LONDON , ONTARIO - I was a little distracted this week with a couple of editing jobs, three shifts in a bookshop and that welcome uptick in socializing that is characteristic of summer’s end. So instead of some new concoction, Hermaneutics this week offers you an essay on George Orwell which I was delighted to land in Quillette late last month (https://quillette.com/2021/08/27/theres-a-lot-more-to-george-orwell-than-nineteen-eighty-four/) and this talk which I delivered to the Baconian Club of London in the spring of 2002. This speech, mostly focusing on the American artist, N.C. Wyeth, was my first extended meditation on visual art and taught me a thing or two about using my eyeballs and trusting my instincts when tackling an intimidating subject for which I retained no innate or specialized knowledge. Those lessons came in handy exactly ten years later when I took on the commission to write my book, Three Artists: Kurelek, Chambers and Curnoe (Elmwood Press, 2016).
LONDON, ONTARIO – Like a lot of fellows, I exhibit minimal interest in matters sartorial. Sure, I can be fussy and stubborn about what I will and won’t wear. But I primarily dress for comfort and compared to the massive collections of books and recordings that I consider essential to a life worth living, my (if you’ll excuse the expression) ‘wardrobe’ is a pitiful and stunted thing. There is one suit and a couple of sports coats (donned for funerals and days when I give the readings at church) and otherwise I get by with three pairs of trousers, a half dozen shirts, two sweaters, a couple pairs of shoes, and a limited assortment (if that’s the right word when all of them are identical) of unmentionables.
LONDON, ONTARIO – We had a distressing little moment with our pooch on Saturday night. After supper we had settled in with tea to watch The Ox-Bow Incident (1943); a surprisingly dark meditation on conscience, justice and the tyranny of mobs which comes in the easily digestible form of a black and white Western starring Henry Fonda. For about the first fifteen minutes of the flick, twelve and a half year-old Gracie – a mostly collie and German shepherd mutt of such arresting beauty that I walk her at 2 a.m. to keep interactions with random admirers to a minimum – discreetly positioned herself to the immediate right of my chair.
LONDON, ONTARIO – It’s the funniest darn thing about poetry; or at least it used to be back in the day when I was making my first forays into the publishing world. There was this alarming disparity between the rather large number of people who fancied themselves as poets with a bundle of gems in their haversack that the world urgently needed to imbibe, and the actual number of readers who would ever be willing to take up any sort of poetry and give it a chance. When I submitted my first novel to London publishing house, Applegarth Follies, in September of 1975, they were so thrilled to finally have something other than poetry to consider that they raced my book up to the head of their queue (dislodging a few poets in that process) and brought it out by Christmas.
LONDON, ONTARIO – English playwright Terence Rattigan (1911–77) enjoyed enormous popularity in Britain and North America from the 1930s through the ‘50s; first making a splash with an atypically frothy comedy, French Without Tears, and following that up with a series of exquisitely designed dramas like The Browning Version, The Deep Blue Sea, The Winslow Boy and Separate Tables. His prolific contemporary, J.B. Priestley, generally tossed off three plays and a couple of novels in the time it took Rattigan to carefully construct and polish one script. The first time through a Rattigan play, his superior attention to detail and nuance might not show. But all of his scripts uniquely and amply reward return visits.
LONDON, ONTARIO – One of the unanticipated delights of my dotage has been the emergence over the last decade of a sort of electronic chain letter that is in constant circulation among me and my three older brothers. When we’re each doing our bit to flesh out some particularly gripping conundrum from the very dawn of our consciousness, the correspondence can see multiple updates in a day. Then the fraternal forum can cool into a kind of dormancy when a two or three-week silence is broken by nothing more than a hoary round of jokes about our feefers. But even such apparently retrograde fare can turn out to have unexpected pertinence. For instance, an early exchange among the elder trio which I found pretty mystifying, compared how many times each night they were hauling themselves out of bed to whiz. Little did I suspect that in a few years as one spent more time sleeping at less depth, that actually becomes a thing.
LONDON, ONTARIO – The world’s very first autobiography (as we understand that term today) also happens to be the great granddaddy of all Christian conversion narratives. Though it was first produced a mere 1,624 years ago (and is only one of an estimated 113 books that he wrote in his lifetime) such is the inquisitive, generous and downright playful cast of St. Augustine’s mind, that his Confessions remains more uncannily readable and relatable than a considerable portion of the religiously themed books that are published today.
As a mid-life convert myself – thirty-two years old at the time of my plunge but intermittently fascinated by the prospect since the very dawning of self-awareness – I have always been interested to see how others managed to grope their way along the path to Christian belief. And in service to that abiding curiosity, I have probably read at least a hundred conversion narratives both before and since coming into the Church.
LONDON, ONTARIO - One of the sweetest aspects of childhood is how common it is that your best friend is that chap of similar age who just happens to live on your block and is the first person you bump into on that day around your third birthday when you get it into your head that you’d like to ditch Mom for a couple of hours and go exploring in the outer world. For me that friend was Beezer and on weekdays for the next two years from September to June when my older brothers were all at school (and I didn’t have to accompany Mom on some errand that usually involved bus rides downtown) he became my constant companion.
LONDON, ONTARIO - Now here’s a little tribute to a writer I’ve adored for most of my life and am reasonably confident that nobody else on the planet will be commemorating this week. For one, he’s dead and has been so for twelve years. Out of sight and out of mind. And at this point in his obscurity I don't sense that anybody’s inclined just yet to start considering whether he’s got the makings of a classic. The man had a peerlessly unpretentious style, a devastating sense of the absurd and a seemingly instinctive genius for imparting delight - none of them qualities, methinks, that carry much weight in the too self-conscious literary marketplace today. And there are a couple other aspects that would seem to work against the odds of anyone making large or serious claims for Keith Waterhouse today.
LONDON, ONTARIO - This is a dedication to London historian, Orlo Miller, which I composed for my 1989 collection of essays, Towards a Forest City Mythology.
“Because of Orlo Miller’s books of London history, I carry around a ghost map in my head; a sort of transparent grid which I can lay over the city as I move through it and see what’s no longer there. I see where a drunken nineteenth century mayor drove his buggy down a sidewalk and I see Dr. Neill Cream dragging his first murder victim to the back shed behind his shop. I see the east end typhus and cholera dumps where hundreds of new Irish immigrants took their first and last sightings of London and I’m present at the Donnelly trials where six murderers brazened their way through to a verdict of ‘not guilty’. I’ve attended regimental balls at Eldon House and helped pass buckets of water that didn’t do very much to contain the great fire of 1845. No other writer has evoked these visions and experiences with half his clarity and power, nor his abiding sense of justice.
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THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
ALL LIFE IS A GIFT :
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITION :