November 30

November 30 is Saint Andrew’s Day. Andrew was a fisherman, the brother of Simon Peter and a follower of John the Baptist. He recognized Jesus as the Messiah and was called by the Lord to be an apostle. Andrew appears a number of times in Gospels, such as when Jesus discusses the end of the world in Mark 13 and at the Feeding of the Five Thousand in John 6.

Legend says that after the death of Jesus Andrew travelled widely, spreading the faith to Asia Minor, the Caucasus, what is now Ukraine and Russia, Byzantium and the Balkans. The churches in Constantinople and Georgia thus claim an apostolic founder. In Greece he was martyred on an X-shaped cross which became his symbol. The saltire or St Andrew’s cross is on the flag of Scotland, which claims him as a patron saint, and on the naval flag of Russia, where he is also a patron. Because Andrew was the first disciple called by Jesus, his feast day heralds the start of the Christian calendar.

November 30 is also the birthday of Winston Churchill and Mark Twain, and the anniversary of the death of Oscar Wilde.

For Winston Spencer Churchill I have nothing but praise. The greatest Briton of his era (and of all time according to a BBC poll which placed Princess Diana third, far ahead of Isaac Newton and William Shakespeare) he saved civilization at the cost of the British Empire. He assumed office as the Allied position in the west was collapsing and the French government and army were too intent on speed-reading their German phrase books to defend their country. But herein lies a salutary lesson for those who think that the events of 1940 prove that Gauls are, by nature, cheese-eating surrender monkeys. Antony Beevor’s monumental history Berlin: The Downfall, 1945 notes that in the final few days of World War II, when Hitler lay dead and the survivors of the Nazi hierarchy were scuttling like rats out of the ruins of Berlin, the last Axis defenders in the city were Frenchmen. These remnants of the SS Charlemagne Division fought on in the wreckage of the Third Reich until they were overrun by the Red Army.

Mark Twain is little appreciated outside of the United States and for good reason. Next to Walt Whitman he is the most insufferable of American writers and next to Herman Melville the most unreadable.

There was a lot that was insufferable about Oscar Wilde too. He continually betrayed a loving wife and found furtive pleasure on the bodies of under-age servant boys and rancid young aristocrats. He made almost an entire career of far-too-artfully polished apothegms (‘All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his.’) and a smirking inversion of received truths (‘As for the virtuous poor, one can pity them, of course, but one cannot possibly admire them.’) He brought his sad end upon himself, but for the sake of his children’s stories, Oscar Wilde will be forgiven much. Requiescat in pace.

One thought on “November 30”

  1. Wonderful post. I have just yesterday started using (and I hope continuing) the book of Christian Prayer … and had just finished reading about Andrew before I turned to your blog!

    There is a marble bust of Churchill on my desk.

    As for Wilde, well … there is a bronze bust of Wilde atop my bookcase. Despite all of his many (many!) faults, he is still … a lovable figure. While often fatuous and undisciplined, I believe he was kind, at heart. Frances Winwar wrote a terrific book called Oscar Wilde and the Yellow Nineties, which I think is better than Ellmann.

    Lots of Twain in indigestible, but Tom Sawyer is superb, and, believe it or not, Tom Sawyer Detective and Tom Sawyer Abroad a pretty terrific.

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