Essays in Idleness


Category: Uncategorized

Of music & politics

What Beethoven has in common with Napoleon (and Robespierre for that matter), is the high idealism, the megalomania. He also shares, with Napoleon at least, the almost superhuman talent, skill, artistry. In Beethoven’s case it was for music, in Napoleon’s, for gratuitously invading and conquering European countries. Not until Hitler would another of the “greats” […]


Even today, I daresay, the mall shoppers — post-Protestants, “recovering Catholics,” secular humans, and so forth — have some general idea what Easter is about. The eggs are a nice symbolic touch. And hot cross buns seem still to be available in the upmarket groceterias. Indeed, they were yesterday, when I was laying in provisions […]

The false note

Perhaps I should be telling a priest instead of a general audience, but I broke down this morning and did something bad. You see, I had been weeding my inventory of recorded music, through Lent — decimating it at first, in the strict sense, with about every tenth disc going on the trash pile of […]

Last lines

How often — and especially when I was editor of a soi-disant “literary” magazine — have I read a nearly passable poem that was ruined by its last line. This exposed the rest of the composition. With practice, one could see it coming: the cumbersome set-up for the long-anticipated punch line, often itself flubbed. Vers […]


Júdica me, Deus, et discérne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab hómine iníquo et dolóso éripe me: quia tu es Deus meus et fortitúdo mea. “Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy.” Deliver me from the unjust and deceitful. … I took the quotes off the […]

Libertine atheism

Several readers have noticed how little I’ve had to say about our current Pope, whether here or elsewhere. But you know me, always trying to avoid controversy. “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing.” Today, thanks to a correspondent in Virginia, getting at the latest Sandro Magister post before I could, I have something […]

The catfish chronicles

Up here in the High Doganate, where we have been rather ill this week, to the point of seeking medical attention, Lent proceeds apace. With illness comes a form of writer’s block: not a failure to write, but instead, a failure to write anything remotely publishable. If one has been a hack journalist through too […]

Four quatrains

We (and I still sometimes use this plural to indicate, “all of my personae, considered as a choir”) were asked only yesterday, by a gentleman who had previously been asking about Stefan Zweig, to describe the degree of our aloofness from current events. He (the emailer, not Herr Zweig, who has been dead these last […]

Labour law

Recently I attended the wake of an old friend, a certain Randall Telford, who was so unwise as to predecease me. He was a labour lawyer, and usefully so from my point of view, for he brought a charge of “constructive dismissal” on my behalf before a former employer, so nicely that it never went […]

News & the weather

On a sour note of feigned optimism, I post this upon the vernal equinox, a cold blustery miserable overcast day in Parkdale, under plausible threat of blowing snow, after the coldest winter in memory. Spring is not yet in sight. But one must take the longer view, in which these parts were for millennia under […]

The day after

Well, I can come out of the High Doganate now, I think St Patrick’s Day is over. Toronto, or as I prefer to call it, the Greater Parkdale Area, was once well supplied with essentially peaceable, law-abiding bona fide Irish immigrants who went to their jobs in the morning, and to Mass on Sundays if […]


Barely three centuries have passed since English travellers in Ireland noticed the wearing of “shamroges” in “vulgar superstitious” displays of patriotism on the 17th of March. These, along with “excess in liquor,” and other inducements to debauchery, are recorded with finely jaundiced Protestant sobriety. The notion that the saint had used a trefoil grass (there […]

Biblical exegesis

One of the most useful passages in the Bible is in Saint Peter’s second general Epistle (3:16, if I may be so pedantic). There are quite a few parallel passages, but in this his second “encyclical,” our first Pope says explicitly that there are passages in Scripture hard to understand. The ignorant and the unstable […]