Hawthorne the Sage

I recently picked up my collected works of Nathanial Hawthorn, only to be reminded of how brilliant he was, and how sad it is that top ten lists can only have ten items on them. In particular, I was reading ‘The Celestial Railroad’ which is available from Gutenberg Press.


The story was written in 1843 (according to the date on the website for the story… I didn’t look it up anywhere J ). It is almost shocking how all of the roots of postmodern life are on full display in this story. I would say that the real humanistic modernism was already plunging headlong off the cliff, they just hadn’t hit the pavement yet (that would the World Wars in this brief but hopefully apt analogy.

Anyway, I will copy a few passages here so that you know what I was talking about.

The dreamer sets out in his dream (no dancing around the dreaming trope or the allegory in this story.) on the new railroad that has been built from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City from Pilgrim’s progress. (I have many issues with that book but that is for another time…) However Hawthorn’s story is what Bunyan’s should have been, showing the result of people depending on their own strength to get to heaven. On this railroad ride all the most powerful people from Destruction and their conversation is described such:

There was much pleasant conversation about the news of the day, topics of business, politics, or the lighter matters of amusement; while religion, though indubitably the main thing at heart, was thrown tastefully into the back-ground.

Here the burdens are kept for safekeeping in a baggage car, Apollyon is the chief conductor, and  gas from the Valley of Humiliation is piped into a system to be burnt to light the way.


There is, in the place of the Giants at the exit of the Valley, a new resident whose description I thought hilarious:

He is a German by birth, and is called Giant Transcendentalist; but as to his form, his features, his substance, and his nature generally, it is the chief peculiarity of this huge miscreant, that either he for himself, nor anybody for him, has ever been able to describe them. As we rushed by the cavern’s mouth, we caught a hasty glimpse of him, looking somewhat like an ill-proportioned figure, but considerably more like a heap of fog and duskiness. He shouted after us but in so  strange a phraseology, that we knew not what he meant, nor whether to be encouraged or affrighted.

In Vanity Fair: “… the reverend clergy are nowhere held in higher respect than at Vanity Fair. And well do they deserve such honorable estimation; for the maxims of wisdom and virtue which fall from their lips, come from as deep a spiritual source, and tend to as lofty a religious aim, as those of the sagest philosophers of old.”

And what he writes about the education is so spookily similar to post-modern education, one would think that the post-moderns lived in the 19th century… that and the communilization (if that’s a word) of morals.

The labors of these eminent divines are aided by those of innumerable lecturers, who diffuse such a various profundity, in all subjects of human or celestial science, that any man may acquire an omnigenous erudition, without the trouble of even learning to read. Thus literature is etherealized by assuming for its medium the human voice; and knowledge, depositing all its heavier particles- except, doubtless, its gold- becomes exhaled into a sound, which forthwith steals into the ever-open ear of the community. These ingenious methods constitute a sort of machinery, by which thought and study are done to every person’s hand, without his putting himself to the slightest inconvenience in the matter. There is another species of machine for the wholesale manufacture of individual morality. This excellent result is effected by societies for all manner of virtuous purposes; with which a man has merely to connect himself, throwing, as it were, his quota of virtue into the common stock; and the president and directors will take care that the aggregate amount be well applied. All these, and other wonderful improvements in ethics, religion, and literature, being made plain to my comprehension, by the ingenious Mr. Smooth-it-away, inspired me with a vast admiration of Vanity Fair.

The depiction here of a society that pretends to be on a pilgrimage while going nowhere is so oddly in sync with the modern world. It is a strong reminder not to look wistfully at the past as if it was a better, or more Christian, or more moral time. Rather we must set our resolve and deal with that hallowed time where eternity touches us: the present. I imagine that there is much to learn from Hawthorne… also he is a high-class storyteller, so I plan to re-read him. (I think I have read nearly everything he wrote already, but it’s been a while…) I think you should too, or read for the first time.


Books for Non-Readers (and a small rant)

I published this over at my main blog, but it is good for this blog too. At the end of the rant (which doesn’t show up on the reblog) I list 5 books for youth and 5 for adults who might want to get back into reading. Disagreements, discussion (or people defending The Woman in White) will be fun in the comments. I am sure M. Otaku has some thoughts as well…

The Dusty Thanes

Go look at this list and before you give you my opinion: this list is mostly BS. It always strikes me as strange how it seems always to be women giving advice on ‘reading-reluctant boys’ or ‘how to be a gentleman’ I sometimes wonder if this isn’t because men don’t care; but rather because a lot of women are nosey-parkers who don’t feel right unless they are giving advice to males… Whew! that wasn’t very nice of me, was it…

Let me continue complaining for a bit: ‘reading reluctant boys’ is actually fairly offensive. To make up a euphemism for someone who doesn’t like to read, and then talk about it only for boys is, well, forgetting that girls don’t read anything either. (…and thrill-loving girls, says the sub-title.) It is also a bit dumb to imply that boys need anything other than a well written, interesting story which…

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Getting Into Hot Water



Great quote by one of the Inklings. As a person who gets into hot water frequently I often wonder if this is a result of wisdom or rebellion.

As a wannabe saint/contemplative/wise person you’d think trouble would be one of those things I avoided easily and yet I tend to find myself in tough conversations and situations. Mostly these result from asking too many questions and refusing to believing something to be true just because someone says it is…for some reason this makes people irritated and sometimes gives the impression I’m hard to get along with or have malcontent tendencies.

