Cavorting with Coleridge: admirable aphorisms.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Aids to Reflection: In the Formation of a Manly Character on the Several Grounds for Prudence, Morality and Religion. Revised with index and translations of Latin and Greek quotations by Thomas Fenby,  London, Routledge, nd. (published 1825)  pp 1-22.

Giambattista Vico:  Of all divine and human learning there are three elements, Knowledge, Intention, Power; of which there is one moving principle, Mind or Spirit; whose eye is Reason; whose light is from God.

From the preface:  Augustine:  believe so that you understand.  [cf Anselm: Proslogion: “faith seeking understanding. (fides quarens intellectum); Coleridge: There is one art, of which every man should be master, the art of REFLECTION; …there is one knowledge, which it is every man’s interest and duty to acquire, namely SELF-KNOWLEDGE….Socrates: Γνωθι Σεαυτον [“know yourself”]

Introductory Aphorisms:

1…truths, of all others the most awful and interesting, are too often considered as so true, that they lose all the power of truth, and lie bed-ridden in the dormitory of the soul, side by side with the most despised and exploded errors.

2. …one sure way of giving freshness and importance to the most common-place maxims is that of reflecting on them in direct reference to our own state and conduct, to our own past and future.

3. ..to restore a common-place truth to its first uncommon lustre, you need only to translate it into action, but first, you must have reflected on its truth.

4. It is the advice of the wise man, ‘dwell at home’, or, ‘with yourself.’ …it is surprising that the greatest part of mankind cannot be prevailed upon, at least to visit themselves sometimes.  cf Solomon: the eyes of the fool are in the ends of the earth. “Omnis boni principium intellectus cogitabundus”  = a reflecting mind is the spring and source of very good thing.

5. As a fruit tree is more valuable that any one of its fruits singly, so the objects of reflection are of less value to us unless connected to our intellectual, moral, and spiritual life.

6. He who teaches a person the principles and precepts of spiritual wisdom, before their minds are called off from foreign objects, and turned inward upon themselves, might as well write his instructions, as the sybil wrote her prophecies, on the loose leaves of trees, and commit them to the mercy of the inconstant wind—Leighton.

7. He only thinks who reflects.

8. It is a matter of great difficulty and requires no ordinary skill and address, to fix the attention of men on the world within them…to awaken in them both the faculty of thought and the inclination to exercise it. For alas! the largest part of mankind are nowhere greater strangers than at home.

9. “And man became a living soul “(Genesis 2:7); He did not merely possess it, he became it.

10. “—-Unless above himself he can

     Erect himself, how mean a thing is man!”  [Samuel Daniel: To the Lady Margaret: Countess of Cumberland.]

11. An hour of solitude passed in sincere and earnest prayer, or the conflict with, and conquest over a single passion …will teach us more thought, and form the habit, of reflection, than a year’s study in the schools without them.

12.  In a world, the opinions of which are drawn from outside shows, many things are paradoxical, because they are true…the imagination of the Worldling is wholly occupied by surfaces, the Christian’s thoughts are fixed on the substance, that which is and abides, and which, because it is the substance, the outward senses cannot recognise.  Tertullian had good reason for his assertion that the simplest Christian knows more than the most accomplished philosopher.  [Quod stat subtus, that which stands beneath12c additional comment: let it not, however, be forgotten that the powers of the understanding and the intellectual graces are precious gifts of God, and that every Christian according to the opportunities granted to him, is bound to cultivate the one and acquire the other. cf 2 Peter 1:5 “and to your faith add virtue (ἀρετη) (arete) and to virtue, knowledge.” The effects of a zealous ministry on the intellects and acquirements of the labouring classes are..attested by Baxter, and the Presbyterian divines.

13. Never yet did there exist a full faith in the Divine Word (by whom light, as well as immortality, was brought into the world,) which did not expand the intellect, while it purified the heart; which did not multiply the aims and objects of the understanding, while it fixed and simplified those of the desires and passions. 13c comment: …believers receive, not indeed worldly wisdom which comes to nought, but the wisdom of God, that we might know and comprehend the things that are freely given to us by God.

14, The exercise of the reasoning and reflecting powers, increasing in sight, and enlarging views, are requisite to keep alive the substantial faith of the heart.

