Archive for October, 2005

Contrary to what you’ve heard, All Saint’s Day was not created to co-opt Celtic Samhain festivities for Christianity. (Though it worked that way in some Celtic countries.) The day was invented to commemmorate all the martyrs, especially when said martyrdoms didn’t happen nearby; and then spread to cover all the saints in general, especially those we don’t know. These celebrations date back to very early times, and you can read all about the history in the relevant Catholic Encyclopedia article.

This sermon is by Bede, who’s sometimes counted as one of the late, late Fathers. He’s from England. As you can tell from the 710 AD dating, he was preaching after the feast had been introduced and promoted, a few decades before it was moved from May 13 to Nov. 1, and about a hundred years before it was legislated to be a feast celebrated everywhere the Church was. (Unfortunately, my copy is abridged, and I have no way of knowing by how much. Still, it’s a cool sermon.)

The reason this sermon was in Latin was not that Bede preached it in Latin to his congregation (he probably didn’t), but that there was really no point collecting sermons in a book in English if you wanted an international readership. Writing in a vernacular restricted a work’s usefulness and endurance, though it did demonstrate your love of your mother tongue. But if you learned to read, you probably learned it by learning to read Latin; the Vulgate psalms were the ABC’s of Europe.

“Sermon on All Saints Day”
10 min.


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Three Scottish Hallowe’en ballads for you! First of all, we slip into the Border between Middle Earth and Elfland with Janet and Tam Lin. (Remember, “The night is Hallow’een, my love, The morn is Hallow’s Day.”) Then we attend a party and learn a little about the old Scottish year’s end divination customs in Robert Burns’ “Hallowe’en”. Finally, Andrew Lang of fairy tale fame tells us an adult tale of “The Queen of Spain and the Bauld McLean”, based on the destruction of the Spanish ship Florencia in 1588. Enjoy!

“Tam Lin”
10 min.
“Halloween” by Robert Burns
20 min.
“The Queen of Spain and the Bauld McLean” by Andrew Lang
4 min.

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This ghost story is pretty fun. Lost treasure! A wronged heiress! Communication from beyond the grave!

Obviously, though, it leans quite a bit on the conventions of spiritualism. That’s interesting in itself, of course. We think of spiritualism as a post-Civil War or post-WWI phenomenon, but this story was written in 1855. (But the Fox sisters, of course, were famous back in 1848, and there was plenty of death of relatives both in Europe and out West during the 1840’s and 1850’s.) The Ghostbusters-style blend of practicality, fantasy, and state-of-the-art science fiction reminds me strongly of William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki stories and that charming device, the vacuum tube “electric pentacle”. Though it is fair to warn you that when Carnacki finds himself a ghost, it’s usually a really scary one; and he shies from using scary incantations and grimoires about as much as Egon and Ray, which is to say, not at all. (You can also download free (though lower quality) audiobooks of Carnacki from audiobooksforfree.com. And there was apparently a book of Carnacki pastiches by A.F. Kidd and Rick Kennett called 472 Cheyne Walk — Carnacki: The Untold Stories published in 2002.)

For those who are keeping score, I wouldn’t be a spiritualist or even a ghosthunter if you paid me. The stuff which is very cool in stories would be exactly the stuff which would be likely to do you in if you tried to do it in real life. (I think trying to be both an ardent spiritualist and scientist ruined Conan Doyle’s life; though he kept his honor, he left behind a lot of his good sense. But he would have done better to quit running from his grief and guilt into junk science and self-made religion. Oh, well.) But anyway, a good story’s a good story.

Btw, I’d better explain again that if you follow the link to archive.org at the top of this post, you’ll be able to get different (smaller) formats and streaming. The manual download link takes you only to the 128K mp3s. I do this because some computers can’t use Ogg and experience unknown difficulties with the 64K.

Also, I had a few more Halloweenish readings I wanted to sneak into this Halloween edition of Maria Lectrix, but you’ll have to wait until sometime tonight or tomorrow when they get processed.

“The Pot of Tulips”
49 min.

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Yes, yet another early posting, since I’ll be busy this weekend. The fifth part of the book consists of the translator’s Introduction (in three parts), and the appendix, a letter between close associates of Catherine which describes her saintly death.

I shy away from reading introductions and forewords before the rest of the book. They have a tendency to include spoilers, or try to lead me toward the introducer’s ideas of the book instead of my own. Now, this is actually a rather spoiler-free introduction, though I’m still not sorry I didn’t read it out first. All the foreign words and typos, not to mention the length, would have been terribly discouraging as a beginning. Still, it’s a nice overview of the historical and religious situation and has some good info about Catherine’s early life.

