Saturday, December 29, 2018

Lego Burger Restaurant



A few years ago, when Shell were planning to drill for oil in the Arctic, there was a campaign to stop Lego from product-placing Shell fuel lorries and filling-stations in their happy child's world of knobbly bricks. The two companies had had a friendly relationship for half a century. Nevertheless, as far as I remember the campaign was successful, and probably gave impetus to the divestment movement. Coincidentally, I believe, Shell abandoned their Arctic scheme not long afterwards, at least for the moment.

Here, meanwhile, is Lego reinforcing regular visits to the local drive-through to consume beefburgers. Beef is the most environmentally-unfriendly meat we farm. (Chicken is perhaps the cruellest).

Underlying it all, Lego have simply no rivals in positively reinforcing plastic as a material; they made it beautiful. Lego is a celebration of the Oil Era. Sure, High St commerce is all about making us pay for plastic we don't need; in the packaging if not the product itself. But most of the plastic we take home isn't really loved, plastic is not usually felt to be a prestigious material.


Friday, December 28, 2018

Green & Black's non-organic chocolate has arrived

Mondelez International (formerly Kraft) really should stop hiding their light under a bushel. The independent Green & Black's organic chocolate brand was founded in 1991. Cadbury's bought it in 2005. Five years later Cadbury's themselves were swallowed up by Mondelez. In 2016 Mondelez introduced non-organic G&B ranges in the US. Now they've done the same in the UK. The "Velvet Edition" is neither organic nor Fairtrade.




Sunday, December 23, 2018

The icebreaker season


The icebreaker Atle


[Image and story source: https://www.svt.se/nyheter/lokalt/norrbotten/isbrytarsasong-drar-i-gang-i-varma-vatten]

The icebreaker season has begun in the Gulf of Bothnia, but as yet there's no ice to break; the water is too warm, still about 4°. The five icebreakers are idling in Luleå harbour.

The icebreaker fleet, at present, is still critical to Norrland's commerce. Without it, exports of iron ore and timber would cease for around four months each year.

The names of the five icebreakers are Ale, Ymer, Atle, Oden and Frej.

As you might guess, the names refer to Norse mythology.

Oden = Odin

Frej = Frey

Ymer = Ymir, the primordial giant whose super productive body gave rise (birth?) to the later giants, the Norse gods and the earth itself. https://norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/giants/ymir/

Atle = Atli, one of the alternative names of the Norse god Thor.

Ale (pronounced "arlay") is another version of Vale = Vali, the son of Odin and Rindr. When only one day old, Vali slew Hoder in revenge for Balder's death. In Swedish lore Vale/Ale is conceived as a good archer and a dwarf in stature, which explains the use of the name here. Ale is smaller than the other icebreakers. It was originally built to be able to go up the Trollhätte canal into Lake Vänern.



The icebreaker Ymer



Thursday, December 20, 2018

Carol's carol

The Bee Carol

Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight’s key;
all the garden locked in ice —
a silver frieze —
except the winter cluster of the bees.

Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.

Bring me for my Christmas gift
a single golden jar;
let me taste the sweetness there,
but honey leave
to feed the winter cluster of the bees.

Come with me on Christmas Eve
to see the silent hive —
trembling stars cloistered above —
and then believe,
bless the winter cluster of the bees.

(Carol Ann Duffy)
<
[Source: https://wordverseuniverse.wordpress.com/2014/12/25/the-bee-carol-duffy/
 . Looks an interesting site!]

This is the text for this year's Radio 3 Christmas Carol competition (the winner was John Merrick). It comes from The Bees (2011), Carol Ann Duffy's first collection as poet laureate, a role in which she has been as vilified as most incumbents are, but with that extra bit of venom reserved for women.

Since both queen and workers are female, Carol deftly proposes a Christmas Eve incarnation myth that is also an image of sisterly solidarity.

