June  30,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

But this work has not changed the savage nature and austere beauty of the river itself.  Man draws near to it, fights it, uses it, loves it, but it remains remote, unaffected.  Between the fairy willows of the banks or the green slopes of the levees it moves unhurried and unpausing; building islands one year to eat them the next; gnawing the bank on one shore till the levee caves in and another must be built farther back, then veering wantonly and attacking with equal savagery the opposite bank; in spring, high and loud against the tops of the quaking levees; in summer, deep and silent in its own tawny bed; bearing eternally the waste and sewage of the continent to the cleansing wide-glittering Gulf.  A gaunt and terrible stream, but more beautiful and dear to its children then Thames or Tiber, the mountain brook or limpid estuary.  The gods on their thrones are shaken and changed, but it abides, aloof and unappeasable, with no heart except for its own task, under the unbroken and immense arch of the lighted sky where the sun, too, goes a lonely journey.

--Lanterns on the Levee by William Alexander Percy

June  29,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Although Lao Pei's father had been a bannerman, Lao Pei himself was a generation removed from the tragedies of the 1911 revolution, and I felt that he was a cut above the typical foreigner's cook.  He knew some English, and was a superb cook, too, being a master of anything from shashlik to that work of patient love, Peking Dust--roasted chestnuts ground to a power, poured into a mold of glazed berries, and topped with spun sugar and whipped cream.  But soon after he came to me he began to do unpleasant things.  I found that he had been killing chickens by driving a long needle slowly through their brains.  He sometimes banged his head against the rockery in my garden until blood dripped from his hair.  He was overwhelmed, he explained, by the woes of China. 

--Peking Story by David Kidd

June  28,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Among the compensations of advancing age is a wholesome pessimism, which, while it takes the fine edge off whatever triumphs may come to us, had the admirable effect of preventing Fate from working off on us any of those gold bricks, coins with strings attached, and unhatched chickens at which Ardent Youth snatches with such enthusiasm, to its subsequent disappointment.  As we emerge from the twenties we grow into a habit of mind which looks askance at Fate bearing gifts.  We miss, perhaps, the occasional prize, but we also avoid leaping light-heartedly into traps.

--Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse

June  26,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Because the Devil--and God too--had always used comic people, futile people, little suburban natures and the maimed and warped to serve his purposes.  When God used them you talked emptily of Nobility and when the devil used them of Wickedness, but the material was only dull shabby human mediocrity in either case.

--The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene

June  25,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe


I'm a peevish old man with a penny-whistle

Blowing under your window this blessed evening

But pause a moment and hear the tune I'm playing


I never was handsome and my limbs aren't straight

But I raise my finger and the girls all follow me

And leave some of the spruce young fellows gaping


I had a painted girl whom none spoke well of

And I had a milkmaid who didn't know cow from bull

And a girl with green flesh out of a lucky hill


And I had a lady fine as fine and as proud as you

To follow me forty leagues and bed under a bush

And I left her weeping at the long lane's end


And are you sure where you will lie to-night, woman?

--John Heath Stubbs (from New British Poets: An Anthology)

June  24,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

A bus entered the square.  I went and ordered another mild from the landlord, who'd just come in rubbing his hands hard together.  He was a very well-dressed man with a carnation in his buttonhole and long, carefully brushed gray hair.  I thought it would be nice to exchange the pleasures of meditation for those of communion with my fellow creatures, and addressed him.  After a brisk left-right-left of platitude ("Good evening"--"Lovely drop of weather, what?"--"Marvelous, isn't it?") I at once went on to rehearse the nice-room-this gambit, the I-drew-up-the-plan-for-this-place-myself gambit, the of-course-television's-ruining-this-business gambit, the still-I-always-say-with-customers-you-can't-have-quantity-and-quality gambit, the how-do-you-like-these-titchy-bottles-I-only-got-them-just-for-silly gambit, and finally silence.  His smiles, however, grew more and more intimate as the talk petered out.

--That Uncertain Feeling by Kingsley Amis

June  23,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Ennis was seeing, projected on to the bare staves of his manuscript paper, Concepcion in a cold England, shivering over the fireless grate, jaundiced-looking against the snow, Concepcion in the fish queue, the "bloody foreigner" in the English village, the "touch of the tar brush" from the tweeded gentry.  He foresaw the ex-prisoner-of -war Luftwaffe pilot, flaxen, thick-spoken, absorbed into the farming community, playing darts with the boys ("That were a bloody good one, Wilhelm"), Concepcion and himself in the cold smokeroom ("That foreigner that there Mr Ennis did marry").  Finally he saw Laurel meeting Concepcion, Laurel slim and patrician, sunny hair glowing under the floppy hat, over the flowered frock, at some garden party: "But she's terribly sweet; that accent is most attractive; such an unusual, such a perfectly fascinating biscuit-coloured complexion; I'm sure we shall be great friends."

--A Vision of Battlements by Anthony Burgess

June  22,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Ashe noted as a curious fact that while the actual valet of any person under discussion spoke of him almost affectionately by his Christian name, the rest of the company used the greatest ceremony and gave him his title with all respect.  Lord Stockheath was Percy to Mr. Ferris, and the Hon. Frederick Threepwood was Freddie to Mr. Judson; but to Ferris Mr. Judson's Freddie was the Hon. Frederick, and to Judson Mr. Ferris' Percy was Lord Stockheath.  It was rather a pleasant form of etiquette, and struck Ashe as somehow vaguely feudal.

--Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse

June  21,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

When the final introduction had been made, conversation broke out again.  It dealt almost exclusively, as far as Ashe could follow it, with the idiosyncrasies of the employers of those present.  He took it that this happened all down the social scale below stairs.  Probably the lower servants in the Servants' Hall discussed the upper servants in the Steward's Room, and the still lower servants in the housemaids' sitting-room discussed their superiors of the Servants' Hall, and the still-room gossiped about the housemaids' sitting-room.  He wondered which was the bottom circle of all, and came to the conclusion that it was probably represented by the small respectful boy who had acted as his guide a short while before.  This boy, having nobody to discuss anybody with, presumably sat in solitary meditation, brooding on the odd-job man.

--Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse

June  20,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"You must know," began Bishop Flanagan, "that our minds have recently been exercised by certain untoward happenings which gave rise to the conviction that there were sorcerers in the neighborhood.  For many nights King Cormac Silkenbeard had been deprived of his rest by the hideous caterwauling of a platoon of cats, who mustered on the roofs surrounding the royal dwelling, and there raised a clamor so uncouth and deformed that it was speedily doubted whether their behavior did not proceed from the operation of a powerful spell.  On the fourth night, King Cormac told me, he had drunken deeply of brown ale in an endeavor to forget his cares; and, enraged by the persistence of the persecution to which he was being subjected, he seized his sword and rushed out into the garden in his night attire.  To his horror he beheld several felines engaged in what appeared to be animated conversation, while on the wall sat a brindled tom of monstrous size with gleaming eyes and large white eyeballs, who grinned sarcastically at the King and waved his paw in derision.  There could be no further doubt but that these were enchanted cats; and on my advice, two conjurors and a ventriloquist who had come to the town for the annual fair, were immediately seized.  As they persisted obstinately in denial, they were put to the question."

"With favorable results?" asked the friar, whose professional interest was aroused.

"Yes," said the Bishop with satisfaction.  "After three days' application of the best available monkish tortures, they agreed to admit anything.  Further proof of their guilt was afforded by the fact that no sooner had they been apprehended by the King's men, than the enchanted cats ceased to trouble the royal repose."

Father Furiosus nodded approvingly.  "It's a well-known fact," he said, "attested by all the Fathers of the Church, that when the officers of justice lay their hands upon a sorcerer, he is at that moment bereft of his execrable powers."

"Unfortunately," said the Bishop, "the two conjurors and the ventriloquist, having been crippled in the course of the judicial examination, had to be carried to the stake.  The burning was a colorful ceremony, but I should have wished that they could have walked."

--The Unfortunate Fursey by Mervyn Wall

June  19,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

'A bewildering procession of the Unemployed,' the lady journalist remarked.  'More ominous than the last one.'

'Yes.  I don't know what is going to happen.  Processions are indelicate manifestations and are best discouraged by indifference.  But an idle curiosity sends everyone out into the streets to see what is happening and swells the ranks of the dissatisfied.  It is the same with revolutions.  Mankind is periodically beset by mass dissatisfaction when, at some obscure, unmeaning signal, men suddenly begin to air their private grievances in a mass--as though that could possibly help them; and then, growing hearty, and with that corporate look in their eyes, they are ready to track down the Evil in their life to any handy bogey--the capitalist, the Jew, the profiteer, the Bolshevik, or any foreigner.  It used to be religion--the Jesuit, the Pope, the Turk, or the Freemason--but that is now out of fashion.