The appendix isn’t short, but I found it interesting. Btw, Sexagesima Sunday is the second Sunday before Lent. It was called Sexagesima, ‘sixty’, because it’s about sixty days till Easter (or actually, sixty days till the Wednesday after Easter). Orthodox areas used to start abstaining from meat that early, apparently.

Introduction, part 1
Introduction, part 2
Introduction, part 3
Book 1: A Treatise on Divine Providence
Book 2: A Treatise on Discretion
Book 3: A Treatise on Prayer
Book 4: A Treatise on Obedience

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This essay is from Alarms and Discursions, a 1910 collection of short pieces written for London’s Daily News. The essay winds around a bit, and talks of many things. In the end, I think it’s a brilliant defense of horror, dark fantasy, and the like. More than that, though, it’s fun and beautiful writing, from a time when the sort of blog columns we enjoy from Lileks were standard operating procedure for journalists. (Or at least they were for Chesterton.)

I apologize for reading the essay with a much straighter face than GKC wore when writing it. However, you are spared any of my odd voices.

“The Nightmare”
9 min.

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The story strides on towards court, as Thorndyke gets another little present from his ingenious friend and Jervis learns some startling information. We also learn about Thorndyke’s rather disturbing hobby. Further, Freeman does his best to harrow every mystery fan’s soul with his blunt description of the Old Bailey at his time of writing. You begin to understand the Victorian obsession with strong soap and elbow grease.

If you can’t stand the wait until next week, you can read The Red Thumb Mark on Gutenberg.

Chapter 13: Murder by Post
Chapter 14: A Startling Discovery
59 min.

Part 1: Chapters 1-4
Part 2: Chapters 5-8
Part 3: Chapters 9-12

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Apologia means ‘explanation’. In this case, a philosopher-turned-Christian tells Roman emperor all about Christianity. Breaking the secrecy that was common, thanks to persecution, he does his best to dispel urban rumors by openness about the true nature of Christian beliefs and rituals. He argues that individual Christians should be judged by what they do, not by what they are said to believe, and that Christian hunts are bad for the Empire’s justice.

Also, with extensive quotes both from the myths and philosophers and the Greek Bible, he argues that Christianity has the full interpretation of the ancient Jewish scriptures, that the philosophers cribbed from the older Jewish material, and that many great Greek myths and new religions were set up by the demons to try to counteract Jewish prophecy. This seems odd to modern listeners. But the Roman government had as dim a view of “new religions” as the Japanese one. Part of why Judaism was tolerated and protected by the Empire was that it was old and had old records. If Christianity could be shown to be not a mere hundred and fifty years old, but the heir of a continuity of belief with Judaism, Christians would look much more respectable. (It was also a rebuke to his fellow Greeks among the Marcionites, who were so busily engaged in trying to purge Christianity of its Jewish roots that they wanted to throw out the Old Testament.)

Not everything that he reveals is good stuff. We peer into a world where Marcionites and followers of Simon Magus annoy the heck out of more mainstream Christians, and where tension is high between prophecy-saved Christians and the now temple-less Jews. And sometimes paranoia is justified. Recent research indicates that Mithras worshippers probably did copy some rituals from that popular new religion of Christianity, and may have even moved their date of celebration to coincide with Christmas (instead of the other way round). Still, the main annoyance seems to be persecution by pagan neighbors and the Empire, and it shadows this letter. “You can kill but not hurt us,” says St. Justin, Doctor of the Church and martyr.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
2 hrs 25 min

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I admit that this poem is not an obvious Halloween choice. But I felt like reading it. There’s not that many great Victorian poems based on Scottish fairy tales about lopping off elves’ heads. But it inspired Stephen King, and that’s Halloweeny, right? Also, the theme of invading the King of Elfland’s place to rescue a fair maiden is highly appropriate to the Celtic year’s end. Beyond that, of course, it deals with death, which as certain posters have pointed out, is one of the Four Last Things that All Saints’ Day, Hallowmas, should make us think on.

But mostly I just like Browning. You could have an all-Browning audioblog that posted 365 days a year, and probably never get bored. (Though all that blank verse might start to wear.) It’s only a shame that I’m not an actor, and can’t wring every ounce of drama out of the reading.

(You know what we need? A Browning opera. The Ring and the Book‘s long enough, isn’t it?)

You can also read “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” with eyes alone.

“Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”
12 min.

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A humorous short-short about a strange and alien sort of creature which apparently could be found visiting New York back in 1852 — and which probably can still be met with today!