A poem like this isn't really about God and Jesus, it's about things that lie deeper than that. It's, let's say, about the life and values of those elderly churchgoers who now sing carols; their love of their gardens, their retirement contemplation of nature, their abundant experience of  joys and sorrows, their awareness of their own deaths drawing closer. Carol's poem reaches into that nexus of values and just brushes it, like a hand on a harp. We can say a genuine Yes to her injunction to "believe", without knowing precisely what we do believe.

According to the radio there were "hundreds" of entries, so in addition to John Merrick's there now exist hundreds of other choral settings of this poem. But it wasn't written for music, and the poem already contains within its words, as well as its title, the suggestion of a carol: for example, such archaic devices as inversion ("but honey leave"), rhetorical imperative ("Bring me") and invitation ("Come with me"). And to suggest music the poem makes quite elaborate use of sound:  full rhymes, half rhymes, and subterranean developments like "clusters" / "cling" / "cloistered".

And yet it's also unlike most carols. Compare "O come all ye faithful", an exhortation certainly but a communal one, part of a shared ritual in which we exhort ourselves and each other. There is no "I" in such carols. Though admittedly there is precedent for it in the final stanza of Christina Rossetti's "In the Bleak Midwinter", which also began life as a poem (a poem originally titled "A Christmas Carol" (January 1872)).

Christmas, we say, is about spending time with the family. That means something different as you grow older, and may find yourself spending quite a lot of the Christmas season, apart from the "big day" itself, on your own. Or listening to Radio 3.

It's out of that precious loneliness that the poem seems to speak: such epiphanies as this of going out to the hive late at night, beneath those chilly stars, are essentially  solitary ones, though we long to share them with others. "Come with me on Christmas Eve" has a pleading note, and not perhaps less so if we imagine that the one addressed is a sister, a partner, a child or a grandchild.


("Come with me on Christmas Eve" is also aware of the invitation hypothetically made to the author in Thomas Hardy's "The Oxen". Christmas Eve is a time of miracles -- "So hallowed and so gracious is the time." This poem's contention is that the winter bees beneath the winter stars are also a kind of miracle, even though they aren't  miraculous in the same sense as the kneeling oxen in the folk-legend.)

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Monday, December 17, 2018

SVT nyheter

SVT nyheter is the news channel of Swedish Television. Here's a news story from today (17th December 2018):

Source: https://www.svt.se/nyheter/inrikes/unik-film-har-forbereder-sig-is-mannen-for-krig-framfor-sina-barn

Mannen skryter för sin son om hur han ”sköt ihjäl en ’otrogen’”. Barnet, som är i femårsåldern, vet redan hur han ska hantera en kalasjnikov. SVT Nyheter kan i dag visa unika filmer som ger en inblick i barnfamiljers vardag i terrorns Syrien.

The man brags to his son about how he "shot down an infidel". The child in his fifth year already knows how to handle a Kalashnikov. Today SVT News can share unique footage that gives an insight into the everyday lives of families with children within the Syria of the terrorists.

På ytan ser allt normalt ut. En pappa som avslappnat packar sin väska,  leker med sina barn och gör sig redo för att åka till jobbet. Ungefär som vilken svensk som helst.

On the surface everything seems normal. A relaxed dad packing his bag, playing with his child and getting himself ready to go to work. Much like any other Swede.

Men inget är normalt här.

But nothing is normal here.

– Jag dödade en otrogen och tog den från honom, förklarar pappan lugnt för sin son som undrar om en walkie-talkie.

"I killed an infidel and took it from him," dad explains calmly to his son, who's asking about a walkie-talkie.

SVT Nyheter kan i dag visa unikt filmmaterial som ger en inblick i IS-jihadisters vardag och familjeliv samtidigt som kriget rasar.

SVT News can today reveal unique film material that gives an insight into IS Jihadists' everyday family lives while war is raging.

Runt 300 personer har sedan 2012 rest från Sverige för att ansluta sig till IS eller andra våldsbejakande islamistgrupper i Syrien och Irak, enligt Säpo.

Since 2012 about 300 people have journeyed from Sweden to join up with IS or similar Islamist groups committed to violence in Syria and Iraq, according to Säpo [Swedish state security police].

Av dem vet vi att ett 50-tal har dött. Men mörkertalet är stort, och samtidigt fortsätter familjer att leva i krigszonen. Här finns både kvinnor och barn.

Of them we know of about 50 who are dead. But the fate of many is unrecorded, and meanwhile families continue to live in the war zone. That includes both women and children.

Berättar om dödsskjutningen för sin lille son


He recounts fatal shootings to his little son

I de filmer som SVT Nyheter har tagit del av och nu kan publicera syns hur två små barn, uppskattningsvis tre och fem år gamla, följer sin pappa med blicken när han förbereder sig för att kriga. Bakom kameran står mannens hustru, mamma till barnen.

In the footage from which SVT News can now publish excerpts, we see how two small children, aged about three and five, follow dad with their eyes as he prepares for war. Behind the camera stands the man's wife, mother to the children.

I filmerna pratar alla svenska – och hela familjen deltar.

In the films everyone speaks in Swedish -- and the whole family take part.

Familjen befinner sig i Syrien och kvinnan på filmen vet att det här kanske blir sista gången hon och barnen får se sin make och pappa.

The family are now in Syria and the woman in the film knows that she and her children may be seeing dad for the last time.

Mannen tar på sig en skyddsväst. Magasinen till hans kalasjnikov läggs omsorgsfullt i ryggsäcken. Barnen följer varje rörelse – och hjälper till med packningen.

The man puts on a bulletproof vest. The magazine for his Kalashnikov is placed carefully into his backpack. The children follow each movement -- and help with the packing.


Walkie-talkien som mannen har i sin bröstficka har han fått från en ”otrogen”, alltså någon som inte följer IS extrema tolkning av islam. Han vänder sig till den äldsta sonen.

The man has taken the walkie-talkie in his breast pocket from an "infidel", i.e. someone who doesn't follow IS's extreme interpretation of Islam. He turns to his eldest son.

– Jag sköt honom här, kulan gick ut här, säger han samtidigt som han pekar på sin hals och nacke.

"I shot him here, the bullet came out here," he says, pointing to his throat and the name of his neck.

Pojken står tyst samtidigt som hans mamma, jihadistens fru, ger ifrån sig ett tyst skratt innan hon rådger sin make.

The boy remains silent while his mother, the Jihadist's wife, emits a quiet laugh before she reproves her partner.

Bilderna visar IS-vardagen inifrån

Images show everyday IS existence from within

Islamiska staten är känd för sin propagandamaskin: filmklipp som gruppen spottar ur sig är i regel hårt redigerade med tuff musik, och visar ett brutalt och besinningslöst dödande.

Islamic State is known for its propaganda machine: the typical film-clips that the group puts out are heavily edited, backed by strident music, and show brutal and ruthless killing.


De filmer som SVT Nyheter kan visa i dag är privata och osminkade. De ger en unik inblick i hur vardagen ser ut för personer som anslutit sig till terrorsekten IS. Det här är inte gruppens propaganda riktad till omvärlden, utan en vardagsskildring – inifrån.

The footage that SVT News can show today is private and unvarnished. It gives a unique insight into how everyday life seems for people who joined the terrorist group IS. This is not the group's propaganda addressed to the outside world, but a portrait of daily life -- from within.

En pappa lär sin son att skjuta med en luftpistol och prisa gud. Måltavlan: ett paket kalaspuffar.

A dad teaches his son to shoot with an air-pistol and praise God. The target: a packet of Sugar Puffs.

I en annan scen tar en kvinna i niqab upp ett hagelgevär samtidigt som det hörs babyjoller i bakgrunden. Filmen utspelar sig utanför Aleppo där det precis har bombats.

In another scene a woman in a niqab picks up a shotgun while a baby cooing is heard in the background. The video was taken in  a spot outside Aleppo that has just been bombed.

– Nu ska vi titta på när mamma gör jihad, säger kvinnan bakom kameran.

Now we'll watch while Mummy does jihad, says the woman behind the camera.

– Coolt, replikerar hon som precis skjutit.

"Cool," she replies as she fires.

Bebis på sängen – i närheten av vapen

Baby on the bed -- beside the weapons


Tillbaka hos den första familjen ser vi hur mamman hejar på sin make medan sonen förklarar för sin pappa hur han ska använda sin automatkarbin för att skjuta ”otrogna” på ett så effektivt sätt som möjligt.

Back with first family, we watch as mum greets her partner while the son explains to dad how he should use his assault rifle to shoot the "infidels" in the most effective way possible.

I samma sekvens ligger en bebis på en säng, inte långt ifrån ett stort gevär. På bilder syns även en man med en barnvagn.
I dag har familjen återvänt till Sverige och barnen har börjat skolan. Hur många barn det egentligen är som har vuxit upp på IS-kontrollerat område är i princip omöjligt att säga.

In the same sequence a baby lies on the bed, not far from a large rifle. The images also show a man with a pushchair. Today the family have returned to Sweden and the children have started school. How many children there are who have grown up in IS-controlled territory is basically impossible to say.

Men såväl experter som lokalbefolkning i de områden där IS tvingats tillbaka är eniga om att gruppens inflytande över en hel generation unga, är ett av IS mest oroande arv. Enligt Säpo har omkring 150 personer återvänt till Sverige från Syrien och Irak.

But both experts and those with local knowledge of the region to which IS has been driven back are agreed that the group's influence over a whole generation of children is one of it's most disturbing legacies. According to Säpo around 150 people have returned to Sweden from Syria and Iraq.

See also:

Different interpretations of social care for IS returners in Göteborg and Stockholm (18/12/2018)

https://www.svt.se/nyheter/inrikes/bettan-byvald-soker-upp-is-atervandarna



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Saturday, December 15, 2018

join me

1.

I don't begin.
It's more that a thread's cut

Jag börja inte.
Finns bara tråd som skäras

2.

Even a daisy resists
your project. The resistance
is its life. The only thing
you can do to the daisy is
take its life.

4. The leaves, on the weeping
willow, were becoming sparse.

At the bus-stop a lady
was playing "Sea Shanties"
on the wrapping-paper.


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Friday, December 14, 2018

It is a thing




OK, I give up, so I'm going to share this mystery with readers and appeal for help. These photos show an implement (?) ... oh, ok, lets just say a thing...  that my dad picked up recently at an auction sale.

It consists of a two-winged plane of wood, elaborately carved on the upper side, and mounted on a plain wooden pole, about 1.5 meters in length, tapering to a slightly pointed end.

At the auction-room a man who had "seen one before" said that it was a "Scandinavian marriage axe", which my dad inferred meant a ceremonial "axe" used in some wedding ritual. He was thinking about these lines in the Elder Edda about Thor's axe-hammer Mjollnir:

Bring in the hammer  to hallow the bride;
On the maiden's knees  let Mjollnir lie

(from the Thrymskvitha)

It's a good theory, except that our researches have failed to turn up any evidence whatever for the existence of such a ritual. Besides, in the Edda story, the bride at this giant's wedding turns out to be Thor himself in disguise -- you can guess what happens next.





And actually, it doesn't really seem like a Scandinavian object. The floristic carving  reminds me especially of the highland art of the Podhale region of southern Poland (Zakopane area), but I could credit an origin anywhere in central Europe.

On the side of the "blade" is some writing:

KONC
LIDIA

Except the N is backwards, like a Cyrillic I. So is the first line (name?) written in Cyrillic,, even though the second line (name?) is definitely in the Roman alphabet?




So yet more mystery. And now over to you! Where is it from, what sort of date, what does the inscription mean, and above all, what is it?

I can't see how it could be a practical tool, and there are no signs of wear. Is it something churchly or Masonic? Is it something carried in a procession? But if so, why is the principal decoration on the topside, where a bystander wouldn't see it?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

passing Narbonne

Field Maple (Acer campestre): simple leaf and enriched leaf. Beckington (Somerset), 5th December 2018.



Hungarian Oak (Quercus frainetto). Frome, 11th December 2018.

Hungarian Oak (Quercus frainetto). The Balkans is its heartland; being a calcifuge, it's actually quite uncommon in Hungary. Yet these young trees seem to be happy enough beside the river in Frome. (The soil must be almost neutral here, though the surrounding town is on Jurassic limestone.)

Widely planted for its splendid big leaves and impressive egg-shaped crown.

Hungarian Oak (Quercus frainetto) outside Frome library, 11th December 2018.

Empty bottle of "nectar of nature" gel douche délicat


So I've finally  used up the shower gel, and this is my fond farewell to it. I got it in Narbonne in mid-October.



The letter also inclosed to Emily an order upon a merchant at Narbonne, for a small sum of money.

(Ann Radcliffe, Mysteries of Udolpho Ch XII)

The "muddy river" is the Canal de la Robine. Some of the roads beside it were flooded after a night of heavy rain. We had a long stay in the hypermarket and then had business at the tobacconist and the post office (where I stood in the queue behind a druggy young couple, just the same as I might do anywhere in the peripheral UK). Then we had a look round the "centre historique" and, with cold sun making a brief appearance in the square, contrived to enjoy some green tea while perching on wet cafe chairs.

Unconsciously we were passing by for the same reasons the Romans settled here: because this is where the road from Spain joins the road from the Atlantic. Via Domitia and Via Aquitania, in those days.

In the fourteenth century the course of the Aude changed, and Narbonne's wealth declined; the dizzying high-vaulted cathedral remains incomplete.

Narbonne was the birthplace of the troubadour Charles Trenet (1913 - 2001), now memorialized by a gigantic sculptured head at one of the nearby aires (motorway services).

Nationale 7
Il faut la prendre qu'on aille à Rome à Sète
Que l'on soit deux trois quatre cinq six ou sept
C'est une route qui fait recette
Route des vacances
Qui traverse la Bourgogne et la Provence
Qui fait d' Paris un p'tit faubourg d'Valence
Et la banlieue d'Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Le ciel d'été
Remplit nos cœurs d'sa lucidité
Chasse les aigreurs et les acidités 

 (from Charles Trenet, "Nationale 7", a 1959 song celebrating the inauguration of paid public holidays. We were about to drive along some of this route ourselves.)

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Sunday, December 09, 2018

fox runs across the ice





[Image source: http://fotografemme.blogspot.com/2011/12/lucka-nr2-raven-raskar-over-isen.html. Photo by Emme MacDonald.]

This is a popular song in Sweden, known to all children. In its extended version it accompanies a round dance with actions (such as curtseying or bowing) -- e.g. round the midsummer pole or the Christmas tree.

Räven raskar över isen,
räven raskar över isen.
Får vi lov, ja får vi lov,
att sjunga flickornas visa?
  Så här gör flickorna var de går
  och var de sitter och var de står.
Så får vi lov, ja får vi lov,
att sjunga flickornas visa?

The fox runs across the ice,
the fox runs across the ice.
Shall we, yes shall we,
sing the girls' song?
  Thus the girls do as they walk
  and as they sit and as they stand.
So shall we, yes shall we,
sing the girls' song?

("Få vi lov att...?" is homologous to "Have we leave to...?" --  but with only the faintest residual tint of old-fashioned formality, so I've gone for "Shall we ..?")

The italicized lines, which accompany the actions, are usually sung in a slower tempo than the rest.

Subsequent verses are basically the same, but run through "gossarna" (the boys), "gummorna" (the old women), "gubborna" (the old men), then various optional professions: e.g. "skräddaren" (the tailor), "skomakarn" (the cobbler), "målaren" (the painter), "bagarn" (the baker) and "sotaren" (the chimney sweep). And such full-length renderings usually end up with verses about Grin-Olle and Skratt-Olle, who are apparently a pair of "snusande gubbarna" (funny snuff-stained old buffers). "De" (they) becomes "han" (he) in these later verses.

But like most popular songs, it's often abbreviated to a single verse or even a single line.

The single line (i.e. fox runs across the ice) is totemic, a title that has nothing in particular to do with the rest of the song.  As typical of nature in folk songs, it means both nothing and everything; it just means the song itself, the dance itself.

Because of this first line I always think of it as a Christmas song, but that's applying far too much logic. Besides, at midsummer in the north of Sweden ice isn't altogether a distant memory.

It's a pure sound game, too. Four different R-sounds followed by four different vowel-sounds.

räven
raska -
r öve -
r isen

And "isen" also rhymes with "visa", but not very well. (If it was a full rhyme, I think that might get annoying after a while.)

The sound-pattern is preserved in the occasionally-reported variant "Räven raskar över riset" (Fox runs across the heather).

It's an old song. The scientist Olof Rudbeck described a version of the song in 1689, in his eccentric magnum opus Atlantica.

The melody normally heard today is a "polska", a dance tune in dotted triple time.


[Image source: https://way-up-north.com/2015/12/05/raven-raskar-over-isen/ . Photo by Olaf Schneider, used by permission.]




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Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Tobias Smollett's poetry -- and homophobia, and climate change...




While I've been reading Peregrine Pickle, I've also been taking some quick glances at Smollett's poems, which are helpfully available on PoemHunter.

*

Mourn, hapless Caledonia, mourn
Thy banish'd peace - thy laurels torn!
Thy sons, for valour long renown'd,
Lie slaughter'd on their native ground;
Thy hospitable roofs no more
Invite the stranger to the door;
In smoky ruins sunk they lie,
The monuments of cruelty.


The wretched owner sees afar
His all become they prey of war;
Bethinks him of his babes and wife,
Then smites his breast, and curses life!
Thy swains are famish'd on the rocks
Where once they fed their wanton flocks:
Thy ravish'd virgins shriek in vain;
Thy infants perish on the plain.


(from "The Tears of Scotland")

"The Tears of Scotland" was written in London in April 1746, as soon as news came through of the victory at Culloden. Smollett, then 24, was one of a group of wellborn emigrant Scots who witnessed the wild celebrations in London and had to be careful not to let their accents give them away in the streets.

The details are in this interesting article in The Herald:

https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12044286.mourn-hapless-caledonia/

(I'm assuming this information comes from Alexander Carlyle's autobiography.)

If the April date is correct, it's surprising that Smollett's poem seems to allude both to 'Butcher' Cumberland's battlefield orders to slay the wounded (in marked contrast to Charles' humane treatment of the government wounded after Prestonpans), and to the aftermath in May 1746 when his troops scoured the glens to kill all potential rebels and to destroy their homes.

Did the classical motifs of Smollett's lament horribly anticipate what would really come to pass?

Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, was the youngest son of George II. Handel composed the oratorio Judas Macabeus to celebrate Cumberland's victorious return from Scotland. It includes the evergreen chorus "See, the conqu'ring hero comes!"



*

Also in 1746, Smollett wrote "Advice: A Satire". (A sequel, "Reproof", was written the following year.)

The poem is in the form of a dialogue between the virtuously indignant Poet and a devil's-advocate Friend who proposes various degrading ways in which the Poet might get on in the world.

