Category Archives: B – READING

Friday, July 17, 2014 — We have seen thee, queen of cheese

I’m doing a lit­tle research on Cana­dian lit­er­a­ture of the 19th cen­tury. This is not a field that over­whelms the researcher with an abun­dance of mas­ter­pieces. Canada, at this time, was an empty, rugged, pio­neer­ing place, vaguely British in the soci­ety of its small urban elite, but for most peo­ple cul­tur­ally closer the the west­ern parts of the United States. Mon­treal had a mod­est lit­er­ary life in French, draw­ing on sev­eral cen­turies of folk­lore and even pro­duc­ing a few operas. These works were unknown in the rest of the French-speaking world. English-speaking Mon­treal­ers were more inter­ested in com­merce than cul­ture. Out­side of Mon­treal, the only real city, there was not much other than small towns, farms and wilderness. 

But in the Vic­to­rian Age, Cana­dian farm­ers and lum­ber­jacks read quite a bit. Many years ago, I worked as a farm hand in rural Ontario. I often made deals with elderly farm cou­ples to take in hay, or tend live­stock, in exchange for the col­lec­tions of old books that their par­ents and grand­par­ents had hid­den away in base­ments and barns. Most had been gath­er­ing dust (or hay twigs) for as much as a cen­tury. In this way, I built up an impres­sive col­lec­tion of nine­teenth cen­tury books, includ­ing a beau­ti­ful com­plete set of Wal­ter Scott, and I also got a good impres­sion of what ordi­nary Cana­di­ans actu­ally read. There were, of course, numer­ous books of ser­mons and exhor­ta­tions to reli­gious piety, and pop­u­lar mag­a­zines. Some of these, like The Strand, and Lippincott’s Monthly, had very high stan­dards of con­tent and style. Farm­ers were much involved in national pol­i­tics and the urgent reforms of the day. But they also read more lit­er­ary stuff. The same books turned up over and over again. These were the Sacred Texts, the four cor­ner­stones of Cana­dian Cul­ture of the time: the poems of Robert Burns, the nov­els of Wal­ter Scott and Charles Dick­ens, and the plays of Shake­speare. The first two tes­tify to the over­whelm­ing influ­ence of Scot­tish cul­ture in Canada, at the time. The Amer­i­cans Longfel­low, Emer­son and Mark Twain were pop­u­lar, but they did not have the same exalted sta­tus. Among more con­tem­po­rary Eng­lish writ­ers there were Ten­nyson, Brown­ing, and the now for­got­ten, but at the time immensely respected Edwin Arnold, who wrote a book-length life of the Bud­dha in verse, and who was inor­di­nately fond of excla­ma­tion points. Dour Cana­dian pio­neers were strangely famil­iar with lines such as:

Ah! Blessed Lord! Oh, high deliv­erer!
For­give this fee­ble script, which doth thee wrong,
Mea­sur­ing with lit­tle wit thy lofty love.
Ah! Lover! Brother! Guide! Lamp of the Law!
I take my refuge in Thy name and Thee!
I take my refuge in Thy law of good!
I take my refuge in Thy order! OM!
The dew is on the lotus! — Rise, Great Sun!
And lift my leaf and mix me with the wave.
Om mani padme hum, the sun­rise comes!
The dew­drop slips into the shin­ing sea! 

It is hard, how­ever, to imag­ine that the doc­trines of Sam­sara, Karma and Madhyama-pratipad exer­cised much influ­ence on the flinty Pres­by­te­ri­ans and Methodists of Ontario farm coun­try, no mat­ter how many excla­ma­tion points were hurled at them. 

For teenagers, the adven­ture nov­els of G. A. Henty and R. M. Bal­lan­tyne (who spent his youth in Canada, and set much of his fic­tion here), were ubiquitous.

The only Canadian-born nov­el­ist read inter­na­tion­ally was John Richard­son (Wacousta [1832] & The Cana­dian Broth­ers [1840]). In Vic­to­rian era Canada, even the hum­blest cit­i­zens were not only expected to read poetry, but to write it. Some even man­aged to find read­ers out­side the coun­try. Pre-eminent among them was Pauline John­son [Tekahion­wake], the Mohawk poet whose cel­e­bra­tions of Native Cana­dian cul­ture in verse reached an inter­na­tional audi­ence. It is inter­est­ing that the two inter­na­tion­ally known writ­ers in Canada were both of Native Cana­dian ori­gin (Richard­son was an Odawa). Richardson’s work has faded into obscu­rity, but John­son is still read, and her poems have con­sid­er­able charm. 

