Two Odd Books: Pilgrim’s Progress & the Iron Chamber of Memory

Keeping with the pattern of switching back and forth between the Current Insanity and Anything Else, let’s discuss two books I just happen to have read at the same time.

Here.

The above definitions are somewhat useful. What one wants to be able to say is when something is not an allegory – the essence of a definition. With the broadest stroke of the definitions above, one can possibly say that the work under consideration is not symbolic, and, therefore, not an allegory.

(Sorry for the digression here. I thought I knew what allegory is, but then made the mistake of thinking about it, looking it up, and now have to sort through it. The interwebs are indeed fields of rabbit holes.)

Made the mistake – woe is me! – of visiting the Oracle Wikipedia, and thus fell into a cesspool of woke:

As a literary device or artistic form, an allegory is a narrative or visual representation in which a character, place, or event can be interpreted to represent a hidden meaning with moral or political significance. Authors have used allegory throughout history in all forms of art to illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.

People way too big for their britches

One little phrase removes all usefulness from this thing: “…can be interpreted to represent…” Thus, any possibility of saying what is or is not allegory is banished, in favor of everything being an allegory if it merely can be interpreted to represent something else, a feat any college sophomore can perform with ease on absolutely anything. Cafeteria food in an allegory for control exerted on the masses by structural oppression. I’m oppressed by the paucity of avocado on my toast …. And so on. (1)

Then, since logical consistency is a social construct of an oppressive white patriarchy and thus must be violated, we shift the grounds back to the intentions of the author, by which we mean ‘artist’ – there I go with that consistency thing again! – thus contradicting the original ‘definition’, which is based on the interpretation of the consumer of art: “Authors have used allegory throughout history in all forms of art to illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.”

Now we possibly need a college junior to explain how this contradiction is suspended but not resolved in a synthesis, but I haven’t had breakfast yet, so we’ll stop. Suffice it to say: if allegory is something the reader or viewer reads into something, then there’s no definition possible – no one can say what is and is not allegory, or rather, everything is allegory.

Back in the real world, we’re not completely freed from this muddiness even if we look to the author’s intent. Often, authors don’t express their intent; often they will say that there’s more to their works than what they, themselves consciously put there – maybe the work is allegorical even if that’s not what they were thinking at the time. But at least in some cases, we can say: Pilgrim’s Progress and Animal Farm are allegories. Those two stories were intended by their authors as allegories, and are really not open to any other, contradictory, interpretation. The character of Christian IS any Christian pilgrim; the pigs ARE the Russian Communist leadership. There’s practically no story if they’re not.

Unfortunately, at least from a tidiness point of view, few books fall this neatly into or out of this category. Is Dante’s Inferno allegorical? Of course! Is is completely allegorical, like Pilgrims Progress or Animal Farm? No. There are real characters throughout who are meant primarily as themselves, and only secondarily as stand-ins for the sinners as a class. Paolo and Frencesca are two real people, not just illustrations or symbols. Christian and the pigs have little if any personality apart from their symbolism.

Then there is the concept of a natural symbol, where its symbolic content fundamentally rests in the nature of the thing. Sometimes, symbol versus sign is used, with symbol having a connection by nature to the thing symbolized, while signs are merely conventional. Unfortunately, English does not really support that distinction, in that people have long used both those terms for both those concepts without distinction. Too bad.

The classic example: red, the color of fire and blood, symbolizes those things and things related to them by nature; a stop sign is conventional – there’s nothing about red hexagon that means ‘stop’ by nature (we had to write ‘STOP’ on it to get the message across initially), but red is the right color (or among the right colors) for a sign that needs to grab people’s attention in order to function. A lovely sky-blue stop sign would seem wrong, and not just by convention.

Allegory will be stronger the more it employs natural symbols rather than signs whose meaning is not connected to the thing it is a sign of by anything other than convention. Paolo and Francesca are blown about against their wills, which wills they had surrendered to their passions. Leaves in the wind is a good natural symbol for that situation….

Sigh. All this wandering around just to talk about two short books.

I found myself reading Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s 1678 Christian allegory, because it was mentioned on John C. Wright’s blog and I realized I’d never read it. Wright stated that it is probably the only allegory out there that can be read on its artistic merits. We’re not talking about the use of real, flesh-and-blood characters (or, at least, characters written so that we might imagine them real) to represent, more or less consciously on the part of the author, ideas or social problems or what have you. Rather, Pilgrim’s Progress characters have names that ARE their characters: Christian, Faithful, Hopeful, Little-faith, Ignorance, Worldly Wiseman, and so on. There’s very little to even the main characters beyond what you might guess from their names.

Bunyan was a Puritan preacher who spent a good chunk of his adult life in jail for refusing to stop preaching Puritanism. 17th century England oscillated between the established church tolerating ‘heretics’ and throwing them in jail or worse. Bunyan’s life straddled a couple of these peaks and troughs. He is assumed to have began writing Pilgrim’s Progress during one his extended stays in prison. It became an instant classic, translated into over 200 languages and hardly being out of print since.

Buyan’s skill is in how he uses his various allegorical figures and places to illustrate his Puritan theology. He sees this story in a series of dreams: A Christian, a husband and father, is visited by Evangelist, who warns him to leave his home town, City of Destruction, and pilgrimage to the Celestial City carrying a heavy burden on his back. His family thinks him crazy, so he leaves them.

The rest of the story concerns Christian’s journey to the Celestial City, the places he visits or avoids, how he is tempted and aided, who he meets along the way, the fates of those whom he meets (spoiler: his companion Faithful is martyred – this is good, in context, the greatest good in fact; Hopeful completes the journey with Christian, while Little-faith, a character in a story within a story within a dream, eventually makes it. Ignorance fairs less well.)

Conclusion: it is a good story to read, both for a Christian and for anyone who wants insight into how Puritans think. In some ways, the person treated most harshly in the book is Ignorance. He comes off worse than many of the active sinners and tempters, with more pages spent having Hopeful and Christian harangue him than are spent on any other single topic. We look back to Bunyan to understand this: he is a Puritan preacher, hell fire and brimstone style. His enemy is Ignorance, meaning people who do not understand or who reject the central themes of Calvinism. The damned are the damned – you give converting them a shot, then move on. But the Ignorant, those who travel the same path you are travelling but are doing it WRONG – they are the real challenge.

In Bunyan’s dream, Ignorance shows up at the Pearly Gates all alone. He knocks, and – it is not opened unto him. Rather, the agents of the King ask to see his papers – scroll, certificate – proving he is among the elect. When he fails to produce them, he is bound by two angels and cast into Hell. So a guy who left everything, followed the path, rejected or escaped from temptation, and saw his journey to Heaven through, is damned because he DID IT WRONG!

Despite all its protestations to the contrary, Calvinist Puritanism remains as legalistic an expression of Christianity and anyone could hope to find.

Ignorance is an annoying character, so sure that if his heart doesn’t trouble him, he has not erred. He is confident that, since he left everything, went on the pilgrimage, and did the required good works along the way, that he is going to be admitted to Heaven. Hopeful and Christian go after him hammer and tongs, because he is not embracing his utter depravity and relying entirely on the completely unearned and undeserved Grace of God as expressed in Jesus. Ignorance repeatedly says he does not understand what they mean by that idea. He loves Jesus, and follows His commandments – isn’t that enough?

A Catholic Pilgrim’s Progress would be Dante’s Divine Comedy. But say a lesser Catholic poet tried his hand at doing the allegory Bunyan-style: first, Sacraments and Saints would be essential characters, accompanying the pilgrims on their way. Major time would be given to those church officials who have failed in their callings – you know, all the bad popes and clerics that populate Dante’s Hell – and the damage they do and their unpleasant eternal fates, how to identify and avoid them, how to honor the offices without succumbing to the evil of the office holders. There would be Good Pastor and Bad Pastor, Patron Saint and False Saint. The Cloud of Witnesses would include all those people by whom God, as secondary causes and in order to have His glory reflected by creatures made in His image, passed the Faith all the way down to Christian.

But mostly, there would be Purgatory. Ignorance would knock, and the doors would be opened, and he would finally SEE. In that moment of searing clarity, all the errors of his ignorance, all his pride and foolishness, would be clear to him – and he, himself, of his own will, would seek to hide from the Face of God. Yet God, in his infinite mercy and love, would not cast out one who had tried, who made the effort however badly, and who has endured the journey. Thus, to the singing of choirs of angels rejoicing that another soul had been saved, Ignorance would be carried to the foot of the mountain of Purgatory, to be purified of his pride.

I gave a one-paragraph review of John C. Wright’s Iron Chamber of Memory when I first read it back in 2016, and mentioned I’d do a full review of it later.

It seems now is later.

This review will be abstract, as spoilers would be a terrible thing. You just need to read this book. It begins as a tale of unrequited, and unrequitable, love: the girl our hero loves is engaged to marry his best friend, and his sense of honor makes doing anything to frustrate those plans unthinkable. Yet, the two of them keep bumping into each other alone, without her fiancé, even so far as meeting up at the manor house on the Isle of Sark, which said fiancé has recently inherited. Through a hundred little nudges and coincidences, they end up at the door of a particular room within the manor house, and…

Stuff happens. Increasingly insane stuff, stuff that starts out uncanny and moves on from there, until – really crazy stuff happens. A story that starts out as a tragic romance, a love triangle between two best friends and the woman they both love, ends up involving a number of saints and mythical creature.

