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Odds and ends from the staff of the Lamp.


❖ A friend of the magazine was recently inspired to read The Imitation of Christ after learning that Hank Aaron kept a copy of it in his locker for many years. As an admirer of the greatest of the modern spiritual classics, The Hammer was in the company of numberless saints as well as that of Dr. Johnson, John Wesley, and José Rizal—and another, rather nastier Hank during the sixteenth century. As far as we know the only people who have ever had a bad word for the Imitation were Hans Urs von Balthasar and Nietzsche, who associated it for some reason with Wagnerians. (Our Wagnerian pope would no doubt find this highly amusing.) We recommend the edition published by the Early English Text Society.

❖ In a recent general audience, Pope Francis said very starkly, “The human heart tends toward prayer. It is simply human.” We have always shared this suspicion that our species is actually incapable of foregoing prayer. Man is a political animal, but he is also a praying one, which is why even committed atheists feel inclined to say things like “Our thoughts are with you at this time.” They are also with God.

❖ Who is Clive Hammond? In the last year or so, the Daily Express has carried dozens of lurid stories under this byline alleging all manner of conspiracies involving the Pope Emeritus. A random sample of headlines gives the flavor: “Vatican civil war: Benedict silenced as Cardinal dubbed ‘thorn in side to Francis’ resigns”; “Pope Benedict ‘pushed’ into resignation and ‘did not wish to go’ as Francis took Vatican”; “Pope Francis urged to ignore Benedict as former Vatican chief ‘still hungry for power’”; “Pope Benedict’s Vatican plot: Ex-pontiff ‘to undo Francis’ power move’ amid health fears”; “Vatican urged to investigate ‘real reason’ behind Pope Benedict’s resignation”; “Pope Benedict and Francis ‘on collision course’ as Vatican on brink amid health panic”; “Vatican civil war: Francis’ demand on women in church ‘horrified Benedict’”; “Pope Benedict’s final vow to successor saw Francis snubbed as Vatican rift deepened”; “Pope Francis bombshell: Benedict’s plot to cause Vatican chief ‘misery’ exposed”; “Pope Benedict’s ‘fury’ with Pope Francis over holy water gaffe exposed”; “Pope Francis in revolutionary plot to ‘derail Benedict’s enduring quest for Vatican power’”; “Pope Francis row: ‘Why Benedict MUST be stopped and contraception rule relaxed’: “Pope Francis coronavirus shock: How Pope Benedict ‘forced strict measures’”; “Pope Benedict ‘doing absolute best to sabotage Francis’ amid gay marriage-Antichrist row”; “Pope Benedict fury as ‘diminishing influence’ laid bare by Francis’ same sex union move”; “Pope Francis shock: How Catholic church ‘will FALL’ if Benedict is not halted.”

While we cannot claim to have conducted an exhaustive study of the Hammond oeuvre, all of the pieces we read attributed their epochal revelations to someone called Lynda Telford, who currently serves as “events and projects officer for the Yorkshire branch of the Richard III Society”. Hammond has made it clear that Telford has offered this information “exclusively” to the Express. We’re sure she did.

❖ A century ago, Charlie Chaplin was the most famous man in the world; to some of us, he is still the funniest man ever to appear on film; yet his comedies, which were once thought to have universal appeal, are now received by some audiences with bored indifference.

As a filmmaker, Chaplin helped to create the language and grammar of cinema itself, exploring the possibilities of the medium purely as a means of finding new ways to feed to an audience that was not satisfied with a new Chaplin comedy at increasingly long intervals. Chaplin released thirty-five films in 1914, a dozen in 1915, nine in 1916, and four in 1917. By the mid-Twenties, the intervals between films could be measured in years.

For proof of Chaplin’s genius, look no further than his second film, Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914). This is an improvised piece of slapstick a little more than six minutes long; Chaplin plays his famous “Tramp” character in big shoes, baggy trousers, a tight “cutaway” coat, and a bowler hat. This pest with a ridiculous itchy-looking little square moustache flippantly brandishes a cheap bamboo walking-stick as he keeps getting in the way of a documentary film crew. This film should not be laugh-out-loud funny; but Chaplin instinctively understands how to hold our attention, and make us root for him despite the fact that he is an obnoxious troublemaker.

Like his literary heroes Dickens and Twain, Chaplin had next to no formal education. Too many self-educated writers become too eager to share what they know, and end up trying to download their entire consciousness onto the reader. Dickens and Twain were wiser: they aimed merely to communicate with their audiences in language that everyone could instantly understand.

Chaplin was an artist in a completely visual medium, of course: recorded sound and dialogue only became commonplace in movies at the end of the Twenties, by which time he had been working in Hollywood for a decade and a half. Fundamentally Chaplin was a mime, communicating through facial gestures and body language. He had to find ways of telling stories without a voice, purely through the use of images. No amount of schooling could have helped with this.

❖ We were thrilled last year by the appearance of The King James Bible for Catholics, released by Walsingham Publishing in September. These two volumes contain the text of the Authorized Edition of 1611 with the books in their approved order but otherwise unaltered. What we would really like to see is a version of the same thing, with a handful of verses—e.g., the Angelic Salutation in Saint Luke’s Gospel—altered. It might become, among other things, a substitute for the vernacular readings at Mass in the English-speaking world even outside the Personal Ordinariate of Saint Peter.

❖ Our favorite genre is what we have come to think of as the “browsing book”: a volume that can be opened at any time to almost any page and read for five minutes or a half hour. The best recent example of a browsing book is the Wartime Journals of Hugh Trevor-Roper. Other favorites include Ulysses, the works of Logan Pearsall Smith, especially his Treasury of English Prose, C.S. Lewis’s English Literature in the Sixteenth Century excluding Drama, and Sabine Baring-Gould’s Legends of the Patriarchs and Prophets. (Where else can one learn that the sacrificing priesthood of Melchisedech was a celibate vocation?) Many great works of reference, including the old Catholic Encyclopedia, the Chambers Dictionary, and Modern English Usage, do double duty as browsing books. But the gold standard will always be Burton. As journalists, we are often tempted by the thought that our entire enterprise could be replaced by the following lines (which Anthony Powell also offered as a kind of summary of his Dance to the Music of Time):

I hear new news every day, and those ordinary rumours of war, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, comets, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions, of towns taken, cities besieged in France, Germany, Turkey, Persia, Poland, &c., daily musters and preparations, and such like, which these tempestuous times afford, battles fought, so many men slain, monomachies, shipwrecks, piracies and sea-fights; peace, leagues, stratagems, and fresh alarms. A vast confusion of vows, wishes, actions, edicts, petitions, lawsuits, pleas, laws, proclamations, complaints, grievances are daily brought to our ears. New books every day, pamphlets, corantoes, stories, whole catalogues of volumes of all sorts, new paradoxes, opinions, schisms, heresies, controversies in philosophy, religion, &c. Now come tidings of weddings, maskings, mummeries, entertainments, jubilees, embassies, tilts and tournaments, trophies, triumphs, revels, sports, plays: then again, as in a new shifted scene, treasons, cheating tricks, robberies, enormous villainies in all kinds, funerals, burials, deaths of princes, new discoveries, expeditions, now comical, then tragical matters. Today we hear of new lords and officers created, tomorrow of some great men deposed, and then again of fresh honours conferred; one is let loose, another imprisoned; one purchaseth, another breaketh: he thrives, his neighbour turns bankrupt; now plenty, then again dearth and famine; one runs, another rides, wrangles, laughs, weeps, &c. This I daily hear, and such like, both private and public news, amidst the gallantry and misery of the world; jollity, pride, perplexities and cares, simplicity and villainy; subtlety, knavery, candour and integrity, mutually mixed and offering themselves; I rub on privus privatus; as I have still lived, so I now continue, statu quo prius, left to a solitary life, and mine own domestic discontents.

On that note, we should add that we were disappointed to learn last year that the publication of the new Penguin edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy has been delayed until this summer.

❖ The Lamp is looking for at least one part-time summer editorial intern. The posting will involve around five hours of work each week. The intern will serve remotely at the direction of the editor and publisher on various tasks related to the production of the magazine (copy and line editing, fact checking, uploading published articles to the website, sending proofs and other correspondence to authors). Exceptionally talented interns may be invited to write for the magazine.

Prospective interns should send a short letter (no more than three hundred words) to or to P.O. Box 219, Three Rivers, Michigan, 49093. We are less interested in résumés than we are in an applicant’s ability to write that word with two acute accents, and we are almost totally indifferent to academic qualifications, grade point averages, and that sort of thing. Instead, use your letter to give us a short autobiographical sketch and a paragraph or two about why you would like to help out with The Lamp, what other publications you read, and any experience you consider relevant. (Feel free to include one additional sample of writing, published or otherwise.) If we wish to move forward with your application, we will pass along our editing test.

❖ We were right. The autumn wind is definitely no longer a Raider.

❖ A recent publication to which we commend the attention of our readers is God’s Will: The Life and Works of Sr. Mary Wilhelmina, the extraordinary foundress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. We also recommend the sisters’ quarterly newsletter, an excellent resource for girls interested in learning more about cloistered religious life. With apologies to her father, it is the favorite periodical of our editor’s five-year-old daughter, who was thrilled to learn that in addition to singing the Divine Office, nuns keep dogs, make waffles, and drive tractors.

❖ All right, story time. In the place of the usual Grimm, we hope our younger readers (or listeners) and their parents will enjoy something from Andrew Lang. For obvious reasons we wish we had the space to print “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” in its entirety; instead here is the lesser known “Clever Weaver,” from the Olive Fairy Book:

Once upon a time the king of a far country was sitting on his throne, listening to the complaints of his people, and judging between them. That morning there had been fewer cases than usual to deal with, and the king was about to rise and go into his gardens, when a sudden stir was heard outside, and the lord high chamberlain entered, and inquired if his majesty would be graciously pleased to receive the ambassador of a powerful emperor who lived in the east, and was greatly feared by the neighbouring sovereigns. The king, who stood as much in dread of him as the rest, gave orders that the envoy should be admitted at once, and that a banquet should be prepared in his honour. Then he settled himself again on his throne, wondering what the envoy had to say.
The envoy said nothing. He advanced to the throne where the king was awaiting him, and stooping down, traced on the floor with a rod which he held in his hand a black circle all round it. Then he sat down on a seat that was near, and took no further notice of anyone.
The king and his courtiers were equally mystified and enraged at this strange behaviour, but the envoy sat as calm and still as an image, and it soon became plain that they would get no explanation from him. The ministers were hastily summoned to a council, but not one of them could throw any light upon the subject. This made the king more angry than ever, and he told them that unless before sunset they could find someone capable of solving the mystery he would hang them all.
The king was, as the ministers knew, a man of his word; and they quickly mapped out the city into districts, so that they might visit house by house, and question the occupants as to whether they could fathom the action of the ambassador. Most of them received no reply except a puzzled stare; but, luckily, one of them was more observant than the rest, and on entering an empty cottage where a swing was swinging of itself, he began to think it might be worthwhile for him to see the owner. Opening a door leading into another room, he found a second swing, swinging gently like the first, and from the window he beheld a patch of corn, and a willow which moved perpetually without any wind, in order to frighten away the sparrows. Feeling more and more curious, he descended the stairs and found himself in a large light workshop in which was seated a weaver at his loom. But all the weaver did was to guide his threads, for the machine that he had invented to set in motion the swings and the willow pole made the loom work.
When he saw the great wheel standing in the corner, and had guessed the use of it, the merchant heaved a sigh of relief. At any rate, if the weaver could not guess the riddle, he at least might put the minister on the right track. So without more ado he told the story of the circle, and ended by declaring that the person who could explain its meaning should be handsomely rewarded.
“Come with me at once,” he said. “The sun is low in the heavens, and there is no time to lose.”
The weaver stood thinking for a moment and then walked across to a window, outside of which was a hen-coop with two knuckle-bones lying beside it. These he picked up, and taking the hen from the coop, he tucked it under his arm.
“I am ready,” he answered, turning to the minister.
In the hall the king still sat on his throne, and the envoy on his seat. Signing to the minister to remain where he was, the weaver advanced to the envoy, and placed the knuckle-bones on the floor beside him. For answer, the envoy took a handful of millet seed out of his pocket and scattered it round; upon which the weaver set down the hen, who ate it up in a moment. At that the envoy rose without a word, and took his departure.
As soon as he had left the hall, the king beckoned to the weaver.
“You alone seem to have guessed the riddle,” said he, “and great shall be your reward. But tell me, I pray you, what it all means?”
“The meaning, O king,” replied the weaver, “is this: The circle drawn by the envoy round your throne is the message of the emperor, and signifies, ‘If I send an army and surround your capital, will you lay down your arms?’ The knuckle-bones which I placed before him told him, ‘You are but children in comparison with us. Toys like these are the only playthings you are fit for.’ The millet that he scattered was an emblem of the number of soldiers that his master can bring into the field; but by the hen which ate up the seed he understood that one of our men could destroy a host of theirs.”
“I do not think,” he added, “that the emperor will declare war.”
“You have saved me and my honour,” cried the king, “and wealth and glory shall be heaped upon you. Name your reward, and you shall have it even to the half of my kingdom.”
“The small farm outside the city gates, as a marriage portion for my daughter, is all I ask,” answered the weaver, and it was all he would accept. “Only, O king,” were his parting words, “I would beg of you to remember that weavers also are of value to a state, and that they are sometimes cleverer even than ministers!”

❖ Now the customary joke for the five-and-under set: What shape always does its best? A TRY-angle.

❖ A friend recently shared the following list after we asked when the bizarre neologism “first responder” became commonplace:

Not “insurance salesman” but “benefits manager”
Not “clerk” but “frontline worker”
Not “doctor” but “healthcare provider”
Not “spy” but “agency partner”
Not “employee” but “associate”

The one we dislike most is “content provider,” which can refer to anyone from a journalist to an actor to a teenager being exploited by a Chinese social media company.

❖ Speaking of “content providers,” we were horrified to read about the suicide of Dazharia Shaffer, apparently a well-known personality on the TikTok platform, at the age of eighteen. There is simply no justification for a system of commerce that rewards billionaires when mentally unstable children share their personal lives with strangers.

❖ We return to Chaplin, and to his memoirs, published towards the end of his life. This volume remains fascinating even to those unfamiliar with his films. He was a passionate autodidact, and roamed second-hand bookshops, habitually buying more than he could possibly ever read. On his first trip to America in 1910 he bought a Latin-English dictionary, in a valiant but doomed attempt to learn how to read classical texts. At the height of his fame he still taught himself at least one new word from the dictionary every single day.

Sometimes Chaplin could be a crank. One gets the sense that he never really liked Shakespeare; in his autobiography he registers disbelief that a “country bumpkin” from Stratford-upon-Avon could have gone through “such a mental metamorphosis as to become the greatest of all poets”:

In the work of the greatest of geniuses humble beginnings will reveal themselves somewhere—but one cannot trace the slightest sign of them in Shakespeare.

Chaplin preferred the theatre he had known in his youth—Victorian melodrama and Edwardian music hall. The frank lack of snobbery is exhilarating. He does not pretend to enjoy modern poetry, or anything else that he does not understand:

Since my vaudeville days I have done a considerable amount of reading, but not thoroughly. Being a slow reader, I browse. Once I am familiar with the thesis and the style of an author, I invariably lose interest. I have read every word of five volumes of Plutarch’s Lives; but I found them less edifying than the effort was worth. I read judiciously; some books over and over again. Over the years I have browsed through Plato, Locke, Kant, Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, and in this piecemeal fashion I have gleaned as much as I wanted.

Chaplin never really mastered the art of writing a script: all his finest films were created through a process of improvisation (detailed in Kevin Brownlow’s documentary series Unknown Chaplin). He tells us that he envied John Steinbeck for writing two thousand words a day: “I was amazed at how neat were his pages, with hardly a correction.” Word counts were of great interest to him: when putting together a screenplay he could dictate up to a thousand words a day; the results would be whittled down to around three hundred words of finished dialogue. Thus Chaplin wrote more slowly even than Thomas Mann (four hundred per diem). This is still light years faster than our publisher.

❖ We were not remotely surprised to find that neither of us had read a single one of the three-hundred eight-eighty-three volumes suggested by a program called “Book Concierge” on the website of National Public Radio. 

❖ As our readers are aware, The Lamp would not be possible without their generous assistance. This includes our institutional readers. We would like to thank the Institute for Human Ecology for their support of this project.

