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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR MAY 2012

May  31,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"But now in most countries," Baxter continued, meaning in most parts of England, "the custom is changed into yearly rack-rents," meaning not only that custom itself was over and done with, but also that the new annual rents were equal or nearly equal to the value of what the land could produce in the year.  His subtext went far deeper into moral outrage.  The new rents had been racked, bent, stretched, and strained to the point where they were no longer morally legitimate.

--Quarrel with the King by Adam Nicolson

May  30,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

One of the central points about custom as a governing principle of village life was that it should be agreed between the copyholders of the manor, gathered as the "homage."  Custom did not have to be of any great age.  Custom was simply what the village did as a village.  As long as those of the homage considered that something might be a custom of the manor, then it could become one.  Customary tenure was in that way not pure conservative rigidity but an adaptive organic system.

--Quarrel with the King by Adam Nicolson

May  29,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

A statute passed in the reign of Elizabeth had required that any new house should have four acres of ground attached to it, a way of guaranteeing a means of self-sufficiency and of no burdens encroaching on the charity of the village.  This was all very well, but it meant the poor, particularly in an era of land hunger, were unprovided for.  There was not enough land to go round, and if there was not enough land, there could be no more houses.  The poor were driven on to the roads and into the cities, where they would beg.

--Quarrel with the King by Adam Nicolson

May  28,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Alongside the masquing came the tournaments, twenty-seven of them staged at court between 1604 and the moment when the tradition came to an end in 1622.  Philip Montgomery was often the star.  On June 1, 1606, four Knights Errant of the Fortunate Islands (the king's cousin the Duke of Lennox and the earls of Southampton, Pembroke, and Montgomery) issued a universal challenge: "To all honourable Men at Arms, Knights Adventurers of hereditary note and exemplary nobleness, that for most maintainable actions do wield either sword or lances in the quest of glory."  They had "four indisputable propositions" to defend:

1.  That in the service of Ladies no knight have free will.

2.  That it is Beauty maintains the world in Valour.

3.  That no fair Lady was ever false.

4.  That none can be perfectly wise but Lovers.

--Quarrel with the King by Adam Nicolson

May  27,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

That "custom of the manor" represented an equilibrium of interests between tenant and landlord.  The landlord, in fact, could impose only what the tenants would agree to.  The way, for example, in which the area of each holding was measured was more responsive to the reality on the ground than to some abstract, imposed rule.  Rent was dependent on acreage, but an acre in 1630s was not he precisely defined unit it is today.  An acre was simply the area of ground that a plough could cover in a single day.  If the ground was heavy, the acre would shrink to match the conditions; and if the soil light, the acre would expand.  Everyone knew this, no would think of altering it, and the conditions of the agreement were all deeply familiar.

--Quarrel with the King by Adam Nicolson

May  26,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The closed-circuit supervision of one's neighbors' prying eyes ensured that people would not cut down their timber trees, sublet their land for longer than a year, or sell any part of it except in open court.  They had to maintain their buildings.  If they did not, they would be warned three times, at six-month intervals.  On the third time, a stake would be driven into the ground by the front door (said to be the origin of an asset being "at stake").  If nothing had been done by the fourth time, the property would be forfeit.  Then the "customary tenant"--the expression means "the holder of the land by the custom of the manor"--would be driven out of his "tenement," the "held thing."  Although there were freeholders in these villages, they were only free of the labor and money dues that the copyholders owed to the manor.  They were not free of the custom of the manor itself.  And if they failed to observe the rules of the village, or committed treason or a felony, they, too, could be deprived of their freehold.  In that sense, so one, except the lord of the manor, owned anything here.  They, as tenants, merely held their tenements.  Survival was conditional on obedience. 

--Quarrel with the King by Adam Nicolson

May  25,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The copyhold system was, of course, both good and bad.  The tenancy was usually given for three lives, sometimes to a man, his wife, and a son; a man, his sister, and her husband; a man and two sons; or a widow and her son and daughter.  It gave security to the farmers and allowed them to invest in improvements that a short lease could not allow.  Land and buildings were only rarely let to single individuals; the lease for three lives, if to a man, his wife, his sons, meant that the terms of the lease would extend to whichever of these was the last to die.  No one, in other words, would be ejected from their house and farm on the death of a husband or a father.  Leases for three lives meant that the maintenance of the social fabric was built into the economic structure of the place.