But out­side of these mod­est lit­er­ary achieve­ments, there was a del­uge of ter­ri­ble verse, ground out by local eccentrics in small towns across the land. Of these, few can have reached the Olympian heights of hor­ri­ble­ness achieved by James McIn­tyre of Inger­soll, Ontario. McIn­tyre wrote mostly about cheese, a sub­ject which he con­tem­plated with the same enthu­si­asm that Bun­yan con­tem­plated sal­va­tion and Word­worth con­tem­plated the infi­nite. Cheese was the cen­ter of McIntyre’s epis­te­mol­ogy, escha­tol­ogy, and meta­physics. One poem, The Oxford Ode to Cheese, reads:

The ancient poets ne’er did dream
That Canada was land of cream,
They ne’er imag­ined it could flow
In this cold land of ice and snow,
Where every­thing did solid freeze
They ne’er hoped or looked for cheese.
 
 And since they justly treat the soil,
Are well rewarded for their toil,
The land enriched by goodly cows,
Yie’ds plenty now to fill their mows,
Both wheat and bar­ley, oats and peas
But still their great­est boast is cheese.

But his mas­ter­piece was undoubt­edly Ode on the Mam­moth Cheese Weigh­ing over 7,000 Pounds (1866), which I must quote in its entirety:

We have seen thee, queen of cheese,
Lying qui­etly at your ease,
Gen­tly fanned by evening breeze,
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

All gaily dressed soon you’ll go
To the great Provin­cial Show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.

Cows numer­ous as a swarm of bees,
Or as the leaves upon the trees,
It did require to make thee please,
And stand unri­valled, queen of cheese.

May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Har­ris
Intends to send you off as far as
The great World’s show at Paris.

Of the youth beware of these,
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek, then songs or glees
We could not sing, oh! queen of cheese.

We’rt thou sus­pended from bal­loon,
You’d cast a shade even at noon,
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.

What can one say? McIn­tyre was appar­ently a very nice man, beloved in his com­mu­nity, and sin­cere in his ded­i­ca­tion to the muse. In poem after poem, he cel­e­brated the delights of tur­ophilia, and pride in the agri­cul­tural achieve­ments of Ontario. If you have ever sam­pled some of the bet­ter coun­try cheeses of this province, such as Har­row­smith or Balderson’s, you might be tempted to place them on the same plane as sal­va­tion or the infi­nite. In fact, I would dare to place them on a higher plane. I don’t really have a han­dle on the infi­nite, and I don’t believe in sal­va­tion beyond the grave, but I can appre­ci­ate a good cheese.

READINGJUNE 2014

24537. (Thomas Piketty) Le Cap­i­tal au XXIe siè­cle
24538. (John Dry­den) An Essay of Dra­matic Poesy
24539. (Jan Michal Bur­dukiewicz) Microlith Tech­nol­ogy in the Stone Age [arti­cle]
24540. (George Mon­biot) It’s Sim­ple. If We Can’t Change Our Eco­nomic Sys­tem, Our
. . . . . Number’s Up [arti­cle]
24541. (Thomas Piketty) On the Long Run Evo­lu­tion of Inher­i­tance — France, 1820–2050
. . . . . [arti­cle] Read more »

READINGMAY 2014

24500. (Th. Her­sart de La Ville­mar­qué) Barzaz-Breiz: chants pop­u­laires de la Bre­tagne
24501. (Hervé Lossec) Les Bre­ton­nismes
24502. (Khashchu­luun Chu­lu­un­dorj) Cur­rent Sta­tus of Mongolia’s Eco­nomic and Social
. . . . . Devel­op­ment and Future Trends [arti­cle]
24503. (Batchimeg Miged­dorj) Mon­go­lian Eco­nomic Back­ground and Polit­i­cal Des­tiny 
. . . . . [arti­cle] Read more »