And I’m afraid I must leave it at that. The setting for the story – the very real Isle of Sark – is, in real life, about as romantic and epic a place as exists on the planet. A little island off the coast of France, the last feudal fief in Europe, pirates, caves, foot paths with 300′ drops on either side, Nazi conquest and resistance, ancient farms, ancient families, the world’s only Dark Sky island – awesome.

As for the allegory bit that I started writing about – well, it spoils it pretty intensely. So, I recommend reading the book before reading this little bit, because the plot twists, if you can call them that, are epic, and this will ruin it.

You’ve been warned.

Sark.

In the final chapters, it is revealed that the Rose or Red Room is only the first enchanted layer of memory, that there are several nested rooms. When deep enough in, enough memory is restored, that Hal Landfall, the main protagonist, is revealed to be Henwas Lanval, a Knight of the Round Table who had been seduced by the sea fairy Tryamour; Laurel du Lac is the fairy Lorelei, who aimed to seduce and destroy Hal, Manfred is a monk and magician named Mandragora. Depending on whether each character is in or out of a chamber of memory, and on which chamber of memory each is in, they “know” who they are very differently.

So the question naturally arises: What is real? What is really going on? The soul of Manfred, in the innermost chamber of all, speaks of dreams, of how everything we see in this life is shadows and confusion, we have forgotten who we are. Only the saved soul sees the long line of triumph back through to Adam, of souls that have done well and who still do well. Henry really is a great knight fighting a great battle. He just thinks, in his forgetfulness, that he is a student working on a Master’s thesis. He is part of a great army protecting what is really important.

Is something in there an allegory? Is the whole story? I tend to think it doesn’t matter. What is different: Wright’s characters are people first, warts and wings and all; Bunyan’s are allegories first, and only accidentally people, if they are people at all.

  1. Oops – not an allegory – it’s the literal truth that the paucity of avocado on my toast IS the me being oppressed by the avocado -hoarding patriarchy. If I understand the approach correctly.

Education History Book Review: F. V. N. Painter’s Luther on Education (1889) pt 2

The “Saxony School Plan,” originally prepared by Melancthon and revised by Luther in 1538, was extensively adopted. The current abuses of the schools in studies and discipline were pointed out. “In order that the young may be properly taught,” says the Plan, ” we have established this form :

“i. The teachers shall see to it that the children are taught only Latin, not German or Hebrew as some have hitherto done, who have burdened their pupils with too many studies, which are not only useless but hurtful. . . .

” 2. They shall not burden the children with many books, but in every way avoid a distracting multiplicity of studies.

” 3. It is necessary that the children be divided into grades.”

Ch 3: PROTESTANTISM AND POPULAR EDUCATION.

My Google-fu failed to turn up the complete Saxony School Plan. This is a common feature of reading Luther: he is quoted, he is referenced, but his actual works are not as readily available as one would think they ought to be for someone so influential. In general, I suspect that his tendency toward scatology and verbal excesses might have discouraged Lutheran translators – better he be known via his hagiography rather than his own, less flattering, words. But a Saxony School Plan should be tame enough. Maybe I’ll stumble across it.

Reading *about* the plan on online sources from academics to libertarians indicates it was very influential. In it, one (allegedly) would find all the hallmarks of moderns state compulsory education, including graded classrooms, limited subjects, truancy enforcement, control, and record-keeping (how are you going to know who belongs in what grade?) .

The ‘history’ provided by Painter leaves out a number of awkward points. Just as with the Recusant English, there were plenty of Germans not buying what Luther was selling. By establishing compulsory schools backed by the state’s monopoly on violence, he could root out the ‘heretics’. This use of the state to achieve ‘religious’ ends explains something that at first seemed odd to me: Luther addresses his letters to people with political power, not the rank and file believers. While he uses Paul’s salutations –

To the Honorable Lazarus Spengler, Counselor of the City of Nuremberg,

My dear Sir and Friend: Grace and peace in Christ, our dear Lord and faithful Saviour, Amen.

– he, in this case, sends a sermon to a civic power, not the people to whom the sermon is to be addressed. And perusing the titles of the better known letters of Luther, this seems more the rule than the exception. While Paul and the writers of the Catholic Epistles direct their letters to the faithful or friends as politically powerless as Paul himself, Luther writes to princes and other worldly powers.

He has something he wants them to hear, and it isn’t the Gospels: Luther teaches that the state is as divine in its origins and rights as the Church. It is the duty of the faithful to obey the (Lutheran) state completely. Given the German history of the preceding few centuries, this was music to German princes’s ears.

A deal is being cut: in exchange for princely support for Luther’s Reformation, the princes get religion’s support for their power. To sweeten the pot, Luther encouraged the state to sack German monasteries and convents, similarly to what was done in England, enriching the secular government and removing what could have been a hotbed of resistance to Luther’s plans.

5 centuries earlier, in 1056, Henry III, the German Holy Roman Emperor, died when his heir, the future Henry IV, was only 5 years old. The elder Henry had used his control of Italy to determine who got to be Pope, deposing Pope Gregory VI when he got too uppity, and elevating puppets. His widow, fighting to keep control of the Empire until her son reached majority, was unable to exert similar control; when Henry did take the throne, he was too busy keeping the German princes in line to focus on who got to be Pope. During the funeral proceedings for Pope Alexander II, the people started shouting for Hildebrand of Sovana, a well known reformer, to be declared Pope. He, like good men tend to do, hid out in a monastery rather than become pope. But he was found, and the Cardinals made formal what the people had wanted, and Hildebrand became Pope Gregory VII.

The biggest issue facing Gregory was the Emperor’s meddling in Church affairs to the extent of deposing and installing popes. Seeing young Henry weak, he played hardball: Henry was going to acknowledge Gregory’s election and freedom and authority, or Gregory was going to release the German nobility from any obligations to Henry – something a good number already wanted. Also, he threatened the bishops and abbots under the Empire, who had largely gotten their positions through investiture – appointment by secular powers – that they would lose their jobs if they supported Henry.

Henry was just weak enough that this worked, sort of. Henry was pressured by his bishops and friendly nobles, and made to grovel in the snow before Gregory would restore him to power. Henry did not take it lying down, installing an antipope here, waging a little war there, but, all in all, a degree of independence was temporarily restored to Rome.

It didn’t last. Instead, we got centuries where political powers fought over who got to be Pope, and then used the Pope’s authority to enrich themselves, get revenge, and otherwise extend their political power. Ugly situation. From 1309 to 1376, popes were held by the (German) Holy Roman Emperor in Avignon in what is now France – the Avignon, or Babylonian, Captivity. (Story goes that the papal ‘palace’ in Avignon stood at the foot of a hill, upon the brow of which sat a massive castle and military complex, in case the Pope ever wondered how things stood.)

At this time, Dante, writing his Divine Comedy in exile, favored, at least in the Inferno, a united Holy Roman Empire that would manage secular affairs without interference in or from the Papacy, and a papacy that would stick to spiritual affairs. (And a Holy Roman Empire that would exterminator the Black Guelfs in Florence who had exiled him. Hey, he’s Italian.) The idea of separation of Church and State, broadly understood, was nothing new when Luther seemed to support it.

Up in Germany, the common perception in all this seems to have been that loathsome Italians were bullying and haughtily snubbing the locals. It was true that Popes, on their own initiative and working with their backers, acted very poorly, to say the least. Germans, who historically seem to have chips on their shoulders in every age, embraced Luther partly because he gave them a way to get out from under Roman rules. His Rome is the Whore of Babylon schtick was popular among many – especially the nobility.

Luther’s push for state-funded and controlled compulsory schools, in which every German boy and girl would learn to read the Bible and obey the state, was appealing. This must be seen in the context of Luther’s zeal against ‘heretics’. The idea that Luther wanted everyone to read and interpret Scriptures as the Spirit moved them is laughable: he famously favored burning ‘heretics’ at the stake, with particular focus on other Protestants. People were free to discover in Scripture that they agreed with Luther, in other words. He’s no different in this respect from Calvin and his followers, who ran Geneva as a theocracy, where disputing Calvin was a capital crime.

(One thing seems odd: Luther, while calling the Pope the Whore of Babylon, was less harsh on Catholics than on Protestant ‘heretics’. I suppose a Catholic was merely someone unenlightened who might still be saved, but a Protestant who used exactly Luther’s highly individual approach to understanding Scripture yet dared to reach conclusion other than Luther’s was an existential threat. I need to read more on this topic.)

That was a huge digression even by my standards. Back to the text. After many pages of polemic laced with a little history here and there, Painter finally gets around to his translations of two of Luther’s letters regarding education. Here’s Painter’s summary of Luther’s contributions, his lead in to the letters:

We leave it to the two treatises presented in the following chapters to supply what is lacking in this survey of Luther’s pedagogy. Looking back over the ground traversed, we realize that the great Reformer accomplished scarcely less for education than for religion. Through his influence, which was fundamental, wide-reaching, and beneficent, there began for the one as for the other a new era of advancement. Let us note a few particulars:

  1. In his writings, as in the principles of Protestantism, he laid the foundation of an educational system, which begins with the popular school and ends with the university.
  2. He set up as the noble ideal of education a Christian man, fitted through instruction and discipline to discharge the duties of every relation of life.
  3. He exhibited the necessity of schools both for the Church and the State, and emphasized the dignity and worth of the teacher’s vocation.
  4. With resistless energy he impressed upon parents, ministers, and civil officers their obligation to educate the young.
  5. He brought about a re-organization of schools, introducing graded instruction, an improved course of study, and rational methods.
  6. In his appreciation of nature and of child-life, he laid the foundation for educational science.
  7. He made great improvements in method; he sought to adapt instruction to the capacity of children, to make learning pleasant, to awaken mind through skillful questioning, to study things as well as words, and to temper discipline with love.
  8. With a wise understanding of the relation of virtue and intelligence to the general good, he advocated compulsory education on the part of the State.

