12 January 2010

The Greatest Gifts of All


Well, I’d say I have now received a sufficient number of books for Christmas to warrant an update. It began with this one of course. But then it continued:

1) The Annotated Shakespeare, 3 vols., ed. A.L. Rowse (NY: Clarkson N. Potter, 1978). One of my most prized possessions is my copy of The Annotated Dracula, ed. Leonard Wolf (NY: Clarkson N. Potter, 1975)—of which I have made use here and here—and when, back in November, I discovered this set of Shakespeare’s works from the same publisher, in three enormous, handsome volumes, annotated and illustrated in the same style as Wolf’s Dracula, for just $68 at 30 Penn Books here in OKC, I knew I had to put it on layaway for Christmas. Although his name was familiar, however, I knew nothing of the editor until just this moment (although I’ve long enjoyed the Bard’s plays, I’ve never read much Shakespeare criticism). According to a eulogy in the NY Times, Alfred Leslie Rowse (1903-1997) was a ‘brilliant authority on Shakespeare and Elizabethan England whose grandiose opinions of his scholarship were not always shared by rival historians he invariably dismissed as third-rate’, and a certain reference site says that he ‘developed a widespread reputation for irascibility and intellectual arrogance’. The truth of this last judgement is on unfortunate display in a comment from his introduction to Twelfth Night:

Maria then thinks up another trick, of having him confined in a dark hole of the house, while the Clown dresses up as a minister, Sir Topas, to exorcise the evil spirit from him. All this is very Elizabethan, though the nonsense of exorcising is still with us today, and people are such fools that it sometimes even works. [1]

A native of Cornwall, Rowse earned the sole Cornish scholarship to Oxford, where he was an undergraduate at Corpus Christi, and became a fellow of All Souls’ at the age of 22. Although he is apparently notorious for proclaiming his own opinions as certain fact, regardless of how little actual evidence there was for them, Rowse also seems quite the colourful character in a not entirely unappealing way. While he was openly homosexual, the NYT piece credits Rowse with ‘finding irrefutable scholarly evidence that Shakespeare was “a strongly sexed heterosexual” and a man “more than a little interested in women—for an Englishman”’. According to the other site, a recurring theme of Rowse’s work ‘was his horror at the degradation of standards in modern society [ironic, I know, for a sodomite!]. He is reported as saying: “This filthy twentieth century. I hate its guts”’.

2) Upon my return from 30 Penn Books, I espied a delightfully yellow, tell-tale envelope protruding from my mailbox, which turned out to bear the return address of St Herman of Alaska Monastery. I had at last received my copy of Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life & Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, comp. by the SHA Brotherhood, trans. Ana Smiljanic (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2009), along with The Orthodox Word, Nos. 266 & 267, and the 2010 calendar, devoted to Anglo-Saxon Saints. After opening the book, I was intrigued to learn from a quick glance the connection of Elder Thaddeus, a Serb, with Russian monasticism and a couple of important figures of the Russian Church Abroad:

Through the influence of the traditions of the Optina and Valaam Monasteries, Fr Thaddeus learned the art of prayer. At the Miljkovo Monastery in Serbia, where he became a novice in 1932, he became the spiritual son of Schema-archimandrite Ambrose, who was himself a disciple of the Optina Elders. It was through him that Fr Thaddeus received the gift of Grace-filled prayer—the memory of which would light his way during the darkest years of the twentieth century. At Miljkovo, he was likewise a witness to the deep spiritual tradition of the Russian monks from Valaam, who had been uprooted from their beloved monastery. [2]

Miljkovo, of course, [3] deserves its own post. Suffice to say that not only the Elder Ambrose himself, an important early personality of the Russian Church Abroad, but St John the Wonderworker, Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) of San Francisco, and even Archimandrite Cyprian (Kern) were all connected with it at one point or another.

As a sample of the spiritual riches of this book, here is just one of the sayings of Elder Thaddeus. It seems rather apropos amid much of the dispensationalist ridiculousness surrounding the understanding of the Antichrist in the English-speaking world:

6. One of the God-bearing Fathers, St Nilus the Myrrh-gusher (he appeared to Monk Theophanes, who dwelt in St Nilus’ cave in the eighteenth century), has explained to us many of the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. He said that envy was the seal of the Antichrist on the heart of man. Do you now see what a terrible thing envy is? But alas, we often envy our neighbor, even our closest of kin. We do not care even to attempt to heal ourselves from this affliction and come to our senses. [4]

3) John McManners, ed., The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity (Oxford: Oxford U, 1990). Last night, we finally exchanged gifts with my parents and sister. My dad had managed to pick out this one, as well as the next (#4). I rarely get around to buying large reference works like this, although of course I love to have them. As Church History is not really my baillywick, I’m not familiar with all of the contributing authors, but I do notice:

Henry Chadwick, ‘The Early Christian Community’

Kallistos (Ware), ‘Eastern Christendom’

Owen Chadwick, ‘Great Britain & Europe’

Sergei Hackel, ‘The Orthodox Churches of Eastern Europe’ (although Hackel is familiar to me only in name, I see from the dust jacket that he is ‘Formerly Reader in Russian Studies, University of Sussex, and Vicar-General of the Russian Orthodox Church in the British Isles’)

Hackel’s chapter is of course quite dated and stands in need of revising. It is also curious that its scope is confined entirely to the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe, saying nothing whatever about the ‘Diaspora’. Nevertheless, taken as a whole this book promises to be a helpful reference, and the illustrations alone may be worthwhile.

