Sunday 30 March 2014

Marriage and Divorce

G.K. Chesterton had quite a lot to say on the subject of marriage and divorce. The quotes below are mainly from The Superstition of Divorce which was written in 1920. The others are from The Hebdomadal Chesterton which is a wonderful place to visit if you like Chesterton.

Of all human institutions marriage is the only one which most depends upon slow development, upon patience, upon long reaches of times, upon magnanimous compromise, upon kindly habit.

...marriage itself is an act of freedom and responsibility; and the desertion of it is the desertion of one’s self; and is always at least humiliating. Even if divorce is not a sin, it is most certainly a disgrace. It is not like the breaking of a chain, which has been forcibly imposed upon a slave. It is like the breaking of a sword, that has been deliberately taken up and deliberately dishonoured by a traitor.

As a child of divorced parents his words on disgrace made sense. In Chesterton's day divorce carried a  greater stigma than it does today, but for a child the sense of disgrace is caused by rejection. 'If my mum and dad really loved me they would have stayed together.' The repercussions of  breaking the sword have a ripple effect and they are not something that a child would necessarily articulate or understand.

I may be misunderstood if I say, for brevity, that marriage is an affair of honour. The skeptic will be delighted to assent, by saying it is a fight.  And so it is, if only with oneself; but the point here is that it necessarily has the touch of the heroic, in which virtue can be translated by virtus. Now about fighting, in its nature, there is an implied infinity or at least a potential infinity. I mean that loyalty in war is loyalty in defeat or even disgrace; it is due to the flag precisely at the moment when the flag nearly falls.

Marriage is honourable
It requires heroism at times.

Heroic: altruistic, determined, dauntless, brave, courageous but desperate.

In a medical sense a heroic procedure is one which may endanger the patient if it's performed. There's a chance it will  be successful but if it's not done the patient will probably die. Heroic effort and desperate action are honourable responses whatever the outcome might be in the end.

Virtus was a specific virtue in Ancient Rome. It carries connotations of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth, perceived as masculine strengths (from Latin vir, "man"). It was thus a frequently stated virtue of Roman emperors, and was personified as a deity. (Wikipedia)

The dictionary definition states that Virtus comes from the root Vireo and implies strength from straining, stretching, extending.

Sunday 23 March 2014

G.K.Chesterton: The Glory of Grey

A Glorious Grey Day on Sydney Harbour

Now, among the heresies that are spoken in this matter is the habit of calling a grey day a "colourless" day. Grey is a colour, and can be a very powerful and pleasing colour.
There is also an insulting style of speech about "one grey day just like another."
You might as well talk about one green tree just like another...

 Lastly, there is this value about the colour that men call colourless; 
 that it suggests in some way the mixed and troubled average of existence, especially in its quality of strife and expectation and promise.
Grey is a colour that always seems on the eve of changing to some other colour;
of brightening into blue or blanching into white or bursting into green and gold.
So we may be perpetually reminded of the indefinite hope that is in doubt itself;
and when there is grey weather in our hills or grey hairs in our heads,
perhaps they may still remind us of the morning.

Alarms and Discursions: Chapter 18

Linking up with Weekends with Chesterton

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Wednesday with Words: Abstractitis

 The effect of this disease, now endemic on both sides of the Atlantic, is to make the patient write such sentences as, Participation by the men in the control of the industry is non-existent, instead of, The men have no part in the control of the industry; Early expectation of a vacancy is indicated by the firm, instead of, The firm say they expect to have a vacancy soon; The availability of this material is diminishing, instead of, This material is getting scarcer; A cessation of dredging has taken place, instead of, Dredging has stopped; Was this the realization of an anticipated liability? instead of, Did you expect you would have to do this? And so on, with an abstract word always in command as the subject of the sentence. Persons and what they do, things and what is done to them, are put in the background, and we can only peer at them through a glass darkly. It may no doubt be said that in these examples the meaning is clear enough; but the danger is that, once the disease gets a hold, it sets up a chain reaction. A writer uses abstract words because his thoughts are cloudy; the habit of using them clouds his thoughts still further; he may end by concealing his meaning not only from his readers but also from himself, and writing such sentences as The actualisation of the motivation of the forces must to a great extent be a matter of personal angularity.  

