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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR DECEMBER 2012

December  28,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"It's extraordinary," he said.  "I've got absolutely no feeling about this baby at all.  I kept telling myself all these last months that when I actually saw it, all manner of deep-rooted atavistic emotions would come surging up.  I was all set for a deep spiritual experience.  They brought the thing in and showed it to me, I looked at it and waited--and nothing at all happened.  It was just like the first time one takes hashish--or being 'confirmed' at school."

"I knew a man who had five children," I said.  "He felt just as you do until the fifth.  Then he was suddenly overcome with love; he bought a thermometer and kept taking its temperature when the nurse was out of the room.  I daresay it's a habit, like hashish."

--Lucy Simmonds collected in The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh

December  27,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

I wanted to assert the simple fact of my separate and individual existence.  I could not by any effort of will regard her as being, like Trixie, "one of Roger's girls," and I demanded reciprocation; I would not be regarded as, like Basil, "one of Roger's friends"; still less, like Mr. Benwell, as someone who had to be asked to dinner every now and then.  I had little else to think about at the time, and the thing became an itch with me.  I felt about her, I suppose, as old men feel who are impelled by habit to touch every third lamppost on their walks; occasionally something happens to distract them, they see a friend or a street accident and they pass a lamppost by; then all day they fret and fidget until, after tea, they set out shamefacedly to put the matter right.  That was how I felt about Lucy; our relationship constituted a tiny disorder in my life that had to be adjusted.

--Lucy Simmonds collected in The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh

[N.B.:  The best explanation for apparently motiveless behavior--outside of Dostoevsky, of course.]

December  27,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

I have seen so many young wives go wrong on this point.  They have either tried to force an intimacy with their husbands' friends, claiming, as it were, continuity and identity with the powers of the invaded territory or they have cancelled the passports of the old regime and proclaimed that fresh application must be made to the new authorities and applicants be treated strictly on their merits.

--Lucy Simmonds collected in The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh

December  26,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The alternative, classical expedient is to take the whole man and reduce him to a manageable abstraction.  Set up your picture plain, fix your point of vision, make your figure twenty foot high or the size of a thumbnail, he will be life-size on your canvas; hang your picture in the darkest corner, your heaven will still be its one source of light.  Beyond these limits lie only the real trouser buttons and the crepe hair with which the futurists used to adorn their paintings.

--Lucy Simmonds collected in The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh

December  25,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

In the criminal code of Haiti, Basil tells me, there is a provision designed to relieve unemployment, forbidding farmers to raise the dead from their graves and work them in the fields.  Some such rule should be observed against the use of live men in books.  The algebra of fiction must reduce its problems to symbols if they are to be soluble at all.  I am shy of a book commended to me on the grounds that the "characters are alive."  There is no place in literature for a live man, solid and active.  At best the author may maintain a kind of Dickensian menagerie, where his characters live behind bars, in darkness, to be liberated twice nightly for a brief gambol under the arc lamps; in they come to the whip crack, dazzled, deafened and doped, tumble through their tricks and scamper out again, to the cages behind which the real business of life, eating and mating, is carried on out of sight of the audience.  "Are the lions really alive?" "Yes, lovey."  "Will they eat us up?"  "No, lovey, the man won't let them"--that is all the reviewers mean as a rule when they talk of "life."

--Lucy Simmonds collected in The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh

December  24,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Her fortune was a secondary attraction; he lacked the Mediterranean mentality that can regard marriage as an honourable profession, perhaps because he lacked Mediterranean respect for the permanence of the arrangement.

--Lucy Simmonds collected in The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh

December  23,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Cold it had been that morning, the sky like a bruised gland and a taste of metal in the air, and everything holding its breath under an astonishment of fallen snow.  Soiled white boulders of ice lolled on the river.  In the dark before dawn he had lain awake, listening in fright to the floes breaking before the bow, the squeaking and the groans and the sudden flurries of cracks like distant musket-fire.  They docked at first light.  The quayside was deserted save for a mongrel with a swollen belly chasing the slithering hawser.  The bargemaster scowled at Kepler, his oniony breath defeating even the stink seeping up from the cargo of pelts in the hold.  "Prague," he said, with a contemptuous wave, as if he had that moment manufactured the silent city rising behind him in the freezing mist.

--Kepler: A Novel by John Banville

December  22,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Well . .!" he said, smiling all around him, and patting his pockets distractedly, as if in search of the key somewhere on his person that would unlock this tangle of emotions.  It was a little low dark house, sparsely furnished.  There was a yellowish smell of cat, which presently was concentrated into an enormous ginger tom thrusting itself with a kind of truculent ardour against Kepler's leg.  A black pot was bubbling on the fire of thorns in the open hearth.  Kepler took off his hat.  "Well!"

--Kepler: A Novel by John Banville

December  21,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Rudolph took his guest on a tour of the palace and its wonder rooms.  Kepler was shown all manner of mechanical appartuses, lifelike wax figures and clockwork dummies, rare coins and pictures, exotic carvings, pornographic manuscripts, a pair of Barbary apes and a huge spindly beast from Araby with a hump and a dun coat and an expresion of ineradicable melancholy, vast dim laboratories and alchemical caves, an hermaphrodite child, a stone statue which would sing when exposed to the heat of the sun, and he grew dizzy with surprise and superstitious alarm.  As they progressed from one marvel to the next they accumulated in their train a troupe of murmurous courtiers, delicate men and elaborate ladies, whom the Emperor ignored, but who yet depended from him, like a string of puppets; they were exquisitely at ease, yet through all their fine languor it seemed to Kepler a thread of muted pain was tightly stretched, which out of each produced, as a stroked apes' muffled cries and the androgynous child's speechless stare.  He listened closely then, and thought he heard from every corner of the palace all the royal sorceror's magicked captives faintly singing, all lamenting.

--Kepler: A Novel by John Banville

December  20,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

She burst into a torrent of tears on the day of their departure.  She would not be comforted, would not let him touch her, but simply stood and wound out of her quivering mouth a long dark ribbon of anguish.

--Kepler: A Novel by John Banville

December  19,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Early in 1601, at the end of their first turbulent year in Bohemia, a message came from Graz that Jobst Muller was dying, and asking for his daughter.  Kepler welcomed the excuse to interrupt his work.  He detached its fangs carefully from his wrist--wait there, don't howl--and walked away from it calm in the illusion of that sleek tensed thing crouching in wait, ready at the turn of a key to leap forth with the solution to the riddle of Mars clasped in its claws.

--Kepler: A Novel by John Banville

December  18,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

He delved in Tycho's treasures, rolled in them, uttering little yelps of doggy joy.  He selected three observations, taken by the Dane on the island of Hveen over a period of ten years, and went to work.  Before he knew what had hit him he was staggering backwards out of a cloud of sulphurous smoke, coughing, his ears ringing, with bits of smashed calculations sticking in his hair.

--Kepler: A Novel by John Banville

December  17,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

He had nearly all the mundane weapons, and one which he wielded with unrivalled skill was the ability to use words as a sort of smoke-screen, behind which he could safely, brilliantly, and infuriatingly retreat from an awkward position.  Mr Goschen once understood from Mr Gladstone that a Bill of his would have priority in the new session.  It didn't, and he was very angry.  But Mr Gladstone shewed him that, according to Hansard, he had promised only that the Bill should be 'in the forefront of the new legislative programme', and triumphantly pointed out that a forefront was a line and not a point.  And Mr Goschen was no doubt angrier still.

--The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters, Volume One 1955-56

[N.B.:  I guess that depends on where on the forefront of one's definition of forefront it is.  Was Bill Clinton the new Gladstone?]

December  16,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Somewhere--perhaps in Johannesburg--[William Plomer] saw a huge multiple statue in honour of some heroes of old, the Voortrekkers no doubt, on which he commented: 'Patriotism is the last refuge of the sculptor.'

--The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters, Volume One 1955-56

December  15,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

How perfectly splendid to hear that you are now really in health.  It just makes all the difference, for when that fortress is secure the onset of practically any foe is seen to be, in the genial Rabelaisian lingo of the barrack-room, merely 'p--and wind'.  (Is it ridiculously Victorian, un-Laurencian, un-Aldingtonian etc to be physically incapable of writing some words in full?  I take heart from remembering that old Shaw said his pen simply would not write some of the words printed in Ulysses).

--The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters, Volume One 1955-56

December  14,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Carlyle, a beautiful fat volume, has arrived and I have already browsed at large.  As with all such compilations, I at once begin to pick holes about the omissions--like a peevish man before a magnificent banquet, 'Why are there no pigs' trotters or umbles?' But I miss some of the 'show pieces' in The F.R., e.g. storming of Bastille and one or more of the death scenes and the splendid finale, the conflagration of all the gigs in the world.  And shouldn't there be something from his noble essay on Johnson?  In Past and Present the catechism entitled 'Pig Philosophy' can never lose its point as long as political economy holds the field.  But perhaps Julian Symons deliberately chose less familiar passages.  Not that any of T.C. is familiar to modern readers.  They will think he is a philosopher or a historian, when, of course, he is a poet and dramatist of great power--and of course humorist.

--The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters, Volume One 1955-56

December  13,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Now that is something like what I call a review.  He has actually taken the trouble to see what the author was trying to do and get a clear notion of the nature and extent of the problem confronting him--and never once has he drawn attention to himself and how much cleverer he is than hoi polloi

--The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters, Volume One 1955-56

December  12,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

In the Spectator of Dec. 2 John Wain warns us against re-reading an author we enjoyed when young--e.g. Kipling or Housman.  Utter rot!  Rupert, you must take that young man in hand.  His article isn't a work of criticism; it is a shudder of nerves--and so shrill, unbalanced, and conceited, for he tells us ex cathedra that this is what K. is and implies that we who don't agree are merely adolescent.  Do tell him not to be such an ass?  Because he is clearly very intelligent.  Why has he not learnt that a little real humility sharpens the perceptions wonderfully and has other good effects too.  What a strong tendency there is today to lay down the law about what one may or must, and may not and must not, admire.  These brash young men will think that a change of fashion is an advance in wisdom!

--The Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters, Volume One 1955-56

December  11,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

She once took me round from Dorsetshire to Cornwall one summer night and with a wind off the land which was much too strong in passing Bolt head; and she has taken me here and she has taken me there; and now we are to part--if not for ever, at any rate for a good many weeks or months or years.  Which things, I suppose, are inconsiderable to Eternity.  No matter.  We part.

This patching up had got more and more difficult.  It had to be renewed more and more often.  The expense was nothing.  We will always pay for doctors when it is a matter of those we love.  But off the Norman coast the other day she gave me that look which they give us before they leave us, and she started a plank. It was high time.  Had she not been near the piers it might have gone hard with those on board.  But she got through, though the Channel was pouring in, and she reached the basin within, her cock-pit half full, and then lay up upon the mud.  And there she did what corresponds in man to dying.  She ceased to be a boat for the purposes of a boat any longer.  She was no-longer-patch-up-able.  She had fulfilled her task.  It was all over.  She had taken to her repose.

Very soon she with hammer and wedge was dissolved into her original elements--all that was mortal of her--and the rest is on the seas of paradise.

I wish I were there--already: now: at once: with her.

--The Death of the Ship collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

December  10,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Then began that excellent game which it is so hard to play, but so good to remember, and in which all men, whether they admit it or not, are full of fear, but it is a fear so steeped in exhilaration that one would think the personal spirit of the sea was mingled with the noise of the air.

For a whole great hour she roared and lifted through it still, taking the larger seas grandly, with disdain, as she had taken the smaller, and still over the buried lee rail the stream of the sea went by rejoicing and pouring, and the sheets and the weather runner trembled with the vigour of the charge, and on she went, and on.  I was weary of the seas ahead (for each and individually they struck my soul as the came, even more strongly than they struck the bows--steep, curling, unintermittent, rank upon rank upon rank, an innumerable cavalry); still watching them, I say, I groped round with my hand behind the cabin door and pulled out brandy and bread, and drank brandy and ate bread, still watching the seas.  And, as men are proud of their companions in danger, so I was proud to see the admirable lift and swing of that good boat, and to note how, if she slowed for a moment under the pounding, she recovered with a stride, rejoicing; and as for fears, which were now fixed and considerable, I found this argument against them: that, though I could see nothing round me but the sea, yet soon I should be under the lee of the Goodwins, for, though I could not exactly calculated my speed, and though in the haze beyond nothing appeared, it was certain that I was roaring very quickly towards the further shore.

--The Return to England collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

[N.B.:  These two paragraphs are made of just four sentences--and marvel at the majesty of that fourth and final one.  Note how the the unremitting cadence of the words mimics the described unremitting cadence of the waves breaking over the bow.]

December  9,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The She would point very nearly north, and so I laid her for that course, though that would have taken me right outside the Goodwins, for I knew that the tide was making westerly down the Channel, ebbing away faster and faster, and that, like a man crossing a rapid river in a ferry-boat, I had to point up far above where I wanted to land, which was at Dover, the nearest harbour.  I sailed her, therefore, I say, as close as she would lie, and the wind rose.

The wind rose, and for half an hour I kept her to it.  She had no more sail than she heeded; she heeled beautifully and strongly to the wind; she took the seas, as they ran more regular, with a motion of mastery.  It was like the gesture of a horse when he bends his head back to his chest, arching his neck with pride as he springs upon our Downs at morning.  So set had the surging of the sea become that she rose and fell to it with rhythm, and the helm could be kept quite steady, and the regular splash of the rising bows and the little wisps of foam came in ceaseless exactitude like the marching of men, and in all this one mixed with the life of the sea.

--The Return to England collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

December  8,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The word, especially the written word, the document, overshadows their mind.  It has always had for them a power of something mysterious.  To engrave characters was to cast a spell; and when they seek for some infallible authority upon earth, they can only discover it in the written characters traced in a sacred book.  All their expression of worship is wrought through symbols.  With us, the symbol is clearly retained separate from that for which it stands, though hallowed by that for which it stands.   With them the symbol is the whole object of affection.

--The Men of the Desert collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

December  7,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The men of the Desert are afraid of wine.  They have good reason; if you drink wine in the Desert you die.  In the Desert, a man can drink only water; and, when he gets it, it is like diamonds to him, or, better still, it is like rejuvenation.  All our long European legends which denounce and bring a curse upon the men who are the enemies of wine, are legends inspired by our hatred of the thing which is not Europe, and that bounds Europe, and is the enemy of Europe.

--The Men of the Desert collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

December  6,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Day after day, after day the silent men of the Desert go forward across its monotonous horizons; their mouths are flanked with those two deep lines of patience and sorrow which you may note today in all the ghettos of Europe; their smile, when they smile, is restrained by a sort of ironic strength in the muscles of the face.  Their eyes are more bright than should be eyes of happy men; they are, as it were, inured to sterility; there is nothing in them of that repose which we Westerners acquire from a continual contemplation of deep pastures and of innumerable leaves; they are at war, not only among themselves, but against the good earth; in a silent and powerful way they are also afraid.

You may note that their morals are an angry series of unexplained commands, and that their worship does not include that fringe of half-reasonable, wholly pleasing things which the true worship of a true God must surely contain.  All is as clear-cut as their rocks, and as unfruitful as their dry valleys, and as dreadful as their brazen sky; "thou shalt not" this, that, and the other.  Their god is jealous; he is vengeful; he is (awfully present and real to them!) a vision of that demon of which we in our countries make a quaint legend.  He catches men out and trips them up; he has but little relation to the Father of Christian men, who made the downs of South England and the high clouds above them.

--The Men of the Desert collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

December  5,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

In order for a pageant to work, it needs to appeal to everyone, regardless of their relationship to the actors onstage.  This production found me on the side of the yawning cafeteria workers.

Pointing to the oversized crate that served as a manger, one particularly insufficient wise man proclaimed, "A child is bored."

Yes, well, so was this adult.

--Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol collected in Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

December  4,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

All of us take pride and pleasure in the fact that we are unique, but I'm afraid that when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to fingerprints.

--SantaLand Diaries collected in Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

December  3,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

A child came to Santa this morning and his mother said, "All right, Jason.  Tell Santa what you want.  Tell him what you want."

Jason said, "I . . . want . . . Prokton and . . . Gamble to . . . stop animal testing."

The mother said, "Proctor, Jason, that's Procter and Gamble.  and what do they do to animals?  Do they torture animals, Jason?  Is that what they do?"

Jason said, Yes, they torture.  He was probably six years old.

--SantaLand Diaries collected in Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

December  2,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

A spotted child visited Santa, climbed up on his lap, and expressed a wish to recover from the chicken pox.  Santa leapt up.

--SantaLand Diaries collected in Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

December  1,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

At least a third of Santa's visitors are adults: couples, and a surprising number of men and women alone.  Most of the single people don't want to sit on Santa's lap; they just stop by to shake his hand and wish him luck.  Often the single adults are foreigners who just happened to be shopping at Macy's and got bullied into the Maze by the Entrance Elf, whose job it is to hustle people in.  One moment the foreigner is looking at china, and the next thing he knows he is standing at the Magic Tree, where an elf holding a palm-sized counter is asking how many in his party are here to see Santa.

"How many in your party?"

The foreigner answers, "Yes."

"How many in your party is not a yes or no question."

"Yes."

Then a Santa Elf leads the way to a house where the confused and exhausted visitor addresses a bearded man in a red suit, and says, "Yes, OK.  Today I am good."  He shakes Santa's hand and runs, shaken, for the back door.

--SantaLand Diaries collected in Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris