Sunday, November 15, 2015

New Readings of Old Books-2

When Wood showed me how to get over the levee to the River
By the time we clambered down the moist bank of the levee, the sun had just set over Port Allen in the west; it was late Spring, and the river was half flooded around the swamp willows.  This was taken (early 1980s) where one could drive to the top of the levee where also some of the agriculture school cattle were grazing, on the dry side, about half a mile south of the LSU campus.  Of course, it is film, not digital, Kodachrome probably.

I want to write about a Memoirs, Present Indicative, of Noel Coward, that I first read when I was about to graduate from high school or during the three semesters that I was at the California College of Arts and Crafts.  In either case I was living in Berkeley (so was the family) but did not yet have access to the University library.  I recall finding it at the Egyptianizing Berkeley Public Library on Shattuck Avenue and checking it out there.  It really made an impression!  It was a time when I was reading biographies and memoirs of opera singers, Emma Calvé, Maria Jeritza, Lotte Lehmann, Geraldine Farrar (my goodness: princes and tennis stars, cf. Anna Netrebko), Chaliapin, Caruso, Alma Gluck: probably her first, because her daughter, Marcia Davenport, had written the novel that really astonished my adolescent imagination, The Valley of Decision, and then Of Lena Geyer, so that it was no wonder that opera stars were exciting—and wasn't it just as well that I could imagine Manon, for example, delicate, petite?  I also haunted the used-book stores for 78 rpm records.  It was a lovely couple of years.  At the rooming house, at 2622 College, which qualified as Approved Housing, since I was under age, in the evening we sat around a large round kitchen table and filled sketchbooks and talked, and talked.  Neither before or later (until perhaps now) did I have free time for such preoccupations.  By the time I turned 21, in 1955, I was beginning graduate course work.

So what about that Sunset over the Willow Swamp on the Mississippi?  Well, the photos of famous people are under copyright, and by now those years in the early 1950s and now even the early 1980s have become sentimental in their own right, and I have made a habit of using pictures as headers.  I might break my neck if I went down the slithery mud today, to take new ones, and my coaevals are dying and my former students are at the height of their careers, very busy, so I treasure these pictures.  Besides, they are part of me, and you may make of them what you wish.

(Have to re-write body of this post: please excuse):
Having lost the tangled thread for this post, I'll just note the kind of thing I had in mind.  Noel Coward had reminded me of the craze for African American night-club music (and it was picked up, too, in Downton Abbey, Season 5).  But I also had noticed in novel after novel the protagonists having been described as appreciating a Grammaphone Society recording of the Bach Concerto for two violins, which reminded me how much shorter the pre-WW II catalogues had been, and how important the really outstanding 78rpm sets had been.  Then there was that Blackbird business: a comment on a YouTube offering of a 1927 song, "Bye, bye Blackbird", and some young person was astonishingly puzzled by the lyrics of the song.  Nor did I at the time know about the all African-American musical show Blackbirds, which predated the song by a year or so.  The song's 'blackbird' was inspired by Florence Mills, who enchanted London and, I think, Paris as well, until her early death in 1927.  She was adorable, as her portrait photos show (and perhaps the inspiration for the figure of Betty Boop?), but she never recorded the song in question though we do have a recording of one with a similar reference.  Like Noel Coward, Paul McCartney. who sang the 1927 "Bye bye" song so lovingly in the "Kisses on the Bottom " concert at the Capitol Records studio a few years ago, surely knew whose song it was, and Bessie Smith actually recorded it when it was new.  However, and this is the kind of realization (better late than never), I have a two-CD album  of Josephine Baker in her youth that includes two of the songs from Blackbirds.  But these were European recordings and were not noticed, apparently, by the person who compiled the list in the Wikipedia.  But Josephine Baker's knowledge of Mills, who died so young, and her covering Mills's songs for performance in France, adds one more detail to the history of the effect (with the Prince of Wales, Edward, attending Mills's concerts repeatedly) of the most enchanting African-American  performers  in Europe  at the time.  It was my retirement-age pleasure reading that took me to the abundant material in Wikipedia on the musical  Blackbirds and Florence Mills.  You'll find lots of material, both documentary and pictorial, on Florence Mills—all except her voice.  Josephine Baker was only five years younger, but happily lived till 1975.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

New Reading of old Books

Detail of a poor photo of a rabbit (Jill's), but all I could think of as a heading was a rabbit, and Durer's is too wild, too fine, and too alert to illustrate Dorothy Sayers' characterization of an unhappy drunken college girl: "The general impression of an Angora rabbit that has gone loose and was astonished at the result"—but what I need is the face, and of an Angora, and I can recall but cannot find the image of my sister Linda's big old rabbit.

In any case, that characterization is from Gaudy Night, and I hadn't meant to risk being disappointed after fifty years by that one.  Actually, I was wondering whether I would still admire her Dante commentaries as much as I had when the three Penguin volumes were new, but the font is too small till I get new reading glasses.  And, in the first place, looking across the room at my big oaken chair with the mask of a goat pan on its back, I was thinking of a student couple in Eugene, Oregon, c. 1970, who had found a chair just like mine but with a lion mask (indeed mine is the only one with an aegipan mask).  I think it was to Roger that I lent the paperback of Busman's Honeymoon, as fun to read, and he found it "castrating".  That rather spoiled the fun, though later I realized that one needed to know that the personality of Peter Wimsey had evolved so that, though he might not have liked the book, Roger might have chosen a different epithet.  Besides, between the two wars, and especially after the trenches, working with what we call PTSD, and after the worst experiences of World War II we called Shell Shock, as I recall, was de rigueur for writers who took themselves seriously.  After Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf, et al., who called Dorothy Sayers a feminist?  And girls raised in Oxford were generally well educated even before the women's colleges.  There's a whole literature on them.
Anyway, I found out that Busman's Honeymoon had been a highly successful play before she turned it into a novel a year later.  That accounts perhaps for its wonderful conversations, perhaps more numerous than even in her other detective stories.  But only those readers who just don't like Sayers (even as I just don't like P. D. James, though it seems to me normal to have one's favorites, and James has her own admirers), and I enjoyed Busman's Honeymoon more than ever.  So much, in fact, that I re-read Gaudy Night, too.  It had been the first of her books that I'd read, and I enjoyed it even more for getting all of the references (I think, all of them).  This time, between the two of them, I have decided finally to read Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy.  Kindle obliged handsomely, but they don't have those three volumes of Dorothy Sayers' commentary on Dante in eBook format.  Famous poetic versions abound, and those everlasting Doré illustrations, but not commentaries.  I suspect that we are supposed to treasure the Commedia,  but not to study it, not to get from it what Dante put in.  Not even if one wants an Italian commentary.  I pulled down the Penguins, but the font that seemed so reasonable until recently now might as well be 6-point.
Surely I am not the only reader-for-pleasure to pluck choices from chapter headings in the books I'm reading currently.  There's always plenty more.  It is not the sort of reading you'd get course credit for in college, but it was there that I formed the habit.  You study for one final exam then steal time to read something that appeals to you before facing preparing for the next exam.  During final exams you don't have to dress or go out to do anything...  I protest, I didn't read detective fiction during exam weeks; in those early days I'd read travels or journals or sometimes the novels by authors that I couldn't afford to take whole courses on (or, to confess it, that I hated to answer the predictable essay questions on, spoiling the book for me!).  
I think I'll write a couple more posts about reading things I've always meant to read or that I haven't read again since I was fifty years younger.
Here is that chair again that I got in the 1960s.  It really is white oak, but the black is a product called japalac, which is original.  Roger and Judy (I think I have their names right) "cleaned" their lion-head one, stripping it right down to the bare wood.  That was the fashion at the time, alas.  The chair is American Renaissance Revival, c. 1885, I think.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Old Buster Copes with the Weather

October 27, it rained so hard that the whole porch was wet.
So long as it is still not cold, Buster wants to stay outdoors till sunset (and we still have a couple of days left before we change the clocks).  I think he actually enjoys the outdoors, but staying dry is a problem when a very large Pacific hurricane crosses the mountains of Mexico in incessant sheets of rain and floods whatever it can (not that it's as bad as having a hurricane of our own).  The front porch is the best place, but Buster will not nap on wet wood, either.  He kept complaining to me as if I could make it stop.  I did go outdoors onto the grass to encourage him: he did follow me out and dutifully peed.
Then I caught sight of the second-rate telephone book that they deliver.  No harm trying.  I opened it wide, right in the center, and Buster perceiving dry paper lay down on it and slept all day.  Well, there's a good fifty pages of advertisements for accident-insurance lawyers there, so maybe he smelt all the printer's ink.

October 28, it was almost quite dry, and he ventured a sunbath.
Next day the sun shone dry enough that the concrete parking pad in back let him find the sort of place that he likes (which I'd have felt was still too damp) and there. about 1:00 p.m.. I saw him happily fast asleep.
Fact is, it is important to him to mind his territory.  But he's big enough that the younger cats do, so far, respect him.  He's 15 years old.
I'll try to get something more serious in a day or so.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

And the Panaghia in the Chartres crypt?

Begging comparison with the Theotokos in the Haghia Sophia apse, posted at head of last post?
Chartres.  Crypt (i.e., pre-Early Gothic preserved, but the painting is dated end 12c to beg. 13c).  The Virgin in Majesty, i.e., what the Greeks would call Panaghia.  In my humble (meant seriously) opinion, the 'visit' of the West to Constantinople in 1204 accounts for not a little in Gothic figural arts.  So much, and not least in the Ile de France, was of Byzantine origin.  I don't know whether Henry Adams and his traveling group saw the painted image in the crypt where it would have been at the altar end of the crypt which served as the principal sanctuary of Notre Dame: I don't know whether it was covered.  Even in its present condition, though, one can see its dark blues and the gold of the haloes, and the drawing is strong and elegant.
Between Abbot Suger's chevet and completion of the West Rose only a little later than the figures of the Royal Portal, (and some time before the recorded installation of the South Porch in 1206), that is, after the fire of 1194 and while the main nave as designed in 1197 was still incomplete, this painted image of the Virgin may have been the main one just at the time when the crusaders ran amok in Constantinople in 1203-4.
I did read Mont St-Michel and Chartres .  It could not be more different from The Education..., and I still don't like it very much, though I keenly appreciate  (and even envy) the depth in which he devoted himself to every aspect of the territory that his group (Lodges and others) had covered, though from what I know of pre-WWI touring cars it can't have been wholly comfortable on the roads (a present-day Fiat 500, or Citroen, would be more so).  It is a guide book one might say for travelers with ample time and access to the best books.   Why did Cram like it so much?  It was not just a Baedeker, and it explored its quarter of France in unprececented depth—in a way that devout books never meant to do, and it was literature.
But whereas The Education is timeless and unique in its personal depth, Mont St-Michel is dated. Besides, by his own account, from boyhood and all his life, Henry Adams had an antipathy towards academic research, particularly what is for us century-old German scholarship.  One need not share that antipathy, though, to sympathize with his need to do so (since he had the leisure and means for it) and to write the kind of study that he really wanted to.  The worst one can call this is elitist: that to appreciate and understand Mont St-Michel  one needs more general education and leisure for thought than one can hope to get from this book itself, though the experience of sharing with Adams is worth more than any textbook.  Still, in my opinion, Erwin Panofsky's essay, "Three Decades of Art History in the United States," the Epilog in Panofsky's Meaning in the Visual Arts, casts even more light than he intended, and he is generous to his American predecessors, in particular impressed by their regarding all Europe as one.  Henry Adams, however, was (quite understandably and pardonably) a learned amateur, and, he'd be quick to claim, an amateur in the best sense.  Young students of my generation were unfamiliar with Adams's kind.  At the same time, they seem to be less in touch with what the combination of the Paperback Revolution (much of it, like LP music recordings of the same period) made available to us a quarter to a half century ago, and that because (speaking of California in the West more than of many places between the Rockies and the Mississippi) as many as  half of our professors had been born and educated in Europe.  The ready availability of specialized studies, in new translations, made the history of art and architecture a full-fledged discipline in America (as also in England, where it had been rather regional).  Today there are many new books, as well as video works, that are more abundantly illustrated but very, very seldom go beyond the interests of the educated layman (but a layman, though more varied, also less fully educated than a century ago and providing a larger audience).  The more general works are certainly less elite (today we are horrified that only potential students whose families can afford well known universities may be able to contemplate that sort of education).  There are no longer. as in the wake of World War II, works that can be published simply for the cost of publication.  Obviously, electronic publication is taking their place, but I doubt if there are enough teaching scholars to form an adequate bridge of mentors (so to speak).  I don't know.  And I am not up to date in medieval studies; my classical background gives me ready access to them, via Greek and Roman studies, but I am not placed (in the deep South of the USA) to know whether most of the young assistant professors are prepared to form the educational bridges aforementioned.
So, I'll mention besides Erwin Panofsky only a couple of famous studies that impressed me most (and which I'm sure still are as good as ever):
—Adolf Katzenellenbogn, The Sculptural Programs of Chartres Cathedral.  Norton, 1959.
 —ed. and with a preface by Robert Branner, Chartres Cathedral (Norton Critical Studies in Art History), 1969.  This contains articles by most of the authors, I confess, that I most esteem but also takes pains to represent different approaches, including on the stained glass Maurice Denis and Henry Adams himself.  Branner plainly says that he feels that an American author ought to be included and, since there are other topics where Adams might be more questionable, gives him the windows that he loved so much.  The Branner book, also, like most of the later books (with offset printing) is very adequately illustrated.  I'm sure, of course, that it no longer costs $2.95.
—Also as good as ever, Emile Mâle, The Gothic Image (transl. Dora Nussey).  Harper, 1958.
The authors included in Branner's volume really do provide a wonderful survey of Chartres studies.
Perhaps it is just to consider Mont St-Michel as the work that inspired Cram's generation as the post-WWII works inspired mine.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


On "The Education of Henry Adams", one of the most delightful books ever written

The Panaghia in the principal, large eastern apse of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople; dated in the 9th century, she was uncovered when Justinian's church (532-565) was no longer a mosque, and substantial numbers of the mosaics were again revealed.

Publicly released in 1913 at the behest of Ralph Cram (AIA), and thenceforward a popular triumph, Henry Adams said that Mont St. Michel and Chartres  had been written for the diversion of his nieces "and nieces-in-wish"; at any rate, it was intentionally easy reading.  I managed not to read it throughout my youth, being constantly having it thrust upon me (when anyone could see that it was not what such as I would call history of architecture!), and I still haven't quite capitulated.  When he died in 1918, Henry Cabot Lodge saw to the publication of The Education of Henry Adams, and in 1919 it won the Pulitzer Prize (it had been privately published in 1907, the year also that he suffered a stroke).  He has his volume in the Library of America now, besides the Modern Library edition always in print.  But you can go to Wikipedia for Henry and all the other Adamses.

It is not to show a Virgin much earlier than the ones that Henry Adams (at least, in this book) was invoking as the Force of the high middle ages that I chose to illustrate the Eternal Feminine (and Adams surely knew the final chorus of Goethe's Faust both because he had read the poem and because it was much quoted at the fin de siècle—though the first, Munich, performance of Mahler's 8th symphony, which concludes with it, was a little later).  Adams himself pointed out that it was not voluptuous goddess types that he meant but the female principle as deity, though not unsexed, powerful and demanding worship.  Of course, Aphrodite Ourania is not the same as Aphrodite Pandemos. (The illustrations provided on line are pretty bad).   He specified, in fact, the "Diana of the Ephesisan", the Artemis of Ephesus (his fellow New Englander, Thomas Bulfinch, preferred the Latin names), but unlike Gibbon Henry Adams  by age 60 had become modern enough not to call ancient goddesses 'pagan idols': the great cathedrals were built for, and in a sense by, Our Lady.  Her cult was the Force that was pervasive in medieval Europe.  The Greek church has the useful vocabulary: just as the Christ in the mosaic of the central dome of a church is the Pantokrator (the Lord of All), so his mother, the god-bearer (theotokos), in the mosaic of the main eastern apse of the church, is the Panaghia (which means, all-holy).  These images are icons, not illustrations.  Christ with his disciples, Mary at the foot of the cross, all the  pictures that tell the gospel stories, are different kinds of pictures, illustrations; the Pantokrator and the Panaghia in their appointed positions in churches  are icons that embody deity, just as Pheidias's Zeus at Olympia and Athena Parthenos on the Acropolis of Athens are iconic statues that embody deity.  As Adams points out near the end of Ch. XXV of The Education of Henry Adams, for John Adams's great grandson, born in Calvinist Quincy in 1838, to have realized all this, and a great deal more, by his sixties was extraordinary.  Yes, he had lost his wife in 1885, but so many lose their dearest friends and partners with no alteration but bitterness or sanctity.  Yet, his was the generation that saw a world more than stories or morals, let alone the Bible of the Unlettered,  in the great religious art and architecture of the 12th and 13th centuries.  In particular, America's enlightenment did begin with the industrial revolution.  And, though I'm not sure that she wasn't still covered with iconoclastic plaster in Adams's lifetime (though he did visit Hagia Sophia at least once), this truly august Panaghia (at top of this page) does show, I think, what he had realized, lovely as the Amiens Vierge Dorée surely is.

It takes close attention to understand everything Henry Adams is revealing to the reader (for he never conceals how astonished he is, for example by radium, and both he and Langley are aware that much that they do not understand may be frightening).  For one thing, he uses Greek and Latin terms, as 19th-century science often did, in their ancient senses, so that 'economy', for instance, is not about finances nor even its original Greek, which means roughly 'housekeeping'.  He often uses terms just as Francis Bacon had done.  Even physicists in the 1890s are still struggling with vocabulary—and Adams confesses to knowing almost no mathematics.  I find that close reading is the key to both enjoying and understanding him; he is no mystic, though a covert poet in Walt Whitman's terms, and we suddenly realize that no one understood radium at the time of its discovery.
But don't let me spoil it for you.
Not yet concealed by all those machines, turbines and the rest,  here is the famous photograph (anonymous, I think, but surely Archives Photographiques) showing the completed Galerie des Machines opposite the Tour Eiffel, also nearing completion.  It is made of units of pre-cast steel, not iron like St. Pancras Station a generation older.  The pages of Images on line include many period photographs of the Galerie while the Exposition was open, during which you could barely make out the building's bold beauty, and this was when Adams, on at least one occasion accompanied by Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906), his personal friend, to explain the dynamos to him, but we have no record of his being impressed by the building itself, which was dressed up nearly as much as the London Crystal Palace had been.
1889, before the Exposition Universelle opened, this drawing shows what regularly was omitted from courses on the History of Architecture, how the spanning units were "pinned" together at the top, as well as the scale of the triangular "pylons" that, for my generation, had become like heroic icons of cast steel construction.  This is Mainstone's illustration, chosen to show how the very broad span was achieved, and on a tight schedule.  Rowland J. Mainstone, Developments in Structural Form, MIT press, Cambridge, MA, 1983, fig. 13.2.  This book is old now, but I know of nothing that replaces it.

The great dynamos (generators), forty feet in diameter, that Samuel Pierpont Langley shortly before the Paris Exposition (of 1889) closed in 1900, explained exhaustively to his friend Henry Adams, are not what today are hardly illustrated or discussed (see the Images pages).  For my generation,  the Hoover Dam (for example) made the massive generation of electricity intelligible.  What Adams does is to make us understand his own feelings in that Galerie des Machines.  By 1900 electric trains and trolleys were routine, too.  But from the train window (usually, of course, drawn by a steam engine) he noticed the huge mounds of mined coal everywhere.  He does not yet object to its ugliness, but does observe that the whole world's appearance has been altered.  In the later 20th century, it was the building itself that in the famous photographs had become iconic.
At a time of crisis, of meditation (one might say), he says that he finds himself praying, in effect, to the almost incomprehensible machines.  He also makes clear that, as with the cathedrals and the Virgin, it is not a case of religious conversion.  One of his most remarkable, one may say heroic, traits is refusal to swallow easy answers—to anything.  He has been reasoning relentlessly over the industrial revolution (as we have decided to call it), as well as new physics, ever since the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1892.  Both he and Langley agree that it is radium that is fearsome, and that because it does not obey their laws of physics.
(The Chicago Fair, of course, opened on the heels of the Depression; though persons whose home was in the LaFayette Square house, next to John Hay's (now replaced by the hotel named for them on its site), were not exactly ruined by it, still were shocked when they could not withdraw more than $50. —"of my own money"—from the bank).
Personally, studying all the photos of it available on line, I find the Chicago Fair (except for a few buildings) hideous; it had billboards sufficient to deface an entire Interstate Freeway system, with lettering fit for Coney Island.  And Adams, later, when he went to visit the St. Louis Fair, found the excessive use of white electric lights unpleasant, especially since (if we may trust his assessment—and we usually can, because otherwise he is not so explicit) it had practically nothing to show but itself, all white and uninteresting.  Paris, on the contrary, was packed with instructional exhibits.

If you just will read his book, you will see why I can't summarize.  Just take my word for it!  The old distinction between Personal and Private is perfectly exemplified.

Of course, it was the Vierge Dorée on the trumeau of the south portal of Amiens Cathedral that was best loved by Henry Adams's generation (he relates the experience of standing before it with his great friend Augustus St. Gaudens, but Proust also loved it).  This  exquisite ivory in Utrecht, only 26 cm high, is itself some two centuries later than the great Virgin at Hagia Sophia but also (Middle Byzantine, like the Harbaville Triptych) about two centuries earlier  than Amiens.  But you can find pages of photos good and bad of the Amiens Virgin in Google Images.

I did want to provide, since the pages of Images do not provide just what I want, though I have no idea whether Henry Adams ever saw the Utrecht ivory (or any of the several such Middle Byzantine BVM that survived post-iconoclasm) a worthy image of the Virgin.  The Virgin in the large apse of Hagia Sophia is, after all, colossal.  This one, though not miniature, is less than a foot tall.  The date must be close to that of the Harbaville Triptych in the Louvre.  In the center of the middle panel of the triptych is the Greek Orthodox subject called the Deësis.  The word means 'the beseeching', or 'entreaty' or simply 'prayer' (it is unrelated to the words for divinity), the verb being deomai.  Deësis is the prayer of the whole church, to begin with, ekklesia meaning congregation, but this image shows Mary and John on either side of Christ and in a gesture of entreaty, of intercession.  Christ is one in the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; with her Assumption Mary stands in a special relationship to her Son, being (Assumption or not) theotokos, the god-bearer.  To say, therefore, with Adams (and I think with Goethe, too) that all those Notre Dame cathedrals are dedicated to the female expression of God, seems to me obvious.  And, no, I didn't look it up in any catechism, and neither did they.  But Regina Coeli is very much Aphrodite Ourania, isn't it?  Anyway, if we are going to perceive divinity in new Forces, we are only joining the ranks of the contemplatives, aren't we?  In any case, the theology of Deësis does help to bridge what Henry Adams perceived as a gap between the Cross and the Cathedral.

How leaden my own sentences are compared with those of Henry Adams!


Saturday, June 27, 2015

In a very black thunder storm

Taking pictures in stormy weather
On Thursday, June 25, in the early afternoon, the sky became so dark (and noisy) that it could have been dusk or some fearsome dust storm; there was barely enough light for the little Nikon 1 V2.  But by now carefree (an SD card is cheap, and the battery recharges very well) and remembering what Robert Doisneau said about the attractions of wet Paris streets, I thought it would be more fun than washing dishes, for example.  So here are some in order taken.  The +Google album in which I'll store them all is called EndJune2015 (but I found them at the end of "June 2015" in Picasa, and have not discovered how to do as I intended).  I provided them all with Info right in Photoshop.

25 June 2015 Outdoor to left, corner of shower to right.  Cat food that can be shared with outdoor creatures, mostly crows and bluejays right now.

From back door through laundry room, kitchen, and all the way to the front wall, though four rooms, the back porch being closed (evidently in the 1950s) to provide kitchen WC and shower and hot water heater (at left)

25Jun2015  What cat does not like to stop  in the doorway?

25Jun2015 The exterior SW corner; the only exterior tap; its wall enclosing WC; with wild fern gone wilder on the chainlink fence (there was once a dog back here); Taken in rain during thunder storm.
25Jun2015 Back to the utilities alley: the rain brings overnight tangle of elder vine, air potato, confederate jasmine, all hanging on fig tree (the figs will begin to turn pale purple next week).
25Jun2015 Back from back stoop and the decaying deck, across concrete pad with an inch of sudden puddling, the thunderstorm allows photographs impossible ordinarily. 
25Jun2015 Back from back stoop an oak twig from a couple of days ago fallen on the steps of the back stoop, showing water that will drain away in ten minutes but for the moment needs rubber clogs.

25Jun2015 Back from back stoop an oak twig from a couple of days ago fallen on the steps of the back stoop, showing water that will drain away in ten minutes but for the moment needs rubber clogs.  I like this zoomed detail best of all.  Luckily, the yard man had not yet come to clean things up.

I really have nothing to say that the images don't say better.
Zooming, I took them all without getting wet myself.
They were cropped in the taking.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Bluebirds, etc.(even Twitter?)

My neighbor's late and well loved cat, one blue eye

For many years I was puzzled by the musical, Carrousel.  It seemed out of place in Maine, especially in its spirituality, neither acadien nor Protestant.  Not that the music wasn't wonderful.  Eventually Louisiana's Public Radio station, in service to the French part of our heritage, broadcast the 1934 film, Liliom, starring the young Charles Boyer, and there it was: an unforgettable mixture of French and Hungarian symbolism, involving very striking primitive special effects, too.  Also, I had seen schoolchildren performing a version of the Maeterlinck play and later the very awkward Shirley Temple film (she was too large and too old, in 1940, to do it credibly).  The Maeterlinck, though, is a Bluebird of Happiness, just not the Hungarian-American one that Jan Peerce made famous.  The symbol of a blue bird for happiness is evidently as old and as universal as the black bird of doom.  It is, however, the popular symbolism and cultural mood of Frederic Molnar's play, faithfully rendered in Liliom in 1934, so Franco-Hungarian, that Oscar Hammerstein (more than a decade later), transposed for Carrousel, but not quite.  Oklahoma is not puzzling in the same way; its original play was itself of the midwest; its score is as middle American as Aaron Copeland's Rodeo.  It is not simply that Hammerstein was New York and Jewish that Carrousel embodies so much of the central European sentiment.  I wonder whether it wasn't that Hammerstein had a deep personal feeling for Molnar, and Jan Peerce, too.  After all, neither the poem (least of all its spoken soliloquy) nor the music by Sandor Harmati, composed explicitly for Peerce's song, was up to the standards that both his popular and his operatic repertory represented.  We do find, I think, something of the same feeling in early Kertesz photographs, both the country and the traveling circus  subjects.  It has made me wonder just how "French" his bistro pictures are.  These are rather subtle and subjective questions, of course.  Sometimes, though, not in the figures but in the compositions, especially in Pinocchio, I think that I see things that the immigrant artists brought from Europe to Hollywood.  No matter, of course, except that it may help us to understand the complexity and wealth of the fabric of New World culture.  Of course, I am of a generation that is wary of the notion of purity.  I am sorry that immigrants to Hollywood felt that they had to change their names or baptize their children (not that they were the first or the only ones to feel that they needed to do so, and, of course, persons who actually embrace Christianity—or ethical humanism, for that matter—are quite right to choose).
The most striking fact, I think, is one I found in Wikipedia: the only recording to outsell Jan Peerce's Bluebird of Happiness of 1945 (and my own well worn copy is here, in the next room, my own choice to purchase in my early 'teens) was Enrico Caruso's Over There.  Nothing, perhaps, is exotic or alien in America.
That is why, I think, I was so comfortable with Susana Clarke's writing of pre-modern thought and feeling in terms of witches and fairies.  No, I won't venture an analysis!
But what about the choice of a blue bird for Twitter?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The heart of a Dutch amaryllis

The Skeletons of Dutch Amaryllis Blossoms

June 4, 2015.  Reduced photos of two stems of amaryllis blossoms.  See other photos in my  new +Google album for June 2015.  This repeatedly dividing bulb, now (like my cat, Buster) 15 years old, this year actually bloomed twice, then endured two weeks of nearly incessant rain followed by hot, true summer.  So I made haste to record the structure which I'd never seen before.

This is what, inside. every glorious hippeastrum (Dutch amaryllis) contains to produce and to support the blossoms more than four inches across for more than a week (barring serious storms).  In Louisiana we don't even take up the bulbs for the winter, and we plant the new bulbs directly in our soil a few months ahead.  The pretty curly tendril belongs to the wild climbing fern on a nearby crepe myrtle.  The sturdy tan husk cradles the black seeds (?).
I happen to be very fond of the inner, supporting parts of flowering plants, and I know where I got it. I first saw the photography of Karl Blossfeldt nearly a half century ago (see also the excellent pages in his Google Images) and responded to them even without thinking of why.  Blossfeldt in fact saw the fundamentals of beauty in the arts in the forms of plants, a generation earlier than German modernism as such.  Every aspect of his work and his teaching was original in his case.  I cannot see something like these hippeastrum pods without seeing them in his terms.
Of course, handheld, in color, notwithstanding the brilliant intricacies of the Nikon 1 v.2 that I have only half mastered (though here I did use the close-up lens), especially with regard to metering, I cannot do anything like Blossfeldt's work. but I had to do what I could as soon as the sun was high enough. 
Someone may see this Post and the June 15 album and go to the Blossfeldt article (from the Museum of Modern Art) and the excellent Google Images site for him.

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: