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✥ William Dodd, the so-called “Macaroni Parson,” was born in 1729, the son of a vicar in Lincolnshire. Upon taking his degree with first-class honors at Cambridge in 1749, he moved to London, intent upon a career in literature. His poetical debut, “Diggon Davy’s Resolution on the Death of his Last Cow,” a narrative poem on the subject of foot-and-mouth disease, begins with an exchange between the title character and his friend Colin Clout, who find themselves seated beneath the “secreted shade” of a hawthorn bush:


How! MULLY gone!—the sad mischance I rue!
Ah! wretched DIGGON, but more wretched SUE!


How could I hope, where such contagion reigns,
Where one wide ruin sweeps the desart plains;
Where every gale contains the seeds of death,
That DIGGON’s kine should draw untained breath?
Vain hope, alas! If such my heart had known,
Since MULLY’s gone, the last of all my own.
No more shall SUSAN skim the milky stream,
No more the cheese-curd press, or churn the cream;
No more the dairy shall my steps invite,
So late the source of plenty and delight. . . .


But have you, DIGGON, all those methods try’d,
By book-learn’d doctors taught, when cattle dy’d?

The poem ends four pages later with Diggon announcing his intention of going abroad to uncover certain named “popish plots” concealed by the French government and Colin vowing to shoot his neighbor’s dog, who suddenly appears, running in the direction of his own cattle “with headlong speed.”

After the surprising failure of this remarkable work to secure him a patron or a reputation among the literary public, Dodd seems to have applied himself to various sorts of hackwork, writing textbooks, unproduced plays, and what we would now call “fan fiction” set in the universe of the Dunciad. In 1751, he married a verger’s daughter who, according to Walpole, had previously been the mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, and with the uncertain proceeds of his writings leased a fashionable house. The money soon dried up, however, and he seems to have reluctantly accepted that a clerical career would provide the necessary support for his literary aspirations.

After being ordained in the Church of England the following year, Dodd continued scribbling. He wrote articles for the Christian Magazine, of which he also became editor. He embarrassed himself in a pamphlet war with John Wesley. He produced The Sisters, a lurid romance (“Caroline raised herself up, and looking beyond the bed, saw by a little glimmering fire two men grim and dreadful, whose look struck terror through her soul, and whose voices made her tremble in every limb”); and The Beauties of Shakespeare, in which he invented the modern index.

While his successes as an author were modest, Dodd’s fame as a clergyman grew, and he soon found himself ascending to a series of promising appointments. After winning a lottery—and receiving his wife’s inheritance—he decided to open a small chapel which he hoped would attract members of the royal family. This was the so-called Charlotte Chapel. The chapel was praised for its design and did secure Dodd a following among parts of the beau monde, but his income failed to match his expenditures. In 1771, he foolishly signed over the income from his writings to the publisher of the Christian Magazine, who promptly fired him as editor. His charitable work at the Magdalen Hospital for the Reception of Penitent Prostitutes made him little money but earned him the scorn of Walpole, who in 1774 wrote gleefully to a friend to announce that George III “has ordered the pure precise Dr Dodd to be struck off the list of chaplains, not for gallantry with a Magdalen, as you would expect, but for offering a thumping bribe to my Lord Chancellor for the fat living of St George.”

By 1777, Dodd was reduced to forging a check in the name of his former pupil the Earl of Chesterfield for the astonishing amount of forty-two hundred pounds. When the forgery was discovered, Dodd confessed and found himself imprisoned and sentenced to death. His plight attracted the sympathy of the British public, among whom he previously had been the object of popular scorn. Now faced with the most important commission of his literary career, Dodd accepted the services of a ghostwriter. Dr. Johnson wrote a number of speeches and letters given or sent by Dodd, and under his own name circulated a petition for a stay of execution signed by some twenty-three thousand people. These efforts did not sway the mind of the judge, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, and on June 27, 1777, the Macaroni Parson was hanged at Tyburn. Among those assembled was the young John Taylor, the future publisher of Keats, who years later would recall the scene of the execution:

It was lamentable to remark the difference between his former deportment in the streets and his appearance in the coach the last time I saw him, when he was going to suffer the sentence of the law. In the streets he walked with his head erect and with a lofty gait, like a man conscious of his own importance, and perhaps of the dignity of his sacred calling. In the coach he had sunk down with his head to the side, his face pale, while his features seemed to be expanded: his eyes were closed, and he appeared a wretched spectacle of despair. The crowd of people in Holborn, where I saw him pass, was immense, and a deep sense of pity seemed to be the universal feeling.

Wesley visited him in prison, and wept.

—Matthew Walther

✥ A publication where both our editor and managing editor formerly worked awards prizes annually to its “Men of the Year,” most often those who perform the most outlandish and outré actions in support of their country. THE LAMP has no such award with regard to the Church, but if it did, the prize this year would certainly go to Father Fidel Rodriguez of Saint Thomas Aquinas parish in St. Cloud, Florida. This brave priest bit a woman who was attempting to receive the Blessed Sacrament illicitly during a First Communion service. When Father Rodriguez offered her Communion and she did not say, “Amen,” he asked her when was the last time she had been to Confession. The woman said it had been awhile, so he told her he could not give her Communion until she confessed her sins. He gave her a blessing instead. The woman returned to another Mass hours later and re-presented herself for Communion. Again, Father Rodriguez asked her if she had confessed, and again she said that she had not. When it became clear that he would not give her Communion, she lunged for the ciborium and scattered the hosts. He bit her hand to protect the Body and Blood of Christ. After Mass, police charged Father Rodriguez with one count of battery. He did not dispute it. “I have recognized that I bit her. I’m not denying that,” he said. “I recognize that I bit her, as a defense, defending myself and defending the Sacrament.”

✥ Around three and half million children were born last year, the lowest one-year tally since 1979. More than thirty-two percent of those births were cesarean sections, a number which many medical experts worry indicates an increase in unnecessary interventions during birth. That being said, it could also mean trouble for a future Macbeth, facing the greater likelihood of falling to some latter-day Macduff:

Despair thy charm,
And let the angel whom thou still hast served
Tell thee Macduff was from his mother’s womb
Untimely ripped.

✥ The night sky of my youth was a middling gray. In the suburban North Dallas neighborhood where I lived, there were of course the street lights outside, but across a nearby road there was also a supermarket and a good-sized city park, both lit up by multiple tower lights all night long. The night sky in those years had no chance of being anywhere near black. You would turn off the lights indoors, walk out of the house, and, if anything, it would be a good deal lighter outside than in. The north star I remember seeing, and maybe a few others from time to time, but generally all I saw was the darkling gray haze of light. Along with what we had come to call the light pollution, there was a parallel aural phenomenon: the night was never silent. Our relatively prosperous, leafy bedroom community lay far from any actual industry, but the ambient noise of combustion engines crawling all over town and on the nearby freeways was unceasing.

What a relief it was in those days just to close the door on the noise, and shut the blinds against the electric gray. Indoors, we could make things quieter, darker, establishing an artificial escape from the enlightened din of the city. And yet, even within, things were rarely completely dark or quiet: we generally left a lamp on somewhere, and there were always a certain number of operating lights, tiny points of red or green or yellow, indicating the steady flow of electricity through all our nested appliances. The refrigerator hummed, the clocks ticked, the A/C shuddered intermittently.

