Friday, April 23, 2010

The Haunted Bookshop

I have just discovered this classic by Christopher Morley. I cannot believe no one brought it to my attention sooner; it is essentially a love letter to books, a tome every bookworm must read. The plot - a spy story and a romance - is really just a framework on which to hang the central character's rhapsodies about the sacred calling of bookselling and the merits of great books.

Alas, this book was written and set at the end of the Great War, and Mr. Morley was one of the many who was misled by the horrors of the Great War into even worse naive folly. Regard this passage, from a letter the bookseller protagonist is writing to his brother-in-law:

You will not agree with me on what I am about to say, for I know you as a stubborn Republican; but I thank fortune that Wilson is going to the Peace Conference. I've been mulling over one of my favourite books--it lies beside me as I write--Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, edited by Carlyle, with what Carlyle amusingly calls "Elucidations." (Carlyle is not very good at "elucidating" anything!) I have heard somewhere or other that this is one of Wilson's favourite books, and indeed, there is much of the Cromwell in him. With what a grim, covenanting zeal he took up the sword when at last it was forced into his hand! And I have been thinking that what he will say to the Peace Conference will smack strongly of what old Oliver used to say to Parliament in 1657 and 1658--"If we will have Peace without a worm in it, lay we foundations of Justice and Righteousness." What makes Wilson so irritating to the unthoughtful is that he operates exclusively upon reason, not upon passion. He contradicts Kipling's famous lines, which apply to most men--

Very rarely will he squarely push the logic of a fact
To its ultimate conclusion in unmitigated act.

In this instance, I think, Reason is going to win. I feel the whole current of the world setting in that direction.

It's quaint to think of old Woodrow, a kind of Cromwell-Wordsworth, going over to do his bit among the diplomatic shell-craters. What I'm waiting for is the day when he'll get back into private life and write a book about it. There's a job, if you like, for a man who might reasonably be supposed to be pretty tired in body and soul! When that book comes out I'll spend the rest of my life in selling it. I ask nothing better!

Of course, we have seen how that worked out.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Must-read blog post

Democracy and Universalism by Fjordman

One of the developments that took place during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries following the American and French Revolutions was the spread of democracy in the Western world. In Antiquity and plainly up until the American Founding Fathers, “democracy” was never seen as anything self-evidently good. Plato and Aristotle were quite critical of it, although the democratic system in ancient Greece was rather different from the modern one.

As John Dunn says in his book Setting the People Free: The Story of Democracy, a title he admits carries some degree of irony, in the Athens Assembly citizens had the right not merely to vote on all proposals coming before it and thus to determine together its outcome, but also to address it themselves. This fierce directness of Athenian democracy contrasts sharply with the more indirect system often called “representative democracy” that is practiced in the modern West. Indeed, the two systems are so different that calling the latter “democracy” would have caused confusion among leading figures from Athens during the Hellenic age....

Sunday, March 21, 2010


I told you so.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Montesquieu was the first to recognize that, at the end of the seventeenth century, a profound and arguably permanent transformation had taken place in European politics. He saw that commerce had replaced war as the force dominant in international relations; that a well-ordered Carthage could now defeat Rome on the field of the sword; and that, in the wake of the Glorious Revolution, Great Britain – with its separation of powers, its policy of religious toleration, its devotion to industry and trade, and its empire over the sea – had come to occupy a pre-eminence that no existing continental power could hope to challenge. That European monarchy – with its hereditary aristocracy, its ethos of honor, its suspicion of trade, and its appetite for conquest, empire, and glory – could not be sustained in an age in which money had become the sinews of war: this he also knew.