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Posts Tagged ‘classics’

Anthony Esolen writes, in Lemmings Unite! Be True to Yourself?:

“This above all,” says the old counselor to his son, advising the lad before his departure for France to play the young aristocrat on tour, “to thine own self be true.” Maintain that truth, he says, and then it will follow, “as the night the day, / Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Shakespeare, alas, is so great a poet that his readers sometimes mistake deliberate banality for wisdom. This famous line is a case in point. It is uttered by Polonius, a shallow, prating, tedious old man, who is anything but straightforward in his behavior. He encourages his daughter Ophelia to play hard to get, to land the prince who loves her; he sends a servant to France to spy on his son; and he is slain while hiding behind the curtain in the Queen’s room in order to eavesdrop on her conversation with Hamlet. “Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell,” says Hamlet, “I took thee for thy better.”

Shakespeare is deeply suspicious of people who are true to themselves, and not to God or to their country: such, in his three parts of Henry VI, are the proud self-absorbed villains Suffolk and Richard of York, responsible for instigating the civil wars that embroil England during the fifteenth century. But this suspicion seems not to have entered the minds of the leaders of the Girl Guides of Australia, who have recently revised the oath the girls must take. From now on, instead of swearing loyalty to God, to the queen, and to Australia, each girl will swear, “I will be true to myself and to my beliefs.”

It’s easy enough to enjoy a hearty laugh at the stupidity of the change. Indeed, the oath is not an oath at all, but rather implies the repudiation of all oaths. To say, “I will be true to myself,” is equivalent to saying, “I will do just as I please,” nor does the addition of “my beliefs” provide any limit to the narcissism, since what is emphasized is not the objective truth of those beliefs, or their transcendent authority, but merely the fact that they happen to be mine. When they cease to please me, then, I am free to alter them, to “believe” something else, to “bend with the remover to remove.” When the wind turns, so does the weathervane.

Read the whole thing. Do. He goes on to discuss why it’s really not a laughing matter, after all.

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Eric Metaxas has a few book recommendations for summer reading. It’s an interesting mix of old and new, fiction and nonfiction. At the end of the article are links to other summer reading lists.

(Shameless self-promotion warning.) Of course, I wouldn’t mind if you slipped one of my books into the mix this summer.  The MI5 1/2 books are lightweight and humorous – except where they’re not. The Smolder, likewise.  Why We Raise Belgian Horses was written as a winter read (much of the action takes place around Christmas), but it’s been my most popular book…

But that’s enough self-promotion for now. We will now return to our regular programming…

I think the Metaxas list is worth a look. So here’s the link again.

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I read Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s Uncle Tom’s Cabin this week, in a free Kindle edition. I’m not sure what I expected, but the book was better than I anticipated, with wit, wonderful descriptions, action, suspense, layers of story upon story, amazing characterizations, and surprise twists. I learned some history, which I like to do while reading. I can see why it could be a bestseller in its day, which it was. I can also see why it could prick the conscience of a person or a nation, and stir up some action, which it did.

I am inclined to quibble with the author over a few small points (Christians do not become angels when they die, for instance – but they become heavenly beings, so, well, let’s let it go). But on the whole I am quite impressed with the author, her knowledge, and her storytelling skill. I’m also glad I read the book, because it was a tremendously influential book in its day, and I think reading it helped me understand America a bit better.

I’m going to refrain from a usual sort of review, though, because I’m afraid it would involve spoilers. Suffice it to say that if you think that Uncle Tom is a black person who sells out to white folks, you obviously have not read the book. That’s an insane use of the name, really. Simply flat insane.

(For more book reviews, check out this week’s The Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon.)

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From the pen of Hans Christian Andersen, and first published in 1837: The Emperor’s New Suit.

More on Andersen and his many tales here.

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Having found that some readers did not understand the irony (i.e., did not get the joke) of his suggestion that we revive the art of dueling (I linked to that post, and a related article, here), David Bentley Hart clarifies that, and then goes on to give us a history lesson in “the cut,” which he suggests might be of some use in dealing with uncivilized people who crave, and all too often get, public attention.

As he points out along the way, if you don’t know what a “cut” is, you won’t understand some of the jokes and jests in literature. He gives examples.

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You know about Homo academicus saecularis sinister, although probably under another name. Let Anthony Esolen tell you more about them, as he makes observations about The Real World.

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Julie of Happy Catholic is now writing at Patheos. This post combines observations on faith, classic literature, and chivalry. It’s hard to beat that.

And, by the way, if you think you know about the Round Table tales of Camelot, please go read the post. She points out some of what later versions have left out.

I hope she’ll not be upset with me if I mention that you don’t have to be Catholic to find old books to be new creations after you convert and as you grow deeper in faith. I suspect any sort of real Christianity will do, to a greater or lesser degree. (It sure has made a difference in what I see and understand in books.)

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From In Defense of the Liberal Arts by Victor Davis Hanson at National Review Online:

But the liberal arts train students to write, think, and argue inductively, while drawing upon evidence from a shared body of knowledge. Without that foundation, it is harder to make — or demand from others — logical, informed decisions about managing our supercharged society as it speeds on by.

Citizens — shocked and awed by technological change — become overwhelmed by the Internet chatter, cable news, talk radio, video games, and popular culture of the moment. Without links to our heritage, we in ignorance begin to think that our own modern challenges — the war in Afghanistan, gay marriage, cloning, or massive deficits — are unique and not comparable to those solved in the past.

And without citizens broadly informed by the humanities, we descend into a pyramidal society. A tiny technocratic elite on top crafts everything from cell phones and search engines to foreign policy and economic strategy. A growing mass below has neither understanding of the present complexity nor the basic skills to question what they are told.

Also, this (after discussing what damage has been done to the teaching of the humanities from activists on the left):

On the other hand, pragmatists argued that our 20-year-old future CEOs needed to learn spreadsheets rather than why Homer’s Achilles did not receive the honors he deserved, or how civilization was lost in fifth-century Rome and 1930s Germany. But Latin or a course in rhetoric might better teach a would-be captain of industry how to dazzle his audience than a class in Microsoft PowerPoint.

Read the whole article.

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One of the most requested devotionals in our bookstore since the get-go has been Streams in the Desert, by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman, which has been in print since 1924. A while back, I snagged a 1965 print run copy for myself. By then, there were already more than two million copies in print. I can see why. It’s a gem.

It’s a compilation of thoughts and quotes, in the form of a daily devotional. I think part of its staying power is that it focuses on faith that grows in times of trial, something all too many Christian books either gloss over or avoid, or simply don’t understand. Mrs. Cowman served as a missionary in China and Japan, and spent six years nursing a dying husband. The back cover copy on my book reads:

“We thank Thee Lord, for weary days

When desert streams were dry,

And first we knew what depths of need

Thy Love could satisfy.

We thank Thee for the rest in Him

The weary only know-

The perfect, wondrous sympathy

We needs must learn below.

The touch that heals the broken heart

is never felt above;

The angels know His blessedness,

His way-worn saints, His love.”

There are several versions still in print, including ‘updated’ editions, put into more modern English, so I’m linking here to the author’s page at Zondervan, so you can browse the offerings.

There are other books out there with the same title, by the way, so if you are ordering elsewhere, make sure you have the book by Mrs. Cowman.

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hat tip: Amy Welborn

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