In view of these facts, Luther deserves henceforth to be recognized as the greatest, not only of religious, but of educational reformers.

LUTHER ON STUDIES AND METHODS.

First Letter: CHAPTER IX. LUTHER’S LETTER TO THE MAYORS AND ALDERMEN OF ALL THE CITIES OF GERMANY IN BEHALF OF CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS.

Right after greeting the mayors and aldermen of Germany, Luther identifies the villains in this story:

And because selfish parents see that they can no longer place their children upon the bounty of monasteries and cathedrals, they refuse to educate them. “Why should we educate our children,” they say, ” if they are not to become priests, monks, and nuns, and thus earn a support?”

The hollow piety and selfish aims of such persons are sufficiently evident from their own confession. For if they sought anything more than the temporal welfare of their children in monasteries and the priesthood, if they were deeply in earnest to secure the salvation and blessedness of their children, they would not lose interest in education and say, ” if the priestly office is abolished, we will not send our children to school.” But they would speak after this manner; ” if it is true, as the Gospel teaches, that such a calling is dangerous to our children, teach us another way in which they may be pleasing to God and become truly blessed; for we wish to provide not alone for the bodies of our children, but also for their souls.” Such would be the language of faithful Christian parents.

This letter is a two-pronged attack on the lack of schooling: first, the state and wealthy individuals must fund schools, so schooling is available to everyone; second, the state must use its power to compel all children to attend school.

Luther starts with a subset of the second issue: parents who could afford to educate their children but won’t send their child to school. Luther, in his usual gentle, reserved style, labels such parents faithless non-Christians and impious worshippers of mammon.

Monasteries and cathedral schools, the places where promising boys had traditionally been sent to be educated, are condemned as the work of the devil. Only newly-founded state schools fulfill the needs of enlightened parents and the state. Fortunately, Luther has freed up some cash:

There is one consideration that should move every citizen, with devout gratitude to God, to contribute a part of his means to the support of schools — the consideration that if divine grace had not released him from exactions and robbery, he would still have to give large sums of money for indulgences, masses, vigils, endowments, anniversaries, mendicant friars, brotherhoods, and other similar impositions. And let him be sure that where turmoil and strife exist, there the devil is present, who did not writhe and struggle so long as men blindly contributed to convents and masses. For Satan feels that his cause is suffering injury. Let this, then, be the first consideration to move you, — that in this work we are fighting against the devil, the most artful and dangerous enemy of men.

Luther them cites Scripture, equating ‘you must instruct your children’ with ‘you must send your children to school to be instructed by somebody else’ – unless you want to be damned, of course. The state must step up and educate children because

…the great majority of parents are unqualified for it [educating their own children], and do not understand how children should be brought up and taught. For they have learned nothing but to provide for their bodily wants; and in order to teach and train children thoroughly, a separate class is needed.

From the very beginning: parents are the problem compulsory state schooling is intended to solve. Parents don’t understand how children should be brought up, but Luther, who fathered his first child at the age of 42, does.

…even if parents were qualified and willing to do it themselves, yet on account of other employments and household duties they have no time for it, so that necessity requires us to have teachers for public schools, unless each parent employ a private instructor. But that would be too expensive for persons of ordinary means, and many a bright boy, on account of poverty, would be neglected.

Second Letter:

CHAPTER X.

SERMON ON THE DUTY OF SENDING CHILDREN TO SCHOOL.
DEDICATORY LETTER.

To the Honorable Lazarus Spengler, Counselor of the City of Nuremberg

This letter consists of 3 parts: an introduction to Herr Spengler, and a sermon divided into two parts. The first half exhorts parents to send their kids to school to save their (parent’s and children’s) souls, and a second part exhorting parents to send their children to school for the benefit of the state, and explaining how the state has the right to compel school attendance. Bottom line: if you don’t send your kids to school, you’re going to hell.

Luther sends his sermon to Spengler and asks him to distribute it among the pastors and preachers in his jurisdiction. Key points:

The state is divinely ordained to a purpose less than the divine purposes of ministerial offices, but none the less essential:

But it [secular government] is still a beautiful and divine ordinance, an excellent gift of God, who ordained it, and who wishes to have it maintained as indispensable to human welfare ; without it men could not live together in society, but would devour one another like the irrational animals. Therefore, as it is the function and honor of the ministerial office to make saints out of sinners, to restore the dead to life, to confer blessedness upon the lost, to change the servants of the devil into children of God : so it is the function and honor of civil government to make men out of wild animals, and to restrain them from degenerating into brutes. It protects every one in body, so that he may not be injured; it protects every one in family, so that the members may not be wronged; it protects every one in house, lands, cattle, property, so that they may not be attacked, injured, or stolen.

The state has the right and duty to compel parents and guardians to send all kids to school:

But I maintain that the civil authorities are under obligation to compel the people to send their children to school, especially such as are promising, as has elsewhere been said. For our rulers are certainly bound to maintain the spiritual and secular offices and callings, so that there may always be preachers, jurists, pastors, scribes, physicians, school-masters, and the like; for these can not be dispensed with. If the government can compel such citizens as are fit for military service to bear spear and rifle, to mount ramparts, and perform other martial duties in time of war; how much more has it a right to compel the people to send their children to school because in this case we are warring with the devil, whose object it is secretly to exhaust our cities and principalities of their strong men, to destroy the kernel and leave a shell of ignorant and helpless people, whom he can sport and juggle with at pleasure. That is starving out a city or country, destroying it without a struggle, and without its knowledge. The Turk does differently, and takes every third child in his empire to educate for whatever he pleases. How much more should our rulers require children to be sent to school, who, however, are not taken from their parents, but are educated for their own and the general good, in an office where they
have an adequate support.

Fichte, when he updated Luther’s schooling ideas in 1809, damns Luther with faint praise and dismisses his theology. He also dismisses the idea that compulsory public schools are not to simply confiscate children Luther says kids who are not destined to become scholars might spend as little as an hour or two a day in school; Fichte want kids to be completely separated from family for the duration of their schooling. This is a quibble over details, once you accept the principle that the state, not the parents, has the ultimate right to educate kids. Under that rule, the state can demand as much or as little separation from the family as it sees fit, teach them whatever the state wants, and all other details of their schooling. Parents simply have no standing to complain.

The state needs your child:

You must indeed be an insensible and ungrateful creature, fit to be ranked among the brutes, if you see that your son may become a man to help the emperor maintain his dominions, sword, and crown — to help the prince govern his land, to counsel cities and states, to help protect for every man his body, wife, child, property, and honor — and yet will not do so much as to send him to school and prepare him for this work!

There is a lot more to these letters. The key points are as Painter summed them up: the state must provide schooling for ‘free’ to everyone, and compel attendance. Further, opposing compulsory schooling is treason and damns one to hell. Education is not the sort of things parents understand, and so cannot be left up to them. Graded classrooms are essential, as is the record keeping needed to make sure each child is in the right grade.

Reading Interlude/Update

Still have the second half of Painter’s book on Luther’s role in education reform to review, and a few SciFi classics. Need a break.

A. One problem: I read slowly, in my dotage. This has something to do with reading a lot of philosophy and history, where speed kills, so to speak. It dawned on me- slow on the uptake – that I don’t really need to read SciFi or, mostly, these education books super carefully, as the points are generally not that subtle or evasive.

While I was never one of those blazing fast 3 novels a day type reader, as a kid, I was certainly a faster reader than I am now. So I consciously decided to read much faster.

It works. While there are definitely works that warrant a slow careful read, most of the stuff I’m reading now doesn’t. This one small trick has halved the scary pile of unread books (literally, I had to move stacks to the floor when cleaning up the other day) in terms of reading time.

Of course, the book on the top of the stack was Kreeft’s Socratic Logic which is one that needs to be read more carefully. But most of the pile can be read pulp speed.

B. Interesting times. We have 2 weeks to get the house ready for fumigation, as part of our efforts to sell it. Since we need to vacate the premises anyway, and a friend got us a couple tickets at no cost to us, we’ve decided to attend the Thomas Aquinas College 50th Anniversary Gala in Beverly Hills. Black tie. Not the usual shindig for the Moore family.

Fortunately, as a tenor who has sung in a number of choirs, I already own a tux. Bought it used 25+ years ago, haven’t worn it for years – but it fits. So I’m in with only a dry cleaning expense + I indulged in a new shirt. But my 17 year old son needed suiting up. I can recommend Dunhill, a seller of used tuxes. We ordered him one for under $100, found the coat was a little too large, they sent us a replacement no questions asked before I’d even returned the too large one. Good folks.

And it looks great. I was surprised at how nice it is, does not look used at all. A fit young man like our son looks awesome in a tux. Bond, James Bond.

As for the womenfolk, grandma owns a number of nice formal dresses. My beloved did the classic thrift store route, where she ran into another shopper who was totally into helping her get the right dress. Women are different. I can’t imagine a male stranger deciding he needed to help me, for example, get just the right suit, nor that I would not be weirded out by such attention. But this nice woman saw my wife shopping, and just sort of jumped right in, offering suggestions and reviews, looking for shawls that would look good with the dresses – and she and my wife seemed to have a good time doing this.

So my wife came away with two thrift store gowns, both of which passed muster with our daughters, who have picky good taste in such things. Huh.

C. The history class I’m teaching just completed week 4. Things are sticking a lot better the second time around for me, which is nice, plus I don’t have nearly the amount of prep to do, I can mostly just use what I did last year. So it’s a lot less exhausting and more fun.

The kids are great. The two oldest have spearheaded efforts to bring tea and snacks for the Thursday seminar. We’ve had shortbread, some sort of custard tort, and cucumber sandwiches so far. Homeschool kids for the win!

D. Whatever creative energies I have left after the above activities I have been directing at getting this mass setting I’ve been writing done. I don’t know why, exactly, but I got a (long-suppressed) jones for composing out of nowhere, and ran with it. The Gloria is maybe half a dozen measures from done, and the Kyrie and Agnus are started. I only have an hour or two a day to work on this, tops. I need to get back to the novels and non-fiction projects, but for some reason this mass seems urgent. Huh.

Education History Book Review: F. V. N. Painter’s Luther on Education (1889) pt 1

Painter, a vehement proponent of Protestantism and Whore of Babylon style anti-Catholic, has translated 2 of Luther’s letters on education, to make better known the great Reformer’s seminal contributions to compulsory state-funded graded classroom schooling. All that stuff which we associate with modern schooling is proposed and defended by Luther, starting in 1520.

This work is really 2 short books, the first of which is Painter’s take on the Reformation, the second his translations of two of Luther’s letters. Therefore, I’ll do this in two parts. The first is Painter’s “historical introduction”:

The fact that no great character can be fully understood without an acquaintance with the age in which he lived and the movements with which he was identified, led to the preparation of the first four chapters as a historical introduction.

Preface

These first four chapters make up about 60% of the work, and are not exactly what anyone not as on fire with Protestant zeal as Painter would call ‘balanced’. No one, Catholic or Protestant, would dispute the general claim of profound hellish corruption of the Church’s hierarchy in the 16th century. But no one who understands the effects of investiture can honestly point to the Church herself as the primary cause. When every bishop and abbot is a partisan, and often a relative, of the local prince or king, appointed at their pleasure based on loyalty or politics, and the Pope appointed by Emperors with no regard to the candidate’s spiritual suitability, then perhaps the secular government might seem a more likely locus to place blame. The issue is not simply that the Church was deeply involved in politics, but that the leaders of the Church had gotten their positions because of politics.

Yet, to Painter, Gregory VII’s attempt to pry control of the Church out of secular hands is seen as yet another foul Popish plot. That Gregory frustrated the attempts of the German Emperor Henry IV to appoint a pope to his liking is not the occasion for any introspection on the role of German emperors in corrupting the Church, but seen as overwhelming evidence of Papal perfidy.

Painter’s opening chapters contain a little history, true, but like the writings of Luther himself, quickly segue to polemic no matter what the topic putatively under discussion. The Catholic Church is irredeemably evil, the chosen tool of Satan, and an enemy of Protestant America. The enemy of my enemy is my friend: Painter goes so far as to defend the Albigensians, whose insane and destructive Gnosticism is pretty far from even Painter’s idea of Christianity, because the Church crushed them. He didn’t get around to defending the Aztecs, but one imagines he would, given his premises and zeal.

All good things that have happened in the West, and, indeed, the world, since 1517 are the result of Protestantism. America is a Protestant enterprise (no argument there from me) in which is no place for Catholics. American Catholics are (to the surprise of actual Catholics) awaiting orders from the Pope to whom all spiritual and temporal allegiance is sworn. Protestant Americans want to educate everyone; the Church wants to keep people stupid. One quotation will have to suffice:

Yet the Papacy is not favorable to the education of the masses. It seeks above all things absolute obedience on the part of its adherents. Intelligence among the laity is recognized as a dangerous possession; for it ministers to their independence in thinking, and makes them more critical of the teaching imposed upon them by priestly authority. Any activity displayed by the Papacy in popular education is forced by the existence of Protestant schools. The establishment of parish schools giving an education worth the name, is a measure of self-defense. The Jesuits, with all their lauded activity in education, never had the intellectual elevation of the masses at heart. With them education was a means of combating Protestantism, and of begetting a bigoted attachment to the Roman Church. Wherever the Papacy has had full control of education, the masses have been brought up in ignorance. It is a Jesuit maxim that ” A few should be well educated ; the people should be led. Reading and writing are enough for them.” When Victor Emmanuel took possession of the Papal States in 1870, only five per cent, of the population could read and write. In thrift and intelligence Catholic countries do not compare favorably with Protestant countries. Macaulay’s judgment on this point is as just as it is positive. ” During the last three centuries, to stunt the growth of the human mind has been the chief object of the Church of Rome. Throughout Christendom, whatever advance has been made in knowledge, in freedom, in wealth, and in the arts of life, has been made in spite of her, and has everywhere been in inverse proportion to her power. The loveliest and most fertile provinces of Europe have, under her rule, been sunk in poverty, in political servitude, and in intellectual torpor, while Protestant countries, once proverbial for sterility and barbarism, have been turned by skill and industry into gardens, and can boast of a long list of heroes and statesmen, philosophers and poets.”

Yet, somehow, scholars are not lacking among the canonized saints of the Church, which Church invented the university, and so on. Gregor Mendel and Georges Lemaître, among many thousands of other Catholic scientists and inventors, might find Painter’s analysis amusing.

Painter believes compulsory state education is an unmitigagted good, and that Catholic opposition to it is proof of the nefarious goals of the Papacy:

From the preceding discussion we may easily deduce the line of action that is necessary to protect our institutions, particularly our public school system, against papal aggression.

1. We should carefully observe the insidious movements of the Papacy.

2. Recognizing the separation of Church and State wisely made by the Constitution, we should nowhere tolerate sectarian legislation.

3. Maintaining the right of the State to educate its citizens, we should forbid the appropriation of any public funds to sectarian schools.

4. All public school offices should be filled with recognized friends of popular education.

5. The rights of conscience should be maintained and defended by the State.

In order to present the appearance of a united Protestant front against Catholics, Painter is here resorting to something like what Lewis called ‘mere Christianity,’ this fantasy under which some undefined subset of Protestants are really all basically primitive evangelical Christians despite disputes over dogma that had fractured them into dozens of flavors even by Painter’s time. Are Mormons Christians? How about Jehovah’s Witnesses or Seventh Day Adventists? Unitarians? Why not? When reading the contemporary writings of the early 19th century, it’s not unusual to come across a Presbyterian, say, who is sure his Methodist neighbor is going straight to Hell. The earlier Protestants were hardly afraid of dogma, and believed it a life or death matter. Painter certainly does, although what exactly those dogmas are and who, exactly, he considers his co-religionists, is unclear. What is clear from history: the one thing that united 19th century Protestants was hatred of the Catholic Church.

Painter’s freedom of conscience is, when fully played out, what we have today: it is unpardonable bigotry to say anyone isn’t whatever they say they are, or to condemn anything they want to do. Painter himself is a huge fan of the vigorously judgmental Luther – just read anything Luther wrote about anything for examples. The judgement of Catholics that the Church holds the full truth of Christianity is a claim any proper Lutheran or Calvinist or Methodist would have once sternly made for their own beliefs as well. And – this is critical – if you believe that your church holds the fullness of the Faith, it would be incumbent upon you to convert as many people as possible to this Truth, AND to do whatever you could to have this truth embodied in society, in culture, and in law – for everybody’s objective good. When we say that America is a Protestant nation, is this not what we mean? That the laws, culture, and society are the expression of the Protestant beliefs of the Founding Fathers and the culture that produced them? And that, finally, the dissolution of America that we are experiencing right now is also an expression of that culture, which never was as homogenous as myth would have it? The New England Calvinists despised the Virginia Episcopalians, and visa versa, for one example among many. These inherited animosities and the manifest drive toward fragmentation are as much a part of the Protestant roots of America as the reverence for individual conscience and faith in the perfectibility of man.

Wow, I fell into exactly what Painter did: using a format – him, an introduction; me, a book review – to expound our personal beliefs. Oops. To yank this back on topic: for my purposes, Painter’s introductory chapters merely reiterate that the beliefs that drove the Know-Nothings back in the first half of the 19th century were still going strong in the second half. Separating out, as much as we can, the mere anti-Catholic bigotry, we can ask: Did the Know Nothings have a legitimate grievance? Largely, yes – Catholic immigrants were being used by Tammany Hall and other thuggish governments as a way to get and hold power. Fresh off the boat, Catholic immigrants got housing, food, a job funded by graft and corruption, and a meeting with a judge on the take who granted them citizenship in defiance of the law. These newly-minted Americans were then told how to vote, and woe to any who dared question it! Thus, Democratic party machines got and held power in major American cities, power they continue to hold, for the most part. It was an immigration problem foreshadowing the one we have now. The Know Nothings had a legitimate case for wanting tighter immigration and naturalization laws.

But, alas! Those corrupt political machines were never really cleaned up. Rather, their practices became normalized and invisible. Thus, instead of having a Fred Roti run Chicago, you merely have an understanding that no one who actively opposes the machine is every getting anywhere. So, you shut up and go along, or move out. The Roti family may not be around to off troublemakers like in the good old days, but that’s only because challenges to the system are simply cut off much more elegantly now.

And many Catholic are complicit in this. One can hardly blame them for accepting with gratitude the help of Tammany Hall or the job as a policeman in Chicago, back in the day, but at some point, the lightbulb will go on – unless one actively works to keep it off.

So, at the same time, the last few decades of the 19th century, we have Painter saying that the efforts of Catholics to keep their kids out of pubic schools amounts to treason; Catholic bishops saying that it is the duty of every parish to build a Catholic school, so that every Catholic child in America can be educated outside the virulently anti-Catholic public schools; and Archbishop Ireland telling the NEA that, eventually, all Catholic children will attend public schools.

It’s messy and confusing. Painter ends up ‘winning’ this battle, in that Catholic schools now produce graduates who have no allegiance to anything the Church teaches, in the unlikely event they even learn what those teachings are. But his victory is Pyrrhic: the pure and noble Protestantism he loved is, if anything, even deader.

Education History Book Review: Shield’s Making and Unmaking of a Dullard

Thomas Shields (1862-1921), a priest and doctor of psychology at Catholic University of America, wrote his Making and Unmaking of a Dullard in 1909. Although written in the form of a dialogue taking place at weekly dinner parties over the course of months, it is universally considered his autobiography. As a dialogue, it is a resounding failure: no one besides the author comes off any deeper than a cardboard cutout, nor contributes much of anything except leading questions that simply interrupt the flow of Shields’s story.

Archive.org is wonderful

This book reinforces an impression long held: the central figures in American education history are, almost without exception, unimaginative mediocrities. Horace Mann or William Torey Harris would, I imagine, bore one to tears ov er a beer, if they every did something so common; Shields comes off as precisely the sort of academic Silence Dogood or Mark Twain would have a field day with. The one exception, whose native brilliance sometimes shines through his prose, is, alas, a force for evil. John Dewey is a sharp dude, and a horror. Other intelligent men, like Brownson and Hecker, merely wrote about education without being crowned as ‘educationists’. And they have their own issues.

Back to Shields. Here is the list of participants in the dialogue, with as much as I can glean about their personalities and roles:

  • Mr. O’Brien – the host?
  • Mrs. O’Brien – The O’Briens make obvious statements or ask obvious questions
  • Miss Russell/Miss Ruth – model teacher in the Lee School; “eminently qualified to enlighten us on the characteristic features of the modem school- room.” She provides the latest news on education trends.
  • Judge Russell – her father? A judge, who also had a horrible experience in school but overcame it to become a judge. A gruff, elderly voice. O’Brien announces at the beginning that Judge Russell will need to keep the peace between the next two characters.
  • Dr. Studevan – Shields
  • Professor Shannon – Shields’s adversary, I guess. He provides the current wisdom, and reads articles from magazines. Maybe the Simplicio of the scene?

Bottom line: except for the O’Briens, each of these characters delivers a brief monologue or two early in the festivities, makes a few remarks, then, essentially, disappears half-way through. I never once wondered what the Judge or Shannon was going to say about anything – they, and all the characters, are, effectively, furniture.

One fascinating thing: complaints made about the schools in 1909 sound oddly modern. For example, Shannon quotes at length from G. Stanley Hall: *

“Many of the boys, especially in the upper classes of the high schools, are so out-numbered that they are practically in a girls’ school, taught by women at just that age when vigorous male control and example are more needed than at any other time of life. The natural exuberance of the boy is often toned down, but if he is to be well virified later, ought he not in the middle teens, and later, to be so boisterous at times as to be rather unfit for constant companionship with girls ? Is there not something wrong with the high school boy who can truly be called a perfect gentleman, or whose conduct and character conform to the ideals of the average unmarried female teacher? Boys need a different discipline, moral regimen, atmosphere, and method of work. Under female influence certainly — as, alas, too often under that of the male teacher — form now always tends to take precedence over content. The boy revolts at much method with meager matter, craves utility and application. Too often, when the very germs of his manhood are burgeoning, all these instincts are denied, and he is compelled to learn the stated lessons which every one else in the country is learning at his age, to work all day with girls.”

“the February number of Munsey’s

I think this is meant to be a dig at Shields, as he was (I think – have to look through the notes) a major proponent of women teachers, which would mesh with the weird otherwise content-free adversarial relationship between Shannon and Shields. Also, it’s worth remembering that American ‘educationists’ had only recently managed to sell the idea of high school for everyone. 15 or 20 years earlier, few would be talking about high school age boys not getting enough exposure to manly-men in school, because teen age boys weren’t in school for the most part.

Back to Shields. His laboriously-told story is that, at the age of 9, his teacher judged him unfit for any academic pursuits, labeled him ‘Studevan’s omadhaun’ (an Irish term meaning fool) and sent him home to work on the farm. Shields’s says that he had learned how to read and perform the multiplication tables, but had merely been advanced too far – he couldn’t quite manage the 3rd Reader, had been humiliated and terrified into a silence he could not overcome. Thus, from age 9 to 16, interrupted briefly at age 13 by another failed attempt at school, he stayed home and worked on the farm. He forgot almost all the math and reading he had learned, and accepted the judgement of his teacher and family: he was simply a dullard, incapable of any intellectual achievement.

As he entered his 16th year, a slowly-developing sense that he wasn’t so dumb after all accelerated. Farm work left a lot of time for thought, and he tried to figure out the various measures used on the farm, and the working of the farm equipment. Finally, he became obsessed with building a stump-puller based on his understanding of how levers and pulleys worked, secretly modified an abandoned machine to that end, snuck it out to the fields when his family was at Mass – and yanked up some stumps.

Now convinced that he could at least become a mechanic, he began to pursue knowledge, recovering his ability to read, and, I suppose, the rest is history. At least, this is where the story ends.

Early in the story, the interlocutors discuss how the dullard – by which they seem to mean any child uninterested or incapable of doing as they are told – is the bane of all teachers. Miss Russell and Professor Shannon read or recite statistics and stories illustrating the appalling frequency of dullards – half of NYC kids, for example, were, in modern terms, not performing to grade level. Shannon generously points out that a huge percentage of those kids are immigrant children trying to learn English at the same time they are trying to keep up in school, but allows that, even so, there a lot of idiots out there.

Finally, the create something of a taxonomy of dullards. They identify 7 ways a kid can become an idiot:

  • heredity,
  • disease,
  • environment,
  • malnutrition,
  • defective senses,
  • fright,
  • alternating phases of physical and mental development

I don’t know anyone who would argue that the first 6 causes are not real, and, in the story, no one disputes them. Note here that Shields creates a single class – dullards – into which he puts all kids who are not cooperative or responsive in school. The nearsighted and hard of hearing are classed with the bored and violent, and the truly mentally deficient, and so on. But Shields is not interested in the first 6 causes because they do not apply to him, and so they are not developed at all. Instead, we focus on his pet theory: that kids alternate phases of physical and mental development, and that trying to get a kid to learn when he’s in a phase of physical development is futile and injurious. Pardon the long quotation, part of which I’ve already quoted in my earlier preliminary review – here is Shields explanation of his theory:

“A full explanation of this physiological phenomenon, Judge, would involve a treatise on the physiology of the nervous system, but stripped of technicalities the important facts in the case are these. All vital functions are controlled by nerve currents. The quality and quantity of every secretion, as well as body temperature, respiration, and the circulation of the blood, depend upon appropriate nerve currents. And not only this, but the nutrition and growth of every organ and gland, of every cell in the body, are dependent upon the same source. A broken bone, for instance, if it be deprived of its proper nerve supply, will never heal.

“On the other hand, the process of mental development, as indeed all the phenomena of consciousness, rest upon high tension nerve currents in the cerebral cortex. Now, it frequently happens that a boy or girl grows very rapidly for a few years, during which period the physical organism makes such demands upon the nerve energy that the cortical tension is lowered and there is not sufficient nerve energy left to carry on the work of rapid mental development.

“We all know how injurious it is, for example, to indulge in mental work immediately after eating a hearty meal. When food enters the stomach it originates nerve impulses that draw the blood away from the brain for use in the processes of digestion. If brain activity be indulged in at this time, the blood is withdrawn from the viscera and forced into the brain under an increased pressure to furnish the required nerve energy and thus the digestive process is delayed and sometimes the digestive apparatus itself is injured.

“Now, we have a similar conflict going on between mental and physical development. It seldom happens that during childhood and youth the balance is preserved between the growth and development of the body and the growth and development of the mental processes. The extent to which this balance is disturbed and the length of time that each phase continues varies within wide limits.”

“If you exclude the children who have become dullards through any one of the six causes just enumerated, and arrange the children in any third or fourth grade room in accordance with their physical development, you will find them fairly well classified inversely as their mental capacity, that is, the brightest children will be the smallest and the largest children will be the dullest. Here and there puzzling exceptions to this rule will be found, but these are not sufficient to obscure the general truth.

“The eagerness and ambition of the smaller children, coupled with their quickness of movement, indicate high cortical tension. If these children are constantly over stimulated, as frequently happens, their physical development may be retarded for some years. In extreme cases they are to be found among those children whom over-fond mothers are in the habit of regarding as too bright or too good for this world. Less aggravated cases not infrequently result in permanent invalidism. This is particularly true of girls when the period of over stimulation is carried beyond the twelfth or the fourteenth year. If these precocious little ones escape disease and death from over stimulation they will finally reach a time in which the balance swings in the opposite direction and physical development, so long retarded, sets in with unusual rapidity. The ensuing mental phase is characterized by lack of energy which to the uninstructed is pure laziness.

“If the pupils are at this time entrusted to incompetent teachers the discouragement into which they fall is likely to degenerate into permanent dullness from which they make no further effort to escape. And thus it happens that precocious children are seldom heard from in after life. I am quite convinced, however, that when the precociousness is not due to inherited or acquired disease this result may be prevented by competent teachers. But in the present condition of our schools the chances of permanent success are much better where the physical development of the child is in the ascendant during the early years of school life. Here the danger to health from over stimulation is avoided and when at last the processes of physical development begin to slow up, if the discouragement is not too deep, mental life may awaken to a new vigor.

