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A priest once introduced the Cardinal’s Annual Appeal (in what diocese it does not matter) as follows: “Well, today we have to talk about the Cardinal’s Appeal. Not the most exciting subject. You might say it happens every year. Of course, you might say the same thing about Easter. But one is the Resurrection of Our Lord and one is, well, the Cardinal’s Appeal.”

If the Bible disappeared overnight, would anybody notice? It sometimes seems as if the answer is no. We are not quite as flippant as a friend of ours who once quipped that the Bible is one of St. Jerome’s now-forgotten bestsellers, not nearly as well known as the Apologiae contra Rufinum. But we do believe that for all practical purposes the Vulgate was and remains the definitive version of Holy Writ and find it slightly terrifying that the average Catholic does not realize that the so-called Nova Vulgata promulgated in 1979 is a pastiche, and a somewhat fanciful one at that, not unlike the free-and-easy Latin translations of Hebrew and Greek that children did as exercises in Milton’s time. Meanwhile, we are wondering: Is it even possible to purchase an edition of the Clementine Vulgate newer than that of 1946?

Microcosmographie, or a Peece of the World discovered, in Essayes and Characters is a curious little book by John Earle, the English translator of the Eikon Basilike. One of us recently acquired an edition edited by Sir Israel Gollancz and published by Dent in 1899. As far as we are aware it has not since been printed. As its subtitle suggests, the Microcosmographie is made up of short essays devoted to various types and occupations. To a smoker, Earle writes, tobacco “is meat, drink, and clothes,” a remarkably neat description that would likely earn the assent of non-smokers as well. He puts in a good word for bar-room chatters (“the dregs of wit, yet mingled with good drink may have some relish”). He is harder on what we would now call an agnostic (“A man guiltier of credulity than he is taken to be; for it is out of his belief of every thing, that he fully believes nothing”), a lawyer (“We can call him no great author, yet he writes very much”), and a critic (“one that has spelled over a great many books, and his observation is the orthography”). Also memorable are his descriptions of a slow but perfunctory student (“a kind of alchymist or persecutor of nature, that would change the dull lead of his brain into finer metal, with success many times as unprosperous, or at least not quitting the cost, to wit, of his own oil and candles”), a cook (“The kitchen is his hell, and he the devil in it, where his meat and he fry together”), and a drunk (“a blind man with eyes, and a cripple with legs on”).

It is never too early to start thinking about this year’s gardens. St. Bernard calls Our Blessed Mother “the violet of humility.”

The American Dialect Society has announced its word of the decade: the singular “they.” Needless to say we oppose this innovation. (Do not bore us with quotations purporting to show that it was once employed by the author of a little-read medieval allegory or by Trollope when he was writing two hundred words per minute.) This is not least because these days it is frequently used in cases in which the sex of the subject could only be masculine or feminine—e.g., when referring to a priest. This is sloppiness, not sensitivity. Instead we are inclined to recommend the middle course adopted by, among others, Justice Samuel Alito of the Supreme Court, who employs the cumbersome but grammatical “he or she” when he wants a generic singular. Still: “For the vision of a novelist is both complex and specialised; complex, because behind his characters and apart from them must stand something stable to which he relates them; specialised because since he is a single person with one sensibility the aspects of life in which he can believe with conviction are strictly limited.” Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Modern grammarians, it seems.

Speaking of end-of-decade lists, we wonder how many people (including the compilers) have actually listened to some of the records that have appeared in articles with titles like “The Best 200 Albums of the 2000s.” We cannot say exactly how many pop albums released in the last ten years we have heard all the way through, but between our editor and publisher the number could safely be counted on one hand. Can readers guess which of the following are actual titles considered among the best of the previous decade and which are inventions?