--Quarrel with the King by Adam Nicolson

May  24,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Flocks of several hundred sheep were usual on chalkland manors, and in many ways they dictated the shared nature of the farming.  It was only practical to graze them together and to fold them together on the same arable field.  Villages, as elsewhere in the Midlands and in the chalk country, usually had three open fields (sometimes two, occasionally four or more), of which one lay fallow every year.  It was usually laid down in the custom of the manor that the folding of the sheep on to the fields should begin one year at one end, the next at the other.  Only that way would the fertility delivered by the sheep be spread evenly across the strips from year to year.  Each farmer had to provide winter hay for the sheep, and contribute his few pence toward the employment of a cowherd, hogward, hayward, and even a mole catcher for the manor.  Those who failed to meet their obligations to the community would be denied "the fold"--that life-giving manure from the sheep--without which their land would not grow the grains on which they relied for their existence.  It was a brutal sanction, but as the manor records show, not one the villagers were slow to impose.

--Quarrel with the King by Adam Nicolson

May  23,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

He was left with the chaps and the leather waistcoat under his bed.  Sometimes while making the bed he would step in a lithering puddle of hide, an unexpected texture which took some moments to identify.  He had not abandoned his intention of passing them on to some appropriate party.  It didn't seem particularly odd to him to take his obligation so seriously.  If gay people like himself and Charles had unacknowledged unions and divorces that made no social echo, it seemed reasonable enough that they should dispose of their property, when they could, in their own way, with by-wills and sub-testaments separate from the public arrangements.

--An Executor collected in Monopolies of Loss by Adam Mars-Jones

May  22,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

With the person gone, memories attached to the person died their own small sort of death.  They had no independent existence, any more than Christmas tree lights had a function when the Christmas tree was gone.  Sooner or later they had to be tidied away.

--An Executor collected in Monopolies of Loss by Adam Mars-Jones

May  21,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

For most of the time, standing and sitting seemed morally neutral activities to these non-Catholics, and admittedly they were part of a customary social range: people stood up on formal occasions when a newcomer arrived, sat down when told to by their hosts.  Kneeling fell outside that range, and so some non-Catholics contrived a kneel that said 'I don't mean this, I'm just being polite', leaning forward and resting their elbows on the back of the pew in front, but bringing their knees no nearer to the floor.  Gareth half-expected to see people crossing their fingers behind their backs as they mouthed Amens to the prayers, falling back on the less adult way of doing things and not doing them at the same time.  It was an extraordinary tribute, he thought, to pay to something that had no power over you.

--An Executor collected in Monopolies of Loss by Adam Mars-Jones

May  20,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

He had assumed that he would fall asleep instantly, but just as he was dropping off he thought I'm falling asleep, as if it was something he was dreading as well as counting on; in any case the idea of sleep, solid and specific, for long moments blocked off the thing itself.

--An Executor collected in Monopolies of Loss by Adam Mars-Jones

[N.B.  There's a lot of craft you could learn just by studying that one sentence.]

May  19,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

One thing I find I can visualize is a ration book.  That's how I make sure I don't get overtired.  Over-overtired.  I suppose my mother had a ration book before I was born.  I don't think I've ever seen one.  But I imagine a booklet with coupons in it for you to tear out, only instead of an allowance for the week of butter or cheese or sugar, my coupons say One Hour of Social Life, One Shopping Expedition, On Short Walk.  I hoard them, and I spend them wisely.  I tear them out slowly, separating the perforations one by one.

--Slim collected in Monopolies of Loss by Adam Mars-Jones

May  18,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

One of the things I'm supposed to be doing these days is creative visualization, you know, where you imagine your white corpuscles strapping on their armour to repel invaders.  Buddy doesn't nag, but I can tell he's disappointed.  I don't seem to be able to do it.  I get as far as imagining my white corpuscles as a sort of cloud of healthiness, like a milkshake in the dark flow of my blood, but if I try to visualize them any more concretely I think of Raquel Welch, in Fantastic Voyage.  That's the film where they shrink a submarine full of doctors and inject it into a dying man's bloodstream.  He's the president or something.  And at one point Raquel Welch gets attacked and almost killed by white corpuscles, they're like strips of plastic - when I think of it, they are strips of plastic - that stick to her wetsuit until she can't breathe.  The others have to snap them off one by one when they get her back to the submarine.  It's touch and go.  So I don't think creative visualization will work for me.  It's not a very promising therapeutic tool, if every time I try to imagine my body's defences I think of their trying to kill Raquel Welch.  I still can't persuade myself the corpuscles are the good guys.

