A gothic church

In the midst of this little cluster or huddle of low houses rises something of which the spire or tower may be seen for miles. Relatively to the roofs beneath it, the tower is as much an exception as the Eiffel Tower.  Relatively to the world in which it was built, it was really an experiment in engineering more extraordinary than the Eiffel Tower.  For the first Gothic arch was really a thing more original than the first flying-ship. And indeed something of its leap and its uplifting seems to make architecture akin to aviation. Its distant vaulted roof looks like a maze of mathematical patterns as mysterious as the stars; and its balance of fighting gravitations and flying buttresses was a fine calculation in medieval mathematics. But it is not bare and metallic like the Eiffel Tower or the Zeppelin. Its stones are hurled at heaven in an arc as by the kick of a catapult; but that simple curve has not the mere cruelty of an engine of war. The whole building is also a forest of images and symbols and stories. There are saints bringing their tales from all the towns and countries in Europe.  There are saints bearing the tools of all the trades and crafts in England.  There are traces of trade brotherhoods as egalitarian as trades unions.  There are traditions of universities more popular than popular education. There are a thousand things in the way of fancy and parody and pantomime; but with the wildest creative variety it is not chaotic. From the highest symbol of God tortured in stone and in silence, to the last wild gargoyle flung out into the sky as a devil cast forth with a gesture, the whole plan of that uplifted labyrinth shows the mastery of an ordered mind.

William Cobbett (1925).

Published in: on December 20, 2017 at 11:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

“A romance of youth”

Rationalism is a romance of youth. There is nothing very much the matter with the age of reason; except, alas, that it comes before the age of discretion.

— William Cobbett (1925).

Published in: on August 23, 2017 at 2:06 pm  Comments (1)  

St Peter

A man can really be a martyr without being by any means a saint. The more subtle truth is that he can even be a saint and still have that sort of imperfection.  The first of Christian saints was in that sense a very imperfect martyr.  He eventually suffered martyrdom for a Master whom he had cursed and denied. That marks the tremendous realism of our religion:  its heroes had not heroic faults.  They had not those Byronic vices that can pose almost as virtues.  When they said they were miserable sinners, it was because they really dared to confess the miserable sins. Tradition says that the saint in question actually asked to be crucified upside-down, as if making himself a mere parody of a martyr.  And there is something of the same sacred topsy-turvydom in the strange fancy by which he is haunted in all hagiological art and legend by the symbol of his failure. The crowing of a cock, which has become a phrase for insolence, has in this case actually become an emblem of meekness. Rome has lifted up the cock of Peter higher than the eagle of Caesar, not to preach pride to kings but to preach humility to pontiffs. The cock is crowing for ever that the saint may never crow.
William Cobbett (1925).
Published in: on June 28, 2017 at 11:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Aristophanes

Aristophanes was a mighty mocker and derider of the details that were modern in his day; the wild hats and whiskers of ancient progress. Aristophanes was an enemy of modernity, and indeed of modernism. Aristophanes was also a lord of bad language, a man with all the splendid scurrility of Cobbett. But suppose it were recorded of Aristophanes that he came to repent of his satire on Euripides; suppose he had concluded too late that what he had taken for sophistry and scepticism had been a truer traditionalism. We should see nothing but beauty and pathos in some story about Aristophanes bringing the body of Euripides from some barbarian country to the temple of Athene. There would be nothing undignified or unworthy to be carved on a classic frieze in the figure of the great scoffer following the hearse of the great sceptic. But this is only because in the process of time the little things are lost and only the large lines remain. For that little flask of oil, with which the scoffer once stopped the mouth of the sceptic, has lost its bathos for us: and might well be the vessel of the sacred chrism for the anointing of the dead.

William Cobbett (1925).

Published in: on May 17, 2017 at 11:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cobbett and Johnson

Cobbett had a prejudice against Johnson; which is all the more amusing because it was exactly the sort of prejudice that Johnson might have had against him. Cobbett regarded Johnson as a mere pedantic pensioner; and Johnson would very possibly have regarded Cobbett as he regarded Wilkes, more or less in the abstract as a dirty demagogue. So many things united these two great Englishmen, and not least their instinctive embodiment of England; they were alike in their benevolent bullying, in something private and practical, and very much to the point in their individual tenderness, in their surly sympathy for the Catholic tradition, in their dark doubts of the coming time.

William Cobbett (1925).

Published in: on April 5, 2017 at 12:51 am  Leave a Comment  

English and French

English excels in certain angular consonants and abrupt terminations that make it extraordinarily effective for the expression of the fighting spirit and a fierce contempt. How fortunate is the condition of the Englishman who can kick people; and how relatively melancholy that of the Frenchman who can only give them a blow of the foot!  If we say that two people fight like cat and dog, the very words seem to have in them a shindy of snaps and screams and scratches.  If we say `comme le chat et le chien,’ we are depressed with the suggestion of comparative peace. French has of course its own depths of resounding power: but not this sort of battering ram of bathos.

— William Cobbett (1925).

Published in: on February 9, 2017 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  

“Being right by being wrong”

The mob has a curious way of being right by being wrong. It often champions the wrong person to punish the right person.

William Cobbett (1925).

Published in: on December 7, 2016 at 7:23 am  Leave a Comment