Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

Calligraphic Correspondence

What a pleasure it must be to receive a letter from the designer Frank Ortmann (c.f. here), if the calligraphic correspondence received by printer Martin Z. Schröder is anything to go by. (See here & here.)

December 5, 2016 12:30 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

The Dutch in Rhodesia

…and why they stayed there.

Journalist Marnix de Bruyne has shed new light on the post-war wave of Dutch immigration to Rhodesia with his new book, We moeten gaan. Nederlandse boeren in Zimbabwe (‘We Must Go: Dutch Farmers in Zimbabwe’).

Why did so many people emigrate from the Netherlands in the fifties? Why did hundreds of them choose to settle in what was then called Rhodesia, today’s Zimbabwe? And why did so many of them stay after 1965, when the country was led by a white-minority regime, faced an international boycott and was engulfed in a bloody guerrilla war?

De Bruyne attempted to answer these questions through a recent seminar at Leiden University’s African Studies Centre. The university has rather handily made a recording of the seminar available online.

Daar’s ook ’n interview (in Nederlands) met Mnr de Bruyne in Mare, die koerant van die Universiteit Leiden.

(Dave: hierdie post is vir jy!)

Previously: Smuts at Leiden
December 2, 2016 1:50 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

The Death of God the Father

The circumstances in which Picasso’s portrait of Stalin was commissioned are amusingly relayed in Antony Beevor and Artemis Cooper’s history, Paris After the Liberation: 1944-1949.

When Stalin’s death was announced on Friday, 7 March 1953, Aragon called in Pierre Daix and rattled off a shopping list of features to honour Stalin in a special issue of Les Lettres françaises. […] Since Picasso had always refused to do a portrait of Stalin from a photograph, Daix sent a telegram to him at Vallauris saying, ‘Do whatever you want,’ and signed it ‘Aragon’.

Picasso’s drawing of Stalin, which depicted him as a curiously open-eyed young man, arrived at the very moment Les Lettres françaises went to press. Daix took the picture to Aragon. He admired it and said that the party would appreciate the gesture. While it was being set into the front page, office boys and typists crowded round the picture. Everyone thought it ‘worthy of Stalin’.

Daix was overjoyed to be the one who had commissioned Picasso’s first portrait of the Soviet leader and rushed it down to the printers. But a few hours later, when the edition had been run off, the mood in the building had completely changed to one of fear. Journalists from L’Humanité, passing by, spotted the drawing and cried out that it was unthinkable that any Communist publication should consider such a representation of ‘le Grand Staline’.

Pierre Daix promptly rang Aragon at his apartment; Elsa Triolet answered. She told him angrily that he was mad to have even thought of asking Picasso for such a drawing.

‘But really, Elsa,’ Daix broke in, ‘Stalin isn’t God the Father!’

‘Yes, he is, Pierre. Nobody’s going to reflect much about what this drawing of Picasso signifies. He hasn’t even deformed Stalin’s face. He’s even respected it. But he has dared to touch it. He has actually dared, Pierre, don’t you understand?’

Paris After the Liberation: 1944–1949,
Antony Beevor & Artemis Cooper (1994, London)

December 2, 2016 12:05 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Fête Chiracienne

AS TODAY IS the eighty-fourth birthday of Monsieur Jacques René Chirac, I thought it’d be best to share a few images of the underappreciated fifth president of the Fifth Republic (not to mention sometime Mayor of Paris, Prime Minister of France, and Co-Prince of Andorra) doing the things he does best. (more…)

November 29, 2016 10:15 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Wall Street

Well, actually it’s Broad Street looking down past the New York Stock Exchange to Federal Hall, which itself is on Wall Street.

Most of Broad Street was originally a canal (hence its width) but in 1676 it was filled in and laid out as a street.

November 17, 2016 10:20 am | Link | No Comments »

Muratie

The Stellenbosch estate of the artist Georg Paul Canitz

We had supper with Mr. Canitz, the painter, one Sunday night, by the light of candles in a fine Dutch candelabra, and drove back to Stellenbosch in moon light which had transformed the countryside into the most entrancing fairyland imaginable.

Great clumps of trees in unexpected places gave an eeriness to the white ribbon of road which stretched across the valley. The soft evening breeze of magic scents lulled us, and we drowsed to the hum of the car bearing us homeward.

That memory is still vivid to me so I shall turn from our Golden Road, and “…muse awhile, entoil’d in woofed phantasies.”

So the architect Rex Martienssen described a visit to Muratie, the home of the artist Georg Paul Canitz, in 1928. Canitz was a Saxon, born in Leipzig, where his parents had hoped he would pursue a military career. Both his zeal and talent as an artist appeared early on, and so he ended up at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. After further studies in Italy, Paris, and the Netherlands, a chest ailment drove him to the interior of Südwestafrika in 1907.


“…by the light of candles in a fine Dutch candelabra.” (Photo credit)

Canitz healed quickly in the dry air but could not find a cure for the striking beauty of the new world around him. His wife and children were summoned from Germany, and three years later he moved to Stellenbosch after falling in love with the “City of Oaks”.

Canitz devoted himself to his passions: riding, painting, and teaching (both at his own art school and at the University). Riding to a party at Knorhoek one day he stumbled upon the little house and farm at Muratie and was quickly enamored of the place. It wasn’t long before he had purchased it and moved his family there.


The kitchen at Muratie. (Photo credit)

G P Canitz

At Muratie, the painter developed a further art: that of winemaking. In this he was assisted by the legendary Dr Perold — first chair of viticulture at Stellenbosch. Canitz became a pioneer of the pinot noir grapes which have since become a South African staple. Perhaps even more he developed the skills of a kind and generous host, for which he was well reputed throughout South Africa. He would welcome friends and guests — among them Martienssen and his architectural students as cited above — throughout the year. In warmer months they came for the swimming pool and the breezy stoep, while in winter a fire awaited, or perhaps a few rounds of strong drink in the Kneipzimmer.


The Kneipzimmer (Photo credit)

I like to think this was Canitz’s favourite room at Muratie: bedecked with benches, the light streaming in through a stained-glass windows, and the walls covered in naturalistic painting as well as graffitied signatures and sayings in German, Afrikaans, French, and Greek.

The painter died in 1958, leaving Muratie to his daughter, who in 1987 sold it to members of the Melck family who had owned it from 1763 to 1897. (The house was first built in 1685.) I suspect Canitz would have greatly appreciated his handiwork being passed back to those who had looked after the place for many generations before him. The Melcks, unsurprisingly, have a great reverance for the history of the estate. They even go so far as to leave the cobwebs which have accrued go undisturbed and ask visitors to do likewise.

And, even today, the wine still flows!


A sign in Afrikaans points the way to cellar sales. (Photo credit)
November 16, 2016 10:17 am | Link | 2 Comments »

A Handsome Hamsun

Book design is a craft sadly neglected in the English-speaking world. In paperbacks, the French reign supreme, while the Teutons and Scandos design the most elegant hardcover books.

This German edition of Ingar Sletten Kolloen’s biography of Knut Hamsun was designed by Frank Ortmann for Landt Verlag, founded by the conservative popular historian Andreas Krause Landt (aka Andreas Lombard). Landt Verlag is now an imprint of Thomas Hoof’s Manuscriptum publishing firm. Hoof is better known for starting Manufactum, the retail company known for offering high-quality goods made through traditional methods.

I’ve never read any Hamsun myself though he has been strongly recommended by friends with reliable tastes. This Norwegian writer is widely read amongst the Germans but not so amongst the Anglos, and perhaps not surprisingly since he was an uncompromising Anglophobe and had praise for all things German.

Anglophobia was not his worse offence – a Nobel laureate, he ended up giving away the actual medal as a gift to Goebbels – but no less an unquestionable anti-Nazi than Thomas Mann hoped that “the stigma of his politics will one day be separated from his writing, which I regard very highly”.

The designer Frank Ortmann impressed the name of the publisher by incorporating letter-L initials into the rather Hellenic ornamental frame of the book. He’s also managed to banish the dreaded and ubiquitous barcode to a little banderole which also includes a short introductory text, preserving the visual integrity of the book itself.

November 15, 2016 11:45 am | Link | 2 Comments »

The Anthropophagus Has Quitted His Den

THE ANTHROPOPHAGUS HAS QUITTED HIS DEN

The Museum of Foreign Literature Science and Arts was a Philadelphia periodical edited by the prodiguously talented and unjustly neglected Eliakim Littell.

In January 1831 his review published this little snippet of headlines claimed to have been clipped from French newspapers:

The French newspapers which, in 1815, were subject to the censor, announced the departure of Bonaparte from Elba, his progress through France, and his entry into Paris in the following ingenious manner:

March 9

THE ANTHROPOPHAGUS HAS QUITTED HIS DEN

March 10

THE CORSICAN OGRE HAS LANDED AT CAPE JUAN

March 11

THE TIGER HAS ARRIVED AT GAP

March 12

THE MONSTER SLEPT AT GRENOBLE

March 13

THE TYRANT HAS PASSED THOUGH LYONS

March 14

THE USURPER IS DIRECTING HIS STEPS TOWARDS DIJON
but the brave and loyal Burgundians have risen en masse
and surrounded him on all sides

March 18

BONAPARTE IS ONLY SIXTY LEAGUES FROM THE CAPITAL
He has been fortunate enough to escape the hands of his pursuers

March 19

BONAPARTE IS ADVANCING WITH RAPID STEPS
But he will never enter Paris

March 20

NAPOLEON WILL, TOMORROW, BE UNDER OUR RAMPARTS

March 21

THE EMPEROR IS AT FONTAINEBLEAU

March 22

HIS IMPERIAL & ROYAL MAJESTY, yesterday evening, arrived at the Tuileries, amidst the joyful acclamation of his devoted and faithful subjects.

November 14, 2016 11:45 am | Link | No Comments »

In the Old Dutch East Indies

Little Holland’s rule over this vast land – today the world’s largest Muslim country by population – never loomed large in the European imagination (the Netherlands excepted) and thus has been too easily forgotten. Peter van Dongen’s Rampokan series of graphic novels (in Herge’s ligne-claire style) is the most prominent recent attempt to shine some light on the Dutch East Indies and it has obtained a bit of a cult following.

The colonial architecture went through the usual transformations, from awkward hybrids of the motherland and the vernacular to a cool and crisp classical elegance of the later imperial buildings. Henri Maclaine Pont’s work at Bandung is probably the most successful Dutch take on local building traditions, and in some ways Geoffrey Bawa is his spiritual offspring.

The ministries of Indonesia’s government still convene in elegant Dutch colonial buildings, though the names have all changed. The Daendels Palace is now the Finance Ministry, Buitenzorg is now Bogor, and the old Koningsplein is now the Medan Merdeka or Freedom Square. (more…)

November 10, 2016 12:40 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Church of St James, Spanish Place

Always interesting to see a building you know well from a perspective you’ve never seen before, as in this photo of the Church of St James, Spanish Place, taken from Manchester Mews. The church somehow seems more imposing — like a great rounded keep.

A few months ago I was corralled into some favour or other that required a bit of muscle to move this there and whatnot, the payoff of which was it afforded an opportunity to explore the triforium of this Marylebone church and see the interior of the building from an entirely new vantage point.

It also meant being able to view in better detail the beautiful stained glass windows — many of them the gift of various Spanish royals, given that this parish originates as the chapel of the Spanish embassy (hence its name).

November 7, 2016 10:35 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Arms of the Oudtshoorn Oratory

An explanation of the arms of the Afrikaans-speaking Oratory of St Philip Neri in Oudtshoorn, South Africa (edited from their own information).