I say all of this comfortably in the past tense, but of course I still live in it today. The absence of true dark is one of the facts of our world, and even though I now live in a small, rural community with fewer street lights and not so many vast, lit-up parking lots, there is still enough electric light to be a nuisance. There is still a darkless world outside. The grayscape is intentional: it works as a door to close against the fullness of a night where, after all, bad things happen to good people, and the unseen yet disturbs us. At night we are doubly walled in, first inside our microcosmic houses, but then also within the slightly bigger, duller cosmos of our grayscale cities. It all seems snug, in the way the Biosphere 2 seemed snug to schoolchildren in the Nineties, or snug like the International Space Station seems snug, a carefully maintained breathing space hurtling through the outer dark. But inside the protective dome of electric light, as we know, everything is not okay. There rises a tidal sea of melancholy, for multiple, no doubt interconnected reasons—and one of them must be the door shut against the night sky. It is Hell, as Dante knew long ago, to be unable to see the stars.

The first hint of the problem comes in bed. Many adults have a hard time falling asleep; many rely on medication. The problem is multicausal, but there are indications that the dome of undarkness has something to do with it. Consider what happens when we go camping. In spite of our best efforts at bringing the light and noise of our domestic comforts out to the campground, we still end up getting some good, deep darkness and quiet—and that is of course why we are there. Walking through the campground at twilight, you can hear the gravel crunch underfoot. Around among the pine trunks, a few fires glimmer, and the campers around them lower their voices in the hush. Without artificial light, it is hard not to think of sleep earlier, but the quiet hour beforehand is precious. We sit amid the dirt of the state park, perched on lousy camp chairs, because there is something in the quiet dark we need like we need water. Having drunk from that source, we find the sleep we desire more easily.

I remember my first time, as an adult, really seeing the stars. It was the year after high school graduation and I was out of the city, up in the Flathead Valley of Montana, south of Glacier National Park. On an empty field an hour or two after nightfall, I lay surrounded by the sky. The nearest electrical lights were far off, undistracting. The black depth of ambient space was filled to bursting with points of light, swarming, clustering, spreading across my vision. It was not the dull suffusion of the city sky, but a miracle of distinctness, millions of bright gems against lush black velvet. As time compressed into that long moment, the curve of the earth beneath me fell away, and the night sky enveloped all living things. I did not create this sky.

Now, the obvious question is why anyone would ever want to shut the door against this night. There are the more superficial answers, of course. We erect the dome for the sake of efficiency, because commerce, after all, must go on at all hours. We light up the dark for the sake of safety, so that thieves and other would-be transgressors can’t take advantage of us unawares. Or perhaps we just simply prefer seeing to not seeing. But these all boil down to an appetite for control, and a fear of all we cannot master. As much as we yearn, in our melancholy, for access to transcendent night, we cannot deny the thrill of fashioning our own artificial day. Like the demonic Mammon in Milton’s Paradise Lost, we are drawn to

Our own good from our selves, and from our own
Live to our selves, though in this vast recess,
Free, and to none accountable, preferring
Hard liberty before the easy yoke
Of servile pomp.

There are real costs to shutting out the dark, but like Mammon, we often conclude that “hard liberty” is well won. Truly, to live in the night means relinquishment, and dependency—it means accepting our neediness as finite creatures, and opening ourselves to a grace that is not ours to grasp. To a person with one hand on the light switch, that is a tall order.

Thankfully, this too shall pass, and the choice will not always lie with us. Our aging electrical grid has begun to favor us with longer power outages in recent years: last winter, we in southern Michigan were blacked out for a week at least, huddling around our fireplaces for warmth and meager, flickering light. I remember how early we went to bed, exhausted with camping out in our own houses, ready to give ourselves up to the night. As Saint Augustine said to God many centuries ago, “all those who wander far away” in sin and disorder “are imitating you, but in a perverse way.” It is a “shady parody of omnipotence” we carry out when we try to exert domineering control. “Yet,” adds the saint, “by this very mimicry they”—we—“proclaim that you are the Creator of the whole of nature.” Even in our failure to construct an alternative cosmos, with its own dominant constellations, we bear witness to the One who holds the true night of all things lovingly in His creative hands. On our best nights, we fall back into what we have, after all, always known: that the one mystical light shines in our darkness even now, and the darkness has not overcome it.

