My father recently sent me a Kipling poem, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings.” I found the fact curious until I discovered that Glenn Beck has popularized the poem in the past year. Beck is an odd ball—he converted to Mormonism, after all—but I am glad that he seems to be successful in renewing Americans’ interest in the great treasure of the recent West. If only we could get another talking head to get Americans to read Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Cicero, Seneca, and other worthy ancients. It could happen. Who knows? Even some evangelicals are beginning to read Ignatius, Irenaeus, Augustine, and the fathers. Are we entering into another age of ressourcement?
As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.
We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.
We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.
With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.
When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”
On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”
In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”
Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
The Indian born Joseph Rudyard Kipling is among the many men who justify the existence of the English nation. Since the Romans, what other people have adjusted so well to every corner of the world that they inhabited? Other men may colonize ghettos, rob savage natives, and mark their limited niches, but the English people create new worlds that are proper civilizational progeny. How unfortunate it is to see the children of Alfred the Great squander their inheritance.
University of Kansas theater professor Paul Meier is staging A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the original accent of the bard’s age: “Professor’s research allows audience to hear Shakespeare’s words in his own accent.”
So what will the KU audiences hear when they attend this production?
“American audiences will hear an accent and style surprisingly like their own in its informality and strong r-colored vowels,” Meier said. “The original pronunciation performance strongly contrasts with the notions of precise and polished delivery created by John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and their colleagues from the 20th century British theater.”
Meier said audiences will hear word play and rhymes that “haven’t worked for several hundred years (love/prove, eyes/qualities, etc.) magically restored, as Bottom, Puck and company wind the language clock back to 1595.”
“The audience will hear rough and surprisingly vernacular diction, they will hear echoes of Irish, New England and Cockney that survive to this day as ‘dialect fossils.’ And they will be delighted by how very understandable the language is, despite the intervening centuries.”
I do not know enough about the linguistic and literary research to judge whether such is convincing, but it appears reasonable. Meier argues that sixteenth century English English resembles the colonial accents of the Anglophone world more than the standard British English of today, and by that I mean the Queen’s English, too, not simply chav. When I studied early modern French literature in undergrad, we learnt that modern Québécois is much closer to the Parisian accent of Molière’s stage than contemporary standard French. Settler populations tend to conserve dialects better.
Last month, The Observer published a fascinating article on the circumstances under which Eric Blair, a.k.a. George Orwell, wrote 1984, “The masterpiece that killed George Orwell.”
In case you ask yourself, the David Astor mentioned in the article was the owner and editor of The Observer as well as an heir to the New York-English Astor dynasty.