Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Reading Dickens

Three points grew out of the lecture/discussion of A Tale of Two Cities today:

1. Dickens wrote his books serially; meaning, he wrote them in installments in newspapers. People were not sitting at home reading the whole book when it first began appearing; rather, the family would listen to the weekly or bi-weekly installment with all the intense interest of modern folks watching a television show.

2. Dickens generally closes his chapters with a hook. In the first several chapters, we noted how he mysteriously gives a small bit of information, a clue, a phrase, or something that his characters mull around, but that the reader cannot quite figure out.

3. Don't neglect the lyrical or poetic qualities of Dickens' writings. Yes, he can wear the reader out with character description and details, but he did have an eye for detail.

Paul Johnson said that Dickens wrote in a room full of mirrors. He would look at himself in a mirror and make faces to fit what he wanted a character to look like.

Quotes to Note

“Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.”
Soren Kierkegaard

" A wise man devoutly thanks God that the price of knowledge is labor, and that when we buy the truth, we must pay the price. If you wish to enjoy the prospect at the mountain’s summit, you must climb its rugged sides.”
Boston Schoolmasters, 1844

Scholars in the Renaissance thought of studia humanitatis (the Liberal Arts) as having this result:
"Society needed well-educated and articulate people who could present ideas in a winsome, convincing way that appealed to deeper springs than merely the intellect. Learning to speak and write in a way that did not bludgeon others into intellectual submission but that persuasively wooed them to agreement offered the opportunity to contribute to the further development of Italian society. Well-crafted speech, elegance in language and winsome appeal to beauty and experience were needed along with solid thought." (from James R. Payton, Jr.'s Getting the Reformation Wrong, a very good book.)

"There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!”
Abraham Kuyper

“The humanities cannot be dismissed. Far from being outmoded, they are eternally relevant precisely because they are the arts of communication, the arts of continuity, and the arts of criticism. Language remains the indispensable medium within which we move and breathe. History provides the group memory which makes the communal bond possible. Philosophical criticism is the only activity through which man’s self-reflection modifies the conditions of his existence. The cup of the humanities, therefore, must be the vessel from which we drink our life.”
Albert William Levi, The Humanities Today (1970).

Monday, August 30, 2010

Opening Guns

Can you imagine a better opening to a book than Dickens' first paragraph in A Tale of Two Cities?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

It sets a tone for the universiality of the experience of this book. It reminds us that all times are God's times, and that all times in a fallen world are times of glimpes of grace and of judgment.

This week we will be slowly moving through the first part of this book.

Also, shifting gears to a historical topic, be reading The Great Siege by Ernle Bradford. I first heard the story of this book from R. J. Rushdoony who told it on his World History tape series. For years, I looked for the book. When the Internet changed the world of book searching, I bought a copy of the book and enjoyed the story first hand. Then the book was reprinted. I not only used it in several classes over the years, but also sold (or gave away) numerous copies of the book.

So, we have a novel that reads like history and a history that reads like a novel. What a delight.

Great first day.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lecture Schedule

The Czar lecturing over history----

2 Lectures Per Week on the Same or on Related Topics

First Quarter: Overviews, Background, Causes, and Key Figures

Week One: Orientation to the Class and The Modern Age

Week Two: The Influences of the Ancient World & Medieval Worlds on

Week Three: The Influences of the Renaissance & Reformation Worlds on

Week Four: The Influence of the Enlightenment & Modern Science on

Week Five: The Crises of our Age and the Age of Crises

Week Six: What is Modernity?

Week Seven: Background to the Reformation—Wycliffe, Hus, and the Brethren of the Common Life

Week Eight: Martin Luther and the Reformation

Second Quarter: The Fruits and Limits of Reformation

Week One: John Calvin and the Reformation in Geneva

Week Two: The Growth, Spread, and Influence of Calvinism on Church, State,
Family, and Education

Week Three: England and the Rise of the Tudors & Reformation in Scotland

Week Four: England Under the Stuarts & the Rise of the Puritans, the Age of
Cromwell, the Restoration, and the Glorious Revolution

Week Five: Europe After 100 Plus Years of Reformation

Week Six: The Literature of Reformation: The Four John’s of England

Third Quarter: Revolution in the Minds of Men and the Courses of Nations

Week One: The Enlightenment—Lights and Darks

Week Two: Three Roads to Modernity: England, France, and America

Week Three: Background to the Age of Revolution

Week Four: Fire in the Minds of Men—Origins of the Revolutionary Faith

Week Five: The French Revolution and Its Aftermath

Week Six: From Louis XVI to Napoleon

Week Seven: Voices Against Revolution; Armies Against Napoleon

Week Eight: The Restoration of Manners—Scott and Austen

Week Nine: The Downfall of Napoleon

Week Ten: The 1800s in Europe

Fourth Quarter: Modern Times: “If There is No God….”

Week One: The Naturalistic and Darwinian Worldviews

Week Two: The Marxian Worldview and the Industrial Revolution

Week Three: The Victorian Age

Week Four: Revolutions and Counter-Revolutions in Russia

Week Five: The Guns and Armies of August

Week Six: World War I—The Pity of War

Week Seven: The Dark Valley of the 1930s

Week Eight: World At War—for a Second Time

Week Nine: The Cold War Between Forces of Freedom and Tyranny

Week Ten: Now How Should We Live?

Audience participation while the Czar lectures over history----

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Starting Line-up for the Fall

Francis Schaeffer never described or viewed himself as a philosopher, historian, art critic, or even a theologian. He saw himself as a pastor. His primary text was the Bible. Repeatedly, he emphasized the doctrinal content of the Bible, the answers to the most basic questions found in the early chapters of Genesis, and the voice of the God who is there and is not silent speaking to us in truth.

Quite a few books grew out of his preaching, teaching, and lecturing. He really did not see himself as a writer and was 56 years old before the first of his publications hit the shelves. InterVarsity Press, previously a small and obscure publisher, achieved wealth and prominence in the publishing world, thanks to Schaeffer's writings.

Although Francis Schaeffer graduated to glory over a quarter of a century ago, he is one of our most esteemed faculty members. He will be teaching much of our Humanities: Modern World course during the first quarter.

How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture first came out in the critical year of 1976. Some viewed it as a Christian Western Civilization textbook. Some thought of it as a picture filled coffee table book. It was neither. Too brief and too random to be a textbook, it is also much more than a picture book. It does contain really good illustrations, including many works of art, but it is an apologetic for a Christian worldview. In many ways, it is a Christian answer to such books as Kenneth Clark's Civilization, a secular humanist survey of Western Civilization. I know of no other book that is as good an introductory survey of the key events, thinkers, writers, movements, artists, philosophers, cultural forces, and ideas found in Western Civilization.* The graduate student in philosophy may wince at Schaeffer's treatment of key philosophers, but that graduate student had to first learn the names and places somewhere, and this book is a great starting point.

*[Actually, I know of at least four other books that are great surveys of
Western Civilization from Christian starting points:
1. The One and the Many by R. J. Rushdoony is an outstanding analysis
of the philosophical and theological issues that have been debated in Western
Civilization. Published in 1973, the book should have been published with
illustrations and charts and a study guide. I wish Rushdoony had been on a
ten-part video describing Western Civilization and its dilemmas.
2. From Rationalism to Irrationalism: The Decline of the Western Mind from
the Renaissance to the Present
by C. Gregg Singer. I have only read
portions of this book, but Singer's
Theological Interpretation of American
was a life changer for me.
3. The Roots of Western Culture by Herman Dooyeweerd. This book
does not cover nearly enough of the people, events, and dates, but it is a
powerful critique of the philosophical issues the world has faced from the
4. Christianity and European Culture by Christopher Dawson. All
of Dawson's works examine Western Culture from a Christian angle, but this one
is especially good.]

A ten part video series was made with Francis Schaeffer (directed by his son Franky). We will be watching this outstanding series. It is dated and now humorous at points because of the passage of time and the changes in technology, but it still stands as a great series of videos. All students will also be blessed with complete sets of the Study Guide so we can learn the names of key people, tackle the really good discussion questions, and use the outlines to further our study.

[Question: What Christian thinker and writer bumped into Francis Schaeffer in a book store in St. Louis, Missouri and was profoundly moved to ask himself two questions: "Where did he get that haircut?" and "What's with the knickers?"]

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Books and Discussions

Quite often we think of the book reading person as the introverted, passive, unsocial quiet person who sits in the corner with his thick glasses reading while everyone else is having fun. (Okay, so that does describe me, but that is not the point.)

That type of reader is missing the point of books just as the non-reader misses the point of books.

First, we grant that reading does involve some investment of time and the discipline of concentration. It is not just reading, but reading intelligently (and joyfully) that counts. Beware of thinking that Internet surfing (including reading this blog) or reading the newspaper really work as serious reading. Reading is hard work. The whole body has to become passive with only the hands in partial action with the eyes scanning the pages.

Second, the point of reading is not the escape from people and activities, but the better involvement with people and activities. Anyone who reads to avoid people is not reading right. Reading is a communal activity. Books are meant as bridges for conversation, shared thought, and interaction. Sometimes, I have students who can race through a book and reach the end, but they cannot discuss it. Better is a little understanding with some "iron sharpening iron" discussions than lots of reading that gets sealed up inside.

Good readers love the opportunity to share their readings. Several years ago, I remember Kara Gies (now, Wicks) telling Dr. Louise Cowan that she had read Virgil's Ecologues while she was in Italy. Dr. Cowan responded by saying that what matters most is reading with others and discussing what was read. Both were right. We read a book--sometimes in settings as wonderful as Italy--but we also need the discussion group, the peer group, and that most wonderful of settings--the classroom.

There are some wonderful books about books. The authors and compilers share their readings or seek to draw others into the delight and value of particular books. Here are some wonderful books about books.

Invitation to the Classics is edited by Dr. Louise Cowan and Os Guinness. Those two authors/thinkers alone would draw me to any book. This book is a collection of thoughtful essays on classic works. It is disappointing only in its brevity. I have read portions of this book over and over again. It is amazing how much thought has been compressed into these short essays. The contributors are in many cases former students of Dr. Cowan's program at the University of Dallas.

I have had this book--Great Books: A Journey through 2,500 Years of the West's Classic Literature by Anthony O'Hear--for several months, but I have not yet unwrapped the plastic covering around it. I am saving it for some special time when I need a book about books. From what I have read of it, it will be a delightful read from beginning to end.

This book--Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order by Charles Hill--is currently featured on my regular Houseblog. This book is interesting in that the author is referencing and promoting literature as being valuable for conducting and understanding world affairs. I agree with his thesis. Reading Macbeth may be more helpful in understanding current events than reading current events.

Alexander the Great carried the Iliad with him on his eastern conquests, keeping it, Plutarch said, with a dagger under his pillow, "declaring that he esteemed it a perfect portable treasure of all military virtue and knowledge." Priot to sainthood, Thomas More read Roman poets and playwrights. Queen Elizabeth I read Cicero for rhetorical and legal strategy. Fredrick the Great studied Homer's Odysseus as a model for princes. John Adams read Thucydides in Greek while being guided through the "labyrinth" of human nature by Swift, Shakespeare, and Cervantes. Abraham Lincoln slowly read through Whitman's Leaves of Grass and was changed by it. Gladstone, four times prime minister under Queen Victoria, wrote volumes of scholarly commentary on Homer and produced vivid translations--the best kind of close reading--of Horace's Odes. Lawrence of Arabia, who wrote himself into history as a fictional character leading Arab tribes in revolt against the Ottoman Turks, carried Malory's Morte d'Arthur, if not in his camel's saddlebags then in his head.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Whole Year...

This whole school year could get lost and and swallowed up in studying just the life and impact of Martin Luther. We will be watching the great movie of his life--titled Luther. Actually, there are two movie versions of the life of Luther. One was produced in the 1950s and the other more recently. Both are outstanding productions with great casting and very similar scripts. Each has its better moments, but we will be watching the more recent version.

We will also be reading Gene Edward Veith's brief biography of Luther, titled A Place to Stand. This will serve to fill in the gaps on Luther's life and works and give us a great batch of Luther quotes.

And we will be reading Luther's magnum opus: The Bondage of the Will. This will not be an easy book (i.e., not modern easy-believe-ism or sappy devotional reading). Instead, this is hard hitting theology. Luther was going up against the best man on the other side--Erasmus of Rotterdam. Erasmus was a champion for the return to the texts--ad fontes--"to the sources" and so he blessed the world with his scholarship on the Greek text of the New Testament (the Textus Receptus). He also strongly decried the corruptions found in the Roman Catholic Church. Several Reformers--strongly influenced by Erasmus and Luther both--called on him to join in the Reformation. But he held back. In part, he was too strongly tied to a rationalistic view of salvation. Man's will, Erasmus reasoned, was free to think and decide based on evidence.

"NO," Luther shouted. "Man's will is not free to reason, but is in bondage to sin. Only when it is released by God and put in bondage to Christ can the will receive grace."

An Erasmusian Reformation (rather than a Luther-an or Calvinian Reformation) would have been short-lived.

[Once upon a time, a Veritas student was applying for a scholarship to a university. When asked by the panel to name a book that had changed the life of the reader, this Veritas student chose Bondage of the Will. Can you name that student?]

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Preparing for a Great Year in Humanities

Books in our Humanities program don't just take us to our destination; rather they are our destination. I have been reading throughout the summer to prepare for the upcoming school year. It is not as though I have spent the whole summer reading, but with a limited budget and oppressive heat, reading has been more attractive than ever.

We have remodeled our Humanities room, but unfortunately, this is not it.

It will take a while before we get to World War II, but this book was inspiring.

This book is on my current reading list for the morning hours.

Lewis Spitz was a wonderful historian. His books have helped me focus on the events of this upcoming year.