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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR DECEMBER 2009

December  22,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Of this money the Khan has such a quantity made that with it he could buy all the treasure in the world.  With this currency he orders all payments to be made throughout every province and kingdom and region of his empire.  And no one dares refuse it on pain of losing his life.  And I assure you that all the peoples and populations who are subject to this rule are perfectly willing to accept these papers in payment, since wherever they go they pay in the same currency, whether for goods or for pearls or precious stones or gold or silver.  With these pieces of paper they can buy anything and pay for anything.  And I can tell you that the papers that reckon as ten bezants do not weigh one.

--The Travels of Marco Polo (tr. Ronald Latham)

[N.B.:  This is just whacky.  Only some despot like the Great Khan could force others to take his paper--which is backed by nothing of value other than the Great Khan himself--in trade for valuable goods and services.  What would stop the Great Khan from flooding the market with his paper?  It's a good thing we live in the modern world where the good ol' yankee dollar is backed by . . . well, by . . . oh, I'm sure it's back by something.  But, at least we're not flooding the market with lots of newly-minted paper money (well, other than that two trillion over the last twelve months).  Where's the Great Khan when you need him in order to impose some fiscal discipline?]

December  21,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

On the northern side of the palace, at the distance of a bow-shot but still within the walls, the Great Khan has had made an earthwork, that is to say a mound fully 100 paces in height and over a mile in circumference.  This mound is covered with a dense growth of trees, all evergreens that never shed their leaves.  And I assure you that whenever the Great Khan hears tell of a particularly fine tree he has it pulled up, roots and all and with a quantity of earth, and transported to this mound by elephants.  No matter how big the tree may be, he is not deterred from transplanting it.  In this way he has assembled here the finest trees in the world.  In addition, he has had the mound covered with lapis lazuli, which is intensely green, so that trees and rock alike are as green as green can be and there is no other colour to be seen.  For this reason it is called the Green Mound.  On top of this mound, in the middle of the summit, he has a large and handsome palace, and this too is entirely green.  And I give you my word that mound and trees and palace form a vision of such beauty that it gladdens the hearts of all beholders.  It was for the sake of this entrancing view that the Great Khan had them constructed, as well as for the refreshment and recreation they might afford.

--The Travels of Marco Polo (tr. Ronald Latham)

December  20,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

When the Great Khan learnt that Nayan was a prisoner, he commanded that he should be put to death.  And this was how it was done.  He was wrapped up tightly in a carpet and then dragged about so violently, this was and that, that he died.  Their object in choosing this mode of death was so that the blood of the imperial lineage might not be spilt upon the earth, and that sun and air might not witness it.

--The Travels of Marco Polo (tr. Ronald Latham)

December  19,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Here is another strange custom which I had forgotten to describe.  You may take it for a fact that, when there are two men of whom one has had a male child who has died at the age of four, or what you will, and the other has had a female child who has also died, they arrange a marriage between them.  They give the dead girl to the dead boy as a wife and draw up a deed of matrimony.  Then they burn this deed, and declare that the smoke that rises into the air goes to their children in the other world and that they get wind of it and regard themselves as husband and wife.  They hold a great wedding feast and scatter some of the food here and there and declare that that too goes to their children in the other world.  And here is something else that they do.  They draw pictures on paper of men in the guise of slaves, and of horses, clothes, coins, and furniture and then burn them; and they declare that all these become possessions of their children in the next world.  When they have done this, they consider themselves to be kinsfolk and uphold their kinship just as firmly as if the children were alive.

--The Travels of Marco Polo (tr. Ronald Latham)

December  18,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

[T]he doves, spiralling down in the funnel made by trees which were coming out all over in a yellow green through chestnut sheaths the colour of a horse's coat, settled one after another each outside the door to his quarters and after strutting once or twice went on quarrelling, murdering, and making love again.

--Loving by Henry Green

December  17,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Of Oxford itself (which by this time he must have come to know better than any other city) he wrote to another correspondent:

This Examination [the Honour School of Literae Humaniores] is an experience.  We are doing Ancient History, Logick, Roman History, Translation.  The papers are perfectly appalling.  The vilest, vulgarest scripts, the silliest spelling, infinitives split to the midriff.  I asked Hardy what was to be done with these crimes against fair English and he answered sedately, 'Pass them over with silent contempt.'

I find that silent system admirable altogether.

This is why.

Whatever is of good, a man must get not from a teacher, but from his own toil.

The man who wants to write Good English will, ultimately, write good English, and his work will have the supreme merit of being rare.

