Halls of memory

My thanks, and whispered blessings upon all who have sent money and/or kind words in response to this week’s earnest fundraiser. I am much encouraged, and will of course continue in this idle pursuit. Several of you have mentioned that you don’t and won’t have “PayPal” accounts, or would contribute. Before my next begging letter, I promise to find other ways for you to slip me cash. To the gentleman who said he’d have sent me a thousand USA dollars, but gave it to the Trompe campaign instead, a lively “Buzz, buzz!” (That would be the Elizabethan for a raspberry.)

“If we fail in our esteem of those who confer benefits on us, the good that is done among us would be as nothing.” (Gottfried von Strassburg to his gentle reader, eight centuries ago.)


The piece I wrote for Catholic Thing yesterday, on the shriek of advertising (see here), will serve as confession for what I have been up to. It is again the season of the autumn book sales in the major colleges of the University of Toronto. As I hinted, it is not simply the appearance of so many used books that attracts me, but the echo of generations, through the halls where they are held — the ghostly presence among scholars young and old, of those dead and long dead. Not only in Toronto, but in London, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Paris and elsewhere, I have visited such fairs, and mixed with these fellow readers. Too, it is not only low prices, but the scattering of books now hard to find; books for which the “market” today may have shrunk to a small handful. Among tens of thousands of old (and usually out-of-print) tomes, spread upon the tables, real “finds” will always be lurking, to which new memories will immediately affix; and so we may add the excitement of the chase.

One should look for good news, where it may be available, and while I’ve noticed the crowds at these fairs grow smaller year to year, I do not think that they are ageing. Few of the young want to read at all, but those who do have tried electronics, and are returning to the printed object. This is inevitable, for they are apt to rediscover the advantage of keeping physical books: not only for their “content” but for their associations. A book, like a man’s soul, wants to animate a body. A personal library is a hall of memories, a filing system not only for words, but for everything each book has touched through our senses five. My friend Maureen Mullarkey put this well recently. (Here.)

God makes a portion of each generation intelligent well above the average, and despite the best efforts of our state school systems, His handiwork is hard to suppress. The task of the modern progressive university is therefore to corrupt and unbalance the intelligent; to pit their minds against their common sense; to adapt their brains as a useful putty — a kind of “semtex” or plastic explosive to press into the folds and corners of the society the progressive must destroy to rule.

Yet even in the ruins, some will be rebuilding; and even in the shadows, as in these fairs, old books are read and exchanged, and the genuine life of the mind continues. The censoring agencies of “liberal fascism” (more precise, I think, than “politically correct”) ice each field; but underground, the roots of civilization abide the long winter.

Moreover, the ambitions of our political masters must be sustained. A new generation arises, and they must idiotize and demoralize anew. Eventually they get lazy, distracted, forgetful. With age, their ruthlessness trickles away, and in the end, death beats them.

This is my principal, generic hope for the future within Time: the extraordinary power of nature, including human nature, to recover from abuse. And through dark generations, pockets of decency will persist, wherein the good is recognized as good, the true as true, and the beautiful as beautiful — regardless of what progressive legislators try to override. And though they be punished, men will know their Saviour.

Love, through Grace, will continue its work in the hearts of men, including the evil. Living, we can never be sure that the worst malefactor is finally condemned. For God did not create a world in which means to redemption were not readily at hand.

This is the old saw, of our Christian civilization, down but not out. Through Christ we can know something of the Trinitarian Godhead. We know, by the theology He taught, and the wise have comprehended, that God is not petty; that He has not set us up to fall; that our freedom is real and not one of us was predestined to damnation; that we may refuse complicity in wrong, and instead participate in the eternal Gloria. Though it seem in our time the demonic is prevailing, it cannot win.

And this is all set out in books, waiting for us to find them.