❖ In 1939, Igor Stravinsky suggested to Chaplin that they collaborate on a film. Over dinner Chaplin began devising an elaborately surrealistic scenario featuring a decadent nightclub where the floor show was a Passion Play. This was, he said, “to show how cynical and conventional the world has become in professing Christianity.” Stravinsky was shocked at the sacrilege of Chaplin’s story; Chaplin was shocked that he was shocked. The collaboration was not to be.

Although nominally Protestant, Chaplin had little experience of churchgoing. His main exposure to the Church came when he left school at the age of nine to join the Eight Lancashire Lads as a clog-dancer. He was the only Protestant:

Had it not been for deference to Mother’s religious scruples, I could have easily been won over to Catholicism, for I liked the mysticism of it and the little home-made altars with plaster Virgin Marys adorned with flowers and lighted candles which the boys put up in a corner of the bedroom, and to which they would genuflect every time they passed.

Chaplin never quite got Christianity, as his autobiography demonstrates. In a bookshop in Philadelphia he discovered the essays of “The Great Agnostic,” Robert Ingersoll, which confirmed his belief that “the horrific cruelty of the Old Testament was degrading to the human spirit.” Though he never lost his love for what he knew of the New Testament, even if his understanding remained vague.

At the beginning of Chaplin’s first full-length feature film The Kid (1921), an unmarried mother, abandoned by her artist lover, leaves a charity hospital with her newborn son. A subtitle introduces her as “The Woman––whose sin was motherhood.” The hospital staff sneer at her as she goes. Clearly she is in a miserable position; Chaplin hammers this home to the audience by dissolving from a shot of the lonely woman with her baby to a still of Our Lord carrying the Cross. It would be hard-hearted not to sympathize with this woman; but evidently Chaplin never quite learned the basic notion of sin.

❖ Chaplin’s understanding of Christianity is ultimately grounded in his mother’s colorful re-enactments of scenes from the New Testament when he was a child:

I remember an evening in our one room in the basement at Oakley Street. I lay in bed recovering from a fever. Sydney [Chaplin’s brother] had gone out to night school and Mother and I were alone. It was late afternoon, and she sat with her back to the window reading, acting and explaining in her inimitable way the New Testament and Christ’s love and pity for the poor and for little children. Perhaps her emotion was due to my illness, but she gave the most luminous and appealing interpretation of Christ that I have ever heard or seen. She spoke of his tolerant understanding; of the woman who had sinned and was to be stoned by the mob, and of his words to them: ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.’

The reading went on into the dusk; Chaplin and his mother were both in tears by the end:

‘Don’t you see,’ said Mother, ‘how human he was; like all of us, he too suffered doubt.’

Mother had so carried me away that I wanted to die that very night and meet Jesus. But Mother was not so enthusiastic. ‘Jesus wants you to live first and fulfil your destiny here,’ she said. In that dark room in the basement at Oakley Street, Mother illuminated to me the kindliest light this world has ever known, which has endowed literature and the theatre with their greatest and richest themes: love, pity and humanity.

Sometimes there is so much sheer emotion in Chaplin’s movies that there is no room left for love. The “pity” he speaks of, here and elsewhere, seems like an externalized means of feeling sorry for yourself. As for “humanity”: does this just mean more emotion? But of course Chaplin was never very good with words.

❖ As we enter further into the Year of Saint Joseph announced by Pope Francis, we invite our readers, especially those who are fathers (whether according to the natural order or fathers of the higher, spiritual variety) to join us in daily recitation of the following prayer indulgenced by Saint Pius X in 1906 in addition to that composed by Leo XIII in Quamquam pluries:

Glorious St. Joseph, model of all who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace to work in the spirit of penance in expiation of my many sins; to work conscientiously by placing love of duty above my inclinations; to gratefully and joyously deem it an honor to employ and to develop by labor the gifts I have received from God; to work methodically, peacefully, and in moderation and patience, without ever shrinking from it through weariness or difficulties; above all, to work with purity of intention and detachment from self, having unceasingly before my eyes death and the account I will be called to render of time lost, talents unused, good undone, and vain complacency in success, so baneful to Work. All for Jesus, all for Mary, all to imitate thee, O Patriarch Saint Joseph! This shall be my motto in life and in death.

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