Monday, May 11, 2015

Fairies, Hooligans, and Thugs

From p. 4 of the 1928 reprint of Silver Pennies (Macmillan, 1925) for Rose Fyleman's "The fairies have never a penny to spend...but theirs is the earth and the sky" (illus. by Winifred Brumhall).  The illustrators of Andrew Lang's Red, Yellow, etc., Fairy Books, a generation earlier, have fairies with better wings (more like dragonflies'), but I don't have those at hand.
Now, is it only the opera and ballet for "A Midsummer Night's Dream"?
For the little moth-like wings attached to the waists of dancers in the 20th-century ballet "Les Sylphides" are not to be taken too literally.  Indeed, in childhood, long before I'd read any Shakespeare, I had formed the notion that winged creatures in art are to be understood as asomatoi, as supernatural, when monstrous in the literal sense, with oddly assembled parts: pegasoi, griffins, sphinxes, chimaeras, and the rest.  Probably originally Celtic, often scary or tempting, they do not belong to Mediterranean or Near Eastern folklore, though wingedness, as such, is pervasive.

But the fairies of idealized childhood (and, having been children, we all knew better than that) reigned in the cultures of European languages exactly from the generation of Mendelssohn through the first third of the 20th century.  Of course we knew that the Tooth Fairy who left a coin for a tooth under one's pillow, and used the current coinage of our own nation, had to be parental, just as the "secret" of Santa Claus coming down the chimney was realized as something we kept, in league with our parents, from the younger children.  Still, we accepted and loved the fairies in our story books (especially those inherited from the preceding generation).  The fairy folk of the 1960s were of a different kind; they had different agenda.

So I only knew the poems of Rose Fyleman from Silver Pennies, published a decade before I was born.  And when Larry Johnson, sharing a radio program of art songs about flower gardens, first played John McCormack singing Balfe's version of "Come into the garden, Maud" and betrayed having no idea of what sort of poem it was excerpted from (and was surprised it was Tennyson—he might have been more surprised by the Laureate's having written "Sweet and Low"), and then found slightly naughty-seeming hilarity in "There are fairies at the bottom of our garden", I was convinced that he must be at most half my age and that (like my last students) he found it too much trouble to go to Wikipedia: apparently the ease of getting material has become inimical to its actual use.

I'll start with fairies, since I put some as a headpiece here: the fairies called "Victorian", which seem to abound most in Late Victorian and Edwardian contexts.  Shakespeare's Oberon and Titania, in fact, seem different from those intended for children.  Rose Fyleman wrote mostly (and abundantly) for children, but much of the verse and song-settings were as often by males.  Still, when we see that Liza Lehmann retired from the operatic stage precisely because she married, and so turned to composition and musical essays and, as a married woman, Rose Fyleman was not the only one to write for children, I was nonetheless surprised that "There are fairies at the bottom of our garden" was Fyleman's first published verse, and Liza Lehmann must have gotten it directly from Fyleman's work.

