Essays in Idleness


A whole mind

Among the greatest achievements of the great Catholic controversialist, Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621; Saint, Bishop, Confessor, Doctor of the Church; feast today in Old Mass), was in the conclaves of 1605, when he twice talked his fellow Cardinals out of electing him Pope. Others have done it once. But with the quick demise of Leo XI, Bellarmine became the only papabile in history (so far as I am aware) to do it all over again a few weeks later. This showed not only, perhaps, rare self-knowledge, but also considerable energy.

He was indeed the founder of the faculty of Controversial Theology, at what became the Gregorian university at Rome — a discipline he invented expressly for the purpose of methodically refuting Protestant theological and doctrinal assertions, in all their kaleidoscopic variety.

As an Anglican, young and eager, decades ago, perhaps my favourite divine was Lancelot Andrewes (1555–1626). His Preces Privatae (edited once by John Henry Newman) provided the boilerplate for my own private prayers. He was the organizing genius behind the King James Version of the Bible, whose tastes established its immortally “catholic” style. His sermons, too, enthralled me for his ability to turn from high learning to racy street language and back again, in successive clauses. The Elizabethans generally could do that sort of thing (Shakespeare thrives on such delicious toggles, between the coarse and the refined), but it seemed to me then that the Bishop of Winchester (Andrewes) had exceeded all others in his gift for making these sometimes humorous, often shocking gearshifts, resonate with sanctity.

My acquaintance with Bellarmine was through Andrewes. There was a great controversy between them, over the Oath of Allegiance (1606) that King James put before those of his subjects still Catholic, and which in good conscience many found impossible to take. Published in the backwash from the “Gunpowder Plot,” it appeared to offer English Catholics tolerance and safety, on the condition that they would recognize the Protestant King’s high authority, and abjure violence, insurrection, or tumult. To more modern eyes, this seems a real deal: “Let us live and let live. … Swear that you won’t try to overthrow me, and I swear that I won’t try to kill you.”

But it was not so simple as post-modern eyes see. In the course of the seven affirmations demanded of his subjects, King James was laying down the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings (since mutated into the Divine Right of Elected Politicians). No Catholic can accept that; many dissenting Protestants were uncomfortable with it, too; and the controversy over this English Oath of Allegiance was joined across Europe, for many years.

It seemed to me, struggling through an epistolary debate largely untranslated from Latin, that Andrewes had got the better of Bellarmine, in a close-run thing. (But I was biased.) Later I became the more impressed with Bellarmine when I realized that, like a chess master simultaneously playing a hundred opponents, he was meanwhile arguing with a large number of the most formidable Protestants on many other boards. Too, that Andrewes had jumped into the ring on tag wrestling principles, along with several other leading English ecclesiastics, after Bellarmine had wasted (the learned) King James himself, in a previous round. Too, Andrewes himself is profoundly respectful of Bellarmine, and does not dare to take cheap shots. The two men seemed to bring out the best in each other.

I doubt all these impressions would stand if, now a Papist, and of riper years, I returned to that scene. I also doubt the question, “Who won?” is in itself coherent. On balance, I think God was winning. For from both sides an attempt was being made, I think generously, to get at the truth: to formulate a position that could be universally acceptable, and thus might indeed win peace, without submission to moral compromise.

At this distance, I think the debate worth revisiting because every question touching the “separation of Church and State” is on the table, and each is pursued (by both sides) in dimensions since neglected. It is the more enthralling because the participants have implicitly agreed to appeal to man’s conscience. Previously they had thought of it more as a contest between their respective armies.

That a King, or other secular ruler, has an authority or legitimacy that is in some sense divinely sanctioned, Catholics would have to agree. This is affirmed even within Christ’s “give unto Caesar,” when properly understood. But it is affirmed, throughout Catholic teaching — ancient, mediaeval, and modern — with a very important qualification. When the State claims an authority even over conscience; and more particularly, when it claims the right to form that conscience in defiance of Holy Church; and even more particularly, when it establishes an alternative religion (whether that be “Anglican” as then or, as today, “Secular Humanist”) — it has lost its legitimacy, its right to be obeyed. For the demand now is no longer “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” rather, “give unto Caesar what is God’s.” This becomes a martyrdom issue.

No King (and no State in Christendom) has the “divine right” to do any such thing. King James’s essential claim, to a spiritual authority within his own realm, must be rejected.

A moment’s thought will reveal innumerable parallels today, within the Church, as well as from outside. Let me mention just one: the claim of German bishops to doctrinal competence on divorce and remarriage, within Germany. This immediately involves a claim to a “divine right,” which cannot be diffused.

It will be further seen that the controversy, in its own day, went to the heart of the Protestant Reformation. Saint Robert Bellarmine’s role, from his first experience of teaching at the Catholic university of Louvain in Flanders, was to clarify the Catholic position for the benefit not only of the other side, but of the many Catholic priests who had acquired, through contemporary fashions, quite Protestant attitudes.

U.S. Americans, defending their own Constitution, should be aware that many of the arguments of Jefferson and Madison against the “divine right of George III” were in fact lifted from Bellarmine; and that for many other Founding Fathers, the whole idea of the USA was Bellarminian: to dethrone one version of this “divine right” without, via “democracy,” setting another up in its place. In other words, the actual authors of that Constitution held views directly opposed to the liberal-progressives who interpret it in American law courts today; and were, with respect to natural law, quaintly “catholic.”

I have touched quickly and in a dangerously summary way on only one aspect of Bellarmine himself. His mind was very broad and very deep, and his works will repay very close study. I wish that I had ever found the time, for even on the basis of a glancing acquaintance I have come to realize how much is there.

Notwithstanding, I doubt he was among “the greatest Popes we never had.” More than anything I think I would defend this extraordinary Jesuit for the insight he showed in declining, or more precisely, avoiding, the papacy itself. His Jesuit mission was on the front lines of intellectual and spiritual controversy. He was a catechist for all the ages. But the role of a Pope is different in kind. It is, surely, to defend the faith from any alteration, but with a serenity that omits any personal agenda. Indeed, I long thought (before 2013), that it was a mark of the profound wisdom of the Roman Church that no Jesuit had ever been seated upon the Throne of Peter. For at their best — which they are far from, today — the Jesuits are an order established to serve the Vicar of Christ, only. (You don’t make cops into judges.)

In his retirement from the world, in his seventies, Bellarmine did however write several remarkably serene tracts, including spiritual masterpieces which began with, The Ascent of the Mind to God. Written consciously in the tradition of the early seventh-century Saint John Climacus, and the thirteenth-century Saint Bonaventure, it provides what I think is not only an intellectual, but a mystical key to the entire Counter-Reformation, in whose wake we still bob.

It takes deadly seriously the primary commandment of Jesus Christ: that we love God, not negatively but positively, with our whole heart, our whole soul, and with our whole mind.

Of a maple sapling

In some ways, I will miss this planet (when my spaceship comes, and it is time to go). Not so much the people as the places and things.

(I’m assuming the people also move along.)

There was a moment, early this morning, when this thought came back to me, in a narrow urban laneway (among the garages, behind the houses) when the rising sun, shining briefly under overcast, caught an especially apt arrangement of leaves on a maple sapling, struggling for city space. The floral painting that could represent it is well beyond my powers; the effect was of something woven, like damask. The leaves themselves looked the part of young, shall we say callow, in vegetable nature’s terms. Yet something in the quality of morning light made them seem, suddenly, very ancient.

Now, maples (and I intend no patriotic jingo today) have been around, give or take, seventy million years, judging from the earliest known Acer fossil, found near here in eastern North America. But they truly flourished in the Miocene, perhaps fifty million years later, if we judge by volume. Or if we judge by eye, they are still going strong, in more than a hundred species.

You know me, I tend to be sceptical of evolutionist claims. I do not doubt the fossils look like maples, in bark and leaf, and some as if they fell yesterday, into strata aeons down. But the Design Angels love to play tricks, and will often make things look the same that are genetically very far apart. I join them in giggling at the theoreticians.

This little guy was an Acer saccharum, I think — a sugar maple. Though this being the city, and the pollution-loving Norways moving in, I’m sure I’ll be told I was dreaming. They (both sugars and Norways) have so much to say for themselves, in their richly understated way, especially when turned red in the autumn; but also in the spring when they subtly flower; or in the north woods, where the sugars meet with the birch to dance, dance, dance in the breeze. And their syrup is of course to die for, developed in His pantries by God’s most accomplished Culinary Angels to slide over melting butter on those divine buckwheat hotcakes.

But this is all beside the quality of the light, reflected from those shy young unfurléd leaves this morning, revealed to Lord Sol from the shade.

We cannot provide a “meaning” for such moments, that string together as beads through our lives. So many other “incidents” like that come back vividly to haunt us: time somehow worming out of time.

The young sugar maple himself offered no comment — none, at least, that I could hear — except to capture in a gesture the is-ness, the remarkable is-ness, of things down here.

Dark gentleman of the Sonnets

The unattributed quotations embedded in yesterday’s Idlepost were of course from Shakespeare, Sonnet 73. My head is full of that stuff at the moment, from trying to teach this author to startlingly intelligent and perceptive young (“traditionalist”) seminarians. The poet’s allusions to the ruined monasteries that punctuate the Tudor countryside are … poignant at the least.

The Sonnets were published late in Shakespeare’s career (1609) — by a clever and unscrupulous man. His name was Thomas Thorpe. He ran what was for the times a unique publishing business, playing games with “copyright” that were often unconscionable but, usually, this side of the law. He owned neither a printing press, nor a bookstall — two things that defined contemporary booksellers — subcontracting everything in his slippery way. Indeed, I would go beyond other observers, and describe him as a blackguard; and I think Will Shakespeare would agree with me. Though Shakespeare would add, “A witty and diverting blackguard.”

He collected these sonnets, quite certainly by Shakespeare, but written at much different times and for quite various occasions, from whatever well-oiled sources. Thorpe had a fine poetic ear, and knew what he was doing. He arranged the collection he’d amassed in the sequence we have inherited — 154 sonnets that seem to read consecutively, with “A Lover’s Complaint” tacked on as their envoi — then sold them as if this had been the author’s intention.

We have sonnets not later than 1591, interspersed with others 1607 or later. In one case (Sonnet 145), we have what I think is a love poem Shakespeare wrote about age eighteen, to a girl he was wooing: one Anne Hathaway. (She was twenty-seven.) It is crawling with puns, for instance on her name, and stylistically naïve, but has been placed within the “Dark Lady” sonnets (127 to 152) in a mildly plausible way. It hardly belongs there.

Indeed, once one sees this it becomes apparent, surveying the whole course, that there is rather more than one “Dark Lady” in the Sonnets, and that like most red-blooded men, our Will noticed quite a number of interesting women over his years. But Thorpe has folded them all into one for dramatic effect.

The teen-aged Shakespeare has not yet fully mastered his craft. His earliest plays, too, contain flaws and miscalculations and stylistic naiveté. This does not mean they weren’t written by Shakespeare. They also contain passages so striking that his authorship is unmistakable. Our own (scholarly) perception of this is clouded, because of our dependence on statistical tests: the use of vocabulary counts, for instance, to date passages. More useful and important, are considerations of lyrical craft and breadth (as Shakespeare grows older he breaks more and more rules, to more and more purposes), and the background themes. For like every other writer, regardless of genre, there are continuities from one work to another, more conscious than unconscious.

Confusion redounds because, while scholars may agree that some sonnets are “early,” and some “late,” they can’t be trusted to guess which are which. Some creative intelligence, or “gift,” is necessary to discern such things. College professors with tin ears and computers are not up to the task. Their “results” belong to the counting house, not to poetry, and should never be taken so seriously as they are (by other college professors).

Thorpe had this “gift,” and used it mischievously. The first seventeen sonnets are unquestionably an intentional sequence, written as they declare, to a “Fair Youth” — quite probably the Earl of Southampton — advising him to marry and thereby perpetuate his family and fame. The conceits, including celebration of male beauty, are perfectly Elizabethan, and have, incidentally, none of the “homo-erotic tendencies” we began to read into them the day before yesterday. If one considers, alone, the Elizabethan connotations of the word “brave,” one may begin to realize that qualities we dismiss as “fey” and “effete” — including the very appreciation of poetry and art — were formerly associated with true masculinity.

Mischief, Elizabethan not post-modern, comes fully into play beginning at Sonnet 18. This is Thorpe’s first bridge. He is extending that short sequence into something grander and thus more saleable. He wants the reader to think he has in his hands not a jumble of miscellaneous sonnets, but a great, unified work of art in the Petrarchan tradition. He relies on Shakespeare’s own genius for address (even his soliloquys focus as if upon a single auditor), and for story-telling (even when there is no story), to carry the impression of a self-revealing narrative — that continues not for 17, but as if 126 of the sonnets were all addressed to this tremendously significant “Fair Youth.”

They appear to be going somewhere, when they are not, and the break into the “Dark Lady” section, and the concluding pair of “cupid” emblem sonnets, give more of the show away. For they create, with the “Lover’s Complaint” hitched onto those, a structure no competent poet would consider: a tail, tacked on a tail, tacked on a tail, like The Human Centipede.

As a point of departure, I recommend a good book by the American jurisprude, John T. Noonan, Jr. It is entitled, Shakespeare’s Spiritual Sonnets (2011), and is the product of a lifetime of attentive and meditative reading. Noonan considers each sonnet on its own terms, to see what it is saying and to whom.

He finds, for instance, explicitly religious language in many places. And there is self-revelation of a religious kind. Here, often, is a Catholic poet confessing his own sins, in thought word and deed, and making his poor and yet free oblation, not to a general audience but intimately, to the sympathetic Catholic reader. Shakespeare is, Noonan says, writing to his own soul (sonnets 129 and 146); to the Church (74, 111, 112, 115, 116, 117, 119, and elsewhere); to the Virgin Mother (109, 110); to God in Christ (122, 125); to the Jesuits on mission (69, 70, 94). And most spectacularly, in Sonnet 73, the Church herself is speaking. For the arguments gentle reader must go fetch the book.

Whether or not each attribution is correct, we begin to appreciate the mess Thorpe has made of Shakespeare. But, too: why Shakespeare, though he must have been outraged by the use to which his private poems were put, could do nothing. He could not call attention to Thorpe’s imposture without also calling attention to his own secret life, beyond the edge of the publicly acceptable.

For he could be Catholic as William Byrd, and many other composers, poets, and artists, inside the Court, and thus under its protection, while out of public view. But in plain view on the streets of London after the “Gunpowder Plot,” and other anti-Catholic hysterias, one did not make a spectacle of Roman allegiance. That would be asking for it.

Shakespeare would take risk enough, when he was likely to get away with it. He allowed, for example, the publication of one of the strangest poems ever written. This was his “Phoenix and the Turtle,” contributed to an anthology entitled Love’s Martyr, show-casing leading poets of the day. On its surface it was one of several light allegorical treatments of a harmless theme; but under this surface it was not harmless.

This “first metaphysical poem in the English language” is an unearthly funeral lament. It seizes upon a reversal of convention agreed by all the authors: the phoenix is presented as female, the turtledove as male. The brief, mysterious narrative, and then the threnos (“wailing”) at its tail, are profoundly moving, yet incomprehensible as they stand. That is, until we have this clue: that it is a requiem for (Saint) Anne Line, hanged from the Tyburn gallows for having sheltered Catholic priests, along with two priests also hanged and then drawn and quartered. (Anne’s husband, Roger Line, who predeceased her, comes into it as well.) Suddenly the “love” that is being “martyred” is likewise reversed: a Love not conventional but mystical, the martyrdom not a conceit, but real.

Read now Sonnet 74, for another reflection of the same event (from February 1601), and note wordplay that includes a nervy pun on Anne’s surname.

Now, this is the sort of material Thomas Thorpe insinuated into The Sonnets, and passed off as high society perfume. He had a history of collecting and publishing works behind poets’ backs, sometimes callously exposing them to trouble, while himself wiggling smartly out of the line of fire.

This he does in the inscrutable dedication he attached to the collection. He made it seem that he was loyally serving interests above his station, when he was not. He wrote similarly elegant, self-serving prefaces to other works, too, stepping himself aside, as tabloid editors do today: pretending to serve some public interest when they are in it for the dime. This most famous dedication in English was his cutest pose. And the final joke is that it contains what he may pass off as a bad typo (“W.H.” for “W.S.”) — a little twist that has sent generations of college professors down bottomless rabbit holes searching for an “onlie begetter” who is, in reality, onlie Shakespeare himself. Given what we know of Thorpe, the typo had to be intentional, intended for some additional private mischief we will never be able to trace.

Ask the women

President Woodrow Wilson signed the legislation to create “Mother’s Day” in 1914, assigned to the second Sunday in May so it would not impinge upon commercial and bank schedules. The lady who had tirelessly campaigned for this sentimental, secular observance (Anna Jarvis, 1864–1948) then turned against it, as it became a boon for big business, starting with the Hallmark Card company. Instead of pausing to respect, they had found a new economic use for mothers. Her earlier efforts had a momentum that carried virally along, however, and International Mother’s Day spread to Canada, Mexico, Japan, everywhere, while she campaigned against it with ever-growing bitterness — finally dying in a lunatic asylum at West Chester, Pennsylvania.

When the U.S. Congress had been presented with the idea earlier (the first try was 1908), tasteless little jokes were made, such as a proposal for a matching “Mother-in-law’s Day.” I myself once proposed that the confusion with the socialist International Women’s Day could be clarified by observing both occasions — an International Biological Mother’s Day in May, preceded by an International Crazy Women’s Day in March that would specifically celebrate childless female social activists and harpies.

Alas, I lacked that “fire in the belly” which spreads so readily to the mind, and my proposal was stillborn. As any businessman will tell you, ideas are a dime a dozen, but the dedication to pursue an especially stupid one through every waking hour of a lifetime has some chance of being rewarded. Politicians might tell you this, too, but cannot afford to be so candid.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to motherhood, in principle, and in practice was quite fond of my own mother, and am capable of becoming sentimental on the topic. But as a Catholic, I am sceptical of all secular attempts to displace received liturgical traditions with post-humanist poppycock.

Your own mother is not a State Occasion.

We have motherhood well-covered in the cult of Mary, both abstractly and concretely; and crazy women, too, among our greatest saints — but turned redemptively to Heaven. Mothering is viewed within a supernatural order, in relation to the Father and the Son — and the Holy Spirit who abides in the fullness of human life. That is to say, the Church looks above the motherhood of nature, shared also by hedgehogs and raccoons. Her acknowledgement of motherhood, mystical and real, is set in every bead of the Rosary, and carried by such means back into everyday life.

There is however one class of human mothers who have been neglected by most Catholics in our time, with terrible consequences expressed as a “crisis of vocations.” The sterile Novus Ordo, or Banjo Church, glides lightly over the Marian occasions, accepts secularized conceptions of motherhood, and lacks instinctive reverence for the mothers of priests. The result is what we should have expected: churches closing, yet not enough priests to go round the ones we’re trying to keep open.

And those getting rather old now, less able to keep up with multiple parishes, with their own shrunken, aging congregations. (I read about this all the time.) And the mothers who produced those priests are long gone. And in their place, “the bare ruin’d quiers where late the sweet birds sang,” and the sands of time swirling, and “sun-set fadeth in the West, which by and by blacke night doth take away,” and the death wind howls: “the spirit of Vatican II.”

Who can withstand it?

Those not fully Catholic should think carefully through this, to understand how great that reverence, which filled those churches through the centuries, and provided them with priests enough to fill the monasteries, too. And on what it was founded. For next to God, a reverence for this woman: for Mary our first Mother, who brought forth Jesus, our Priest of priests: the very Incarnation. It is not a glide; it is the “fundament” part of fundamental.

Other reasons are often given for the “crisis,” but they are shallow, throwaway. They come from a culture that does not, incidentally, have much respect for mothers; which has demoted them in law to the status of legal guardians, on the State’s conditions; and having thus kicked motherhood in the shins, provides “Mothers Day” (pluralized, no longer possessive) as a vaguely feminist kiss on the forehead.

As Pius X explained, “A vocation comes from the heart of God, passing through the heart of a mother.” This is a very cogent explanation.

If becoming a Catholic priest is the last thing on earth a mother wants for her son, it is the unlikeliest thing she will get.

For it is not to the young men that we should make our first appeal, when we notice an abject priest shortage; rather to the mothers. They are the ones who produce our priests; they don’t make themselves. Heaven answers those who ask, and when mothers pray to beget and to raise priests for Holy Church, they and all Creation will get them.

There is a shortage of priests in the “New Church” because there is a shortage of Catholic mothers. (An acute shortage.)

But this, of course, is a “traditionalist” position, and circular in a sense. For there is no crisis of vocations in the traditionalist, Vetus Ordo congregations.

Chronicles of discardment

A recent visitor to the High Doganate — a woman, controversially enough — took out her omnicompetent hand-held device and began photographing the contents of my kitchen — cupboards, drawers, shelves, et cetera.

A man, I suggested, might have photographed my books. She smiled and agreed. Just as well, for one might be arrested for comments like that, today.

I was trying to make tea, and find something resembling “biscuits,” as the Queen calls them. But I had to keep standing out of the way, as this lady — who had begun by admiring my collection of hand-thrown pots, plates, bowls, cups, pitchers — in everyday use — went through the rest of the inventory. She claimed never to have seen anything like it.

“Really? I thought everyone did this.”

For she was struck by the Shaker-like fanaticism with which I had scoured all evidence of contemporary supermarket culture from my stores; as well as by the Christian-survivalist extent of them.

“You have too much time on your hands, David,” is what a man might have said, had he noticed. But women tend to criticize from other angles.

This one offered no criticism at all. She only wanted to take pictures. When I asked if she was finding everything in order, she said yes, it was like still-life compositions. That was why she was taking pictures, and might put them on her Facebook page.

Privacy is another concept conceived by men and women in different ways. But that, too, is an old observation, which long preceded my birth, and may thus be actionable today, in the zombie courts of political correction. Though not, I should think, for much longer.

“Do you wash the labels off everything?”

“No, sometimes I find a label so beautiful that I leave it on.”

“And the tins. How do you tell what’s in the tins?”

Easy. I own a pen called a Sharpie. It’s not as good as the Fisher Bullet Pen the astronauts use, which can write in zero gravity, underwater, through grease, on almost any surface, from any angle. But it costs considerably less, and can write on tins and bottle caps — quite elegantly, once one gets the hang of it.

I gave a demonstration. It was filmed.

She neglected to ask how I remove the gunk: labels that refuse to float off in the sink; splotches of glue still adhering; other irritations. The answer would have been, with a razor scraper, wire wool, and in extreme cases, lighter fluid or other efficient household solvents. For I will not be defeated.

Instead I was asked, “When did you start doing this, and why?”

Those were two questions, so I broke them down. I acquired the habit from my father in childhood. He liked to put his own labels on things. This unclutters a workshop, and makes everything easier to find. He did not impose this practice in my mother’s kitchen, however. Though he did have to restrain himself.

I do it partly for that reason, but mostly from hatred of loud advertising, and modern food labels are ugly and shout. Moreover, as argued Henry John Heinz (1844–1919, lord of ketchup and baked beans, though he began with horseradish), properly canned food looks good under glass. The customer sees the goods, not a field of wordy blather. They should not pain his eyes.

Verily, I remember this, too, from childhood: the beauty of my grandmother’s shelves in winter, groaning under the harvest, packed into preserves, all discreetly hand-labelled. The wonderful “ambiance” of the old summer and winter kitchens we had in Cape Breton, and in Upper Canada, prior to the triumph of Mass Man, and the occupation of our country by liberal-progressive robots. Indeed, one could find serene and homely kitchens, all over the world, before “labour saving” added so much to our labour.

Any fragment of those arrangements must be sustained. Anything, however humble, that can serve to restore a memory of the human, and of the sanctity in everyday life, should be done by intentionally acquired habit. The noise of commercialism should be muffled, when possible, the flash of salesmanship brushed away. Because it is vile.

It is the same reason I discard dustwrappers from books, but that is an Idlepost for another day.


Three score years and ten is long enough to see out most human lives. My throat catches this morning in remembrance of so many from the day — 8th May 1945. Now gone under the earth. Not everyone was on their best behaviour that day, understandably. But the Germans had capitulated, the West was Won, and the bells rang out from the church steeples. The moment was finally at hand,

When the lights come on again
All over the world,
And the ships sail home again
All over the world:
And rain or snow is all
That may fall …

Brian Stewart, one of the few Canadian journalists I genuinely admire, came out of his semi-retirement this morning to report from Apeldoorn for his old CBC. A very fine, brave, kindly and perceptive man — no fool — who has seen it all in war zones. I have taken my key point from him, for it echoes what I heard long ago: about “swaggering.”

It wasn’t only the liberation, but what our boys did after, in that devastated country. The Netherlands — but Canadians call her “Holland” — had suffered proportionally more than any other country the Wehrmacht had crushed and occupied, and would continue to suffer — famine — after their final defeat. The bastards blew the dikes to slow our allied advance. Breached, the lands flooded; … deaths heaped on deaths.

Victory is sweet, but there was no swagger, from the Dutch still mired in Hell.

And memorably, neither from our boys, who had liberated them. They didn’t swagger. Instead, they set down their guns and their helmets and went to work — spontaneously, voluntarily, on the enormous task of repair; of fixing the dikes and clearing the farms of salt-mud and debris. Of breaking the stones, and smoothing the roads, and shifting the rubble. The food bags, too, were starting to arrive, from Canada and the States — the tins and boxes; the cigarettes and medical supplies; and the candy, for the little children.

This wasn’t the Marshall Plan. It was three years before that. The Royal Canadian Air Force was dropping food from the sky, as fast as it could. (Our pilots read, “Thank you Canadians!” on rooftops.) Crates and drums were being discharged through the busted ports, wheat and flour from our Prairies. Yet thousands were still perishing from hunger.

And more: all the stuff sent by unorganized people, to wherever they thought it would do some good; to Germany as well as Holland; to wherever people must be desperate and starving. And back home our boys’ own families were throwing themselves into action, packing and shipping; and slipping in the letters of love and encouragement to strangers and new friends over the sea.

We were already hand-in-glove with the Dutch, from sheltering their royal family in exile. The magnificent Queen Wilhelmina, scourge of politicians (Churchill called her “the only real man” among all the exiled governors in London), no longer speaking in the nights, through the radio. For she had returned, to a rapturous welcome. And now, too, their little princess — Margriet Francisca — born in Ottawa Civic Hospital, in a maternity ward that had been declared Dutch sovereign territory for the occasion.

Every year, the tulips still come from Holland to decorate our Parliament Hill. And Dutch kids are still taught in school how to sing, “O Canada.”

Restoring the landscape, the buildings, the farms, after terrible war, was no comfortable task. But as I know from my father’s generation, our guys were well suited to it. Mostly they were … well, farmboys from Ontario, and Saskatchewan, and other flat places. They knew what work was, and how it was done. They’d done their child labour through the Depression, then grown up for War. They had attributes inconceivable to “the youff of today,” or to my own bourgeois-hippie generation. Their religion was serious, Protestant, practical, face value. (I have a tiny collection of the three-ounce New Testaments they carried, into battle and out.) They knew how to take their hats off, and when to grab an old lady’s arm. They were not complainers.

And the Dutch people they met, they loved; the more for sharing so many of the same traits, plus one that is truly divine. The Dutch were grateful. As Brian Stewart says, from his impressively broad experience, this is a rare quality in world affairs.

They haven’t changed, towards us. Seventy years later, a handful of these old nonagenarians of ours, walking a few paces if they can, taking lifts in old trucks when they can’t, for miles — are mobbed by schoolchildren with flowers. The anniversary parades at Apeldoorn, at five-year intervals over the years, meant everything to our soldiers. I think of one of those old Vets (now dead), who went there in 1995. The way he put it was, “We’re goin’ home to Holland.”

Of course, by now, there’s hardly a survivor who ain’t gone home for the last time; for one last loving look.


Very busy today, as gentle reader will understand, better if I don’t explain it.

But let me add, it isn’t necessary to stay up all night for the British election results (then all the next day too, if you live in Britain). The exit poll has been published, and I find that quite acceptable. Conservatives hold, a little short of a majority; Labour bleed to Nationalists in Scotland, and to UKIP in the North; Liberal Democrats wiped almost to extinction; Greens with maximum two seats. That is about the best I could hope for. …

Well, UKIP sweep Labour into third place would be better, but we must be reasonable in our prayers.

Better, anyway, than the election in Alberta, which we won’t talk about.

(It was a repeat of the Ontario election of 1990, when the Socialists fluked in here, after a similar Premier spent six weeks making “the people” want to hurt him. It hardly meant they had turned Left, as I explained to some excitables in the Wall Street Journal: “It takes more than six weeks to make a Socialist. It takes a whole unhappy childhood.”)

Besides, the best part of any British election is the comments. I recommend those at the Daily Telegraph website especially, but even at the Guardian they’re usually pretty good — and a lesson to Internet trolls everywhere, on how to be rude and obnoxious without sacrificing standards of wit and entertainment. Some of them are even informative, helping to walk the average voter through the procedural subtleties.

Such as: “They can’t give results until the votes are counted.”

My favourite picture so far, not obviously photo-shopped, shows a flyer distributed by some Islamic fanatic group. It sports quite alarming typography (in English), and warns Muslims not to vote for “man-made laws.” This would constitute the sin of shirk, a form of idolatry.

Were I on Team Tory I’d be tempted to print extra copies, to distribute in all the swing ridings.

On second thought, I might actually agree with it. Man-made law is the pits. (This, to my mind, would include Shariah.)

Indeed, Catholics shouldn’t vote, either. (This would further increase the Tory margin.)

Indeed, no one should vote: for as I’ve said all along, it only encourages the bastards. Leave the result to the backwood hicks — the ones who somehow didn’t get the message.

Against the simpletons

Perhaps the most irritating argument for “gay” is “changing public attitudes.” It is the chief argument used from liberal pulpits, in both church and media. It comes down to this: Once upon a time, people took slavery for granted, or cruelty to animals, or many other wicked things. We would justify them by the Bible, in the old days. But today we know better!

This is pure charlatanry, though to be fair, the people who make this argument sometimes believe it. And when they do, they may be extenuated insofar as they are invincibly ignorant — of history.

Opposition to, and voluntary rejection of, the ancient pagan institution of slavery, came in with Christianity itself. It was hardly new to the Age of the Enlightenment, seventeen centuries later. But to know this requires some familiarity with what is popularly dismissed as “The Dark Ages” — in fact arguably the most interesting period of history, for it was the time when by far the greatest of all historical civilizations was in bold and rapid formation.

A remarkable feature of the centuries of transition between what we now call “Ancient” and “Mediaeval” was the disappearance of slavery in the West, even in primitive material circumstances which outwardly should have favoured it. For Christianity itself presented a new understanding of the human being, as something radically separated from the rest of nature; of the human soul as having absolute value, and immortality. No human being could be looked upon as mere beast or personal chattel, no matter how low fallen in estate.

It was the completeness of the Roman collapse in the West that hastened this change in “public attitudes.” Christianity filled something more like a void; made converts among the hordes of invading Huns and Vandals who did not cling to the pagan Roman ways.

By contrast, in the more developed or sophisticated societies farther to the East, where old Rome had not entirely fallen, slavery took longer a-dying; and was then resuscitated within the realms the Arabs conquered. This is not meant only as a condemnation of Islam. It is almost a backhand compliment. Many of the attitudes we casually dismiss as “primitive” and “backward” in Islamic society are actually survivals from the ancient, highly urbane and metropolitan world of the pagan Greeks. This includes, for instance, the veiling of women, as well as taking the institution of slavery for granted.

Moreover, the revival of slavery in the West is a modern, very secular phenomenon — consistently opposed, in New World as in Old, by the priestly agents of Holy Church. Many do not realize this because they define modernity the way Philip Larkin did in “Annus Mirabilis”:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me) —
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

Slavery, like sexual intercourse, is in fact rather older. It already existed in the New World. But in its “modern” form it came instead post-Columbus to the broader New World in which we have since lived — in the West that has transformed, but also been transformed by, the rest of the planet. (We usually overlook these latter phenomena.)

United States Americans fall more easily for the glib idea of “social progress” because their historical sense is the more tightly constrained by their own rather unusual, and entirely modern, national history. This America, like Brazil, began in plantations: enterprises requiring mass unskilled labour. Yet even within the New World, there are complexities.

Ontario takes pride in claiming to be the first jurisdiction in the world to formally and legislatively “abolish slavery,” soon after our founding as Upper Canada. But the claim is ludicrous. We may have been the first Protestant jurisdiction to do so, but slavery was quite illegal in, for instance, the Papal States of Italy long before that, and was extinct by custom throughout mediaeval Europe. Too, the North of North America was not plantation country. (The “wheat mining” of Ontario came later.) It was easy enough for us to do without the slaves we did not then need.

Even so, Governor Simcoe’s Act Against Slavery, passed in 1793, was not quite pure moral exhibitionism, for it was intended to prevent Loyalist refugees from the U.S. South from importing the institution of slavery with them. (There were less than twenty nominal slaves in Upper Canada at the time.) It was also phrased as a piece of unambiguously Christian legislation.

Through Europe slavery remained rare even where made legal. It was looked upon with intense distaste, in jurisdictions both Protestant and Catholic.

In Elizabethan London, for instance, there were hundreds, possibly several thousand “blacke moores” — from West Africa and as far afield as the East Indies. Many were employed as servants, but so were many whites; all were free men in the eye of common law, inherited from the Middle Ages. Others, curiously enough, found remunerative employment as musicians and strolling players — the idea that blacks make superior musicians goes back very far. Still others were successful businessmen and traders, and some rose to considerable height in society. In fact, the presence of Africans in parish records goes back to the earliest Tudor times.

“Theatre is a white invention, a European invention, and white people go to it. It’s in their DNA. It starts with Shakespeare.”

This typically bigoted statement, from a white liberal (Janet Suzman), belies the universality of theatre in all human culture. But coming from a Shakespearean actress, it also overlooks the two major characters in Shakespeare’s plays who are unmistakably black (Othello in Othello, and also Aaron in Titus Andronicus). They are hardly interchangeable.

We should take this in. We should also begin to grasp that Doctor Johnson’s disgust with the American “drivers of negroes” is not some new-found liberal pose. (Johnson was allergic to such canting.) It is classically Christian.

In the American Civil War, within the old South, as well as the caricatures of the South in the propaganda of the North, we find confusion between two features of Southern society that have melded. One is slavery, which often pricked the conscience of e.g. the Virginians, who hesitated to take the Southern side until, in effect, Lincoln forced them into it — for the very reason raised in the Virginia legislature: that slavery is no worthy cause. The other was the strongly aristocratic nature of Southern society. Having melded, these two features were tarred with the same brush. We deal today with the fallout in American public attitudes: an excessive and often hypocritical egalitarianism, that only pretends to be Jacksonian.

Virginia’s gentry felt guilty about the slaves, as we see in the writings of America’s Founding Fathers. But they were also appalled by the yobbishly democratic, Northern notion that they should be treated as socially equal to the “poor whites.” As indeed New England gentry would have been appalled, had the same oppression been visited upon them.

I mention this much not to close the argument, but to open it in all of its splendid variety. For the idea that history can be reduced to a linear progression of “public attitudes” is as moronic, as its application is evil. To be sure, public attitudes can change, as I in my own generation have seen all around me, in the form of descent via irreligion into moral squalor. It does not follow that they change consistently for the better; nor that the changes are unrelated to publicly-articulated philosophical or theological beliefs, whether deep or, as in our case, mudpuddle shallow.

The  modern opposition to slavery was unambiguously Christian. It had in fact been Christian all along. The modern liberal rides a Christian heritage, and claims what looks good to him as recent, and his own. But his claims depend on historical ignorance, and an accompanying incuriosity. In turn it requires, to be sustained among the larger public, the teaching of false and narrow history in the State’s schools, and the suppression through politically-correct hysteria of all intelligent debate.

It is the same with the social history of homosexuality. This is a vastly more complex, and also more interesting topic, than the moral and intellectual simpletons of liberalism can afford to allow.

The mercy game

The Church, I said yesterday, or strongly implied, is being bought off by moral exhibitionists, of the sort who lead the world not to Heaven’s Gate in Jerusalem Wall, but instead to the Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore. That is to say, we have clerics and apologists like politicians, eager to embrace progressive causes, and posturing on behalf of various political “clients” — the statistically poor, environmentalist neurotics, the sexually disordered, &c. It is a mercy game, in which a rudely unCatholic definition of “mercy” is set into conflict with the most elementary requirements of justice — which, in human affairs, can be determined only case by case, according to laws well established, because long universally subscribed.

“Class mercy” we might also call this: the idea that people should be forgiven for sins not of commission or omission, but with respect to their class, collectively, and whenever possible, in advance; that they should then be cast as “victims,” lionized, subsidized, encouraged and rewarded. For class mercy is progressive mercy. It is “an evolution of society.” What was conceded yesterday is inadequate today; today’s gifts will be inadequate tomorrow.

The correct word for this is “licence,” however; and the result of it, in 100 percent of cases, is the relaxation and confusion of all moral standards. For the recipients of largesse, acquired as if by right and entitlement, will never be satisfied with the amount, and will riot and loot for more, “progressively” — in whatever currency, from cash to new laws.

Our Nanny State was founded on this liberal interpretation of “mercy,” and will invariably reveal its heart, in the prosecution of a “justice” that is false mercy’s flip side. We have a system of politically-organized looting, in which charity has no place at all, and class beneficiaries are appointed to receive the goods of what they view as their class enemies, through invasive and eventually sadistic taxation. Every scheme to relieve “the poor,” or “the planet,” now emanating even from Rome, assumes the proliferation of immense and labyrinthine Kafkaesque bureaucracies to deliver “class mercy,” or enforce “class justice.”

And this a full generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The moral exhibitionists in the Church vie to board the bandwagons, and egg the liberal politicians along, in the direction they are already travelling. They speak in empty ideological abstractions (even while using “ideology” as a term of abuse to any who resist them).

But more than anything else they pose, in words and gestures, to show us how humble and selfless they are, how kind and generous, how open-minded and approachable, what “a breath of fresh air.” While inwardly they are ravening wolves, and behind their pretty façades, ruthless.

Fortunately, as I suggested, the Church is not the State. She is not for sale in the same way the State will always be for sale. A generation of vipers will pass, and Christ restores His own again, as He has done on all previous occasions, these last two thousand years — returning the Church to her proper business, in the salvation of souls.

This has always included the care of the poor, the sick, the disabled, the old, the tired, the hopeless, the doubting, the strayed. But all these tasks are one by one, and one on one. For God has created each living man ensouled, not as member of a class, as for example ants and termites, but as a class or universe in himself — each man, in body and soul united, an instance of “special creation.” That is, to my reasonably confident understanding, the teaching of Holy Church through all generations, and it is the reason why all genuinely Catholic eleemosynary institutions required voluntary, not legislated acts.

We, Catholics, all Christians, and verily all people are called to help each other when and where we can, and many of us to devote our lives to some focused service — as, for example, the Catholic sisters who invented and long dominated the profession of nursing. Not cash transfers, but service in kind — addressed to each specific need, and delivered with an absolute minimum of arbitrary and wasteful bureaucracy, and often none at all.

By increments, through the twentieth century, the Church in the West surrendered her most important worldly tasks to the State, or more often had them taken from her. And now, in the twenty-first, our own shepherds forget this magnificent heritage, and rather than try to resume it, they strike empty poses. “The State must do more, the State must spend more, the State must become more committed!”

But all the State provides is abortions, both literally and by analogy in every other field of its enterprise. For take away the motive of charity, which is not a scheme but an animation, and that is what remains: Procrustean “solutions” to everything that passes the State’s way.

Human sin, misfortune and misadventure, has never been a “class problem,” except insofar as all human beings belong to the same class — for all are sinners, and in earthly terms, all come to a bad end in death. The virtues associated with Mercy and Justice are facets of a Christian response — to itemized human sins, and uniquely experienced sorrows.

The cure of souls, as the cure of bodies, can only be done one soul at a time, and without Love it will canker.

Marketplace of ideas

The first thing to know about the Church, is that she’s not for sale. So, too, the principles upon which Western Civilization was erected. We aren’t in a “marketplace of ideas.” If they are true, they are not fungible; if they are false, they are worthless.

I don’t just mean, sold for money. Many currencies are used to obtain things in this world, and money is among the cleanest: it can be seen, quantified, and accepted or rejected. Most financial corruption is straightforward. There is no difficulty in discovering the motive. The people who do it may lead otherwise commendable lives. That is, if you think bourgeois is commendable.

And the poor often make good, honest thieves. I was reminded of this by a wallet thief in Parkdale, recently — or “cutpurse,” as we would have called him, a couple of centuries ago, when the craft standards in this trade were higher. All he wanted was the cash. The cards he couldn’t use: they were cancelled too quickly, and those with pictures on them a waste of his precious time. So he left the wallet where it was likely to be returned to its owner. I’m sure he thinks himself a fine, decent, conscientious fellow for having done this. The hippies always taught, “Take only what you need.” Though had he been more of an antiquarian, he might have realized the wallet itself was worth more than the cash it contained.

Violence is also a currency, as Messrs Daish, Qaeda, Boko Haram, &c, remind us every day. It can be more efficient than money in getting what you want, and is quicker than queueing, though like money it requires good management to get the best results. Which is just where psychopaths most frequently go wrong: they do not think ahead.

Even violence may seem clean compared to other twists. I have come to think moral posturing is the dirtiest of all currencies or persuaders. It has the largest fallout. By mimicking the good, and providing cover for bad behaviour, it spreads. Hypocrisy comes into this: most, if not all who present themselves as moral exemplars are hypocrites, indeed: but hypocrisies can be exposed and derided. Rather, I think, the moral exhibitionism is the primary evil. It invites applause, and with applause, imitation.

In the world of media and politics I have passed through, the biggest rewards were available almost exclusively to stuntmen (and stuntwomen) of this kind. Few of the most successful, it seemed to me, were in it for money alone; though few failed to see the main chances. Often, vanity got the better of them: they did not see the shoals in the course of self-promotion. For many, it was a short journey, to where something more mephitic came into play; something like a desire to be worshipped. Causes they might think they served, but they weren’t much moved by the consequences.

This is what was on display in Baltimore last week, and has been in many American inner cities. The looting and rioting is done by small people who “don’t know any better” when an opportunity comes to hand. The cost is much less in immediate property damage, than in the loss of order over time, which will be theirs to pay. They are not manipulators, but manipulees.

Like most inner cities, Baltimore has been governed by moral exhibitionists for generations, now. One may watch the city’s current progressive lords performing for the television cameras, delivering their scapegoats for prosecution and trial. It isn’t really necessary to name names, when one is referring to a whole political class, of progressive Democrats (and the occasional progressive Republican for variety) who create and keep the underclass in their places, cultivating their envies and resentments, and then directing them for use as voting fodder.

If these people — the looters and rioters — had genuine friends, they would be told to get a life, by adage and example. The lessons would correspond roughly with the Ten Commandments. They should be told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; that God is not merciful with liars and thieves and other malefactors. That God is the worst enemy you can have; or should you choose, the most reliable friend.

They should be told a good start would be: cut yourself off welfare. I am not being empirical here: welfare is not extrinsic but intrinsic to the spread of crime. This is not only because it makes you fat and lazy, though it usually does that. It is instead because welfare is evil in itself: it is organized looting by political means. It is what keeps evil men in power.

Note that these prescriptions are moral, not economic. That they happen to be more consonant with economic nature, than the prescriptions they contradict, is hardly a coincidence — as will be seen from the moment that nature’s God is solemnly acknowledged, and begins to be obeyed. For in the end, they are His prescriptions, and in the end, they make sense.


As postscript, I feel the same disappointment in Michael Coren’s widely publicized defection from the Catholic Church, as I do in progressive politicians. He told us Why Catholics Are Right in a recent book, was a popular parish speaker, an effective TV host, and far my superior in the art of nurturing a sympathetic audience. But now he has “moved on.”

He will now tell a new audience what they want to hear: that acts like sodomy are “loving” and okay; that religious opposition to sins of the flesh, ranging from contraception to same-sex marriage, is mean and antiquated; that those who, often at great personal cost, still try to uphold received doctrines that have animated Christendom through twenty centuries, may be despised as “haters.” He rightly judges that the Catholic Church is set in her ways: that she will never change her principles. Therefore he goes to those who will keep their principles up to date.

To some, this stasis — this insistence on a moral and spiritual order that cannot be altered by men, nor by a God who is self-consistent — makes the Catholic Church a dead end. To others, it is actually liberating, to stand for the right, regardless of the numbers; regardless, finally, even of the cost.

Pray please for Michael, whom I have known for thirty years. Reliable Catholic he may not be, but he is sincerely God-haunted, for better and for worse. Pray also for those who put their trust in him.

And let us, too, with Saint Thomas More, pray that we may yet, “hereafter in Heaven, merrily all meet together, to our everlasting salvation.”

It’s a girl

“Historic princess will be first to benefit from new succession rules,” it sez here, above the streaming headline in some tabloid somewhere, glimpsed via Internet. Did not read story; knew it already. Newspaper headlines today tell us things we already know, or more likely, things we already know to be false. But in this case: true enough. Except that the word “benefit” is a lie.

Welcome to Earth, HRH Princess X of Cambridge!

They should ask the kid’s great-grandmother what the benefits are of being Queen of England, or any other place. She’s a brick (in the good sense). She would never answer.

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” according to my friend Will Shakespeare. There are various other passages in which he reflects a mediaeval view of monarchy and power. It is true, there are men who would be king, who have the ambition for it. These are monsters whom we must keep away from power. Some of them might even be women. How perverse is that?

But even such monsters once knew better than to think kingship a slice of cake, a life of luxury. And few would be so foolish to seek it for that end. You might have every worldly pleasure it is possible to command, but you will not have a moment to enjoy it.

“It must be nice.” … This sordid, lower-class English expression is designed to convey the speaker’s envy for, and resentment of, his betters. My sympathies are immediately engaged with his betters. Some gamekeeper should be asked how the peasant was able to look over the wall.

Power is ugly, the powerful are ugly, but the people who want and envy power are uglier.

Mere wealth, to the contrary, can be relatively pretty. But as Our Lord averred, there is a problem even with that. This goes beyond its transactional value, for it is true that wealth can buy power, as I have been made many times aware. (And power can, of course, appropriate wealth.) “Offer it up,” is my self-advice, on occasions when I feel myself aggrieved; or as we say today, “suck it up.” The world has always been thus. People expecting justice in this place have landed on the wrong planet. (Anecdotes to follow.)

