Weather note: The Christmas storm of 2009 has mostly fizzled. Last night, when the predictions were for an inch of snow an hour, we took Pippi out for a Christmas Eve walk in the rain. More rain today has made it a slushy Christmas.
We shall conclude this chapter by a melancholy truth, which obtrudes itself on the reluctant mind; that even admitting, without hesitation or enquiry, all that history has recorded, or devotion has feigned, on the subject of martyrdoms, it must still be acknowledged, that the Christians, in the course of their intestine dissentions, have inflicted far greater severities on each other, than they had experienced from the zeal of infidels.This is a long sentence—nearly seventy words—but carefully balanced. It appears to be based upon the structures and rhythms of Latin. Gibbon has paid extraordinary attention to the construction of his history, not only to the construction of individual sentences, but to the architecture of the whole.
You will observe that from Magna Charta to the Declaration of Right it has been the uniform policy of our constitution to claim and assert our liberties as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity—as an estate specially belonging to the people of this kingdom, without any reference whatever to any other more general or prior right. By this means our constitution preserves a unity in so great a diversity of its parts. We have an inheritable crown, an inheritable peerage, and a House of Commons and a people inheriting privileges, franchises, and liberties from a long line of ancestors.For Burke, change must be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, part of the gradual and natural process of generational change.
This policy appears to me to be the result of profound reflection, or rather the happy effect of following nature, which is wisdom without reflection, and above it. A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors. Besides, the people of England well know that the idea of inheritance furnishes a sure principle of conservation and a sure principle of transmission, without at all excluding a principle of improvement. It leaves acquisition free, but it secures what it acquires. Whatever advantages are obtained by a state proceeding on these maxims are locked fast as in a sort of family settlement, grasped as in a kind of mortmain forever. By a constitutional policy, working after the pattern of nature, we receive, we hold, we transmit our government and our privileges in the same manner in which we enjoy and transmit our property and our lives. The institutions of policy, the goods of fortune, the gifts of providence are handed down to us, and from us, in the same course and order. Our political system is placed in a just correspondence and symmetry with the order of the world and with the mode of existence decreed to a permanent body composed of transitory parts, wherein, by the disposition of a stupendous wisdom, molding together the great mysterious incorporation of the human race, the whole, at one time, is never old or middle-aged or young, but, in a condition of unchangeable constancy, moves on through the varied tenor of perpetual decay, fall, renovation, and progression. Thus, by preserving the method of nature in the conduct of the state, in what we improve we are never wholly new; in what we retain we are never wholly obsolete. By adhering in this manner and on those principles to our forefathers, we are guided not by the superstition of antiquarians, but by the spirit of philosophic analogy. In this choice of inheritance we have given to our frame of polity the image of a relation in blood, binding up the constitution of our country with our dearest domestic ties, adopting our fundamental laws into the bosom of our family affections, keeping inseparable and cherishing with the warmth of all their combined and mutually reflected charities our state, our hearths, our sepulchres, and our altars.
Far out on the ice lay a dark pile of rubbish waiting for the ice to break up, a monument to Mama and Papa's complete inability ever to get rid of possessions. How remarkable, Anna thought. The ice will go, and everything will sink, just go straight down and disappear. It's bold, it's almost shameless... Later it occurred to her that maybe it wouldn't sink, not all of it, maybe it would float to another shore and someone would find it and wonder where it came from and why. In any event, it was not even the least bit Anna's fault.The ice holds things up, but even when it's gone, some things will float. In Jansson's world, there is some buoyancy—some of it is Anna's personal self-deception, much of it is the human will to stay afloat. At the end of Hirvonen's novel there is a moment of lightness, as her Anna seems to float above her reflection in the puddles of a spring thaw. For me, that lightness came too late.
In early August, the director of the Northfield Public Library, Teresa Jensen, asked me to write a poem to be displayed prominently in the...