When I chose my illustration it was just because I had known it for three quarters of a century and could not locate my copies of the Andrew Lang Fairy Book collections.  Mr. Johnson may have got the notion that the "bottom of the garden" locus for fairies was naughty from Beatrice Lillie (hers is the best comedic version on YouTube) or from the earlier "bushes at the bottom of the garden" ditty that, I think, was from the music hall and certainly was naughty.  What he did NOT know is that the use of "fairy" for a catamite (OED) was only c. 1924 when it was imported from America—not that English hadn't already (see Eric Partridge) plenty of epithets for effeminate manners. Therefore, the Fyleman-Lehmann song referred only to the overgrown weedy, potentially secretive character of the parts of the garden behind or at the back of the potting sheds.  Neither did most of the other songs about fairies that I found.  We must be grateful to Hyperion Records, and to Graham Johnson in particular, for giving us wonderful performances of hundreds of English songs.  In this case, it gave me many evenings of listening to those I had acquired, just because they were Hyperion and had singers like Anthony Rolfe Johnson (of course, all these Johnsons are not related) and Benjamin Luxon, just to name two.  Even so, I missed getting the Somervell songs.  But the CD of songs by woman composers has more of Liza Lehmann than anyone else, and deservedly so.  Generally she chose good poets, too, starting with the Rubbayat of Oman Khayyan.  The famous translation by Edward FitzGerald (1809–1883) had been published in 1859, the same year as Darwin's Origin of Species, as Dick Sullivan points out in The Victorian Web). The label on a red-seal record of the tenor aria, "Oh Moon of my Delight" was where I first knew of Liza Lehmann (it is good to be an inveterate label-reader).  Liza Lehmann's first major work was this, In a Persian Garden (1896).  As always, my grandparents' record collection, most of which has come down to me.  Lehmann's early work shows the facts both of her talent and her training: many woman composers were not so professionally trained.  Another composer that Crooks made memorable, Stephen Foster, was indeed a mere songwriter for want of education.  
In the era of shellac 78rpm 12" red seals costing several dollars apiece, persons merely of innate taste had the most extraordinary breadth of repertory in their collections.  Sometimes I wonder what Foster might have become with a richer environment; many women musicians, not only Americans, in the 19th century wrote pretty drivel simply because they could not avail themselves of more, I think.  It is no crime to write for children, of course; Debussy certainly did, for example.  J. S. Bach, for instance, wrote for his own children—the whole family did so.
Before I turn to Alfred Lord Tennyson, the favorite Fairy record of my childhood, a 10" Brunswick of "The Fairy Pipers" sung by Sigrid Onegin (Clara Butt's version, utterly different but wonderful, too, is likewise on YouTube).  This is neither great poetry nor great music, but, with good reason, it made it onto Nimbus Prima Voce Party, a party record, with its booklet, that I dearly love.  The words are by Weatherly, who churned out lyrics much as Gus Kahn did, but not so cleverly.  It was he who harnessed the Londonderry Air with "Danny Boy".  The music for "The Fairy Pipers" must be by Sir Alfred Brewer of Gloucester (1865–1928) of whom Stanley Sadie says that his works range from cantatas to popular songs.  No one will claim that a good education sufficed for Brewer...  But the song must be heard, and both versions are memorable.  Sigrid Onegin had a wonderful voice and great technique, as she will show you (but the technique rather of an ice skater than of a ballerina).  I think she also was the soprano in Trovatore, with Mario Chamlee, for the opening of the San Francisco Opera.  But just go to YouTube for her.

Now, what led me to Maud?  It wasn't YouTube, though it's there.  It was The Silver Masked Tenor, and I have the very record that, in perfect condition, is on YouTube.  It was an inexpensive (out of a bin of cheapies) mono LP honoring John McCormack, because, as Robert White  explains on the jacket, his father Joseph White, known as The Silver Masked Tenor (and he doesn't explain why), admired and emulated McCormack.  A slew of John McCormack repertory (non-operatic) is on this record, headed, on side two, by "Come into the garden Maud, for the black bat, night, has flown" (music by Balfe, yes of "The Bohemian Girl" from which Sutherland and Horne love encores like "I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls" and "Then you'll remember me"; it was from a book of simple piano selections that I'd met Balfe's name, rather than from record labels—and words by Tennyson).  Now, Robert White was not quite his father, just as his father was not quite McCormack, but I have always enjoyed this record.  It has things that if you hear them at all are spoiled by what I think of as Lawrence Welk treatment, though its own arrangements are not such as I like best.  When one has got one's fill of Weatherly, "black bat night" is wonderfully striking.  But then, having in hand the Norton Tennyson, I had to find it: it is the last poem, XXII, in Part I of Maud.   So, just as the Fairies questions had led to lots of reading, so Maud led me, finally, having bought at a bargain (dog-eared) the Norton Tennyson, fully intending to finally read him.  But the Hyperion English Songs led me to Somervell (now I need to get that CD, having only the Hyperion sampler that includes his Maud setting, and it is not only their recommendation that convinces me that it is more substantial than Balfe's).  I really am ashamed that it took this to get me to Tennyson.  And to Somervell.  May I say that buying books that you may not read for years also is not a bad idea.

Finally, though I still have unused notes and notions, I'll stop here.  I knew this would be difficult to make into a good blog post.  It is always hard to teach or to write essays on material one hasn't mulled over and worked over for years and years.  But I have done my best, and I hope it will inspire you too to learn by free association and checking up on things you'd neglected before.

And about the title that I gave this post.  I'll leave to your imagination the questions of worsened words and of in-group self depredation in the histories of spoken language.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Tall Pin Oaks' Last Spring

Life's Sudden Changes
In March of 1986 I moved into my present house, since when I have enjoyed these houses (and their successive owners) that are opposite mine.

Just before sunset on March 14, 2015, having the telephoto lens on the camera (and having photographed this house repeatedly), this was taken to record the incipient budding of the righthand pin oak in the parkway in front of the pale green house.  I like this kind of even, dim light.  These paired pin oaks (there are others just like them on other streets) may be about the same age (1920s) as the houses.  The trees behind the houses are much shorter.

On the morning of March 23, I was awakened by the most dreadful din: not merely like a wretched leaf-blower.  The orange machine is the grinder that most efficiently makes flakes of wood out of branches and trunks of hard wood.  No, it wasn't the tallow tree, though it sounded just as close to my house.  It already had filled the truck once to take away (compare above) all the upper parts of the righthand tree and the lower branches of the one to the left.  The azaleas had burst into full bloom overnight.  The pale sky was not that of dusk but white fog.  I was astonished.  Two major hurricanes that came right through Baton Rouge, Andrew and Gustave, which took down so many pecans and red oaks, had not touched these straight-trunked giants, three times the height of the houses.

In another hour or two. the orange machine was being fed the trunks, which it speedily consumed. The five men worked with efficient skill.  None of them were speaking English, but whether Spanish or Cajun I was unsure.  Now I could see the section of the trunks, and could conclude, I think, that these were the same pin oaks, or swamp oaks, or (simply) red oaks, the species that Hurricane Gustave had decimated, though without taking so much as branches off these, the largest ones, which, if I guess rightly, were as much as ninety years old, though even as saplings they don't appear in the c. 1912 photos of Roseland Terrace (here some of the earliest-built bungalows, before c. 1925, only one block off Government Street).

Not that I'm certain of the species of the trees; their bark seems thin for oaks of any kind.  And, by the way, I don't know who ordered them taken down.  Possibly it was found, during the works under way now on Government Street, that their roots interfered with gas or water pipes.  Perhaps one of the present-day inhabitants is allergic to that yellow pollen in which in the Spring, before the new leaves come out (deciduous, yes, never naked but in the Spring shedding old leaves and blooming abundant yellow) it abounds.    Mercifully, I am not allergic to all this blooming (the tallow tree does its own, too), but many people suffer acutely for a couple of weeks.

Even today, two days later, the base of the stump of the righthand tree remains.  In January of 1912 I had noticed that after rain the knob of a root that persisted in growing right over the curb and into the gutter, which had been trimmed back repeatedly, had somehow the aspect of a gnome with a gnarled, snarling face.  It took my fancy, and I used it as the headpiece of a blot post.  It also is in the Picasa album (now also in +Google, slokind), with references to other photographs taken at the base of the tree.
I wish I were a better botanist!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Finally had to learn about tarot cards

Starting with early Dover books…
I found this on Wikipedia.  It is astonishing what stuff people will post with limited usage just because , I guess, reading tarot cards is a business?  Anyhow, all the early ones are for games.