--Doom by William Gerhardie

June  18,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Charlotte immediately detected that something other than his concern for academic achievement was now seeping into that sincere expression of his.  She knew this was the moment to put a stop to it.  The thought of his starting to "hit on" her again was unpleasant and even frightening . . . and yet she didn't want to put a stop to it.  The present moment was much too early in her experience for her to have expressed it in a sentence, but she was enjoying the first stirrings, the first in her entire life, of the power that woman can hold over that creature who is as monomaniacally hormonocentric as the beasts of the field, Man.

--I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

June  17,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Have you ever heard of sexiling?"

"Yeah . . ."

"Has it ever happened to you?"

"To me?  No, but it happens."

"Well--it happened to me," said Charlotte.  "My roommate comes in about three o'clock in the morning and--"  She proceeded to tell the story.  "But the worst thing was the way she made me feel guilty.  I was supposed to know that if she gets drunk and picks up some guy somewhere and brings him up to the room, that's more important than me being able to stay in my room and get some sleep before a test in the morning."

A pause.  "I guess it's the same way here."

--I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

June  16,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Your London traffic, your tubes and rolling stairways, and the wide streets and high buildings of the richer quarters, would not amaze an Elizabethan for more than a few hours:

'Thy pyramids built up with newer might

To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;

They are but dressings of a former sight.'

More lasting would be his astonishment at the uniformity of dress.  In Elizabeth's time, a man's wealth and rank, or poverty and low occupation, clothed him wherever he went, so that the young received the gradations of the world as their first and deepest impression.

--The Return of William Shakespeare by Hugh Kingsmill

June  15, 2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

The "moderate Muslim" is not entirely fictional.  But it would be more accurate to call them quiescent Muslims.  In the 1930s, there were plenty of "moderate Germans," and a fat lot of good they did us or them.  Today, the "moderate Muslim" is a unique contributor to cultural diversity: unlike all the visible minorities, he's a non-visible one--or, at any rate, non-audible.  But that doesn't mean we can't speak up on his behalf.  So, for example, EU officials have produced new "guidelines" for discussing the, ah,  current unpleasantness.  The phrase "Islamic terrorism" is out.  Instead, the EU bureaucrats have replaced it with the expression "terrorists who abusively invoke Islam."

--America  Alone by Mark Steyn

June  14, 2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

In 1946, Colonel William Eddy, the first United States minister to Saudi Arabia, was told by the country's founder, Ibn Saud, "We will use your iron, but you will leave our faith alone."

--America  Alone by Mark Steyn

June  13,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

In P.D. James's The Children of Men, there are special dolls for women whose maternal instinct has gone unfulfilled: pretend mothers take their artificial children for walks on the street or to the swings in the park.  In Japan, that's no longer the stuff of dystopian fantasy.  At the beginning of the century, the century, the country's toymakers noticed they had a problem: toys are for children and Japan doesn't have many.  What to do?  In 2005, Tomy began marketing a new doll called Yumel--a baby boy with a range of 1200 phrases designed to serve as a companion for the elderly.  He says not just the usual things--"I wuv you"--but also asks the questions your grandchildren would ask, if you had any: "Why do elephants have long noses?"  Yumel joins his friend the Snuggling Ifbot, a toy designed to have the conversation of a five-year-old child, which its makers, with the usual Japanese efficiency, have determined is just enough chit-chat to prevent the old folks going senile.  It seems an appropriate final comment on the social-democratic society where adults have been stripped of all responsibility, you need never stop playing with toys.  We are the children we never had.

--America  Alone by Mark Steyn

June  12,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

For Islam's first two or three centuries, scholars busied themselves figuring out what the divine revelations of the Koran actually meant for the daily routine of believers.  But by the eleventh century all four schools of Islamic law had concluded they were pretty much on top of things and there was no need for any further interpretation or investigation.  And from that point on Islam coasted, and then declined.  The famous United Nations statistic from a 2002 report--more books are translated into Spanish in a single year than have been translated into Arabic in the last thousand--suggests at the very minimum an extraordinarily closed world.  What books are among the few they do translate?  Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, both of which are prominently displayed bestsellers in even moderate Muslim countries--and, indeed, even in the Muslim stores on Edgware Road in the heart of London.  No Islamic nation could have flown to the moon or invented the Internet, simply because for a millennium the culture has suppressed the curiosity necessary for such a venture.

--America Alone by Mark Steyn

[N.B.:  We hear a lot about the bad old days when books were burnt or otherwise oppressed--along with their authors.  Mark Steyn, though, is an actual, modern example.  Excerpts of the book quoted above were published in a magazine in a Canada and, as result, Steyn is on trial before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal for the crime of his article having the "likely" effect of exposing Muslims to "hatred or contempt."  The punishment could entail preemptive censorship (indeed, this is the most likely outcome).  Back to the future: let the Bonfire of the Vanities commence!  I always thought Savonarola got a bum rap--and burning.] 

June  11,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Modern history had given us enough warning against treating simplifications as real.  The totalitarian states, the great sponsors of mass atrocity against innocent human beings, had been propelled by ideologies, and what else was an ideology except a premature synthesis?  As the time for assembling my reflections approached, I resolved that a premature synthesis was the thing to be avoided.

--Cultural Amnesia by Clive James

[N.B.:  As T.S. Eliot once remarked of Henry James that he had a mind so fine that no idea could penetrate it (the greatest of compliments to one's intellect), the same sort of sentiment seems somewhat applicable to our modern poor-man's-James, Clive.  His book, Cultural Amnesia, stands as a refutation to the notion (not even an idea) that the man of letters has gone the way of the dodo.  Perhaps on this side of the Atlantic our creative-writing workshops and scholastic sinecures have as effectively eliminated such creatures as the parties of hale-and-hearty hunters long ago blotted out the masses of carrier pigeons which once darkened the noonday sky.  But at least there's one intellectual carrier pigeon left, Clive James (not the greatest of compliments but those totalitarians have been much more thorough than on our own parasitical professoriate).]

June  10,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Revolutionaries themselves are the last people to realize when, through force of time and circumstance, they have gradually become conservatives.  It is scarcely to be wondered at if the public is very nearly as slow in the uptake.  To the public a red flag remains a red rag even when so battered by wind and weather that it could almost be used as a pink coat.  Nothing is so common as to see a political upheaval pass practically unnoticed merely because the names of the leaders and their parties remain the same.  Similarly in the world of music, the fact that some of the key-names in modern music, such as Stravinsky and Schnberg, are the same as before the war has blinded us to the real nature of the present-day musical revolution.

--Music Ho! by Constance Lambert

[N.B.:  The above excerpt consists of the first few sentences which begin Lambert's study of modern music circa the date of its publication (i.e., 1934).  I think most novelists would be envious of having a beginning sentence with as much memorable pungency (excepting, as always, Dickens and his A Tale of Two Cities).  And where is Lambert now?  Completely forgotten--but not out of the purgatory of copyright.]

June  9,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"As soon as you hang up I'll tell Parnell, bare and hairy chested king of killers, to alert the underworld to let you pass safely and swiftly."

"Can you put me up?"

"Up.  Exactly.  I can if you want to hang by your throat from the ceiling.  We supply all guests with a hook.  I've got little rings in the ceiling.  The room is nine by eleven and I can put up forty guests of an evening.  His Majesty couldn't do any better.  Of course I sleep on a bed.  A little disconcerting to have so many twisting feet pointing down at you of a morning.  Get that trampled feeling."

"Would you say Mac there was a bit of the abattoir in it?"

"I'd say that.  When are we going to see you?"

"Right away.  Just have to dress so as not to present a state of undress to the public."

"Do you know how to get here?"

"I'd say so Mac.  But this is top secret.  Not a word to anyone.  Expect me in an hour."

"The red, white and blue carpet will be out.  There are two huge animals out front.  Put your fist in the mouth of the one on the left, nothing political in that, and pull on the tongue."

"If it bites me, Mac, I'll never forgive you."


"Beep beep."

--The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy

June  3,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"I thought the poor in Russia had no rights.  I thought any one could be put in prison at any moment for anything, because, after all, you are governed by an autocrat."

"That's is just it.  Well, take your own case.  You were put in prison the other night . . . we had better get back into the carriage--that is the second bell ringing."  They climbed back into the compartment.  "You were put in prison," he went on, "the other night for being 'drunk and disorderly and for assaulting the police.'"  Miles blushed.  "If  that had happened in England, what would have been done to you?  Would you have been sent home by the police?  Would the police have called on you the next morning, and asked you to give them something towards a new uniform, seeing that you had spoilt three Government uniforms, made them 'unserviceable.'  I think not.  You would have been locked up for the night.  You would have had to appear the next morning before the magistrate, and you would have been fined, or put in prison; and it would probably have been written about in the newspapers--most certainly so if you were well known.  Here in Russia you are sent home with care, like a precious parcel, and no questions asked."

--Tinker's Leave by Maurice Baring

[N.B.:  This was written prior to The Great War and the Russian Revolution.]