More fundamentally, however, wealth is a distraction, great wealth is a great distraction, and power is a positive vexation. Quite apart from any evil embedded within the desire, the person who lives for either is a fool. He cannot know what he is getting into.

The wet sea-boy, a-perch the mast, sleeps soundlier above rude wind and wave. “Then happy low, lie down!”

Hardly a month out from Easter — Queen Moon last night, nearly full in her sky, riding in her majesty past the gliding entourage of stars. And this is where we are. The most arrant nonsense printed in the tabloids, as if no one had learnt a thing these last two thousand years. … Pshaw!

Surely it is time for us to sing unto the Lord a new song; to Him who hath revealed His justice in the sight of the Gentiles, &c. (See Introit for Old Mass, Fourth Sunday in Easter, &c.)

Oyster sauce chronicles

There are three essential ingredients in a Chinese oyster sauce, so far as I can make out from the labels: oyster juice, sugar, and monosodium glutamate. Corn starch is needed to adjust the texture, but I should think rice or potato starch might serve equally well.

In the Chinatown grocery I most frequent, bottles of this delicious substance are available for around two dollars each. But I found one brand in a special section — marked in Chinese, I had thought, for a “sale” — that was six dollars. The label included a delightful wood-engraved depiction of an oyster, from which I guessed what the bottle must contain. It was set within classical Chinese typography (no simplified characters). Judge the book by its cover!

Now, don’t get me wrong. The venerable Hong Kong company, Lee Kum Kee, which has, over the last six generations, built a fortune on oyster sauce, and at least fifty-seven other popular sauces and condiments, so that it might be considered China’s answer to Heinz, makes a very acceptable oyster sauce for around two dollars. And for a fact I know it is bottled under hygienic factory conditions, or was when (as a hack business journalist) I once visited one of their plants. I will offer no criticism of this worthy commercial establishment.

And while I do not know this for a fact, I did once purchase a cheaper variety of oyster sauce, which could not have been made from oysters. Perhaps some more plentiful marine mollusc was inducted, to provide a “fishy” taste, but I doubt even that. From the aftertaste, I’d have guessed industrial by-products from some other Mainland source. It did prove an excellent toilet cleaner, but I wouldn’t use it on counters.

Never cut corners like this yourself, gentle reader! If the market rate for a substance is around two dollars, acclimatize yourself to the expenditure. Less will not be more — not in the world of food processing and packaging!

Conversely, I found the idea of paying six dollars for a bottle of oyster sauce too attractive to pass up.  My reasoning was, that if I could derive such pleasure as I had from the basic commercial product, what ecstasies might await at treble the price?

Too, this more expensive variety had been slipt to the shelves in an admirable way. The bottle entirely ignored Canadian labelling requirements, including the usual incomprehensible health and nutritional warnings, and made no use of either official language. It had to be good.

And it was, … and I am writing this only to express my lament that the bottle is now empty, and my regret that its fellows are now removed from display in Chinatown, perhaps by our NFG (national food gestapo), so that I have no idea where to find another.

There was indeed no list of ingredients on that bottle that I could discover — though my Chinese is imperfect — so I am left to speculate what the secret was. Here, if gentle reader will permit, is my theory of the matter.

It is that, the bottle contained oyster, and nothing but oyster, patiently reduced and carmelized, conferring an enchantingly natural sweetness, with nothing superadded except, of course, salts from the seawater employed in the boiling.

That, it had been made from intentionally selected, superior specimens of the beautifully elongated and large Crassostrea angulata — the oriental oyster par excellence — probably sun-dried in preparation.

That, there was no hurrying in the course of this preparation.

That, for the very love of a fine oyster sauce, a great deal of attentive labour had gone into the production, by men of skill and experience and indifference to competition.

Well, as they say, that’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.

Down lunchpails

If I deviate from my admired R.S. ever or at all, it is because from my own “life experience” I cannot derive any pleasure from leftist twinkling. This is a slippage I have observed in many otherwise reliable dinosaurs. I attribute it to the drought of fashion. That is, we (dinosaurs) are always out of fashion. The twinkle comes when we see an opportunity to strike a transgressive, progressive pose, and therefore put ourselves in fashion with the smuglies, if only for a nanosecond. We seize upon it, as a dinosaur would, on something very small. But there is never much protein in the thing, and soon we must resume the hunt for something bigger and chewier.

I give initials, not a name, because examples are legion, and why should I pick on one guy who happens to be the most recent to annoy me? We see it in church pulpit as well as in politics: the soi-disant “conservative” who makes a spectacle of his one liberal view. If he lives in, say, Washington, and makes enough of it, he may still get invited to some parties. The Enemy will remember his little peep of statism or feminism or environmentalism or anti-Semitism or whatever it may be, and ignore everything else he says. He will be called, perhaps even to appear on television sometimes, but only to show that “even R.S. thinks we ought to” … euthanize our grannies, or what have you.

May Morning is when they all come out.

Had I not been criticized myself, for doing something of the kind this morning in my column over at Catholic Thing (here), I would perhaps not mention this. I stand accused (not publicly, just in email) of sympathizing with liturgical reform. I allowed that Pope Pius XII might have had good intentions, when he tried to appropriate the socialist May Day for Holy Church with his new feast of “Saint Joseph the Workman,” which replaced “Pip’n’Jim” in the missals for this day, back in 1955. That is, the venerable Feast of Saints Philip and James, Apostles, was displaced (to May 11th), to accommodate this papal wink to the labouring masses.

His Late Holiness ran that up the pole (“1st class – white”), but hardly anyone saluted. In the Novus Ordo it is now downplayed, but we’re stuck with it in the 1962 missal for the Extraordinary Form. … Aheu! … Father Hunwicke explains how to get around it, however, with a quick feint to Ordinariate usage (see here). … Bravo, bravo!

In general, it is a mistake to play to anyone else’s agenda. Let them play to ours. Our agenda is transcendence and salvation. It is not global warming or “workers of the world.”

For as I tried to hint in my Thing squibble, there is no call for celebration of “workers,” per, as it were, se. They labour for cash, and for cash alone. Who would work on a production line, in factory or office, if he (or she, alas) didn’t need the wages? We may empathize with slaves, including wage slaves, but must stop short of celebrating the institution of slavery. The whole scheme of Capitalism and Socialism, of Management and Labour, needs to be reviewed.

And I say, godspeed to that, and by all means let Saint Joseph the Carpenter help us show the way. Work, in a necessary craft, out of one’s own house, making use no doubt of available child labour, is the ancient and honourable way to proceed. We could start by striking down all the labour laws and city by-laws that make this impracticable, trash the income tax and so forth. For note, that the surrogate father of Our Lord was not homogenized. A carpenter, perhaps even a joiner, and thus a guildsman, a craftsman; not a “worker” waiting for a strike. There was no lunchpail in that scene.

But we could think about all this some other day. In the meantime, give us back May Morning.