Back when I was a student, the Economy miracle was the catalogue of Dover books.  I mean, you could get things like a great (but O.P.) edition of Dürer's woodblock prints, reduced but still beautiful and large on good paper very reasonably.  But now all sorts of grubby stuff is jealously protected from free use just because it's for fortunetelling.  It was from Dover reprints, though, that I saw how many people were avid to pseudopsychologize from the Tarot; the books flew off the shelves to students.  I thought they were corny, in a class with ouija boards and crystal balls.  The happy cardplayers in the photo I found (above) make their game look better than Old Maid but similar in principle–much easier than learning to play Bridge.  Cribbage, too, is easy fun.
But yesterday, seeing the delightful artwork of a friend who uses the Tarot repertories as a point of departure, I had to wonder what could be meant by a Seven of Cups in designs that also use animals.  The Wikipedia provided all I needed.   I did know, of course, that quantities of pre-scholarly Egyptian stuff and Late Greco-Roman personifications and astrology and numerology bestrew Tarot decks, and, beyond that, followers of Jung found more than fun in them. But I am allergic to Jung, so I hadn't got any closer to Tarot cards than my exposure to my friend's delightful use of them.
Actually, I am very happy to know that the Joker really is the same as the everyday deck's Joker, that the Cups equate to Hearts, that Trumps are Trionfi, and so on.  But the Survival of the Pagan Gods, which I knew from Seznec but also from Panofsky are, like the survivals from Ovid, for instance, and the gradual development of modern languages from Late Latin (and every aspect of the Dark Ages– Dark because for a couple of hundred years they really were obscure) are so profoundly interesting as such that taking them as intellectual playthings bothers me.  I don't want, in any case, to titillate myself with "secrets" of the future or of the past; I am more than content to live each day as if it is my last.  
The great fact is that the Tarot for fortune-telling is actually a phenomenon of the late 19th and 20th century.  The Tarot decks themselves developed only in the Early Renaissance.  The Occult, while always appealing to the Curiosity, the venal sin of idle and lazy minds (not to be confused with scientific curiosity), is as Early Modern as Sherlock Holmes' use of cocaine.
I do find myself interested in putting together all the bits of partial learning and partial understanding that I may have collected in my eight decades.  Surely that is what memory is for?
I need to think more about these questions.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Concerning NOVA on Colosseum

This is from one of my own old slides,  probably from the 1980s.  It does show the whole oval at one of the rare times when it wasn't covered, as for some performance.

These are both very old textbook diagrams, old enough to have been in the early editions of Bannister and Fletcher, but they are just scans from my teaching files and were taken from old slides that didn't bother to cite the sources.  Not that they are bad, though.

Some Ineluctable Questions 
Quite rightly, NOVA presumes no previous knowledge; their historical archaeology pages themselves can serve as invitations to study the subjects.  So the following are offered just because it is useful to have them at hand, in a medium that holds still and provides a different context.
•• On the relationship of Vespasian's Amphitheater (in the parts of it covered in the NOVA program), to parts of Nero's Domus Aurea, see (in the second volume of the Pelican History of Art's 1994 pb edition), J. B. Ward-Perkins, Roman Imperial Architecture, pp. 59–61 and for the site of the artificial lake fig. 26, also for the position of the colossal statue of Sol which gave the Flavian amphitheater its nickname).
•• For a good, convenient translation of the original texts relevant to the Domus Aurea, pp. 140–144 and to the Flavian works, pp. 153, ff, and for the key passage from Martial, p. 158, see J. J. Pollitt, The Art of Rome (in the Sources and Documents series).  It is better to read through the whole section for Flavian architecture.
•• For a good picture of Roman contractors at work, with pulleys and all, see the relief from the Tomb of the Haterii (itself late Flavian).  This is a little hard to interpret literally, but should be considered if you have any doubts about how Roman builders might work.  It is illustrated, full-page, in the first edition (1991)—but not later ones—of the Ramages' fine textbook, Roman Art, fig. 5.16.
Though a NOVA program is not very long, this one could edit all its general Social Studies comment and gain at least 10 minutes without losing anything germane to historical engineering and architecture; background if desired for middle-school use should be relegated to the web site.

I found the study by Heinz Beste (of the DAI, Rome) and the work of the engineers who realized it so interesting that I promptly recommended the program to all my like-minded friends.  Then, awaking in the middle of the night as persons of my age often do, the questions began to arise.
  • Do any of the other large, Imperial amphitheaters have such deep and complicated hypogaea as the Colosseum?  Did the program even mention the artificial lake (yes, in passing), let alone its practical relevance?
  • Why was the hydrologist who discovered that the huge water tunnels found while digging the new Metro line led straight to the Colosseum so surprised?  Why were the scriptwriters for the program surprised when experiment showed that (after a major cloudburst filled the Colosseum) opening these tunnels emptied it so rapidly that a morning naumachia could be followed by afternoon chariot races?  (I had to wonder whether the hydrologist really had been surprised).
  • Why was the geographical site for the find of gladiators' skulls that clearly had been perforated by the trident-like weapons not named?
  • Why was the dedicatory inscription of Vespasian changed much later in the Empire—I'm sure this is known. and young people are going to want to ask?  And why not show one or more of the other inscriptions that, now lacking their bronze letters, have been convincingly elucidated by the study of the holes in which the bronze letters were pinned?
  • What is the evidence for saying that the funds for Vespasian's amphitheater, finished and dedicated by Titus, came from booty, from Titus's sack of Jerusalem?  All due respect to David and Solomon, could anything in Jerusalem have been rich enough for that job?  Even if Titus hadn't been building new Baths and restoring central Rome after another great fire—and all this in the space of his two-year reign.  
I'd never fuss about details in the answers to such questions.  What bothers me is that questions that hold together the whole presentation weren't even raised.  If other amphitheaters were not so large and deep, doesn't Nero's lake come into the question?  I can't pretend to have checked every big amphitheater, and probably most had a tunnel or two for delivering animals (old Greek theaters sometimes have a tunnel for some deus ex machina). Considering all the Imperial waterworks hereabout,  how can supplying the naumachiae have been a problem, anyway?  The Romans were masters of water management.  Why, even the Hellenistic Greeks were good at it.

It is good to consider the Colosseum as part of Flavian history.  Problem is, they failed to do so.  OK, babble if you wish about the populus participating in the glory of Rome.  But not at the expense of the purported subject of the TV program.  And not using those last-century illustrations of gladiatorial sport that used to be in all the Latin I textbooks.  If you want some extra images, the Circus Maximus is available near by.  You could even go to Piazza Armerina  (though it is confusing to use it, or North African mosaics, as if the Games in Rome were just the same, necessarily).

The readers should study this program for themselves, which is so good a beginning to figuring out how the animals actually were managed (not only how they were brought up to the arena level).  Having done Heinz Beste's part so well, it is a shame that they wasted footage on the sort of stuff that tour guides rejoice in.  How does it happen?  Without any authority I suggest that parts of three essays (on Heinz Beste's work, on the Austrian work on the wounds and weapons of real gladiators, and on the waterworks of central Rome) were available, and the editors / writers who put it together were neither well informed nor closely supervised, while the professor who spoke of the Romans in general may not have truly collaborated with any of the others.
In sum, as so often when one is disappointed in a newly published book, this is a program without an author.
P.S.  I learned how to stream the program and must report that Heinz Blest is an architect rather than an engineer and that the person who provides most of the interpretive narrative is Katherine Welch of NYU.  Also, the later dedicatory inscription is dated to the 5th century.  And it is not to imply that they are wrong that I posted this but to share questions.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

On the Fanciful Parts of the Preceding

Frontispiece from the 1941 reprint of an edition of Palgrave's Golden Treasury (Garden City, 1907) with four color plates "reproduced from paintings by Maxfield Prarrish".  They are not all in the same Parrish maniera, and I cannot believe that they were done expressly for this book, otherwise an unillustrated text of Palgrave, ending with Wordsworth.  The list of illustrations gives as a caption to this one Shakespeare's "Tell me where is Fancy bred, Or in the heart or in the head?"  But I know of no Maxfield Parrish more charming per se than this one.  I found the book in a secondhand bin, and it is not only ex-library but ex-School Library and in condition by no means 'collectible.

Who Has Maxfield Parrish Prints Today?

