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George C. Scott A Christmas Carol

I rather like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I like it so much that two years ago I created an annotated version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I liked Patrick Stewart’s one-man performance every time I saw it at UCLA. I am less fond of Stewart’s film version, but that’s partially because I dearly love the George C. Scott A Christmas Carol film. Right now, Amazon is selling a DVD of George C. Scott’s A Christmas Carol as a $3.99 “Add-On” when you purchase $25.00 worth of stuff. 

Buy me a Coffee! If you find this post or this site interesting, and would like to see more, buy me a coffee. While I may actually buy coffee, I’ll probably buy books to review.

Elsewhere for November 3, 2018

You should read this for 11/3/2018:

Art and Film

Barbra Streisand’s ‘Carpool Karaoke’ has an A+ anecdote about her calling up Tim Cook

Books, Writing, and Language

What it’s like to listen to cricket on the radio for the first time.

Antarctic scientist “stabs colleague who kept telling him endings of books he was reading”

You can unzip this tiny image on Twitter to reveal the complete works of Shakespeare Really. It’s pretty cool.

The Many Ways YA Books & The Community Isolates Teens The popularity of YA books in terms of non-YA book buyers has some interesting side effects, according to this provocative and thoughtful post from a teen YA reader.

Via Open Culture: Growing Up Surrounded by Books Has a Lasting Positive Effect on the Brain, Says a New Scientific Study

[R]esearchers at the Australian National University have reported that growing up in a household filled with books can lead to proficiency in literacy, numeracy, and information communication technology, even if you don’t go on to university.

You can read the Open Culture summary of the study, or read Joanna Sikora’s actual study at Social Science Research.

Food and Drink

Sauvignon blanc with fish tacos

Via Simply Recipes and Sally Vargas: Make-Ahead Dinner Rolls I’m familiar with yeast-rolls that you make and freeze for later use. What’s interesting about this recipe is that it uses potato flakes in addition to the usual flour, salt and yeast.

Love Indian food? A cookbook challenges everything you know about the cuisine

Sonal Ved, the food editor at Vogue India, told Quartz. “But what about hyper-regional recipes? Like food from Bhatinda, or curries from the Saraswat Goan community; what about cuisine from the deserts of Kutch, or that cooked by the Memon community in Mumbai or Gujarat?”

Sonal Ved. Tiffin: 500 Authentic Recipes Celebrating India’s Regional Cuisine.

More humane chicken breeding would cost consumers 1% extra

Melting Potatoes “Melting potatoes is the ultimate roasted potato recipe. Add a flavorful stock while in the oven and the roasting veg turns pillowy soft.”

History and Archaeology

Teeth Offer Window Into Neanderthal Childhoods

George Washington Writes to the First Jewish Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island: “The Government… Gives to Bigotry No Sanction, to Persecution No Assistance” (1790)

Washington wrote:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. — George Washington 1790 letter to the “the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island,”

Science and Nature

Scientists finally confirm the Milky Way has a supermassive black hole

Scientists Have Just Named 17 New Sea Slug Species, and They’re All Fabulous

The Dawn spacecraft exploring the asteroid belt has gone dark see also: Dusk for Dawn: NASA’s mission to Vesta and Ceres has ended

It’s Over For Kepler. The Most Successful Planet Hunter Ever Built is Finally out of Fuel and Has Just Been Shut Down.


Stephen King is really going after Ted Cruz on Twitter


Apple, Google, Facebook, and others push back on Trump transgender policy

Pay It Forward and Make It Better

Illustrated Guide Offers Resources for LGBTQ Muslim Youth

The Muslim Youth Leadership Council at Advocates for Youth developed “I’m Muslim and I Might Not Be Straight” for LGBTQ peers who don’t see themselves reflected in the broader LGBTQ community.

One of the Oldest Online RPG Communities Banned Pro-Trump Speech

RPGnet, one of the oldest RPG communities on the internet, has banned pro-Trump speech from its message board. “We are banning support of Donald Trump or his administration on the RPGnet forums,” forum administrators wrote in a public post announcing the new policy. “This is because his public comments, policies, and the makeup of his administration are so wholly incompatible with our values that formal political neutrality is not tenable.”

