Stagirite Noir

Hellenic Noir



Last night, in the kitchen/dining area in Maryhouse (at a book launch for this book), I got into an absolutely fantastic conversation with a woman called Mary Lathrop about her story: raised in Manhattan in the 40s; converted at (of all things) a Billy Graham crusade; in perplexity about what to do about this awkward fact, went to her aunt who was the one person she knew who was a practicing Christian.

“I’ve been… converted?” she said.

“Well that’s WONDERFUL,” said the aunt; “you should come to my church.”

Her church was the Church of the Heavenly Rest on 90th and 5th (at this point in the story I broke in–“NO! I went to Trevor Day School!” What this meant is that she and I were both in pageants in the same sanctuary, although hers were Christmas pageants and mine were “Holiday” pageants designed to reassure parents that Trevor was not raising their children Christian despite having been historically connected to Heavenly Rest.)

The story went on. “God will use all kinds of things to get you,” she says. Her father, a doctrinaire Marxist, had her sent to a mental institution because she clearly, having become Christian, must be mentally ill; she eventually realized that highbrow mushy Episcopalianism was not going to cut it and asked (at a luncheonette on 42nd Street: apparently the 50’s version of Google) where she could receive instruction to become Catholic and was told “go to the Paulist fathers on 59th Street,” so she did and was received; ended up hanging around with Dorothy throughout the 50s; has been in & around the Catholic Worker movement ever since…


Many other ins and outs to this, many of which are public record. And I am not seeking here at all to raise issues about Catholic conversion.  Those are real questions and this is not meant to answer them. If I were talking about theology with her we could talk about the things I disagree with in Catholic theology; those things are real, and they matter, very much.  And I am not inviting criticism from Catholics who want to criticize the Catholic Worker movement either.  It is not meant to say that Joe Hill– as in Mary’s mural, above– was a Christian martyr. I have elsewhere written that part of my own conversion was learning that the leader who was unjustly killed; framed on a false charge; who started a movement during his life; who died but did not die; was not in fact Joe Hill. And that is despite the fact that this was, quite literally, one of my childhood lullabies. His story resonates for a reason, I think– for the pattern of the story, and not just because of the human courage on behalf of a good cause that he displayed; but that too is is not the point, not what I want to talk about here.

The point is that this was a story of a girl Christ tracked down through the streets of Manhattan; her whole story kept having specific cross-street references. And I kept thinking “I want to write her story; I want to write this.”

And then it turned out that Dorothy Day already had. In Loaves and Fishes.



Noel Coward’s Benedict Option: on Marriage, the Common Good, Thick and Committed Community, and the Need to Stick With the People Who See Through You


From Act 1:


Liz: It’s very resolute of Fred to go on calling me Miss, isn’t it?

Monica: I think he has a sort of idea that when you gave up being Garry’s wife you automatically reverted to maidenhood.


Liz: It’s a very pretty thought

Daphne comes out of the spare room in an evening dress and cloak. She is no longer crying but looks depressed. She jumps slightly on seeing Liz.

Daphne: Oh!

Monica: I’m so awfully sorry about the bath, Miss Stillington

Daphne: It didn’t matter a bit

Monica: This is Mrs. Essendine— Miss Stillington,

Daphne: Oh!

Liz (amiably): How do you do.

Daphne (shattered): Mrs. Essendine. Do you mean … I mean . . . Are you Garry’s wife?

Liz: Yes.

Daphne: Oh — I thought he was divorced.

Liz: We never quite got round to it.

Daphne: Oh, I see.

Liz: But please don’t look agitated — I upped and left him years ago.


Garry: Now then, tell me all about everything.

Liz: I saw the play.

Garry: Good?

Liz: Yes, very. We shall have to change it a bit, but Vallion’s quite willing to let us do what we like. But I don’t want to go on about it now until I’ve mulled it over a little more. I’m seeing Morris after lunch.

Garry: I’ve told him I can’t open until November. I must have a holiday after Africa. So there’s lots of time.

Liz: Now I want to talk to you about something else.

Garry: I don’t like that tone at all. What’s on your mind?

Liz: You. Your general behaviour.

Garry: Really, Liz! What have I done now?

Liz: Don’t you think it’s time you started to relax?

Garry; I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Liz: Who was that poor little creature I saw here this morning in evening dress?

Garry: She’d lost her latch-key.

Liz: They often do.

Garry: Now listen to me, Liz

Liz: You’re over forty, you know.

Garry: Only just.

Liz: And in my humble opinion all this casual scampering about is rather undignified.

Garry: Scampering indeed. You have a genius for putting things unpleasantly.

Liz: Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not taking a moral view, I gave that up as hopeless years ago. I’m merely basing my little homily on reason, dignity, position and, let’s face it, age.

Garry: Perhaps you’d like me to live in a bath-chair!

Lk: It would certainly have its compensations.

Garry: It’s all very fine for you to come roaring back from Paris where you’ve been up to God knows what and start to bully me

Liz: I’m not bullying you.

Garry: Yes, you are. You’re sitting smug as be damned on an awful little cloud and blowing down on me.

Liz: Don’t bluster.

Garry: Who went away and left me a prey to everybody? Answer me that!

Liz: I did thank God.

Garry: Well then.

Liz: Would you have liked me to have stayed?

Garry: Certainly not, you drove me mad.

Liz: Well, stop shilly shallying about then and pay attention.

Garry: This, to date, is the most irritating morning of my life.

Liz; I can remember better ones.

Garry: Where were we?

Liz: Be good, there’s a darling— I mean it.

Garry: Mean what?

Liz: Exactly this. You have reached a moment in life when a little restraint would be becoming. You are no longer a debonair, irresponsible juvenile. You are an eminent man advancing, with every sign of reluctance, into middle age.

Garry: May God forgive you.

Liz: Never mind about that, listen. We all know about your irresistible fascination. We’ve watched it going on monotonously for twenty years.

Garry: I met you for the first time exactly eleven years ago next August, and you were wearing a very silly hat.

Liz: Will you be serious. Your behaviour naturally affects all of us. Morris, Henry, Monica and me. You’re responsible for us and we’re responsible for you. You never lose an opportunity of lecturing us and wagging your finger in our faces when we happen to do something you don’t approve of.

Garry: And am I right or am I not? Answer me that!

Liz: Oh, you’re fine when dealing with other people’s problems, but when it comes to your own you’re not so hot.

Garry: Of all the base ingratitude!

Liz: I think the time has come for you to look very carefully at yourself and sec how much you really need all this buccaneering. I personally don’t believe it’s nearly as necessary to you as you think it is. Think what fun it would be to be unattractive for a minute or two. Why you might take to it like a duck to water, and anyhow, it would be a wonderful change.

Garry: Dear Liz. You really are very sweet.

Liz: Oh dear, I might just as well have been talking Chinese.

Garry: Don’t be cross, Liz dear. I do see what you mean, honestly I do.

Liz: That’s rather sudden, isn’t it? After your belligerence of a few moments ago?

Garry (coaxingly): Surely I may be allowed a little change of mood?

Liz: You’re acting again.

Garry: You’ve said some very cruel things to me. I’m upset.

Liz: I wish you were.

Garry: Seriously though, don’t you think you’ve been a bit too hard on me? I admit I’m a trifle feckless every now and then, but I really don’t do much harm to anybody.

Liz: You do harm to yourself and to the few, the very few, who really mind about you.

Garry: I suppose you’ve discussed all this with Monica and Morris and Henry?

Liz: I haven’t yet, but I will unless I see some signs of improvement.

Garry: Blackmail, hey?

Liz: You know how you hate it when we all make a concerted pounce.

From Act III

Henry: Of all the brazen, arrogant sophistry I’ve ever listened to that takes the prize for all time!

Morris: You have the nerve to work yourself up into a state of moral indignation about us when we all know–

Garry: I have not worked myself into anything at all. I’m merely defending my right to speak the truth for once.

Henry; Truth! You wouldn’t recognise the truth if you saw it. You spend your whole life attitudinising and posturing and showing off

Garry: And I should like to know where we should all be if I didn’t! I’m an artist, aren’t 1? Surely I may be allowed a little license!

Morris: As far as I’m concerned, it’s expired.

Liz: For heaven’s sake stop shouting all of you, you’ll have the roof off.


Henry (to Garry): And kindly don’t start that old threadbare argument about none of us being able to live and breathe if it wasn’t for your glorious talent.

Garry; How dare you allude to my talent in that nasty sarcastic tone, you ungrateful little serpent!

Morris; Anyhow, if it hadn’t been for out restraining influence you’d be in the provinces by now.

Garry: And what’s the matter with the provinces, may I ask? They’ve often proved to be a great deal more intelligent than London.

Henry: Be careful! Someone might hear.

Garry: I suppose you’ll be saying next that it’s your restraining influence that has allowed me to hold my position as the idol of the public for twenty years

Morris: You’re not the idol of the public. They’ll come and see you in the right play and the right part and you’ve got to be good at that. Look what happened to you in Pity the Blind!

Garry: I was magnificent in Pity the Blind.

Morris: Yes, for ten days.

Henry: If it hadn’t been for us you’d have done Peer Gynt.

Garry: If I so much as hear Peer Gynt mentioned in this house again I swear before heaven that I shall produce it at Drury Lane.

Henry: Not on my money you won’t!

Garry: Your money indeed! Do you think I’m dependent on your miserable money to put on plays? Why there are thousands of shrewd old gentlemen in the city who would be only too delighted to back me in anything I choose to do,

Henry; I think it rather depends whether they are married or not.

Garry: Oh, so we’re back to that again, are we…

[And somehow, somehow, after all is resolved…]

Garry: You’re not really coming to Africa with me, are you?

Liz: Certainly I am. And not only to Africa. I’m coming back to you for good.

Garry: I don’t want you to come back to me. I’m perfectly happy as I am.

Liz: That can’t be helped. You behave abominably anyhow, but you won’t be able to be quite so bad with me there.

Garry: Liz, I implore you not to come back to me. Have you no sympathy? No heart?

Liz: I’m thinking of the good of the firm. That reminds me. I must leave a note for Monica in the office. I want her to ring up the bank for me first thing in the morning.

Garry The office! My God!

Liz: What’s the matter?

Garry (in a hoarse whisper): You’ve got a sofa, haven’t you, in your flat?

Liz: Of course. What are you talking about?

Garry: You’re not coming back to me, dear, I’m coming back to you!


I’m having a whiggish morning.


Number of books (not titles, but physical books) in Europe in 1439, when Johannes Gutenberg was attempting to extract himself from financial difficulties after a failed scheme to sell polished metal mirrors to pilgrims in Aachen, and thinking hard about what he might turn his hand to next: c. 30,000

Date that the first finished copies of Gutenberg’s Bible were available: 1454 or 1455

Date that William Caxton printed the first book in English (Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye by Raoul Lefevre; this was Caxton’s own translation of Lefevre’s  account of the Trojan War): 1473


Date that the first printed news pamphlets appeared (in Germany): c. 1480

Percentage of the copy of these news pamphlets that was apparently clickbait about the atrocities committed by a sadistic warlord called Vlad Tepes: Unknown, but greater than zero.


Date that the first printed copy of Aristotle’s Works rolled off Aldus Manutius’ press in Venice: 1495

Screen Shot 2017-04-29 at 1.20.26 PM

Percentage of books written in Latin in 1495: 75

Percentage of books written in vernacular languages in 1595: c. 75


Literacy rate in the Netherlands, 1475: 17%

In Great Britain, 1475: 5%

In Great Britain, 1650: 53%

In the Netherlands, 1750: 85%

Coffee House 2.jpg

Date that the Imperial Reichspost (linking together cities throughout the Holy Roman Empire) was founded by Jannetto de Tassis: 1495

Date of the first issue of the earliest surviving regularly-appearing English language newspaper: 1620

Place of its printing: Amsterdam

perfectdiurnallo00londuoft 2 (dragged).jpg

Number of books available in Europe in 1499: c. 10-12 million


So so so–

So this is what it feels like to match wits

With someone at your level- What the hell is the catch? It’s

The feeling of freedom, of seeing the light

It’s Gutenberg, the press and the type! You see it, right?



Now, Lord! That all this world shall win…


From the Ludus Coventriae

(And it took seeing this in Latin to be reminded that a Play is a Game, and to be reminded that these are not frivolous things.)

Joseph.   Nowe welcome, floure fairest of hewe, I shall the menske with mayne and myght.
Hayle! my maker, hayle Crist Jesu!  Hayle, riall king, roote of all right!
Hayle, saueour. 
Hayle, my lorde, lemer of light, 
Hayle, blessid floure!
Mary.    Nowe lord! that all this worlde schall wynne, 
To the my sone is that I saye,
Here is no bedde to laye the inne, 
Therfore my dere sone, I the praye sen it is soo, 
Here in this cribbe I myght the lay betwene ther bestis two.
And I sall happe the, myn owne dere childe, 
With such clothes as we haue here.
Joseph.  O Marie! beholde thes beestis mylde,
They make louyng in ther manere as thei wer men.
For-sothe it semes wele be ther chere thare lord thei ken.
Mary.    Ther lorde thai kenne, that wate I wele,
They worshippe hym with myght and mayne;
The wedir is colde, as ye may feele,
To halde hym warme thei are full fayne, with thare warme breth…

Linocut by Chris Wormell, from Through the Animals’ Eyes

The Erasmus Lecture

“Christians, keep your proper stations;
Don’t mess around with kings and nations.”
–That melancholy long withdrawing roar
you heard last night was Russell Moore.

FPR 2016 Report

You guys, it’s ok, we figured it out, we have the plan to torpedo secular modernity & capitalism, details to follow.

Overall: basically a mashup of the best college seminar ever plus hanging out with my uncles & cousins at my mom’s family’s place in Connecticut. Theopolitical nerdiness, localist economics, barhopping with people whose books you like a whole lot, talking to everyone about everything.  Plus just incredibly convenient for research:  you have a question about something you think about on a regular basis–new urbanism or Georgist economics or the theology of the built environment or the inevitably disastrous trajectory of liberalism, and you don’t need to google it, you can just ask the guy who is drinking over there.

Followed by conterrevolutionary sleepover with Grace Potts at Elias’ house in Valparaiso.


  • Jason Peters is setting himself up to be the subject of the First Annual FPR Roast, to be (surely) spearheaded by Patrick Deneen in revenge.
  • Bill Kauffman’s love for all things seasonally pumpkin flavored continues unabated.
  • Mark Mitchell’s students have facial hair & dress sense that is strangely and charmingly reminiscent of Jules Verne characters.
  • Jeff Taylor accidentally sounds like a Marxist sometimes but is accident, is just populist really.