Sorry about the extreme shortness. I picked a story I thought I’d be able to put up on Thursday or Friday, but Murphy and my own tiredness got in the way. Still, it wasn’t too hard on my tired throat, and that was a good thing.

“The Man Without a Shadow: A New Version”
4 min. 45 sec.

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Playing Catch-Up

If you’ll go down below, you’ll see that Book 4 of The Dialogue is now up. So’s the weekly O’Brien story and the Tuesday poetry, which you’ll see above. Admittedly, I should have started putting up my Wednesday stuff yesterday, but I forgot; so it’s going up on archive.org today and should be available tomorrow. With any luck.

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I think I have finally discovered all that needed doing at archive.org in order to make my audiobook of Book 4 of The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena available to all of you. Unfortunately, I didn’t figure this out until today.I also didn’t put up my Monday story before I left, because I figured that was too paranoid even for me.

Error. (As Psmith would say.) The truth is that putting up an entire week of stories in advance probably wouldn’t be too paranoid for me. I didn’t get home last night at all, as I ended up sleeping at my parents’ house.

So you will probably get your Clan Honor Monday story on Tuesday, along with Book 4 of The Dialogue. I devoutly hope that your Tuesday story will also be available. But at this moment I have a sore-ish throat from an allergy attack last night, so I don’t want to promise rashly. (Or in this case, watery-eyed and sneezingly.)

Feel free to go listen to the now-complete Psmith in the City instead. It is bright and cheery, which this October day is not.

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This blog is now one month old. Vivat! We are only a little more than a week away from Halloween and All Hallows Day, so the spooky stuff continues.

Since I’ll be out of touch this weekend, you’ll notice below that I loaded up my Friday and Saturday audiobooks early. By Saturday, the file problem with the Dialogue should be fixed. The Fitz-James O’Brien short story for Clan Honor Monday may be slightly delayed, but it will go up.

We’ve got one more week to go on St. Catherine of Siena. Next week I’ll be reading the postscript (a letter on her death appended to the book) and the translator’s foreword (because I always read forewords last, to avoid spoilers). They’re both interesting. Then we’ve got two more weeks to go on The Red Thumb Mark, unless the court scenes read faster than their page count.

If people have suggestions for what books I should read next on Mystery Thursday and Saintly Saturday, let me know. I’m inclined to go on with Freeman and read The Eye of Osiris. Murdered Egyptologists with tattoos across their chests are just what you want in late fall.

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With this book, the main meat of the Dialogue is concluded. Obedience isn’t a popular virtue these days, and it wasn’t popular in Catalina Benincasa’s day, either. But in this short treatise, I found the advantages of this virtue were argued pretty persuasively. Most of all, it’s hard to argue that if Adam sinned through disobedience and Christ saved us through obedience unto death — death on a cross — that this is clearly something Christians need to do.

I should note, though, that obedience doesn’t mean going against conscience or morals. (Informed conscience, that is, not “I am now going to mistake me being stubborn for my conscience” or “everybody else is doing it, and peer pressure sounds like conscience”.) Catholics aren’t supposed to get hung up on dishonorable or immoral commands like samurai did. God is always the Big Boss, and obedience to His commands overrides all others. (As long as they’re really His commands. You can’t say, “Oh, yeah, and I’m reading the Bible here as allowing me to act like a jerk.” Or rather, you can, but the Big Boss won’t be amused if you do.)



Part 29
Part 30
Part 31
Part 32
Part 33
Part 34
1 hr. 40 min.



Book 1: “A Treatise of Divine Providence”
Book 2: “A Treatise of Discretion”
Book 3: “A Treatise of Prayer”


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This is one of those poems, by one of those poets, which have gone from ubiquitous to unheard in a couple of decades. Hmph. Well, it’s Halloween, and Indiana is practically next door, and I feel like reading “Little Orphant Annie”. So there.

If you don’t like the way I read, you can hear a very badly restored 1912 gramophone record of Riley reading it (in Quicktime) at Indiana University’s Lilly Library. You can also find the poem all over the Net, but the story behind it is also at Indiana University.

“Little Orphant Annie”
2 min.

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The mystery continues, as Thorndyke continues to be mysteeeerious about his take on the defense. Somebody keeps trying to remove him from the defense team permanently. And poor Jervis struggles to remain professional in the face of all sorts of temptation.

After this, there are only five chapters left; but the chapters set at the trial are rather lengthy ones. (All that dialogue.) So it will probably take two more weeks before I’m finished with this book. You can always read ahead, of course.


Chapter 9: The Prisoner
Chapter 10: Polton Is Mystified
Chapter 11: The Ambush
Chapter 12: It Might Have Been
1 hr. 48 min.


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