4) Garry Wills, Chesterton: Man & Mask (NY: Sheed & Ward, 1961). Though I have read little in the way of studies OF the man, I am, of course, a card-carrying Chestertonian. I also enjoyed Wills’s book, Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power (2003), as well as what I’ve read of his work on St Augustine. Upon showing this—immediately after receipt—at the Chesterton Society last night, one of the members (who are all Catholics) informed me that it was written before Wills ‘was a heretic’. I cannot speak on his theology, but if this ‘heresy’ has anything to do with his criticisms of Pius IX, I may be rather sympathetic—to the heretic, that is.

At any rate, this book sounds quite interesting. Wills promises to approach Chesterton ‘to learn’ from him, rather than ‘to defend or attack’. He says he intends ‘simply to read the man’s own words with something of that “virgin vision” which he recommended’. [5] Finally, he writes:

Those who reject Chesterton’s other exaggerations calmly accept his wildest caricature, which was self-caricature. That is why I may, by accident, be using Chesterton’s own method. To consider Chesterton prosaically may be the way to achieve the inversion, the ‘upside-down view’, which brings a shock of surprised recognition. [6]

As an unexpected accessory, the volume had stuck into it a photocopy of a reprint in The Chesterton Review of Evelyn Waugh’s review of Wills’s study from the 22 April 1961 issue of National Review (now I’m afraid I’ve used the word ‘review’ too many times, not to mention too many prepositional phrases). This is a gem indeed. Waugh laments that the book had its origin in a doctoral thesis, as well as Wills’s too jargon-filled style, which is nevertheless ‘not uniformly bad’. He notes that Wills himself admits that he fails to answer the questions he had posed in the beginning. On the other hand, Waugh applauds that Wills ‘shows no inclination to expose Chesterton’, as might have been assumed from the title, and ultimately he credits Wills with performing a valuable service in that he ‘has read everything and he presents us with a conscientious, if clumsy, précis’.

5) James T. Como, ed., C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table & Other Reminiscences (NY: Macmillan, 1979). I enjoy C.S. Lewis as a personality as much as if not more than I enjoy his writing, so this was a natural Christmas purchase for me (I found it at Half Price Books for $7.98). Although I do not recognise most of the contributors, I look forward to reading ‘The Adventure of Faith’ by Alan Bede Griffiths, OSB, ‘Orator’ by Gervase Mathew, OP, and ‘In His Image’ by the intriguing Austin Farrer. The latter writes with great insight:

Someone wrote to me yesterday that Lewis was a split personality because the imaginative and the rationalistic held so curious a balance in his mind; and he himself tells us how his imaginative development raced away in boyhood and was afterward called to order by logic. Yet I will not call a split personality one brave enough both to think and to feel, nor will I call it integration, which is achieved by halving human nature. Certainly reason struggled in him with feeling and sometimes produced bizarre effects; but no one who conversed with him and listened to the flow of that marvelous speech could wish to talk of a split between powers so fruitfully and so mutually engaged. No doubt many intellectuals keep a life of feeling somewhere apart, where it will not infect the aseptic purity of their thoughts. If it is a crime to think about all you strongly feel and feel the realities about which you think, then the crime was certainly his. [7]

6) Also from Half Price Books, two by Tolkien: The Children of Húrin, ed. Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007), and The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún, ed. Christopher Tolkien (London: HarperCollins, 2009). I realise that I make much more reference on this blog to Lewis than I do to his good friend Tolkien, but like many I enjoy the creative efforts of the latter far greater than those of the former. Thus, I cannot but rejoice to see more of these being published, however posthumously and unfinished, through the efforts of his son, Christopher. As for the first, The Children of Húrin, I found the story of Húrin’s children, Túrin and Nienor, a beautiful tragedy as it is told in chapter 21 of the Quenta Silmarillion. [8] I look forward to reading this version someday, as well as the verse telling, ‘The Lay of the Children of Húrin’. [9]

The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún looks like a particularly beautiful piece of editing. Tolkien the Younger has published two poems written by his father in the old Norse eight-line fornyrðislag stanza in which he attempts to organize and clarify the ancient legend of the Völsungs. [10] To this Christopher adds as an introduction a lecture by his father on Old Norse poetry, as well as extensive notes on the poems which use what materials there are from old Tollers himself to explain the poems and ‘to point out significant departures made by my father from the Old Norse sources or between variant narratives, in such cases indicating his views, where possible by reference to what he said in his lectures’. Thus, Christopher writes:

In thus making much use of my father’s notes and draft discussions on ‘the Matter of Old Norse’, and the tragedy of the Völsungs and Niflungs, hastily set down and unfinished as they are, I have chosen to try to make this book, as a whole, as much his work as I could achieve. [11]

Of course, of the posthumous publications more than anything I’d love a copy of Morgoth’s Ring: The Later Silmarillion Part I, The Legends of Aman, Vol. 10 of The History of Middle-earth, ed. Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993). Ralph Wood’s use of this book in chapt. 5 of his study of Tolkien has me hankering for it! [12]

7) In the same trip to Half Price Books, Christmas money in hand, I found William Douglas Chamberlain, An Exegetical Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: 1988). The author, writing in 1940, notes in his Foreword, ‘Experience seemed to indicate an unbridged gulf in the student’s mind between a knowledge of grammatical facts and their application to exegesis.’ [13] I figure I can never have too much of this sort of thing!

8) Last, but certainly not least, my good friend David Schneider kindly gave me a copy of Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon), Ethical Writings of Maimonides, ed. Raymond L. Weiss & Charles Butterworth (NY: Dover, 1983). As a student of moral theology, I frequently lament my relative lack of knowledge of philosophical ethics. It will be nice to have a handy edition of the ethical works of this medieæval thinker whom Copleston called ‘the most interesting of the Jewish mediæval philosophers’. [14]

In conclusion, I’ve managed to save about $40, which I plan to spend on a couple of hagiographical works to be ordered online, the thinking being that these will be most useful for another year of Logismoic blogging.


[1] A.L. Rowse, ed., The Annotated Shakespeare, Vol.1: The Comedies (NY: Clarkson N. Potter, 1978), p. 504.

[2] Ryassaphore-monk Adrian, ‘Foreword’, The Life & Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, comp. by the SHA Brotherhood, trans. Ana Smiljanic (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2009), p. 8.

[3] We in the Russian Church Abroad seem mostly just to call it ‘Milkovo’.

[4] Elder Thaddeus, p. 184.

[5] Garry Wills, Chesterton: Man & Mask (NY: Sheed & Ward, 1961), p. 6.

[6] Ibid., p. 7.

[7] Austin Farrer, ‘In His Image’, C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table & Other Reminiscences, ed. James T. Como (NY: Macmillan, 1979), p. 243.

[8] J.R.R.Tolkien, The Silmarillion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983), pp. 198-226.

[9] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lays of Beleriand, ed. Christopher Tolkien, Vol. 3 of The History of Middle-earth (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985), pp. 3-130.

[10] Christopher Tolkien, ‘Foreword’, The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún, by J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Christopher Tolkien (London: HarperCollins, 2009), p. 6.

[11] Ibid., p. 8.

[12] Ralph C. Wood, The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-earth (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003), pp. 156-65.

[13] William Douglas Chamberlain, An Exegetical Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: 1988), p. vii.

[14] Frederick Copleston, SJ, Mediæval Philosophy, Part 1: Augustine to Bonaventure, Vol. 2 of A History of Philosophy (Garden City, NY: Image, 1962), p. 229.

5 comments:

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

You know the entire Tolkien fils set of The Histories of Middle Earth is available in a paperback set? (Amazon has it for under $26). If you can't stand the paperbacks, though, I'd try to find a set of the big triple-volume hardback set of The History of Middle-Earth (shown here, at the bottom of the page, the three 2002 volumes). The pagination is identical to the first edition separate hardbacks, but the paper is thinner, like Bible paper, so that all twelve volumes are fitted into the three hefty hardbacks. These are not the deluxe India paper editions, in individual slipcases, which are just ridiculously expensive. I managed to find each of the three hardbacks for about $50. The normal individual hardbacks would just take up too much shelf space. These books are positively amazing. There's such a wealth of material in them.

If you do manage to pick up the whole set in hardcover, I'd also recommend The History of Middle-Earth Index (see here). It's just a compilation of all the indices to the individual volumes. It's very handy, so you don't have to flip through twelve indices in order to find all the different occurrences of names and whatnot. Christopher Tolkien went all-out to be as exhaustive in indexing the volumes as possible, so it really is a very useful index. It's something that I was dreading that I'd have to do myself, until I happily ran across that very page linked above, and got myself a copy. If only that happened all the time!

aaronandbrighid said...

Thanks, Kevin. I probably would have just bought the mass-market paperbacks, but after your description of the 3-vol. hardcover set I'm afraid I just can't bring myself to click that order button. Since, however, it's Morgoth's Ring I want so much, and since I already have Lays of Beleriand, I may order the MR trade paperback. It's inexpensive without being unfit for toilet paper.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Shame on me, then. The only problem I see with the paperbacks is the pagination. References in publications are typically to the hardcovers. That's not a common issue, I suppose.

For just reading's sake, the paperbacks will no doubt be great. They're so much more portable, and you won't mind spilling anything on them (coffee, beer, etc) while out and about reading as much as on a much more expensive hardcover. In fact, maybe I'll pick up a set myself (and then scrawl in the margins the hardcover's page numbers, and then I could work on a certain project with both sets!).

Thanks for the inspiration!

aaronandbrighid said...

What's this 'project' you mention? Do tell!

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

I shall send you email about it!