“Either extreme, however, is difficult to manage and may prove dangerous in the hands of incompetent or careless teachers. A balance between the two processes of development is the safest and may be considered the condition of typical children. The development of these children should accordingly determine the work of the grade and their condition should form the ideal towards which the teacher should constantly strive to lead the developmental processes in the atypical children.”

CHAPTER V – Alternating Phases of Physical and Mental Development

Recall that Shields is a professor of psychology at Catholic University of America, under Fr. Edward Pace, founder of the Psychology department at that school, and a student of Wilhelm Wundt. To quote Wikipedia:

A survey published in American Psychologist in 1991 ranked Wundt’s reputation as first for “all-time eminence” based on ratings provided by 29 American historians of psychology. William James and Sigmund Freud were ranked a distant second and third.[6]

So the ‘scientific’ stylings of Shields are by no means some outlier – he’s but one step removed from the greatest psychologist of his age. It would be straightforward, if a bit time-consuming and tedious, to, you know, *test* those theories of his, after the manner of actual scientists, plenty of whom were contemporaneously extant. But psychologists prefer insight, after the manner of Hegel and Marx – you just *know* what’s what, because you’ve thought about it at and you’re just so smart and enlightened. Rather than examining those perplexing outliers – guys like me, who have always been among the largest and quickest children in any classroom I’ve ever been in – indeed, rather than setting up any sort of systematic approach to examining his assumptions, Shields just runs with it. He concludes – and keep in mind, he is among the most influential ‘educationists’ in American history – teachers need to retard the progress of – dumb down – the smart kids in order to save them from the all but inevitable sickness, death, or at least invalidism, that will inevitably result from letting them study what they want.

The key aspects here:

  • Highly trained teachers are essential
  • Constant monitoring of students is essential
  • Any error in technique can have devastating consequences
  • Graded classrooms are essential
  • The average student’s learning capacity (within a graded classroom) is the standard to which all students will be held.
  • Exceeding that standard is as bad or worse than falling beneath it
  • All of the above are Science!(tm)

How about, just for kicks, another set of conclusions from the same data Shields presents?

  • Schooling from age 9 to 16 is unnecessary – Shields got none, and he became an elite professor at an elite university
  • Better to grow up on a farm and do useful work than go to school.
  • If you skip 7 years of schooling, you can catch up in a matter of months.

Shields does have Shannon Simplicio point much of this out, only so that he can mock him and (very unconvincingly) shoot it down.

It is from men like Shields and thinking like this that modern schooling has been built.

Next up: F. V. N. Painter’s Luther on education; including a historical introduction, and a translation of the reformer’s two most important educational treatises (1889). About half-way through. All I can say: if you want to understand why Catholics wanted nothing to do with public schools, Mr. Painter will explain it to you.

* Hall is another 19th – early 20th century psychologist, the usual mixture of eugenics fanatic and ‘educationist’. Then as now, psychology, perhaps even more than other academic fields, attracts nuts and mediocrities who, enabled by education and certification, are then hellbent on telling saner, happier people how to live.

Education Reading Update

I’m constructively working through my anxiety by reading. So far, got 3-4 books off John C Wright’s Essential SciFi Library list read or reading, and a good start on my collection of Thomas Shields and Edward Pace writings. Reviewed Shields’ First Book here. Am halfway through his Making and Unmaking of a Dullard, an autobiography of sorts, framed as a Platonic dialogue. Think Symposium, but with early 20th century Progressives instead of Alcibiades and Socrates. In other words, much less fun.

Also, found The Catholic Educational Review, VOLUME XI January- May 1916 on Arhive.org. This is a periodical founded by Pace & Shields which ran for decades. Sigh. I’m going to slog through at least this volume, just to get a feel for it. Finally, have a dead tree copy of Shields’ The Philosophy of Education (1917) in the stacks here, got to fish it out and read it next. Then, I must return to Burn’s The Catholic School System in the United States, which I never finished reviewing. Burns got his PhD from Catholic University in 1906 under Shields and Pace, wrote the definitive history of American Catholic schools, and went on to be president of Notre Dame.

Shields, Pace, and Burns are the big dogs when it comes to Catholic education in America. Until they came along, parochial schooling and Catholic colleges were a bit of a free-for-all. For better and worse, they put some order onto Catholic schooling.

All three appear to me to be American Catholic Millennialists, believing that by application of scientific psychology to Catholic education, America can lead the Church to a perfect, or at least a better without limit, world. They are the foremost representatives of Americanism after the manner of Hecker and Brownson. It is fascinating that Pace and Shields were responsible for the article in the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia discussing the heresy of Americanism, where the pope’s and many Americans’ concerns that the American Church was being lead into Modernism by its some of its leadership were dismissed as a mere baseless misunderstanding.

Right.

The optimism and faith in progress of these men is all but unbelievable. They are just sure that, by applying modern scientific thinking to education, they can create perfect little American Catholics, who are of course without question the model for Catholics world-wide. Their late 19th century psychology and ideas about science are not an advance on phrenology. Seriously. We’ll get to that in a moment.

A couple notes:

The Catholic Educational Review, VOLUME XI January- May 1916

– A large portion of this volume is devoted to an attack on the Carnegie Foundation’s views of education, as expressed in a recent report the Foundation had issued. The gloves are totally off. I have no real understanding of what the issues are, but I can guess. I’ll write this up when I’m done reading it.

– This raises the endless issue: now, I’ll need to find and read that Carnegie report, right? Sheesh. Everything I read points to multiple other sources that seem essential.

Making and Unmaking of a Dullard

– This dialogue seems to be little more than a gripe session about the interlocutors’ childhoods, in order to provide Shields with the opportunity of expostulating on his frankly silly psychological theories.

– Shields lists 7 ways a dullard, or idiot, or atypical child can be created, but focuses on one, the one to which he attributes his own difficulties in school: Alternating Phases of Development. Here’s how Shields puts it, in answer to the Judge’s request for an explanation:

“A full explanation of this physiological phenomenon, Judge, would involve a treatise on the physiology of the nervous system, but stripped of technicalities the important facts in the case are these. All vital functions are controlled by nerve currents….

“On the other hand, the process of mental development, as indeed all the phenomena of consciousness, rest upon high tension nerve currents in the cerebral cortex. Now, it frequently happens that a boy or girl grows very rapidly for a few years, during which period the physical organism makes such demands upon the nerve energy that the cortical tension is lowered and there is not sufficient nerve energy left to carry on the work of rapid mental development.

“We all know how injurious it is, for example, to indulge in mental work immediately after eating a hearty meal. When food enters the stomach it originates nerve impulses that draw the blood away from the brain for use in the processes of digestion. If brain activity be indulged in at this time, the blood is withdrawn from the viscera and forced into the brain under an increased pressure to furnish the required nerve energy and thus the digestive process is delayed and sometimes the digestive apparatus itself is injured.

“Now, we have a similar conflict going on between mental and physical development. It seldom happens that during childhood and youth the balance is preserved between the growth and development of the body and the growth and development of the mental processes. The extent to which this balance is disturbed and the length of time that each phase continues varies within wide limits.”

“If you exclude the children who have become dullards through any one of the six causes just enumerated, and arrange the children in any third or fourth grade room in accordance with their physical development, you will find them fairly well classified inversely as their mental capacity, that is, the brightest children will be the smallest and the largest children will be the dullest. Here and there puzzling exceptions to this rule will be found, but these are not sufficient to obscure the general truth.

“The eagerness and ambition of the smaller children, coupled with their quickness of movement, indicate high cortical tension. If these children are constantly over stimulated, as frequently happens, their physical development may be retarded for some years. In extreme cases they are to be found among those children whom over-fond mothers are in the habit of regarding as too bright or too good for this world. Less aggravated cases not infrequently result in permanent invalidism. This is particularly true of girls when the period of over stimulation is carried beyond the twelfth or the fourteenth year. If these precocious little ones escape disease and death from over stimulation they will finally reach a time in which the balance swings in the opposite direction and physical development, so long retarded, sets in with unusual rapidity. The ensuing mental phase is characterized by lack of energy which to the uninstructed is pure laziness.

CH V, Alternating Phases of Development

So, quick children need to be slowed down by the expert educationist, so as not to overdo their nerve energy or their cortical tension and thus damage their minds and become invalids. You can see the beginnings of No Child Left Behind here: the solution is to dumb down the bright kids – for their own good – and make sure the slower kids get to catch up. All very scientifiliciously described.

That a kid might grow and learn well if encouraged to follow his own interests is not to be considered. Instead, the bright child is to be frustrated in his desire for learning, on the basis of a half-backed theory that is buzzword-compliant, circa 1910, but has little else to recommend it. As Lewis (I think) put it: say you are going to experiment on children, and everybody is up in arms. But say you’re putting them in an experimental school, and all is good.

– Again, Shields has his interlocutors refer to or quote from contemporary sources that I’ll have to at least look up.

Got a lot more reading to do. Further bulletins are events warrant.

Education History Reading: Thomas Shield’s First Book (1917) pt 1?

Fr. Thomas Edward Shields (1862-1921) was a professor at Catholic University, who, along with Fr. Edward Pace, founded the psychology department there. He was one of the most influential Catholic educators of the early 20th century.

Here, we begin a review of his First Book, a little tome intended for 6 year olds. In many ways, it is a charming book: Shields organizes each of the 10 chapters in 4 parts: a scene from nature, a scene from family life, a scene from the life of Christ, and a simple song. Sections are illustrated with nice art. The kids are supposed to learn reading from this book, as well as get a bit of nature and art. Teachers are advised to read how to teach singing in Shield’s Teacher’s Manual of Primary Methods. But the main point of the book is to teach religion, specifically, Catholicism. The overall approach is integrated: nature, art, the family, music, the Gospels, are all used to inculcate a little Jesus into the tender young minds.

But – you knew there was going to be a ‘but’ – Shields remains a Progressive and a 19th century psychologist. He can’t stop with a charming, unobjectionable little book. Nope, he needs to introduce a bunch of theory. He has to believe that the little tykes could become so much better if properly lead by properly educated teachers according to scientific psychology. The tacit judgement: all those kids who have not been guided by fully trained teachers according to scientific principles are somehow flawed, and fail to live up to what they could have been.

Yikes. Like Pestalozzi, Shields believes in the constant monitoring of every student by a trained teacher, who then directs the student according to sound scientific principles. In other words, leaving the kids to figure anything out on their own is mere disaster. Also, subtly and almost certainly unintentionally, the family is being held to an impossible ideal. To illustrate this, let’s take his nature examples first. In the very first one, Shields describes a mother robin caring for her hatchlings. All very sweet and beautiful. The charming story is used introduce the child to the idea of family and ultimately divine love and care.

But what happens when the poor kid learns that bird very often kill their own chicks? That, in many species, the mother shoves the less perfect hatchlings out of the nest to their deaths, in order to concentrate her energies on their bigger, healthier siblings? Nature isn’t nice.

Similarly, the book describes family life in charming terms, where Mother selflessly cares for her children, and Father selflessly protects and provides for them all. Well? Sure is a good image and a proper ideal, but very few families are going to live up to it always and everywhere. What happens when an individual kid’s experiences don’t line up with this ideal? Since it is tied very tightly to Shield’s exposition of the faith, where Jesus’s love for us is presented as a more perfect version of our parents’ love for us, and, indeed, of robins’ love for their chicks, a failure anywhere along that line invites the kid to disbelief.

Not saying Shields’s approach is wrong, exactly – I want kids to believe in the goodness of nature and family – but it is laying what could be dangerous landmines for particular kids. On the plus side, maybe a kid will be enabled to see that his family isn’t living up to the ideal, and judge his family, and not the ideal, as the problem. It’s different, fundamentally, than reading Little House on the Prairie or Little Women, which are examples of particular families and include lots of problems and even tragedies. Here, in Shields’s book, the ideal family is presented as a realized ideal – kids are invited to see their families as such. Seems dangerous to me, or at least, an open invitation to a certain kind of problem that could be avoided by a different approach – say, reading the kids the books just mentioned.

More generally, the problems here are twofold: first, the idea that a late 19th century psychologist had ‘scientifically’ determined the best way to educate every kid is absurd. Merely setting up ‘laboratories’ to measure psychical phenomena doesn’t mean you are doing or discovering anything real. You might be able, for an example from the 19th century, to determine how long, exactly, people need to see a picture flashed before their eyes before it registers at all on their minds. And? Does that lead to any coherent theory of education? Indeed, what happens instead is that theories far beyond what any observation could support are crowbarred into a lab coat and called ‘science’. John Tylor Gatto observed that there isn’t anything like science behind any of the popular theories of education – it’s just biases, prejudices, and handwavium all the way down. Shields does nothing to disabuse me from Gatto’s view.

Second, and this is a general issue observable in Hecker, Brownson, Pace, Shields, Burns and all the 19th century ‘educationists’ from Fichte and Mann on – Progressivism, if it means anything, means a belief in the perfectibility of man in the here and now. If that belief happens not to be true, then you’ve set up an educational system that is bound to leave teacher, students, and theorist disappointed, to say the least. One could then change one’s opinion to match reality (ha! I slay me.), despair, or double down. Of the last 2 options, despair is the better by far. We’ve already seen how well doubling down works.

Maybe I’ll do a part 2, and go into details of this particular book. First, I find it enlightening to find out a little bit about these titans of Catholic education. To their credit, both Shields and Fr. Edward Pace were instrumental in the creation of the wonderful 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia. However, reading the excerpt quoted below made me realize I love that old encyclopedia because of the way Catholic issues are written about – I never read anything in it to see how, for relevant example, contemporary psychology was written about. Seems I’ll need to read that sort of thing at some point, to balance out my take.

So, who is Thomas Edward Shields? Here what Encyclopedia.com has to say:

Educator; b. Mendota, MN, May 9, 1862; d. Washington, DC, Feb. 15, 1921. The son of Irish immigrants, he was somewhat unruly as a child and finished his formal schooling late. He was admitted to St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, WI, in 1882, and to St. Thomas Seminary, St. Paul, MN, in 1885. At St. Thomas he published his first book, Index Omnium (1888), which was designed to help professional men correlate data gathered from wide reading. After his ordination on March 4, 1891, he studied for his Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. His dissertation, The Effect of Odors Upon the Blood Flow (1895), influenced psychological research, and in 1902 he joined the faculty of The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, as an instructor in psychology.

Shields soon transferred his interest to education. In 1905 he set up a correspondence course, supplemented by diocesan summer institutes, for sisters in the expanding Catholic school system. He established the university’s department of education in 1909 and served as its first chairman. The following year he founded the Catholic Educational Review. In 1911 he conducted the first Summer Institute for Catholic Sisters at the university, and he founded the Sisters College, of which he was dean. In 1912 he was instrumental in securing the adoption of the University Affiliation Program. To correlate the curriculum of the Catholic school, Shields wrote a series of four widely used texts in religion. He was also the author of The Education of Our Girls (1907), a dialogue; The Making and Unmaking of a Dullard (1909), a description of his youth; and The Philosophy of Education (1917), the first Catholic book of its kind in English. He was perhaps the leading Catholic educator in the U.S. during the first quarter of the 20th century.

For Edward Pace, we turn to Wikipedia (so sue me – it’s succinct and accurate as far as it goes):

Edward A. Pace (July 3, 1861 – April 26, 1938) was a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida. He was the first native Floridian to be ordained a diocesan priest.

Pace did his doctoral work in psychology in Germany with Wilhelm Wundt. He wrote his dissertation on Herbert Spencer and evolution.

Pace was extensively involved with the early development of The Catholic University of America. He was the first professor of psychology at CUA, and was the founding dean of its School of Philosophy. He held several administrative positions throughout his career, and was involved with many of the University’s academic initiatives. He was one of the general editors of the edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia completed in 1914. In addition, Pace contributed to the founding of Trinity College, Washington, D.C.

In 1892 he became one of the first five psychologists elected to the American Psychological Association by its charter members. He was co-founder of the American Philosophical Association (1893), cofounder of the Catholic Philosophical Association (1926), co-founder and first editor of Catholic Educational Review (1911), cofounder and coeditor of the journal New Scholasticism (1926). Between 1907 and 1912 he was one of the leading editors of the fifteen-volume Catholic Encyclopedia. He was appointed by President Hoover to the National Advisory Committee on Education in 1926.[1]

Here’s Shields in his element, from Wikisource, the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia:

As applied to a mental process, assimilation derives all its force and meaning from the analogy which many educationists have found to exist between the way in which food is incorporated into the living tissue and the manner in which truth is acquired by the growing mind. That education means the assimilation of truth is almost a commonplace in modern pedagogy. Few, however, have felt the full force of the comparison or realized how completely the psychological in this as in other instances follows on the lines of the physiological. Just as the living cell cannot delegate the task of assimilation, so the mind cannot by any contrivance of educational methods evade the task of performing the assimilative process for itself. All that the teacher can do is to prepare the material and to stimulate the mind of the pupil; the pupil himself must perform the final act of acquiring knowledge, namely the act of incorporating into his mind the truth presented to him. In the second place, the mind cannot take over into its own substance a complex truth as such. The truth must first be broken up into less complex component parts, which are assimilable by the mind in its present condition of development.

There is little profit, for example, in placing before the pupil a finished essay, unless the pupil is taught to analyze the finished literary product into its constituent elements, and to reconstruct those elements into a living whole. This, of course, implies much more than the task of summarizing each paragraph and labelling it more or less happily. When the term assimilation is used with reference to mental development, it is well to remember that, while it originally referred to the building up of anatomical elements, these elements, once constructed, have an immediate psychological bearing. Each particle of matter that is lifted into the living tissue acquires thereby a functional unity, that is, it is brought into functional relation with every other particle of the organism. Similarly, a truth once incorporated into the mind sheds its light on the entire mental content, and is in turn illuminated by every previously assimilated truth. Acting on these principles, the up-to-date educationist insists: first, that each new truth should be not only an addition to the stock of knowledge of the pupil, but also a functional acquisition, something that stimulates the pupil’s mind to increased activity; secondly, that in every educational endeavor the centre of orientation should be shifted from the logical centre of the body of truth to be imparted to the present needs and capacities of the growing mind.

Smorgas-bored

Got all these posts to write, from serious – more analysis of the current panic – to fun – review of Galactic Patrol the latest book I’ve read off John C. Wright’s essential scifi list. But that gets to be work, sometimes. So, instead, let’s fire up the flotsam randomizer, and see what floats by:

A. If anyone says ‘the world has too many people’ anywhere other than on their own suicide note, such a one is a murderous bigot.

B. Space Alien Footstep? Look at this:

The dappled lighting made this hard to see, so I put a red border around it.

This (hard to see in the picture, not hard in real life) is a near-perfect rectangle of dead grass in the backyard. It appeared a week or so ago. It’s about the size and shape of a cooler, maybe slightly bigger.

So – what? I can’t remember puttying anything on the lawn, let alone anything that would kill the grass. Nobody else here can, either. The unnaturally exact rectangular-ness makes natural explanations seem far-fetched….

