In praise of the lash

In his valuable anthology of Invective and Abuse, Hugh Kingsmill noted that our most popular (secular) “apostles of love” are an irascible lot. He was discussing at the time “Tolstoi and Dostoieffsky,” but was about to quote some choice epithets with which William Blake splattered his contemporaries.

My own attachment to Jerome might touch on the religious aspect. The Latin Father from Stridon, in addition to his spectacular translations in our Vulgate from the Greek (he moved to Jerusalem for his mastery of Hebrew), was conspicuous even in his own times. He was notorious for tearing stripes off people. We have Heaven’s assurance that this was overlooked, however, for how did he become a Saint?

Notwithstanding, I do not believe that all the short-tempered get to Heaven, nor all the quote-unquote “apostles of love.” I cannot be an expert on this matter, while in the flesh, and ain’t waiting to be briefed hereafter; but it seems to me that Love, here below, has the remarkable ability to speak for itself — often sotto voce. That is, it speaks not to be heard but overheard, in the manner of poetry; and more likely by actions than in proud boasts.

I would not discount invective and abuse, however. For I note that a good lover makes a good hater, too, and may be better at articulating the latter. Dislike for the demonic almost follows from a liking for the angelic, and in my experience, the demonic is all around us. Patience is indeed a virtue, but there is hierarchy in the virtues, and I can think of others that might overtop it, beginning with Faith, Hope, and Charity. Even compared with Prudence, I think of Patience as more a holding action, until for all we know Prudence will lash out.

As usual, I was preparing to say something irascible about “the culture” today. My annoyance, generally, with “niceness,” is a regular feature of these Idleposts, and I frequently suspect its alliance with demonic intentions, in its passive-aggressive way. This has been the trend through my adulthood, viewed against a past, at least in the Americas, that cannot have been such icky-sticky moosh. Our ancestors — or at least mine — were very aware of a fight with the Devil, and one they were less confident of winning, than we are now with technology on our side.

The modern man doesn’t really disbelieve in evil, but is easily taken by surprise. I think one of the strengths socialism now enjoys, is the inability of the day-school’d generation to expect things to go wrong. And then to be rather glib about it when things (predictably) do. Their criticism is reserved for the irascible, whereas, it ought to be directed at the smileyfaced and mild.