David Brooks and Sandwich Gate

Who the Hell is David Brooks?

I asked myself this after reading a parody “I Am David Brooks’ Friend With Only A High School Degree. I Have Never Seen A Sandwich and All I Know Is Fear” in The Yale Record. Brooks is a writer with an op-eEd column in The New York Times; he’s also written books, including the 2015 bestseller The Road To Character. On July 11, 2017 The Times ran Brooks’ piece: “How We Are Ruining America,” which includes this passage:

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

The problem isn’t with America, or with the sandwich shop, the problem is with an idiotic elitist phony named David Brooks.

Brooks, based on this piece, would appear to be an elitist snob lacking in basic courtesy.

First, Brooks should have asked his friend where she would like to lunch, and given her choices.
Secondly, Brooks is conflating social class, economic status and education. Throughout the piece Brooks treats social class and education and economic status as identical social markers; they are not, though they are interlocking vectors in a Venn diagram.

Note that Brooks emphasizes that the “friend” has “only a high school degree.” That’s his primary identifier for her; he has already ranked her and filed her with that as an identifier. Having only a high school degree isn’t really as meaningful as Brooks wants to make it; I know a number of highly educated people who in fact did not make it through high school, or formal education beyond high school.

He assumes (and may be right) that what panicked his friend is that she was confronted with food that she did not recognize. She may have simply not liked Italian cuisine; she may have panicked at the thought of ordering something she didn’t know and couldn’t pronounce (which is something that happens even to Ph.Ds who leave familiar surroundings). That is not something that is tied to the presence or lack of a degree; it’s tied to experience.

Having already made a faux pas in not asking her where she would like to dine, Brooks then firmly steps in it by taking her someplace else. The correct response would be to courteously help her out; “I can’t say it, but I really like the soppressata, which is a slightly dry Italian salami.” Or “My favorite is the pomodoro; it’s fresh tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves on bread made here at the store.” Or even called upon the store staff to help by asking them about the menu. He could have helped her. That would have been treating her as a social equal, an adult, and providing something that she could use later, if she wanted.

Instead he made his friend feel worse, by taking her somewhere else, emphasizing her discomfort instead of making her feel comfortable. Smooth move Mr. Brooks. Really. And I’m not even going to comment on the ethnocentric pas de deux inherent in “I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.” Apparently Mexican ranks below Italian;[1]Though I suspect what Brooks thinks of as Mexican is at best Tex-Mex who knew?

But wait; there’s moar:

I’ve come to think the structural barriers he emphasizes are less important than the informal social barriers that segregate the lower 80 percent.”

Seriously dude? “informal social barriers” and “lower 80 percent”? Really? You’re a prime example of gentrification; taking what was a peasant medieval standard way of preserving less than choice cuts of meat (soppressata) and making it some kind of yuppie statement about social class and education.

It’s not even about her, or social class; it’s really about David Brooks. I’d be perfectly willing to treat him to a turkey butchering and plucking party, or a queer house party, or even a Linux install party, and I m pretty sure he’d feel just as much as if either event was

laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.”

Given his tendency, according to others, to play fast and loose with sources, I hope Mr. Brooks made this story and his friend up. Because in a completely boorish act of self-aggrandisation for him and humiliation for her, he writes about his friend in The New York Times

It’s not about social class. It’s not about economic class. It’s not about education. It’s about you, David Brooks. It’s about your entitled blindness and self-absorption as having arrived as a member of the “social elite.” You are in fact more specifically less an example of the social elite and more one of the entitled and discourteous. Nor am I the only one to think this. [2]I am particularly amused by this Slate piece.

Here’s a clue-stick. It isn’t education (formal education provides access to lots of resources and mentors, but they’re available in other ways for free) that’s the limiting factor in terms of social mobility.

It’s money. It’s time, because if you’re a low-wage worker you don’t have time, because you’re always trying to makeup for overtime (or the second and third part-time jobs) you’ve clocked to make more money. It’s an endless cycle

The solution? Raise minimum wage. Provide universal health care. Pay people what they’re worth; most “unskilled” labor isn’t unskilled, and it’s definitely labor.



