The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

“Whan that April with his shoures soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;….”

Twenty-nine pilgrims and the narrator meet in Southwark, in Harry Bailey’s Tabard Inn, before setting off on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, where they will behold Thomas Becket’s shrine.  On the journey each pilgrim will tell four tales, two on the way there and two on the way back.  A free dinner will be awarded to the one with the best story.  And so begins Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous poem, a medley of lively stories that gives the reader a captivating window into 14th century England.

Gateway at Canterbury
The Gateway at Canterbury (1889)
Childe Hassam
source Wikiart

 

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What I Demand of Life by Frank Swinnerton

My Deal-Me-In Challenge has been going the way of my other challenges this year, but I thought with a few months left in the year, I might try to resurrect it and at least finish well.  We’ll see …. In any case, I drew the queen of Spades, which gave me an essay entitled, What I Demand of Life by Frank Swinnerton.

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Excellent People by Anton Chekhov

“Once upon a time there lived in Moscow a man called Vladimir Semyonitch Liadovsky.”

Wow, Chekhov was in fine form with this short story!  A narrator relates a story of a literary man trained at law, Vladimir Semyonitch Liadovsky, and his sister, Vera Semyonovna, a listless woman who has been disappointed in life.  At the start of the story, Vladimir has compassion and love for his sister, who had her new husband die, survived a suicide attempt, and now is living with him, quietly revering his talents.

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The Pickwick Papers or The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club by Charles Dickens

“The first ray of light which illumines the gloom, and converts into a dazzling brillancy that obscurity in which the earlier history of the public career of the immortal Pickwick would appear to be involved, is derived from the perusal of the following entry in the Transactions of the Pickwick Club, which the editor of these papers feels the highest pleasure in laying before his readers, as a proof of the careful attention, indefatigable assiduity, and nice discrimination, with which his search among the multifarious documents confided to him has been conducted.”

It’s hardly believable but O’s 2 year read-along of the Pickwick Papers has finally come to a close and I have her to thank for finally being able to finish this 800-page marvel.  We read it in installments mirroring its original release which was an enlightening experience in itself. Looking back, I enjoyed reading only 2 to 3 chapters at a time, but the space between them, for me, was too long.  It’s not that I necessarily forgot what had happened, but I found that when I picked it up again, I was somewhat disengaged with the characters.  It was almost like starting a book over and over again and never really getting traction.  If I was to do it over, I’d read a chapter per week instead of three at once and that way hopefully remain more present in the story.

Mr. Pickwick slides on the ice
source Wikimedia Commons

And the book itself ….. ?  I quite enjoyed Mr. Pickwick and his marvellous, and at times unbelievable, adventures.  At the beginning of the book, Mr. Pickwick, founder and president of the Pickwick Club, decides that he and fellow members, Nathaniel Winkle, Augustus Snodgrass, and Tracy Tupman, will leave London and travel the countryside to discover the wonderful qualities of life, each reporting to the others what they find. Their adventures lead them to saving ladies in distress, getting embroiled in circumstances they only want to avoid, courting offers of marriage, unwanted offers of marriage, interaction with criminals, jail and even love itself. Dickens imbues this novel with his own brand of humour by having an old confirmed bachelor find himself in all sorts of uncomfortable circumstances.  From finding himself unexpectedly sleeping in a lady’s bed, to being sued for breach of promise of marriage, poor Pickwick finds his dignified sensibilities tried by unexpected challenges yet he always manages to respond in a measured and honourable manner that increased our respect for this lovable character.

Mr. Pickwick’s first interview
with Sergeant Snubbin
source Wikimedia Commons

In Chapter XVI, Pickwick attempts to catch a swindler, Jingle, who is slipperier than an eel.  Jingle plans to run away with an heires and by hiding in the bushes outside the girls’ boarding school, Pickwick attempts to subvert the scheme and expose the criminal.  But through various misadventures and bumbles, he manages to find himself locked in a cupboard by the headmistress and the ladies of the establishment. Rescued by Sam Weller, his valet, and his friend, Mr. Wardle, Pickwick rains imprecations upon the head of the absent Jingle.

Even more amusing, was the incident of the mistaken beds.  Late at night at an inn, Pickwick returns downstairs to retrieve his watch and upon returning, enters the wrong room!  He is just settled into bed when a lady enters and begins her own toilette. Horrified, Pickwick reveals his presence and attempts to assure her of his mistake and innocence, but the woman is frightened senseless, and Pickwick makes a quick exit. Not wanting another repeat of the disturbing and undignified experience, Pickwick plans to sleep in the hall, but is once again rescued by Sam.  The novel has so many amusing anecdotes, that is has to be read to enjoy them all.  And I finally managed it!

