All posts by Antonius Angelus

Thank God I’m Not Like Those Victorians

a92bd1c4e870a53318a269ec950efbbbWhat follows is an insightful quote from Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, where a few neo-Victorians from the future discuss the morality of our age. We enter the conversation in medias res…

“You know, when I was a young man, hypocrisy was deemed the worst of vices,” Finkle-McGraw said. “It was all because of moral relativism.You see, in that sort of a climate, you are not allowed to criticise others-after all, if there is no absolute right and wrong, then what grounds is there for criticism?”

Finkle-McGraw paused, knowing that he had the full attention of his audience, and began to withdraw a calabash pipe and various related supplies and implements from his pockets. As he continued, he charged the calabash with a blend of leather-brown tobacco so redolent that it made Hackworth’s mouth water. He was tempted to spoon some of it into his mouth.

“Now, this led to a good deal of general frustration, for people are naturally censorious and love nothing better than to criticise others’ shortcomings. And so it was that they seized on hypocrisy and elevated it from a ubiquitous peccadillo into the monarch of all vices. For, you see, even if there is no right and wrong, you can find grounds to criticise another person by contrasting what he has espoused with what he has actually done. In this case, you are not making any judgment whatsoever as to the correctness of his views or the morality of his behaviour-you are merely pointing out that he has said one thing and done another. Virtually all political discourse in the days of my youth was devoted to the ferreting out of hypocrisy.

“You wouldn’t believe the things they said about the original Victorians. Calling someone a Victorian in those days was almost like calling them a fascist or a Nazi.”

Both Hackworth and Major Napier were dumbfounded. “Your Grace!” Napier exclaimed. “I was naturally aware that their moral stance was radically different from ours- but I am astonished to be informed that they actually condemned the first Victorians.”

“Of course they did,” Finkle-McGraw said.

“Because the first Victorians were hypocrites,” Hackworth said, getting it.

Finkle-McGraw beamed upon Hackworth like a master upon his favored pupil. “As you can see, Major Napier, my estimate of Mr. Hackworth’s mental acuity was not ill-founded.”

“While I would never have supposed otherwise, Your Grace,” Major Napier said, “it is nonetheless gratifying to have seen a demonstration.” Napier raised his glass in Hackworth’s direction.

“Because they were hypocrites,” Finkle-McGraw said, after igniting his calabash and shooting a few tremendous fountains of smoke into the air, “the Victorians were despised in the late twentieth century. Many of the persons who held such opinions were, of course, guilty of the most nefarious conduct themselves, and yet saw no paradox in holding such views because they were not hypocrites themselves-they took no moral stances and lived by none.

“So they were morally superior to the Victorians-” Major Napier said, still a bit snowed under. “-even though-in fact, because-they had no morals at all.”
There was a moment of silent, bewildered head-shaking around the copper table.

[emphasis added]

The belief that hypocrisy is the only true vice is so ubiquitous that it often passes in the church as good law preaching. It is impossible for fallen man to keep the law, so any man who tries to keep the law is a hypocrite, and men need to repent of their hypocrisy. Therefore the problem with the opinio legis is no longer idolatry, but hypocrisy. This resonates with people because it is the cultural norm. Nobody minds being called a sinner. A sinner who admits he is a sinner is not a hypocrite and thus is free of the lone cardinal vice. He will keep or break whatever morality is necessary to not be a hypocrite. Those who only preach against hypocrisy prop themselves up by having no morals at all.






Mowgli made leader of the Bandar Log by John Charles Dollman, 1903

I have been reading Kipling’s The Jungle Book for entertainment and moral enrichment, and came across this passage about a familiar type of people:


Mowgli looked at Bagheera to see if the Panther was angry too, and Bagheera’s eyes were as hard as jade stones.

“Thou hast been with the Monkey People–the gray apes–the people without a law–the eaters of everything. That is great shame.”

“When Baloo hurt my head,” said Mowgli (he was still on his back), “I went away, and the gray apes came down from the trees and had pity on me. No one else cared.” He snuffled a little.

Note, Baloo hurt Mowgli’s head because he was not learning his lessons.

“The pity of the Monkey People!” Baloo snorted. “The stillness of the mountain stream! The cool of the summer sun! And then, man-cub?”

“And then, and then, they gave me nuts and pleasant things to eat, and they–they carried me in their arms up to the top of the trees and said I was their blood brother except that I had no tail, and should be their leader some day.”

“They have no leader,” said Bagheera. “They lie. They have always lied.”

“They were very kind and bade me come again. Why have I never been taken among the Monkey People? They stand on their feet as I do. They do not hit me with their hard paws. They play all day. Let me get up! Bad Baloo, let me up! I will play with them again.”

“Listen, man-cub,” said the Bear, and his voice rumbled like thunder on a hot night. “I have taught thee all the Law of the Jungle for all the peoples of the jungle–except the Monkey-Folk who live in the trees. They have no law. They are outcasts. They have no speech of their own, but use the stolen words which they overhear when they listen, and peep, and wait up above in the branches. Their way is not our way. They are without leaders. They have no remembrance. They boast and chatter and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the jungle, but the falling of a nut turns their minds to laughter and all is forgotten. We of the jungle have no dealings with them. We do not drink where the monkeys drink; we do not go where the monkeys go; we do not hunt where they hunt; we do not die where they die. Hast thou ever heard me speak of the Bandar-log till today?”

“No,” said Mowgli in a whisper, for the forest was very still now Baloo had finished.

“The Jungle-People put them out of their mouths and out of their minds. They are very many, evil, dirty, shameless, and they desire, if they have any fixed desire, to be noticed by the Jungle People. But we do not notice them even when they throw nuts and filth on our heads.”

A good lesson, I think.

Cellarostian Poetry

I came across this interesting article from the Spectator:

This was seven months into my career as a poetry performer. During that time I’d memorised 150 poems and taken them to the streets. I recited to young and old, black and white, male and female, in East Anglia and London. Rejection is my most common experience. ‘Do you have a favourite poem?’ I ask and most often all this elicits is a ‘Sorry’ or ‘You’re asking the wrong person, mate.’ I’ve had a few more menacing responses but I’m yet to be assaulted.

Somehow, though, provided I don’t forget my lines, I earn money. My rate works out at around £12 an hour — considerably more than the minimum wage. When I’m successful, my performances are appreciated like a magic trick. People are shocked and gratified if I can recite the poem they name. I can now do all the most popular ones: Kipling’s ‘If —’, Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’ (‘Stop all the clocks…’), Larkin’s ‘This Be The Verse’, Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, Poe’s ‘The Raven’, Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’. I built this list up slowly over months of practice simply by asking. If three people mentioned the same poem on three separate occasions, I learnt it.

So, Cellarostians, do you have a favorite poem? What is the Cellar-Door poetical canon?