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Showing posts from July, 2008

Joseph Conrad's "The Censor of Plays"

In 1907, Joseph Conrad wrote "The Censor of Plays." The full text appears below.

Conrad tried his hand as a playwright only once, producing a one-act play that the audience rejected. After he had finished the script he learned of the existence of the Censor of Plays, and this inspired the following satirical essay about the obscure civil servant who Conrad felt had no place in twentieth-century England.
Given the vulgarity and tasteless quality of many contemporary British (and American) plays, one wonders if Conrad might not be tempted to reconsider his assessment of censorship were he living today. (Of course, the question of censorship is as old as Plato (pro) and Aristotle (con), and we shall not resolve the matter here, but note that Conrad does hold Jules Lemaitre, the French drama critic and "censor of plays" in high regard.)
What follows is a delightful piece of writing that reveals Conrad's love of things English and his association of "mustiness&quo…

Censorship of Plays in Great Britain

Great Britain's "Censor of Plays" was described by Joseph Conrad in 1907 as a "public man" whose "office flourished in the shade; not in the rustic shade beloved of the violet but in the muddled twilight of mind, where tyranny of every sort flourishes."

This certainly seems to describe Britain's official censor from the viewpoint of the liberal 20th century. Following are some of the Censor's considerations in deciding whether a play would live or die.

Never show Jesus or refer to royalty. Do not blaspheme or mention homosexuality.

Anyone harming friendly relations with a foreign power is in trouble. Anything likely to cause a breach of the peace could bring the curtain down.

It is a miracle any plays ever made it to the stage, so strict were the rules laid down by the lord chamberlain, a senior member of the royal household who acted as Britain's official censor.

Now, for the first time, his records are being published, revealing the jud…

More on Sayers and Classical Education

In her "Lost Tools of Learning," Dorothy Sayers describes what it means to be classically educated. The following essay discusses some of the forms of "classical" education found today in the USA. It is apparent that the designation "classical" can be employed in ways that definitely as not. This essays appears at the website of Logos School Materials.

What is Classical Education?

The resurgence of classical education over the last decade has been heartening in many respects, but some aspects of it are a bit confusing. No one holds the copyright on the word classical, and given the nature of the word, there has been something of a scramble in the various manifestations of classical education. This is not surprising, especially in a time when classical can refer to a ’57 Chevy, an original cola formula, the early Beach Boys, or a classic rock radio station.

Within the field of education, the word classical has a number of legitimate applications and a f…

CS Lewis on Hedonism

Alice C. Linsley

I'm reading an excellent book edited by Gregory Bassham and Jerry L. Walls. It is titled The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy. Bassham is a philosophy professor at Kings College in Pennsylvania and the author of a book I use with my Critical Thinking classes.

Chapter seven of The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy addresses "Work, Vocation and the Good Life in Narnia." In this chapter, written by Devin Brown, the character of Eustace Scrubb is examined. Here is an excerpt from that chapter. Devon Brown writes:

Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who lived from 342 to 270 B.C., taught that the goal of life is to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, a philosophy that is called hedonism. You may have heard of the modern-day resort named Hedonism that claims to be "a lush garden of pure pleasure," and in fact the Greek word hedones means pleasures. As Epicurus explained to a young disciple, "We recognize pleasure as the first and natural good; star…

Glimmer Train Fiction Contest

Deadline: July 31, 2008
Open to all writers.
Stories about family, not to exceed 12,000 words.

1st place wins $1,200, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies.
2nd-place: $500 and possible publication.
3rd-place: $300 and possible publication.

Reading fee: $15 per story.
To submit, go to, and click on the yellow submissions tab.

Results will be posted on September 30, 2008.

The Glimmer Train Editors report: "A substantial proportion of fiction submissions are heavily rooted in actual experience, which is entirely fine with us, but we do want stories to READ like fiction and anything we publish is presented as fiction. We look forward to reading your work!"

Pablo Neruda From the Heights of Macchu Picchu

“Poetry is like bread,” Neruda wrote. “It should be shared by all, by scholars and peasants, by all our vast, incredible, extraordinary family of humanity."