So this mighty Alma Mater of Oxford does well not to teach the preservation of unsplit infinitives.  She teaches you how to teach yourself, and that is all, and all is everything, and there is nothing more.

--The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons

[N.B.:  You see, Baron Corvo was just ahead of his time.  Nowadays he would make an admirable school board trustee as he lectured perplexed parents on the value of teaching their children not vulgar knowledge but how to gather the rosebuds of knowledge while they may--to teach a man to fish and other such pish posh.  In my view, not teaching someone how to write but to allow that person instead to muddle along in the muck of his own errors is akin to allowing a golfer with a splice to go on practicing until he has perfected it (the slice, that is, off to the right, over there, lodged in the solarium, after knocking out that octogenarian).]

December  16,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Fr. Rolfe returned to Oxford, not yet dispirited.  And, since man must rest his hopes on something, he began to have hopes of Hubert's Arthur.

[It] is an awful piece of work [he wrote].  But it will be unlike any book ever written.  And it will pay.  I go on very slowly and keep on rewriting.  I'm just beginning to know the people in it: but I alter so radically as the thing grows that I shan't let it be seen till it's done.  And I am not going to do any one single thing beside till it is done.  Mark me well.

Some of his postcards are very funny:

Have you any objection to Lady Maud de Braose being shut up in a dungeon, and fed wit the tails of haddocks, two a day, till she, saltish, perishes of pure displeasure?  They can sing her requiem on the eleventh day.

--The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons

December  15,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

"And that charge is now corroborated by the story of the prisoner.  My lord Bishop," said the friar with finality, turning to the great gilt throne, "this matter requires further investigation."

"Why?" asked the Bishop mildly.  "Is it not an accepted principle in witchcraft proceedings that were doubt exists, one should convict.  The Church's point of view is happily summed up in the well-known phrase: 'Burn all; God will distinguish His own.'"

--The Unfortunate Fursey by Mervyn Wall

December  14,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

"If the accused should be found not guilty after the evidence has been considered," conceded the friar, "we will start again at the beginning and accept his plea of guilty.  First witness."

--The Unfortunate Fursey by Mervyn Wall

December  13,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Lalun is a member of the most ancient profession in the world.  Lilith was her very-great-grandmamma, and that was before the days of Eve, as everyone knows.  In the West, people say rude things about Lalun's profession, and write lectures about it, and distribute the lectures to young persons in order that Morality may be preserved.  In the East, where the profession is hereditary, descending from mother to daughter, nobody writes lectures or takes any notice; and that is a distinct proof of the inability of the East to manage its own affairs.

--On the City Wall from Soldiers Three and Other Stories by Rudyard Kipling

December  12,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Fog av fightin'.  You know, Sorr, that, like makin' love, ut takes each man diff'rint.  Not I can't help bein' powerful sick whin I'm in action.  Orth'ris, here, niver stops swearin' from ind to ind, an' the only time that Learoyd opins his mouth to sing is whin he is messin' wid other people's heads; for he's a dhirty fighter is Jock.  Recruities sometime cry, an' sometime they don't know fwhat they do, an' sometime they are all for cuttin' throats an' such-like dirtiness; but some men get heavy-dead-dhrunk on the fightin'.

--With the Main Guard from Soldiers Three and Other Stories by Rudyard Kipling

December  11,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The farmhouse itself no longer looked like a beast about to spring.  (Not that it ever had, to her, for she was not in the habit of thinking that things looked exactly like other things which were as different from them in appearance as it was possible to be.)  But it had looked dirty and miserable and depressing, and when Mr Mybug had once remarked that it looked like a beast about to spring, Flora had simply not had the heart to contradict him.

--Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

December  10,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Mr Mybug was very pleased with himself.  This was his idea of romance, Flora could see.  She knew from experience that intellectuals thought the proper - nay, the only - way to fall in love with somebody was to do it the very instant you saw them.  You met somebody, and thought they were 'A charming person.  So gay and simple.'  Then you walked home from a party with them (preferably across Hampstead Heath, about three in the morning) discussing whether you should sleep together or not.  Sometimes you asked them to go to Italy with you.  Sometimes they asked you go to Italy (preferably Portofino) with them.  You held hands, and laughed, and kissed them and called them your 'true love'.  You loved them for eight months, and then you met somebody else and began being gay and simple all over again, with small-hours' walk across Hampstead, Portofino invitation, and all.

It was very simple, gay and natural, somehow. 

--Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

December  9,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

In the evening, she proposed that the three of them should visit the Pit Theatre, in Stench Street, Seven Dials, to see a new play by Barndt Slurb called Manallalive-O! a Neo-Expressionist attempt to give dramatic form to the mental reactions of a man employed as a waiter in a restaurant who dreams that he is the double of another man who is employed as a steward on a liner, and who, on awakening and realizing that he is still a waiter employed in a restaurant and not a steward employed on a liner, goes mad and shoots his reflection in a mirror and dies.  It had seventeen scenes and only one character.  A pest house, a laundry, a lavatory, a court of law, a room in a leper's settlement and the middle of Piccadilly Circus were included in the scenes.   

--Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

[N.B.:  Okay, okay, it's not funny now since reality has trumped satire--but keep in mind it was written in 1932.]

December  8,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

For it is a peculiarity of persons who lead rich, emotional lives, and who (as the saying is_ live intensely and with a wild poetry, that they read all kinds of meanings into comparatively simple actions, especially the actions of other people, who do not live intensely and with a wild poetry.  Thus you may find them weeping passionately on their bed, and be told that you - you alone - are the cause because you said that awful thing to them at lunch.  Or they wonder why you like going to concerts; there must be more in it than meets the eye.

--Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

December  7,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

One of the disadvantages of universal education was the fact that all kinds of persons acquired familiarity with one's favourite writers.  It gave one a curious feeling; it was like seeing a drunken stranger wrapped in one's dressing gown.

--Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

December  6,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

I had, moreover, a sort of grudge against my book for not being a different book which no one could write.  Ideally, Screwtape's advice to Wormwood should have been balanced by archangelical advice to the patient's guardian angel.  Without this the picture of human life is lop-sided.  But who could supply the deficiency?  Even if a man - and he would have to be a far better man than I - could scale the spiritual heights required, what 'answerable style' could he use?  For the style would really be part of the content.  Mere advice would be no good; every sentence would have to smell of Heaven.  And nowadays even if you could write a prose like Traherne's, you wouldn't be allowed to, for the canon of 'functionalism' has disabled literature for half its functions.  (At bottom, every ideal of style dictates not only how we should say things but what sort of things we may say.)

--Foreword to The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

December  5,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of 'Admin'.  The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid 'dens of crime' that Dickens loved to paint.  It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps.  In those we see its final result.  But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.  Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern.

--Foreword to The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

December  4,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The literary symbols are more dangerous because they are not so easily recognised as symbolical.  Those of Dante are the best.  Before his angels we sink in awe.  His devils, as Ruskin rightly remarked, in their rage, spite and obscenity, are far more like what the reality must be than anything in Milton.  Milton's devils, by their grandeur and high poetry, have done great harm, and his angels owe too much to Homer and Raphael.  But the really pernicious image is Goethe's Mephistopheles.  It is Faust, not he, who really exhibits the ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration upon self which is the mark of Hell.  The humorous, civilised, sensible, adaptable Mehistopheles has helped to strengthen the illusion that evil is liberating.

--Foreword to The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

[N.B.:  C.S. Lewis is a great writer, but he really needs to stop using "really."  It rarely adds anything to a text other than emphasis.  Really.]

December  3,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Greeks did not believe that the gods were really like the beautiful human shapes their sculptors gave them.  In their poetry a god who wishes to 'appear' to a mortal temporarily assumes the likeness of a man.  Christian theology has nearly always explained the 'appearance' of an angel in the same way.  It is only the ignorant, says Dionysius in the fifth century, who dream that spirits are really winged men.

In the plastic arts these symbols have steadily degenerated.  Fra Angelico's angels carry in their face and gesture the peace and authority of Heaven.  Later come the chubby infantile nudes of Raphael; finally the soft, slim, girlish and consolatory angels of nineteenth-century art, shapes so feminine that they avoid being voluptuous only by their total insipidity - the frigid houris of a tea-table paradise.  They are a pernicious symbol.  In Scripture the visitation of an angel is always alarming; it has to begin by saying 'Fear not'.  The Victorian angel looks as if it were going to say 'There, there'.

--Foreword to The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

December  2,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The door opened, and when he let the curtain fall he realized how dark it had become.  Anna walked stiffly towards him and said, 'There you are.  You've got what you wanted.'  Her face looked ugly in the attempt to avoid tears; it was an ugliness which bound him to her more than any beauty could have done; it isn't being happy together, he thought as though it were a fresh discovery, that makes one love - it's being unhappy together.

--The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene

December  1,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

People talk about love at first sight, about the way that men and women fall for each other immediately, but there is also such a thing as friendship at first sight.  Although Luke and Alex had said little to each other there was an immediate ease and sympathy between them.

--Paris Trance by Geoff Dyer