--Slim collected in Monopolies of Loss by Adam Mars-Jones

May  17,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

I've learned that there is a yoga of tears.  There are the clever tears that release a lot in a little time, and the stupid tears that just shake you and don't let you go.  Once your shoulders get in on the act, you're sunk.  The trick is to keep them out of it.  Otherwise you end up wailing all day.  Those kind of tears are very more-ish.  Bet you can't cry just one, just ten, just twenty.  But if I keep my shoulders still I can reach a much deeper level of tears.  It's like a lumbar puncture.  I can draw out this fluid which is a fantastic concentrate of misery.  And then just stop and be calm.

--Slim collected in Monopolies of Loss by Adam Mars-Jones

May  16,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Words are so friendly, so accommodating, so loosely adaptable, not like numbers, with their tiresome insistence on meaning only what they mean and nothing more.  But what they have that words have not is rigour, and rigour was what seduced me from the start, the promise of one firm thing in an infirm world.  It all seemed so simple, early on.  I loved the process, the slow accumulating of many tiny parts into a vast and gorgeous gewgaw the joy of which was its utter inutility.  What did it matter if some other, a mere technician, should extract from the middle of my mesh a bristling filament that fitted perfectly a slot in one of his infernal machines?  Apply, apply away!--that was my cry.  And apply they did, adapting my airy fancies to invent all sorts of surprising and useful gimcrackery, from the conversion of salt water into an endless source of energy to rocket ships that will fly the net of time.  I was resented, of course; my kind always are.  Benny used to warn me, but I never listened.  Benny pretends to be a man of the people, though he is just like me, in his deepest heart.  We are all alike, all we Olympians.  We are supposed to be the celebrants of all that is vital and gay and light, and so we are but, oh, we are cold, cold.

--The Infinities by John Banville

May  15,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Petra seizes her chance and breaks the silence by asking of the table, in a loud voice, why is it that tumours are always compared to citrus fruits.  "As big as a lemon, they say," she says, "an orange, a grapefruit--why?"  She looks about the table, fierce in her demand, but no one has answer to offer her.

--The Infinities by John Banville

May  14,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

What casuistries they are capable of, even the simplest-minded among them, what fine distinctions and discriminations they devise!  This is what we never cease to marvel at, the mountains they make out of the molehills of their passions, while all the time their real, their savage, selves are crouched in hiding behind those outcrops, scanning the surrounds for danger or opportunity, for predators or prey.

--The Infinities by John Banville

May  13,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

 The secret of survival is a defective imagination.  The inability of mortals to imagine things as they truly are is what allows them to live, since one momentary, unresisted glimpse of the world's totality of suffering would annihilate them on the spot, like a whiff of the most lethal sewer gas.  We have stronger stomachs, stouter lungs, we see it all in all its awfulness at every moment and are not daunted; that is the difference; that is what makes us divine.

--The Infinities by John Banville

May  12,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

 By the way, tenses: he is stuck in the present, though his preference would be for the preterite.  As for the future, he avoids it as the plague.  He wishes he had the powers of that emperor of old Cathay who on his deathbed forbade the use of the future tense throughout his vast realm, saying that since he was going to die there would be no future to speak of.

--The Infinities by John Banville

May  11,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

 But what attention we lavished on the making of this poor place!  The lengths we went to, the pains we took, that it should be plausible in every detail--planting in the rocks the fossils of outlandish creatures that never existed, distributing fake dark matter throughout the universe, even setting up in the cosmos the faintest of faint hums to mimic the reverberations of the initiating shot that is supposed to have set the whole shooting-match going.  And to what end was all this craft, this labour, this scrupulous dissembling--to what end?  So that the mud men that Prometheus and Athene between them made might think themselves the lords of creation.  We have been good to you, giving you what you thought you wanted--yes, and look what you have done with it.

--The Infinities by John Banville

May  10,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The coming war first impinged on his consciousness on July 30, when in addition to his daily diary he began in a black exercise book a special war-diary, intended to chronicle the whole course of the struggle.  He kept it up dutifully each day until August 15, added one more entry on the 21st, and thereafter only a page or two each year until 1920. 

--Hugh Walpole by Rupert Hart-Davis

[N.B.: Catty, catty Mr. Hart-Davis.  Feckless is as feckless doesn't.]

May  9,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

His seclusion was broken only by a visit to the Beresfords, at whose house he met the actress Athene Seyler.  She was to become one of his dearest women friends--perhaps the dearest of all--since she was possessed of all those qualities which Hugh demanded from women before he could get on with them at all.  Athene was intelligent, witty, forthright, and gaily affectionate without making any demands on him. 

--Hugh Walpole by Rupert Hart-Davis

[N.B.: To appreciate the deeper meaning of these remarks, one must keep in mind that Hugh was a big, strapping, handsome fellow who was also firmly homosexual--as a result, Hugh wound up in a number of Bertie Woosterish situations of being chased after by romantically-inclined women but he had no Jeeves to save him from the comic repercussions.]

May  8,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

On February 5 The Duchess of Wrexe was published by Secker.  The Morning Post treated it lengthily as a work of importance, and most of the other papers followed suit, though one or two critical voices were raised.  Allan Monkhouse wrote in the Manchester Guardian: "If Mr Walpole could mistrust himself and his portentous methods he might become much more interesting," and the anonymous critic of the Nation: "Up to a point Mr Walpole holds one by his clever planning of his situations, by his bold and energetic scene-painting, by the rapid flow of narrative, by the energy indeed of his creative imagination . . . and yet the whole effect of the story is of something half-real, pretentious, third-rate . . . in our opinion Mr Walpole has switched his talent on to a track that, whether it leads to popularity or not, is destructive of artistic quality."

--Hugh Walpole by Rupert Hart-Davis

[N.B.:  That "up to a point," is, well, quite delicious.]

May  7,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

We must know, as much as possible, in our beautiful art, yours and mine, what we are talking about--and the only way to know is to have lived and loved and cursed and floundered and enjoyed and suffered.--I think I don't regret a single "excess" of my responsive youth--I only regret, in my chilled age, certain occasions and possibilities I didn't embrace.

--Hugh Walpole by Rupert Hart-Davis (excerpt from a letter by Henry James to Hugh Walpole)

[N.B.:  This sounds strikingly similar to the famous line from The Ambassadors.]

May  3,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

One of Hugh's later detractors was his American publisher George H. Doran, who after he had retired wrote a book of reminiscences¹ (which Hugh described as "vulgar and malicious") wherein he accused Hugh of meanness as well as jealousy.  The English edition of the book was suitably expurgated in this and other respects.

¹ Chronicles of Barabbas 1884-1934 (1935).

--Hugh Walpole by Rupert Hart-Davis

[N.B.:  I don't know which is worse: the apparent pride in the English tradition of censoring books or the hypocritical distaste in describing Hugh as mean and jealous given Mr. Hart-Davis's retailing of those exact same criticisms as described in the prior blog entry.  Oh well, in any event, it's a highly entertaining read.  And, but of course, I've ordered my own copy of Chronicles of Barabbas (what a great title!)]

May  2,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

It was often said of Hugh that while he was always generous and helpful to young, promising, and unsuccessful writers, he was apt to be jealous of those novelists, usually his contemporaries, who seemed likely to challenge his own specialty and popular esteem.

--Hugh Walpole by Rupert Hart-Davis

[N.B.:  So, you want to be the next Dan Brown (i.e., earn your rewards in this earthly life and not in the one to come)?  Then look no farther than Rupert Hart-Davis's catty biography of Hugh Walpole, the historical-novelist Dan Brown of his day, whom Hart-Davis served as his long-time publisher.  This stylish book explains in gruesome detail how to plan out one's writing campaign and to advance one's reputation with no regard to style, grammar, or even historical accuracy.  A charming--if disheartening--read.]

May  1,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Everything you can imagine flows through a senator's local office, from immigration appeals to reports about unidentified flying objects.  One lady left rambling messages about her sexual fantasies--all of them involved Senator Edwards--on the office answering machine every night.  Agents of the Office of the U.S. Marshal eventually paid a visit to her trailer and asked her to stop making these calls.  She didn't.  We heard almost as often from a federal inmate who wrote the senator on ten-foot stretches of toilet paper.  Every sheet was filled with his carefully penciled grievances about the government.  Each time one of these communiqués arrived, I got a kick out of watching an intern try to use an official stamp to record receipt of the letter without tearing it.

--The Politician by Andrew Young

[N.B.:  Note how classy Mr. Young let's you know about the class status of the unidentified lady by referencing her "trailer."]