15. Give me understanding and I shall observe the law with my whole heart (Psalm 119:34). It is my meditation all the day.15c Comment: It is worthy of especial observation that the Scriptures are distinguished from all other writings pretending to inspiration, by the strong and frequent recommendations of knowledge, and a spirit of inquiry. Without reflection, it is evident that neither the one can be acquired nor the other exercised.

16. Thoughtfulness and a desire to rest all our convictions on grounds of right reasoning, are inseparable from the character of a Christian.

17. A reflecting mind is not a flower that grows wild, or comes up of its own accord. The difficulty is indeed greater than many, who mistake quick recollection for thought, are disposed to admit. Truly may we, and thankfully ought we to, exclaim with the Psalmist: The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple. [Psalm 119;130]

18. …O if folly were no easier than wisdom, it being often so much more grievous, how certainly might [many] be converted. [Folly] demands no much less exertion of the will than to reflect, and by reflection to gain knowledge and tranquillity.  [this aphorism was written in criticism of Hindu ascetic practice e.g. walking on upright nails etc]

19.  ..the most frequent impediment to men’s turning the mind inward upon themselves, is that they are afraid of what they shall find there. There is an aching hollowness in the bosom, a dark cold speck at the heart, an obscure and boding sense of a somewhat, that must be kept out of sight of the conscience.  Coleridge here quotes a poem by George Herbert entitled Temple:

Lord! with what care hast thou begirt us round!

Parents first season us. Then schoolmasters

Deliver us to laws.  They send us bound

to rules of reason.  Holy messengers;

Pulpits and Sundays; sorrow dogging sin;

   Affections sorted; anguish of all sizes;

Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in;

Bibles laid open;  millions of surprises;

Blessings beforehand;  ties of gratefulness;

The sound of glory ringing in our ears;

Without, our shame;  within, our conscience;

Angels and grace;  eternal hopes and fears;

Yet all these fences, and their whole array,

One cunning BOSOM – SIN blows quite away.

20.  ..among the various undertakings of men,…can there be conceived one more sublime, than an intention to form the human mind anew after the DIVINE IMAGE? …..the requisites of this high intent may be comprised under three heads: the prudential, the moral, and the spiritual.

21. Re prudence (see 20 above)…the World that constitutes our outward circumstances …is evermore at variance with the Divine Form (or idea) …and prudence requires ..the forming anew of  the Divine Image in the soul…. We are to avoid [the world’s] snares, to repel its attacks, to suspect its aids and succours….The powers of the world are often christened, but seldom christianised . They…like the Saxons of old, enter the land as auxiliaries, and remain in it as conquerors and lords.

22. …the rules of prudence in general are for the most part prohibitive. “Thou shalt not” is their characteristic formula and it is an especial part of Christian prudence that it should be so…the sensual understanding ..το φρονημα της σαρκος, the carnal mind  (Romans 8:6) is of itself able to discover..the merest worldly self interest, [but by prudence]…the worldly human is to be transformed [into] the divine image.

23. …the scheme of grace and truth that became  [Greek ἐγενετο = egeneto = to come; to become] through Jesus Christ [John 1:17], the faith that looks down into [ ῾Ο δε παρακυψας ἑις νομον τελωιον τον της ἐλευθεριας = James 1:25 “He who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty”] the perfect law of liberty has “light for its garment” : its very robe is righteousness….that which we find within ourselves, and yet the ground of whatever is good and permanent therein, is the substance of life and of all other knowledge.

[In commenting on this aphorism Coleridge attacks in an excursion those who use James’ term θρησκεια = thréskeia= religion in  James 1:27 (Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world] as proof that Christian religion is simply morality = doing the right thing and thus setting up  the Epistle of James against Paul’s epistles.]

24. Morality is the body, of which the faith in Christ is the soul—yet not a “terrestrial,” for of the world, but a celestial body, and capable of being transfigured from glory to glory.. Coleridge adds a note that this law in James 1:25  was a perfect law (τελωιος ) or law that perfects and completes itself. [against the C16th Familists, a sect called the ‘Family of Love’ founded by H. Nicholas in Emden in 1540 which believed in the “inner light” and rejected all services and sacraments of the official churches and opposed all dogma….material was reprinted under Cromwell and widely read by the Quakers and English admirers of J. Boehme.  [Cross.p598].

25.  Woe to the man who will believe neither power, freedom, nor morality because he nowhere finds either entire, or unmixed with sin, thraldom, and infirmity.  In the natural and intellectual realms, we distinguish what we cannot separate; and in the moral world we must distinguish in order to separate. Yea, in the clear distinction of good and evil the process of separation commences.

25c. It was customary with religious men in former times, to make a rule of taking every morning some text or aphorism, for their occasional meditation during the day, and thus to fill up the intervals of their attention to business.  I do not point it out for imitation, as knowing too well, how apt these self-imposed rules are to degenerate into superstition or hollowness.

26. It is a dull and obtuse mind, that must divide in order to distinguish; but it is a still worse, that distinguishes in order to divide. In the former, we may contemplate the source of superstition and idolatry; in the latter of schism, heresy and a seditious and sectarian spirit.

27.  Exclusive of the abstract sciences, the largest and worthiest portion of our knowledge consists of aphorisms: and the greatest and best of men is but an aphorism.

28. On the prudential influence which the fear and foresight of the consequences of his actions, in respect of his own loss or gain may exert on a newly-converted believer…the magnetic needle, even after the disturbing influence has been removed, will keep wavering and require many days before it points aright, and remains steady to the pole.

29. …the individual’s inherent desire of happiness and dread of pain, become motives…and these motives fall under the head of prudence, as belonging to one or other of its four very distinct species. !. a prudence that stands in opposition to a higher moral life, and tends to preclude it, and to prevent the soul from ever arriving at the hatred of sin for its own exceeding sinfulness. (Romans 7:13); and this is an EVIL PRUDENCE.  11. or it may be a neutral prudence, not incompatible with spiritual growth …as in Jesus’ words, “what is not for us is against us”; this is a COMMENDABLE PRUDENCE. 111. the motive may lead and be subservient to a principle higher than itself..the enfeebled thankfully makes use of them because they are the means and conditions of exercise; and by exercise, of establishing, by slow degrees, that strength, flexibility and almost spontaneous obedience of muscles, which the idea and cheering presentiment of health hold out to him.  This is a faithful and WISE PRUDENCE. 1V. lastly there is a prudence that co-exists with morality, as morality co-exists with the spiritual life: a prudence that is the organ of both, as the understanding is to the reason and the will, or as the lungs are to the heart and the brain. This is a HOLY PRUDENCE….Let not then, I entreat you, my purpose be misunderstood; as if, in distinguishing virtue from prudence, I wished to divide the one from the other. True morality is hostile to that prudence only,  which is preclusive of true morality. In general Morality may be compared to the Consonant, Prudence to the Vowel. The former cannot be uttered…but by means of the latter.

30. What the duties of morality are, the apostle has instructed the believer in full, comprising them under the two heads of negative and positive. Negative, to keep himself pure from the world; and positive, beneficence from loving kindness, that is, love of his fellow men as himself.

31. Last and highest, come the spiritual, comprising all the truths, acts, and duties, that have an especial reference to the Timeless, the Permanent, the Eternal: to the sincere love of the True, as truth; of the Good, as good; and of God as both in one. [All leading to…] our second creation or birth in the divine image.  [Coleridge appends a quotation in Italian of Petrarch’s poem The Triumph [of Love] over fame, chapter 3. 15]

32. …the prudential corresponds to the sense and understanding; the moral to the heart and the conscience; the spiritual to the will and the reason. i.e. to the finite will reduced to harmony with, and in subordination to, the reason, as a ray from that true light which is both reason and will, universal reason and will absolute.

 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Aids to Reflection: In the Formation of a Manly Character on the Several Grounds for Prudence, Morality and Religion. Revised with index and translations of Latin and Greek quotations by Thomas Fenby,  London, Routledge, nd. (published 1825)  pp 1-22.

Giambattista Vico:  Of all divine and human learning there are three elements, Knowledge, Intention, Power; of which there is one moving principle, Mind or Spirit; whose eye is Reason; whose light is from God.

From the preface:  Augustine:  believe so that you understand.  [cf Anselm: Proslogion: “faith seeking understanding. (fides quarens intellectum); Coleridge: There is one art, of which every man should be master, the art of REFLECTION; …there is one knowledge, which it is every man’s interest and duty to acquire, namely SELF-KNOWLEDGE….Socrates: Γνωθι Σεαυτον [“know yourself”]

Introductory Aphorisms:

1…truths, of all others the most awful and interesting, are too often considered as so true, that they lose all the power of truth, and lie bed-ridden in the dormitory of the soul, side by side with the most despised and exploded errors.