My grandmother, until well after WW II, still had the pair of reproductions of two of those Maxfield Parrish horizontal paintings of mildly symbolic character with titles such as Evening or Summer Dream; one of the theaters (the Curran?) in San Francisco had his paintings, but vertical, on its walls (at least, I thought they were his…).  From the first decades of the 20th century more of his work was illustrations for books or magazines, like the lantern-lighting by young persons dressed like Pierrots, above.  One caption in Google Images says it came from Collier's magazine, for 1908 (that illustrated Palgrave went through several printings, down to 1930).  One caption in the Images says it was by a follower of Parrish's, but only one.  No matter.  
It exemplifies what Parrish did, and it probably was inspired by the Sargent painting, which is still popular today and which I first saw reproduced in one of my grandmother's ladies' magazines.  When finally I saw the original Carnation Lily Lily Rose and had developed a lifetime admiration for everything that Sargent ever did, it only renewed my passion for Sargent's work: see the Tate Gallery's page on it, linked above.
Parrish was not a great painter, as Sargent was, but he was very good indeed (though the dreamy evening landscapes may pall).  And my love of Sargent explains why I bought that grubby Palgrave (already owning a couple in decent editions) about a quarter century ago.!scribners-illustrated-classics-/cyev
A couple of other titles in that Classics edition also were illustrated by Parrish.
You will wager that I also unrepentantly love Jessie Wilcox Smith, and I do; I met her in the illustrations for A Child's Garden of Verses, also published in that fine series of Scribner's reprints c. 1955.  As for R. L. Stevenson, his Treasure Island in that series was illustrated by N. C. Wyeth, and the whole Illustrated Classics is a cultural treasure, in my opinion.
It is not a question, I think, of Post-Impressionism and Cubism being good and figural subjects (especially illustrations) being bad, as Art, but of the best in any category, if objectively of enduring value, being worthy of lifetime study and pleasure.
Similarly with generations (this does seem super-obvious, even objectionable): in distinguishing generations of authors (or other artists) D. E. Stevenson's 'Janetta Walters' (née Jane Watts) in the Barbara Buncle novels seems to be indistinguishable from the authors who publish in Harlequin Books (for example), is a spoof that could be made today; the novels for sale at Walmart, for example, are just like the romantic "bodice busters" that my mother got in the mail from the Dollar Book Club, and they still sell just as well.  What is astonishing, in fact, about D. E. Stevenson is her consistency in writing marriage-in-the-end novels for a more literate feminine readership.  I may have read no bodice-busters since I was in school, but I have enjoyed six of hers (which are not prudish but certainly decent).  But I am not much of a judge, because detective stories are the fiction I tolerate best.
Anyway, A. F. Benson (of the same cohort as, say, Picasso or V. Woolf—actually, of Henri Matisse) was fully a generation older than D. E. Stevenson.  Both wrote a lot, simply had to write, it seems.  Both are writers that I enjoy for their writing and for their literary high fun.  But his most enduring work, I think, will be Mapp and Lucia, rather late in his career, and hers, I venture (not having read so many) will be the Barbara Buncles, which are relatively early in her career.  His c. 1930  are his most free-wheeling (I think of that trip on the kitchen table), but hers  proceed from the onset of WW II to become more conventional from a literary point of view.  I mean, I like A.F. Benson so well that I'll even read his ghost stories, though it is not a genre that appeals much to me, apart from The Turn of the Screw.
By the way, I've gotten round to Benson memoirs, and I cannot recommend As We Were too highly (just get past the first chapter).  Free and easy but discrete and insightful memoirs of an Archbishop of Canterbury's son must be very rare indeed.
I must not try to summarize all the pleasures of a Great Depression child in the literature of her (or his, I'm sure) parents and grandparents.  And I am somewhat limited by the eye-ease of Kindle (and other electronic) editions.  And I let this go stale while I reacted to the World.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"The First Family" (1962)

Not that he needs another portrait, but freezing weather demands a bed on the denim jeans.
Some folks feel that pets' comfort in sleeping on unwashed clothes that retain their owner's personal scent betrays nasty taste.  They forget that dogs follow scents and that cats who couldn't care less what an opossum looks like are greatly put off by their specific odor.  I have a neighbor whose cat for years found his way around quite easily when he'd been blinded by glaucoma.  As for Buster and my bluejeans, they are to him recognizable as a cub's den, where kits find one another and pile up till their mother returns from hunting.

I had in mind to head this posting by (a) a cartoon, and (b) by an album cover:  All the dozens of reproductions of (b) are under copyright, and, I guess, so is the cartoon (a), which I recall seeing in The New Yorker just after the death of Pope John XXIII; some of you will recall that he called Vatican Council II and that he was famous for having come of peasant stock and being far more open-minded than Pius XII.  The caption was, "He was a good pharaoh" and it illustrated some rather housewifely Egyptian women (water jars on their heads) processing past pyramids, palms, and camels.  I have searched and searched for the cartoon but only located the caption for it.  So Buster is their stand-in.
As I recall, the Kennedys did not object very much to the LP record, and I never heard of the Church objecting to the pyramids.  Queen Victoria's offense at all sorts of improprieties (which astonishes us) was not something she'd deign to mention, and her subjects, one gathers, took for granted their license to be somewhat rude in their humor, just as Halévy and Offenbach used Jupiter's hypocritical womanizing when they figured him as Napoleon III and represented the personified Public Opinion as a rigorously judgmental Victorian lady in black.  When all bored Olympus begged 'Jupin' to take them along with Orpheus when Propriety demanded his return there, no one thought that the preference for Hades/Hell was sacrilegious.