Mr. Pickwick, picnics
source Wikimedia Commons

At the time of the writing of this first novel, Dickens was working as a roving journalist and a reporter of Parlimentary news.  After his successful Sketches by Boz, Dickens was called in to write copy for certain illustrated sporting plates created by illustrator Robert Seymour.  Dickens soon began to write the instalments before the plates were produced, therefore changing the illustrative focus of the project to storytelling and he never looked back.  We all know of his illustrious writing career following The Pickwick Papers and I still have to read quite a few Dickens’ novels yet, as I’ve only completed The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, A Tale of Two Cities, Dombey and Son, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, and, a long time ago, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  So many great novels of his still to go.  Perhaps a project for 2018 ……???

 

 

The Great Ideas ~ How Different Are Humans?

The discussion continues from How To Think About Man, with the examination of the two questions, the nature of man and the origin of man.  In the last talk/essay, both opposing views were presented: before Darwin man was seen as having a special, distinct nature, but after Darwin he is see only differing in degree from other animals but is otherwise the same.

Adler wishes to approach this issue logically as it is important to see the issue clearly in order to access both arguments.  Luckman says that they have received letters criticizing Adler for taking the side of Darwin and Adler expresses his delight.  He implies his view is the exact opposite and is pleased with the error as it proves he is so far presenting the argument without any personal bias.  He does not plan to argue either for or against any one side, merely to present the issues logically and fairly.

Young Man (The impassioned singer)
Giovane uomo (Il cantore appassionato)
Giogorgione
source Wikiart

Differences in Kind and Differences in Degree

Adler begins with the definition of man.  There have been many definitions, but defining him as a “rational animal” is the most accurate, as it underlies all the other definitions. However it is not the definition but the interpretation of it that is the issue as it implies humans alone are rational.

Adler moves to the distinction between “kind” and “degree” which is important to understand to move ahead in the examination of the issues.  He gives an analogy of two lines of different lengths.  They have the same traits, only one is longer and one is shorter.  They differ in degree.  However, a circle and a square do not have common traits — one has angles and one does not — their differences are differences in kind.

Luckman says many scientists believe that the difference between kind and degree, is itself a difference of kind or degree; he gives the example of a many-many-sided polygon which eventually approaches and appears like a circle. Adler does not agree with this statement.  No matter how closely the polygon will appear like a circle, it will never be a circle; difference in degree is never difference in kind and vice versa.” When two things differ in degree, there always can be intermediates, such as an intermediate line between the two in his above example, but there is no intermediates between differences in kind.  They can have things in common, but there will always be a property or charcteristic that the other completely lacks.  The one with the additional property will be hierachically above the other.

Luckman interjects, saying that it seems that Adler’s definition of difference in kind is accepted by evolutionists and he wants to know how Adler thinks they differ.  After all, apes are different from horses and therefore so must man be different.  He does not see the issue.  Adler says there is one, and he intends to make it clear.

Man and Ape
Stanley Pinker
source Wikiart

 

Differences in Kind Exclude Intermediate Forms

Adler claims Luckman made a misstatement and although the evolutionists do see some forms of life as lower and some higher, they believe they differ only in degree.  How does Adler know this?  Because evolutionists believe in the continuity of nature.  There would be “no underlying continuity in nature …. unless intermediate varieties were possible as between different species in the scale of thing or the greater things”.  These intermediate varieties must be possible, even if they are only missing links.  Those species which the biologist classifies as kinds are only apparent kinds, yet with the definition of man, they are real kinds.

Adler offers two conceptions:

  1. a conception of species with missing links between them, with intermediate varieties
  2. a conception of species without any missing links or without any intermediate varieties

The present biological understanding is that species are only apparent kinds, separated by the possibility of intermediate varieties and therefore can be a difference in degrees.

One more fact, modern science has hypothesized that if all possible forms of life or every species ever know existed on earth at the same time, there would be no species, just individual differences in degree.    The philosophical conception is species are real kinds with no intermediate varieties; modern biology sees the kinds with a possibility of intermediate varieties.

We get back to the question of how man differs from other animals: if in kind there is no intermediate varieties possible, but if in degree there are possibilities of intermediate varieties.

Adler emphasizes that so far he has only presented the facts without prejudice to one side or the other.    Next time, he is going to present the evidence and arguments from the evolutionist’s point of view, that man only differs in degree which sets the stage for natural evolution.  He will then produce arguments and evidence for the opposing side, that man differs essentially in kind which would make a natural evolutionary process impossible.

Phew!  This talk became hard to follow about halfway through but I do believe I get Adler’s point.  His next essay/talk is The Darwinian Theory of Man’s Origin.

 

The Republic ~ Book II

The Republic
Jean-Leon Gerome
source Wikiart

Book II:

 

Pleasure (1900)
Eugene de Blaas
source Wikiart

Glaucon protests that Socrates has not made a reasonable enough explanation of why Justice is preferable to injustice.  First, he says, there are three classes of good:

 

  1. Pleasures that are enjoyed for themselves
  2. Good that is valued because of its consequences
  3. Good that is desirable both for itself and what comes out of it.

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The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope

“Of course there was a Great House at Allington.”

Lily (Lilian), Bell (Isabella), and their mother, Mrs. Dale, live in a cottage on the estate of her brother-in-law, Squire Dale.  The squire, their benefactor, is a stern implacable man who feels a responsibility to the family, yet does not exhibit affection or understanding towards them or their plight.  In spite of the strained relations, the Dale women live a contented, happy life.  However, their cousin, Bernard, one day brings his friend, Adolphus Crosbie home to visit and an attachment grows between him and Lily.  Crosbie is a charming young man, without name or fortune, but with a charisma that captures Lily’s heart, despite his flaws of selfishness and worldliness.  Does Crosbie love Lily?  He certainly convinces himself that he does and as he proposes he anticipates a respectable dowry that he assumes will be bestowed upon Lily by Squire Dale.  But assumptions can go awry and when Crosbie learns that Lily will be the benefactress of nothing but goodwill, her charms begin to diminish in his materialistic eyes.  All attempts to convince himself that love will overcome practicalities fail and he is lured away by a daughter of an earl, Alexandrina deCourcy, of whom he once was an admirer.  Weak and irresolute, Crosbie soon finds himself engaged to the girl despite his own misgivings and the threat of censure that he is certain to receive from various aspects of society.

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Shadow of the Moon by M.M. Kaye

“Winter!  Who ever heard of such a name?”

Set during the great Indian Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, Shadow of the Moon follows the life of Winter, Condesa de Ballesteros who is the daughter of a Spanish nobleman and an English mother.  Leaving India for England an orphan at the age of six, she is raised by her great-grandfather the Earl of Ware, but a match is made for her at the tender age of eleven to a man twenty years her senior, and at seventeen she prepares to leave for India escorted by Captain Alex Randall, the subordinate of her betrothed, Conway Barton, the Commissioner of the Lunjore district.  From the beginning, Winter is attracted to Randall’s self-confident demeanour and somewhat brash independence, yet while she appreciates his care of her, she is also affronted at times by his behaviour and the two develop a mutual attraction that is complicated by circumstance and convention.  Although Winter remembers her fiancé as a rather jovial pleasant figure who offers safety and security, Randall is convinced that once she sees the debauched, womanizing lout, nothing in the world would convince her to marry him. 

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The Republic ~ Part I (Book I)

The Republic
Jean-Leon Gerome
source Wikiart

Book I:

The dialogue begins around the year of 410 B.C. at the port of the Piraeus, a town five miles from Athens.  As we read of the overthrow of the Athenian democracy in 404 B.C. in Thucydides’, History of the Peloponnesian War, Socrates begins to ask the questions about the benefits of democracy and builds his Republic on those ideas.  He begins by questioning the benefits and results of Justice.

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History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

“Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war, and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it.”

Ah, the lovely Landmark editions!  Where would I be without them?  I would have no idea the location of Thrace or Thessaly or Corinth, etc. and therefore have less of a concept of the complicated dynamics that influenced various states in their struggles to fit into the puzzle of Hellenistic supremacy!

Thucydides account of the war between Sparta and Athens falls just after the events recounted in Herodotus’ The Histories.  Athens, high on her victory over the very powerful Xerxes, king of Persia, during the Persian Wars, is feeling rather self-important and she appears to be rushing around with her forces, conquering states here and subduing enemies there.  And while Athens becomes more powerful, the Lacedaemonians of Sparta are left to conduct their somewhat mundane and traditional existence.  But Athens’ power begins to worry them and while they were allies during the Persian Wars, this brotherhood appears to be heading towards a separation that could prove bloody as well as costly.

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