• Mister Sociable, The big can for the plumbers

• Ratking, So It Goes

• Huerco S., For Those of You Who Have Never (and Also Those Who Have)

• Popcaan, Where We Come From

• Lead Ted, SeaAyEmPeeBeeEeElEl

• I’m Still Brianna, Two, Three, Four Kitten

• Fennesz, Agora

• Mrs Good of Cornwall, Ol Campbell

• Mild Kid Chris, Chess

• Nicolas Jaar, Space Is Only Noise

• Les Shoes, Master of Japan

• The 1975: I like it when you sleep…

• The Love of Forks, Mackenzie

• Tierra Whack, Whack World

• Parquet Courts, po

• BeeSea, I is Brave (And Don’t You Forget It)

• Rocky Better Have My Shoe, Anthonyastic

• Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden

• Foursfour, Smoking For The Big Banana

• Bunday Monday, Bundy Monday

• Tots Brave, Don’t Talk to Me About Love, yaz?

• Noname, Room 25

• Ultra-Anthony Goes Flip, They Were Good Love

• Amen Dunes, Freedom

We promise that we did buy some new music during the last decade. One favorite was Víkingur Ólafsson’s recent anthology of Bach transcriptions.

We find ourselves returning to this remarkable passage from Pope Francis’s homily of December 1: “One lives for things, no longer knowing what for; one has many goods but no longer does good; houses are filled with things but emptied of children. This is the drama of today: houses full of things but empty of children, the demographic winter that we are suffering. Time is thrown away for pastimes, but there is no time for God or for others. And when you live for things, things are never enough.”

This translation no longer appears on the Vatican website. We do not know why it was edited, or by whom, or when. The new version retains the sense, but it is far less eloequent (“Therefore people live on things and no longer know what they live for; they have so many possessions but no longer do good”). A glance at the Italian original suggests that the first version, in addition to being better English, was more faithful to the Holy Father’s words and style. It would be interesting to know what vandal was responsible for this instance of what is known as “stealth editing.”

We have never been entirely sure what Voltaire meant when he wrote “Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer.” (If he had read St. Anselm, he would know that this is in fact a very clever argument for God’s existence.) 

Our editor’s children have constantly shifting tastes and preferences when it comes to bedtime reading. But they never seem to get tired of “The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids”:

There was once upon a time an old goat who had seven little kids, and loved them with all the love of a mother for her children. One day she wanted to go into the forest and fetch some food. So she called all seven to her and said, “Dear children, I have to go into the forest. Be on your guard against the wolf. If he comes in, he will devour you all—skin, hair, and everything. The wretch often disguises himself, but you will know him at once by his rough voice and his black feet.”

The kids said, “Dear mother, we will take good care of ourselves. You may go away without any anxiety.” Then the old one bleated, and went on her way with an easy mind.

It was not long before some one knocked at the house-door and called, “Open the door, dear children, your mother is here, and has brought something back with her for each of you.” But the little kids knew that it was the wolf, by the rough voice.

“We will not open the door,” cried they, “you are not our mother. She has a soft, pleasant voice, but your voice is rough. You are the wolf.”

Then the wolf went away to a shopkeeper and bought himself a great lump of chalk, ate this and made his voice soft with it. Then he came back, knocked at the door of the house, and called, “Open the door, dear children, your mother is here and has brought something back with her for each of you.”

But the wolf had laid his black paws against the window, and the children saw them and cried, “We will not open the door. Our mother has not black feet like you. You are the wolf.”

Then the wolf ran to a baker and said, “I have hurt my feet, rub some dough over them for me. And when the baker had rubbed his feet over, he ran to the miller and said, “Strew some white meal over my feet for me.” The miller thought to himself, the wolf wants to deceive someone, and refused; but the wolf said, “If you will not do it, I will devour you.” Then the miller was afraid, and made his paws white for him.

So now the wretch went for the third time to the house-door, knocked at it, and said, “Open the door for me, children, your dear little mother has come home, and has brought every one of you something back from the forest with her.”

The little kids cried, “First show us your paws that we may know if you are our dear little mother.”

Then he put his paws in through the window, and when the kids saw that they were white, they believed that all he said was true, and opened the door. But who should come in but the wolf. The kids were terrified and wanted to hide themselves. One sprang under the table, the second into the bed, the third into the stove, the fourth into the kitchen, the fifth into the cupboard, the sixth under the washing-bowl, and the seventh into the clock-case. But the wolf found them all, and used no great ceremony; one after the other he swallowed them down his throat. The youngest, who was in the clock-case, was the only one he did not find. When the wolf had satisfied his appetite he took himself off, laid himself down under a tree in the green meadow outside, and began to sleep.

