All posts by Brendan King

Japanese Chess

This article appeared in an 1869 issue of the British periodical “Chess World”.

“JAPANESE CHESS.”

The following interesting article appeared lately in “The Philadelphia Daily Bulletin” :—

All of our readers, of course, remember the visit of the Japanese Embassy to our shores eight years ago. On their arrival in this city we determined to convert them into a grand means of communication between Oriental and Occidental Chess, and we entertained strong hopes of embellishing our column with a Japanese Gambit, between two leading players of the Sho-ho-ye, or some other Japanese Club. On being introduced into the quarters of the Embassy, we learned that the game was almost exclusively confined to the middle and lower ranks—a striking illustration of the semi-barbarism of these islanders.

A set of Japanese Chessmen, which we borrowed from a friend for the purpose, served as an interpreter, and very effectually too, for our strange guests immediately turned them out on the table and explained their use. In the absence of a board, they asked, in very intelligible English, for a piece of paper, and with marvellous rapidity laid out a “board,” writing the names of the pieces with great neatness in their appropriate squares. We prize this “autograph” Chess Board very highly as an interesting memento of the Embassy.

The delegation that visited the Philadelphia Chess Club consisted of eight of the soldiers, each carrying his long, heavy sword in one hand, and some of them a light fan in the other. After a few minutes spent in salutations, two of them took their seats at the table which had been prepared for them, and the first game of Japanese Chess ever played in a Christian land (except such as may have been played within the seclusion of the Japanese quarters since the Embassy reached America) was begun.
The players, one of whom, Yamada Woomagen, was a fine looking man, drew for the first move, by tossing a Ho-kei, or pawn, into the middle of the board (à la Mercantile Library fashion), the move being governed according to the side falling uppermost, and the game proceeded by the advance of the pawns, followed by the different pieces.

The board and pieces being carefully marked and numbered, we had hoped to make some record of the game, but owing to the game’s intricacies and peculiarities, and to the extraordinary rapidity of the play, we were soon hopelessly bewildered.

As the game progressed it was soon apparent, from the expression on the faces of their companions that one of the players was speedily gaining ground, and they all laughed heartily, but most good-naturedly, when the loser arose from the table, with the simple remark, “He beat me. ”

This game was not played out to a mate, and they accordingly agreed to play another game, the loser in the first game yielding his place to one of his companions, Sano Kanaye, who, from his greater proficiency in English, acted as interpreter to the party. He seemed to play a bold game, and in fifteen minutes he announced “Ote!” which signifies killed, suggesting a significant analogy with the mat of the Persians, which bears the same meaning.

Our visitors stated that there were in Jeddo seven ” Chess masters,” appointed by the Government, to instruct the people in the game, and that there were many Japanese books on the game, some of which they promised to send to us when the Niagara returned from Japan. The Orientals, however, have poor memories.

They described to us another Japanese game, somewhat similar to draughts, played on a board “nineteen squares each way,” making altogether three hundred and sixty-one squares.

Some of them expressed, much curiosity to learn our game, and took in some elementary lessons, which were given them, with remarkable aptness. They were much gratified by a present of a set of Chessmen and a copy of the “Handbook,” which will probably become a text book of the Japanese Chess College at some future day. After partaking of an impromptu collation and recording their names on the register, our visitors took leave of us in high spirits and with many expressions of pleasure at their visit, leaving with us a most agreeable impression of their gentle, cheerful politeness, and their aptness and intelligence in acquiring and communicating knowledge.

Benjamin Franklin’s “The Morals of Chess”

“The Morals of Chess”
By Benjamin Franklin.
First published in “Columbian Magazine”, December 1786.
Playing at Chess, is the most ancient and the most universal game known among men; for its original is beyond the memory of history, and it has, for numberless ages, been the amusement of all the civilized nations of Asia, the Persians, the Indians, and the Chinese. Europe has had it above 1000 years; the Spaniards have spread it over their part of America, and it begins lately to make its appearance in these northern states. It is so interesting in itself, as not to need the view of gain to induce engaging in it; and thence it is never played for money. Those, therefore, who have leisure for such diversions, cannot find one that is more innocent; and the following piece, written with a view to correct (among a few young friends) some little improprieties in the practice of it, shows at the same time, that it may, in its effects on the mind, be not merely innocent, but advantageous, to the vanquished as well as to the victor.
The MORALS of CHESS.
The game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions. For life is a kind of chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effects of prudence or the want of it. By playing at chess, then, we may learn:
1. Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action: for it is continually occurring to the player, “If I move this piece, what will be the advantages of my new situation? What use can my adversary make of it to annoy me? What other moves can I make to support it, and to defend myself from his attacks?
2. Circumspection, which surveys the whole chess-board, or scene of action, the relations of the several pieces and situations, the dangers they are respectively exposed to, the several possibilities of their aiding each other; the probabilities that the adversary may make this or that move, and attack this or the other piece; and what different means can be used to avoid his stroke, or turn its consequences against him.
3. Caution, not to make our moves too hastily. This habit is best acquired by observing strictly the laws of the game, such as, if you touch a piece, you must move it somewhere; if you set it down, you must let it stand. And it is therefore best that these rules should be observed, as the game thereby becomes more the image of human life, and particularly of war; in which, if you have incautiously put yourself into a bad and dangerous position, you cannot obtain your enemy’s leave to withdraw your troops, and place them more securely; but you must abide all the consequences of your rashness.
And, lastly, we learn by chess the habit of not being discouraged by present bad appearences in the state of our affairs, the habit of hoping for a favourable change, and that of persevering in the search of resources. The game is so full of events, there is such a variety of turns in it, the fortune of it is so subject to sudden vicissitudes, and one so frequently, after long contemplation, discovers the means of extricating one’s self from a supposed insurmountable difficulty, that one is encouraged to continue the contest to the last, in hopes of victory by our own skill, or, at least, of giving a stale mate, by the negligence of our adversary. And whoever considers, what in chess he often sees instances of, that particular pieces of success are apt to produce presumption, and its consequent, inattention, by which more is afterwards lost than was gained by the preceding advantage; while misfortunes produce more care and attention, by which the loss may be recovered, will learn not to be too much discouraged by the present success of his adversary, nor to despair of final good fortune, upon every little check he receives in the pursuit of it.
That we may, therefore, be induced more frequently to choose this beneficial amusement, in preference to others which are not attended with the same advantages, every circumstance, that may increase the pleasure of it, should be regarded; and every action or word that is unfair, disrespectful, or that in any way may give uneasiness, should be avoided, as contrary to the immediate intention of both the players, which is to pass the time agreeably.
Therefore, 1st. If it is agreed to play according to the strict rules, then those rules are to be exactly observed by both parties; and should not be insisted on for one side, while deviated from by the other: for this is not equitable.
2. If it is agreed not to observe the rules exactly, but one party demands indulgencies, he should then be as willing to allow them to the other.
3. No false move should ever be made to extricate yourself out of a difficulty, or to gain an advantage. There can be no pleasure in playing with a person once detected in such unfair practice.
4. If your adversary is long in playing, you ought not to hurry him, or express any uneasiness at his delay. You should not sing, nor whistle, nor look at your watch, nor take up a book to read, nor make a tapping with your feet on the floor, or with your fingers on the table, nor do anything that may disturb his attention. For all these things displease. And they do not show your skill in playing, but your craftiness or your rudeness.
5. You ought not to endeavour to amuse and deceive your adversary, by pretending to have made bad moves, and saying you have now lost the game, in order to make him secure and careless, and inattentive to your schemes; for this is fraud, and deceit, not skill in the game.
6. You must not, when you have gained a victory, use any triumphing or insulting expression, nor show too much pleasure; but endeavour to console your adversary, and make him less dissatisfied with himself by every kind and civil expression, that may be used with truth, such as, You understand the game better than I, but you are a little inattentive; or, You play too fast; or, You had the best of the game but something happened to divert your thoughts, and that turned it in my favour.
7. If you are a spectator, while others play, observe the most perfect silence. For if you give advice, you offend both parties; him, against whom you give it, because it may cause the loss of his game; him, in whose favour you give it, because, though it be good, and he follows it, he loses the pleasure he might have had, if you had permitted him to think till it occurred to himself. Even after a move or moves, you must not, by replacing the pieces, shew how it might have been played better: for that displeases, and may occasion disputes or doubts about their true situation. All talking to the players, lessens or diverts their attention, and is therefore unpleasing; nor should you give the least hint to either party, by any kind of noise or motion.— If you do, you are unworthy to be a spectator.— If you have a mind to exercise or show your judgments, do it in playing your own game when you have an opportunity, not in criticising or meddling with, or counselling, the play of others.
Lastly. If the game is not to be played rigorously, according to the rules above mentioned, then moderate your desire of victory over your adversary, and be pleased with one over yourself. Snatch not eagerly at every advantage offered by his unskillfulness or inattention; but point out to him kindly that by such a move he places or leaves a piece in danger and unsupported; that by another he will put his king in a dangerous situation, &c. By this generous civility (so opposite to the unfairness above forbidden) you may indeed happen to lose the game to your opponent, but you will win what is better, his esteem, his respect, and his affection; together with the silent approbation and good will of impartial spectators.

C.S. Lewis vs. Women’s Ordination

“Priestesses in the Church?”

by
C.S. Lewis

[Originally published under the title “Notes on the Way,” in Time and Tide, Vol. XXIX (August 14, 1948), it was subsequently reprinted with the above title in the posthumous God in the Dock book, published by Wiilliam B. Erdmanns, Grand Rapids, MI).

“I should like Balls infinitely better,” said Caroline Bingley, “if they were carried on in a different manner … It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day.”

“Much more rational, I dare say,” replied her brother, “but it would not be near so much like a Ball.” We are told that the lady was silenced: yet it could be maintained that Jane Austen has not allowed Bingley to put forward the full strength of his position. He ought to have replied with a distinguo. In one, sense conversation is more rational for conversation may exercise the reason alone, dancing does not. But there is nothing irrational in exercising other powers than our reason. On certain occasions and for certain purposes the real irrationality is with those who will not do so. The man who would try to break a horse or write a poem or beget a child by pure syllogizing would be an irrational man; though at the same time syllogizing is in itself a more rational activity than the activities demanded by these achievements. It is rational not to reason, or not to limit oneself to reason, in the wrong place; and the more rational a man is the better he knows this.

These remarks are not intended as a contribution to the criticism of Pride and Prejudice. They came into my head when I heard that the Church of England was being advised to declare women capable of Priests’ Orders. I am, indeed, informed that such a proposal is very unlikely to be seriously considered by the authorities. To take such a revolutionary step at the present moment, to cut ourselves off from the Christian past and to widen the divisions between ourselves and other Churches by establishing an order of priestesses in our midst, would be an almost wanton degree of imprudence. And the Church of England herself would be torn in shreds by the operation. My concern with the proposal is of a more theoretical kind. The question involves something even deeper than a revolution in order.

I have every respect for those who wish women to be priestesses. I think they are sincere and pious and sensible people. Indeed, in a way they are too sensible. That is where my dissent from them resembles Bingley’s dissent from his sister. I am tempted to say that the proposed arrangement would make us much more rational “but not near so much like a Church”.

For at first sight all the rationality (in Caroline Bingley’s sense) is on the side of the innovators. We are short of priests. We have discovered in one profession after another that women can do very well all sorts of things which were once supposed to be in the power of men alone. No one among those who dislike the proposal is maintaining that women are less capable than men of piety, zeal, learning and whatever else seems necessary for the pastoral office. What, then, except prejudice begotten by tradition, forbids us to draw on the huge reserves which could pour into the priesthood if women were here, as in so many other professions, put on the same footing as men? And against this flood of common sense, the opposers (many of them women) can produce at first nothing but an inarticulate distaste, a sense of discomfort which they themselves find it hard to analyse.

That this reaction does not spring from any contempt for women is, I think, plain from history. The Middle Ages carried their reverence for one Woman to a point at which the charge could be plausibly made that the Blessed Virgin became in their eyes almost “a fourth Person of the Trinity”. But never, so far as I know, in all those ages was anything remotely resembling a sacerdotal office attributed to her. All salvation depends on the decision which she made in the words Ecce ancilla; she is united in nine months” inconceivable intimacy with the eternal Word; she stands at the foot of the cross.” But she is absent both from the Last Supper and from the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. Such is the record of Scripture. Nor can you daff it aside by saying that local and temporary conditions condemned women to silence and private life. There were female preachers. One man had four daughters who all “prophesied”, i.e. preached. There were prophetesses even in Old Testament times. Prophetesses, not priestesses.

At this point the common sensible reformer is apt to ask why, if women can preach, they cannot do all the rest of a priest’s work. This question deepens the discomfort of my side. We begin to feel that what really divides us from our opponents is a difference between the meaning which they and we give to the word “priest”. The more they speak (and speak truly) about the competence of women in administration, their tact and sympathy as advisers, their national talent for “visiting”, the more we feel that the central thing is being forgotten. To us a priest is primarily a representative, a double representative, who represents us to God and God to us. Our very eyes teach us this in church. Sometimes the priest turns his back on us and faces the East – he speaks to God for us: sometimes he faces us and speaks to us for God. We have no objection to a woman doing the first: the whole difficulty is about the second. But why? Why should a woman not in this sense represent God? Certainly not because she is necessarily, or even probably, less holy or less charitable or stupider than a man. In that sense she may be as “God-like” as a man; and a given women much more so than a given man. The sense in which she cannot represent God will perhaps be plainer if we look at the thing the other way round.

Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to “Our Mother which art in heaven” as to “Our Father”. Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does.

Now it is surely the case that if all these supposals were ever carried into effect we should be embarked on a different religion. Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped: many religions have had priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity. Common sense, disregarding the discomfort, or even the horror, which the idea of turning all our theological language into the feminine gender arouses in most Christians, will ask “Why not? Since God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex, what can it matter whether we say He or She, Father or Mother, Son or Daughter?”

But Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses but against Christianity. It is also surely based on a shallow view of imagery. Without drawing upon religion, we know from our poetical experience that image and apprehension cleave closer together than common sense is here prepared to admit; that a child who has been taught to pray to a Mother in Heaven would have a religious life radically different from that of a Christian child. And as image and apprehension are in an organic unity, so, for a Christian, are human body and human soul.

The innovators are really implying that sex is something superficial, irrelevant to the spiritual life. To say that men and women are equally eligible for a certain profession is to say that for the purposes of that profession their sex is irrelevant. We are, within that context, treating both as neuters.

As the State grows more like a hive or an ant-hill it needs an increasing number of workers who can be treated as neuters. This may be inevitable for our secular life. But in our Christian life we must return to reality. There we are not homogeneous units, but different and complementary organs of a mystical body. Lady Nunburnholme has claimed that the equality of men and women is a Christian principle. I do not remember the text in scripture nor the Fathers, nor Hooker, nor the Prayer Book which asserts it; but that is not here my point. The point is that unless “equal” means “interchangeable”, equality makes nothing for the priesthood of women. And the kind of equality which implies that the equals are interchangeable (like counters or identical machines) is, among humans, a legal fiction. It may be a useful legal fiction. But in church we turn our back on fictions. One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God. One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living and semitive figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures.

This is what common sense will call “mystical”. Exactly. The Church claims to be the bearer of a revelation. If that claim is false then we want not to make priestesses but to abolish priests. If it is true, then we should expect to find in the Church an element which unbelievers will call irrational and which believers will call supra-rational. There ought to be something in it opaque to our reason though not contrary to it – as the facts of sex and sense on the natural level are opaque. And that is the real issue. The Church of England can remain a church only if she retains this opaque element. If we abandon that, if we retain only what can be justified by standards of prudence and convenience at the bar of enlightened common sense, then we exchange revelation for that old wraith Natural Religion.

It is painful, being a man, to have to assert the privilege, or the burden, which Christianity lays upon my own sex. I am crushingly aware how inadequate most of us are, in our actual and historical individualities, to fill the place prepared for us. But it is an old saying in the army that you salute the uniform not the wearer. Only one wearing the masculine uniform can (provisionally, and till the Parousia) represent the Lord to the Church: for we are all, corporately and individually, feminine to Him. We men may often make very bad priests. That is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles. He may make a bad male partner in a dance. The cure for that is that men should more diligently attend dancing classes; not that the ballroom should henceforward ignore distinctions of sex and treat all dancers as neuter. That would, of course, be eminently sensible, civilized, and enlightened, but, once more, “not near so much like a Ball”.

And this parallel between the Church and the Ball is not so fanciful as some would think. The Church ought to be more like a Ball than it is like a factory or a political party. Or, to speak more strictly, they are at the circumference and the Church at the Centre and the Ball comes in between. The factory and the political party are artificial creations – “a breath can make them as a breath has made”. In them we are not dealing with human beings in their concrete entirety only with “hands” or voters. I am not of course using “artificial” in any derogatory sense. Such artifices are necessary: but because they are our artifices we are free to shuffle, scrap and experiment as we please. But the Ball exists to stylize something which is natural and which concerns human beings in their entirety-namely, courtship. We cannot shuffle or tamper so much. With the Church, we are farther in: for there we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or rather, we are not dealing with them but (as we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us.

“Tolerating Other Religions” by G.K. Chesterton

“Tolerating Other Religions”
By G.K. Chesterton
“Illustrated London News” May 31, 1913
When I was a boy, in the old indescribable days which I can only describe as the great days of Stead, a thing met that was called the Parliament of Religions. It had all the evils of a Parliament. It had the narrow novelty, the deaf dignity, the profound isolation and unpopularity that a Parliament so often commands. A Member of Parliament must be a man who comes to think more of the men he argues with than of the men he argues for. The club is mightier than the constituency. This can be seen in all political Parliament’s; it is notorious that in all such assemblies … The back benches fight, while the front benches make peace.
All this, which is true of political Parliament’s, was a little true even of the poor old Parliament of Religions. Every man was a very cultured representative of a very distant constituency. If it is hard to make a man represent Surrey, or even Surbiton, it is harder still to make him represent the Central plains of Asia or the ultimate islands of Japan. Thus, I say, the Parliament of Religions seemed almost as useless as the Parliament at Westminster.
Men did not come there to explain their religion. They came to explain it away. At that gathering, everyone had to have a silky manner just as (at some social gathering) everyone has to have a silk hat. It would be improper in the Parliament at Westminster to knock off another man’s hat. It would be improper in the Parliament of Religions to knock off another man’s head. Yet the whole object of theology and philosophy and pure reason is to knock off another man’s head. As the philosophical world goes, just now, it is rather a compliment. One can pass through crowds of earnest modern thinkers without finding a head to knock off.
Yet only the other day I came across a little book by a man who was really defending one of the great philosophies of the earth, and not merely excusing it. His book is really an apologia and not an apology. It is concerned with the Creed of Zoroaster, the great Persian mystic who has left behind him the sect of the Parsees. It is published by Mr. Dent, and the name of the author on the title page is Ardasir Scrabjee N. Wadia. I intend no flippancy about this highly intelligent author if I do not know what part of this is his name. I only intend to indicate of the subject — of all such subjects as Persia and the Parsees. “Wadia” at the end of his name may be something like Esquire, for all I know. N. may be his telephone number for all I know. I know nothing about his nation; I know nothing about his civilisation; I know nothing about him. But I do know something about his religion. I did not know it five hours ago, and I owe what I know to him. His book is one of the very few books about the religions of the world of which this can be said.
Generally, the difficulty is not to tolerate other people’s religion. The trouble is to tolerate our own religion. Or rather (to speak more strictly), to get our own religion to tolerate us. Comparatively few modern religious people are intolerant. But a great many modern religious people are intolerable. Nor are these specially those that are called bigots; it is rather I think, the other way. The person we find really exasperating is he who does not understand our beliefs, and yet also does not agree with his own. Now, the author of this book does agree with his own. His philosophy is not in the least like mine, but it seems to me to be one of the two or three intelligent alternatives to mine. It is a philosophy which is roughly, perhaps too roughly, describes as Dualism: the theory that good and evil are, in one sense at least, exactly balanced in the universe: that, in one sense, at least, their balance creates the universe. The very pattern of the cosmos, so to speak, is a pattern of crossed swords. Life and death are fencing forever; and ( I say again in one sense, at least) the issue is always doubtful. With a movement of iron self control, I here refrain from making a pun about a Dualist and a duellist.
The author writes like a man who really has ideas; for ideas are always most original when they are grown from the old religious origins. It is not a paradox; but a very common fact of human nature. A man’s ideas are much more his own if they come out of his father’s Creed than if he had got them out of a book: just as a man’s cabbages are much more his own if they come from his father’s field than if he had got them out of a shop. There is something convincing even in a sort of weird simplicity which the writer shows, and which is often shown by men writing in the language of another civilisation: as where he speaks of “our revered Master — RUSKIN, to whom I belong so entirely and so devotedly that I invariably that I invariably use his words, expressions, and even paragraphs as if they were my own.” I feel myself on delicate ground; and I do not know whether I shall be considered as clearing him of the charge of imitation, or insulting him with the charge of bad imitation, if I say that I do not think there are any solid chunks of Ruskin embedded in his prose. But there really are solid chunks of what is more fresh and interesting for English readers; the real ideas of a real and able believer in the Creed of Zoroaster.
The great principle of the Zoroastrian philosophy seems to be that the thorn is essential to the rose. Or, to put it more correctly, that the life of man is a chess-board, because chess is a royal game — the great game for the human intellect. And in chess it is necessary, not only that there should be black and white, but that black and white should be equal. There must be a pattern f black and white, and the pattern must be exact.
To all this view of life I should only answer that the chess-board is only a pattern, and therefore cannot be a picture. A black-and-white artist always treats one or the other color as the background. The artist may be scrawling black on white,when he is a illustrator in pen and ink. He may be scrawling white on black, when he is a schoolboy chalking the school master’s nose on the blackboard. But the pen and ink artist knows that the page is white prior to the arrival of the pen and ink. The wicked schoolboy knows that the blackboard is black. So we, as Christians, should always believe that this is a white world with black spots, not a black world with white spots. I should always believe that the good in it was its primary plan. Also, I should remember that chess came from Persia.

“Art Poetique” by Paul Verlaine

“Art Poetique”.
By Paul Verlaine (1844-1896).
Translated by Norman R. Shapiro.
Music first and foremost! In your verse,
Choose those meters odd of syllable,
Supple in the air, vague, flexible,
Free of pounding beat, heavy or terse.
Choose the words you use – now right now wrong –
With abandon; when the poet’s vision
Couples the precise with imprecision,
Best the giddy shadows of his song.
Eyes veiled, hidden, dark with mystery,
Sunshine trembling in the noonday glare
Starlight in the tepid autumn air,
Shimmering in night-blue filigree!
For Nuance, not color absolute,
Is your goal; subtle and shaded hue!
Nuance! It alone is what lets you
Marry dream to dream, and horn to flute!
Shun all cruel and ruthless railleries:
Hurtful quip, cruel laughter that spall
Heaven, azure eyed, to tears; and all
Garlic-stench scullery recipes!
Take vain eloquence and wring it’s neck!
Best you keep your rhyme sober and sound,
Lest it wander, rimless and unbound –
How far? Who can say – if not in check!
Rhyme! Who will it’s infamies revile?
What deaf child, what Black of little wit
Forged this useless bauble, fashioned it
False and hollow-sounding to the file?
Music first and foremost and forever!
Let your verse be what goes soaring, sighing,
Set free, fleeing from the soul gone flying
Off to other skies and loves wherever.
Let your verse be aimless chance, delighting
In good opened fortune, sprinkled over
Dawn’s wind, bristling scents of mint, thyme, clover…
All the rest is nothing more than writing.

Sir John Gielgud on Acting

“In playing Shakespeare one is bound to be conscious of the audience. The compromise between a declamatory and a naturalistic style is extremely subtle, and needs tremendous technical skill in its achievement. In Chekhov, provided one can be heard and seen distinctly, it is possible, even advisable, to ignore the audience altogether and this was another reason why I suddenly felt so much more at ease in playing Trofimov than I had in Romeo.
“I have extremely good eyesight and am very observant. From the stage, if I am not careful, I can recognize people I know eight or ten rows back in the stalls, even on a first night when I am shaking with nervousness: latecomers – people who whisper or rustle chocolates or fall asleep – I have an eye for every one of them, and my performance suffers accordingly. I once asked Marion Terry about this difficulty and she said, ‘Hold your eyes level with the front of the dress circle when you are looking out into the front.’ It has taken me years to learn how to follow her advice. But in Chekhov, whose plays are written to be acted, as Komisarjevsky used to say, ‘with the fourth wall down’, I have always been able to shut out the faces in the front, even when I look in their direction and am conscious of no one but the other characters.”
~From “Actors on Acting”, pages 398-399

Long-hidden Holy Week music

The following email was sent by my good friend Father Christopher Zugger, a Byzantine Catholic priest and historian from Albuquerque, New Mexico:

Titled Passion Week, this oratorio in Slavonic was composed in secret by Maximilian Steinberg, son-in-law of the composer N. Rimsky-Korsakov, in the 1920s. The Soviets banned the composition and performance of all sacred music outside of churches, and no new compositions could be sung in church. This was the most intense period of imposing atheism and destroying churches, shrines, and sacred objects, 1920-1940.

 

This contains all the main chants of the Byzantine Holy Week, from Alleluia and Behold the Bridegroom of Holy Monday to the solemn burial of the Lord on Good Friday night. one hour long.
This performance was sung in a Latin rite church in Russia, perhaps the cathedral in Moscow but not positive.

Paul Scofield on Playing St. Thomas More

Paul Scofield on how he created his Award-winning stage and screen role as Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons”.
From “Actors on Acting: The Theories, Techniques, and Practices of the World’s Great Actors Told in their Own Words”, pages 421-422.
“What matters to me is whether I like the play, for one thing, and for another, whether I can recognize and identify myself with the character I’m to play. My intuition for a part has failed me only once – for the part of Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s ‘A Man for All Seasons’, which opened in London in July of 1960.
“I felt a tremendous warmth toward the character. Then I came to play him and I didn’t know how. As the play is written, it gives nothing more than the bare lines of what the man is saying. Its all in the lines. There is no opportunity for embroidery.
“I had to start from scratch, making myself totally faithful to what was on the page: More was a lawyer, a man of tremendous faith, a complex and subtle character. Everything in him led inevitably toward a kind of forensic point of view. It was a rather cold-blooded way of ordering one’s mind.
“I found that the part had what seemed like dogmatic exposition. Simply saying the lines for what they were worth would make More sound like a very pompous and noisy man. If I said the lines with all the intensity they seemed to require, he would seem like an aggressive man. And he was not an aggressive man. So I had to find a way of making the man sound not pompous and not aggressive. And yet he had to sound strong. If you can see it, then you can do it.
“First, I had to find the way the man would feel; then I was able to find the way that he would sound. Eventually, I discovered that if I used a specific range of my voice and characteristics of my voice that I had never used before, I might make him sound mild, even though what the lines themselves said was not mild… I used an accent for More that was absolutely a … thing of my own. My parents are Midlands people, with a very regional accent, and I drew somewhat on this accent and mixed it with some others.
“The way More sounded came out of my characterization of him as a lawyer. His dryness of mind, I found, led him to use a sort of dryness of speech. It evolved as I evolved the character. I would flatten or elongate a vowel in a certain way to get a certain effect I wanted. Not too much happened to the voice as a result of More’s being a man of faith and spirituality.
“One of the great traps in playing a man of spiritual depth is that one is given only a certain number of lines, and if they’re not made to sound absolutely true they are likely to sound very self-satisfied and sentimental. The false note is so often struck.
“Next I discovered More’s humor, and knew that that would be the thing to make him not smug. Then, More was a flesh-and-blood man, with strong family affections. His spiritual attitudes did not put him in the backwater of life… He used his senses. He enjoyed the things of life – food and wine and the rest. He didn’t relish physical discomfort. And he wouldn’t want to be hurt. At one point in the play, he says, ‘This is not the stuff of which martyrs are made.’
“Because you are thinking and feeling all these things, the voice comes out in a certain way. Its constant communication between thinking and feeling. Otherwise the muscles don’t work, don’t take the right shape. One’s voice follows the rest. It somehow becomes a willing instrument… That is the kind of professional knowledge one has.”

The Anne Frank of Stalin’s Russia

Nina Lugovskaya, a teenaged girl whose recently rediscovered diary caused the arrest of her entire family, is sometimes called “The Anne Frank of Stalin’s Russia.”
My friend Fr. Christopher Zugger recommends this documentary about her life and legacy. He calls it a stark contrast to the Pro-Putin propaganda usually put out by “Russia Today”. Be forewarned, it is powerful, but deeply depressing. In English.

The Edith Stein of Stalin’s Russia

As today is the 80th anniversary of her martyrdom in Joseph Stalin’s concentration camps, I strongly recommend watching the following documentary, which relates the life and martyrdom of Mother Catherine Abrikosova, a Byzantine Catholic Dominican nun, a former Marxist, and, since 2003, a candidate for Catholic Sainthood. In Russian with English subtitles.