Hot Cross Buns

Image credit CJorsch

Hot cross buns! Hot cross Buns!
One a penny, two a penny
Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters
Give them to your sons
One a penny, two a penny
Hot cross buns!

Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!
If you haven’t got a penny
A ha’penny will do.
If you haven’t got a ha’penny,
Well God bless you.

One of my very favorite childhood associations with Easter is that my mother would make hot cross buns a few days before Easter Sundsay. We would often have them on Good Friday, and we almost always had them for breakfast on Easter morning. Strictly speaking, they’re actually Cross Buns, meant to be served “hot.” Cross buns are a sweet bread, with a sweet yeast dough made with currants and cinnamon; sometimes cloves or other spices, or candied orange peel are used. The round bun is then marked with a knife on the top; the cook makes two quick slashes with the knife before baking, and then (or in stead of) decorated with a white sugar-based glaze drizzled on the top of the warm-from-the-oven bun in the shape of a cross.

Despite a fair number of assertions that hot cross buns are pagan, the limited verifiable data we have about their origins associates cross buns firmly with England, Christianity, and the season of Lent, or more accurately, with Good Friday. The earliest specific reference we have is from 1733, when, according to the OED, Poor Robin’s Almanack asserts that “Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs, with one or two a penny hot cross buns,” in an alternate version of the nursery rhyme at the top of this post. In Boswell’s Life of Johnson (1791), Boswell notes: “9 Apr. An. 1773 Being Good Friday I breakfasted with him and cross-buns,” another probable reference to the proverbial Hot Cross bun. The buns were usually sold hot, fresh from the bakery, or sometimes, from street vendors.

In the Elizabethan era, Queen Elizabeth I passed a law forbidding bakers to make spiced breads and buns and sell on days other than those specified in the statute of 1592, which reads:

That no bakers, etc, at any time or times hereafter make, utter, or sell by retail, within or without their houses, unto any of the Queen’s subject any spice cakes, buns, biscuits, or other spice bread (being bread out of size and not by law allowed) except it be at burials, or on Friday before Easter, or at Christmas, upon pain or forfeiture of all such spiced bread to the poor

People would be free to make cross buns at home, for personal consumption; they just couldn’t sell them. There’s some suggestion of a tradition that called for using the same dough for the Sunday communion wafer to make the buns; though I’m finding many references to this as practice, none of the references, printed or digital, cite a primary source for the practice, and frankly it sounds a little suspect to me. I don’t know the reason behind the statute, except perhaps, that because of the cross and the tradition of serving them on Good Friday that the buns had a strong association in the popular mind with Catholicism, something that Elizabeth I, as a Protestant monarch, was understandably touchy about. The statute didn’t last long; by the time James I took the throne it was already proving difficult to enforce, and the crown soon abandoned the attempt, and the law. In addition to the tradition of only preparing them on Good Friday, for many Catholics there’s a parallel tradition that that is all that they may eat.

There are a number of recipes for cross buns online. This one calls for cinnamon, allspice, currants and orange rind, and is likely much closer to the “authentic” eighteenth century (and presumably older) versions. This one, using British measuring units also uses orange, and lime. This is a very straight-forward cinnamon and currants version. This is the recipe for Hot Cross Buns mother used when I was a child and that I still use today.

Western Wind

Western wind, when will thou blow?
The small rain down can rain.
Christ, if my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!

Anonymous; British Library Royal Appendix 58 c. Early Sixteenth Century

“Western Wind” (or “Westron Wyde” as the ms. has it) is an anonymous lyric from the early 16th century (c. 1530). It’s extant in a single manuscript that appears to have been a commonplace book used by several English court musicians associated with the royal court and were collecting musical pieces for lute. As Julia Craig-McFeely notes  British Library Royal Appendix 58 (RA58) is actually

two music manuscripts that became bound together as the single source, Royal Appendix 58, one inserted inside the other some considerable time after their respective compilations—possibly at the time they became part of the Royal collection in the British Museum. The outer portions of RA58, the part of the MS containing the lute music, was written throughout by the same scribe, though it is difficult to see this as the tablature section has little text with which to compare the other music, and the manuscript is suffering badly from the effects of fading. This section of the MS isa collection of tenor voice parts, and the original parchment cover was marked ‘Tenor’ by its owner. The inserted book was a collection of medius and contratenor parts, indicated by its scribe writing ‘medius’ at the top of the first page.