2. …one sure way of giving freshness and importance to the most common-place maxims is that of reflecting on them in direct reference to our own state and conduct, to our own past and future.

3. ..to restore a common-place truth to its first uncommon lustre, you need only to translate it into action, but first, you must have reflected on its truth.

4. It is the advice of the wise man, ‘dwell at home’, or, ‘with yourself.’ …it is surprising that the greatest part of mankind cannot be prevailed upon, at least to visit themselves sometimes.  cf Solomon: the eyes of the fool are in the ends of the earth. “Omnis boni principium intellectus cogitabundus”  = a reflecting mind is the spring and source of very good thing.

5. As a fruit tree is more valuable that any one of its fruits singly, so the objects of reflection are of less value to us unless connected to our intellectual, moral, and spiritual life.

6. He who teaches a person the principles and precepts of spiritual wisdom, before their minds are called off from foreign objects, and turned inward upon themselves, might as well write his instructions, as the sybil wrote her prophecies, on the loose leaves of trees, and commit them to the mercy of the inconstant wind—Leighton.

7. He only thinks who reflects.

8. It is a matter of great difficulty and requires no ordinary skill and address, to fix the attention of men on the world within them…to awaken in them both the faculty of thought and the inclination to exercise it. For alas! the largest part of mankind are nowhere greater strangers than at home.

9. “And man became a living soul “(Genesis 2:7); He did not merely possess it, he became it.

10. “—-Unless above himself he can

     Erect himself, how mean a thing is man!”  [Samuel Daniel: To the Lady Margaret: Countess of Cumberland.]

11. An hour of solitude passed in sincere and earnest prayer, or the conflict with, and conquest over a single passion …will teach us more thought, and form the habit, of reflection, than a year’s study in the schools without them.

12.  In a world, the opinions of which are drawn from outside shows, many things are paradoxical, because they are true…the imagination of the Worldling is wholly occupied by surfaces, the Christian’s thoughts are fixed on the substance, that which is and abides, and which, because it is the substance, the outward senses cannot recognise.  Tertullian had good reason for his assertion that the simplest Christian knows more than the most accomplished philosopher.  [Quod stat subtus, that which stands beneath12c additional comment: let it not, however, be forgotten that the powers of the understanding and the intellectual graces are precious gifts of God, and that every Christian according to the opportunities granted to him, is bound to cultivate the one and acquire the other. cf 2 Peter 1:5 “and to your faith add virtue (ἀρετη) (arete) and to virtue, knowledge.” The effects of a zealous ministry on the intellects and acquirements of the labouring classes are..attested by Baxter, and the Presbyterian divines.

13. Never yet did there exist a full faith in the Divine Word (by whom light, as well as immortality, was brought into the world,) which did not expand the intellect, while it purified the heart; which did not multiply the aims and objects of the understanding, while it fixed and simplified those of the desires and passions. 13c comment: …believers receive, not indeed worldly wisdom which comes to nought, but the wisdom of God, that we might know and comprehend the things that are freely given to us by God.

14, The exercise of the reasoning and reflecting powers, increasing in sight, and enlarging views, are requisite to keep alive the substantial faith of the heart.

15. Give me understanding and I shall observe the law with my whole heart (Psalm 119:34). It is my meditation all the day.15c Comment: It is worthy of especial observation that the Scriptures are distinguished from all other writings pretending to inspiration, by the strong and frequent recommendations of knowledge, and a spirit of inquiry. Without reflection, it is evident that neither the one can be acquired nor the other exercised.

16. Thoughtfulness and a desire to rest all our convictions on grounds of right reasoning, are inseparable from the character of a Christian.

17. A reflecting mind is not a flower that grows wild, or comes up of its own accord. The difficulty is indeed greater than many, who mistake quick recollection for thought, are disposed to admit. Truly may we, and thankfully ought we to, exclaim with the Psalmist: The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple. [Psalm 119;130]

18. …O if folly were no easier than wisdom, it being often so much more grievous, how certainly might [many] be converted. [Folly] demands no much less exertion of the will than to reflect, and by reflection to gain knowledge and tranquillity.  [this aphorism was written in criticism of Hindu ascetic practice e.g. walking on upright nails etc]

19.  ..the most frequent impediment to men’s turning the mind inward upon themselves, is that they are afraid of what they shall find there. There is an aching hollowness in the bosom, a dark cold speck at the heart, an obscure and boding sense of a somewhat, that must be kept out of sight of the conscience.  Coleridge here quotes a poem by George Herbert entitled Temple:

Lord! with what care hast thou begirt us round!

Parents first season us. Then schoolmasters

Deliver us to laws.  They send us bound

to rules of reason.  Holy messengers;

Pulpits and Sundays; sorrow dogging sin;

   Affections sorted; anguish of all sizes;

Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in;

Bibles laid open;  millions of surprises;

Blessings beforehand;  ties of gratefulness;

The sound of glory ringing in our ears;

Without, our shame;  within, our conscience;

Angels and grace;  eternal hopes and fears;

Yet all these fences, and their whole array,

One cunning BOSOM – SIN blows quite away.

20.  ..among the various undertakings of men,…can there be conceived one more sublime, than an intention to form the human mind anew after the DIVINE IMAGE? …..the requisites of this high intent may be comprised under three heads: the prudential, the moral, and the spiritual.

21. Re prudence (see 20 above)…the World that constitutes our outward circumstances …is evermore at variance with the Divine Form (or idea) …and prudence requires ..the forming anew of  the Divine Image in the soul…. We are to avoid [the world’s] snares, to repel its attacks, to suspect its aids and succours….The powers of the world are often christened, but seldom christianised . They…like the Saxons of old, enter the land as auxiliaries, and remain in it as conquerors and lords.

22. …the rules of prudence in general are for the most part prohibitive. “Thou shalt not” is their characteristic formula and it is an especial part of Christian prudence that it should be so…the sensual understanding ..το φρονημα της σαρκος, the carnal mind  (Romans 8:6) is of itself able to discover..the merest worldly self interest, [but by prudence]…the worldly human is to be transformed [into] the divine image.

23. …the scheme of grace and truth that became  [Greek ἐγενετο = egeneto = to come; to become] through Jesus Christ [John 1:17], the faith that looks down into [ ῾Ο δε παρακυψας ἑις νομον τελωιον τον της ἐλευθεριας = James 1:25 “He who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty”] the perfect law of liberty has “light for its garment” : its very robe is righteousness….that which we find within ourselves, and yet the ground of whatever is good and permanent therein, is the substance of life and of all other knowledge.

[In commenting on this aphorism Coleridge attacks in an excursion those who use James’ term θρησκεια = thréskeia= religion in  James 1:27 (Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world] as proof that Christian religion is simply morality = doing the right thing and thus setting up  the Epistle of James against Paul’s epistles.]

24. Morality is the body, of which the faith in Christ is the soul—yet not a “terrestrial,” for of the world, but a celestial body, and capable of being transfigured from glory to glory.. Coleridge adds a note that this law in James 1:25  was a perfect law (τελωιος ) or law that perfects and completes itself. [against the C16th Familists, a sect called the ‘Family of Love’ founded by H. Nicholas in Emden in 1540 which believed in the “inner light” and rejected all services and sacraments of the official churches and opposed all dogma….material was reprinted under Cromwell and widely read by the Quakers and English admirers of J. Boehme.  [Cross.p598].

25.  Woe to the man who will believe neither power, freedom, nor morality because he nowhere finds either entire, or unmixed with sin, thraldom, and infirmity.  In the natural and intellectual realms, we distinguish what we cannot separate; and in the moral world we must distinguish in order to separate. Yea, in the clear distinction of good and evil the process of separation commences.

25c. It was customary with religious men in former times, to make a rule of taking every morning some text or aphorism, for their occasional meditation during the day, and thus to fill up the intervals of their attention to business.  I do not point it out for imitation, as knowing too well, how apt these self-imposed rules are to degenerate into superstition or hollowness.

26. It is a dull and obtuse mind, that must divide in order to distinguish; but it is a still worse, that distinguishes in order to divide. In the former, we may contemplate the source of superstition and idolatry; in the latter of schism, heresy and a seditious and sectarian spirit.

27.  Exclusive of the abstract sciences, the largest and worthiest portion of our knowledge consists of aphorisms: and the greatest and best of men is but an aphorism.

28. On the prudential influence which the fear and foresight of the consequences of his actions, in respect of his own loss or gain may exert on a newly-converted believer…the magnetic needle, even after the disturbing influence has been removed, will keep wavering and require many days before it points aright, and remains steady to the pole.

29. …the individual’s inherent desire of happiness and dread of pain, become motives…and these motives fall under the head of prudence, as belonging to one or other of its four very distinct species. !. a prudence that stands in opposition to a higher moral life, and tends to preclude it, and to prevent the soul from ever arriving at the hatred of sin for its own exceeding sinfulness. (Romans 7:13); and this is an EVIL PRUDENCE.  11. or it may be a neutral prudence, not incompatible with spiritual growth …as in Jesus’ words, “what is not for us is against us”; this is a COMMENDABLE PRUDENCE. 111. the motive may lead and be subservient to a principle higher than itself..the enfeebled thankfully makes use of them because they are the means and conditions of exercise; and by exercise, of establishing, by slow degrees, that strength, flexibility and almost spontaneous obedience of muscles, which the idea and cheering presentiment of health hold out to him.  This is a faithful and WISE PRUDENCE. 1V. lastly there is a prudence that co-exists with morality, as morality co-exists with the spiritual life: a prudence that is the organ of both, as the understanding is to the reason and the will, or as the lungs are to the heart and the brain. This is a HOLY PRUDENCE….Let not then, I entreat you, my purpose be misunderstood; as if, in distinguishing virtue from prudence, I wished to divide the one from the other. True morality is hostile to that prudence only,  which is preclusive of true morality. In general Morality may be compared to the Consonant, Prudence to the Vowel. The former cannot be uttered…but by means of the latter.

30. What the duties of morality are, the apostle has instructed the believer in full, comprising them under the two heads of negative and positive. Negative, to keep himself pure from the world; and positive, beneficence from loving kindness, that is, love of his fellow men as himself.

31. Last and highest, come the spiritual, comprising all the truths, acts, and duties, that have an especial reference to the Timeless, the Permanent, the Eternal: to the sincere love of the True, as truth; of the Good, as good; and of God as both in one. [All leading to…] our second creation or birth in the divine image.  [Coleridge appends a quotation in Italian of Petrarch’s poem The Triumph [of Love] over fame, chapter 3. 15]

32. …the prudential corresponds to the sense and understanding; the moral to the heart and the conscience; the spiritual to the will and the reason. i.e. to the finite will reduced to harmony with, and in subordination to, the reason, as a ray from that true light which is both reason and will, universal reason and will absolute.

 

Books read February 2018

BOOKS READ FEBRUARY 2018

Stuart Kells: The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2017

This is a book for book lovers/second hand book searchers/library aficionados and historians of the written word.  If you have none of these interests it still contains some of the funniest and most unusual anecdotes you might ever come across including some spicy and little known gossip about some very famous people! The author is based in Melbourne, but Kells’ book travels the world of libraries with nevertheless particular interest because of its frequent reference to Melbourne’s State Library and other Australian libraries.

Kells has amassed a serious amount of out of the way knowledge about the origin and development of the written word. starting with indigenous Australian oral songlines  (with an ambivalent side analysis of Bruce Chatwyn’s scholarship), moving on to the origin of cuneiform and  ancient near Eastern clay tablets, parchment scrolls and the first codex.

Kells’ narrative proceeds to the accumulation of books following the disputed saga of the invention of the  printing press. He  delves into the intricacies, creation and destruction of libraries from the contested burning of the library of Alexandria (did it simply rot away?) to the complex formation of the Vatican library and other Renaissance developments, to the Pierpont Morgan Library in Washington D.C. and the amazing Folger Shakespeare Library. Some of these stories defy imagination including the professional book stealers, forgers, book destroyers (including the Puritans),  book wreckers and conmen (few women involved in this section!). The susceptibility of books to dry rot, rats and mice, water  and neglect is matched only by the massive destruction of books caused by war and bombing.  The burning of books has become a symbol of barbarism. (p172) and William Ewart Gladstone: ..there is no better way to destroy a culture than to destroy its books.  (p174)

In addition Kells relates some tragic stories of bibliomania which include the hapless Richard Heber, born 1774, preparing a detailed bibliographic catalogue at age eight and managing finally to amass over 100.000 books completely filling eight houses with piles extending to the ceiling  and dying among his books in the room in which he was born.  The sale of his books required 216 days of auctions in three European cities.

Kells even manages to analyse fantasy libraries with a detailed chapter on the complexity of Tolkeinian Hobbit libraries, Umberto Eco’s  monastic most enchanting library ever captured in words in his first novel The Name of the Rose, Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s even more dangerously threatening library in The Shadow of the Wind. Hovering over the whole study is the master of library mystery, Jorge Luis Borges’ defining account of The Library at Babylon. Borges’ love of words, mystery and literature pervades this book from first word to last without his Babylon library  ever receiving the detailed analysis we might have looked for.

This is a book to savour, to think about, to come back to and to base some very worthwhile travel upon. A useful list of further reading at the back of the book is also helpful.  5 stars for me!

Mark Worthing: Graeme Clark: The Man Who Invented the Bionic Ear,  Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 2015.

Science historian and Tabor College lecturer Mark Worthing has done us all a favour by meticulously charting the amazing journey of Graeme Clark’s achievement of enabling children profoundly deaf from birth and adults with later in life deafness to hear and understand human voice. He has achieved this worldwide first against all the odds including the scorn of some of his international peers and is deservedly fêted as one of Australia’s greatest ever scientists and a rightful member of the Royal Society, a winner of the prestigious Lister Medal, the Excellence in Surgery Award of the Royal Australasin College of Surgeons and many other international prizes.

I knew Graeme personally as we were both members of Ridley College Council for a period of time in the 1990’s. He was and still is a genial, quietly spoken but strong minded man with a deep Christian conviction.  One of the features of Worthing’s biography is that it charts the growth of Clark’s Christian faith which began with his church attending parents, was strengthened by his membership of the Student Christian Movement at  University; encouraged by the Challis Professor of Biology Charles Birch; Clarke’s first lecturer in Zoology at Sydney University, substantially deepened by his friendship with Neuroscientist and Communication Professor Donald McKay, author of The Clockwork Image and a dynamic evangelical leader at Keele University in the UK and brought to a personal faith in Christ through the ministry of the Christian speaker at an SCM camp he attended at Otford on the New South Wales coast. The speaker was  George Garnsey, whose father was then the Anglican Bishop of Sale in Gippsland Victoria.

Graeme’s vision for a solution to profound deafness was sparked by the partial deafness of his pharmacist father and apparently at age 8 Graeme was heard to say: “when I grow up I am going to fix ears!”  This goal remained front and centre as he pursued a study program which commenced with degrees in Medicine, Surgery and Ear, Nose and Throat specialisation  and continued in later life with studies in the engineering behind miniaturization of micro – technology. This laborious and extremely demanding program was shared with his young wife Margaret and their eventual family of five. Not the least of Clark’s challenges was finding the vast amount of money required to form his research team. He turned out to be a master of fund-raising as well persuading Reg Ansett to run three telethons on Channel 10, then premier Henry Boulte to supply Victorian State Government support and eventually obtaining substantial Federal funding.

The creation of a  bionic ear, a cochlear implant of a powerful tiny microchip contained in a leak proof gold box in the inner ear  uses electrical impulses to stimulate the nerves of the inner ear making signals which can be converted into audible voice by a person without any natural hearing. Such an achievement was declared impossible as late as 1964 by a leading American professor in ottarlayngology. By early 1980 Clark had made it a reality and by the mid-1980’s it was rapidly becoming the technology of choice to overcome deafness, much to the distress of the some in the Auslan community who saw Clark’s work as the death of their identity.  A feature of this book is the forward by Li Cunxin, of Mao’s Last Dancer fame whose own daughter was profoundly deaf and whose life was transformed by the bionic ear.

This is a quite remarkable all Australian story told in a clear and honest way with no frills, just like humble Graeme Clark himself. It is a read you will not be able to put down!  5 stars

E(dith) S. Nesbit: The Railway Children, London, Wells Gardiner, Darton & Co. Ltd., 1906

My childhood reading included, other than the Bible,  A A Milne’s Christopher Robin; a steady diet of fairy tales and stories from Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm and other Northern European legends; a green book of Robin Hood which I read over and over; a much thumbed King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green; hundreds of Golden Books and comics especially Phantom comics and Walt Disney stories and Bugs Bunny Classics and other Golden Book classics like Tootle, The Train to Tinbuctoo and Scuffy the Tugboat; the Little Black Sambo books; Beatrix Potter books; Classical stories like The Song of Roland and Jason and the Argonauts from volumes of Newnes Pictorial Knowledge; all the amazing short stories and poems in the  hardback grade level readers; Barrie’s Peter Pan; KIpling’s Mowgli and Jungle Stories; lashings of Capt W E Johns’ Biggles books: Johanna Spyrie’s Heidi series; Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows; Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland; a little known book about talking animals by Trevor Dudley Smith called By a Silver Stream; (I must have read this book at least 30 times!); Enid Blyton’s Noddy of course and all the Famous Five and Secret Seven series; The Just William series by Richmal Cromton; I loved  Ballantyne’s The Coral Island,  Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe; and an Australian book by Erle Wilson about the Tasmanian Tiger called Coorinna; animal stories like Shadow the Sheep Dog,  Silver Chief, Lassie and Black Beauty;  a book called The Tower Room which I read over and over and an 1886 novel by G. Manville Fenn called Brownsmith’s Boy which my sister and I made Mum read to us over and over again; A number of Christian books (one called Tina and Tim); I read all of Conan Doyle’s short and long stories over and over; No doubt there were many other books and authors I have now forgotten.

Huckleberry Finn for me had to wait until English Literature at Melbourne University and Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles until I read them to my own children along with all of Tolkien. (except The Silmarilion !  I didn’t read Anne of Green Gables until I travelled with my wife Ann to Prince Edward Island and fell in love with Lucy Maud Montgomery and her poetry and writing.  I never got around to reading Jules Verne.  But no-one introduced me to E S Nesbit’s The Railway Children until I found a copy at our church second hand booksale and read it today (February 2018).  Old fashioned, yes; predictable in places, yes; twee in places, yes! But, after all these years still delightfully engaging, heart – warming, energising, funny, elevating and clever writing. The similarity with the four children in Narnia is striking (although there were only three railway children). There is nothing supernatural in Nesbit’s work either. In fact the life situation is quite realistic and beautifully described. If you can find her work I recommend it still for reading to young children. In spite of its 1905 setting I reckon literary young people in 2018 would still love having it read to them and beg for another chapter! (4 stars!)

Mark Tedeschi QC: Eugenia: A True Story of Adversity, Tragedy, Crime and Courage, Sydney,    Simon & Schuster, 2012.

Mark Tedeschi QC is the Senior Crown Prosecutor for New South Wales, a barrister of 39 years standing, a Keren trekker, an exhibiting photographer, fluent in Italian after living in Florence and has  a Masters in International Law from London….not a non-fiction writer to be trifled with. He regards the case of Eugenia to be perhaps the most significant trial that has been conducted by our predecessors during the last 175 years (p302).

The  1920 trial involved a charge of murder in which the accused was  Eugenia Falleni, the daughter of Italian immigrants to New Zealand..Eugenia was two when they came to New Zealand and grew up bilingual but was rebellious at school and never learned to read. A tomboy in her youth Eugenia,as she grew older was much happier dressing, behaving and working as a man. Leaving home she embarked on a successful career as Eugene, a male sailor but eventually her true gender was discovered and she was brutally raped by a ship captain, put off at Newcastle and eventually giving birth to his child. Eugenia found a family to care for the child and resumed her life in Sydney as a heavy drinking gregarious male casual worker. The story relates her complex life in Australia involving two marriages and her arrest, trial and conviction for the murder of her first wife all of which clearly had major implications for the rest of her life including requiring her to lead the final part of her life as a woman.

A large part of Tedeschi’s book involves the unsatisfactory nature of criminal justice procedure in the 1920s including police arrest and charging procedures, the impact of outrageous pre-trial media reporting, the improper use of witnesses both sighting and expert and the introduction of inappropriate evidence into the case. Whilst this sounds tedious Tedeschi’s obvious expertise and clear explanations make for compelling reading. Tedeschi also provides useful historical background to the people and places involved in the story and indeed the odd international historical summary. Needless to say Tedeschi is very confident that in today’s law court Eugene would have been found not guilty.

A further significant feature of this book is Tedeschi’s analysis of 1920’s ignorance and indeed fearful hatred of homosexuality and any form of transsexualism and the hurtful, indeed vicious way it was portrayed in the newspapers of the day. Tedeschi’s chapter Retrospective” provides useful distinctions between sexual orientation/ preference  and  sexual identity, describing the former as an expression of sexual attraction to others and the latter as an expression of one’s own inner gender identity. The terms ‘lesbian’ and ‘homosexual’ refer to sexual orientation or preference. A transexual is a person whose physical sex at birth conflicts with his or her perceived psychological gender.  (p.312). Tedeschi provides further medical definitions to clarify the above distinctions.

This is an unusual, demanding and at times disturbing read, full of tension, plot twists and some quite amazing encounters. 5 stars.