History: Here in the Shallow End…

I just assigned a 16 page (Ariel, 12-point, standard margins) reading from Belloc’s Europe and the Faith to a bunch of 9th graders.

If you were a 9th grader, and some teacher assigned this:

A generic term has been invented by these modern and false historians whose version I am here giving; the vigorous, young, uncorrupt, and virtuous tribes which are imagined to have broken through the boundaries of the effete Empire and to have rejuvenated it, are grouped together as “Teutonic:” a German strain very strong numerically, superior also to what was left of Roman civilization in virile power, is said to have come in and to have taken over the handling of affairs. One great body of these Germans, the Franks, are said to have taken over Gaul; another (the Goths in their various branches) Italy and Spain. But most complete, most fruitful, and most satisfactory of all (they tell us) was the eruption of these vigorous and healthy pagans into the outlying province of Britain, which they wholly conquered, exterminating its original inhabitants and colonizing it with their superior stock.

There went with this strange way of rewriting history a flood of wild hypotheses presented as fact. Thus Parliaments (till lately admired) were imagined — and therefore stated — to be Teutonic, non-Roman, therefore non-Catholic in origin. The gradual decline of slavery was attributed to the same miraculous power in the northern pagans; and in general whatever thing was good in itself or was consonant with modern ideas, was referred back to this original source of good in the business of Europe : the German tribes. 

Meanwhile the religious hatred these false historians had of civilization, that is, of Roman tradition and the Church, showed itself in a hundred other ways: the conquest of Spain by the Mohammedans was represented by them as the victory of a superior people over a degraded and contemptible one: the Reconquest of Spain by our race over the Asiatics as a disaster: its final triumphant instrument, the Inquisition, which saved Spain from a Moorish ravage was made out a monstrosity. Every revolt, however obscure, against the unity of European civilization in the Middle Ages (notably the worst revolt of all, the Albigensian), was presented as a worthy uplifting of the human mind against conditions of bondage. Most remarkable of all, the actual daily life of Catholic Europe, the habit, way of thought and manner of men, during the period of unity — from, say, the eighth century to the fifteenth — was simply omitted!

Europe and the Faith, Hillaire Belloc, CH 3

… would you be overwhelmed by it? Hate it? Love it? I’d forgotten how sophisticated Belloc’s prose is. Given the dumbed-down texts these kids are likely to have read up till now, even though homeschooling does give them a leg up on the horrifying depths to which public school has sunk, is it going to be too hard? Guess I’ll find out. (As a 9th grader, I could have handled it, but I’m a weirdo from way back.)

Also assigned were a couple pages from the beginning of Machiavelli’s History of Florence and the Affairs of Italy, but, by comparison to Belloc, that’s easy stuff.

Finally, I’m in the process of picking out some Lafferty, from his Fall of Rome, as yet another perspective. He is a scream:

“The dance is something with no survival, lacking verbal or pictoral record. The Goths may have had it. If they painted, it was not in a medium or on a material that has survived. Their history was unwritten. Their scientific speculation may not have gone beyond mead-table discussions and arguments. There is no record of their early philosophy. Since they were Germans, they must have constructed philosophical systems; and also, since they were Germans, these would have been erroneous.”

Lafferty, the Fall of Rome

Don’t think I’d have gotten that joke when I was 15. I want to find his descriptions of Alaric and Stilicho, and his narrative of the events that lead up to the sacking of Rome. In outline of the raw events, he of course agrees with Belloc; yet he assigns much greater, as in a dominant part, to the continued loyalties and emotions of many of the players, specifically, to Alaric and his men.

This book – how much is it worth to you?

Lafferty is of course not strictly writing history, in the sense that he’s relying on a contemporary poem as his main source for what makes his account different. We know what the Greeks thought about poets. 1

Aside: that book lists for over $800 on Amazon, with used copies running over $50. I’ve bought a couple copies over the years at nothing like those prices, but now…? Somebody somewhere need to reprint all of Lafferty – he’s too good to languish behind impossibly expensive out of print books.

  1. Plato: “Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand.” OTOH, Aristotle: “Homer has taught all other poets the art of telling lies skillfully.”

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

6 thoughts on “History: Here in the Shallow End…”

  1. Guess you’ll find out– they may surprise you. I love Belloc, he’s so droll. Dad had me read one of his histories– William The Conqueror? The Reformation? — in 8th grade. Oddly, I don’t remember a thing about it.

    1. Joseph

      Pretty much nails the laughable Nordic supremacism and the latent paganism the pervaded so much of the Enhlish and Germsn historgraphy. Northerners preserved the best of the Roman empire from that Latin effeminacy! And further has acted as an antibody vaccinating the Northerners both from Roman authoritarianism and Catholic obsurantism!

      xavier

    1. The story is that he started writing a novel about the fall of Rome, read this obscure contemporary poet Claudian, who’s magnum opus described all the characters involved firsthand. He then segued to a history, although sometimes it’s hard to tell it from a novel. I hear he wrote other histories as well – he was an amazingly talented and educated man.

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