Maybe this is true. Maybe I enjoy rubbing people the long way. Maybe people need to think more and presume less? After all, hot water is the best way to cleanse ourselves of illusions and assumptions.



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Versatile Blogger Award

ThompsdJames and I extend our thanks to Michelle Joelle of Soliloquies for nominating us for the Versatile Blogger Award.  Be sure to check out her site as it always contains insightful posts on writing and human nature.  As of now, it includes some beautiful pictures of winter.

Versatile Blogger Award

Here is a short list of the rules:

  • Thank the person who gave you this award. That’s common courtesy.
  •  Include a link to their blog. That’s also common courtesy — if you can figure out how to do it.
  •  Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly. ( I would add, pick blogs or bloggers that are excellent!)
  •  Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award — you might include a link to this site.
  •  Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.

We have decided to split the seven questions among ourselves with Thomps taking the first four and me the last three.  Here goes:

1: Thomps has a son named Leonidas who is just learning to walk. (I will absolutely be teaching him to say “MOΛΩN ΛABE!” when he starts talking.)

Battle of Thermopylae

2 Is really getting a PhD in Chemistry.

3: Judges a novel contest (see Athanatos Christian Ministries’ Novel Contest).

4: Was variously called The Moose and The Saxon and The Enforcer for similar reasons in college–that of being big, loud and a bit clumsy…

Dr. Minaev at Kostroma Agricultural Academy

Now for M. Otaku’s turn:

5: Was known in college for telling anecdotes–most of which concerned General Nathan Bedford Forrest of Civil War fame.


6: Owns four swords–all replicas: a Viking sword, Norman sword, Spanish broadsword of the late middle ages, and a Great Katana (aka O-Katana).  I really want to own this sword next:

7: Ovid is my favorite Latin writer.

Well, that suffices for the information part!  Now I need to nominate fifteen people.  (Yes, I’m hogging the nominations all to myself:

1.  Terpsicore and Melpomene of the Egotist’s Club

2.  Lady Blade Blog

3.  Book Lion

4.  Kathryn Hemmann of Contemporary Japanese Literature

5.  Suburban Banshee of Aliens in this World

6.  Appropriant of Perpetual Morning

7.  Raging Biblio-holism

8.  Sword Cross Rocket

9.  Tobby of The Overlord Bear’s Den

10. Phineas Fahrquar of Public Secrets

11.  Illogicalzen

12.  Chibiotaku010

13.  Genkinahito’s Blog

14.  Gentlemanotoku’s Anime Circle

Do Books Need a Plot?: Thoughts on Hills and the Sea

For a while now, I have been reading Hilaire Belloc’s Hills and the Sea.  Some of you might know that Belloc and G. K. Chesterton were very close friends, but Belloc writes very differently from Chesterton.  Their greatest point of similarity comes in their employment of moral digressions.  However, Chesterton prefers using his characters for this, while Belloc directly explains the truth.  Yet, his descriptive language is beautiful: the way Belloc describes places, whether cities or the wilderness, immerses the reader in the setting.

A Frenchman, but I should describe Belloc's face as being particularly Frankish.

A Frenchman, but I should describe Belloc’s face as being particularly Frankish.

His skill in description not only saves this novel but makes it interesting.  You see, Hills and the Sea follows two friends as they travel across Europe.  However, Belloc displays a deficiency in the realm of character development.  He gives us descriptions of the characters, but we don’t see their traits having a particular impact on their actions.  Indeed, in certain cases, their realm of action is limited to things like surviving a hike through the Pyrenees.  (Actions of intelligent people in such circumstances vary but little.)  We are told that these two friends are inseparable (hence their nickname the Two Man) and that one of them is the narrator.  However, I think that we can switch points of view without a change in the tone of narration.

A picture of Belloc around 1950.  He outlived Chesterton by 17 years.

A picture of Belloc around 1950. He outlived Chesterton by 17 years.

The weaknesses of the novel in plot and characterization render Hills and the Sea interesting merely for Belloc’s views and his vast knowledge of European cities and countryside.  He has packaged a travelogue under the guise of a novel.  The travelogue used to be an incredibly popular form of literature, and I am surprised by how much I enjoy his descriptions of places like Delft, Holland and the Pyrenees Mountains.  But, I hope that some plot surfaces soon: I prefer books where the characters’ actions are based on achieving certain goals!

Five Fascinating Facts about Charles Dickens

Interesting Literature

Curious Dickens trivia relating to his life and work

1. Dickens’s house had a secret door in the form of a fake bookcase. The fake books included titles such as ‘The Life of a Cat’ in 9 volumes. This was at his home at Gad’s Hill, in Kent. He also reputedly had a series of fake titles called ‘The History of a Short Chancery Suit’ in 47 volumes (a reference to the very long Chancery case which inspired his novel, Bleak House).

Dickens22. In his courtship letters to her, Dickens addressed his future wife as ‘dearest Mouse’ and ‘dearest darling Pig’. These were almost certainly meant as terms of endearment, but it’s tempting to respond to them differently from our retrospective position: Dickens’s affection for his wife soon dwindled after they were married, and he seemed to harbour more romantic and sentimental interest in her sisters than in poor Catherine herself…

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