My generation, which since WW II had regarded our presidents (and the UK royal family, too), and the Church, both Catholic and Protestant (consider Norman Rockwell pictures) as inherently serious, loved Pope John XXIII, even if some of us were non-believers who privately loved "The Merry Minuet" and did not take the words of Christmas songs literally, inwardly whooped and hollered at "The First Family" (which is still available from Amazon, by the way) when it came out, not least because we really enjoyed the Kennedy family, with Jackie speaking French in France, with the lovely little children, and all.  How great to make fun of grass-roots idealization of them!  It wasn't as if Pres. Kennedy hadn't real problems to deal with.  It wasn't as if they were really plaster saints, either.  But what joy to laugh with the songs on the LP record, how great to be free to do so.
Then, of course, he was shot.  Me, without a word, I put away the record.  Sure, they weren't saints, but their human loss...

It is not, of course, that France was the first nation to turn the unbearable into comedy.  Greece and Rome  (Japan, too) had done so, and gloriously.
Our European tradition springs from Greece.  I'll just mention Aristophanes.  At least as irreverent as CharlieHebdo, and still profoundly funny.
The Athenian Theophrastus encapsulated tiresome Athenian types in his Characteres, and in the 17th century Jean de la Bruyère published a French version that is quite faithful to Theophrastus (himself a follower of Aristotle). for Jean de la Bruyère's close version of Theophrastus.
The old Loeb classical library for Jebb's edition, Greek facing English, is available at   Jebb is hard to compete with: the text of the Characcteres is lucid Attic Greek, but you do need to know the finer meaning of the key words in context (just using the Latin equivalent given in a standard dictionary is often unenlightening at best and robs the work of its edge).  One English edition offered in Amazon is not only unedited (OCR not checked; punctuation abused) but just plain bad.  It is the one touted for having illustrations of the types.
If there's a new Loeb volume, I'll come back to add it.

How can any of our talking heads forget Rabelais?  Some of CharlieHebdo is Gargantua indeed.

Even the best broadcast commentary, the best I have found being that on NPR's "On the Media", does not mention the Greek and Roman (think of Juvenal!) roots of our tradition.  These roots are in fact older than Islam (not that a few centuries matter, of course).  Here are some links to start with: for Jean de la Bruyère's close version of Theophrastes for Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel

Some of the broadcast commentary explaining the problems in refraining from reproducing CharlieHebom has been especially good:

Friday, December 5, 2014

News and Ideas at the Reilly-Reeves House

The Turreted House at the Corner of Park and Cherokee­

Last year, when a friend pointed out to me the singular features of this house, I was eager to learn about it.  At that time it still had a blue plastic protective sheet on part of the roof to protect it after damage due (I think) to Hurricane Gustave, and it needed a good paint job.  See the Teegee Essays blog posts from January and February of 2013. ­

Now an exemplary paint job, including details of shutters, etc., is almost complete.  I have added a new album of nine supplementary views:

