June 3

Some quotes about dogs in memory of Grendel, a dog of little brain but enormous heart.

Near this spot are deposited the Remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, And all the virtues of Man, without his Vices. This Praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of BOATSWAIN, a DOG. – Lord Byron, inscription on the monument of a Newfoundland dog, 1808

There were two classes of created objects which he held in the deepest and most unmingled horror: they were, dogs and children. He was not unamiable, but he could at any time have viewed the execution of a dog, or the assassination of an infant, with the liveliest satisfaction. Their habits were at variance with his love of order; and his love of order, was as powerful as his love of life. – Charles Dickens, “A Dinner at Poplar Walk”, 1833

And just as he has the sense of virtue, so also he has the sense of sin. A cat may be taught not to do certain things, but if it is caught out and flees, it flees not from shame, but from fear. But the shame of a dog touches an abyss of misery as bottomless as any human emotion. He has fallen out of the state of grace, and nothing but the absolution and remission of his sin will restore him to happiness. – Alfred George Gardiner”A Dithyramb on a Dog”, 1920

There are three faithful friends: an old wife, an old dog, and ready money. – Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1734

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
But when we are certain of sorrow in store
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.  

– Rudyard Kipling, “The Power of the Dog”

June 2

1983 The death of Air Canada flight 797

Among the greatest Canadian disasters –- the Halifax explosion of 1917, the abortive raid on Dieppe in 1942, the Trudeau constitution of 1981 – we must include the fatal fire on board an Air Canada DC-9 flying from Dallas to Montreal. While in midair. passengers reported a smell and smoke coming from the rear washroom area. After some delay the pilot decided to make an emergency landing in Cincinnati. When the doors to the plane were opened the fresh air ignited a flash fire that killed 23 passengers.

The fire was significant in two ways. It led to a series of industry-wide safety improvements designed to prevent fires and to ensure a safe exit within 90 seconds. These changes have undoubtedly saved many lives. Sadly for Canada, one of the 23 dead was singer-songwriter Stan Rogers (1949-1983).

It is impossible to overestimate Roger’s impact on Canadian music and, more importantly, the spirit of Canadian nationalism. He would be the Canadian equivalent of Woody Guthrie or Peter Seeger but without the Marxist baggage, or Bob Dylan but with the ability to sing. Compositions such as “Northwest Passage”, “Barrett’s Privateers”, “White Squall” and “The Mary-Ellen Carter” are still sung with gusto whenever Canadians meet up in a foreign land. His songs were of common folk — fishermen, sailors, farmers, soldiers – and in true Canadian fashion they are often about losers: battles lost, ships sunk, jobs threatened. Had he lived our nation would be culturally richer and more united than we are now.

For those new to Stan Rogers, start with this tragic-comic song of a would-be pirate and a cruise for American gold. 

June 1

My favourite twentieth-century philosopher is David Stove (1927-1994), an Australian atheist, positivist, anti-Platonist and anti-Darwinian. A third of what he says I don’t understand, half of what I do understand I don’t agree with, but I always find reading him a pleasure.

Here are three quotes from The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies, 1991.

The Great Schism of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, which split the Western from the Eastern Church, took place, on its theological side, over a question concerning the Trinity. This was, of course, that most famous of all theological questions, the question of the procession of the Holy Ghost, or of the filioque. The Orthodox theory was that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father alone. The Western bishops, however, were equally adamant that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father filioque – “and the Son”. It is obvious enough that these two opinions could not both be right, though both could be wrong. It is equally obvious that both opinions are wrong, or at least, that they each have got something dreadfully wrong with them, and the same thing. They both have some fatal congenital defect, whatever the exact nature of this defect may be. And it is equally obvious too, that this defect will also be shared by any other answer to the question, what or whom the Holy Ghost proceeds from. It does not matter much how you answer this question: something has already gone fatally wrong with your thoughts, once you find yourself so much as asking it.

Nothing which was ever expressed originally in the English language resembles, except in the most distant way, the thought of Plotinus, or Hegel, or Foucault. I take this to be enormously to the credit of our language. 

For Professor Harris, however, no manuscript, no scrap of paper, quite literally no doodle even, lacks profound significance, as long as it is Hegel’s. Indeed, all previous instances of philosopholatry, even the one which had Plato as its object and perhaps as its founder, are thrown entirely into the shade by Professor Harris. He does not actually say that Hegel’s philosophy can cure wooden legs, but I do not think he would like to hear it denied. 

May 31

A mean letter

The great age of vituperation has long since passed. Personal abuse in the 21st century is tediously predictable: “racist!”, “libtard!”, “transphobe!”, “reTHUGlican!”, “fascist!”, etc. Donald Trump lowered the bar even further with zingers such as “fat pig”, “loser”, or “disgusting animal”. In the old days, there was no less hateful speech — John Adams called Alexander Hamilton “the bastard son of a Scotch peddler” – but there was a more imaginative use of language that connoisseurs of English could appreciate.

Consider this letter of defiance sent by the redoubtable Mary Cavendish, Countess of Shrewsbury, to Sir Thomas Stanhope. Their families were involved in a heated quarrel over a river weir, a disagreement which had broken out in bloodshed between groups of their followers. The countess had earlier called Stanhope a reprobate and his son John a rascal but she clearly felt that more needed to said on the subject of her opponents’ personal deficiencies. Therefore she deputed two of her men to deliver the following hymn of opprobrium: 

My lady hath commanded me to say thus much to you. That though you be more wretched, vile, and miserable, than any creature living; and, for your wickedness, become more ugly in shape than the vilest toad in the world; and one to whom none of reputation would vouchsafe to send any message : yet she hath thought good to send thus much to you–that she be contented you should live (and doth no ways wish your death), but to this end–that all the plagues and miseries that may befall any man may light upon such a caitiff as you are; and that you should live to have all your friends forsake you; and without your great repentance, which she looketh not for, because your life hath been so bad, you will be damned perpetually in hell fire.

The only possible reply to such an attack would be that uttered by The Dude in the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece The Big Lebowski:

 
 

May 26

1201 Murder of a Pilgrim Saint

According to CatholicSaints Info, the Scotsman William of Perth (aka William of Rochester) led a wild and misspent youth, but as an adult he had a complete conversion, devoting himself to God, caring especially for poor and neglected children. He worked as a baker, and gave every tenth loaf to the poor. He attended Mass daily, and one morning on his way to church he found an infant abandoned on the threshold. He named the baby David, and adopted him, and taught him his trade.

Years later he and David set out on a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. During a stop-over in Rochester, England the boy David turned on William, clubbed him, cut his throat, robbed the body, and fled. Because he was on a holy journey, and because of the miraculous cures later reported at his tomb, he is considered a martyr.

A local insane woman found William’s body, and plaited a garland of honeysuckle flowers for it; she placed the garland on William, and then on herself whereupon her madness was cured. Local monks, seeing this as a sign from God, interred William in the local cathedral and began work on his shrine. His tomb and a chapel at his murder scene, called Palmersdene, soon became sites of pilgrimage, second only to the tomb of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. Remains of the chapel can be seen near the present Saint William’s Hospital.

The stained-glass portrait in Rochester Cathedral above shows William with the traditional pilgrims’s hat, staff, purse, and cockleshell emblem. He is the patron saint of adopted children.

May 23

1618 The Third Defenestration of Prague

When political turmoil grips the Canadian people, the government responds by appointing a Royal Commission, and in the years it takes to issue a final report, the brouhaha always dies down. In times of national crisis, Czechs are wont to throw people out of windows.

The First Prague Defenestration (from the Latin fenestra, and thus the German das Fenster and the French la fenêtre) took place in 1419 when angry Hussites tossed the burgomaster and civic councillors out of a window in the Town Hall to their deaths on the cobblestones below. In 1483 religious quarrels again led to the fatal hurling of the Prague burgomaster and his colleagues through windows.

In May, 1618 sectarian hostility led to a confrontation in the Bohemian Chancellory  between four Catholic regents and a group of Protestant noblemen. The latter demanded to know whether the regents had played a part in provoking the King Ferdinand II to issue harsh anti-Protestant decrees. Two of the regents accepted responsibility for supporting those moves, whereupon they and their secretary were propelled out the window 70′ above the ground. Their survival was attributed by the Catholic faction to a miraculous intercession of the Virgin Mary and by the Protestants to a fortuitous soft landing in a dung heap. The Thirty Years War soon erupted.

May 22

1520 The Alvarado Massacre

It’s hard to say a good word about the Spanish conquistadors; a scummier bunch of rapacious, dishonourable murderers would be hard to find. On the other hand, one is hard-pressed to be a fan of the Aztecs, cruel imperialists who conducted human sacrifices on an industrial scale. A tragic event in May 1520 would prompt a clash between the two cultures that would eventually end very badly for the natives.

In 1519 the Spanish adventurer Hernan Cortes had marched to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan and taken Emperor Moctezuma prisoner. The Spaniards and their native allies were housed in their own compound of the magnificent city on the lake, relying on the locals for food. They were a tiny, uneasy band surrounded by a hostile populace resentful at their god-leader’s capture.

While Cortes was absent, dealing with another band of Spaniards on the coast, the Aztecs informed his deputy Pedro de Alvarado that they would be holding a festival in honour of one of their gods. Alvarado was also told by his allies that this was a cover for the start of an Aztec uprising and that the Spaniards were sure to be overwhelmed and sacrificed. Alvarado chose to react violently. He sealed off the square where the dancing was taking place and butchered the unarmed participants.

Here is an Aztec account:

Here it is told how the Spaniards killed; they murdered the Mexicans who were celebrating the Fiesta of Huitzilopochtli in the place they called The Patio of the Gods.  At this time, when everyone was enjoying the celebration, when everyone was already dancing, when everyone was already singing, when song was linked to song and the songs roared like waves, in that precise moment the Spaniards determined to kill people. They came into the patio, armed for battle. They came to close the exits, the steps, the entrances [to the patio]: The Gate of the Eagle in the smallest palace, The Gate of the Canestalk and the Gate of the Snake of Mirrors. And when they had closed them, no one could get out anywhere. Once they had done this, they entered the Sacred Patio to kill people. They came on foot, carrying swords and wooden and metal shields. Immediately, they surrounded those who danced, then rushed to the place where the drums were played. They attacked the man who was drumming and cut off both his arms. Then they cut off his head [with such a force] that it flew off, falling far away. At that moment, they then attacked all the people, stabbing them, spearing them, wounding them with their swords. They struck some from behind, who fell instantly to the ground with their entrails hanging out [of their bodies]. They cut off the heads of some and smashed the heads of others into little pieces. They struck others in the shoulders and tore their arms from their bodies. They struck some in the thighs and some in the calves. They slashed others in the abdomen and their entrails fell to the earth. There were some who even ran in vain, but their bowels spilled as they ran; they seemed to get their feet entangled with their own entrails. Eager to flee, they found nowhere to go. Some tried to escape, but the Spaniards murdered them at the gates while they laughed. Others climbed the walls, but they could not save themselves. Others entered the communal house, where they were safe for a while. Others lay down among the victims and pretended to be dead. But if they stood up again they [the Spaniards] would see them and kill them. The blood of the warriors ran like water as they ran, forming pools, which widened, as the smell of blood and entrails fouled the air. And the Spaniards walked everywhere, searching the communal houses to kill those who were hiding. They ran everywhere, they searched every place. When [people] outside [the Sacred Patio learned of the massacre], shouting began, “Captains, Mexicas, come here quickly! Come here with all arms, spears, and shields! Our captains have been murdered! Our warriors have been slain! Oh Mexica captains, [our warriors] have been annihilated!” Then a roar was heard, screams, people wailed, as they beat their palms against their lips. Quickly the captains assembled, as if planned in advance, and carried their spears and shields. Then the battle began. [The Mexicas] attacked them with arrows and even javelins, including small javelins used for hunting birds. They furiously hurled their javelins [at the Spaniards]. It was as if a layer of yellow canes spread over the Spaniards.

This atrocity greatly imperilled the Spanish position in the capital. Moctezuma would be repudiated by the Aztec elite and an uprising in June would eventually drive the conquistadors from the city with great losses. Much more blood would be shed before the Spaniards could crush the native resistance.

May 21

1776 Battle of the Cedars

When Canada defeats an invading army, as occurred 246 years ago this week, we know how to boast about it. Behold the mighty monument to our victory over the Americans at the Battle of the Cedars, 1776! It puts that puny Arc de Triomphe to shame.

In 1775 a Continental Army invaded Quebec. The American forces succeeded in taking Montreal but failed in their siege of Quebec City. By May 1776 their position was untenable and they began to withdraw back to New York. This left their garrison at The Cedars, south of Montreal, exposed to attack. 

When a detachment of British regulars, some Quebecois militia, and hundreds of Iroquois showed up outside the wooden fort, the American commander Isaac Butterfield tried in vain to negotiate an armed withdrawal. When that option was denied, he surrendered. Other American troops at nearby Quinze-Chênes put up a fight but they too yielded. The British officers were able to persuade the Iroquois not to massacre their prisoners but the captives were looted by the natives. 

A prisoner exchange was arranged and the American soldiers were released but Congress, arguing that the Iroquois had committed atrocities, refused to honour their side of the swap. 

May 20

1631 The Sack of Magdeburg

One of the comedic gems of the late 20th century was Ripping Yarns, a BBC production written by two ex-Pythons, Michael Palin and Terry Jones. The series made sport of English boys adventure books. Episodes such as “Across the Andes by Frog” and “The Curse of the Claw” are hilarious but my favourite is “Roger of the Raj”, a tale of a young British officer in India. The colonel of the regiment is a kindly old duffer but his wife is a fierce colonialist, as is evidenced by this bedtime conversation:

Lord Bartelsham: You know, I often think that if people had been a little more kind to each other, we could have avoided many of the wars which have plagued society through the ages.
Lady Bartelsham: Rubbish, dear.
Lord Bartelsham: Well… maybe.. but just suppose for a minute that when Wallenstein reached the gates of Magdeburg in 1631, instead of razing the city to the ground and putting its inhabitants to the sword, he’d said… “What a lovely place! How lucky you are to live here. I live in Sweden.. you must come and see me some time.” Just think what a difference it would have made he’d have gone down in history as a nice chap, instead of the Butcher of Magdeburg.
Lady Bartelsham: Eat up dear, and stop talking piffle.

Lord Bartelsham may have had his heart in the right place but he got some facts wrong about the destruction of Magdeburg which took place on this date in 1631. First of all, Count Wallenstein was not the Imperial general besieging Magdeburg — the title of Butcher of Magdeburg is held jointly by Count Tilly and Graf Pappenheim. None of those generals was Swedish. Bartlesham was doubtless thinking of Tilly and Wallenstein’s opponent Gustavus Adolphus.

Regardless of who was in charge of the Catholic forces who stormed Magdeburg, the ensuing massacres and atrocities were the low point of the Thirty Years War. Tilly was proud of himself. He wrote to the Habsburg emperor Ferdinand II, “Never was such a victory since the storming of Troy or of Jerusalem. I am sorry that you and the ladies of the court were not there to enjoy the spectacle.” Pope Urban VIII thought it a fine deed, telling Tilly “You have washed your victorious hands in the blood of sinners.” 

Fourteen Pieces of Wisdom

It belongs to human nature to hate those you have injured. – Tacitus, Annals, c. 105

The cobra will bite you whether you call it cobra or Mr. Cobra. – Indian Proverb

Permit me, sir, to give you one piece of advice. Be not so positive; especially with regard to things which are neither easy nor necessary to be determined. When I was young I was sure of everything. In a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before. At present, I am hardly sure of anything but what God has revealed to man. – John Wesley, London Magazine, 1775

Do not let a flattering woman coax and wheedle you and deceive you; she is after your barn. – Hesiod, 8c B.C.

They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. – Carl W. Buehner, 1971

Money swore an oath that nobody who did not love it should ever have it. – Irish proverb

God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination. – Augustine of Hippo, “Commentary on Psalm 145”, c. 400

Nothing has more strength than dire necessity. – Euripides, Helen, 412 BC

What they do in heaven we are ignorant of; what they do not do we are told expressly. – Jonathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting, 1703

Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble – and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb too. The imagination and the spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology. – Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1974

We are human beings, not creatures of infinite possibilities. ­ Robertson Davies, Conversations with Robertson Davies, 1989

A fanatic is someone who looks at beauty and sees injustice. – Theodore Dalrymple, Midnight Maxims, 2021

Not a single one of the cells that compose you knows who you are, or cares. – Daniel Dennett, Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness, 2005

Every man has some reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone, but only to his friends. He has others which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But finally there are still others which a man is even afraid to tell himself, and every decent man has a considerable number of such things stored away. That is, one can even say that the more decent he is, the greater the number of such things in his mind. – Feodor Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground, 1864