Soon afterwards the old goat came home again from the forest. Ah, what a sight she saw there. The house-door stood wide open. The table, chairs, and benches were thrown down, the washing-bowl lay broken to pieces, and the quilts and pillows were pulled off the bed. She sought her children, but they were nowhere to be found. She called them one after another by name, but no one answered.

At last, when she came to the youngest, a soft voice cried, “Dear Mother, I am in the clock-case.” She took the kid out, and it told her that the wolf had come and had eaten all the others. Then you may imagine how she wept over her poor children.

At length in her grief she went out, and the youngest kid ran with her. When they came to the meadow, there lay the wolf by the tree and snored so loud that the branches shook. She looked at him on every side and saw that something was moving and struggling in his gorged belly. Ah, heavens, she thought, is it possible that my poor children whom he has swallowed down for his supper, can be still alive?

Then the kid had to run home and fetch scissors, and a needle and thread and the goat cut open the monster’s stomach, and hardly had she made one cut, than one little kid thrust its head out, and when she cut farther, all six sprang out one after another, and were all still alive, and had suffered no injury whatever, for in his greediness the monster had swallowed them down whole.

What rejoicing there was! They embraced their dear mother, and jumped like a sailor at his wedding. The mother, however, said, “Now go and look for some big stones, and we will fill the wicked beast’s stomach with them while he is still asleep.” Then the seven kids dragged the stones thither with all speed, and put as many of them into his stomach as they could get in, and the mother sewed him up again in the greatest haste, so that he was not aware of anything and never once stirred.

When the wolf at length had had his fill of sleep, he got on his legs, and as the stones in his stomach made him very thirsty, he wanted to go to a well to drink. But when he began to walk and move about, the stones in his stomach knocked against each other and rattled. Then cried he:

 “What rumbles and tumbles Against my poor bones? I thought ‘twas six kids, But it feels like big stones.”

And when he got to the well and stooped over the water to drink, the heavy stones made him fall in, and he had to drown miserably.

When the seven kids saw that, they came running to the spot and cried aloud, “The wolf is dead, the wolf is dead,” and danced for joy round about the well with their mother.

We like this story because we think that it is true. Those of us who have done our best to live as faithful Catholics in the last fifty years are like the kids, though perhaps a few who had the benefit of convenient clock-cases nearby (and the knowledge of how to get inside them) were not swallowed. We all long equally for the loving embrace of our true Mother.

Back to Earle for a moment. His description of an antiquary is worth giving in full:

He is a man strangly thrifty of time past, and an enemy indeed to his maw, whence he fetches out many things when they are now all rotten and stinking. He is one that hath that unnatural disease to be enamoured of old age and wrinkles, and loves all things (as Dutchmen do cheese,) the better for being mouldy and worm-eaten. He is of our religion, because we say it is most antient; and yet a broken statue would almost make him an idolater. A great admirer he is of the rust of old monuments, and reads only those characters, where time hath eaten out the letters. He will go you forty miles to see a saint’s well or a ruined abbey; and there be but a cross or stone foot-stool in the way, he’ll be considering it so long, till he forget his journey. His estate consists much in shekels, and Roman coins; and he hath more pictures of Cæsar, than James or Elizabeth. Beggars cozen him with musty things which they have raked from dunghills, and he preserves their rags for precious relicks. He loves no library, but where there are more spiders volumes than authors, and looks with great admiration on the antique work of cobwebs. Printed books he contemns, as a novelty of this latter age, but a manuscript he pores on everlastingly, especially if the cover be all moth-eaten, and the dust make a parenthesis between every syllable. He would give all the books in his study (which are rarities all,) for one of the old Roman binding, or six lines of Tully in his own hand. His chamber is hung commonly with strange beasts skins, and is a kind of charnel-house of bones extraordinary; and his discourse upon them, if you will hear him, shall last longer. His very attire is that which is the eldest out of fashion, and you may pick a criticism out of his breeches. He never looks upon himself till he is grey-haired, and then he is pleased with his own antiquity. His grave does not fright him, for he has been used to sepulchers, and he likes death the better, because it gathers him to his fathers.

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