The general consensus regarding the RA 58 is that it’s from about 1530; the language of the poem could easily be earlier, and I suspect (but can not prove) that it’s perhaps c. 1400. There is music presented in RA58 with the text, but interpreting what the notation means is a bit difficult. Musicians and composers have come up with different melodies.

“Western Wind” is one of the first poems that grabbed my attention in that This Is Important way when I was teenager reading my father’s old copy of the Quiller-Couch edition of The Oxford Book of English Poetry. The poem seemed so very simple, a tiny four-line love-lyric (a particularly English love-lyric, given its reference to rain). It captures the feeling of love-in-absence, the emotional state of the lover longing for the presence of the beloved, the comforts of home and a familiar and shared bed.

I like the way the poem uses repetition in the second line, drawing our attention to the phrase “The small rain down can rain” — notice the way the line catches our ear and eye with the repetition of “rain,” as both verb and noun, and the way the meter emphasizes the words as if they were themselves falling rain. “The small rain” is a particularly English phrase as well, referring both to the constant steady fall of micro drops that are almost more like mist than rain, and to “a little rain,” where “small” refers to quantity rather than the size of the drops.

The phrase “the small rain” is one with an ancient history. Here’s the entry from the OED for the phrase. You’ll notice that there’s an archaic letter, the eth (ð = th sound) no longer used in English.

Small rain III. 10. a. Composed of fine or minute particles, drops, etc. In later use chiefly of rain.

c897 K. AELFRED Gregory’s Past. C. lvii. 437 Swiðe lytle beoð ða dropan ðaes smalan renes, ac hi wyrceað ðeah swiðe micel flod. c1000 Sax. Leechd.

1649 WINTHROP New Eng. (1853) I. 209 The Rebecka,..two days before, was frozen twenty miles up the river; but a small rain falling set her free.

1676 WOOD Jrnl. in Acc. Sev. Late Voy. I. (1694) 177 Thick Fogs with small Rain. 1727 A. HAMILTON New Acc. E. Indies I. xxii. 262 A small Rain happened to fall that damped my Powder. 1823 SCOTT Quentin D. i, Heaven, who works by the tempest as well as by the soft small rain (OED small, a. and n.2 III.10.a).

The same phrase is used in the King James 1611 Bible, in Deuteronomy 32:2:

My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass

The date of the King James translation is too late to have directly influenced “Western Wind,” but it does show the use of the phrase—and it’s not impossible that it was influenced by the lyric.

In English custom and poetry the western wind is the wind of spring; see for instance Robert Herrick’s short lyric, “To the Western Wind,” which also treats the west wind as a gentle wind that brings rain. John Masefield does something similar in his “The West Wind.” The spring opening of Chaucer’s Prologue to The Canterbury Tales summons the west wind by name, in his invocation of Zephyru, the Greek god associated with the west wind and spring. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ode to the West Wind” has a similar association between the western wind and rain—but in Shelley’s poem the wind is associated with autumn, and Italy.

In this very English poem, notice that the narrater—who could be a woman or a man, we don’t know—says, somewhat urgently, or perhaps plaintively, “when” will the small rain come? It reminds me very much of the moment when the barometric pressure changes, just before the rain comes, and it’s suggestive of the speaker’s own state of mind.

A melody with the same “Western Wind” title was used by a number of sixteenth century English composers (most notably Thomas Tallis, Richard Taverner and Christopher Tye) as the cantus firmus in the Mass, under the less than surprising title of the Western Wind Mass, but it isn’t clear that the tune used by the masses is the same one recorded in British Library Royal Appendix 58 c; in fact it seems rather unlikely. It’s also not clear that the tune used by the composers wasn’t simply another tune for our lyric.  Either way, the various masses are all quite lovely, whether or not directly related to the lyric.

Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars. Western Wind Masses (Taverner—Tye—Shepard)
iTunes | Amazon

The Tallis Scholars & Peter Phillips. The Tallis Scholars Sing Tudor Church Music – Volume One
iTunes | Amazon

Donne’s A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy’s Day

Saint Lucy’s day is December 13. The Julian calendar was still in use when Donne wrote, so that the Winter solstice and consequently the shortest day of the year (and thus the darkest) fell on the 13th of December, and the feast day of Saint Lucy. It is also the point at which, astrologically speaking, the Sun entered the sign of the Goat (in the modern calendar, Capricorn operates between December 22, the day after the modern Winter solstice, and January 19).

Saint Lucy is, more specifically, Lucia of Syracuse or Saint Lucia, She was a Christian martyr who died during the Diocletian Persecution c. 304 C.E. after a spurned suitor denounced Lucy as a Christian. Lucy (via the Latin form of her name Lucia) is cognate with Latin lux, or  light. In terms of both her various legends, one of which includes her eye being gouged out in an effort to force her to renounce Christianity. Saint Lucy is iconographically  associated with light and vision (and often, with a cup or platter on which she displays her gouged-out eyes).

Donne’s  “A Nocturne upon St. Lucy’s Day” describes the darkest part of the darkest day. The poem revolves around the absence of light. It is also about transformation, in the sense of an alchemist trying to create something out of nothing, or something noble out of chaos, though here the transformation is in the opposite direction; the transformation of light to darkness.

In this poem Donne speaks in the persona of a lover. This is both a convention of his era, and a frequent practice of Donne’s who is sometimes clearly referring to his spouse, Ann More Donne, while at other times his subject is not specific—and may not have been even for Donne himself. Critics have argued that the Lucy referred to in the title is both the saint, and an homage to his patron, Lucy the Countess of Bedford, for whom Donne named a daughter and to whom he dedicated several poems. Others are equally certain that the “she” referenced as his beloved is Donne’s wife. Neither are mutually exclusive, and it might well be that both women were in his thoughts. We do not know the year Donne wrote the poem, which further complicates efforts towards biographic criticism.

I freely confess that the last stanza in particular makes me think Donne was writing about Ann More, and using St. Lucy’s Day (and night) as a vehicle for his mourning. Ann died August 15, 1617, in childbirth, delivering what would have been their twelfth child had the baby lived. She was thirty-three, and was survived by her spouse and seven of their children.

There are several motifs present that are familiar from Donne’s other Songs and Sonnets, including Donne as the model lover, one who has been transformed by his passion for his beloved, and metaphors drawn from the study of alchemy whose goal at its highest level is to transform a base metal like lead to gold.

I have modernized the spelling.

John Donne A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day

[1]The Catholic church’s traditional order of prayers in the early church included prayers at midnight called nocturnes or vigils. The night office today is often called Matins
’Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,[2]The Winter solstice is the midpoint of the year, the turning of the tide from the darkest night of the year towards the renewal of light and the arrival of Spring. Donne is also writing at midnight.
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks,
The Sun is spent, and now his flasks[3]The stars are flasks; they were thought to store energy and light from the Sun
Send forth light squibs,[4]Squibs were both small firecrackers and malfunctioning firecrackers, whose explosive force was less than expected no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk:
The general balm th’ hydroptique earth hath drunk,[5]Current medical theory postulated that all life contained and generated a “general balm,” a life-giving and preserving essence, which, in winter time, like sap in a tree, sinks. Hydroptic here … Continue reading
Whither,[6]Typical of Donne, whither is serving multiple purposes. It can be read as both whither meaning where, to what place, and wither, to shrink or dry up. The balm has retreated to the Earth as sap does … Continue reading as to the beds-feet, life is shrunk,[7]With to the beds-feet, Donne shifts his metaphors from sap and balm to an image of a person in bed; the beds-feet is the foot of the bed; this may mean both that the person who is in a bed, … Continue reading
Dead and enterr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with me, who am their Epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;[8]The Winter solstice marks the “death” of the world.
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,[9]A quintessence is literally the “fifth essence,” derived from Medieval Latin quīnta essentia. In terms of alchemy, the fifth essence is the highest element, more pure than earth, air, fire and … Continue reading
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.[10]Donne is himself thus the quintessence even from nothingness referred to in line 6.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
I, by Love’s limbec,[11]A limbec (a shortened form of alembic) is a type of still used by alchemists; it is essnetially two vessels joined by a tube. Love is the alchemist who transformed Donne am the grave
Of all that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so[12]With we two Donne shifts from examining himself to his relationship with is beloved.
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow[13]The reference to the two lovers having Drown’d the whole world sounds remarkably like ll. 14–20 of Donne’s “A Valediction: Of Weeping: So doth each tear Which thee doth wear, A globe, … Continue reading
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences[14]Absences here also echoes Donne’s “A Valediction: Of Weeping”
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death[15]I read this as a reference to Ann Donne’s death. (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest;[16]Contemporary science of the day suggested that even rocks and plants experienced attraction and repulsion.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my sun renew.[17]I read this as my sun referring to Ann Donne, as well as a comment on Donne’s own dark emotional state.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run[18]The lesser sun is the solar body; now entering the sign of Capricorn, the goat.
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all;
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival,[19]The she here is a problem for my reading, since it clearly refers to Lucy, and consequently both the saint, and Lucy Countess of Bedford.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight is.[20]And Donne ends much as he began, cycling back as the does the Sun.


Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol Serialized

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was first published on December 19, 1843. He had written it at a feverish pace for six weeks beginning it in October of that year and determined that it should be published in time for Christmas. The Morgan Library has the original manuscirpt.

The publication of A Christmas Carol was a pet project for Dickens, and it was popular immediately, if not lucrative. He soon took to the road to stage one-man shows; The New York Public Library still has the script he used as his prompt copy in his performances, complete with Dickens’ own annotations. In December of 2015 Neil Gaiman used that script for a live performance at NYPL, still available as a podcast.

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is very much a Christmas tradition for me, ever since the first time I saw Patrick Stewart’s one-man version of it at UCLA. Stewart’s version was soon published on CD, and he subsequently starred in a video production.

While I am fond of Patrick Stewart’s version, especially the audio only one-man show, my all time favorite version of A Christmas Carol is the one starring George C. Scott as Scrooge. We discovered the George C. Scott version some Christmases ago, when it was featured on Hulu. We loved it, and watched it repeatedly, even long after Christmas was over and Hulu had removed it from the current streaming offerings; I located the video stram in the cache and we were able to watch it for another month or so. This version also includes memorable roles from David Warner as Bob Cratchit, and Roger Rees as the narrator and Scrooge’s nephew Fred Hollywell and Edward Woodward in an absolutely spot-on Ghost of Christmas Present.

There’s an excellent  annotated editon The Annotated A Christmas Carol edited and annotated by Michael Patrick Hearn and published by W. W. Norton. I can’t possibly equal it, but for a Christmas project this year, I’m annotating and published each of the five “staves,” complete with the illustrations that Dickens commissioned from artists and engraver John Leech. The annotations are the kinds of things I might mention or use in teaching Christmas Carol, and range from explaining occasional Victorian idioms, to recipes and historical notes.

Mostly, this light-hearted annotated version is meant to be fun, and to help more people discover a lovely story that, while rich with political commentary, is equally rich with hope and humor.

I’ll update this post in the successive weeks as I publish the next stave. I’m planning to publish the last one on Christmas Eve.

Stave I

Stave II

Stave III

Stave IV

Stave V

Donne’s Meditation XVII

John Donne Meditation XVII from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624)1

The Devotions were written, for the most part, in December of 1623 when Donne was recovering from (and possibly still suffering from) a serious illness that began during the previous November. At the time, many in London were suffering and died from a mysterious illness that included high fevers and “spots” (possibly typhus). When he began writing the Devotions, Donne had been Dean of St. Paul’s for two years. The Devotions are a personal exploration of his sickness and recovery in the context of Christian humanism. The complete (and rarely used) title is Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, and severall steps in my Sicknes.