The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was called "the greatest poet of the twentieth century in any language" by Columbian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Neruda began writing poetry at an early age and had his first published poem at age 13. His real name was Ricardo Eliecer Nefali Reyes Basoalto, but at age 16 he started to use his pseudonym, Pablo Neruda. Neruda's best known work was Veinte Poemas de amor y una canciĆ³n desesperada.

Neruda was barely able to make a living in his homeland. His needs led him to work and travel overseas. This contributed an international quality to his work. He served as a diplomat in the South Pacific and briefly in Mexico City before returning to Chile. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.

His political sympathies were with Communism which was outlawed in Chile u…

Tozer's Prayer Upon Ordination

Lyle Dorsett has written concerning A. W. Tozer's prayer: "This is the prayer of a man called to be a witness to the nations. This is what he said to his Lord on the day of his ordination. After the elders and ministers had prayed and laid their hands on him he withdrew to meet his Saviour in the secret place and in the silence, farther in than his well-meaning brethren could take him. And he said:

O Lord, I have heard Thy voice and was afraid. Thou hast called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour. Thou are about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. O Lord, our Lord, Thou has stopped to honor me to be Thy servant. No man takes this honor upon himself save he that is called of God as was Aaron. Thou has ordained me Thy messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and hard of hearing. They have rejected Thee, the Master, and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.

My God, I sha…

Family Reunion

The following poem was written about the gathering of the Linsleys at Zion's Hill in Connecticut on March 18, 1898. The occasion was the 25th wedding anniversary of the Rev. and Mrs. Harvey Linsley, who had 7 grandchildren. Two died before adulthood. There were also 2 sets of twin boys: Ray and Vivian, and Paul and Earle.

Ray Linsley went into business in Hartford. Vivian studied for the ministry in Boston and later moved to California for his health. Edna attended Mount Holyoke College for 3 years, then graduated from U.C. Berkeley. She later went to Japan as a missionary. Paul Linsley (my paternal grandfather) helped his parents at their ranch in Yucaipa, California, studied nursing and worked as an overseer of construction crews working on the Boulder Dam. His twin, Earle, finished at Colgate and moved to California where he began his teaching career at California Baptist College. Earle later became the Director of Chabot Observatory and Science Center in Oakland.

It was with muc…

Reflections on Chabot Observatory, Oakland

Edna Linsley Gressitt was the sister of the renowned astronomer Earle Garfield Linsley. He was the former Director of the Chabot Observatory in Oakland, California. His twin brother was my paternal grandfather, Paul Judson Linsley. Paul was a published poet and horticulturalist who cultivated hybrid roses with Luther Burbank of Santa Rosa, California. He also developed several strains of disease resistant avocado trees.

Climbing Up
By Edna Linsley Gressitt

Climbing up,
Thru the hostile chaparral,
Under the stiff, suspicious trees,
Hushed from any breath of breeze,
Without a rustle,
On and up,
By the lonely creeping trail
Winding up the wooded steep
Of the shadowed canyon side,
In faint star light,
Dim and still,
In quaint far light,
Huddled, breathless, sleeping quail
And noiseless brown hares, burrowing deep,
And still gray gophers hide,
When the weird quivering
Cry of the night owl beats the soundless air;
Up, at last
In clear star li…

Mothering a Boy Scout

The Boy Scout's Mother to Her Friends
Edna Linsley Gressitt

Will you walk into my parlor?
Flags for signalling are there;
A handbook and a bug net
Will yield to you a chair;
These raccoon tracks in plaster
Are works of art, no doubt.
Do you savvy you are stalking

The trail of a Boy Scout?
Will you come and have some tea
Upon my dining table?
The caterpillars I'll remove
As fast as I am able.
The star map and the snake skin
I'll dare you to throw out!
For I believe in scouting,
And I'm glad my boy's a Scout.

When I go to cook there's resin
On the stove a-melting down;
The sink has sample leaves and bark
Of all the trees in town;
Scout pants with coffee grains get dyed
In a tub beneath the spout;
So I savvy I am stalking
The trail of a Boy Scout.