Weird.

C. This deserves at least a dedicated post – Edward Feser’s latest, Ioannidis on the politicization of science, which begins with a link to a 2005 Ioannidis paper, Why Most Published Research Findings Are False Regular readers here know I’m saying ‘duh’ right about now. It seems that Ioannidis’ paper was well-received, back in 2005, in the sense that many scientists acknowledged its obvious truth. I trust you see what’s coming next: Ioannidis recently published another paper, applying his logic from the 2005 paper to COVID studies. As Feser says: ” In a new essay at The Tablet, Ioannidis reflects on the damage that has been done to the norms of scientific research as politics has corrupted it during the pandemic.”

These observations were not as well received.

I started a long response to Dr. Feser, which I may still complete, simply noting the observation that was the genesis of this blog – that, for the most part, one does not need to be a scientist to spot the errors in most papers, that logic, a basic knowledge of the history of science, and, most important, a fairly basic understanding of how science really works – what science can and cannot do – is sufficient to judge most claims made in the name of science. It’s not like it takes genius or a PhD to note, for example, that ‘cases’ are a moving target over time and space, with definitions and data gathering protocols being wildly inconsistent, such that any comparisons of one time with another, or one place or another, needs A LOT of ‘splaining – just assuming a change in the reported numbers reflects increases of infection purely is irresponsible, to say the least.

(Aside: you can separate out the posers at this point – they are the people who will say I’m nit-picking here. To such people, all technical criticism of methodology will appear as nit-picking, yet any knowledge of science history will show that such ‘nit-picking’ is how science works, when it does work.)

Good stuff.

D. Just one thing about E. E. Smith’s Galactic Patrol prior to the full write-up: you can spot a dozen Star Trek episodes and most of Star Wars right there, in a book written in the 1930s. Jedis, way cool mind powers, Hero’s Journey, evil empire, fight to the death. It might be faster to list what’s missing: Dark Father doesn’t get redeemed or even exist; the love interest is not the hero’s sister, and Chewbacca is played by a dragon and Yoda by a disembodied brain. With way-cool Jedi mind powers. Stay tuned.

Sci Fi Classic Book Review: Verne’s Master of the World

I like to read up on the authors as I go through these classic Sci Fi works off of John C. Wright’s Essential Sci Fi Reading List. Reading up on Jules Verne, I discovered that many of the English translation of his novels were rushed and abridged, as American and English publishers thought they could most quickly cash in on Verne as an author of children’s books. While better translations have long been available, these abridged editions seem to make up a good portion of Verne’s works available for free on the web. Now I’m left to wonder what, if any, Verne I’ve actually read, and how many watered-down and condensed English versions I’ve instead plowed through.

Book Cover

Dead give-away: the translation/condensation of Master of the World I’ve just finished lists no translator, and is only about 140 pages long. I spent a few minutes conducting a by no means thorough search for an unabridged translation for free on the web, to no avail. Serious, non-abridged English translations of Verne began shortly after his death in 1905, so they’re out there and out of copyright. Amazon offers this collection at a $1.99, which says it’s ‘unexpurgated’.

So until I get a chance to read the full novel, this review of the kiddy version will have to do.

One of the things I enjoy about Verne is that he treats Americans as the exotic species we really are. In From the Earth to the Moon, Verne gives Americans fanciful names and absurd behaviors which I imagine were very amusing to his continental readers back in 1865. The one thing he latched on to, and a thing he might well have intended as a rebuke to his countrymen, is America’s can-do attitude: a bunch of American artillery men, fresh off the ‘glories’ of the Civil War, turn their attention to firing humans to the moon out of a giant canon, because why not? Master of the World is likewise a tale of audacious Americans.

Our narrator John Strock is presented as the great detective working for the (mythical?) Federal Police, who have time, budget, and portfolio to pursue odd events in rural North Carolina. Peculiar happenings have been observed atop a lonely mountain called the Great Eyrie. This inaccessible peak is topped by a sheer 100′ cliff that completely encircles it, such that no one has ever surmounted it. Yet over the course of days, fires, lights, and noises originate from its hidden peak.

Strock gets a team together to go investigate, but they are stymied by the cliffs. He needs the funding and permission to get some more extensive climbing or tunneling equipment to access the peak. His boss isn’t ready quite yet to commit, as another series of strange phenomena have since drawn attention away from the Great Eyrie. One or more strange monsters or perhaps vehicles has been sighted in Boston Harbor as a boat, in Wisconsin as a car, in a mythical lake in Kansas as a submarine. The nation’s and eventually the world’s attention is riveted.

So Strock is sent to investigate, but not before he receives a very threatening letter telling him to back off from the Great Eyrie, or else. He takes it as a joke, and does not discuss it with his boss.

Eventually, the conviction grows that these sightings are of a single machine, an incredible contraption that is faster than any automobile, faster than any ship, and can dive as a submarine to escape any pursuers. The Government of the US, followed by the governments of all the major powers, publish offers to buy the technology from its inventor for fabulous sums. A letter is sent to the Federal Police declining the offer, taunting the world’s powers, and claiming to be impervious to any means they have of stopping him. Signed: The Master of the World.

From there, the story follows Strock and his team as they try to track down and capture, or, if necessary, destroy the inventor and his machine.

Not as scientifilicious as some of Verne’s other works. The contraptions are no more fantastic than the Nautilus, of which he conceived decades earlier. This is the earliest use of a super villain of which I am aware. His ideas about heavier than air flight are not much advanced on da Vinci’s, and had already been superseded by the Wright Brothers by the time this book went to press.

A good, entertaining story, even in its condensed form.

A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool – Classic SciFi Book Review

The Moon Pool is the second Abraham Merritt book I’ve read from John C. Wright’s Essential Sci Fi Library. Published in 1919, the story concerns a first-person narrator Dr. Walter T. Goodwin, a scientist/adventurer traveling about Polynesia. He runs into Throckmorton, an old friend, who is in ragged shape and whose face flashes strange signs of ecstasy mixed with profound horror. He tells Goodwin that his wife and their companions were taken by some eldritch horror while he and his team were exploring some very ancient ruins near Borneo. Classic ‘can’t get the natives to help, they all leave for 3 days around the full moon, great evil lives in those ruins! Run! Ruuuun!’ situation – but of course they don’t. They discover some ancient gateway that only opens when enough moonlight strikes it, and out from which comes the Shining Horror. On three consecutive nights, the Thing grabs a team member until only a desperate and nearly deranged Throckmorton is left.

THE MOON POOL | A. Merritt | Later edition

On board the ship Goodwin and Throckmorton are taking to Australia for supplies to help get Mrs. Throckmorton and friends back, the full moon rises over the ocean. On the first night, Throckmorton is spared by overcast skies. But eventually, the moonlight reaches the ship – and Goodwin sees sees his friend taken before his eyes!

Goodwin thinks the story is too insane to tell the crew, and has no hope of finding Throckmorton alive out in the ocean, so he keeps quiet. He gathers the equipment he needs, then gathers a set of heroes: Larry O’Keefe, the brave, dashing, handsome Irish-American aviator who happens to go down with his plane within sight of Goodwin’s ship, and Olaf, a giant Norwegian sea captain who had his wife and daughter taken by the Shining Horror and is attempting to follow them. They set out for the ruins…

Merritt has a wonderful archaic vocabulary, and loves detailed descriptions of everything. He also has an over-the-top pulp sensibility about adventures and love. Of course, there’s an evil but irresistibly beautiful priestess and a pure and valiant Handmaiden of the Silent Ones, both of whom fall madly for O’Keefe. The love triangle plays out in the most dramatic, swashbuckling way possible. Narrow escapes, betrayal, evil Russian scientist, human sacrifice, mistreated slaves, frogmen, deadly plants, poisonous jellyfish of doom – and the Shining One, a creature of unparalleled beauty – and evil!

I made the mistake of reading other people’s reviews of this book, who modern readers give 3.3 stars, on average. One even said they were repelled by the obvious racism – Merritt commits the unforgivable sins of mentioning the Chinese tend to have slanted eyes, and that Polynesians tend to be short and wide – and other such horrors. That his heroes include frogmen and some of these same Polynesians doesn’t seem to register with woke readers. Pshaw! If you get into the spirit of the thing, this book is loads of fun.

I don’t know enough to say how old or widespread or, indeed, original, the tropes found in this book are, but Merritt is the earliest stuff that I’ve read that includes many of them – anti-gravity, ancient civilizations under the earth, many different intelligent species, panspermia, the whole natives won’t go there, stupid white man thing, disintegrator rays, evil Russian scientist, spring to mind. Goodwin is always making scientific asides and footnotes to make it seem real – Merritt was as up on the ‘modern’ science of 1919 as Verne or Heinlein was on the science of their times.

Merritt had an obvious influence on Lovecraft, seems to me. While the exotic adventure story is certainly nothing unique to Merritt, I don’t recall anyone else who creates such a brooding sense of horror blended with science – until Lovecraft. Edgar Rice Burroughs definitely does the exotic setting in fine detail thing, and the over the top adventure and love story stuff, but not with the science background – at least not to the degree of Merritt. I’m sure there are a number of threads leading to and from Merritt in the world of speculative fiction – I’m not well read enough yet to point them out with any confidence.

Kindle has that wonderful lookup function, with bailed me out a number of times with Merritt’s vocabulary. I recalled ‘lambent’ and ‘ebon’ from The Metal Monster, but he had some new ones here. I like learning new words, bring ’em on!

So, 5 stars. Lots of fun. Indulge your inner Indiana Jones and just go with it, and it’s great.