Archive for the ‘British Literature’ Category

New History

Monday, May 24th, 2010

I am excited about the new edition of my BRITISH HISTORY that will be available in July.  FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS will offer 8 different history choices:  American, British, World, Epoch I (Creation to the Middle Ages), Epoch II (The Middle Ages to French Revolution), Epoch III (French Revolution to Gilded Age), Epoch IV (Gilded Age to the Present).  The following is a section on “Druids,” in my British History:

A druid was a member of the priestly class active in Gaul (Northern Germany), and in Celtic Britain.  They were priest, judge, scholar, and teacher to their Briton communities. The core points of druidic religious beliefs included reincarnation and human sacrifice.

Druids were highly educated for their culture.  Yet, they wrote nothing.  Some Druids spent 20 years memorizing oral traditions of Druidic lore. The Druid priesthood was open only to males.  All instruction was communicated orally so there was no record of Druid ritual or theology.

Druids could punish members of Celtic society by a form of “excommunication”, preventing them from attending religious festivals.  Druids, then, had both priestly and political roles and were instrumental in maintaining order.

Druid religion included rituals performed at so called Druid temples, usually stone structures built into the side of a hill.  Stonehenge may be an exception.

Stonehenge is a place of pilgrimage for neo-druids, and for certain others following pagan or neo-pagan beliefs, but it was probably nothing more than a burial site.

One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large standing stones. It included several hundred burial mounds.

Archaeologists had believed that the iconic stone monument was erected around 2500 BC. The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC.

Stonehenge was associated with burial from the earliest period of its existence. Stonehenge evolved in several construction phases spanning at least 1500 years. There is evidence of large-scale construction on and around the monument that perhaps extends the landscape’s time frame to 6500 years.

Scholars believe that Stonehenge once stood as a magnificent complete monument. This cannot be proved as around half of the stones that should be present are missing, and many of the assumed stone sockets have never been found.

One final personal message. If one asked this author, when I was an eight year old, what my favorite holiday was, he  would have enthusiastically proclaimed: Halloween!  Haunted houses, costumes, candy–it all captured his imagination.  But that was 1961 and this is today.

Halloween clearly is not a Christian holiday.  In fact it is anything but Christian.  In fact the origins and traditions of Halloween can be traced back thousands of years to the Druids.  The eve of October 31 marked the transition from summer into the darkness of winter.  On this night, the spirits of the dead rose up.  Demons, fairies, and ghouls roamed about the town.  They destroyed crops, killed cattle, soured milk, and generally made life miserable . . . unless an appropriate appeasement was offered.  Namely, a human sacrifice.  So, anticipating these goblins, Druid towns annually, on October, chose young maidens and sacrificed them in honor of the pagan gods.   This is not the same as having a Christmas tree, or believing in the Easter Bunny–Halloween is a celebration of death, destruction, and hell.

Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.  He is hope and mercy and love–not death, destruction, and murder.  There are alternative celebrations you know.  Some parents hold costume parties and have the kids dress as Bible heroes (no trick or treat though!).  Other groups hold hayrides and harvest celebrations. Halloween is a time to rejoice in the fact that “the Son of God appeared that He might destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8)!”  God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).  You were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light . . . and do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them (Eph. 5:8,11).

Out of the Silent Planet

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

In Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis illustrates how humans on planet Earth are corrupted by and corrupt others by evil. To contrast and shed light on the spiritual plaques of Earth, the author created the planet of Malacandra to portray a utopian world where the inhabitants live together in peace instead of in fear and separation. On Earth, human beings have become motivated by selfishness and greed. Satan, the “Bent One,” rules Earth and has corrupted their souls. Because of Earth’s evil, the other planets and spirits in the universe cannot hear the cries from this “silent” planet. In return, humans cannot be healed or feel the love that is available to them from the universe. Sound familiar, Saints? Like the world before Christ our Lord came as a man? (Adapted from many quotes are verbatim from this Internet site)

Lewis has a rather orthodox view of evil. The planet Mars or “Malacandra,” is an ideal world where the inhabitants coexist in harmony and peace. They are personal friends with their God, Maleldil, and are ruled by Oyarsa, the Great Spirit who protects and watches over them.

Likewise the Malacandra’s beings, the Sorns, Pfifltriggi, and Hrossa, realize their differences but accept and love each other nevertheless: “they can talk to each other, they can cooperate, they have the same ethics” (156). While humans dishonor and compete against each other for their own selfish gains, the beings on Malacandra love even creatures that are harmful to them. “The hnakra is our enemy, but he is also our beloved” (75). The Malacandrans also respect their planet and honor the cycles and balance in nature. “I do not think the forest would be so bright, nor the water so warm, nor love so sweet, if there were no danger in the lakes” (75). They are true ecologists!

One of the major problems with Earth’s corruption is that humans compete against others in a “survival of the fittest” method. In other words the theist Lewis is critical of naturalism. They will destroy those whom they view as inferior to them. For example, Devine and Weston, the two captors who brought Ransom to Malacandra, think they can take over the planet. Devine and Weston believe they are superior to the ‘primitive’ Malacandrans. “It is in the might of Life herself, that I am prepared without flinching to plant the flag of man on the soil of Malacandra: to march on, step by step, superseding, where necessary, the lower forms of life that we find, claiming planet after planet” (137).
What Devine and Weston do not realize is that they live in fear of death, while the Malacandrans are aware that death is a natural part of life. “One thing we left behind us on the harandra: fear. And with fear, murder and rebellion. The weakest of my people does not fear death” (140). Threatening to kill off the Malacandrans cannot strike fear in their hearts. “It is the Bent One, the Lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end. If you were subjects of Maleldil, you would have peace” (140).

Out of the Silent Planet is a powerful apologetic piece where Lewis powerfully portrays the dangers of modernism and the potentialities of Christianity.

Life like a dream is lived alone . . .

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Blog Life like a dream is lived alone . . .

I recently read again Joseph Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS (British Literature).

It is a story of a histrionic English official who visits the most uncivilized parts of late 19th century Africa to discover what happened to an erudite, arcane English station chief named Kurtz. The journey is nothing less than a naturalistic journey into the human soul.

We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. It was very quiet there. At night sometimes the roll of drums behind the curtain of trees would run up the river and remain sustained faintly, as if hovering in the air high over our heads, till the first break of day. Whether it meant war, peace, or prayer we could not tell. The dawns were heralded by the descent of a chill stillness; the wood-cutters slept, their fires burned low; the snapping of a twig would make you start. We were wanderers on a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet. We could have fancied ourselves the first of men taking possession of an accursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of profound anguish and of excessive toil. But suddenly, as we struggled round a bend, there would be a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under the droop of heavy and motionless foliage. The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The pre-historic man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us — who could tell? We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse. We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign — and no memories.

Kurtz, apparently has gone off the deep end–he has, in effect, given into his “darker side” and become a savage. The irony in this turn of events is obvious: Kurtz the civilized man seeking to civilize the savage, becomes, instead, a savage himself.

Poor Kurtz, full of hope and faith, has lost it all.

“One evening coming in with a candle I was startled to hear him say a little tremulously, ‘I am lying here in the dark waiting for death.’ The light was within a foot of his eyes. I forced myself to murmur, ‘Oh, nonsense!’ and stood over him as if transfixed.

“Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn’t touched. I was fascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror — of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision — he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:

“‘The horror! The horror!’

The horror! The horror! Poor Kurtz. Poor 2009 America. They(we) have looked into the abyss, and we see no loving God.

What is the horror to Kurtz? He has lost his faith in a loving God. His world is a naturalistic, impersonal, cruel jungle.