Clearly the Friend is being blackly ironic, and it's he who delivers the most memorable passage:

Go then, with every supple virtue stored,
And thrive, the favour’d valet of my lord.
Is that denied? a boon more humble crave.
And minister to him who serves a slave;
Be sure you fasten on promotion’s scale,
Even if you seize some footman by the tail:
The ascent is easy, and the prospect clear,
From the smirch’d scullion to the embroider’d peer.
The ambitious drudge preferr’d, postilion rides,
Advanced again, the chair benighted guides;
Here doom’d, if Nature strung his sinewy frame,
The slave, perhaps, of some insatiate dame;
But if, exempted from the Herculean toil,
A fairer field awaits him, rich with spoil,
There shall he shine, with mingling honours bright,
His master’s pathic, pimp, and parasite;
Then strut a captain, if his wish be war,
And grasp, in hope, a truncheon and a star:
Or if the sweets of peace his soul allure,
Bask at his ease, in some warm sinecure;
His fate in consul, clerk, or agent vary,
Or cross the seas, an envoy’s secretary;
Composed of falsehood, ignorance, and pride,
A prostrate sycophant shall rise a Lloyd;
And, won from kennels to the impure embrace,
Accomplish’d Warren triumph o’er disgrace.

Smollett's control is a bit wayward but his assault on abject social climbing has some great moments, for instance the comic progress from postilion-rider to personal link-boy (who would guide the sedan-chair after dark) to brawny footman to Her Ladyship.

A "pathic" is a submissive sexual partner, i.e. the supplier of anus rather than penis. In Roman sexual morality that made a difference. A gentleman might engage with either sex without raising any eyebrows, so long as he was the active participant. But to be a pathic was to play the part of a slave or servant or woman, and was thus socially humiliating.

Smollett is evidently taking off from Juvenal's Satire II,  which is quoted in his epigraph (see below). Juvenal was concerned about foreigners (which pathic servants often were) acquiring undue influence over native Romans. But Smollett, probably conscious of being a foreigner himself, wasn't interested in that aspect of the matter.

On the other hand Smollett has his own era's outspoken revulsion at all homosexual activity whatever.

The Poet comments:

Eternal infamy his name surround,
Who planted first that vice on British ground!
A vice that, spite of sense and nature, reigns,
And poisons genial love, and manhood stains!*
Pollio! the pride of science and its shame,
The Muse weeps o’er thee, while she brands thy name!

(I had the thought that "Pollio" means Sir Francis Bacon, but I'm probably mistaken; most likely the veiled name refers to someone still alive.)

... and he laments the prevalence of the vice at Oxford University and within the Church:

Let Isis wail in murmurs as she runs,
Her tempting fathers, and her yielding sons;
While dulness screens the failings of the Church,
Nor leaves one sliding Rabbi in the lurch:  ...


Of course I'm not reading 18th-century satire to judge, or even learn about, 18th-century society. What I'm really thinking about is our own time and its ills, and why satire doesn't work when there are so many fit topics.

Satire musters the values of the tribe to attack social deviance (I confess I accept this more easily from the pen of crusty old Juvenal than from crusty young Smollett).

But in our time it's precisely the values of the tribe that are our greatest danger -- I'm talking about the human-caused environmental catastrophe, which we seem powerless to do anything about. It's pointless, isn't it, to shame prominent individuals who are shameless themselves and whose denigration leads to no social consensus?

The satiric focus on powerful individuals is astray in this case. Our danger comes from a system, which we can label capitalism but is merely a formalization of human nature. The most dangerous things we do are reasonably perceived as tribal norms; buying ourselves a new car, doing up our homes, having another baby, booking a long-haul flight, going for a better-paid job. Far from feeling ashamed by such projects, they make us feel more alive. Our conception of living involves a restless drive towards change. It's these all-too-normal drives, repeated by millions, that are melting the ice-cap.