The Devotions consist of 23 sequentially numbered sections, each of which opens with a “meditation” in which Donne explores an aspect of his illness, followed by an “expostulation” containing his reaction to his illness, much of it in the form of direct address to God, and concludes with a prayer. Donne’s illness was serious; he had little or no expectation of survival. The direct cause of his desire to write was his illness; he wrote while he was still quite ill. The Devotions are an example of a Protestant genre of the time in which the details of daily life were examined in a religious and spiritual context.

The work was registered at the Stationer’s Office in January of 1624 and published later that year, one of a handful of works published during Donne’s lifetime.

This post is concerned entirely with the Meditation portion of XVII, which follows.

XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris
Now this bell, tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.2

Perchance, he for whom this bell tolls3 may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member.4 And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated5 into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. There was a contention as far as a suit6 (in which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation7, were mingled), which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that this occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbors. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him9 as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.


1 The spelling here has been modernized, and I’ve added paragraph breaks. The text is based on the edition by John Sparrow. Cambridge University Press, 1923: 96–98.

2 This is Donne’s own translation.

3 The bell is simultaneously the passing bell that tolls once for each year of a deceased person’s life, and the bell that rings to call the congregation to service, and the bell that rang (until silenced by the dissolution of the monasteries and religious orders under Henry VIII) to call to prayers during the day.

4 The Christian church is the head of all people, as well as a body composed of all members of that church (i.e. all Christians).

5Translated, from Latin trānslātus means to “carry across,” or transfer, both from one language to another or one place or another. In a Christian or spiritual context Donne alludes to the idea that souls are translated from one level or sphere to another. By this means, Donne constructs an elaborate metaphor wherein he is a single member of the Christian body, one volume or book that is translated by God.

6 That is controversy in the form of a law suit.

7 For Donne’s “estimation,” today we would say self-esteem.

8 Main here means “mainland.”

9 “Defray him,” or rather defray or cover his expenses.

A Meditation on Donne’s Meditation XVII

When Donne wrote this meditation, he was deeply concerned about his own mortality. He had lost his beloved wife Anne More Donne. They had lost children to early death. London was in the throes of a mysterious disease sometimes called “spotted fever,” marked by a rash and prolonged fevers, and often, death.

The central theme moves quickly from contemplation of his own mortality, to the idea that he is merely a part of the greater Christian body, the Christian “volume,” one leaf out of many.

There are two touchstones from this meditation that have been absorbed into general consciousness (thanks in no small part to Heminway’s novel For Whom The Bell Tolls:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”15″] No man is an island, entire of itself; … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.[/perfectpullquote]

Aside from the Christian concept of memento mori, embodied in the idea that the bell tolling another’s death is a reminder of our own inevitable death, these passages have always been a reminder to me that we are all part of humanity. We are, as Donne put it earlier, leaves in the same volume. We are all “involved” in mankind, part of a single body; we are not islands, we are connected to each other. Thus, any man’s death, (or woman’s; I do think Donne very much included women in his man/mankind) diminishes all of us; we are made less by it.

Ultimately, for me, this meditation reminds me that we are all part of something larger, and by emphasizing our connection to each other, we are emphasizing our connections to something larger than our separate selves.

On the Reviewing of Books

[I now] suggest some hard-won guidelines for responsible reviewing. For instance: First, as in Hippocrates, do no harm. Second, never stoop to score a point or bite an ankle. Third, always understand that in this symbiosis, you are the parasite. Fourth, look with an open heart and mind at every different kind of book with every change of emotional weather because we are reading for our lives and that could be love gone out the window or a horseman on the roof. Fifth, use theory only as a periscope or a trampoline, never a panopticon, a crib sheet, or a license to kill. Sixth, let a hundred Harolds Bloom.

John Leonard in The New York Times, quoted in The New York Review of Science Fiction. “Editorial 192.” David Hartwell. January, 2008.