READINGAPRIL 2014

24455. (J. J. Mar­ric) Gideon’s Badge
24456. (Juan Cole) [in blog Informed Com­ment] Oba­macare Enrolls 7.1 Mil­lion: But Will the
. . . . . Haters Ever Stop Hat­ing? [arti­cle]
24457. (Rus­sell S. Taich­man, Aaron M. Havens et al) Human and Murine Very Small Embry­onic–
. . . . . Like Cells Rep­re­sent Mul­ti­po­tent Tis­sue Prog­en­i­tors, In Vitro and In Vivo [arti­cle]
24458. (Charles L. Grant) The Sound of Mid­night
24459. (Jean-Paul Gagnon) A Change in Nature to the Dis­course on the Mean­ing of
. . . . . Democ­racy: From Adver­sity to Shared Agree­ment [man­u­script draft] Read more »

READINGMARCH 2014

24407. (Wil­fed The­siger) Among the Moun­tains — Trav­els Through Asia
24408. (Philip Mat­tera) Sub­si­diz­ing the Cor­po­rate One Per­cent: Sub­sidy Tracker 2.0 Reveals
. . . . . Big-Business Dom­i­nance of State and Local Devel­op­ment Incen­tives [report]
(Kather­ine Mans­field) In a Ger­man Pen­sion:
. . . . 24409. (John Mid­dle­ton Murry) Intro­duc­tory Note [pref­ace]
. . . . 24410. (Kather­ine Mans­field) Ger­mans at Meat [story]
. . . . 24411. (Kather­ine Mans­field) The Baron [story] Read more »

READINGFEBRUARY 2014

24341. (Kate Wil­helm) Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang
24342. (Paul Fontaine) Rab­bits To Be “Removed” From Ice­land [arti­cle]
24343. (Misha Fried­man) Offi­cial Homo­pho­bia in Rus­sia [arti­cle]
24344. (M. W. Ray, et al) Obser­va­tion of Dirac Monopoles in a Syn­thetic Mag­netic Field [arti­cle]
24345. (Steve Muhlberger) [in blog Muhlberger’s World His­tory] Mar­garet E Owens, After­lives
. . . . . of the Royal Funeral Effi­gies [arti­cle] Read more »

READINGJANUARY 2014

24262. [2] (Theodore Stur­geon) The Stars Are the Styx [story]
24263. (David Lord­kipanidze, et al) A Com­plete Skull from Dman­isi, Geor­gia, and the
. . . . . . Evo­lu­tion­ary Biol­ogy of Early Homo [arti­cle]
24264. (Ha-Joon Chang) Kick­ing Away the Lad­der: Devel­op­ment Strat­egy in His­tor­i­cal
. . . . . . Per­spec­tive
24265. (Edgar Wal­lace) Clues [story]
24266. (Abhik Gupta and Kamalesh Guha) Tra­di­tion and Con­ser­va­tion in North­east­ern India:
. . . . . . An Eth­i­cal Analy­sis [arti­cle] Read more »

The Romance of Antar

14-01-25 - READING Antar

A medieval rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Antarah Ibn Shaddād

Early Ara­bic lit­er­a­ture is not well-known in the English-speaking world, and some ele­ments of it might sur­prise some­one who is only famil­iar with the stuff from later peri­ods. Among the ear­li­est works in Clas­si­cal Ara­bic are a num­ber of tales that can only be called “chival­ric romances”, which strongly resem­ble the sort of thing you would expect in Mal­ory or Chré­tien de Troyes. What would most sur­prise a mod­ern reader is the treat­ment of female char­ac­ters. Read more »

READINGDECEMBER 2013

24177. (Kathy Reichs) Déjà Dead
24178. (James Mor­gan) Giant Pre­his­toric Toiler Unearthed [arti­cle]
24179. (Ben Quinn) Iceland’s Armed Police Make First Ever Fatal Shoot­ing [arti­cle]
24180. (Steve Muhlberger) [in blog Muhlberger’s World His­tory] Trou­ba­dour Poetry and
. . . . . Chivalry [arti­cle] Read more »

READINGNOVEMBER 2013

24099. [2] (Fred­erik Pohl) The Midas Plague
24100. [3] (Aris­to­tle) Nichomachean Ethics
24101. (Joan McCarter) What the 1 Per­cent Thinks About You [arti­cle]
24102. (Ian Reifowitz) How Are the Rich Get­ting Richer? The More They Make, the Lower the
. . . . . Income Tax Rates They Pay. Face Palm [arti­cle]
24103. (James B. Stew­art) High Income, Low Taxes and Never a Bad Year [arti­cle]
24104. (Arnal­dur Indriða­son) Tainted Blood [aka Jar City] [Mýrin; tr. Bernard Scud­der] Read more »