Thursday"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Mykola Pymenenko 
The dry paths had turned my boots and puttees white with dust. The empty sky was the clear blue of a bird’s egg and I was walking in my shirt sleeves for the first time. Slower and slower however: a nail in one of my boots had mutinied. I limped into the thatched and white-washed village of Köbölkut as it was getting dark. There was a crowd of villagers in the street and I drifted into the church with them and wedged myself into the standing congregation.

The women all had kerchiefs tied under the chin. The men, shod in knee-boots, or in raw-hide moccasins cross-gartered halfway up their shanks, had wide felt hats in their hands, or cones of fleece. Over the shoulders of a couple of shepherds were flung heavy white capes of stiff homespun frieze. In spite of the heat and the crush, one of them was wrapped in a cloak of matted and uncured sheepskin, shaggy-side out, that reached down to the flagstones. Things had become much wilder in the last hundred miles. The faces had a knobbly, untamed look: they were peasants and countrymen to the backbone.
 

The candles, spiked on a triangular grid, lit up these rustic masks and populated the nave behind them with a crowd of shadows. At a pause in the plainsong one of the tapers was put out. I realized, all at once, that it was Maundy Thursday. Tenebrae were being sung, and very well. The verses of the penitential psalms were answering each other across the choir and the slow recapitulations and rephrasings of the responsories were unfolding the story of the Betrayal. So compelling was the atmosphere that the grim events might have been taking place that night. The sung words crept step by step through the phases of the drama. Every so often, another candle was lifted from its pricket on the triangle and blown out. It was pitch dark out of doors and with the extinction of each flame the interior shadows came closer. It heightened the chiaroscuro of these rough country faces and stressed the rapt gleam in innumerable eyes; and the church, as it grew hotter, was filled by the smell of melting wax and sheepskin and curds and sweat and massed breath. There was a ghost of old incense in the background and a reek of singeing as the wicks, snuffed one after the other, expired in ascending skeins of smoke. “Seniores populi consilium fecerunt,” the voices sang, “ut Jesum dolo tenerent et occiderent”; and a vision sprang up of evil and leering elders whispering in a corner through toothless gums and with beards wagging as they plotted treachery and murder. “Cum gladiis et fustibus exierunt tamquam ad latronem . . .” Something in the half-lit faces and the flickering eyes gave a sinister immediacy to the words. They conjured up hot dark shadows under a town wall and the hoarse shouts of a lynch-mob; there was a flicker of lanterns, oafish stumbling in the steep olive groves and wild and wheeling shadows of torches through tree trunks: a scuffle, words, blows, a flash, lights dropped and trampled, a garment snatched, someone running off under the branches. For a moment, we— the congregation— became the roughs with the blades and the cudgels. Fast and ugly deeds were following each other in the ambiguity of the timbered slope. It was a split-second intimation! By the time the last of the candles was borne away, it was so dark that hardly a feature could be singled out. The feeling of shifted rôles had evaporated; and we poured out into the dust. Lights began to kindle in the windows of the village and a hint of moonrise shone at the other end of the plain.

--Patrick Leigh Fermor, from A Time of Gifts

Tuesday
Apr282015

A Group of Professors

"A Group of Professors"
Oil on Canvas - Newcasle University - Date Unknown
Unknown artist

It is true, in a sense, to say that the mob has always been led by more educated men. It is much more true, in every sense, to say that it has always been misled by educated men. It is easy enough to say the cultured man should be the crowd’s guide, philosopher and friend. Unfortunately, he has nearly always been a misguiding guide, a false friend, and a very shallow philosopher. And the actual catastrophes we have suffered, including those we are now suffering, have not in historical fact been due to the prosaic practical people who are supposed to know nothing, but almost invariably to the highly theoretical people who knew that they knew everything. The world may learn by its mistakes; but they are mostly the mistakes of the learned.

--G.K. Chesterton, "The Common Man"

Monday
Apr202015

Progress


"Progress"
Oil on Canvas - 1957
Terence Tenison Cuneo 

The truth is that any advance in science leaves morality in its ancient balance; and it depends still on the inscrutable soul of man whether any discovery is mainly a benefit or mainly a calamity. This is, perhaps, the strongest argument for a morality superior to materialism, and a religion that refuses to be bullied by science. Moral progress must still be made morally; and a modern scientist who has invented the most complex mechanism, or liberated the most subtle gas, has still exactly the same spiritual problem before him as that which confronted Cain, when he stood with a ragged stone in his hand.

--G.K. Chesterton, from "The Efficiency of the Police." 

Thursday
Dec112014

Hounds Putting Up a Swan

"Hounds Putting Up a Swan"
Oil on Panel - Date Unknown
Abraham Hondius

”Every young man starting life ought to know how to cope with an angry swan, so I will briefly relate the proper procedure. You begin by picking up the raincoat which somebody has dropped; and then, judging the distance to a nicety, you simply shove the raincoat over the bird’s head; and taking the boat-hook which you have prudently brought with you, you insert it underneath the swan and heave. The swan goes into a bush and starts trying to unscramble itself; and you saunter back to your boat, taking with you any friends who happen at the moment to be sitting on roofs in the vicinity. That was Jeeves’s method, and I cannot see how it could have been improved upon.”

--P.G. Wodehouse, “Jeeves and the Impending Doom”

Thursday
Oct302014

Hamlet and the Ghost

"Hamlet and the Ghost"
Oil on Canvas - 1901
Frederick James Shields 

"As a matter of fact, like most of the men of strong sense in his tradition, Dickens was left with a half belief in spirits which became in practice a belief in bad spirits. The great disadvantage of those who have too much strong sense to believe in supernaturalism is that they keep last the low and little forms of the supernatural, such as omens, curses, spectres, and retributions, but find a high and happy supernaturalism quite incredible. Thus the Puritans denied the sacraments, but went on burning witches. This shadow does rest, to some extent, upon the rational English writers like Dickens; supernaturalism was dying, but its ugliest roots died last. Dickens would have found it easier to believe in a ghost than in a vision of the Virgin with angels. There, for good or evil, however, was the root of the old diablerie in Dickens, and there it is in Oliver Twist." 

--G.K. Chesterton, Appreciations and Criticisms of Charles Dickens


"For my part, I have ever beleeved, and doe now know, that there are Witches; they that doubt of these, doe not onely deny them, but Spirits; and are obliquely and upon consequence a sort, not of Infidels, but Atheists. Those that to confute their incredulity desire to see apparitions, shall questionlesse never behold any, nor have the power to be so much as Witches."

--Sir Thomas Browne