“I thought his memory was like the other memories of the dead that accumulate in every man’s life — a vague impress on the brain of shadows that had fallen on it in their swift and final passage; but before the high and ponderous door, between the tall houses of a street as still and decorous as a well-kept alley in a cemetery, I had a vision of him on the stretcher, opening his mouth voraciously, as if to devour all the earth with all its mankind. He lived then before me; he lived as much as he had ever lived — a shadow insatiable of splendid appearances, of frightful realities; a shadow darker than the shadow of the night, and draped nobly in the folds of a gorgeous eloquence. The vision seemed to enter the house with me — the stretcher, the phantom-bearers, the wild crowd of obedient worshippers, the gloom of the forests, the glitter of the reach between the murky bends, the beat of the drum, regular and muffled like the beating of a heart — the heart of a conquering darkness. It was a moment of triumph for the wilderness, an invading and vengeful rush which, it seemed to me, I would have to keep back alone for the salvation of another soul. And the memory of what I had heard him say afar there, with the horned shapes stirring at my back, in the glow of fires, within the patient woods, those broken phrases came back to me, were heard again in their ominous and terrifying simplicity. I remembered his abject pleading, his abject threats, the colossal scale of his vile desires, the meanness, the torment, the tempestuous anguish of his soul. And later on I seemed to see his collected languid manner, when he said one day, ‘This lot of ivory now is really mine. The Company did not pay for it. I collected it myself at a very great personal risk. I am afraid they will try to claim it as theirs though. H’m. It is a difficult case. What do you think I ought to do — resist? Eh? I want no more than justice.’ . . . He wanted no more than justice — no more than justice. I rang the bell before a mahogany door on the first floor, and while I waited he seemed to stare at me out of the glassy panel — stare with that wide and immense stare embracing, condemning, loathing all the universe. I seemed to hear the whispered cry, “The horror! The horror!”

My friends, brothers and sisters, I have looked into the abyss and I see a God. A real, loving God. A God who loved the world so much that he sent His only Begotten Son. Do you?

To the naturalist, as Marlow muttered, Life like a dream is lived alone . . .

The Rivals – Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Friday, May 8th, 2009

The most highly regarded English playwright of the 18th century and my personal favorite, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, was born in Dublin on October 31, 1751, and died in London on July 7, 1816. He grew up in a family with theatrical connections and received his formal education at Harrow. In 1772 he eloped to the Continent with Elizabeth Linley, a singer, and married her the following year. What a scandal! His first play, The Rivals (1775), a comedy mixing action and romantic sentimentality, was followed by St. Patrick’s Day, a two-act farce, and The Duenna, a comic opera, both of which appeared later in 1775, were milestones in British high comedy.

The Rivals is a play about the mischievous, unexpected, and ubiquitous power of love. Lydia Languish, a young heiress obsessed with romantic novels, is infatuated with a poor soldier named Ensign Beverley. Unbeknownst to her, Beverley is really Captain Jack Absolute who, in order to court her, has assumed this identity to indulge Lydia’s illusions about romantic love. Lydia’s aunt, Mrs. Malaprop, shocked at Lydia’s involvement with a common soldier, has arranged with Sir Anthony Absolute, Jack’s father, for Lydia to marry Jack. Unfortunately, when Jack reveals his true identity, Lydia defiantly clings to her romantic notions and refuses to accept him. Simultaneously, a close friend of Jack’s named Faulkland has fallen in love with Sir Anthony’s ward, Julia. Julia is constant in her love, but Faulkland is driven by irrational doubts to submit her love to a ridiculous test. When this test destroys Julia’s faith in him, she breaks off their engagement. In the meantime, Lydia’s rejected suitors, Bob Acres and Lucius O’Trigger, each threaten to fight duels on her behalf: Acres with his non-existent rival Beverley, and O’Trigger with Jack. Ironically, the young Captain finds himself facing the prospect of dying for a lady who has rejected him. Everything comes to a head on the dueling field. There, Lydia, alarmed by the prospect of Jack’s death, halts the fight and admits her love for him. Julia, ever patient and loyal, forgives Faulkland his “ill-directed imagination.” (Joel G. Fink).

The two plots that form the structure of the play mirror each other and thereby amplify this thematic idea. In other words, Sheridan skillfully tells two stories at once. Where and when these two stories meet creates humor. In general, each plot has the following structure: a potential suitor fabricates a false ideal of the nature of love (in one plot it is Lydia, in the other, Faulkland). This false ideal grows like a cancer until it threatens to destroy the love relationship by means of a betrayal of trust in one case (Faulkland) and the actual threat of death in the other (Lydia). Of course, the reader is never worried! As one critic explains:

At this critical point, however, each deluded person suddenly realizes how this false ideal has endangered the genuine love of his or her beloved, and the consequent shock and fear initiates a new self-awareness. This self-awareness leads to a new insight into the true nature of love and thence to confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation between the two suitors. The point of the action of both plots is that true love rests on a foundation of genuine respect between the sexes, and on the healing power of honest communication between lovers.

