16 July 2012

from Gilead (Marilynne Robinson)

But I wished to say certain things about the Fifth Commandment, and why it should be thought of as belonging to the first tablet.  Briefly, the right worship of God is essential because it forms the mind to a right understanding of God.  God is set apart - He is One, He is not to be imagined as a thing among things (idolatry - this is what Feuerbach failed to grasp).  His name is set apart.  It is sacred (which I take to be a reflection of the sacredness of the Word, the creative utterance which is not of a kind with other language).  Then the Sabbath is set apart from other days, for the enjoyment of time and duration, perhaps, over and above the creatures who inhabit time.  Because 'the beginning,' which might be called the seed of time, is the condition for all the creation that follows.  Then mother and father are set apart, you see.  It seems to me almost a retelling of Creation - First there is the Lord, then the Word, then the Day, then the Man and Woman - and after that Cain and Abel - Thou shalt not kill - and all the sins recorded in those prohibitions, just as crimes are recorded in the laws against them.  So perhaps the tablets differ as addressing the eternal and the temporal.

from The Lord of the Rings, book 6, chapter 7, Homeward Bound (J.R.R. Tolkien)

'Well here we are, just the four of us that started out together,' said Merry.  We have left all the rest behind, one after another.  It seems almost like a dream that has slowly faded.'

'Not to me,' said Frodo.  'To me it feels more like falling asleep again.'

11 July 2012

from Coot Club, chapter XVII, Port and Starboard Miss Their Ship (Arthur Ransome)

'A letter?' said Port, looking at the pile by her father's plate.  'But he's had lots.'

'Well, he's ta'en this yin to the telephone,' said Mrs McGinty, and then they heard their father's voice through the open door of the study.

'Never mind about keeping things hot, Mrs McGinty.  I'll have to be gone in a minute ... Hallo!  Hallo!  Hallo!  Is that Norwich Ten-sixty-six?  Norwich ... One-owe-double-six ... Hallo!  Yes.  I said so.  Engaged?  Can't be engaged.  Private exchange.  Please ring them again.  Give them another ring.  A long one.  Hallo!  Hallo!  Is that Norwich One-owe-double-six?  Oh.  Wrong number.  Ring off please ... Hallo!  Exchange?  Oh, please ring off.  Exchange? ... Hallo!  Hallo! ... Bring me a cup of coffee out here, somebody ... Hallo!  Exchange!  Gave me a wrong number.  No.  No.  Not one-double-six.  One-owe-double-six.  Thank you, Bessie.  Take care, Nell.  Don't make me take too big a mouthful.  I've got to be able to talk to these dunderheaded nincompoops.  Hallo!  Oh, is that you, Walters?  Thank goodness for that.  Nip round to the office and get me all the papers in that Bollington business.  Consultations on it this week.  Yes ... All in the folder.  And the deeds ... Yes, yes.  Bring the whole lot down to the station.  Coming in by car.  You'll get it garaged after I've gone.  I've got to catch the nine-one.  Right.  Good man.  Everything on the case ...'  He hung up the receiver, took another mouthful of buttered egg from Starboard, washed it down with a drink of coffee offered him by Port, and hurried back to the dining-room.

'What is it, A.P.?' asked Starboard.

Mr Farland looked at his watch and compared it with the clock on the mantelpiece, a clock won by the Flash at Wroxham Regatta the year before.

'Seven minutes for breakfast ... Yes, Mrs McGinty, if you will be so good.  The small suitcase.  Everything for a week ...'

'You aren't going away?' said Port.

'These things will happen,' said Mr Farland.  'I didn't expect this business to come on for another two months at least ...'

10 July 2012

from The Pickwick Papers (Charles Dickens)

There was the widow before him, bouncing bodily here and there, with unwonted vigour; and Mr. Tracy Tupman hopping about, with a face expressive of the most intense solemnity, dancing (as a good many people do) as if a quadrille were not a thing to be laughed at, but a severe trial to the feelings, which it requires inflexible resolution to encounter.

