Message From Another World


Anthony Esolen writes about an eighth grade textbook endorsed by the state of California (no less) in 1917:

Such textbooks as the one I found would be drummed out of today’s schools, where children are taught to be embarrassed by piety, honor, purity, and faith…

One of his examples from the textbook:

So we have James Russell Lowell’s “The Vision of Sir Launfal,” a once proud knight who went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to behold the Holy Grail. Launfal never saw that chalice, but he did, against his inclinations, give bread and wine to a leper; and later, feeling that his quest had failed, he saw that same poor man “shining and tall and fair and straight.” He speaks to the knight:

Lo, it is I, be not afraid!
In many climes, without avail,
Thou hast spent thy life for the Holy Grail;
Behold, it is here, —the cup which thou
Didst fill at the streamlet for me now;
This crust is My body broken for thee,
This water His blood that died on the tree;
The Holy Supper is kept, indeed,
In whatso we share with another’s need:
Not what we give, but what we share,—
For the gift without the giver is bare;
Who gives himself with his alms feeds three,—
Himself, his hungering neighbor, and Me.

Sentimental? Or rather a just and keen observation, that, as Max Scheler says, what we really want is not that there should simply be more food in the world, but more love in the world, a giver and a gift, rather than just a commodity?

Did a pious schoolbook somehow sneak its way past the constitutional censors? Hardly.

…We could come up with a list of reasons why that book could not now be published. We could note that there are no vampires in it, or vampire killers, or sentimental sodomites, or adolescent participants in murder games, or witches, or teenage rebels against a rule-bound dystopia, or the political platitudes of a Preferred Victim, or sound scientific advice on how to dabble in squalor without catching the clap. All of that might be true, but it is beside the point. The main reason why that book could not now be published is that there is no one who could write it and no one who would read it. We need not wait for our cultural high priests to declare it anathema. Not now, anyway….[T]he damage has been done, and the Deconstitution has deconstituted us, teaching even the best of us to be embarrassed by piety, honor, purity, and faith. We hide our lamps under a bushel, because we have been taught to believe that that is where lamps belong.  Our blasphemies are raucously public.  Only our prayers are private.

The article.


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