—Dwight Lindley

✥ Earlier this year, Amazon ended a program in its grocery stores where customers could pick up their bread, milk, and eggs and, in the words of the company, “just walk out.” When it was introduced in 2016, the program was advertised as a sophisticated advance in artificial intelligence wherein thousands of cameras would track people as they made their way through the store, keeping record of the items they picked out and charging their Amazon accounts when they walked out the door. In reality, the system was run entirely by Amazon employees off-site at an office in India. There, about one thousand people were employed to watch the feedback from the surveillance cameras and manually check off each item that any given shopper picked out. It often took hours for customers to receive receipts after leaving the store, largely because offshore cashiers were rewatching videos and assigning items to different customers. Keeping up the cameras was also too expensive to justify the ruse. They were all ripped out this spring.

✥ From 1992 to 2022, the per capita rate of daily marijuana usage increased fifteen-fold. Nearly eighteen million people in the United States now report using marijuana daily. By contrast, only fifteen million people report drinking alcohol daily. In 2023, the rate of positive drug tests rose in thirteen out of fifteen industries surveyed, with finance and insurance seeing the greatest increases: more than thirty-five percent. Public administration positive tests rose by nearly twenty-four percent, and real-estate rental and leasing jobs were up more than twenty-two percent. Positive drug tests also rose in the education, technology, and science industries. In these same sectors, workers have been caught cheating on drug tests at the highest rate in thirty years. About six thousand urine samples out of more than five million samples last year were found to be faked in 2023—a sixfold increase from the previous year and the highest rate of faked urine samples ever recorded. Four and a half percent of positive tests last year were flagged for marijuana usage, the highest figure for any drug. States where recreational marijuana is legal saw the greatest increases: nearly six percent of tests came back positive (compared to about two percent in 2015). In states where marijuana usage is not legal, the positivity rate hovered around three percent.

✥ Ktaadn is in the United States of America, but it acknowledges no authority other than its own. It rises alone for thousands of feet over the surrounding Maine lakes and woods in its distinctive shape, a trapezoid with a wide, flat plane at the top. Its summit marks the end of the Appalachian Trail, and because of the way the trail loops back and forth, Ktaadn is visible for miles and miles to those completing their journey.

For the preservation of Ktaadn (and the wilderness surrounding it) we have Percival Baxter, former governor of the state, to thank. He failed to make Ktaadn a state park during his time in government, so he bought the land himself and donated it to the state, creating Baxter State Park in 1931. Baxter said of his project that “man is born to die, his works are short-lived. Buildings crumble, monuments decay, wealth vanishes, but Ktaadn in all its glory forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine.” He continued to buy land in the area and add it to the state park for the rest of his life. Even after his death some small additions have been made, bringing the park’s size to a little more than two hundred thousand acres, intended to be kept forever wild. And he succeeded. Ktaadn is not Mount Washington. Maine is not New Hampshire. There is no road built to the top, and there are no cars with bumper stickers on them saying, “This car climbed Ktaadn.”

The treeline on Ktaadn is at around thirty-five to thirty-eight hundred feet, leaving the top fifteen hundred feet or so to Alpine grasses and other plants and lichens able to grow there and nowhere else in the surrounding area. The area above the treeline, known as the Tableland, is home to two endangered animals, the Ktaadn arctic butterfly and the American pipit, that do not live in the surrounding region. Historically, the top of the mountain has been off limits to humanity. It seems that the Penobscot nation, who inhabited the region before the arrival of Europeans, did not regard Ktaadn as their own. They did not climb it. Its peaks were the home of Pamola, the storm god, who did not look kindly on mortals’ entrance to his domain. He was said to have kept prisoners there. Thoreau reports that his native guide informed him that it was necessary to leave a bottle of rum at the top to appease the god, a ritual the guide had performed a number of times. Even now, when tens of thousands of people climb the mountain each year, the glory of Ktaadn lies in the fact that it does not belong to humanity and never could. Ktaadn is not menacing, but it is indifferent, and to a human being trying to survive on its slopes that comes out to about the same thing.

At the top of the mountain is one rather large concession to the human world and human scale. The top of Ktaadn is five thousand two hundred sixty-nine feet above sea level, just eleven short of a mile. So a rock pile was built at the summit to reach the last few feet into the sky. (The rock pile is believed to actually be thirteen feet tall, since earlier surveyors measured Ktaadn’s elevation at five thousand two hundred sixty-seven feet.) The rock pile is visible a little ways away on the approach to the summit. The clear indication of the summit’s location is nice, but it also looks silly.

Thoreau, while on the Tableland, did not have the benefit of the rock pile, and wrote that “It reminded me of the creations of the old epic and dramatic poets, of Atlas, Vulcan, the Cyclops, and Prometheus . . . Vast, Titanic, inhuman nature has got him at disadvantage, caught him alone, and pilfers him of some of his divine faculty.” God creates Ktaadn: man imitates God, but the best he can do is a thirteen-foot-tall rock pile.

Almost every culture has understood that the divine is somewhere above, and the mountains are where it approaches, the closest we can get to it. The most famous examples are in the Old World—Mount Olympus, Mount Fuji—and I have always thought that the New World, while quick to boast of its natural beauty, feels a sense of shame at the lack of history associated with its natural monuments. The storm god makes Ktaadn his domain and shows his presence atop it. I am reminded of another deity, at whose going out “the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water,” who revealed himself to another man at the top of another mountain and kept him there so long that everyone thought he was dead. Ktaadn is like that. It is one of America’s holy mountains in the wilderness.

—Steve Larkin

✥ In his encyclopedia of cookery, Prosper Montagné relates the story of a bishop who was traveling in Italy. He charged his secretary to go ahead and mark the inn where he had found the best wine. This he would indicate by inscribing on the door of the inn the word est. The secretary, passing through Montefiascone, where he found some excellent wine, could only express his enthusiasm by repeating the agreed-upon word three times: est, est, est. The bishop stayed so long at the inn to confirm his forerunner’s good impression that he died there.

✥ In that same book, Montagné argues that Talleyrand’s amoral connivances were inextricable from his love of the table:

High ecclesiastical office did not prevent him from leading a brilliant and dissipated worldly life. His lack of moral scruples and an extreme aptitude for diplomacy and intrigue enabled him to retain a high position throughout the Revolution, the Directory, the Empire and the Restoration, with only short periods of reversal of fortune.

While he was an important personage at court the luxury of his table and the splendour of his entertaining were celebrated. At the time of the First Empire he had as his cook the illustrious Carême. There is a story that one day the wife of Maréchal Lefèvre, whom Sardou made famous by the name of Madame Sans-Gêne, was present at one of Talleyrand’s magnificent dinners. She exclaimed, “Mon Dieu! you have given us such magnificent food. It must have cost you a lot of money.” “Ah, madame, you are very kind; it is not a well-paid job,” replied Talleyrand.

The extravagance of Talleyrand’s table was not entirely for the sake of pure gastronomical satisfaction; he believed that the pleasure he offered his guests at these receptions was an important element in the success of his diplomacy and intrigues. As he departed to negotiate at Vienna, where he hoped to secure important advantages for France, he said to Louis XVIII, “Sire, I have more need of casseroles than of written instructions.”

He never let religious or moral scruples interfere with the pursuit of his career and personal pleasures; part of a letter written in 1791 to his friend the Due de Lauzun demonstrates this side of his character. A bull of excommunication had been issued against several members of the clergy. Talleyrand, whose name was included, wrote ironically, “You have heard the news: excommunicated. Come and dine to console me. Everyone refuses me fire and water; so we will eat nothing but glazed cold meats and drink only chilled wines.”

We note in conclusion that the diplomat who twisted his way through the Revolution, the Directory, the Empire, and the Restoration prudently made one last turn on his deathbed, where he returned to the Church and received the sacraments.

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