H.W. Fowler (1858-1933)

When I read the above quote I thought of George Orwell. He wrote about what he saw happening to the English language in his day:

By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash -- as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot -- it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. 

He gives an example using the Book of Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English: 

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

British/Australian Grammar for Homeschoolers

We've used quite a few different grammar programmes in our home as some worked better than others with our different children. We've been homeschooling for a long time so many of the resources we have are from the US as that was what was available to suit a homeschooling situation at the time. I've adapted these for use in our Australian situation and added some other books to help me do this.

Part of the problem I had was remembering the grammar I learned when I went to school so I could explain British grammar to my kids while using an American based programme. I really needed a basic book to double check what I thought was right or different and then teach it to them. My daughter had to buy a reference book during her teaching degree and she showed this to me and said it was very good and covered basically everything. It is designed for parents, primary school teachers and students but I've found it useful for the higher grades also. The Oxford Primary Grammar Handbook (third edition) by Gordon Winch & Gregory Blaxell. ISBN: 9780195560282

So many of our novels and other books are printed in the US and spelling can become confusing for children: apologise/apologize; traveller/traveler; judgement/judgment; labour/labor, are a few examples. A good dictionary is indispensable and I really like the Pocket Oxford Dictionary - not that it would actually fit into your pocket - but it's a good size for children and is easy to pick up secondhand for next to nothing.
I found out recently that this dictionary (mine is a 1942 edition) was a condensation of an earlier classic, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (2nd Edition) by H.W. Fowler, slightly edited by Ernest Gowers. I downloaded this for free a while back but I haven't been able to find the original link. Published by Oxford University Press in 1965, it is very highly regarded and was originally written in 1926.
(ISBN: 0192813897)
The copy shown below (the one I have) is a slightly revised version of the 1926 edition but it still retains the flavour of the author's original work. From what I've read, the revised edition by Robert William Burchfield in 1996, doesn't.

Another of H.W. Fowler's books is The King's English, a style guide for British English, and is free online at

 'Some of the more obvious devices of humorous writers, being fatally easy to imitate, tend to outlive their natural term, and to become a part of the injudicious novice's stock-in-trade. Olfactory organ, once no doubt an agreeable substitute for 'nose', has ceased to be legal tender in literature, and is felt to mark a low level in conversation. No amount of classical authority can redeem a phrase that has once reached this stage.'

The University of New England in NSW has quite a good fact sheet on spelling rules.
A spelling website with British resources is here.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

The Power of Poetry

Last Sunday we had a visiting speaker at church and he was sharing some of his story of how he came to faith at the age of seventeen. When he was about ten or eleven years of age his teacher gave his class a poem to take home and read.
The next day the boys' responses were moans and groans..."Boring...why do we have to read this stuff?...What's it supposed to mean?" Er, sounds rather familiar.
Honestly, sometimes I've wondered if I was wasting my time reading and discussing poetry, especially with my boys, who have tended to be more vocal than the girls when it comes to their likes and dislikes in this area.
Well, our visiting speaker continued with his story and I noticed one of my boys looking across at me with a grin on his face as the speaker, in a deep, rich and dramatic voice, started to recite the following poem:

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked   
   And figs grew upon thorn,   
Some moment when the moon was blood   
   Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,   
The devil’s walking parody   
   On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,   
   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:   
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet. 

 by G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

The speaker shared how his teacher simply talked about the poem - this creature was a freak of nature, unplanned, unwanted, weird, a parody; but he had a part in God's purposes.
I was so excited! Here was someone who understood the power of poetry. Here he was in his sixties still feeling the power of a piece of poetry he'd heard as a boy. 

A seed was sown in his heart by a caring teacher and God worked on that seed and seven years later it bore fruit in his life.
I was so grateful that my kids heard this story. I'm so grateful that I pressed on and continued to share poetry with them even when they didn't seem to appreciate it.
And this morning, I found a quote in one of the comments on my post on G.K. Chesterton from Mama Squirrel which I just had to put here:

"Perhaps the strongest case of all is this: that only one great English poet went mad, Cowper. And he was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination. Poetry was not the disease, but the medicine; poetry partly kept him in health." ~~ G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy 

Linking to Weekends with Chesterton.