Jonathan Swift

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

The famous Swift biographer Charles Read wrote:

In the spring of 1667 Jonathan Swift, full cousin to the poet Dryden, and steward to the Society of King’s Inns, Dublin, died in poor circumstances leaving a widow. Seven months later, on the 30th of November, in a little house in Hoey’s Court the poor widow gave birth to a son who was named Jonathan after his dead father, and whose life, began thus miserably, was fated to be one constant round of warfare and suffering, of defeat in victory and of disappointment in success.

The greatest satirist (parodist) England was to produce began as a poor beggar. His most famous book was Gulliver’s Travels. It was an overnight success, a runaway best-seller. It had all the things that eighteenth-century England wanted: mystery and political/social scandal. It was also hilarious! Since Swift poked fun at prominent political figures, he published the book anonymously. Most everyone knew, however that it was Swift. Days after the publication of Travels, Alexander Pope wrote him:

“Motte (Swift’s publisher) receiv’d the copy (he tells me) he knew not from whence, nor from whom, dropp’d at his house in the dark, from a Hackney-coach: by computing the time, I found it was after you left England, so for my part, I suspend my judgment.”

London buzzed with speculations, suggestions, and counter-suggestions regarding the author’s identity, as well as those of some of his characters. In part I, for example, the Lilliputian Emperor—tyrannical, cruel, corrupt, andd obsessed with ceremony—though a timeless symbol of bad governmentt, is also a biting satire of George I, King of England (from 1714 to 1727), during much of Swift’s career. The Lilliputian Empress stands for Queen Anne, who blocked Swift’s advancement in the Church of England. There are two political parties in Lilliput, the Low-Heels and the High-Heels. These correspond respectively to the Whigs and Tories, the two major British political parties. It didn’t take long for people to catch on to the fact that the author was writing about England by way of Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa, and the land of the Ho uyhnhnms. And it also didn’t take long for the public to discover that the author was Jonathan Swift.

Swift was a clergyman/writer/activist. Like many eighteenth-century clergy, Swift was caught up in the social milieu of his period. In 1729, when he was sixty-three, he wrote A Modest Proposal, considered by many to be the best satire ever written in English. Swift’s last years were a torment. He suffered awful bouts of dizziness, nausea, deafness, and mental incapacity. In fact, Swift’s harshest critics tried to discredit the Travels on the grounds that the author was mad when he wrote it. But he wasn’t. The Travels were published in 1726—part IV, which raised the most controversy, was writtenn before part III—and Swift didn’t enter a mental institutiion until 1742. He died in 1745

The Great Works – Part 4

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Seventeenth Century continued. . .

George Herbert

George Herbert was born in Montgomery, Wales, on April 3, 1593, the fifth son of Richard and Magdalen Newport Herbert. After his father’s death in 1596, he and his six brothers and three sisters were raised by their Godly mother. John Donne described Herbert’s mother: Her house was a court in the conversation of the best. Herbert was led to the Lord and into the priesthood by his mother. By the time of his death in 1633 Herbert was one of the best known poets in England.

The Collar
I struck the board, and cried, “No more!
I will abroad.
What! shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the road,
Loose as the wind, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me blood, and not restore
What I have lost with cordial fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did dry it; there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the year only lost to me?
Have I no bays to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
All wasted?
Not so, my heart; but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures; leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit and not; forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
And be thy law,
While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
Away! take heed;
I will abroad.
Call in thy death’s-head there; tie up thy fears;
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need
Deserves his load.”
But as I rav’d, and grew more fierce and wild
At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, “Child”;
And I replied, “My Lord.”

Great Works / Great Authors – Part 6

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

“Meditation XVII” is one of a number of short essays that Donne wrote while recovering from a serious illness. In what ways is it a Christian document?

Meditation XVII
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 man or 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. . . . If a man carry tr easure in bullion or in a wedge of gold and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him 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 his 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.

“Meditation XVII” achieves both unity and diversity by stating a single theme and giving several variations of that theme.

