Unsolicited Advice

Something amusing from The Toast (excerpts):


Unsolicited Advice For The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, Working Within Their Social Parameters And Not Suggesting They Just Invent Feminism Because That’s Anachronistic

Catherine of Aragon

I don’t know what to tell you, frankly. You were married to Henry for twenty-four years, which apparently wasn’t enough time for you to learn his personality, which was easily irritated and soothed. Are you allergic to noticing which way the wind is blowing? Because that’s the only explanation I can think of for your self-destructive behavior. Henry was a simple man: he wanted literally everyone to love him without reserve or criticism, and he believed God created him to rule England and have sons. That’s it. That’s all you had to get about him. Half the time someone in his court was scheduled for execution, if they managed to get an in-person audience with him, he’d call the whole thing off and reduce their sentence to exile. Give the man what he wants! You’re not in Spain! You have no bargaining chips to speak of and the only thing your queenly pride got you was a drafty castle near I want to say Coventry and an early, lonely death. He loved you, probably, for a while. That’s as good as it gets, with Henry. Take what you can and get out.

Anne Boleyn

Annie! ANNIE. What is there to say to you, one of the greats? You came so close, my love. You were an incredible mistress. Superlative…. And it’s not your fault that Henry’s jousting accident happened on your watch and (probably) destroyed his brain. Plus, you know…Elizabeth. Elizabeth! Without Good Queen Bess, what would Cate Blanchett have done in 1998? Joseph Fiennes’ career would be right out. I honestly don’t know what you could have done differently, except have had a son. Everyone likes to give you a hard time for fighting with Henry and reading Tyndale, but let’s be honest: no one would be talking about your “forceful personality” if you’d just had a son. Henry would have forgiven you everything. (Which, I know everyone wants to blame Henry for nowadays, the no sons thing, but look at Bessie Blount!)

Anne of Cleves

Catherine of Aragon, are you listening to this? Anne of Cleves not only accepted Henry’s dismissal with gracious good humor, she happily conceded his claims that she smelled bad, had saggy tits, and didn’t ‘look like a virgin,’ whatever that means. That is oceans worse than being asked to say you were the King’s rightful sister! And she did it with a smile on her beautiful German face.

Catherine Howard

I don’t know how to instruct you. Was it fair that by the time you got Henry, he was gouty and irritable and about thirty years older than you? Absolutely not.

But you were sixteen when Anne Boleyn died. You know the drill, or should have. You know what happens to queens who don’t produce sons and irritate the King. I’m grading you on a curve because you were only twenty when you got married and honestly, I would have cheated like hell on Henry in your position too.

Reformation Sunday

One of the delightful features of the church I currently attend is that it celebrates Reformation Sunday, the Sunday before October 31. That was the day on which Martin Luther, in 1517, nailed the Ninety-Five Theses on the church door at Wittenberg, thereby inaugurating the Protestant Reformation! (Of course, there is no primary source evidence that he actually did this, although he may very well have, given that the church door functioned as the university bulletin board. What really mattered is that they were translated into German and published with the printing press, an example of an academic idea bursting out of the confines of the university and into the wider culture. This happens from time to time.)

The church bulletin yesterday did not feature Martin Luther composing, nailing, or printing his theses. Instead, the illustration was of him at the Diet of Worms of 1521, when he stood up to no one less than Emperor Charles V! (Even if he did this in April – actually, I think that Savior of All should celebrate Diet of Worms day, too. Unfortunately, there is no proof that he ever said “Here I stand; I can not do otherwise.”)


I like that the artist has rendered the double-headed Imperial eagle on a gold field. Alas, he has also simplified the coat of arms beyond recognition. Here is what Wikipedia has:


Here is another work of art featuring Luther, discovering justification by faith:


The original of this painting may be found in the Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery in Greenville, South Carolina, which we visited in the spring of 2014, and which houses the most fantastic collection of late medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art. Apparently Bob Jones, Jr., son of the founder and university president for many years, had a predilection for Christian-themed art and so began acquiring it when he could. (The painting above is not representative; it is nineteenth century in origin and Protestant in theme. Most of the BJU collection is older than that and quite Catholic, which is somewhat at odds with BJU’s historic principles.) I highly recommend a visit to the Museum and Gallery should you be visiting Greenville.


From the National Post today:

Scholar finds earliest known draft of King James Bible wrapped in a stained piece of waste vellum

Jennifer Schuessler, The New York Times | October 15, 2015

The King James Bible is the most widely read work in English literature, a masterpiece of translation whose stately cadences and transcendent phrases have long been seen, even by secular readers, as having emerged from a kind of collective divine inspiration.

