Thursday, May 23, 2019

The small college attracting some of the Church’s best brains

These are the first days of spring in New England, when you begin to understand why Robert Frost said “nature’s first green is gold”. Three pigs turn on rotisseries made of brick and mortar. The men, decked in flannel shirts and waistcoats, sing folk-songs about Thérèse of Lisieux. Young women in light dresses string garlands in their hair and dance on pedals from the cherry-trees. We eat crackling with thanks and praise to the Risen Lord (not to mention the students who kept a 30-hour vigil at the spit) and wash it down with freshly-bottled ale courtesy of the brewers’ guild. A few pipes are lit; a few romances are enkindled. It’s the Feast of the Resurrection at Thomas More College, so we’re feasting – just as our fathers in the Faith did a millennium ago.

This is what sets the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (TMC) apart. Here, one gets a real sense that American Catholics stand in an unbroken succession from Jerusalem through Athens, Rome, London, and Philadelphia – right down to Merrimack, New Hampshire. That means the curriculum arises organically from TMC’s place: New England. Students read Frost and Nathaniel Hawthorne while hiking the White Mountains and sailing the coast of Maine.

For the last four decades, TMC has also kept a satellite campus in Rome, where every student spends one semester of their sophomore year at the heart of the Universal Church. They attend morning Mass in St Peter’s and read Dante beneath the walls of the Vatican. Then there’s the Oxford Studies Program, where a lucky few spend two weeks travelling through the mother country while studying England’s greatest Catholics: Cardinal Newman, GK Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Gerard Manley Hopkins and JRR Tolkien among them.

[Read more at the Catholic Herald]

Friday, May 17, 2019

‘Luddite’ Shouldn’t Be a Dirty Word

I waited greedily by the mailbox for my copy of A Scribbler in Soho, the new anthology-cum-“celebration” of the great Auberon Waugh. Though regarded by the Brits as one of the great journalists of the 20th century, he’s somehow unknown in this country. That’s a shame. His columns for Private Eye contain wisdom that America badly needs. For instance, in the margins, I’ve jotted a heartfelt Hear, hear! next to Waugh the Younger’s quip: “It is the kindest thing one can possibly say of a politician that he changed nothing.”

One legislator recently forced me to question this Tory truism, however, and I’m ashamed to admit that it’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. No doubt most of her Green New Deal is absurd. Yet if she were to succeed in redirecting travelers from airports to railways, we’d have no choice but to regard her as the greatest conservative statesman since Prince Metternich.

All rational people dread flying. The psychiatrist who first designated the aversion to traveling in a giant cigar tube one mile in the air as a “phobia” ought to have been plopped on the couch himself. Trains are themselves somewhat precarious. “The Devil is a railroad car,” as Josh Ritter sang. Still, they’re preferable to cars, which Russell Kirk called “mechanical Jacobins.” He (correctly) believed that they would destroy local communities and economies. The official who bans automobiles should be hailed as our long-awaited philosopher king.

[Read more at The American Conservative.]

Friday, May 3, 2019

On the Passing of Les Murray, Our Greatest Poet

I like to say that I worked with Les Murray at Australia’s Quadrant magazine. He was literary editor; I was an editorial assistant to John O’Sullivan. In fact, I never interacted with him once. You see, Murray rarely left his hometown of Bunyah, a bush borough with a population of about 150. He didn’t own a computer—he typed all his proofs on a typewriter—and we were only allowed to call him on the phone in emergencies.

So writers would mail their short stories and poems to the office in Sydney, and we’d ship them to Bunyah in a big parcel once a month. Those he chose for publication were returned to the office. The rest he sent off in their their self-addressed, stamped envelopes. The rejected manuscripts would return to their writers with the margins covered in suggestions and encouragements from the man The Atlantic called “the greatest poet alive.” Quite the consolation prize.

To me, that was all part of the irresistible charm of Les Murray. The morons at the Nobel Committee excepted, nobody would disagree with The Atlantic’s descriptor—certainly not since the death of Geoffrey Hill in 2016. And yet Murray wasn’t a windswept, romantic figure. He wasn’t a tweedy professorial type or a cosmopolitan in a dark turtleneck. He was a proud bumpkin and an avowed Luddite with bad teeth and a penchant for ugly sweaters. He suffered from depression, the sexiest of mental illnesses; he was also probably autistic, which is more prosaic. Never has such an extraordinary soul carried such an ordinary corpse, as Marcus might have said.

[Read more at The American Conservative]