He does not have "a skeleton
In the closet," as they say,
But bones of beasts upon his desk
Enjoy the light of day;
He sleeps well with a million
Mounted insects round about;
So I believe in scouting,
And I'm glad my boy's a Scout.


Poetry Explores Relationships

The following poem appears in Collected Poems (1957-1982) of Wendell Berry, North Point Press. It is one of a number of "farmer" poems in which Mr. Berry explores relationships.

The Farmer and the Sea
Wendell Berry

The sea always arriving,
hissing in pebbles, is breaking
its edge where the landsman
squats on his rock. The dark
of the earth is familiar to him,
close mystery of his source
and end, always flowering
in the light and always
fading. But the dark of the sea
is perfect and strange,
the absence of any place,
immensity on the loose.
Still, he sees it is another
keeper of the land, caretaker,
shaking the earth, breaking it,
clicking the pieces, but somewhere
holding deep fields yet to rise,
shedding its richness on them
silently as snow, keeper and maker
of places wholly dark. And in him
something dark applauds.

Mass of the Visitation

Ed Pacht recently had an experience at Mass that does not pretend to be a vision, but the work of imagination in the rarefied air of a High and Loving Presence. Note that such a "Catholic" poem includes reference to two old Evangelical hymns on the Cross. Ed explains, "At the Cross' and 'At Calvary' both resounded in my head as I wrote."

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (June 30) commemorates Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth, the leaping of Elizabeth's unborn son in the womb at the presence of the Savior yet unborn, and Elizabeth's word to Mary, "Blessed art thou among women ..."

There in church Ed saw the icon of Mother and Child to the left and the crucifix over the altar. Mass began ...

Ed Pacht

She stands within the frame,
at the window into heaven,
holding there her child,
the Child, the Son, the Holy One,
... holding there her Child,
while behind her, as it seems,
there comes a priest to the holy place,
and ther…

John Adams on Independence Day Celebrations

Letter to his wife, Abigail Adams
3 July 1776

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward for evermore.

John Adams

Voltaire's Poem on the Lisbon Disaster

Voltaire (1694-1778) was a French Enlightenment philosopher and deist who enjoyed nuanced debate about the nature of the world, humanity and God. In his youth he advocated a hedonistic philosophy, stating that “True wisdom lies in knowing how to flee sadness in the arms of pleasure.”

Voltaire became less effusive in his advocacy of pleasure after the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. The earthquake was followed by a tsunami and fire which destroyed most of the city and devastated outlaying areas. The death toll is estimated to be between 60,000 to 100,000 people.

The disaster struck on the morning of All Saints, a feast day that the devout Catholics of Portugal observed. When word of the devastation reached other European countries, it became a topic of heated discussion among the intelligentsia who pondered how to reconcile the existence of such an evil with God’s goodness.

Voltaire’s Poem on the Lisbon Disaster

Unhappy mortals! Dark and mourning earth!
Affrighted gathering of human kind!

The Final Redemption of Cats

For Timothy, in the Coinherence
Dorothy Sayers

“Tutti tirati sono, e tutti tirano” –
(Paradiso xxviii, 129)

Consider, O Lord, Timothy, Thy servants’ servant.
(We give him this title, as to Thy servant the Pope,
Not knowing a better. Him too Thy ministers were
To vest in white and adorn with a silk cope.)

Thy servant lived with Thy servants in the exchange
Of affection; he condescended to them from the
Of an innocent mind; they bent to him with benignity
From the rarefied Alps of their intellectual range.

Hierarchy flourished, with no resentment
For the unsheathed claw or the hand raised in
Small wild charities took root beneath the Protection,
Garden-escapes from the Eden of our contentment.

Daily we came short in the harder human relation,
Only in this easier obeying, Lord, Thy commands;
Meekly we washed his feet, meekly he licked our
hands -
Beseech Thee, overlook not this mutual grace of

Canst Thou accept our pitiful good behaving,
Stooping to share at our hand that …