Love is an emotion that could be said to be almost as old as humanity itself, and t he pursuit thereof has been defined in many ways throughout the ages. Perhaps the most vivid of these feelings is documented in love poetry, and through this poetry each era of a society can be analyzed as to its principles and values of love and, subsequently, relationships between men and women. For the seventeenth-century poet, John Donne, his writings reveal the integrity of his love as a force of nature, and as a passion for his God. How different things are today! Hemingway, for instance, uses a similar situation in A FAREWELL TO ARMS but his grief stricken character stares hopelessly into a forlorn fire at the end of his novel. Donne’s belief in a sovereign God is sorely needed in this contemporary world!

Great Works / Great Authors – Part 5

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

“Holy Sonnet XIV” by John Donne reflects some of the same language in the Book of Jeremiah

Holy Sonnet XIV
Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I lov e you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

As I read Donne I think about ho w my God never agrees with my “flesh.” He never puts my discomfort before His purposes! Donne no doubt felt the same hand of God that I have, and Isaiah (“Woe is me a man of unclean lips!” Isaiah 6.) (J. P. Stobaugh, BRITISH LITERATURE (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 2005)

Great Works / Great Authors – Part 4

Monday, April 27th, 2009

As this author prepared this curriculum, I struggled over whether to include John Donne. Donne, like Chaucer, wrote absolutely inspired poetry/prose. On the other hand, there are certain works that go beyond good taste and literature and wander into vulgarity or worse. Today, with all the sexual temptations that surround us, it is vital that the Christian discern what is art and what is trash. The Bible has a great deal to say about the arts, and it also gives a detailed description of a particular artist and his ministry .. Bezalel appears to be Moses’ minister of the arts. His grandfather Hur held up Moses’ arms during the battle with the Amalekites and obviously was one of Moses’ trusted aides (Exodus 17:8-13; 24:14). Read about Bezalel in Exodus 31:1-11.

Identify the Christian themes in this sonnet (below).

Holy Sonnet X
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swellst thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

I love to compare and contrast this poem to the Book of Job (J. P. Stobaugh, BRITISH LITERATURE (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 2005)

Great Works / Great Authors – Part 3

Friday, April 24th, 2009

The seventeenth century is without a doubt my favorite period in English literary history. English history took a rather maverick direction in this century and produced some of the greatest literary, philosophical, and theological movements in human history. This century belongs to three great Johns: John Donne, John Milton, and John Dryden. What a dynamic trio! At the same time, England, in its quiet way, experienced the equivalent of the French Revolution – but without the bloodshed and chaos. In the middle off this century, the English rebelled against their king Charles I (1625-49) and executed him. During this period, too, England saw the triumph of one of the truly great cultural worldviews in human history: Puritanism.

Donne wrote refreshingly new poetry. His literary style is peculiarly his own, especially in the songs and sonnets. Almost every poem has a unique stanza pattern, never used before and never repeated. These stanzas are often nicely adjusted to the rhetoric of the units they form. Moreover, the rhythm of the lines has little of the clichés so abundantly exemplified by English poetry during Donne’s youth and maturity. The exceptionally easygoing movement of “Go and Catch a Falling Star” serves to underscore its simplicity and honesty.

Go and Catch a Falling Star

Go and catch a falling star, a
Get with child a mandrake root, b
Tell me where all past years are, a
Or who cleft the devil’s foot, b
Teach me to hear mermaids singing, c
Or to keep off envy’s stinging, c
And find ; d
What wind d
Serves to advance an honest mind. d

If thou be’st born to strange sights, d
Things invisible to see, e
Ride ten thousand days and nights f
Till age snow white hairs on thee; e
Thou, when thou return’st, wilt tell me f
All strange wonders that befell thee, f
And swear g
Nowhere g
Lives a woman true, and fair. ; g

If thou find’st one, let me know; h
Such a pilgrimage were sweet. i
Yet do not; I would not go h
Though at next door we might meet. j
Though at next door we might meet. j
And last till you write your letter. k
Yet she l
Will be, l
False, ere I come, to two or three. l

Compare and contrast John Donne’s style to earlier Elizabethan writers like William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Edmund Spenser. Think about theme, tone, rhyme, meter, and subject matter. (J. P. Stobaugh, BRITISH LITERATURE (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 2005)