The heraldic achievement or the coat of arms of the Congregation of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri, Oudtshoorn, was officially registered and recognised by the Bureau of Heraldry in the Staatskoerant of 20 August 2004. According to the Heraldry Act of 1962, these arms and motto now enjoy legal protection and the Congregation also has the right to make an official Oratorian flag and to fly it.
Die heraldiese afbeelding oftewel die wapenskild van die Kongregasie van die Oratorium van St. Filip Neri – Oudtshoorn is in die Staatskoerant van 20 Augustus 2004 amptelik deur die Buro vir Heraldiek geregistreer en erken. Ooreenkomstig die Heraldiese-wet van 1962, geniet die wapenskild en die leuse nou regsbeskerming en het die Kongregasie ook nou die reg om ’n amptelike Oratoriaanse vlag te produseer en te laat wapper.
DIE DRIE VOLSTRUISVERE verwys hoofsaaklik na die Bisdom, Distrik en Dorp Oudtshoorn. Hulle het egter ook Bybelse en geestelike betekenis omdat hulle ons aan die feit herinner dat God oor al sy skepsels waak, die diere van die veld, voëls in die lug en visse in die see – nie net die mens nie – en hulle versorg.
THE THREE OSTRICH FEATHERS refer to the Diocese, District, and Town of Oudtshoorn. They also have biblical and spiritual significance because they call to mind that God keeps watch over all his creatures, the beasts of the field, birds of the air and fish in the sea – not just humans – and looks after them.
DIE DRIE AGTPUNTIGE STERRE, simbole van die Oratorium, is in perfekte balans bo en weerskante van die brandende hart geplaas.
THE THREE EIGHT-POINTED STARS, symbols of the Oratory, are placed in perfect balance atop and beside the burning heart.
DIE PROTEAS, nasionale blom van Suid-Afrika, dui op die lewenskrag van hierdie unieke Suid-Afrikaanse gemeenskap en die potensiaal wat tot blom gebring kan word.
THE PROTEAS, national flower of South Africa, stressed the vitality of this unique South African community and the potential that can be brought to bloom.
DIE BRANDENDE HART in die middel van die asuur skild verteenwoordig die bron en oorsprong van die geestelikheid van St. Filip Neri, die apostel van vreugde en naasteliefde, wat as ’n spesiale genadegawe van God onophoudelik die aanwesigheid van die Heilige Gees in sy hart ervaar en beleef het.
THE BURNING HEART in the middle of the azure shield represents the source and origin of the spirituality of St. Philip Neri, the apostle of joy and charity, who as a special gift of God’s grace constantly experienced the presence of the Holy Ghost in his heart.
DIE LEUSE van die Kongregasie van die Oratorium van St. Filip Neri lui “God is ons erns”. Hierdie leuse is doelbewustelik ontleen aan ’n vroeë slagspreuk vir die erkenning van die Afrikaanse Taal. Hierdie selfde taal word nou ingespan om die oudste Christelike tradisie deel te maak van die Afrikaanse leefwêreld.
THE MOTTO of the Oudtshoorn Oratory of St. Philip Neri is “God is Our Earnestness”. This motto is deliberately taken from “This is Our Earnestness”, an early slogan for the recognition of the Afrikaans language. This same language is being used to bring the oldest Christian tradition to the Afrikaans-speaking world.
November 7, 2016 10:31 am | Link | No Comments »

Russia’s Demographic Turnaround

Most large developed countries have been facing demographic crises, with Russia one of the worst in the past few decades. The Financial Times this week reports, however, that Russia is facing a demographic turnaround: “Rising birth rate, tumbling death rate, and immigration drives population rebound” as the subheadline puts it.

In 2000, deaths at 2.23 million outnumbered the 1.27 million births by nearly a million. In 2013, 1.94 million births finally outnumbered 1.91 million deaths, while the first quarter of 2016 has witnessed a 5 per cent drop in mortality compared to just a year before.

Still, the low birth rates of the 1980s and 1990s will continue to have a reverberating effect on the working-age population, as the children who weren’t born then will obviously not have children and grandchildren. Pension ages are being changed accordingly, rising to 65 for men and 63 for women as compared to 60 and 55 respectively up until now — a Communist hangover ridiculously low in comparison to Western countries.

Despite a perilous economic condition thanks to collapsing commodity prices, Russians clearly feel their country is in a much more stable condition than the topsy-turvy 1990s. There can be no greater vote of confidence in the future than to have children.

Previously: The World Turned Upside Down

November 4, 2016 2:22 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Speyer

This 1961 postage stamp celebrates the consecration, nine centuries earlier, of the Imperial Cathedral Basilica of the Blessed Virgin of the Assumption and Saint Stephen at Speyer — today the largest Romanesque church still standing.

November 4, 2016 2:20 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Past and Future Meet in Peru’s Navy

Lima’s Latest Warship Boasts Four Masts and Full Rigging

Today the Peruvian Navy’s newest ship, the BAP Unión, returns to its home port of Callao after an 8,900-mile tour at sea that took in eight countries over 98 days. But though commissioned earlier this year by then-President Ollanta Humala, the Unión isn’t some grey-painted stealth frigate but a four-masted, steel-hulled, full-rigged barque. Named after a corvette that saw action in the War of the Pacific, the Unión was laid down at Callao’s SIMA shipworks in 2010, launched in 2014, and was commissioned this past January as the primary training vessel of the Peruvian fleet.

The unimaginative might be surprised that such old-school ships are being used to train modern sailors, but the Unión’s Commander Roberto Vargas is unambiguous.

“On modern warships, working with computers and satellites all the time, we forget that we have to learn the essentials of sailing,” Commander Vargas told the Miami Herald.

“On a ship like the Unión, these cadets learn leadership, they learn cooperation, they learn group spirit. It’s impossible to work alone with these big sails — you have to work with other people. And most of the basics, like navigation and oceanography, are the same.”

Many other Latin American countries use tall ships as naval training vessels. Argentina’s ARA Libertad was the subject of an attempted seizure by foreign vulture funds seeking payments on debts defaulted upon in 2002.

While most date from the 1960s (Colombia’s Gloria), ’70s (Ecuador’s Guayas; Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar), or ’80s (Mexico’s Cuauhtémoc), Chile’s Esemeralda was launched in 1946. The grande dame of them all is Uruguay’s schooner the Capitán Miranda, launched in 1930 but docked since 2013 awaiting decisions on upgrades.

One analyst notes that even two-hundred years later the old imperial connections are still thriving in the strong Spanish influence on many of these ships:

The Peruvian state-controlled shipyard SIMA (Servicios Industriales de la Marina) constructed the Union in its shipyard in the port of Callao, but the Spanish company CYPSA Ingenieros Navales cooperated in the vessel’s structural design.

As for other ships, many were constructed by Spanish companies. For example Colombia’s Gloria, Ecuador’s Guayas, Mexico’s Cuauhtemoc, and Venezuelan’s Simon Bolivar were all manufactured by Astilleros Celaya S.A., while Chile’s Esmeralda was obtained from the Spanish government which constructed it at the Echevarrieta y Larrinaga shipyard in Cadiz.

One exception to the rule is Brazil’s Cisne Branco, which was constructed by the Dutch company Damen Shipyard.

Given the return to tradition in Peru’s army that we had previously reported on, it’s a pleasure to see this continuing in the country’s navy. Peru continues to show the world that another future is possible.

Entering the old harbour of Havana, Cuba.

Above and below, decked out for commissioning in Callao.

President Humala at the commissioning ceremony.

November 2, 2016 12:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Courtyard of the Palazzo Bonagia

A photograph of the courtyard of the Palazzo Bonagia, the Palermo residence of the Dukes of Castel di Mirto, looking towards the rococo staircase.

The steps, columns, and balustrades are of red marble from Castellammare del Golfo, all conceived in the mind of Andrea Giganti, priest-architect of the Sicilian baroque.

The building was bombed during the last war and reduced to a shell, but thorough if slow-going restoration work began in 2009 and continues.

November 1, 2016 10:35 am | Link | 3 Comments »

The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow

If there is any season which is plus New-Yorkaise que les autres then it must be autumn, and around the time of Hallowe’en in particular.

Thanks to the fertile imagination of Washington Irving, buried in the cemetery of the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow, the Hudson Valley is the spiritual home of this ancient Celtic feast now implanted in the New World.

The other day I dusted off the huge single-volume complete works of Irving – almost the size of an old Statenvertaling – and re-read his most famous tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.

Irving describes the position of the Old Dutch Church:

The sequestered situation of this church seems always to have made it a favorite haunt of troubled spirits. It stands on a knoll surrounded by locust trees and lofty elms, from among which its decent whitewashed walls shine modestly forth, like Christian purity beaming through the shades of retirement. A gentle slope descends from it to a silver sheet of water bordered by high trees, between which peeps may be caught at the blue hills of the Hudson. To look upon its grass-grown yard, where the sunbeams seem to sleep so quietly, one would think that there at least the dead might rest in peace.

On one side of the church extends a wide woody dell, along, which raves a large brook among broken rocks and trunks of fallen trees. Over a deep black part of the stream, not far from the church, was formerly thrown a wooden bridge; the road that led to it and the bridge itself were thickly shaded by overhanging trees, which cast a gloom about it even in the daytime, but occasioned a fearful darkness at night. Such was one of the favorite haunts of the Headless Horseman, and the place where he was most frequently encountered.

The tale of the Headless Horseman is now, partly thanks to various popular reinterpretations of it, well known even outside the Hudson Valley. I remember as a wee lad growing up in that part of the world our Scout uniforms had a badge bearing the image of the “Galloping Hessian”.

October 31, 2016 12:05 pm | Link | 8 Comments »

Johannes Kip’s View of London

View and Perspective of the City of London, Westminster, and St James’s Park

The Dutch engraver & printer Johannes Kip had worked for the stadthouder William of Orange in Amsterdam and unsurprisingly followed the prince to London after the English Revolution of 1688.

This view of London and Westminster is most notable for the unique perspective it takes: a bird’s eye view from above the Duke of Buckingham’s house, later acquired by the Crown and now, as Buckingham Palace, the primary royal residence.

This printing of Kip’s view, which comes up for auction soon at Daniel Crouch Rare Books, must have been printed after 1726 as it incorporates Gibb’s steeple of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

(more…)

October 25, 2016 12:05 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

‘Decisions, decisions…’

The Dublin Civic Trust has a blogpost on the Bank of Ireland’s 1802 competition to redesign the former Parliament House on College Green.

Rather horrifyingly, one of the proposals would have erected a monumental screen closing off the forecourt, completely spoiling the view of Edward Lovett Pearce’s beautiful façade.

Luckily the Bank chose Francis Johnston to harmonise the competition designs into the building we know today.

October 24, 2016 11:00 am | Link | No Comments »

Voltaire’s Works Are Not Dead

They Are Alive: And They Are Killing Us

“At the end of a very warm day in the month of July 1809,” our host, the Count, is travelling up the Neva in St Petersburg along with his two guests: a Senator of that city and a young Chevalier exiled from France.

“It was a little after nine in the evening; the sun was setting, the weather superb. … Nothing is rare, nothing is more enchanting than a beautiful summer evening in St Petersburg. Whether the length of the winter and the rarity of these nights, which gives them a particular charm, renders them more desirable, or whether they really are so, as I believe, they are softer and calmer than evenings in more pleasant climates.”

The Soirées Saint-Petersbourg of Count Joseph de Maistre are philosophical dialogues that sometimes border on the mystical and delve into the dark recesses of human nature. They are eloquent, fascinating, and beautiful, traversing a broad range of subjects while hovering around evil and why it exists in the world.

In this extract from the Fourth Dialogue, the Count — generally taken to represent the author’s own view — objects to the young Chevalier citing Voltaire approvingly.

A critic might call it a rant; if so, it is at least a beautiful one.

[…]

The Count: Ah! I have got you there, my dear Chevalier, you are citing Voltaire. I am not so severe as to deprive you of the pleasure of recalling in passing some happy lines fallen from that sparkling pen, but you cite him as an authority, and that is not permissible in my house.

The Chevalier: Oh! My dear friend, you are much too rancorous towards François-Marie Arouet; since he is no longer alive, how can you keep up so much rancour towards the dead?

The Count: However his works are not dead. They are alive, and they are killing us. It seems to me that my hate is sufficiently justified.

The Chevalier: Perhaps, but permit me to tell you that we should not allow this sentiment, although well founded in principle, to make us unjust towards such a wonderful genius and to close our eyes to this universal talent, which must be regarded as a brillant French possession.

The Count: As great a genius as you wish, Chevalier, but it is no less true that in praising Voltaire, one must praise him with a certain restraint, I almust said grudgingly. The uncontrolled admiration with which too many people surround him is an infallible sign of a corrupt soul. Let us not be under any illusion: if someone, in looking over his library, feels himself attracted to the works of Ferney, God does not love him. Ecclesiastical authority is often mocked for having condemned books in odium auctoris; in truth, nothing is more just. Refuse to honour the genius who has abused his gifts. If this law were severely observed, we would soon see poisonous books disappear.

Since it is not up to us to promulgate such a law, let us at least be careful not to allow ourselves the excess, much more reprehensible than one might have thought, of exalting guilty authors beyond measure, and especially this one. He pronounced a terrible sentence upon himself, without noticing it, for he is the one who said: A corrupt mind is never sublime. Nothing is more true, and this is why Voltaire, with his hundred volumes, was never anything more than pretty. I except tragedy, where the nature of the work forced him to express noble feelings alien to his character, and even in this genre, which was his greatest, he does not deceive experienced eyes. In his best pieces he resembles his great rivals as the most able hypocrite resembles a saint.

However I should not be understood as contesting his dramatic merit. I restrict myself to my first observation, which is that when Voltaire is speaking in his own name, he is only pretty. Nothing can excite him, not even the battle of Fontenoy. They say, He is charming; I say it too, but I take this as a criticism. Moreover I cannot stand the exaggeration that calls him universal. I certainly see fine exceptions to this universality. He is nothing in the ode — and why should we be astonished by this? Considered impiety killed in him the divine flame of enthusiasm. He was also nothing — to the point of ridiculue — in lyric drama, his ear being absolutely deaf to harmonic beauties, just as his eyes were closed to those of art. In the genres that appear more analogous to his natural talent, he got along: so he was mediocre, cold, often heavy and gross in comedy (who would believe it), for the wicked are never funny.

For the same reason, he never knew how to write an epigram; the least vomiting of his bile required at least a hundred verss. If he tried satire, he slipped into libel; he was insupportable in history, despite his art, his elegance, and the graces of his style. No quality can replace those he lacked and which are the life of history — seriousness, good faith, and dignity. As for his epic poem, I have no right to talk about it, for to judge a book one must have read it, and to read it one must stay awake.

A stupefying monotony weighs on most of his writings, which were on only two subjects, the Bible and his enemies. He blasphemed or he insulted. His highly vaunted humour was however far from being irreproachable; the laugh that he excites is not legitimate — it is a grimace.

Have you ever noticed that the divine anathema was written on his face? After so many years there is still time to have the experience. Go contemplate his figure in the Hermitage Palace. I never look at it without congratulating myself that it was not done for us by some chisel imitative of the Greeks, which would perhaps have known how to render a certain idealised image. Here everything is natural. There is as much truth in this head as if it had been taken from a cadaver and placed on a plate. Look at this abject brow that never blushed from modesty, these two extinct craters where lust and hate still seem to boil. This mouth — I say it badly perhaps, but it is not my fault — this horrible rictus running from ear to ear, and these lips pinched by cruel malice like a spring ready to spout forth blasphemy or sarcasm.

Do not speak to me of this man; I cannot stand the idea. Ah! The harm he has done us. Like an insect, the scourge of gardens, who only attacks the roots of the most valuable plants, Voltaire, with his sting, never ceased to attack the two roots of society, women and young people. He injected them with his poisons, which he thus transmits from one generation to the other. It is in vain that to cloak his inexpressible offence, his stupid admirers bore us with sonorous tirades where he spoke superlatively of the most venerated things. These willingly blind people do not see that they thus accomplish the condemnation of this guilty writer. If Fénelon, with the same pen that painted the joys of Elysium had written the book The Prince, he would have been a thousand times more guilty than Machiavelli.

Voltaire’s great crime was the abuse of talent and the considered prostitution of a genius created to celebrate God and virtue. He could not, like so many others, claim youth, rashness, the heat of passion, or, finally, the sad weakness of our nature. Nothing absolves him. His corruption is of a kind that belonged only to him; it was rooted in the deepest fibres of his heart and fortified with all the strength of this intelligence. Always allied to sacrilege, it braved God while losing men.

With a fury that is without example, this insolent blasphemer went so far as to declare himself the personal enemy of the Saviour of mankind. He dared, from the depths of nothingness, to give him a ridiculous name, and this adorable law that the Man-God brought down to earth, he called INFAMOUS.

Abandoned by God, who punished him by withdrawing from him, he lacked all restraint. Other cynics astonished virtue, Voltaire astonished vice. He plunged into the mire; if he rolled in it, it was to slake his thirst. He surrendered his imagination to the enthusiasm of hell, which lent hm all its forces to lead him to the limits of evil. He invented prodigies, monsters that make us blanch. Paris crowned him; Sodom would have banished him.

Shameless profaner of the universal language and its greatest names, the last of men after those who love him! How can I tell you how he makes me feel? When I see what he could have done and what he did, his inimitable talents inspire in me no more than a kind of nameless holy rage. Suspended between admiration and horror, sometimes I would like to raise a statue to him — by the hand of the executioner.

October 17, 2016 12:45 pm | Link | No Comments »

Party in the Overberg

Alongside a bazaar, a braai, and dancing, a speech by Sir De Villiers Graaff is the selling point of this poster advertising a United Party (Verenigde Party) get-together in the beautiful Overberg region of the Cape.

“Sir Div” was the inheritor of one of only twelve South African baronetcies and led his party from 1956 until 1977 when it merged with the Democratic Party of verligte ex-Nationalists to form a new entity.

The broadly centrist party had lost power to the republican Nats (creators of apartheid) in 1948, and suffered splits that led to the creation of the Liberal Party and the United Federal Party in 1953, the National Conservative Party in 1954, and the Progressive Party in 1959.

The party’s emblem was a happy little citrus tree.

October 12, 2016 3:45 pm | Link | 1 Comment »
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