Satire, it's true, is often directed against drives. In this Smollett passage, for instance, we're struck by the energetic activity of the sycophants and social climbers; as often in satire, the reader is meant to feel the threat of massed social activity.

Satire assumes that its targets are moral beings, susceptible to shame. So it doesn't patronize them. But here are several differences from the situation today.

First, booking a holiday isn't actually morally reprehensible. Ordinary people aren't preoccupied with abstract questions of the planet; conveniently, but also undeniably, it's actually pretty difficult to assess the full spectrum of consequences of a trip abroad. And if some technical breakthrough in the future meant that our high living no longer impacted the natural world, I wouldn't have a problem with it either. That unfettered human living and its drives, the kind of energetic intervention we're programmed for, destroys the natural environment -- this isn't a moral judgment but an economic one: the impacts don't need to be preached up because they can be measured.

Second, we all do these things. Smollett could be virtuously indignant because he himself wasn't guilty of the acts he castigates (all the easier, if they concern sexual behaviour that one isn't tempted to partake in).

Thirdly, morals change over time: for example, most Europeans today don't think homosexuality is a "vice".  Morals change like tastes change, because morals are an aspect of social self-organization, like class. And in fact we are already changing our views, and even our morals, to adjust to climate change. Already, we're getting quite used to the idea that species diversity is only a historical phenomenon, like language diversity; nature is prettier and more convenient with less species. Besides, isn't human experience already far removed from a direct involvement with nature itself? Icebergs may as well join dinosaurs and gruffaloes in the flourishing realm of the virtual from which nearly all our imaginative experience now derives. To subjugate nature isn't only natural to humans, it's a responsible use of God's gifts.... And so on...


*

The pretentions of "Advice" to being Juvenalian satire are explicit in its epigraphs:


——Sed podice levi
Caeduntur tumidæ, medico ridente, mariscæ.
O proceres! censore opus est, an haruspice nobis?

JUVENAL.

[Satire II, lines 12-13

"but the doctor grins when he cuts into the growths on your shaved buttocks" (G. G. Ramsay)

or

"but your arsehole is smooth when the laughing doctor lances your swollen 'figs'" (Susanna Morton Braund in the recent Loeb edition; according to her note, piles were thought to be caused by anal intercourse.)

followed by line 121.

"O ye nobles of Rome! is it a soothsayer that we need, or a Censor?" (G. G. Ramsay)]

——Nam quis
Peccandi finem posuit sibi? quando recepit
Ejectum semel atteritâ de fronte ruborem?

Ibid.

[Satire XIII, lines 240-242.

"For who ever fixed a term to his own offending? When did a hardened brow ever recover the banished blush?" (G. G. Ramsay)]

*

*Roderick Random quotes Smollett's own lines in Ch LI, where he gives his stoutly homophobic views in response to Lord Strutwell's defence of Petronius' taste. [The latter much recalling Herr Aue's conversation at Odessa in Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones.]

Smollett takes up the "vice" of homosexuality again in Peregrine Pickle, Ch XLIX (first version). The doctor's classical banquet, in Paris, ends up with the guests getting very drunk, mainly to purge their memories and stomachs of the dreadful food (no author is fonder of the phrase "discharge its contents"). The Italian Count and the German Baron now start to enjoy each other's company, a spectacle that disgusts Peregrine, "who entertained a just detestation for all such abominable practices". But shy of incurring the consequences of his own interference, he arranges for the landlady to discover the pair and to execute the "vengeance on the offenders" that he himself wished on them.

Here as throughout the evening (and the whole novel) Peregrine justifies his cruel tricks by reference to the moral or social failings of his victims. Smollett himself doesn't approve all, or even most, of Peregrine's behaviour. Impossible to say whether in his heart of hearts he entirely shared his hero's homophobia; publicly, at any rate, he did. What's interesting is that he chooses to represent it.

But it was a topic that was being talked about a lot. Rictor Norton's site has a surprising wealth of 18th-century material.

http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/index.htm







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