-

There are very few moments in a man's existence when he experiences so much ludicrous distress, or meets with so little charitable commiseration, as when he is in pursuit of his own hat.  A vast deal of coolness, and a peculiar degree of judgment, are requisite in catching a hat.  A man must not be precipitate, or he runs over it; he must not rush into the opposite extreme, or he loses it altogether.  The best way is to keep gently up with the object of pursuit, to be wary and cautious, to watch your opportunity well, get gradually before it, then make a rapid dive, seize it by the crown, and stick it firmly on your head; smiling pleasantly all the time, as if you thought it as good a joke as anybody else.  There was a fine gentle wind, and Mr. Pickwick's hat rolled sportively before it.  The wind puffed, and Mr. Pickwick puffed, and the hat rolled over and over as merrily as a lively porpoise in a strong tide: and on it might have rolled, far beyond Mr. Pickwick's reach, had not its course been providentially stopped, just as that gentleman was on the point of resigning it to its fate.

-

Mr. Pickwick, with his hands in his pockets and his hat cocked completely over his left eye, was leaning against the dresser, shaking his head from side to side, and producing a constant succession of the blandest and most benevolent smiles without being moved thereunto by any discernible cause or pretence whatsoever; old Mr. Wardle, with a highly-inflamed countenance, was grasping the hand of a strange gentleman muttering protestations of eternal friendship; Mr. Winkle, supporting himself by the eight-day clock, was feebly invoking destruction upon the head of any member of the family who should suggest the propriety of his retiring for the night; and Mr. Snodgrass had sunk into a chair, with an expression of the most abject and hopeless misery that the human mind can imagine, portrayed in every lineament of his expressive face. 

'Is anything the matter?' inquired the three ladies.

'Nothing the matter,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'We - we're - all right. - I say, Wardle, we're all right, ain't we?'

'I should think so,' replied the jolly host. - 'My dears, here's my friend Mr. Jingle - Mr. Pickwick's friend, Mr. Jingle, come 'pon - little visit.'

'Is anything the matter with Mr. Snodgrass, Sir?' inquired Emily, with great anxiety.

'Nothing the matter, ma'am,' replied the stranger. 'Cricket dinner - glorious party - capital songs - old port - claret - good - very good - wine, ma'am - wine.'

'It wasn't the wine,' murmured Mr. Snodgrass, in a broken voice. 'It was the salmon.' (Somehow or other, it never is the wine, in these cases.)

-

'Who is Slumkey?' whispered Mr. Tupman.

'I don't know,' replied Mr. Pickwick, in the same tone. 'Hush. Don't ask any questions. It's always best on these occasions to do what the mob do.'

'But suppose there are two mobs?' suggested Mr. Snodgrass.

'Shout with the largest,' replied Mr. Pickwick.

Volumes could not have said more.

-

'Mr. Pickwick, I presume?'

'The same.'

'Allow me, Sir, the honour of grasping your hand. Permit me, Sir, to shake it,' said the grave man.

'Certainly,' said Mr. Pickwick. The stranger shook the extended hand, and then continued.

'We have heard of your fame, Sir. The noise of your antiquarian discussion has reached the ears of Mrs. Leo Hunter - my wife, Sir; I am Mr. Leo Hunter' - the stranger paused, as if he expected that Mr. Pickwick would be overcome by the disclosure; but seeing that he remained perfectly calm, proceeded.

'My wife, Sir - Mrs. Leo Hunter - is proud to number among her acquaintance all those who have rendered themselves celebrated by their works and talents. Permit me, Sir, to place in a conspicuous part of the list the name of Mr. Pickwick, and his brother-members of the club that derives its name from him.'

'I shall be extremely happy to make the acquaintance of such a lady, Sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick.

'You shall make it, Sir,' said the grave man. 'To-morrow morning, Sir, we give a public breakfast - a fête champetre - to a great number of those who have rendered themselves celebrated by their works and talents. Permit Mrs. Leo Hunter, Sir, to have the gratification of seeing you at the Den.'

'With great pleasure,' replied Mr. Pickwick.

'Mrs. Leo Hunter has many of these breakfasts, Sir,' resumed the new acquaintance - '"feasts of reason," Sir, "and flows of soul," as somebody who wrote a sonnet to Mrs. Leo Hunter on her breakfasts, feelingly and originally observed.'

'Was he celebrated for his works and talents?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.

