Friday, February 10, 2006
Music, Monks and the Melancholic Tory
A friend of mine is culling his CD herd and I am the grateful recipient of a lot of his castoffs. It's quite a pile and a great deal more than I would be able to afford if I took it upon myself to buy them. Collections of Bach's concerti and sonatas from Deutsche Grammophon, a pile of Vivaldi's violin concerti and whatnot.
Right now I'm working through a 8-disk set of medieval and baroque music from Spain, Espana Antigua by Jordi Savall (who looks surprisingly like Robert DeNiro if the picture is to be believed,) and all his little friends. For some reason I am cottoning on to medieval Spanish music lately. I quite enjoyed disk #2 which is mostly 14th. c. It's cheery and bouncy. Medieval rockabilly.
Funny to think that people in the 14th.c. were sticking in bits of Gregorian chant for the same sort of dreamy antique effect for which it is prized by modern pop singers today. It is easy to forget that by the 14th.c. the good bits of the middle ages were already pretty much wrapping up and stuff like Gregorian was already hundreds of years out of date. Of course, the Plague was shortly to come along and lend considerable assistance to the project of sweeping aside the old order.
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Speaking of monks,
I did a thing today on that Carthusian monk movie. I was struck particularly by a comment the director made about his experience coming back down from the mountain into the seething atmosphere of the 21st. century.
"When I left the monastery... having had this experience of living with people who are pretty free of fear makes you realize how fear-driven our society is. We tend to say that our society is driven by consumerism or greed but it’s not true. Greed, consumerism, wanting to have a new Porsche, for example, is a disguise of pure fear. It’s a near panicking society..."
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Just reading the obit in the (UK) Spectator of Michael Wharton, aka Peter Simple, one of English journalism's last great Tory satirists, and again thanking God, (with Whom I seem to be having very slightly improved relations lately) that I knew John Muggeridge long enough for him to drag me out of my sinkhole of journalistic, political and literary ignorance.
No less a personage than A.N. Wilson wrote the piece in the Spec: "In the death of Michael Wharton we have lost both the funniest writer of our generation , and the truest. Time was when The Reactionary Times and Feudal Chronicle was scarcely distinguishable from those parts of the Telegraph, Daily and SUnday, written by Michael's friends, Colin Welch, Malcolm Muggeridge or Peregrine Worsthorne...
"Little by little, however, like the Welsh language or the Grey Elves in Tolkien, the Old Believers died out, and soon their voice was only to be heard in the 'Peter Simple' column.
"What he shared with the truly religious, (two of his wives were Catholics) was a perpetual sense of exile, and this sprang not from his non-English ancestry but from being a human being. The essential strangeness of life on this planet, especially in England during the period of her putrescent decline, would create this sense of exile in any but the insensitive."
I have two Simple books, starting in 1967 and am now able not only to know what the Spec's obit is talking about, but am able properly to mourn the loss of another one of the Old English Conservatives. I am becoming, perhaps, over sensitive to the loss of these old conservative English guys with Tory sensibilities and Catholic wives. They are disappearing at an alarming rate, and being replaced with humourless people who like David Cameron.
Certainly the gloomy mood that everything once great is fading away never to be recovered is palpable in all the books I have been reading lately. I fear to pick up another early 20th. century English writer. All the guys on my shortlist of Things I Must Get to Next are of the same ilk. Not fearfule so much, but more melancholie and nostalgick.
I was eyeing something by Waugh a minute ago and thinking about what to pick up after Robert Hugh Benson, but now I might have to read something less depressing. Maybe David Frum's stuff on how to be a good right wing American. They're much more cheerful.
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Benson has been quite a wonderful discovery for which I have to thank not John this time but Fr. David Roche who said, quite rightly, that if I had liked Michael O'Brien's Catholic paranoia novels, I would loooove Benson who invented the genre. Benson is certainly one of those names that should have been household. Had he lived longer, he certainly would have been as famous among the early 20th c. English converts as Knox and Chesterton. I found his life by C.C. Martindale SJ., (another of that clique) as one of the overlooked leftovers from the Muggeridge collection.
Lord of the World was written at a time when the Great Ideological States were still only the stuff of the feverish dreams of conspiratorial apostates and syphilitic undergraduate maniacs. The old world was about to topple, but still looked solid enough to most. It was published in aught seven and in it, Benson predicts the late 20th century, post-war anti-Christian leftist stateism that we have now spreading its diseased tendrils everywhere.
He envisioned a terrible war between the socialistic West, which, too busy cramming its ideologies down the throats of a spiritually starving post-Christian populace, does not notice until too late the rise of the recently re-barbarized Eastern Empire.
In Benson's future, Protestantism is dead, finally splintered down to atomized particles so small that no one can reside in it. Catholicism is under legal attack everywhere in a socialist European Superstate.
In the first forty pages, one recognizes the modern world. And he wrote before electricity was common, before inter-continental communications, before the aeroplane for Pete sake! He predicts atomic weapons, the socialist welfare state, the EU, the rise of militant oriental religions and the ever-so-gentle, imperceptible destruction of the Church. I was especially struck by one scene in which a young woman witnesses the crash of a passenger plane ("volors" in Benson's astonishingly prescient imagination).
"...a voice hissed suddenly in her ears: “Let me through. I am a priest.”
She stood there a moment longer, dazed by the suddenness of the whole affair, and watched almost unintelligently the grey-haired young priest on his knees, with his coat torn open, and a crucifix out; she saw him bend close, wave his hand in a swift sign, and heard a murmur of a language she did not know. Then he was up again, holding the crucifix before him, and she saw him begin to move forward into the midst of the red-flooded pavement, looking this way and that as if for a signal. Down the steps of the great hospital on her right came figures running now, hatless, each carrying what looked like an old-fashioned camera. She knew what those men were, and her heart leaped in relief.
They were the ministers of euthanasia."
The one thing he didn't seem to foresee was that the Church would be colluding in its own destruction. In Beson's time, the Modernist crisis was thought to be over. Benson's future English Catholics, those who survive, still have the Mass, still rejoice (not apologise) over converts. It is the same, strong, coherent Catholicism he knew. I cannot help but wonder if his confidence might have been shaken by the capitulation of the Conciliar renewal. I wonder what he would have made of the Vatican's wheedling, dhimmi-esque press release on the Khartoon riots.
Certainly, if you enjoyed having your black-helicopter-secret-government-concentration-camp Catholic paranoia buttons pushed by Father Elijah or Eclipse of the Sun, it's worth tracking down a copy of Lord of the World.
I just can't resist one more boast though: my copy is signed "to Anne Muggerdige, Michael Davies, Park Cottage 1987."