But now, in an unassuming notebook held in an archive at the University of Cambridge, an American scholar has found what he says is an important new clue to the earthly processes behind that masterpiece: the earliest known draft, and the only one definitively written in the hand of one of the roughly four dozen translators who worked on it.

The notebook, which dates from 1604 to 1608, was discovered by Jeffrey Alan Miller, an assistant professor of English at Montclair State University in New Jersey, who announced his research Wednesday in an article in The Times Literary Supplement.

While the notebook has yet to be examined by other scholars, experts who have reviewed Miller’s research called it perhaps the most significant archival find relating to the King James Bible in decades.

David Norton, an emeritus professor at the University of Wellington in New Zealand and the author of several books about the King James Bible, called it “a major discovery” — if not quite equal to finding a draft of one of Shakespeare’s plays, “getting on up there.”

Gordon Campbell, a fellow in Renaissance studies at the University of Leicester and a consultant for the planned Museum of the Bible in Washington, said the new manuscript shed fresh light on how the King James translators actually did their work, as opposed to how they had been told to do it.

Studying the creation of the King James Bible “is like working with a jigsaw puzzle where 90 percent of the pieces are missing,” Campbell said. “You can arrange the surviving pieces as you wish, but then you find something new and you realize you put it together the wrong way.”

The King James Bible, published in 1611, was produced by six teams of translators, known as “companies,” in London, Oxford and Cambridge, who were charged with creating an authorized version that would support the Church of England against the Puritan influence seen in some earlier translations. Along with Shakespeare’s First Folio of 1623, it is one of the most influential books in the history of English and the wellspring of common phrases like “salt of the earth,” “drop in the bucket” and “fight the good fight,” to name only a few.

More at the link.


I recently read Hugh Aldersey-Williams, Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc. His quotation of John Masefield’s poem “Cargoes” (1903) brought a smile to my face, as I remembered it from high school. It also acts as a highly condensed Western Civ. sequence! Here it is in full:

QUINQUIREME of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

Given the artistic and cultural taste of my high school English teacher, who was always lamenting the decline of society, I think we were supposed to take this poem at face value. But now I take the opposite view. Despite Masefield’s tendentious description of the coaster as dirty and salt-caked (what, no dirt or salt-stains before the twentieth century?), “butting” along with cheap (and dull-colored) cargo, I praise the industrial capitalism that it represents! The coal, iron-ware and tin trays are consumer goods that even people like you and me can buy, because they are mass-produced and inexpensive. No, they aren’t “inspiring” like sandalwood or topazes, but what sort of people would have been able to buy these things, in either the ancient or early-modern worlds? Very rich people, if they were for sale at all and not simply shipped straight to the court to adorn and flatter the ruler. The British coaster, by contrast, would represent thousands of such ships, bringing useful products to market. Such products would also have been produced by people paid for their labor, and not slaves, as were found in the Assyrian or Spanish colonies. So to me the poem doesn’t represent the decline of civilization, but its improvement.

Moreover, now that I am older, and a little better versed in history, certain errors are apparent. The first three words, for instance, introduce an anachronism: Nineveh is in modern-day northern Iraq, but I assume that in the poem it stands in for the Assyrian Empire, which flourished in the three centuries before the Medes and the Babylonians destroyed it in 612 BC. (Nineveh was not rebuilt; its ruins were discovered and excavated by Henry Layard in the nineteenth century.) But the quinquireme was invented by Dionysus of Syracuse in 399 BC, presumably an improvement on the Athenian trireme with its three rows of oars. Furthermore, the quinquireme was a warship, not a cargo ship! All those oars meant that the sailors were packed in like sardines, with little space left to transport anything. As for the cargo, King Solomon, who did live in Palestine, did receive tribute roughly matching the list in the first stanza of the poem from “Ophir,” wherever that was. But in the second stanza, where does the galleon’s cargo come from? The ship is sailing from the Isthmus (of Panama, I assume). It’s carrying cinnamon, a product of Asia, but that may have been brought from the Philippines by one of the Manila galleons. Emeralds come from Mexico (Cortez acquired a bunch), as do topazes, but Mexico is not known for diamonds, and amethysts come largely from Brazil, which was Portuguese. Also Portuguese was the moirdore – were the Spanish incapable of doing their own smelting?

This is why I think that this poem is ironic. It is suggesting that the past always looks better than the present, but it’s an illusion. We remember what we want to remember, and it’s often the best that survives anyway – but the haziness of recall should tip us off that all might not be as it seems.