'He was, Sir,' replied the grave man, 'all Mrs. Leo Hunter's acquaintance are; it is her ambition, Sir, to have no other acquaintance.'

'It is a very noble ambition,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'When I inform Mrs. Leo Hunter, that that remark fell from your lips, Sir, she will indeed be proud,' said the grave man. 'You have a gentleman in your train, who has produced some beautiful little poems, I think, Sir.'

'My friend Mr. Snodgrass has a great taste for poetry,' replied Mr. Pickwick.

'So has Mrs. Leo Hunter, Sir. She dotes on poetry, Sir. She adores it; I may say that her whole soul and mind are wound up, and entwined with it. She has produced some delightful pieces, herself, Sir. You may have met with her "Ode to an expiring Frog," Dir.'

'I don't think I have,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'You astonish me, Sir,' said Mr. Leo Hunter. 'It created an immense sensation. It was signed with an "L" and eight stars, and appeared originally in a Lady's Magazine. It commenced



'Can I view thee panting, lying
On thy stomach, without sighing;
Can I unmoved see thee dying
On a log
Expiring frog!'


'Beautiful!' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Fine,' said Mr. Leo Hunter; 'so simple.'

'Very,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'The next verse is still more touching. Shall I repeat it?'

'If you please,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'It runs thus,' said the grave man, still more gravely.


'Say, have fiends in shape of boys,
With wild halloo, and brutal noise,
Hunted thee from marshy joys,
With a dog,
Expiring frog!'

'Finely expressed,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'All point, Sir,' said Mr. Leo Hunter; 'but you shall hear Mrs. Leo Hunter repeat it. She can do justice to it, Sir. She will repeat it, in character, Sir, to-morrow morning.'

'In character!'

'As Minerva. But I forgot - it's a fancy-dress dejeune.'

'Dear me,' said Mr. Pickwick, glancing at his own figure - 'I can't possibly' -

 -

The jovial party broke up next morning. Breakings-up are capital things in our school-days, but in after life they are painful enough. Death, self-interest, and fortune's changes, are every day breaking up many a happy group, and scattering them far and wide; and the boys and girls never come back again. We do not mean to say that it was exactly the case in this particular instance; all we wish to inform the reader is, that the different members of the party dispersed to their several homes ...

-

Now, although the warden's room was a very uncomfortable one, being, in every point of decoration and convenience, several hundred degrees inferior to the common infirmary of a county jail, it had at present the merit of being wholly deserted save by Mr. Pickwick himself. So, he sat down at the foot of his little iron bedstead, and began to wonder how much a year the warder made out of the dirty room. Having satisfied himself, by mathematical calculation, that the apartment was about equal in annual value to the freehold of a small street in the suburbs of London, he took to wondering what possible temptation could have induced a dingy-looking fly that was crawling over his pantaloons, to come into a close prison, when he had the choice of so many airy situations - a course of meditation which led him to the irresistible conclusion that the insect was insane. After settling this point, he began to be conscious that he was getting sleepy; whereupon he took his nightcap out of the pocket in which he had had the precaution to stow it in the morning, and, leisurely undressing himself, got into bed and fell asleep.

-

'I takes my determination on principle, Sir,' remarked Sam, 'and you takes yours on the same ground; wich puts me in mind o' the man as killed his-self on principle, wich o' course you've heerd on, Sir.' Mr. Weller paused when he arrived at this point, and cast a comical look at his master out of the corners of his eyes.


'There is no "of course" in the case, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, gradually breaking into a smile, in spite of the uneasiness which Sam's obstinacy had given him. 'The fame of the gentleman in question, never reached my ears.'


'No, Sir!' exclaimed Mr. Weller. 'You astonish me, Sir; he wos a clerk in a gov'ment office, sir.'


'Was he?' said Mr. Pickwick.


'Yes, he wos, Sir,' rejoined Mr. Weller; 'and a wery pleasant gen'l'm'n too - one o' the precise and tidy sort, as puts their feet in little India-rubber fire-buckets wen it's wet weather, and never has no other bosom friends but hare-skins; he saved up his money on principle, wore a clean shirt ev'ry day on principle; never spoke to none of his relations on principle, 'fear they shou'd want to borrow money of him; and wos altogether, in fact, an uncommon agreeable character. He had his hair cut on principle vunce a fortnight, and contracted for his clothes on the economic principle - three suits a year, and send back the old uns. Being a wery reg'lar gen'l'm'n, he din'd ev'ry day at the same place, where it was one-and-nine to cut off the joint, and a wery good one-and-nine's worth he used to cut, as the landlord often said, with the tears a-tricklin' down his face, let alone the way he used to poke the fire in the vinter time, which wos a dead loss o' four-pence ha'penny a day, to say nothin' at all o' the aggrawation o' seein' him do it. So uncommon grand with it too! "Post arter the next gen'l'm'n," he sings out ev'ry day ven he comes in. "See arter the Times, Thomas; let me look at the Mornin' Herald, when it's out o' hand; don't forget to bespeak the Chronicle; and just bring the 'Tizer, vill you:" and then he'd set vith his eyes fixed on the clock, and rush out, just a quarter of a minit 'fore the time to waylay the boy as wos a-comin' in with the evenin' paper, which he'd read with sich intense interest and persewerance as worked the other customers up to the wery confines o' desperation and insanity, 'specially one i-rascible old gen'l'm'n as the vaiter wos always obliged to keep a sharp eye on, at sich times, fear he should be tempted to commit some rash act with the carving-knife. Vell, Sir, here he'd stop, occupyin' the best place for three hours, and never takin' nothin' arter his dinner, but sleep, and then he'd go away to a coffee-house a few streets off, and have a small pot o' coffee and four crumpets, arter wich he'd walk home to Kensington and go to bed. One night he wos took very ill; sends for a doctor; doctor comes in a green fly, with a kind o' Robinson Crusoe set o' steps, as he could let down wen he got out, and pull up arter him wen he got in, to perwent the necessity o' the coachman's gettin' down, and thereby undeceivin' the public by lettin' 'em see that it wos only a livery coat as he'd got on, and not the trousers to match. "Wot's the matter?" says the doctor. "Wery ill," says the patient. "Wot have you been a-eatin' on?" says the doctor. "Roast weal," says the patient. "Wot's the last thing you dewoured?" says the doctor. "Crumpets," says the patient. "That's it!" says the doctor. "I'll send you a box of pills directly, and don't you never take no more of 'em," he says. "No more o' wot?" says the patient - "pills?" "No; crumpets," says the doctor. "Wy?" says the patient, starting up in bed; "I've eat four crumpets, ev'ry night for fifteen year, on principle." "Well, then, you'd better leave 'em off, on principle," says the doctor. "Crumpets is not wholesome, Sir," says the doctor, wery fierce. "But they're so cheap," says the patient, comin' down a little, "and so wery fillin' at the price." "They'd be dear to you, at any price; dear if you wos paid to eat 'em," says the doctor. "Four crumpets a night," he says, "vill do your business in six months!" The patient looks him full in the face, and turns it over in his mind for a long time, and at last he says, "Are you sure o' that 'ere, Sir?" "I'll stake my professional reputation on it," says the doctor. "How many crumpets, at a sittin', do you think 'ud kill me off at once?" says the patient. "I don't know," says the doctor. "Do you think half-a-crown's wurth 'ud do it?" says the patient. "I think it might," says the doctor. "Three shillins' wurth 'ud be sure to do it, I s'pose?" says the patient. "Certainly," says the doctor. "Wery good," says the patient; "good-night." Next mornin' he gets up, has a fire lit, orders in three shillins' wurth o' crumpets, toasts 'em all, eats 'em all, and blows his brains out.'


'What did he do that for?' inquired Mr. Pickwick abruptly; for he was considerably startled by this tragical termination of the narrative.


'Wot did he do it for, Sir?' reiterated Sam. 'Wy, in support of his great principle that crumpets wos wholesome, and to show that he wouldn't be put out of his way for nobody!'


-


Let us leave our old friend in one of those moments of unmixed happiness, of which, if we seek them, there are ever some, to cheer our transitory existence here. There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast. Some men, like bats or owls, have better eyes for the darkness than for the light. We, who have no such optical powers, are better pleased to take our last parting look at the visionary companions of many solitary hours, when the brief sunshine of the world is blazing full upon them.