Yes, it was Richard Norman Shaw who marketed the fancy houses from c. 1870 to c. 1910 as "Queen Anne".  Reading surveys of Nicholas Pevsner's generation I had been puzzled: we had endless specimens of the style that flourished about up to World War I both in California and in the Pacific Northwest to our north, where a whole neighborhood in Seattle has been called "Queen Anne".
But in the middle of the 20th century, when I was studying at Berkeley and labeling and filing 2X2 slides used in teaching there (and socializing with graduate students in both architecture and the figural arts, though never, I admit,  taking a course in 19th century American architecture), no one called these houses anything but Late Victorian (not even the occasional friends who owned one of them)—not that Victoria had been our queen, but certainly Anne hadn't.  At least some of us knew that she belonged to the generation of Jane Austen, say, and thought of Chippendale (  and the Image album, s.v. chippendale furniture) to furnish it.  I don't know how our Baton Rouge house is furnished, but I can't quite see a forest of cabriolet legs in it (there's a good page on them in Wikipedia, s.v.) or even an American version of Hepplewhite.
As so often (but why didn't I find this page last year?),  the Wikipedia comes down hard and clear on the real estate abuse of "Queen Anne": , not deigning to call the American (and other colonial) "painted ladies" (their San Francisco nickname now) by Queen Anne's name unless prefaced by "revival".
Most of the antique or pseudo-antique furniture, from which I got my first notions of furniture styles (remember: no internet, no TV shows on Great Homes or Antiques Roadshow, no Wiki, though the Britannica of 1910, s.v. Furniture, does have five plates of excellent examples) came from Grand Rapids factories as they passed through my grandfather's shop, and the furnishings of the Reilly-Reeves house, whatever their stylistic affiliations, could just as well come from that industry, already by 1912 more than two generations old, and may have been of hardwoods finer than ash.  It doesn't matter; I think houses back then were named more for their period style than for charming association with earlier queens.  In fact, the commercial use of "Queen Anne" is so entrenched for Late Victorian that is both fancy and expensive that the Wikipedia labels the houses of the end of the 18th century "English Queen Anne".
I have come round to this because a good friend sent me the Kindle edition of D. E. Stevenson's "Miss Buncle's Book", new to me and utterly delightful.  She was Scottish, born in Edinburgh in 1892, fully a generation younger than the very English E. F. Benson.  The novel in question, the first of half a dozen, appeared in 1934 just three years later than E. F. Benson's first Lucia.  Both start in a village of more limited possibilities and in the second volume move to a 'better' one, Benson's famous Tilling (which is Rye) and Stevenson's Wandlebury which may or may not be near Cambridge but does take its name from what is now a preservation Park (  That too may be coincidental, and its justly famous self-referential device of a novel written within a novel was unique, but the handling of characters and its sheer joy suggest irresistibly, to me at least, that Stevenson, who had written only one novel before this one, was practically intoxicated by Lucia.  I do recommend the Buncle books, which we owe to Kindle (the 1930s by a Scottish woman not being, perhaps, financially feasible publishing), but with the Baton Rouge promise of a blog post on the Reilly house puzzling me by being called "Queen Anne" I had to notice the two authors' descriptions of fine houses of the late 18th century, that the heroine is devoted to and the authors describe quite accurately.  Now I don't know what D. F. Stevenson actually lived in, but on line she is said to be related to Robert Louis Stevenson (not, to be sure, to an archbishop of Canterbury), and, I guess, is one of that intellectual bourgeoisie who all knew one another—and she writes that way, as Wodehouse, for example, does not, though he's just as clever as they are.  Wodehouse didn't live in a country house, such as he sent Bertie Wooster to, except sporadically.  The way one describes a house that one loves is quite different from a TV presentation of Chatsworth or Castle Howard (used to film Brideshead Revisited, and by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor: whether a smaller house or a great one.  Now D. F. Stevenson loves the house she puts the second novel in the same way as Benson loved his Lamb House (for which I refer you to some very good photos of the house and the whole town (in Flickr:
But the point is: whoever did it (I think in the Registry of noteworthy buildings in Baton Rouge), calling the Reilly-Reeves house Queen Anne of a sort, all those writers who need copy have copied the label (usually taking pains to disclaim it) and find nothing reliable but the photos in the EBRLibrary collection and the data attributed to "the courthouse", whence we have names for a contractor and an architect (both unknown to me, but no matter: an architect was hired to realize the owner's vision) and the date, also guaranteed, it is high time we considered the house itself and not some realtor's label.  Incidentally, if one chooses to trust the memories of someone of the family but elderly, and if the building of the Gottlieb House over on Drehr really was a direct response to that on Park Boulevard, it would seem to endorse a pre-World War I dating for the Gottlieb house.  Only one interview says so, but does assert that they had the first telephones.  One thing you can trust from Antiques Roadshow is the folkloric historicity of family memories.  It is like the genealogy of the Troy Tale: there is truth in these traditions but for accurate data…  If you've read thousands of student papers 'researched' in a branch public library (to avoid going to the university library) and then boiled down to make sense to the writer…  On the other hand, until I read those two descriptions of fine houses beloved by the authors who put their principle characters in them, and found the Wikipedia article, s.v. Queen Anne Architecture:
I hadn't dared to let the house itself be its own evidence, making a stylistic statement unlike any in the handbooks or old catalogues.  But I admire the family who are proud of it, and for more than two decades I have been glad to live in its neighborhood.